Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

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hearthesilence
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Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#1 Post by hearthesilence » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:39 pm

This one probably would've slipped by if it wasn't for a friend who told me about it - one of her friends/colleagues' son was involved with it, and she was pleasantly surprised by the reaction it got at Sundance, winning a prize and getting a deal from Fox Searchlight. They had a sneak preview at BAM, but both screenings were sold out. It opens next week at the Landmark Sunshine.

The one thing that's a little irritating is the Terrence Malick comparisons. Nothing against the film itself, but it's ridiculous how often critics compare a new work to Terrence Malick's these days. In most cases, I feel like the parallel is fairly superficial - handheld, natural-light cinematography with an ethereal sounding voice-over. Enough already.

JMULL222
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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#2 Post by JMULL222 » Sat Jun 23, 2012 12:11 am

I interviewed Zeitlin the other day and he admitted "DAYS OF HEAVEN" was a massive influence on "BEASTS".

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HistoryProf
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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#3 Post by HistoryProf » Sat Jun 23, 2012 1:33 am

This opens here in late July and I am very excited from the trailer and what i've read. The trailer is quite arresting. I hope to take my 13 year old daughter to it, so if anyone sees it earlier i'd appreciate thoughts on whether that would be appropriate (though I should say i'm hardly a tough sell on such things. My dad took me to Alien when I was 9, and the Shining before that.)

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#4 Post by JMULL222 » Sat Jun 23, 2012 4:14 am

It's not really anything specific you need to worry about as you would in ALIEN. Kind of like, say, DAYS OF HEAVEN, it's very much a family film, but quite adult in its themes. This is pretty much a non-spoiler but I'll tag it anyway...
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For the most part, the film deals with a young girl coming to terms with the impending death of her father, her only parent.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#5 Post by davebert » Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:15 pm

Agreed - I certainly would have enjoyed it as a kid.

This one really caught me by surprise, in a great way. I'm not sure everything worked, but in some ways the rough edges (non-pro actors, some sketchy fable moments) are what provide the charm. And I have to wonder if there's any kind of Academy life for that soundtrack... it's one of the best, or at least most fun, I've heard all year.

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hearthesilence
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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#6 Post by hearthesilence » Thu Jul 05, 2012 10:57 pm

JMULL222 wrote:I interviewed Zeitlin the other day and he admitted "DAYS OF HEAVEN" was a massive influence on "BEASTS".
Well, pardon me all over the place!

And yet, I can't retract what I said either. Despite the cinematography and the voice-over from a little girl, it doesn't have the same sensibility. It was definitely nuttier than I thought it would be, and there were a few moments where it felt like it was veering towards Julie Taymor territory. I don't think everything works and I don't think I was taken by it the way some critics were, but I definitely enjoyed a good bit of it.

The "rough edges" described by davebert actually gave the acting and some of the characterizations a certain tone that I really liked...hard to put in words, but it was like putting the cast of a Disney Channel production into the hands of someone with a different game plan in mind.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#7 Post by wigwam » Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:55 am

I did not like this one. I had just rewatched Where the Wild Things Are in a theater 2 nights before this and was reminded how much I hated that for its lazy reliance on vibe which, even if it could have worked, capsizes under endless music, and Beasts... proves that the music doesn't even have to be terrible like in Where... to be unbearable.

This also has that mimic-Malick thing which Malick can't even do well anymore, and turns out was only as good as the stories it ellipsed and when there aren't interesting stories, the whimsical poesy has nothing to orbit around and just wafts away. This seems hyped because of its topicality and the gimmick of so young of a non-pro lead, niether of which were enough for me.

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Jeff
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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#8 Post by Jeff » Sat Jul 14, 2012 4:37 pm

wigwam wrote:I did not like this one. I had just rewatched Where the Wild Things Are in a theater 2 nights before this and was reminded how much I hated that for its lazy reliance on vibe which, even if it could have worked, capsizes under endless music, and Beasts... proves that the music doesn't even have to be terrible like in Where... to be unbearable.

