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Movie Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild


Ever been asked the question, “What would you do with a million dollars?” Most of us have come up with countless answers, but are still waiting for the check. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin put the one and a half million dollars he raised to the best use possible when working on this amazing film.

Garnering critical acclaim at what seems like a record pace, especially after some great recognition at Cannes and Sundance, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” deserves all the praise it can possibly have heaped on it. It was purchased by Fox Searchlight as a result of its showing at Sundance.

Quvenzhané Wallis

Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

The film runs on raw emotion shouldered heavily by the lead character, Hushpuppy (played by Quvenzhané Wallis) who is dealing with her home area (called “The Bathtub”) at risk of drowning. At the same time, the health of her father, Wink (played by Dwight Henry), is deteriorating rapidly. All while prehistoric, mythological creatures called aurochs (played by trained wild boars) are approaching with the threat of destroying everything in their path.

To train the wild boars, Zeitlin and his crew raised them from near birth and used popcorn to train them to sit, run, stop, run and turn around. “We basically taught them how to act,” said Zeitlin.

The success of the film lies mainly in director Zeitlin possessing the amazing ability to understand the nitty gritty, goodness, badness, ugliness and beauty of the characters in the story.

The show stealer is hands down six-year-old Wallis. Simply put, she’s a cinematic force to be reckoned with. Handpicked out of 4,000 applicants for the role of Hushpuppy, Zeitlin calls her “an amazing little creature.”

“She’s probably the mature one of the two us,” he added.

You would have a hard time guessing she’s never acted before. Zeitlin believes this “speaks to what a great actress she is.”

If there’s any justice in the movie world, Wallis will be on the scene for many years to come. She’s the loudest, baddest, spiciest Hushpuppy I’ve ever encountered.

Hushpuppy and Wink

Hushpuppy and her father, Wink

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is also Henry’s first role. Henry is the current owner of The Buttermilk Drop Cafe in New Orleans. He used to own Henry’s Bakery in the Marigny. He actually owes his role in the film to Henry’s Bakery.

The bakery was conveniently located across the street from the casting agency used for the film. Henry said the agency would often put up casting audition flyers in the bakery. One day, he decided to try out for a role. A role that he would eventually land — Wink in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

However, he found out he got the role two days after opening The Buttermilk Drop Cafe so he declined. In all, he would turn the role down three times before Zeitlin finally convinced him to accept.

“Benh saw things in me I didn’t see in myself,” said Henry.

Beasts of the Southern Wild Bathtub

Hushpuppy lives in “The Bathtub,” an area at risk of going underwater at any moment.

“Dwight really brought his life to this part in a way no one from outside [Louisiana] could,” said Zeitlin. “There were people with more experience, but no one who could play the role as well.”

Henry, Zeitlin and acting coaches spent many late nights at The Buttermilk Drop Cafe rehearsing lines, editing scripts and polishing the film, often while Henry was in the process of baking.

After seeing the film and hearing from Henry and Zeitlin, you can feel the pride and emotion they both invested in making the film. Needless to say, their efforts paid off in the best possible way with such a brilliant film. There’s a Terrence Malick feel to the cinematography, but Zeitlin’s storytelling ability separates him from his elder in this particular film.

Maybe I’m biased because the film was shot near New Orleans, but this is a cinematic gem in the form of a great story. I’ve always believed great stories leave you wanting more and “Beast of the Southern Wild” left me satisfied, but wanting more in the best possible way.

Go see this movie! It exposes the gamut of human emotions all in just 91 minutes. Fortunately, for us Louisianans we understand the full spectrum of human emotions, know how to roll with the punches, and most importantly, celebrate.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is the perfect culmination of all these elements. It’s a bittersweet celebration of life on full display.

All photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

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Posted by on July 8, 2012 in Watchin'

 

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2012 Oscar Picks

Oscar Statuette

Who will take home gold at the 84th Annual Academy Awards?

