Writer/director Benh Zeitlin's amazing Beasts of the Southern Wild might be the most unforgettable film of 2012. Glad we got that out of the way up front.
Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a resolute 6 year-old girl living in "The Bathtub," a flooding islet beyond the levee -- literally a fortress wall -- between the Mississippi Delta and the vastness of the Gulf.
The swampy landscape, festooned with cast-off debris, and dotted with ramshackle tin houses on stilts provides the life blood of the tiny community that refuses to leave their sinking kingdom. Hushpuppy's mother is only a rumor and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry) is showing signs of falling to a mysterious malady.
The weather, oddly, takes a turn for the worst as a storm floods the Delta and the warming temperatures frees a herd of aurochs -- sort of prehistoric, colossal, horned pigs -- from the distant polar ice, which stampede with apocalyptic determination into Hushpuppy's world.
And Anachronism. Six-year-old Hushpuppy leaves home in search of her mother after the release of prehistoric creatures in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Faced with natural disasters on all sides, Hushpuppy goes on a quest to find her mother when it becomes clear that Wink, who has been doing his best to instill self-reliance in his daughter, might be gravely ill. Her journey, fantastical and heartbreaking, takes her from her sodden home on an adventure to the seeming ends of the world.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is nothing of short of a lucid dream masterpiece. Adapted from the one-act-play Juicy and Delicious by its author Lucy Alibar with writer/director Benh Zeitlin, Beasts captures a world so unique that it borders on alien, with transcendent richness and attention to detail.
Spinning a graceful odyssey, this is a hero's tale told through the eyes of a little girl whose innocence succumbs to her environment and the unenviable, yet exceptional, circumstances of her life -- innocence that is replaced by resolve and the knowledge that the universe has a place for her.
Zeitlin's visual aesthetic, captured on wonderfully textured 16mm film, exudes a beautifully tangible atmosphere. You can almost smell the thick air of the humid mangroves as Zeitlin's camera snakes amongst the submerged shanty homes and human outposts that lie of the edge of the watery, enigmatic frontier. Hushpuppy, Wink and their friends are essentially Picts, protective and knowing of their wasteland, bordered by the levee and the gleaming civilization beyond. Their civilization may not gleam, but their freedom enables the only life they want to know, the one given them by the only home they've had.
And while Beasts is gorgeous on both narrative and stylistic levels, it's the performers who populate its lyrically rendered world who work their way into the heart. Newcomers Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry have a seamless chemistry and a natural screen presence that melds wonderfully with the elegiac tone of the poetic story -- an amalgam whose joys defy easy description, and will not easily be forgotten.
There's still a good chunk of 2012 left to go. already owns a spot as one of (if not the best) films of the year.
I'm not used to feel-good French movies anymore. Jean-Pierre Jeunet aside, it's been the works of Gaspar Noe and Alexandre Aja -- horrific and depressing for different reasons -- that have garnered the most attention. It's as if the French suddenly decided that the Japanese monopoly on inexplicably batshit movies was not acceptable, hence the New Wave of Horror and boundary pushing works from the likes of Noe, Catherine Breillat and Virginie Despentes, among others.
Based on a True Story. After paragliding accident goes awry leaving him quadriplegic, a wealthy man hires a man from the projects to be his caretaker in The Intouchables, starring from left to right, Anne Le Ny, Francois Cluzet, and Omar Sy.
So when I get a dose of something like The Intouchables, it's a forcible reminder that contemporary French civilization isn't loaded with insane nurses trying to cut babies from the wombs of expectant mothers or smelly freaks populating carnal underground houses of murder, sex and inhumanity -- awesome though they may be.
Driss (Omar Sy) is a poor, young Senegalese expat in Paris, hustling the system to get on the government dole and help support his extended family. The lighthearted Driss has issues with responsibility. Sent by a temp agency, he meets Phillippe (François Cluzet), a rich, wheelchair-bound industrialist who needs a caretaker who doesn't make him feel crippled. Diss, who only wants a rejection signature so he can claim his "benefit," winds up being enticed into the job due Phillippe's sultry, red-headed secretary (Audrey Fleurot) and the opulent workplace, a Renaissance-era, metropolitan mansion.
Driss' sweetly immature nature breeds affection towards his lovelorn, wistfully ruined patron; their burgeoning friendship pulling both from the depths of their rueful existence and opening unexpected avenues of unlikely change.
The Intouchables screams feel-good out of the gate, due largely to Omar Sy's charismatic, charming turn as Driss. The narrative plays the growth of their friendship as a slice-of-life dramedy that finds Driss discovering an untapped talent for art and challenging his fears, while pushing Phillippe from writing poetry to women to actually meeting them. Driss never sees Phillippe's condition as an obstacle, making for a nice parallel to the societal disadvantages under which Driss and his family struggle.
Which is something of a problem. There's no real sense of conflict in the story -- since the backgrounds of the characters are dimmed by the discovery of their friendship, their relationship never seems to suffer much strife. It's all so convivial -- with a disconcerting undertone of clueless racism.
Writer/directors Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano craft an attractive and essentially jovial film, though, based in part on the memoir You Changed Me by Abdel Sellou. The Intouchables is too cheerful to really pick on and often funny enough to make it worth the time. But it's also too pedestrian to really matter.
And Don't Forget!
The Circle Cinema's annual movie marathon, Slumber Party, resumes this weekend with a slate of films guaranteed to satisfy any cult film geek's need for wanton destruction.
Founded by Circle programmers Joshua Blevins Peck and David Nofire, the themed bacchanal has annually since 2009 inspired sell-out crowds of b-movie fanatics to lock themselves in the theater together -- often with sleeping gear -- for a dusk-till-dawn orgy of genre films, classic trailers on 35mm, merch giveaways, half-off concessions and free gelato from Mod's Coffee and Crepes in a celebration of mutual great taste.
This year's theme, dubbed Operation: T.N.T., promises a slate of five killer picks. From the 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring, explosion-fest, Commando, which finds the Muscles from Brussels killing the shit out of the evil dudes behind his daughter's abduction -- to the hilariously violent Chinese prison film, Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki -- the wisdom and gleeful care that has gone into Slumber Party's past picks is still apparent. Stone Cold (starring OU footballer Brian Bosworth), the Chuck Norris actiongasm Invasion U.S.A., and a secret film, fill out the roster.
The Matrix. The Austrian Oak getting ready to make some lunch in Commando.
Slumber Party: Operation T.N.T begins at 10pm August 4. The show has sold out every year, so get on it fast. As always, tickets are $20 each with a $5 refund for those who make it through the whole night -- and free bagels from Old School Bagels will waiting at the finish line.
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