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last update 3.Sep.12
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Beasts of the Southern Wild
dir Benh Zeitlin
scr Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
prd Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn
with Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander, Nicholas Clark, Joseph Brown, Henry D Coleman, Jovan Hathaway
wallis and henry release US 27.Jun.12,
UK 19.Oct.12
12/US 1h33


london film fest
Beasts of the Southern Wild With a soaringly introspective style, this eerily dreamlike film is anchored on a thunderous performance from 6-year-old Wallis. Her tight perspective gives themes of inter-connectedness and perspective a startlingly childlike honesty.

Hushpuppy (Wallis) lives in an elevated trailer next door to her daddy Wink (Henry) in the "Bathtub", a tightly knit island community at severe risk of flooding in the Louisiana bayou. Sure enough, a storm leaves them under water. But as Wink seeks a solution, Hushpuppy begins to understand that he's unwell. She decides to find her mother, who left shortly after she was born. In her mind, all of this is linked to global warming, including rising sea levels and the release of prehistoric aurochs from the polar ice.

Hushpuppy is too young for this to be a coming-of-age story, and yet the filmmakers push her into harrowing situations that force her to adjust her worldview. Although she always remembers that she's just a tiny part of a huge world, and that her life makes a difference. Wallis plays every scene with an almost supernatural transparency: we see right into her soul. It's everything Henry can do to keep up with her, but he manages to give Wink a remarkable internal edge.

Director-cowriter Zeitlin depicts this as a post-apocalyptic epic. In this corner of America, there doesn't seem to be any social infrastructure: people live at one with the land and water. And when outsiders rescue them, they bristle against it with everything they have. Clearly, Zeitlin wants us to see beauty in their squalor, rendering it through honeyed, glowing photography and a memorably lush musical score (which he composed with Dan Romer).

Essentially this is a fantasy, the world as seen through 6-year-old eyes. And not just any 6-year-old. Hushpuppy is the voice of humanity, crying out for order and balance, bemoaning the injustice of random acts of nature, inexplicable illnesses, cruel abandonment. Perhaps Zeitlin is trying to say something much bigger than a film can say without drifting into self-parody. But there's no denying the earthy connection we have with the material. It's haunting and provocative. And we need more movies like this.

12 themes, language,violence
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dir-scr William Eubank
prd Dan Figur, Nate Kolbeck, Vertel Scott
with Gunner Wright, Bradley Horne, Corey Richardson, Roger E Fanter, Jesse Hotchkiss, Troy Mittleider, Brid Caveney, Nancy Stelmaszczyk, Ambyr Childers, Tony Cohen, Ian Fenton, James C Burns
wright release US 10.Aug.11,
UK 7.Sep.12
11/US 1h24
Love Inspired by the music of the band Angels & Airwaves, which created and scored the film, this remarkable drama was shot over three years on sets hand-made by writer-director Eubank. And it's a strikingly inspirational little drama.

In the near future, Astronaut Miller (Wright) has reopened the International Space Station after it's been sitting empty for years. As he gets things up and running, he receives a message that something is happening on earth, then the radio goes quiet. Bored on his own, he finds ways to entertain himself, discovering a journal written by a young soldier (Horne) during the American Civil War. But as the years pass, Miller longs to know what's happening back home, and as the life-support systems start to fail, he makes a fateful decision.

As there's clearly a civilisation-ending war taking place below him, as he reads about the nightmare of a past conflict, the film focusses on existential questions about why humans fight over their perceived rightness ("We all end up in the same place") while hoping in something bigger than ourselves. And as the title suggests, all we really want is to be loved. And first-time filmmaker Eubank provides offbeat insight through re-enacted Civil War scenes and doc-style clips of people talking about human behaviour, battle experiences and fatal illnesses, plus Miller's own swirling flashbacks.

This is a gentle, quiet, soulful film that's sharply shot and edited. It never looks like a low-budget film, with cleverly designed set and inventive camerawork that compensates for gravity by simply shifting the axis. And Wright's internalised performance brings to mind Tom Hanks in Cast Away, with the aded twist that Miller doesn't know he's stranded for the film's first half. It's a bold, engaging performance that uses all of his personality and physicality.

The loose plot flickers around, frequently examining the idea of storytelling itself while digging under Miller's skin. The central theme is clearly articulated: never give up, keep trying, don't accept failure, strive for something better. And the final act gets fascinatingly surreal, with clear references to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as Miller's journey takes him in an unexpected direction that's rather gimmicky but also affirming and haunting.