I’m a pretty big movie buff so I’ve seen most of the films up for Oscars this year. The only two really missing from my list are Hugo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

I’ll break the nominations down into Who Will Win, Who Should Win and Upset Alerts for the major categories.

Best Supporting Actress

Who Will Win: Octavia Spencer for The Help — I have a strong feeling she’ll get the awards season sweep this year.
Who Should Win: Octavia Spencer for The Help — Spencer’s performance as Minnie in The Help was one of the best performances of the year in my opinion. Plus, what other nominee can brag they played a character who (literally) made some eat shit?
Upset Alert: None really, but I would say Berenice Bejo has the best shot for her role as Peppy Miller in The Artist.

The Artist

The Artist is nominated for 10 Oscars.

Best Supporting Actor

Who Will Win: Christopher Plummer for Beginners — Plummer’s role in Beginners as the newly out gay father of Ewan McGregor’s character was spot on.
Who Should Win: Christoper Plummer for Beginners — While I wasn’t crazy about Beginners overall (it was just ok for me), aside from the subtitled dog, Plummer’s performance was outstanding.
Upset Alert: Jonah Hill for Moneyball — I have a feeling the Academy will overlook Moneyball completely tonight unless they throw Hill a bone for his performance in what they (based on nominations) consider a better movie than Beginners.

Best Director

Who Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist — Statistically, the film that takes home the trophy for Best Director usually wins Best Picture as well, hence, the pick here.

Who Should Win: Terrence Malick for Tree of Life — Admittedly, I love Tree of Life and think it’s the best film I saw in 2012. Malick should win for such a grand opus to creation and the ongoing struggle between nurture and nature.
Upset Alert: Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris — While I think Midnight in Paris has a better chance of taking home Original Screenplay, I can’t say I’d be surprised if Allen took home Best Director.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is nominated for Best Picture.

Best Actress

Who Will Win: Viola Davis for The Help — While this category is really a toss-up, I give Davis the nod over annual nominee Meryl Streep.
Who Should Win: Viola Davis for The Help — Together, Davis and Spencer really took The Help to another level and I think both should be rewarded for their roles.
Upset Alert: While this would be far from an “upset,” Streep has the best chance to take home the trophy over Davis.

Best Actor

Who Will Win: Jean Dujardin for The Artist — Some might consider this a bit of an upset, but I have a feeling Dujardin did more without speaking than Clooney did speaking.
Who Should Win: Jean Dujardin for The Artist — Apologies to Clooney, but I thought his acting in The Descendants was terrible. Especially, his final scene with is wife. It was a little too Lifetime movie for me. That said, I found Dujardin as George Valentin stellar in The Artist.
Upset Alert: George Clooney for The Descendants — Once again, not really an upset. See my comments above for why I don’t think he’s deserving.

The Help

Could The Help take home Best Picture?

Best Picture

Who Will Win: The Artist — Who would have ever thought a silent movie would take home Oscar gold again? Fortunately, The Artist is brilliant enough to make a claim for an Oscar.
Who Should Win: Tree of Life — While this movie may be a love it or hate it film, to me it was more than a movie. It was an ethereal experience. The cinematography was the best I’ve ever seen and the acting and directing were sensational.
Upset Alert: The Help — Hear me out. The Artist and The Descendants are widely regarded as the two favorites. If they split the vote, I think The Help may be able to sneak away with an Oscar statuette.

I can’t wait to see how all my picks pan out. Anyone else have any favorites or picks?

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Watchin'

 

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Movie Review: Safe House

Safe House Poster

Safe House Poster

Denzel Washington is back in the role of the bad guy in Safe House, a C.I.A. thriller that entails the normal C.I.A. verbiage: espionage, missing files, reconnaissance, etc.

Washington, playing the role of former C.I.A. agent/traitor Tobin Frost, played a much more conniving (and convincing) bad guy in Training Day. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to erase his Oscar-winning role in Training Day from your mind while watching Safe House. And Tobin Frost ain’t got nothing on Alonzo Harris (Washington’s Training Day character).

