Movie Review #340: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Pursuit of happyness meets global warming

Sometimes not knowing the actors and their characters’ backgrounds has its advantages for a movie. As was the case for Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts, an imaginative and emotionally powerful tale of a young girl and her ailing, hot-tempered father set in a bayou community. Amidst the melting ice-caps that endanger their home, we see the interactions of Hushpuppy and her daddy Wink expressing a wide range of emotions. As the film goes on you see how tough, stubborn and wild the people from “the bathtub” are and the way that it’s shown it almost seems as if you’re watching a documentary. The cinematography was great and the two main actors (Oscar-nominated Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry) delivered good performances that somehow reminded me of the father-son chemistry of the Smiths in the Pursuit of Happyness, although not as excellent. Wallis’ narration was innocent and touching at the same time and her work here indeed showed me her prowess that led her to become one of the youngest Academy Award nominees in history. The movie’s final act might not be as powerful as it could’ve been, but the roar of the beasts was loud enough to make me shed a tear by the time it ended.

GRADE: B

Movie Review #339: Warm Bodies

Love makes us human

Warm Bodies is the first of its kind and I’m enjoying the fresh take on the zombie genre. You’re kept glued to the screen with the help of budding stars Teresa Palmer and Nicolas Hoult, two unmistakably attractive actors who can back it up with their performances. There’s not much dialogue in the film but their timing and delivery gave me quite a few chuckles, but no laugh out loud moments. Hoult’s narrative gives a better understanding of his side of the story and made me connect with his character (R) even more.

The movie isn’t really much of a comedy, but the jokes here made the tone just right, as I believe taking the plot too seriously will greatly affect your opinion of the film. The integration of the soundtrack was remarkably well done too and filled up the silent and draining moments smoothly, not to mention the music selection was very good. And while that may seem to be an excuse for a lack of story, I’d say it’s quite the opposite and it complemented the overall screenplay. There were a noticeable amount of themes concerning love and life and Director Jonathan Levine struck me with the message of how love makes us alive and human. And if there ever will be a time when you think you’ve reached the lowest point, you can always count on hope that will exhume you from your lifeless moments. There is definitely a lot of room to grow for the romantic zombie horror/comedy hybrid genre, but for now this will be the one movie you’ll remember that served as a catalyst for future films.

GRADE: B+

Movie Review #338: Moonrise Kingdom

The weirdest combination of art, romance and comedy all in in one package

My first experience of a Wes Anderson film and I can already distinguish his idiosyncratic way of filmmaking from other established directors. Moonrise Kingdom is a surreal tale of two young lovers who compel you into following them in their quirky, cute, yet slightly-disturbing journey. Both Jared Gilman (Sam) and Kara Hayward (Suzy), two relative unknowns, delivered good performances. Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp) was among my favorites from the adult cast. The art direction was really superb and the screenplay top notch. The story didn’t really win me over, but I guess the overall presentation of the film was entertaining enough to convince me it was a good film. I don’t know if I’d embrace these types of movies more in the future, but for now the peculiarity of it all is its favorite quality of mine.

GRADE: B

Movie Review #337: Amour

Incredibly slow-paced and effectively disturbing

Amour is a story of love, but most importantly a story of patience. You will not appreciate the movie if you find deliberately slow pacing unbearable. Unfortunately, that was the case for me. I hated the times when there was nothing substantial going on in the movie and the director intentionally inserts silent moments of the camera staring at paintings or the setting, which didn’t interest me at all. The plot, despite its simplicity was actually difficult to absorb. I felt forced to know more about the characters because their stories aren’t exactly something you’d want to learn – not because they were boring, but because you already know what lies in their future. The process of death is by no means easy to witness, especially when it’s caused by old age or illness. And I can’t say I was moved by the story either, as I felt it was ineffectively played out so long when you could actually cut the film by an hour.

What I don’t seem to understand is how people can love a film that’s painful to watch, because almost all the films which had a similar intention I disliked, but at the very least I still respect them. I think it depends on whether you think your utility from entertainment can also increase by a movie that’s made to be unbearable. I get the point of Michael Haneke’s direction and pacing, but it’s not something I enjoyed and I have the same feeling for the entire movie as well.

GRADE: D+

Movie Review #336: Les Misérables (2012)

Great performances save this rather mounted film

Apart from the singing, sound mixing, some strong performances and beautiful costume designs, there isn’t really anything to point out that’s different from or better than the 1998 version. Except with Anne Hathaway (Fantine) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius), I never felt a strong connection with the other major characters, including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried. In fact I thought the supporting cast of Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, and the kid Daniel Huttlestone outshined them despite their shorter air times. But the huge number of cast members mentioned above only goes to show that they were huge factors in making the film more entertaining and less boring than what it could have been.

Director Tom Hooper made some wise decisions to be able to pull off a musical movie without making the set seem too stagey. However, there were definitely times where it distracted me a bit and it weakened the believability of the film. Where he fails more though, is in keeping the momentum midway. After Hathaway belches out “I Dreamed a Dream”, my interest in the film dwindled more and more. None of the remaining scenes save the supporting cast’s defining moments were able to keep me glued. The film may have been difficult to pull off, but that doesn’t excuse it from being artificial and climaxing way too early. It’s a long, flawed, yet painstakingly well-made movie. Not my favorite version of Les Misérables, but still good enough to enjoy.

GRADE: B-

Movie Review #335: Django Unchained

When you can’t stop watching, you know it’s a masterpiece

It’s violent, gruesome, intelligent, and goddamn entertaining. You won’t even mind the 165-minute screen time because it’s just so remarkably well-done. I don’t even remember the last time I enjoyed a film this much as Quentin Tarentino simply did his magic and produced what is probably his best film to date.

If you’re conservative, you don’t even want to know how violent the film gets, and frankly it’s this quality of Tarentino’s works that makes it so enjoyable. Yes, you WILL love the violence, but only because you’re given a reason for it. That just shows how Quentin can manipulate the feelings of moviegoers. He makes sure that you root for Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and the same time you’ll want express your anger towards DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson for being such maniacal and unforgiving bastards. All four of them were fantastic and worthy of praise, with the first two providing my favorite performances of the year.

GRADE: A