‘Beasts Of The Southern Wild’: Review

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Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fairy tale. It never completely comes out and says it, but obvious themes of a mysterious upbringing, a missing parent, larger than life beasts and an all around tinge of everything being slightly off-kilter, lend credence towards this type of story. The thing that’s great about how it’s deployed is that it’s not a full tilt barrage of fantastical elements, but rather they’re woven into the very real and gritty environment of a bayou reminiscent of the New Orleans area. The film gains from being able to ground the seriousness of the storm and the perils of the people living there, but also heighten it through these fantastical elements that surround these people for better or worse. It’s a thin line between reality and imagination, you never truly know if this is taking place on our earth or if it’s taking place somewhere else entirely, like some kind of supernatural realm. The film gives evidence to both sides, either could be plausible, but I like to think this is some other world, where these elements aren’t just a apart of a little girl’s imagination, but are intrinsic in the environment. Or maybe their secluded little bayou area is within our world, but within their walls magical things happen, and large creatures co-exist with the human population.

Hushpuppy is exactly like one of those child protagonists from folklore or a passed down story. A little girl immersed in this larger than life environment, she has a handle on a few things, but is still very much at the mercy of a great deal that is larger than her. Growing up around this, everything seems normal, the way she lives, her hard-loving father, the various characters that surround her and the mystical nature surrounding her mother. Someone so beautiful and all-being that water would boil in her presence and she could easily dispatch of swamp creatures wearing nothing but a white pair of underwear and a shotgun (my kind of girl). Later on when Hushpuppy meets her mother, or again is it really her, is it a figment of her imagination, or maybe just someone who looks like her. It ultimately doesn’t matter, and you can take it as you wish, Hushpuppy is fearless in a lot of the physical realm, but still yearned for this connection with her mother. A closure on this end, her loose dangling thread, allowed Hushpuppy to take care of her own, knows what has to be done now and has the strength of mind and family to fulfill her fathers wishes.

The film is short and sweet, and like the best tales it tells its story and gets out. The short running time is no detriment to the quality, as the reason fairy tales and the like are so popular is they demand thought and provide several different ways of seeing for the viewer. Parents will take something different from the film than their children will, it could be about the power of family or of imagination. Beasts of the Southern Wild succeeds by straddling a line between the horrors of our day and the wonders of the fantastical, a modern fairy tale.

7/10

‘Amour’: Review

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I imagine there’s few things worse than watching a loved one deteriorate in front of you, the person you’ve grown to love and share countless memories with shatters as their shell is the only thing that remains. Michael Haneke’s intimate exploration of this happening in Amour sketches the harsh realities and tough decisions that must be made all the while trying to resist them for as long as possible. Georges and Anne Laurent are retired music teachers who live in a quiet home and live an equally quiet life. Still deeply in love with music, they fill their day by listening to old records, reading together, and just generally exist with each other. Anne begins to demonstrate odd signs, and is eventually sent into surgery for a blocked artery. The surgery goes wrong, leaving her paralyzed, beginning a string of worsening conditions and strokes that drive Anne physically and emotionally away from Georges.

Georges’ undying love for Anne delivers him to incessantly care for Anne and her misgivings. It’s fine at first when just the hazards of a wheelchair and the lack of use of her legs are the biggest dealings he has to cope with. When Anne starts losing her mind it gets tougher on Georges, and in a sense starts losing his mind too. The woman who he has spent the majority of his life with is drifting further away and becoming someone he no longer feels connected to. He gets frustrated with her, when she’s unable to communicate and unwilling to swallow the water that he gives her. In a moment of heightened frustration, Georges slaps her and then proceeds to slump down inside himself, realizing how far this has come and the drastic extent of his actions being spurned on through a person he really doesn’t know anymore. One of his daughters tries to remedy the situation by suggesting her mother out into a better situation, but Georges rebukes that as they couldn’t possibly know what he’s dealing with. It echoes the earlier themes of connection and seeing and knowing a person on a base level that would be unattainable or matched by a lesser being. Georges becomes more alone as the film wears on as Anne becomes progressively non-existent, an alien feeling to him, one that mirrors the pain of Anne.

Haneke keeps 95% of the “action” inside the Laurent’s house, doubling down on the feelings of isolation and the connective bond between Georges and Anne. By maintaining all the elements within their house their lived in history becomes consistently apparent and we can see a sort of roadmap of their entire life together. Along these lines though, the house is torture for Georges, constantly reminding him of the grand life he’s spent and shared with Anne, all the while this person is slowly vanishing. Their house is such a testament to their life and experiences that it’s only fitting that the film ends on a shot of the empty house, once full of a lifetime of memories, now a vapid area completely erased of connection.