Set in South Africa, Reynolds’ character Matt Weston is in charge of a C.I.A. safe house that doesn’t see a lot of excitement. That all changes when Frost is busted for an info deal gone bad. Frost, who “turned” years ago, is known as the C.I.A. agent who rewrote the book on interrogation. So when he’s brought in for questioning at Weston’s safehouse, things don’t go quite as expected.

Ryan Reynolds as Matt Weston in Safe House

Ryan Reynolds as Matt Weston in Safe House

After a rogue group attempts to capture Frost due to information he may be holding, Weston makes the decision to try and bring him in on his own. But without field experience, he lacks the confidence to go up against the former C.I.A. big boy Frost.

e Safe House goes in and out of action sequences with Frost and Weston trying to escape bad guys, Frost trying to escape from Weston, Weston figuring out where Frost is going, and the normal formula you would expect from an action flick with a hunter and a hunted. The only thing unique about Safe House is that the role of hunter and hunted are never solidified. Sometimes Weston has the upper hand, other times it’s Frost.

Denzel Washington as Tobin Frost in Safe House

Denzel Washington as Tobin Frost in Safe House

From there Safe House is missing the surprising twist and turns truly great action movies have. Add that to a phoned in performance from Washington and a performance from Reynolds that’s lacking conviction and you have a very average action movie — one I would hesitate to call a “thriller.”

While it’s not a waste of your time to see Safe House, I would definitely relegate it to your Netflix queue or pick it up from Redbox rather than venturing to the theater to see it.

All photos courtesy of Universal Pictures.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Watchin'

 

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The 22nd Annual New Orleans Film Festival

Today, The 22nd Annual New Orleans Film Festival kicks off. As a member of the New Orleans Film Society, I had the privilege of screening many of the documentaries showing over the course of the next week.

Here’s a guide to what I plan on seeing and what documentaries I can recommend based on my firsthand knowledge. Tickets are available on the New Orleans Film Society website.

Fri., Oct. 14

A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method
Showtimes: 6:45 p.m. and 8:50 p.m. (The Theatres at Canal Place)

Starring Viggo Mortensen as renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud and Michael Fassbender as Freud’s prodigy Carl Jeung, A Dangerous Method draws from the real-life events of both psychologists during World War I. Keira Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein, a trouble woman who comes between the doctors. Described as a dark tale of sexual and intellectual discovery, this film has been picked up by Sony Pictures for U.S. distribution.

Sat., Oct. 15

An African Election

An African Election

An African Election
Showtime: 1:45 p.m. (The Theatres at Canal Place)

What happens when a too-close-to-call election takes place in Ghana, a country known for political unrest, corruption and violence? The answer: a thrill-ride examining the dangers and rewards of holding a fully democratic election.

A highly political documentary, An African Election exposes the ins and outs of political electioneering taking place in much of Africa. Capturing the intrigue of the 2008 political campaigns, the film is set within the dramatic backdrop of a violent, uneasy time for the entire nation of Ghana.

Can a third-world nation successfully hold a democratic election free of corruption? That question is made all the more significant given that the two parties featured in this film are willing to do almost anything to win and gain control of Ghana.

Gain an unprecedented inside view of the political, economic and social forces at work within Ghana while exploring the pride and humanity of larger-than-life politicians and the citizens fighting for the rights of their country.

Zero Percent

Zero Percent

Zero Percent
Showtime: 1:40 p.m. (Second Line Stages)

Offering a unique way of dealing with recidivism, the Hudson Link program has produced astounding results through the transformative power of education. Prisoners at the notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York are given a full college education within the confines of the prison walls.

The results will leave you amazed at the success rate of this groundbreaking educational program. The program also presents an interesting moral and societal conundrum: Do convicted criminals deserve a college degree in a world where the average family struggles to finance a non-criminal child’s education?

