Adapting the supposedly unfilmable young adult novel for the screen, Ang Lee produces a moving and cogent discussion of spirituality and the human condition, elevating the narrative beyond the point of parable to epic while still maintaining the essential thematic explorations that made “Life of Pi” such a powerful read. Though the film’s introduction of a new framing device to account for the novel’s first person narrative at times falls flat, the story that it surrounds proves to be consistently thought provoking and emotionally stirring. And this is to say nothing of the film’s visual beauty, which isolates the violent majesty of nature as a representation of the temperamental swings of religious belief. Lee’s film is one of ethereal wonder and visceral terror, reminding audiences of how the drive to live is more than a simple natural tendency but is, rather, a necessary expression of our unique ability to supersede our physical limitations to become and to believe in more than natural and seemingly more than possible.
While critics may have found themselves split over the quality of P.T. Anderson’s latest film, it’s hard to deny the power of the production’s parts, which at times creak together awkwardly. Moment for moment, however, “The Master” consistently astounds as a study in human trauma and the dependent mindsets that our residual pain creates, driven by two magnificent performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The nonlinear narrative, which impressionistically leaps from scene to scene, provides for a thought provoking portrait of the protagonist, neither vilifying nor victimizing an essentially complex character. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but that doesn’t diminish the rare power on which Anderson capitalizes in “The Master,” providing audiences with a unique dissection of a moment in American history and the strains of pain and triumph that fermented therein.
“Skyfall” is quickly gaining a reputation as a great Bond film and is the first entry in the series that manages to wholly transcend its generic routes to emerge as a truly powerful and intelligent action film. Daniel Craig turns in an incredible performance as the British super spy who, for the first time in his entire film career, appears fundamentally and inescapably human, beaten down by years of physical and emotional deconstruction. As the film’s villain Raoul Silva, Javier Bardem adeptly maneuvers between camp and menace and cements himself within the series’ canon. Add to this Roger Deakins’ hauntingly beautiful cinematography, which makes astounding use of light and shadow to define scenes both dynamic and subdued, and the result is a spy film which is deeply concerned with the implications of its action, a portrait of a system that idolizes the very things it day by day destroys and a rollicking adventure that has an actual thematic destination in mind. Think on your sins.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is “Garden State” for adults, a film catering to those who don’t think that mental illness is curable by going off your meds and listening to good music. It’s also David O. Russell’s best film, harnessing the distinct quirkiness of the director’s vision (too often muted in “The Fighter”) and tempering it with harrowing performances by Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, both portraying broken souls, groping unconsciously for some sort of stability. It’s a movie that uses its humor to cut rather than sugarcoat, to deepen its mission rather than provide a way around complicated issues. “Silver Linings Playbook,” despite its overly-cutesy title, refuses to succumb to any sort of deceit or simplification, condescension, or coddling and is all the stronger for this. It’s not neat and it’s not perfect, but it’s human, and that goes a long way.
Wes Anderson, though not for everyone, has a unique ability to tap into the whimsies of childhood without ever forgetting how real their rooting can be. In his latest film, the director heartwarmingly delves into the topic of young love, simultaneously poking fun at the crazy fancies that can overtake us in our youth while reminding those inclined to mock them how truly, deeply fundamental they are to the structuring of our personal worlds. Populated with vibrant characters played by the likes of Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and others, the world of “Moonrise Kingdom” is that densely forested wasteland of emotional turbulence from which every child flees and to which every child escapes from time to time. “Moonrise Kingdom” is the garden wherein our first deep connections are let to flourish, overcoming our better judgments and allowing us to grow alongside them so that we can truly understand what it means to love and be loved. Anyone who thinks Anderson is a creature of gimmick or contrived quirkiness should force themselves to see “Moonrise Kingdom” and reevaluate. It’s a film that proves Wes Anderson as a storyteller and a filmmaker and a story that proves its characters as vessels of intense storms of sonorous emotion, despite their seemingly diminutive proportions.