Youth Conquers Beasts of the Southern Wild

This year’s Sundance darling, Beasts of the Southern Wild, defies description.  Part fable, part real-life, it could take place at almost any time in modern history, though the locale is so clearly defined ~ to the point of being a character in and of itself ~ that you can practically smell it, hear it, taste it and feel it.  Beasts takes place in a Southern Louisiana Delta called The Bathtub ~ earning its name due to it filling up with water when it rains…and oh, does it rain, as if it won’t ever stop.  The living conditions there are meager ~ dirty, cramped and infested with all manner of creatures (some real, some mythical), yet the “residents” of the Bathtub (an array of eccentrics who fit into no clear category) are fiercely devoted and attached (for better or for worse) to their home, refusing to leave, even when a storm reminiscent of Katrina makes their already dismal living conditions virtually unlivable and the government tries to forcibly remove them.

The story centers around an extraordinary 6-year-old girl called Hushpuppy (played by soulful newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) and her distant, tough-loving father, Wink (beautifully played by another first-time actor, Dwight Henry) as they struggle to subsist amidst the many obstacles in their path: his failing health, the dangerous repercussions resulting from the aftermath of the storm, and their previous abandonment by Hushpuppy’s mother (an absence clearly felt by both).  Although Wink often comes across as unfairly harsh, it eventually becomes clear he is only trying to teach his young daughter how to survive on her own, as her impending orphanhood draws ever near.  Hushpuppy, who affectingly narrates the film from her point of view, goes about trying to make sense of the tenuous world around her, doing so with more courage, resolve, imagination and wisdom than most ten times her age.  She is a force of nature, a wonder to behold ~ and one gets the sense that at the tender age of six, the line between “actor” and child is practically non-existent.  It is she ~ with her touchingly delivered voice-overs, her steely and steady gaze, her tenacity, and her remarkable spirit ~ who brings a beating heart to the narrative, lifting the film to the heights it reaches.  It is quite a load to carry on such tiny little shoulders, but she bears it with strength, stamina and grace.  She is a firecracker, a revelation and alone makes the movie worth seeing. Continue reading

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Jack White Does It Again

In marked contrast to my last post on Pop Princess Katy Perry, I am shifting over to a musician who has encompassed at one time or another nearly every musical genre other than Pop (and maybe Hip-Hop).  My love affair with the multi-talented and ubiquitous Jack White began years ago when I first saw The White Stripes perform “Seven Nation Army” at the Grammys.  I was riveted, particularly by the ghostly, yet strangely sexy man partially obscured by his wavy jet black locks.  He was electric.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him.  Henceforth began my exploration of The White Stripes.  Before I knew it, I’d ordered every one of their albums up to that point (Elephant still being one of my favorites, alongside Get Behind Me Satan).  I saw The Stripes in concert at the Greek Theater in L.A. in 2005 ~ they were exponentially more electrifying in person and needless to say, my loyalty as a fan was forever sealed.

Wearing many hats, Jack is far from a one-trick pony ~ he is an accomplished musician skilled in various instruments (most notably guitar), a singer/songwriter, and a record producer.   Whether forming other successful bands like The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, producing (and playing on) country stalwart Loretta Lynn’s 2004 album Van Lear Rose or even making the occasional acting cameo in films, there is virtually nothing the man can’t do.  And he is clearly passionate about it all, a quality that absolutely comes through, especially in his live performances.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see him live on multiple occasions ~ with The White Stripes and with the Raconteurs, including special behind-the-scenes access during the shooting of a Raconteurs video thanks to a friend who was a producer on the White Stripes documentary Under Great White Northern Lights.  It was a thrill just to get to watch him at work, in his element, not to mention pretty cool to be in the iconic Capital Records building for the first time ever!

When I learned Jack was touring for his recent (and first ever) solo album release (Blunderbuss), I was of course all over procuring tickets to see him.  I repeatedly hit the “refresh” button on my computer as the seconds counted down to the 10:00am Ticketmaster sale time.  In spite of being right on the dot with the time, I was still only able to find a single ticket available…in the balcony.  It’s one thing to attend a sit-down, mellow concert alone (no problem for me); it’s another thing entirely to attend a show alone you know will be rocking and rolling.  But I didn’t see an alternative when the alternative meant not seeing him.  So, because I love him that much, I purchased that single balcony ticket, resigned to rock out solo.

My backstage pass.

As the concert weekend drew near, I saw that he’d added a second night…and through a series of unforeseen circumstances, I wound up NOT going the night originally intended and instead went the second night with the wife of the friend I mentioned above, who not only had infinitely better seats (which got even better as the night drew on ~ more on that in a moment), but who also had backstage passes.  Funny how things always work out for the best in the end, right?

Further icing on the cake:  In Jack’s current tour, he rotates between an all male band and an all female band.  While I’ve got absolutely nothing against a stage full of men, I have to say it was a treat to get to witness Jack’s performance backed by a cadre of feminine energy and talent.  There’s something fantastic in the contrast between Jack’s rockabilly sound (and look) and six women dolled up in flowing dresses and tresses.  They include a bass player, a pedal steel guitarist, a fiddler, a keyboardist, a back-up singer/tambourinist and a drummer (Carla Azar of Autolux) who (forgive me, Meg) put Meg White to shame!  She was outstanding.  So much so that at times she actually diverted my attention from Jack, which is saying a LOT.  And lucky for Jack, as he was a bit on the hoarse side (hazards of doing back to back shows?), his lovely back-up singer did more than back him up on occasion, at times outright filling in for him, and amazingly, managing to mimic his sound so well there were times I couldn’t tell which of them was singing!  Sure, it was a bummer Jack’s voice wasn’t in top form, but NOTHING detracts from his stage presence and guitar skills.  That’s his true gift ~ a gift that happily keeps on giving. Continue reading

Katy Perry Sugared Me Sweet

Although my Top 40 radio days are long gone, I must admit I find Pop Princess Katy Perry‘s music ~ and persona ~ infectiously irresistible.  So during a recent trip home to visit family, my 10-year-old niece had little problem twisting my arm to take her to see Part Of Me, which documents Perry’s latest world tour, her struggle and subsequent rise to stardom, and elements of her personal life.And I’ve gotta say, I enjoyed every minute of it.  I laughed, I cried, I was moved, I was even inspired.  Perry has traversed quite a path from gospel/Christian singer (she was raised in a strict Pentecostal household by a preacher father and his wife) to the fearlessly daring pop force she is today.  After all, her first hit single was “I Kissed A Girl” (and she liked it).

Perry is the real deal.  She writes her own songs, (which she seems to churn out with remarkable consistency and speed), 13 of which have become hit singles, five off of one record alone (Teenage Dream), tying her with Michael Jackson and becoming the only female in history to do so.  She has a remarkably powerful and beautiful clear voice to boot.  Perry demonstrates a sincere interest in and devotion to her fans (at times forcing herself to personally greet fans backstage in spite of utter exhaustion), and she in turn (deservedly) has masses of devoted fans, as evidenced by the sold-out shows and the adoring comments of the many interviewed throughout the doc.  She is unfailingly loyal, surrounding herself with and employing many of her friends and family from early on in her career to now.  Perry was by no means an overnight success, which makes it all the more gratifying to see her reach the enormous success she has today, particularly in light of her true talent, hard work, drive and never-give-up attitude, not to mention because she appears to be a genuinely good person. Continue reading

Bernie, Bernie, Oh What Have You Done?

Bernie is a Richard Linklater film unlike any I’ve ever seen…by him or anyone else, for that matter.  I knew very little about the movie going in, which I think contributed to my enjoyment of and appreciation for the film.  It is a sharply droll film with an unexpectedly dark undercurrent so subtly crafted, before you know it, you are every bit as engrossed by and invested in the story as are the real-life townspeople “cast” in the documentary-style narrative.  It is wholly unique in its structure, as it is not quite a “mockumentary” (in the vein of, for instance, Christopher Guest films such as This Is Spinal Tap or Waiting For Guffman – it takes itself more seriously than those), yet precisely because it is based on a true story and so many real-life residents are used within the telling of that story, it often feels like a (fantastically riveting and entertaining) documentary.

Bernie is the remarkably true story of Bernie Tiede (played by the multi-talented and arguably undervalued Jack Black), a small-town Texas mortician whose preternaturally cheerful, caring and generous disposition makes him wildly popular with townsfolk across the board, young and old, male and female alike.  He eventually wins over even the crotchety wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent, played with delicious wickedness by Shirley MacLaine.  Bernie and Ms. Nugent form a curiously uncommon (and definition-defying) relationship that eventually tests even the perpetually patient and optimistic Bernie, causing him, in a moment of temporary insanity (or, one could argue, temporary sanity), to reach a breaking point that drives him to commit a crime you don’t see coming (unless you’re familiar with the true-life case, or have read or seen anything about the movie!)  This act precipitates a chain of events that has to be seen to be believed, culminating in a trial every bit as compelling and absorbing as any modern-day real-life crime drama. Continue reading