Ballard Park, in Newport, R. I., is a 13-acre parcel of lovely wilderness. Threaded with trails and dotted with clearings, it makes for a romantic setting as the falling sun pours into the natural canyon and bronzes the leaves overhead.
Deeded to the city in 1990, it has been saved from development—an ever-encroaching threat in the town—and set aside for “conservation, education, and passive recreation.” It is also quite possibly the first place I ever had a beer.
It was a different place back then. Set into the woods directly across from my high school, “the canyon,” as we knew it, was a place kids went to get away from the prying eyes of adults. Before the school bell, it was filled with smokers; at night kids trekked in with cardboard cases of cheap booze before the local cops (who had often been there themselves just a few years earlier) chased them out. And though it’s surely a better place now—in the ’80s parts of it had become a dumping ground for junked cars and old appliances—I can’t help but remember it with some cock-eyed fondness as a place where so many of us first tried on our adulthood.
So when I saw that Wes Anderson’s new film Moonrise Kingdom was partly filmed in old Ballard Park, it made perfect sense. Set in the summer of 1965, Anderson’s gentle tale of young love is all about the powerful mix of youth and growth, of having feelings of absolute certainty without yet fully understanding them. Sam and Suzy are the two 12-year-olds who set things in motion: after meeting one summer vacation, they decide to run away together during the next. Before anyone knows they’re gone, the pair have slipped into the woods.
Anderson has assembled his usual fine ensemble of adults to head after the children: Edward Norton plays the Khaki Scout troop leader who is supposed to be looking after the orphan Sam, and Bill Murray and Frances McDormand (Fargo) are on hand as Suzy’s feuding parents. Also on board are Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, and, as the sheriff leading the charge, Bruce Willis. And while Anderson brings in a hurricane to spice things up, the real drama here—and the real romance—is in the stillness of the woods.
Also this week: With the recent closing of Pleasant Street Theater, Northampton finds itself without a regular local movie house. That said, other venues will almost certainly be stepping up their game to bring special film events to the town. This week, the venerable Academy of Music gets in on the game, hosting two films on Friday and Saturday.
First up is The Samaritan, starring Samuel L. Jackson as ex-con Foley, trying to go straight after half a life behind bars. He meets a new lady (Ruth Negga) and for a time there’s new light in his life—the first light at all, really, in a long time. But in “man with a past” movies, it’s only a matter of time until the past comes calling; here it takes the form of Ethan, his former partner’s son, who has arrived with the intention of learning the con game from Foley. Or has he? As Foley is drawn against his will into an ever more elaborate shell game, it becomes increasingly less clear just who is pulling the strings.
And on Saturday, The Red Machine tells another tale of deceit, this one set during the Great Depression. Starring a collection of relative unknowns, it focuses on a young thief pressed into duty by the U.S. Navy to steal a Japanese code-making machine. But before the mission is complete, some dark discoveries call the true nature of the job into question.
Finally this week: Western fans and hipsters can come together when Cinemark screens The Searchers, the classic John Wayne film that proved so inspirational that Tarantino paid homage to it in his Kill Bill series. It screens as part of the Classic Series at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on June 27.
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.