One of the only great things about being semi-unemployed, which I have been for a few weeks whilst looking for my next "career challenge", is hitting early-day matinees to see films for the low, low "reduced" price of $8, and then following that up with an evening Netflix or two. (Oh, in case you're still fretting about my vocational situation - I start a new job next week). I've seen a few films the past couple of weeks that I figured you'd want to know about, for good or for ill, so without adieu, let's get into it, OK?
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD - I suspect this one, which only recently started opening on theaters in big cities, will go one of two ways: either it will fade quietly and live on very loudly in the minds of the very few people who've seen it, or it will snowball and spawn an Oscar campaign and a huge constituency worldwide, and by early next year you'll see little Quvenzhané Wallis walking the red carpet, statues in hand. No question she - and the people who made this enveloping, beautiful, heart-wrenching film - deserves it. There are very few precedents for a dramatic, "environmental" film this intense and riveting, and I suspect it will also spawn copycats and be referred to as a masterful original work by critics and film geeks for years to come.
Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a six-year-old (or so) black girl who lives with her daddy in an ultra-remote island bayou/swamp area of Louisiana they call "The Bathtub". They're so beyond "poor" that the word doesn't do it justice. This is pure subsistence living, but in a tight community of like-minded, fiercely independent people who drink all day and night and don't want no government and no people "on the other side" telling them what they can or can't do. Of course, when the big storm comes that they all anticipate (we can assume it was Katrina), it throws a little havoc into their island of independent communal living, to say the least. Yet the film is really about childhood, about death, and about metaphorically confronting those things in life which are difficult and that require bravery. It's a truly world-class film that you should rush out and see right about now. A
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED - You may recall that I'll see anything that Mark Duplass writes and/or stars in. He's an alternate sort of weirdo "leading man" & modern auteur who fits right in with my left-of-center cinematic sensibilities. Anyway, he is only a main character in this one, and he and his brother Jay did a little production on it - but it's not their film per se. It's definitely worth checking out, if a little syrupy at times.
It stars Aubrey Plaza, the cute mopey girl from "Parks and Recreation" (April Ludgate, people!!). She's an aimless intern at a Seattle alterna-press paper, and gets roped into traveling to wild, coastal Washington State to help build out a story on a guy who's placed a classified looking for someone to time-travel with him. She travels with another intern and the lead douche writer on a bit of a lark, but after a couple of undercover meetings with the rough, paranoid, gun-loving, time-traveling mountain man played by Duplass, she gets him to trust her enough to go with him on the journey - under false pretenses, of course.
The film is quite funny in parts and just strange enough to appeal to fans of "The Puffy Chair", "Cyrus" and the like, without quite being in that league. Put it this way - it's easily good enough to see in a matinee, maybe even at night for a big $11. B+
TAKE SHELTER - I didn't even know what this was when my wife and I started watching it, but it's a totally riveting, even horrifying 2011 film about a decent, honest man's descent into mental illness and paranoia. I've seen so many great films in which this sort of spiral happened to women - my wife loves to remind me that I'm unduly obsessed with films like "A Woman Under The Influence", "Three Women" and "Repulsion" - but rarely to a man.
Michael Shannon, whom I'd only heard of but never seen before, is amazing as a guy who becomes obsessed with a coming storm of fire-and-brimstone proportions, and who takes every possible step he can to protect his family from it. I'll say no more, because I truly don't want to blow it for you. The Midwest cinematography is sweeping and beautiful, and I'm serious, this actually has Exorcist-like levels of fear and loathing. No idea how this one passed me and likely so many others by last year. A-
THE ARTIST - No kidding, this is as cutesy and as fun as advertised, but I really found it to be a lot lighter and less enthralling than so many others did. I'm just glad it wasn't 100% silent - there is, as I should have known, musical accompaniment through the film. I too swooned for "Peppy Miller" as all of Hollywood did - I hope actress Berenice Bejo has a long and fruitful career in which she also gets to speak - but I almost instantly forgot everything that happened in "The Artist" within 48 hours of seeing it. A nice trifle, one that I recommend for a Tuesday night or something. B
JELLYFISH - A somewhat pretentious and overly dramatic allegorical Israeli film from 2007, "Jellyfish" plays the "three women" card as well and seeks to connect several secular Israeli (one a Philippina immigrant) women by the aimless and not entirely-fulfilling lives they lead. The sea seems to be a big theme here. There's a suicide, and there's a lost, mute little girl. There's even a man falling asleep on his couch in San Francisco. C-