This also has that mimic-Malick thing which Malick can't even do well anymore, and turns out was only as good as the stories it ellipsed and when there aren't interesting stories, the whimsical poesy has nothing to orbit around and just wafts away. This seems hyped because of its topicality and the gimmick of so young of a non-pro lead, niether of which were enough for me.
I'm kind of in the same ballpark (though I adore Where the Wild Things Are) . The kid was tremendous, but there was a phoniness to this fairy tale, and what felt kind of like an exploitation of these characters that rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the message ("We don't need no government to take care of us and our health. We take care of our own, even if our kids eat cat food.") either. I'm not quite as bitter about it as Ignatiy Vishnevetsky is, because I really liked the performances and production design, but he's got the right idea. "Bullshit."

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hearthesilence
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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#9 Post by hearthesilence » Sat Jul 14, 2012 5:48 pm

Now that you mention it, I thought the triage scenes were pretty ludicrous and unconvincing. I'd have to see it again, but I think my favorite moments - the ones I'd think of the most - were the ones that struck the right balance between reality and fantasy, without fumbling with the former or going too far (i.e. too nutty) with the latter.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#10 Post by Shrew » Sun Jul 15, 2012 11:32 pm

This felt to me like a new sort of noble savagery, celebrating an imagined impoverished community because they reject our ostensibly right and proper society. What makes this worse is that the film does raise legitimate concerns over paternalism, and the obvious Katrina allegory links to how the levees fail to protect the poor as well as the New Orleans: Worth Saving? debate, but it all gets swamped by how ludicrous the situation is. People being evacuated and forced into shelters is a messy topic, but the film seems to suggest that it just comes down to a difference in living. You can be rich and healthy but live are in a sterile, lifeless, world of machines or eat cat food and get drunk all the time in messy, wild, nature. It wants to grant dignity and agency to the poor, but it just turns them into cute, savage "others". And it never even tries to think about where all that alcohol everyone is drinking must be coming from.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#11 Post by karmajuice » Tue Jul 17, 2012 3:37 pm

I have strange and very mixed feelings about this film, as someone who grew up in rural Louisiana and who currently lives in New Orleans. On the one hand, I did like much of the film: its humor, the production design, the performers, and, for the most part, the tone of the film (a balancing act between reverie and revelry which suits the subject well). I also saw it with an extremely receptive audience: the theater was packed, because New Orleanians are always eager to support local work, especially if it indulges their cultural narcissism. Yet I had some profound problems with the film.

Let's be clear on one point: there is not a shred of realism in this film. It is pure fantasy. I don't mean that as a criticism, nor do I mean to suggest that a film which eschews realism can't achieve genuine emotional power, which this film manages at times. I mean only that those aspects of the film which people deem "realistic" are anything but. They appear plausible in contrast with the more fantastic elements, like the aurochs and the stories about Hushpuppy's mother, but that is not southern Louisiana. That is how southern Louisiana would like to see itself. We are a culture of people who would like to believe that we live in houseboats and wrestle alligators and catch catfish with our hands, but we do none of these things. Even the poor in Louisiana are not as poor as the people in this film. For the most part, the people who live here are not so different from people anyplace else. We have our eccentricities, and we like to drink and party, and we're very good at it, but this film is an exaggeration of that lifestyle. It condenses that southern Louisiana identity into something impossible but appealing, with its grass roots utopia in harmony with the wetlands. These are the wild, rambunctious, unusual people we would like to be. In truth, we are less wild, less intense. We have practical concerns. This film is fantasy which frees us of those bounds. The Bathtub is no more real than the aurochs.

Obviously this approach mires itself in the socio-political problems mentioned here and elsewhere, but that's the least of my problems. My issue is the depiction itself, and a trend it continues in southern art. The film takes its place in a long tradition of southern artwork, where oral storytelling and exaggeration and local vernacular reigns. It's a solid tradition, and an interesting one, but it is endemic. It has virtually supplanted all other forms of expression -- films from Louisiana cannot actually be about the people who live here, they must have characters who represent our cultural conception of who we are. And those are two very different things. As a southerner who is very much aware of this masturbatory habit (I work as a tour guide, so I know all too well how New Orleans can milk its history and traditions), it often bothers me, and as someone who aspires to make films, particularly films about my home, it bothers me even more, and it's something I want to move away from.

I enjoyed the film, and I think it does a lot right, but it doesn't try to push beyond those boundaries and that hinders the film. It's stuck in the same old loop.

