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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Rock of Ages – Rocks You Like a Cheesy Hurricane

Who ever thought a cohesive narrative could be pieced together based on rock hits of the ’80’s?!  Well…it can’t.  Yes, the less than stellar ratings on Rotten Tomatoes should have been fair warning, BUT as a child of the 80’s, how could I resist checking it out?!  And insofar as the tunes are concerned, it was a fun (and nostalgic) trip down memory lane,  with 80’s classics ranging from ballads like Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”, Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is” and REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” to the hard-driving rock anthems such as Guns ‘n Roses’ “Paradise City”, Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock & Roll” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.  In addition, there are (deservedly so) multiple songs included by the likes of Journey, Pat Benatar, Styx and many more.  In that regard (along with the hairstyles and clothing), it was a bit like traveling back in time…to possibly the cheesiest decade in history.

Within the first 10-15 minutes, my (fellow child of the 80’s) friend and I were looking at each other with ambivalence, wondering aloud if this was going to be the biggest waste of an afternoon ever.  But then, an odd thing happened… It started to grow on us.  We laughed.  A lot.  Granted, half the time we were laughing because it was so bad, it was funny; the other half of the time because it actually was funny.  And frankly, it became harder and harder to decipher what was meant to be comedic and what wasn’t.  I began to wonder if it was really just ALL poking fun at itself ~ even in its more earnest, seemingly serious moments.  Regardless, I think the key was just giving ourselves over to the cheese.  Heck, the 80’s themselves were cheesy!  How could a movie exploiting them be anything but cheesy itself?  It just became a matter of embracing it in all its garish glory. Continue reading

Indie Love for Your Sister’s Sister

Your Sister’s Sister is just the kind of small, quiet, contained Indie movie that’s right up my alley.  I happened upon an interview with Writer/Director Lynn Shelton on Fresh Air the other night (this film is her sophomore effort, following 2009’s Humpday, also starring Mark Duplass) and my interest was piqued, by Shelton’s pleasant, unassuming nature, by the naturalistic dialogue i in the audio clips played from the film, and due to the three lead cast members ~ Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt ~ all of whom I like a great deal.  And so I treated myself to a Sunday morning matinée (my version of church).

Jack (Duplass) and Iris (Blunt) are best friends.  Iris sends Jack, who is still dealing with the emotional repercussions of the loss of his brother a year earlier, to her father’s cabin somewhere in the scenic Pacific Northwest in the hopes that some time away ~ and alone ~ will help him to “recharge”.  Upon his arrival, he finds he is not alone, as Iris’ half-sister, Hannah (DeWitt), is already there, escaping her own heartache.  After a comically rocky introduction, the two spend a tequila-fueled night discussing their problems…and then some.  Iris unexpectedly arrives the next morning and the inevitable complexities of the close-knit triangle ensue.  Continue reading

Jeff, Who Lives At Home ~ Not As Much Fun As Cyrus, Who Also Lives At Home

Written & Directed by Mark & Jay Duplass

Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Rae Dawn Chong

Jason Segel is Jeff, a 30-year-old stoner who lives at home with his mother (played by Susan Sarandon).  Obsessed with signs (both in the literal sense and, amusingly, in reference to M. Night Shyamalan‘s film of the same name), he is searching, rather aimlessly, for his “purpose”.  Segel is entirely winning despite the somewhat stereotypical character set-up.  Jeff is a gentle giant with a heart of gold, well-meaning even in his haphazard missteps (at which everyone in his family pokes fun).  Segel is perfect in this role and shows greater range than I’ve ever seen in him, beautifully and convincingly straddling the line between hapless lug and sincere loving soul, between comedy and drama.  It is really he who holds this film together and had me invested in any way.

Ed Helms, on the other hand, plays his narcissistic moron of an older brother, Pat, who is continually judging Jeff even when his own life is in actuality no less (if not more so) in disrepair ~  his marriage (to the always fabulous Judy Greer) disintegrating, with good reason (who could blame her?!), making ridiculous choices (like purchasing a brand new Porsche on a clearly meager salary), and holding “business meetings” at Hooters.  Not that Helms doesn’t have some humorous scenes (I do think he is a gifted comedian), but it really is tough to like or sympathize with him in any way since most everything he says and does here is idiotic.   Continue reading