Zero Percent gives viewers rare access within the walls of the facility and into the lives of the prisoners participating in Hudson Link. Explore the intense prison life and challenges for the inmates hoping to earn not only their college degree, but societal redemption — and ultimately, forgiveness.

Sun., Oct. 16

Marathon Boy

Marathon Boy

Marathon Boy
Showtime: 4:15 p.m. (The Theatres at Canal Place)
Also plays at 5:35 p.m. on Wed., Oct. 19

This is an epic documentary that follows Budhia, a four-year-old Indian orphan, and his coach, Biranchi, as Budhia trains for long-distance running. Budhia runs a record 65-kilometer distance at his young age of four.

Soon thereafter, questions are raised as to the coaching style of Biranchi and whether he truly has Budhia’s best interests in mind. Marathon Boy follows Budhia for five years as he runs race after race.

This was one of the best documentaries I screened throughout the process so I highly recommend making time for this film

Mon., Oct. 17

Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story

Man in the Glass

Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story
Showtime: 5:20 p.m. (Prytania Theatre)
Also plays at 2:15 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 15.

LSU fans rejoice! Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story chronicles the legacy of fabled (and often-criticized) LSU basketball coach (1972-1997) Dale Brown. From his battles with the NCAA, his successful campaign to have a prisoner released from Angola State Penitentiary, his efforts on behalf of Native Americans and his lifelong commitment to his players, Dale Brown is a man full of passion, humanity and fire.

Featured in the documentary are well-known personalities including Matthew McConaughey, Shaquille O’Neal (one of Coach Brown’s most successful players), John Wooden, Dick Vitale and Tim Brando. Each personality offers their own unique perspective on Coach Brown’s effect on their lives, the game of college basketball and the sports world.

The story tells the tale of not a basketball coach, but a unique person whose compassion knows no boundaries. Relive Coach Brown’s thrilling highs and low points as coach of the LSU Tigers’ men’s basketball team. Geaux Tigers!

Tues., Oct. 18

A Fighting Chance

A Fighting Chance

A Fighting Chance
Showtime: 9:45 p.m. (The Theatres at Canal Place)
Also plays at 7:50 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 15.

ESPN-produced A Fighting Chance explores wrestler Kyle Manard’s goal of fighting in an official Mixed Martial Arts match. The twist? Kyle was born without arms or legs and seeks a match against an able-bodied fighter — an aspiration some MMA officials and fighters disagree with.

At age 23, Kyle became a top-ranked wrestler, ESPY award-winner, motivation speaker and bestselling author, but his latest goal proves highly controversial and even dangerous. He learns to man up to the greater challenge of the majority of the world seeing him as disabled.

Kyle shows how difficult (and rewarding) life can be when every day is a challenge. Aside from his goal of earning an MMA fight, Kyle’s work with recovering military veterans plays a large part in his successful “No Excuses” philosophy. Explore his emotional journey from highly-regarded wrestler to the low-man-on-the-totem-pole MMA fighter in training. Kyle’s story is an inspiration for all.

Weekend

Weekend

Weekend
Showtime: 9:50 p.m. (The Theatres at Canal Place)
Also plays at 10:00 p.m. on Thurs., Oct. 20.

Weekend has already picked up several accolades including winning Audience Awards at SXSW and Outfest 2011.

Described as a startlingly authentic love story, Weekend focuses on the relationship of two gay men who initially start out at a one-night stand, but soon find themselves involved in a lost weekend full of sex, drugs and conversation.

Both men have unique outlooks and expectations out of life. Despite that, they develop a connection that may last a lifetime.

Wed., Oct. 19

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America
Showtime: 6:30 p.m. (Zeitgeist)
Also plays at 4:00 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 15 at The Theatres at Canal Place.

