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Tuesday 23 October 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) Film, written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin directed by Benh Zeitlin, 10* out of 10

"Your are an orphan now " was the observation my cousin made when I met him for the first time after my mother had died earlier this year. On a rational level this struck me as odd, since I am in my late fifties and both my parents had died at a ripe old age; but on an emotional level he was onto something. He had named the feeling I had not been able to identify, when images of my childhood came back more frequently than they had in many years.  It was a reminder that the child within us, although  often unacknowledged as we get older, stays with us for life.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is not a film for children, but one that speaks to the child within us grown-ups, the one who is sometimes still afraid to have to face a harsh world without parental shelter and support. 

The central figure of this film is Hushpuppy, a six year old girl, whose mother has left and whose father is teaching her how to  live and survive in the Louisiana "bath-tub". The bath-tub is where people on the margins of society prefer to live freely, yet somewhat cohesively, in shacks with their domestic animals rather than be institutionalized as homeless down-and-outs in urban New Orleans. 

The bath-tub is that part of the Mississippi Delta which has been reserved as an area for to be flooded, when the levees are needed to protect the cities, towns and villages on the other side from being inundated. For Hushpuppy, her father and the others she lives with, the bath-tub yields the meat and fish that can ensure a free self-sufficient life close to nature. 

It is however, a life full of dangers and risks for a 6 year old girl: who will look after her, if her father who sometimes treats her lovingly, sometimes very harshly, were to leave or fall ill? Then there are the hurricanes, floods and the authorities who want to keep the area clear of people and ramshackle huts.

Beasts of the Southern Wild shows us life in the "bath-tub" with its myths, its habits, customs and home truth through Hushpuppy's eyes, as she is trying to form a coherent world-view from her surroundings and experiences. She is a modern female Huckleberry Finn in the making, fascinated by the science of archaeology and aurochs, ancient legendary animals, that are like stone-age cave paintings, come to life. 

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a moving story, an original and surprisingly uplifting film, whose images will stay with you for a long time. 

Based on a theatre play by Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar herself, have developed an even more powerful screenplay.  Zeitlin's gripping direction is underlined by a great score, which he has largely composed himself. The cast, partly consisting of amateur actors, is excellent and Quevenzhav√© Wallis as Hushpuppy is simply stunning, brilliant and unforgettable.

Zeitlin's film deserves all the accolades it has received at the Sundance and Cannes film festival and many more besides.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Killing them Softly (2012) Film, written and directed by Andrew Dominik, 9* out of 10

Ah, the joys of being middle management as the economy enters crisis mode. In Killing Them Softly, organised crime is the setting for an insightful and witty crime action film which can also serve as a case-study in organisational behavioural. Indeed it should form part of the MBA curriculum for any self-respecting senior executive in the organised crime sector, but the film also holds many lessons for budding professionals and managers in other slightly less violent business sectors.

Frankie (Scoot MacNairy) and his Australian drug-addict mate Russell (Ben Mendelssohn) are small-time gangsters - and they are skint. Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola)  a risk-averse gangster has an idea for them on how they might generate some cash flow: take advantage of an opportunity to divert suspicion elsewhere by robbing a mob-operated high stakes poker game, whose manager will be suspected by his bosses to have staged the heist. When mob-enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in, to bring order back into mob operations, corporate dysfunction and human foibles set in motion a chain of comic, tragic and violent events.

Based on George V.  Higgins' novel Cogan's Trade, originally set in the 1980s, the story has been successfully transposed to 2008. The USA descending into financial crisis makes a poignant backdrop to the main action and palpably affects what the economist John Maynard Keynes once called the “animal spirits” of everyone involved. 

Screenplay and direction are excellent. Andrew Dominik makes skilful use of dialogue and photography to move the story forward in a compelling manner. The excellent ensemble of actors brings the characters and their strong personalities to life. Brad Pitt's performance as the mid level gangster who has to carry out the faceless syndicates decisions stands out. There is excitement and brutal violence, the writing evokes classic films such as Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and In Bruges. Killing Them Softly is a classic of the genre. Don't miss it.