Amour is a gorgeously produced and staged film, something that almost seems akin to a stage play or something. The themes of loneliness, death, and isolation are tried and true themes that are a constant in art since people first started telling stories. They work here especially because of the connection of the main characters and the immediate awareness of the depths of their relationship. The film is partly depressing, but it never effected me much because the relationship between Georges and Anne was so well defined that even through these hardships Georges was in control, they  both remained steadfast, and knew what eventually had to be done. Love brought them to this devastating period of their lives, it’s the same thing that will get Georges through it, and it’s the same way he’ll remember Anne.

8.5/10

‘The Impossible’: Review

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Oscar bait films are the worst kind of films. They always feature some kind of uplifting tale, something that explores the depths of human morality or decency and they always attempt to make you cry. There’s usually always a bonafide (or semi-bonafide) leading actor or actress in the starring role and one who most likely has an Oscar nomination in the past or some cache in that department. These films scrap the bottom of the barrel trying to seem like an actually good film on the outset, where in actuality it’s just a cover for a film that tackles easy topics and well worn themes that are bound to effect a good amount of the viewing audience.

The Impossible checks a lot of these boxes and under different hands could fall into this trap, but it is faithfully made and produced that it eschews these typical fault lines that these types of movies can fall into, and creates a genuinely rich film experience. There’s not much to the plot, a vacationing family gets separated by the destruction of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and vows against all elements to be reunited again. It’s a simple set piece and one which gets out of the way quickly as emotions and character perseverance carry the bulk of the film. Because of this the film may seem a bit repetitive at times, going over roughly the same course of actions, trying  to find new ways to express the same angst, pursuit and fear these characters have. When having no deeper or compounding plot, there’s only so much that can be done without things seeming like they’re just spinning their wheels until the family is hopefully reunited. Luckily, the strength of acting and stellar directing hold it above water and allows the film to rarely feel like it’s retreading too much that it takes you out of the film.

The success of a film like this is largely due to the strength of the actors, and their ability to not only faithfully reenact these disaster scenes so it feels “real,” but also to become invested in them, as without an emotional connection to these people or events, the film would be doomed to failure. Living up to their “Awards” level pedigree, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are quite perfectly cast and really feel like a married couple. Watts particularly has to be good, especially as her character is incapacitated for much of the film due to a leg injury and does wonders when it’s just her and her oldest son. McGregor carries a heavier load in terms of dealing with his emotions and determination having to send his younger kids away to safety while he scours the area in search of his wife. McGregor’s strongest scene comes when he gets hold of a cell phone and calls his in-laws and a mix of frustration, hope and sadness overwhelms him as he bursts into tears and hastily hangs up on them. After encouragement from others around him he’s able to regroup and get that needed push his broken soul desires to find the remaining members of his family.

As well as the strength of acting, the film is helped out by how well it is directed and just the overall presentation of the film. The tsunami flood scenes are expertly staged and again help place you in this moment in how destructive and unforgiving the storm was. The chaos and helplessness of the area and people echo throughout the whole film, and even showcase a nice trajectory of things slowly getting better and filling out with more people by the film’s end. The film starts off bleak and slowly starts to get brighter, albeit dipping down throughout for obvious stunts of hardship, but slowly and surely, things are moving on an upward trajectory, whether they seem like it at the time or not. My only real problem with the choice of directing was the inclusion of a weird dream-like re-birth scene that felt tremendously out of place and seemed like it was from an entirely different movie, rather than a quite grounded one like this.

The Impossible was never going to be an all-time classic or compete for best picture awards. It does quite a lot well, the directing is good if not fantastic, and the acting is uniformly great all around. A well-roundedness is missing from the film as a whole where it does several things right, but at the expense of important areas such as character development and story structure. It rides high on emotions, which if done right like here can be completely fine and palatable, but lacks the cohesion of greater filmic means that could’ve pulled the film together better and made it richer beyond its emotional beats.

7.5/10

‘The Sessions’: Review

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The Sessions is a film about how everything on the surface isn’t as it seems. Mark O’Brien is for all intents and purposes paralyzed from the neck down, and after some heartbreak and looking his eventual mortality in the face, decides “Hey, I should probably try and have sex.” He eventually hires a sex therapist to “help” him with this endeavor, and help him she certainly does. Even in his condition Mark is a quick-witted guy who uses sarcasm, his condition and the people around him to mask his true feelings. Under this veil is a nervous, neurotic and scared man who is afraid of new sensations, the fear of the unknown and letting yourself go fully in the physical or metaphorical arms of another. Sure, Mark may see himself as a romantic and companionship with a woman is something he wants, leading to his marriage proposal to a caretake being turned down, but he never fully realizes what he truly wants and needs until Cheryl, his sex therapist, get him to open up.

Cheryl’s job on the surface is to help disabled people learn about their bodies and eventually become able to sexually satisfy themselves and learn to have sex with others. Along with this though, she gets her “clients” to open up emotionally and overcome these burdens that are intrinsically tied to the physical part of things. Mark is a brittle person of physical and emotional stature, being physically stunted by his crippling from polio, and emotionally stunted after continually believing he was the source of his sisters death when they were children. Mark and Cheryl’s relationship reaches the brink of something larger happening than the confines of her job would entail, but sadly but also rightfully they pull back when the wounds are the freshest and most susceptible to pain. Mark is a better and more open person through this pain though, a learned experience that opened a door for Mark, let all those feelings out, and then proceeded to stick a door stop under it, leaving it open. Mark finds someone elso who loves him for him, his jokes, love of baseball and the human element that many might miss behind his iron lung. Mark has found his “Cheryl.”

Father Brendan on the surface seems like a regular priest, but as his relationship furthers with Mark, again it’s the human elements and Brendan’s understanding of Mark’s emotional predicaments, and its opposition to Catholicism that make him differ. Father Brendan drinks beer and smokes cigarettes, but those aren’t the things that make him most different or affable. Mark is a unique person and a unique case, where even under the banner of religion, Father Brendan expresses his true feelings and though toward Mark, whether it flies in the face of his beliefs or not. A good natured confidant who doesn’t judge Mark at all is something who he desperately needs to break down all these walls that surround him, and luckily he has a few.

The Sessions is blessed with a uniformly perfect cast who are all up to their respective challenges no matter their significance or penance to a more comedic or dramatic side. It’s a funny, sad and uplifting film about being comfortable in your body, allowing others to truly see you, and finding and cultivating connections with people, no matter their physical or emotional proclivities. Mark becomes free and because of this his last nine years of his life are the most grand and enjoyable, if only we could all be so lucky.

7.5/10

‘A Good Day To Die Hard’: Review

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Like most red-blooded males in 2006/2007 I was excited at the idea of a fourth “Die Hard” movie, as for me, I basically grew up on the first two films and they remain some of my favourite action flicks to this day. Unfortunately, when I went to go see Live Free Or Die Hard in theatres I witnessed my first instance of an older couple (40-50s) making out in front of me. I will never be able to erase that mental image from my brain. Things could only get better, and they slightly did. I didn’t mind “Live Free,” even if it did rob us of one of the greatest one-liners in action movie history, the unrated DVD cut helped alleviate some of these problems, and it was fine enough for me. I was slightly more apprehensive about this entry into the series, and although I didn’t dislike it as much as most critics and a lot of people online, I was still disappointed all the same.

The thing with these last two “Die Hard” movies is that they don’t really feel like Die Hard movies. Sure, they have the title in it, Bruce Willis and all his mannerisms as John McClane are there, but they feel very “plug and play.” Where it’s as if these scripts were just lying around, and someone just changed some things around and put in John McClane and voilà you have a “Die Hard” movie. The original trilogy felt different from other action films of its era, leading off Willis’ charisma, McClane’s ingenuity and always finding himself in the middle of some shit. The latter two films fall much into what we’re typically shown in action films today, heavily CGI’ed and ridiculous action scenes that push the limit of reality because they want to show something cool and make you yell “Awesome!” at the screen. That seems to be another of people’s problems with the film, some of the unrealistic action set pieces McClane and his son Jack get into, where they surely should have died 53x over. It bugs me a little, but mostly I go along with it because it’s a movie, for God’s sake. Sure, the legacy of McClane’s character and the action scenes being more down-to-earth may be gone, but like it or not, this has become the norm of most Hollywood action films, further pushing the limits of reality and action, because we are an easily bored race of people.

As a caveat, I will say that this movie is painfully unfunny. Of course, you have to have some comic relieft and McClane is a classic wisecracker, but all the “jokes” are bottom of the barrel CBS sitcom level stuff. There’s McClane trying to speak Russian, a hilariously obvious and sad attempt at having an eccentric “villain,” and a seeming lack of effort in Willis’ dialogue, or all of it to be honest. One of the best parts of the series is McClane’s sarcasm or quips to people, but nothing ever landed and the spirit of his character’s memorable lines seems to be gone.

