Friday, 11 January 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

12, 2012, Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes


 A scintillating debut from Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild may be hard to pin down, but it has unprecedentedly carved itself out as the independent film of 2012. Perhaps this is due to the director's captivatingly-crafted concept of a Louisianan Bayou community - branded ‘The Bathtub' - separated from the rest of mankind by a levee, allowing its residents to run amok within their own special community. It could, and probably is, equally thanks to Quvenzhan√© Wallis, a 9-year-old newcomer who has arguably out-acted every actress in the business playing Hushpuppy, a remarkable character brought to life by the little gem (as it stands, she is officially the youngest ever person to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.) The truth is, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a magically effortless watch that remains – despite its attempt at commenting on eco issues of today – a pleasure to endure. Hushpuppy’s opening narration, occurring as we witness her escapades amongst the close-knit community, divulge all the information the audience require; one day, 'The Bathtub' will sink, the weather eroding every last man-made shack away. Until then, they aren't being moved. 

Six years old in the film, Hushpuppy’s fending is overseen by more mentor than father, Wink (Dwight Henry, plucked from a local New Orlean bakery to appear in Zeitlin’s film) whose ailing health is something that isn’t to be acknowledged. Henry is a sensation, bounding his way through the entire running time, bringing life to a role that has the life leaving him. The film has overarching allegorical themes, none more thematic than a particularly aggressive storm releasing ancient aurochs which are shown to be charging through the film aimlessly with every other scene. Nothing is aimless in this film however, with Hushpuppy the heart that sustains the life that surrounds her. Zeitlin embraces the fantastical, depicting his vision amongst a setting unfamiliar to most, hence making it strangely understandable; we are told how Hushpuppy’s faceless mother presence, who provides Wallis’ character with an aim, is a figure whose very presence could ignite flames and boil water – this is recollected to us by Wink. The point is, in this separated community increasingly under threat, anything is possible... And after the recognition the film has received from this years Oscar nominations, for first-time director Benh Zeitlin, possibilities are endless.

4.5/5  

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Life of Pi

2012, PG, Directed by Ang Lee 
Starring
: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Tabu

Much has been said about the doubt that surrounded the production of Life of Pi when the rights to adapt Yann Martel's novel were acquired almost a decade ago. Directors came and went (M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron, Jean-Pierre Jeunet) before Ang Lee took hold and - thankfully - never let go. The doubt stemmed from what is the film's centrepiece second act; a boy's family and animals from their dried-up zoo are being escorted from India to Canada when a storm causes the ship to go down. The boy, Piscine Patel (shortened to Pi due to a bout of bullying) is stranded in the middle of the ocean with nothing for company except Richard Parker; a savage Bengal tiger. That Lee successfully imagines Martel's pages is an understatement; visually, this is a success of home-run proportions.
The film's opening in India, doubled with the glorious soundtrack pitted to the roaming animals of the family's zoo is perhaps one of the most aesthetically-pleasing opening credits sequence that completely captures what this film is about - 3D has never been so relaxing. Once the shipwreck has occurred - the 3D of which has never been so breathless - the visual interplay between Pi and his animal companions (not to spoil anything, but there's a few) is movie magic, the unpredictability of the creatures ramping up the heart race. Ang Lee may have once weighed down his interpretation of Hulk with unnecessarily bold bravura, but if Life of Pi is lesson learned then Hulk could find fresh appreciation in Hollywood. Lee creates scenes within scenes, changing nothing but backdrop and uses the heavy inclusion of water to his advantage; the number of underwater scenes that depict characters as if they're soaring through the clouds is, simply put, pleasant to watch. Just sit back and revel at the spectacle of a whale leaping out of the expansive sea, luminescent with jellyfish.
As for the film’s acting talent, Suraj Sharma's debut which sees him acting alongside nothing but CGI (the most finely-tuned since Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is so on the money you don’t even realise it. No wonder he’s just been selected for the BAFTA Rising Star award. Irrfan Khan and Rafe Spall as the adult Pi and a writer looking for a good story respectively hits the right notes in the bookending present-day scenes. Whichever way you view the divisive third act may slightly hamper your enjoyment of all that has come before and will leave you hungry for explanation; however, the film’s spiritual undertone is prevalent from the outset, and does require you to extend your mind if you wish to draw conclusions from the narrative, even though ambiguity will still remain. Because at its core, Life of Pi isn’t a film about belief – it’s about storytelling...and what a story this is.
4/5

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