Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Every once in awhile there comes an independent film that is completely stunning. They remind people that good movies can be made without stars. Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of those films. It is set in a place called The Bathtub, south of the levee in Louisiana. The residents of The Bathtub are poor, happy, and strong.

Hushpuppy, a young girl who lives with her father, is an incredibly strong character played by the prodigal Quvenzhan√© Wallis. As her home is lost, she ponders the universe and fights to keep her father and herself safe. Her father, played by Dwight Henry, is aggressive, but does everything to insure Hushpuppy's safety.

This film is filled with images of beautiful destruction. Even covered with detritus, the Louisiana landscape is still beautiful. Not pretty, but beautiful.

This film is inspirational on a few levels. Hushpuppy inspires me to do whatever it takes to protect the things that matter. Quvenzhan√© Wallis is inspiring as a young actress that is more believable than some Hollywood stars (please, God, don't let show business ruin her life). The film itself is an inspiration to all amateur filmmakers.

This film is about what it takes to survive in this world. As humans, that's something we all must do, and that makes Beasts of the Southern Wild universally appealing.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is another film nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars. It tells the story of a young Indian boy whose ship sinks on his way to Canada. It's a survival story unlike any I've seen before. Most survival movies emphasize how a desperate situation can change a person. In Life of Pi, the protagonist is determined to survive without sacrificing his personal values.

Ultimately, this movie is about faith. What better analogy is there for faith than being lost at sea? You're helpless, your fate is uncertain, and you place your trust in what you can't see. The truly beautiful thing about Ang Lee's film is that it's not about a specific religion. As a young boy, Pi tries out several religions and never chooses just one. He is Hindu, Christian, and Muslim all at once. Pi does not see these beliefs as conflicting. "Thank you, Vishnu, for leading me to Christ," he prays.

The casting in this film was particularly spectacular. All three actors that play Pi are believably the same person. The editing is quite inventive, and the computer-generated animals are stunning.

This is one of those films that is so beautiful you could enjoy it without audio. Although it does have strong themes of faith, I'd recommend Life of Pi to people of all beliefs. Even if you don't believe in a higher power, everyone can appreciate a well-told survival story.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wouldn't call myself a Tolkien aficionado, but I do enjoy The Lord of the Rings. When I first heard about the Hobbit movies, I was skeptical. "Really? Three parts? It's a 300 page children's book!" I can't really say if Peter Jackson made the right decision regarding the overall length of the film trilogy, but I can say that I very much enjoyed An Unexpected Journey.

After his success with The Lord of the Rings, Jackson appears to be using the same strategy for The Hobbit. The New Zealand scenery is beautiful, the costumes are fantastic, and the action is epic.

The Hobbit has so many great themes in it to begin with. There's Bilbo, the reluctant everyday hero, who gives up the safety and comfort of his home for a dangerous, but noble adventure. Everyone must make sacrifices in order to achieve anything. And it's Bilbo, not Gandalf, that the story is really about. The little guy (in both height and importance) becomes the hero.

Although some might find flaws in this film's loyalty to the book, I thought it was an excellent fantasy that maintained the important themes embedded in the book's plot. I'm sure most geeks have already seen this, but I'd recommend it to non-geeks as well. This film in particular is a great introduction to the entire Lord of the Rings series.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

I went to go see Silver Linings Playbook because it's nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. I had only seen one other film on that list, Django Unchained, and I'm trying to see as many as I can before the Oscars. I'm amazed that more people aren't talking about this movie's cast, cinematography, and script.

This film is about a man being released from a psychiatric hospital after having a violent bi-polar episode. After eight months of rehabilitation, Pat's only goal is to make himself a better person for his wife, whom he hasn't seen since he caught her cheating on him. His ambition is inspiring which only makes his mistakes more tragic.

I would consider this film to be a dark comedy. Many moments had me laughing hysterically, but minutes later I'd be amazed at the intense drama unfolding on screen. The beautiful thing about dark comedies is that, like the protagonist, the high points make the lows even lower.

Every member of the all-star cast delivers a great performance. Bradley Cooper (known for The Hangover) became his character in a way that I never imagined he could. Jennifer Lawrence is stunning and crazy in the best way possible. Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker are also believable.

The cinematography is inventive without being distracting. The soundtrack is great and always appropriate for the scene.

I would recommend this film to anyone. It contains some elements of a predictable drama, but it's something different.