Most of all I was not looking forward to bringing in McClane’s son that John would have to kick ass with, because I like my McClane ALONE and kicking ass all by himself not having to rely on anybody else or having a younger character tease sequel spinoffs. This has been seen a lot of late in these resurgent action flicks, where they seemingly don’t know what to do and are all like “What the hell, lets find some dumb way to rope their kids/young dude into all this (played by the hot actor of the month)!” Live Free Or Die Hard, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol all did this to an extent. The father/son dynamic did grow on me throughout the film, especially after the obligatory “Son hates father thing because of not-so-clear dalliances of the past.” We get it, we’ve all seen that in a thousand other films, just get on with the making up already. I’m a sucker for family dynamics and families coming back together though, so the latter parts of their relationship slowly being mended over the course of the film was perhaps my favourite part, except for ALL THOSE COOL HELICOPTERS (gotta keep this review manly). Jai Courtney was fine in the role and up to the task, albeit not that big of one (the task that is), but I hope that the biggest focus we ever see of him remains in this film and doesn’t move forward.  If I had any advice for the next film in the series (C’mon, you know there’s going to be another one), just let Bruce Willis kill some scumbags solo.

So, yeah, it’s not a very good film, but it’s not all that terrible of an excuse. The “Die Hard” legacy has been forever altered for awhile now and we just have to live with it through however many regurgitations of this franchise remains. I’m a masochist and I love Bruce Willis and this character, so of course I’ll be back for another one. But, maybe someone in a 20th Century Fox office somewhere should sit back and REALLY take stock of the series and bring it back to its roots, when it wasn’t just another typical action movie.

5.5/10

‘Moonrise Kingdom’: Review

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Moonrise Kingdom is all about that summer you wish you had. Running away with that cute girl you just met, or have been corresponding with, not having any sort of plan, but knowing that whatever you’re doing, it’s amazingly great because you’re with her. The film touches on so many niche genres and distinct “Wes Anderson” themes like young love, screwed up families, quirky characters, an expansive colour palette, and of course, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman pop up in places. These all roll up into a nice ball, and contribute to a quieter, smaller Anderson film, if you can believe that his films could even get more quieter and smaller.

I don’t want to say that this seems like his one of his most personal films, because all of his films are beautifully personal, that’s what makes his characters come to life and seem so real, even in their inherent oddball statures. These constant Wes Anderson themes, and the personalized screenplay by Anderson and Roman Coppola really flourish in the hands of these young children, where their emotions aren’t played ironically or facetiously. Both Sam and Suzy (our main characters who try to run away together) love each other and have this special connection, that might seem funny to us that they believe so fully at a young age (12) that they are meant to be together, but it’s never jokingly aped by Anderson.

The film is very funny, weird, and sweet, just like all Wes Anderson films, but there’s an honesty and freshness to all of this when siphoned through the eyes and actions of two 12-year olds who care deeply for each other. Coupled with their burgeoning love is the flip-side of this coin, an inert sadness that seems to have fully covered this New England island, only to be broken up by Sam and Suzy. Bruce Willis’ Captain Sharp is lonely living by himself and the only real contact he has with anyone else is with Suzy’s mother Laura (Frances McDormand), and hell, that isn’t even that real and just unravels around itself. Laura is disconnected from her husband Walt (Bill Murray) and their kids don’t like them very much, Suzy grabs her cat and high-tails it out of there the first minute she gets. Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) doesn’t have anything either, he’s the only adult in charge of a bunch of boy scouts during the summer and flippantly mentions that he’s normally a teacher. Sadness wrings over his face especially when you become to realize more and more that being Scout Master is the only thing he has that makes him happy, but what even is “happy” for someone so drained of life.

Sam and Suzy’s love only grows within themselves as their adventures move them close and closer to each other. Everybody else is solely against them and their habit of running away. The other scouts rally against Sam because he’s weird, introverted and different. They soon realize he’s one of them though, a scout all the same, sure he’s different, but he’s a scout just like each and every one of them at the end of the day. Sam and Suzy cut through the sadness and isolated worlds of everybody on the island, and make their lives better in whatever tangential way stems from their kinship together. Captain Sharp takes custody of Sam, while the scouts accept him. Suzy’s parents at least seem relatively better while Scout Master Ward gets validation (presumably) from the Scout Commander after he saves his life, and proves his worth. Like the themes and symbols of all Wes Anderson films there is darkness and sadness, but like Sam and Suzy’s togetherness, there is always something to brighten the mood and put their own little twist on elements or people that are seemingly stuck in a rut.

8/10