Beasts of the Southern Wild A Masterpiece

Jared Bowen, an arts and theater critic for Boston’s NPR Affiliate WGBH, highly recommended the film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Largely based on his review, I decided to go to the cinema to see it.  I’m not much of a moviegoer.  I might see two films a year.  Last year, I only saw The King’s Speech and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Beasts was the first movie I have seen this year, and wow, what a film.

I went with my daughter who is home from college for the summer.  She too had heard about it and wanted to go.  But here’s a warning:  it might not be the best father-daughter movie and you’ll know what I mean after you see it.  But then again it might be a great father-daughter movie.  The main characters are two first time actors – 6 year old Hushpuppy and her father Wink, who live on a tiny environmentally vulnerable island south of New Orleans they call the Bathtub that is nearly washed away by a Katrina like hurricane.  Hushpuppy, who sees her late mother in everything, including a lighthouse beacon, constructs her own fantasy world to cope with the devastation and poverty all around her reminiscent of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Hushpuppy creates the beasts by making a connection between a family hog and a rural myth the medicine lady told about prehistoric wild boars called aurochs trapped in the ice age who will take over the earth when the ice melts.  There is clearly a climate change metaphor at work here.  She tells the children in the community that they have to be strong to survive and learn how to take care of the weak and sweet people who need help.  Wink, the alcoholic father with a terminal medical condition also tries to toughen up his daughter and teach her survival skills. He shows her how to  catch a catfish in the swamp with one hand and whack it dead with the other and how to rip open a crab shell with her bare hands to get at the meat.

The film is a raw glimpse of rural swamp life that watches like a fictionalized post Katrina documentary with touches of magical realism.  There are no dramatic special effects, even though the aurochs come to life.  The acting is soulful and honest as if the characters are playing themselves.  Quvenshane Wallis, the 6 year old Hushpuppy, gives a performance that rivals Tatum O’Neil at the age of 10 in Paper MoonBeasts is not a fraudulent feel good Disney fantasy.  There’s no glossing over unpleasant aspects of life, no sanitized romanticized imagining of swamp life.  The lines, “don’t cry” are guaranteed to generate audience tears.  Though raw and dark, the film is uplifting and illustrates the value of love, self-reliance and community.

Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 2 not 2 Good

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the last of the flicks depicting the life and times of the fantasy world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and unfortunately one of the least appealing and weakest of the lot. Yes, it was true to the book. And yes, many of our favorite characters are back, but something just didn’t feel right. It may be the inherent weakness of the last book, a certain letdown that the thing must come to an end, and of course, how it ends. I won’t give away the plot, but if you are reading this review, I trust you’ve already read the book.

This is not to say I disliked the movie. It was pleasantly entertaining. It had a Disney-like feel good tone throughout. The audience even clapped at certain moments, for instance when Ron and Hermione kissed and when Bellatrix Lestrange is out dueled and finally killed. Come to think of it, there was  a lot of nerdyesque audience participation in the form of laughter, at very weak jokes, delivered awkwardly by the characters. I felt the humor to be out of place, and distracting, as were a few of the audience members. At one of the key moments when Harry is “killed”, somebody behind me was shaking a bag of popcorn.  I almost laughed. Another moviegoer dropped what sounded like a dumbbell, perhaps trying to add the special effects that were somewhat lackluster by the standards set in previous Harry Potter movies.

The major problem with the final HP installment was that it just wasn’t very interesting. It was really just about Harry, Ron and Hermione going around looking for and trying to destroy horcruxes. There was not much going on at Hogwarts, like it had been closed for the summer or for renovations.  There were no House competitions, no quidditch matches, and really not much mischief making either.  Harry and company even had to save a frightened and inept trio of dark arts idiots, Draco, Crabbe and Goyle.  The flick just didn’t feature enough dark elements to produce the suspense one associates with Harry Potter stories. Even Voldemort, and his pet snake nagini appeared tame and Snape, feeble and just plain lame. With all the feel good moments and the sappy happy ever after ending,  the thing should have been rated G.

Maybe the next generation of Harry Potter stories and movies will make the “final” installment a distant memory.