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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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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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