Discover one of America’s forgotten photographs: Mike Disfarmer. From Heber Sprinks, Ark., Disfarmer captured the faces, lives and emotions of the American heartland in an influential time in our nation’s history. His portraits documenting working-class farmland families and their struggles through World War I, the Great Depression and World War II compile a true visual record — of history and art.

Though Disfarmer was actively photographing families up until his death in 1959, his black and white portraits went largely unnoticed until being “discovered” by new York photography dealers in recent years. Critics have hailed his portraits as “a work of artistic genius” and ” a classical episode in the history of American photography.”

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America illustrated Disfarmer’s influence on the world of photography, his hometown of Heber Springs, Ark. and the Mahattan art world.

Melancholia

Melancholia

Melancholia
Showtime: 5:45 p.m. (Prytania Theatre)
Also plays at 6:50 p.m. on Sun., Oct. 16.

In Lars von Trier’s movie about the end of the world, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skaarsgard) are set to celebrate their wedding. One problem: the planet Melancholia is on a direct collision course with Earth.

This film takes a minimalist approach so don’t expect special effects dramatics. It’s more of an examination of strained relationships the fiasco known as a wedding day.

Thurs., Oct. 20

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Showtime: 7:30 p.m. (Prytania Theatre)

Martha Marcy May Marlene follows a young woman who is newly escaped from a cult. As she embarks on her recovery, she is haunted by painful memories and paranoia.

But, reassimilating with her family proves to be a challenge. MMMM, played by Elizabeth Olson, is an exploration of the lasting effects of psychological terror and trauma.

Martha Marcy May Marlene originally screened at Sundance.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in Livin'

 

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Movie Review: Moneyball

Brad Pitt Gives Moneyball the Spark it Needs to Succeed

Moneyball (based on the book by Michael Lewis) tells the true story of Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his strategy of managing a team with a limited payroll competing with teams with nine-figure payrolls (New York Yankees, this movie is looking squarely at you).

Set during the 2002 season, the A’s are coming off a first round playoff loss and losing their star players Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi.

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in Moneyball

Brad Pitt, left, and Jonah Hill star in Columbia Pictures' drama "Moneyball," a film about the unique approach Oakland A's GM Billy Beane used to rebuild his team in 2002.

The challenge: rebuild the A’s organization with one of Major League Baseball’s lowest payrolls.

Enter Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a statistically driven, Yale-educated economist. Together, they throw conventional MLB wisdom out the window and base the roster solely on player statistics. Initially, this experiment looks like a disaster. Fans, the Oakland media and even the A’s manager (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) are incensed after the dismal start to the season.

Slowly, but surely the season turns around for the A’s as the plan starts to pay off culminating with a 20-game win streak. Beane and Brand’s experiment revolutionizes the league after only one season.

Many critics are throwing out the “O” word for Pitt’s performance. While I think that’s a bit premature, it is one of his strongest performances since Fight Club.

Pitt and Hill have great onscreen chemistry, but the true scene stealer throughout the film is Kerris Dorsey who plays Pitt’s character’s daughter. The scenes between Dorsey and Pitt add an emotional connection that is somewhat lacking in the clubhouse scenes.

The movie completely plays to Pitt’s strengths: quick wits, charm and a little bit of snark.

The Oakland A's are the team in focus in "Moneyball."

The Oakland A's and the team payroll are at the center of "Moneyball."

The hodgepodge of a team features some nice side characters including Scott Hatteberg (played by Park and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt), David Justice (Stephen Bishop) and Jeremy Giambi (Nick Porrazzo).

While this film is about baseball at its core, it does an excellent job exploring the mind of Billy Beane, his backstory and his love of the game. It’s a most unknown story (save diehard baseball fans) that truly deserves the big screen treatment.

Overall, it is one of the better films I’ve seen this year. It’s been a while since a baseball movie performed well at the box office, but I’m confident Moneyball will be one of the Fall’s highest-grossing films.

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 133 minutes

All photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Watchin'

 

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