PG themes, language, violence
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The Myth of the American Sleepover
dir-scr David Robert Mitchell
prd Adele Romanski
with Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen, Annette DeNoyer, Douglas Diedrich, Nikita Ramsey, Jade Ramsey, Mary Wardell, Dane Jones, Shayla Curran, Drew Machak
diedrich and sloma release US 22.Jul.11,
UK 31.Aug.12
10/US 1h36

The Myth of the American Sleepover While this film captures authentic teen experiences and situations, it completely misses the energy of youth. Characters feel realistic, but seem to be sleepwalking through their lives. And while it's relatively entertaining, the timid portrayal of sexual attraction makes it feel more nostalgic than realistic.

In suburban Detroit, teens spend the last night of summer trying to distill their adolescence. Maggie (Sloma) skips a planned sleepover to go from party to party, running into a boy (Diedrich) she's been eyeing at the pool. Rob (Morton) ditches his friends to look for an elusive hot blonde. Claudia (Bauer) attends a sleepover with girls she doesn't really know and makes an awkward discovery. And Scott (Jacobsen) is back from university trying to track down the twins (Ramsey and Ramsey) he let slip through his fingers.

The story is set in the not-so-distant past, so there are no mobile phones to solve each story thread's obstacle. This means that the characters must look for information the old-fashioned way, often relying on dumb luck. But instead of clever character or story detail, scenes meander along with no discernible point. And while the unknown actors create engaging characters, they are all variations on the same passive person, drifting around unsure about what they want, suppressing their inner stirrings for reasons that aren't clear.

Indeed, their relentless moping gives the Twilight cast a run for their money. Writer-director Mitchell assembles every encounter in what feels like slow motion. It's nicely shot and edited, observing the tiny details of frustrated youthful attraction, which astutely reveals the tentative insecurities of each character. But we just wish one person would snap out of their dreary funk long enough to actually enjoy this seminal moment in their young life.

Along the way, there are telling moments in which something almost happens between two people, and by the end each character has discovered something about themselves that seems to be terribly meaningful to them, even if we roll our eyes at both the triviality and inaction. Yes, adolescence felt like this for a lot of us, but the reality was actually much more heated. And while this film taps into a specific experience, it's also wholly lacking in passion.

15 themes, language, violence
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dir Ben Wheatley
scr Steve Oram, Alice Lowe
prd Claire Jones, Nira Park, Andrew Starke
with Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Richard Glover, Richard Lumsden, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Kenneth Hadley, Stephanie Jacob, Rachel Austin, Aymen Hamdouchi, Seamus O'Neill
lowe and oram
release UK 30.Nov.12
12/UK Film4 1h35

32nd Shadows Awards

london film fest
Sightseers As with both Down Terrace and Kill List, director Wheatley playfully bends genres in this romantic-comedy road movie so we never know what might happen next. because this is also a serial killer movie, which adds a jolt of adrenaline that's both entertaining and unexpectedly engaging.

Tina (Lowe) is getting ready to go on a caravan holiday around the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District with her new boyfriend Chris (Oram). Her mother is thoroughly disapproving, but Tina goes anyway. And when Chris runs down an annoying thug, Tina counts it as an accident. But the body count grows, and Tina begins to get into the swing of things. Meanwhile, both Chris and Tina are coping with the usual issues of a new relationship, including Tina's meddling mum and some surprising discoveries about each other.

The film has a cheerfully comical tone that plays on the jaunty road holiday, taking in breathtaking landscapes and offbeat tourist attractions as Tina and Chris meet a variety of friendly strangers. Once we see their murderous urges, we begin to worry about anyone who crosses their path. Tiny things like a child's ball bouncing off their caravan elicit a nervous chuckle. Although most of the victims are so annoying that we can't work up too much moralising disapproval, even if their ends are grislier than they need to be.

In other words, Wheatley ingeniously uses pitch-black humour to keep us genuinely invested in Tina and Chris' rather sweet romance. If Tina can forgive Chris for getting drunk down at the pub, maybe he can forgive her for an impulsive act of violence. Intriguingly, we often watch the story through the eyes of an adorable dog they pick up along the way, which eerily resembles Tina's recently deceased beloved pooch.

Where the story is heading begins to come into focus about two thirds of the way in, but Wheatley and his cast still have surprises up their sleeves. In addition to Wheatley's wonderfully insinuating direction, Lowe and Oram deliver perfectly gauged performances that are occasionally heightened but ground themselves in earthy humour and jagged camaraderie. Even with the horrible things they do along the road, we have a great time on holiday with them.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall