Thursday, August 2, 2012

Week of August 3 to August 9 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It’s called the Bathtub, this off-the-grid enclave in the Mississippi delta, a community living in sheet-metal/tar-paper shacks, so low-lying as to make Key West seem a hill town, and there’s a major storm coming. Now imagine it, if you can, as seen through the eyes of a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy. That’s BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, the summer indie treat that has everyone enchanted. The star of the movie is Quvenzhané Wallis, a novice from the bayou town of Houma, Louisiana, who amazed the director, as she will you, with her innate acting talent and self-possession.

Hushpuppy is living with her widowed father Wink (Dwight Henry – also a neophyte actor, and a full-time baker, from the New Orleans Seventh Ward). Sometimes she remembers her mother, and sometimes she imagines giant boars, but most of the time she’s in touch with the reality of her sparse, but beautiful world in a way that kids of a quotidian TV/mall-driven environment can never be. Nothing fazes her, not the danger of the storm; not the occasional harshness of her short-tempered, hard-drinking, but well-meaning father; not the almost daily disasters that seem the stuff of her life. And she’s surrounded by a community of characters who, like her, celebrate the Bathtub as their special paradise. First-time director Benh Zeitlin and his writing partner Lucy Alibar bring it all to life with creative set design and heavy doses of magic realism.

“Sometimes miraculous films come into being, made by people you've never heard of, starring unknown faces, blindsiding you with creative genius. Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the year's best films.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times) It’s a sure bet for a several Oscar nominations, including Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay (from Alibar’s stage play Juicy and Delicious), and even Best Picture.

puts us back in the world of regular houses and plane trips. On one such trip Margot (Michelle Williams – My Week With Marilyn), a happily married young Toronto woman, strikes up a relationship with Daniel (Luke Kirby), who turns out to be her neighbor. Margot’s husband (Seth Rogen) is a loving and somewhat interesting cookbook author, but he’s ordinary looking. Daniel is a ne’re do well guy working as a rickshaw driver (not even a pedicab), but he’s the quintessential “tall, dark, and handsome stranger.” You see the problem.

But like all good movies or books, it’s the execution rather than the setup that makes it work. Margot’s sister-in-law (Sarah Silverman) is a recovering, and backsliding alcoholic, but she is more grounded than the seemingly sensible Margot. Talented writer/director Sarah Polley (Away From Her) beautifully explores the way in which a seemingly levelheaded woman can lose her way in life. “A thrilling and unpredictable ride with a character you’re never quite sure about.” (Andrew O’Hehir, “A crushing, but breathtaking, look at romance – the kind rarely, if ever, portrayed in movies.” (Jeffrey Anderson, San Francisco Examiner)

is a perfect companion to the Olympics. Following the careers of six different young ballet dancers, we see the dedication and athleticism involved in succeeding in a profession that is every bit as demanding as gymnastics, but with an art and grace that takes it to a different level. The dancers come from places as disparate as war-ravaged Sierra Leone and suburban Palo Alto, California. All are heading for the Youth America Grand Prix, a competition that qualifies the winners for entry to premier ballet schools. The drama Black Swan gave us a window into the trials of dancers, but this is a documentary, real, authentic and eye-opening. “If you are, like me, a sucker for these ‘kids doing amazing, crazy, youth-defying things’ documentaries, First Position satisfies on nearly every level. What wonders these small people are, with every startling and glorious arabesque and leap and lunge reminding us not just of their impossible talent, but of all human potential.” (Richard Lawson, The Atlantic)

Rounding out the schedule are the Disney-Pixar new feature BRAVE in 3D and the odd live action/animated TED, the tale of a man (Mark Wahlberg) who is linked through life with his teddy bear.

Check or for more on this week’s Saturday Kids $1 movie (E.T., THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL), and the new Monday night classic series for August with the theme Everything ‘80s.

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