Good moon rising

George Byrne

MOONRISE KINGDOM Drama/comedy. Starring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel. Cert 15A.

After the considerable accomplishments of Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums, writer/director Wes Anderson's movies seemed to lean too heavily towards the whimsical. While The Life Aquatic, with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Ltd certainly weren't lacking in charm, they didn't pack the emotional heft of his earlier work.

Happy to report so that Moonrise Kingdom strikes the right balance between the two stools.

Set on the East Coast island of New Penzance in 1965, Moonrise Kingdom weaves together the strands of what initially appears to be a rather slight story into a wonderfully warm and beguiling tale of innocence, and how life gradually chips away at it.

At the core of the film we have the story of two 12-year-olds, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who decide to run away together. She's leaving a dysfunctional home where her lawyer parents (Frances McDormand and Anderson-regular Bill Murray) can barely stand the sight of each other and he's deserting a scout troop on summer camp.

There's a hint of Swallows and Amazons about how Sam and Suzy plot their escape across the island, while they're tracked by the local sheriff (Bruce Willis), who has been having an affair with Suzy's mother, and the exasperated scout master Ward (Edward Norton).

Willis and Norton are superb here; the former giving a thoroughly convincing portrayal of a man who's tired and disappointed with life, but thoroughly decent with all that, while Norton's edgy energy is perfectly suited to playing a character who's nominally a leader but cripplingly unsure of himself.

However, despite the heavyweight actors involved it's the newcomers, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who steal the show.

Gilman, in particular, has a lovely presence about him, a steely determination beneath the geeky exterior, which makes sense when we discover Sam's tragic backstory.

Anderson shoots Moonrise Kingdom as stylishly as ever, and the use of Benjamin Britten on the soundtrack makes perfect sense as the story unfolds.

Yes, the film is whimsical at times but it's also thoroughly charming and has a warmth all too rare in contemporary cinema. Recommended. HHHHI

MEN IN BLACK 3 Sci-Fi/Comedy. Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Alive Eve, Jermaine Clement. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Cert 12A

When it was released in 1997, Men in Black was a deserved success. The notion of an organisation of sharp-suited, shades-wearing agents "keeping Earth safe from the scum of the universe" chimed with the sense of paranoia engendered by The X-Files -- and sent it up something rotten.

There was great chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith and, above all, it zipped along and was genuinely funny.

Five years later the inevitable sequel appeared and undid all the groundwork laid down by the original, being ponderous, tedious (even at a trim 85 minutes) and containing barely a tenth of the wit and zest of its predecessor. And that, one assumed, was that.

But no, here we are a decade later and, for reasons one can barely fathom, a third movie has arrived. I don't recall there being vast online petitions from weeping fanboys demanding the return of Smith and Jones, but director Barry Sonnenfeld (who could do with a hit, come to think of it) has reassembled the core crew and given us a serviceable, if rather dull, addition to the series.

The lazy old standby of time travel is deployed here as Agent J (Will Smith) travels back to 1969 in order to prevent intergalactic criminal Boris the Boglodite (Jermaine Clement) from killing Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and altering the future.

K's boss Agent O (Emma Thompson) sanctions the plan and we're off down a thoroughly predictable path.

The brief diversion is that the younger K is played by Josh Brolin (Tommy Lee Jones appears in fewer than a dozen scenes and looks utterly disinterested), who plays K as a rather jolly fellow with a serious case of the hots for the young O (Alice Eve).

A handful of decent gags emerge from the script but too many scenes fall flat as the actors battle against creaky greenscreen and the audience has obvious 3D effects hurled at them.

Smith and Brolin are fine, and Clement makes for a decent villain, but the real problem with Men in Black 3 is that while Agents J, O and K may be present and correct, the absence of Agents E and S makes for a dreary and disappointing experience. HHIII