I’ve watched Wes Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom, twice now. After the first screening, I really liked it, as you can read in my review for NPR. After the second, last night, I can upgrade that feeling to a very nearly unconditional love. Anderson takes a memory of his own past—the sort of memory we all have, of the first stirrings of something resembling love in our preadolescent hearts, destined to almost always go unrequited—and spins it into a left-of-reality fantasy that acts as wish fulfillment for the 12-year-old romantic in all of us, as well as a serious investigation of how love manifests itself at different parts of our lives. He does so through the story of Sam and Suzy, two kids living on a remote New England island who decide, at the age of 12, to run away with one another, out of both love and a sense that they are severely misunderstood by the adults in their lives. Much of the movie is devoted to a full-scale search of the island by Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), Sam’s scout leader (Edward Norton), and the island’s lone law enforcement officer (Bruce Willis), all of whom are in various states of despair or melancholy over the loneliness of their own love lives or lack thereof.
For those who’ve already decided they hate the fussy, quirky Anderson aesthetic, there may not be much here to change their mind on that front, as this is as quintessentially Andersonian as The Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore. But I’ve always found that to be a shallow reading, as Anderson’s whimsical constructions almost always rest atop a deeply affecting well of emotion, which is as near to the surface as ever in Moonrise Kingdom. I used to think that if I could go to any cinematic place and time, I’d be driving a Citroën down the streets of Paris in a Godard feature. Feel free to mock that particular personal cliché all you wish, but his visions were both romantic and tough, welcoming and a little dangerous. Wes Anderson’s worlds are much sweeter, and the dangers are more from the surplus of melancholy, but they’re just as vivid, romantic, and inviting. I want to spend time on his made-up island of New Penzance just as intensely.
For the 12th year, the AFI is teaming up with a number of local Caribbean organizations and associations to present a collection of films from all over the West Indies. This year’s selection of 11 titles comes from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Antigua and Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Barbados, and Belize. Things get started tomorrow night with Fire in Babylon, a British documentary about the “Windies,” a cricket squad that collects players from across the nations of the Caribbean into one team, which dominated the sport in the ’70s and ’80s. The rest of the festival showcases both narrative and documentary features, many dealing with the rich musical tradition of the islands as well as the often rocky political background of many of their nations.
Washington audiences don’t often get to see the work of local filmmakers on the big screen outside of some of the smaller festivals. But Silver Spring native Rohit Colin Rao’s Ultrasonic, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the DC Independent Film Festival earlier this spring, is getting a theatrical run at West End starting tomorrow. The film, shot in and around DC, centers on a struggling young musician who discovers he can hear a sound no one else can: an ultrasonic signal that the government is using to control people’s minds. The film becomes a thriller in which he and his brother-in-law attempt to find the source and purpose of the signal.
The second of this year’s two Snow White films, this version of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale trades in the lighter touch of Tarsem Singh’s earlier Mirror Mirror in favor of a much darker adventure. Twilight’s tortured teen Kristen Stewart stars as the titular princess, and Charlize Theron as her evil stepmother the Queen, determined to take out her younger, soon-to-be-fairer stepdaughter once her mirror clues her in that the girl will eventually usurp her throne. So she does what any reasonable magical tyrant would do and seeks to cut out Snow White’s heart and eat it in exchange for immortality. What she doesn’t necessarily count on is that the brutish huntsman she sends out after Snow White (Liam Hemsworth) will fall for her and train her—and the diminutive companions who have taken her in—to start a revolution and defeat the queen.
Norwegian director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s debut narrative feature works as a nice companion piece to Wes Anderson’s new film as it deals with the full sexual awakening of adolescence that the characters in Moonrise Kingdom are only just beginning to experience, and shares some of the wit and fantasy of its American counterpart. The film centers on Alma, a 15-year-old girl in a small town who is just beginning to discover her sexuality, in a rather more obsessive fashion, it seems, than most of her peers. Or perhaps her peers are feeling things just as intensely, but it seems she’s alone since we only see things from her perspective. In that way, Jacobsen effectively distills one of the defining qualities of being a teenager: experiencing exactly what everyone else is, but feeling utterly alone while it’s happening. The comedy here tends to be more acidic than in Anderson’s work, appropriate to the more advanced age of the protagonist, but has a similarly sensitive understanding of the difficulties of its young characters. You can read my full review at NPR.
DVD Pick of the Week: We Need to Talk About Kevin
I’ve covered Lynne Ramsay’s most recent work in this column before, when the film opened locally back in March. Now that it’s available for home viewing, it bears repeating that this is one of the finest, most powerful, and most unfairly overlooked films of 2011. The difficult sell is understandable on the one hand: This is a film about unspeakable violence committed by a teen, told in bold yet often impressionistic strokes. It’s a film that refuses to hold the hands of its viewers, and forces thought and serious contemplation of the reasons its characters act the way they do. It’s also a film that looks at motherhood in some of the most frightening terms imaginable; just picture watching the being that came out of you slowly developing into a manipulative psychopath and being powerless to stop it, even as your Pollyanna-esque husband refuses to acknowledge the problem—mostly because the kid is smart enough to never let his dad see his darker side. It’s an utterly mesmerizing masterpiece from Ramsay, who very nearly quit the movies some years ago. With works like this to offer, we should be thankful she chose to fight through the difficulties of balancing art and commerce that can be so oppressive for filmmakers. You can check out my more comprehensive thoughts on the film in this piece at the Atlantic.
Special Features: A making of documentary, more footage from the “La Tomatina” tomato festival that features prominently in a visually unforgettable early scene, an interview with star Tilda Swinton, and an essay from psychoanalyst Mark Stafford.