The mostly delightful "Fantastic Mr. Fox" aside, it's been hard not to feel that Wes Anderson's live-action output has been on something of a slide since "Rushmore." There have been moments to love from "The Royal Tenenbaums" to "The Darjeeling Limited," but it felt like the emotion became more and more dishonest, and the worlds more and more airless over time, to the extent that 'Darjeeling' and its eye-rolling baggage metaphor felt like a parody of an Anderson film. But we'd had good vibes about his seventh feature, "Moonrise Kingdom," in the run up to its release, and Wes delivered with a film that was simultaneously like the most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson film he's made, and yet also the biggest departure. Telling the story through the eyes of a child is something of a genius stroke, absolutely making sense of the heightened reality in a way that some of the more recent films didn't, and the tender (but never quite precious) burgeoning romance and coming-of-age aspects are beautifully drawn. And along with those ace performances from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward were the adults, with turns from Anderson veterans (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzmann) that more than lived up to their previous collaborations, and contributions from Anderson newbies (Edward Norton, Bruce Willis) that showed entirely new colors in the paintbox from some established stars. From its idyllic, adventurous setting to the selection of music and Alexandre Desplat's tremendous score, it somehow felt like a classic kids' film (arguably more so than 'Fox') airing on TV on a Sunday afternoon, while also featuring some of the most exciting filmmaking of 2012 so far. Good to have you back, Wes (read our review).
"Sound of My Voice"
On the razor’s edge of suspense lies Zal Batmanglij’s directorial debut, a film that tests the nerves of any thrill-loving moviegoer who thinks they’ve seen it all. We’re immediately thrown into the world of Peter and Lorna, two documentary filmmakers who refuse to shrink from their thesis, dead-set on exposing a phony cult leader who becomes more convincing every single day. As the ethereal Maggie, Brit Marling’s bewitching, alluring presence is both achingly sensual and diabolically Machiavellian, as she turns the most innocuous words into threats, her soft voice and sand-pebble eyes demanding that those who attempt to go down the rabbit hole with her abandon everything they know and love about their past voices. “Sound of My Voice” is almost sickeningly sterile, a counterpoint to the messy, rural landscape of another recent “cult” film, “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” But while you’re never in doubt as to the intentions of the group in that film, “Sound of My Voice” is creepily compelling, an immersive cinematic experience that quietly lulls you before smashing into what would be the year’s most talked-about ending had distributor Fox Searchlight properly marketed the film. For those of you who intend to catch up on DVD, go in blindly, as each twist in the film’s narrative, each tweak of the believability of Maggie’s otherworldly story, opens up infinite possibilities. As “Sound of My Voice” unspools, it becomes clear it’s not happening in the screen so much as it’s slowly unfolding a universe of paradoxes inside your head (read our review).
"The Forgiveness of Blood"
The sins of the father as they pass from generation to generation and the limits of family loyalty are the two taut central themes of Joshua Marston’s powerful sophomore feature film. Moving from the Colombian drug tale of “Maria Full of Grace,” his latest effort finds him deep in Albania where traditional methods for dealing with disputes between neighbors clash with an evolving, slowly progressing society. And that’s where the teenage Nik (Tristan Halilaj) finds himself caught. When his father is accused of murder, his family is essentially exiled, with the men ordered to stay housebound as the elders confer to decide on a suitable punishment (this can sometimes take years). With his father on the run, and Nik unable to work, it falls to his younger sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) to pick up the slack. What emerges in this multi-layered film is a portrait of how an antiquated system is unable to contain the tides of change. Nik cleverly works around the system to stay in touch with his best friend, and even begin a fledgling relationship, while his sister is given a crash course in the difficulties of making ends meet. As things come to a head, Nik is faced with an impossible choice between saving himself or honoring a blood bound tradition. Immaculately shot, and presenting a fascinating world we simply haven’t seen on the big screen before, “The Forgiveness of Blood” is a remarkable slow burning drama that presents the complex and sometimes puzzle-shaped nature of family relationships, and the tangle of their history that we can sometimes get caught up in (read our review).
"The Deep Blue Sea"
Though both the filmmakers and the setting for their films are separated by decades, Terence Davies’ latest shares much in common with Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz.” In both films, women chase the excitement of new love and sex, only to realize that passion can be fleeting or, more in the case of “The Deep Blue Sea,” not quite what you thought it would be. Based on the play by Terence Rattigan, the film is led by a towering, heartbroken performance by Rachel Weisz, who plays Hester Collyer, married to a much older, respected judge (Simon Russell Beale), who chases an affair with a dashing, handsome fighter pilot played by Tom Hiddleston. What emerges is a deeply affecting portrait of the complexity that relationships carry with them, the blurred line between love and lust, and the emotional peaks and deep, dark valleys the blue flame of intense passion can carry us into. Pitched against the social mores of 1950s England and the class divisions that were more pronounced at the time, only heightens the power of Davies’ already soft-focused, amber-toned and stylized film, which itself feels as if it were (beautifully) unearthed from another era. Masterfully constructed, with a torrent of emotion that ripples beneath nearly every scene without a wasted word, moment or frame, “The Deep Blue Sea” presents the idea that love lost and love gained can often share the same beautiful pain (read our review).