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Brian C
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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#12 Post by Brian C » Tue Jul 17, 2012 4:28 pm

That's an interesting perspective, karmajuice, especially given charges from critics that Zeitlin is merely some sort of cultural carpetbagger, an affluent New Yorker co-opting the mythology of the LA bayou. I have to say that your view of the film - both its strengths and flaws - is more persuasive to me.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#13 Post by Grand Illusion » Fri Jul 20, 2012 1:25 pm

I thought the film was great. Did I have a couple philosophical differences with some of the noble savagery or exalted primitivism on display? Sure. But I feel this isn't the type of film to bring in those specific biases. The film sets itself up as a fantastical allegory seen through a child's eyes, and I feel you either accept that from the beginning or you do yourself and the film a disservice.

Zeitlin really does an excellent job with tone throughout, creating a world that is both threatening and wondrous. It's an impresssive balancing act with the juxtaposition of fireworks revelry and apocalyptic storms, actual slimy creatures and larger-than-life characters. The aurochs, in particular, work to this end, adding a sense of urgency as well.

Ultimately, the film, to me, is about a father teaching his daughter how to survive after he's gone as the world is ending. It's not unlike McCarthy's The Road. The relationship between the two is nuanced, but every moment the father has can be seen through the prism of testing his daughter's strength. It's this clarity of purpose that provides such a solid foundation for all the excesses and diversions that the story takes. The performances, as stated, are excellent, and I hope this little girl and baker get to continue acting if they so choose.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#14 Post by LQ » Sun Jul 22, 2012 9:29 am

Any goodwill Quvenzhané Wallis's excellent performance and the gritty/beautiful set design built up within me has curdled as I continue thinking about this movie. I do appreciate karmajuice's contextualization, but nothing gelled in Beasts for me. The prehistoric boars (poorly) integrated into the movie to act as some kind of muddled metaphor for "Change" and possibly "Global Warming" add up to no more than an inscrutable non-sequitur. I found the score hideously paint-by-the-numbers...not a single sentimental moment went uncued. The intended emotional response to the dynamic between Hushpuppy and her father rubs me as totally insincere - he was a neglectful, terribly irresponsible father (even within the realm of Bathtub) and because
SpoilerShow
he's now terminally ill, somehow that makes his abuse "okay" because he's teaching her how to take care of herself! Give me a break.
I also found the cumulative effect of the preternaturally poetic child voiceover to be really, really cloying.

I won't even get into the bit where
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the menfolk of Bathtub (and Hushpuppy) blew up the-city-which-shall-not-be-named's levees to drain their own land, which strikes me as irresponsible and frankly disgusting storytelling in a film that so candidly reappropriates very recent and catastrophic history.
As a small aside, there are few things I hate more than a staged emotional moment where both characters are crying and, while sniveling, tell each other "No crying!".

Overscored, underthought, untrustworthy mess. I recall hearing a critic likening its sincerity to a BP oil spill clean-up ad, and I find that pretty apt.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#15 Post by gonzoisking » Thu Aug 02, 2012 5:21 am

Reading your all the people's thoughts in thread make me wonder if we were watching the same movie. I've seen this movie 3 times already and probably will again. I absolutely adore it. I've convinced several friends to see it and they all loved it as well. I wish I could find a way to make you see it through my eyes. But alas, I cannot. This is my favorite movie of the year so far and the experience I had seeing it for the first time reminded me of the power films have and why I love them so much. I am sad that you couldn't have that experience but perhaps another film will do that for you(hopefully something equally life-affirming).

Anyways, I just wanted to break up the hate-fest and offer a dissenting view.

Shine on you crazy diamonds.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#16 Post by gcgiles1dollarbin » Thu Aug 02, 2012 11:19 am

You're actually buttressing the "haters" by not offering a substantive defense of the film. Instead, you lament the fact that we cannot borrow your eyeballs. And you overgeneralize by asserting everyone hates the movie when there is, in fact, a far better defense of the film just two posts above yours. And regarding your send-off, I would rather be associated with Syd Barrett than your mystical-love-bomb response to Zeitlin's movie. Nurture your love of the life-affirming by engaging the content of the film!

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#17 Post by domino harvey » Sat Dec 08, 2012 5:48 pm

This was one of the most agonizing, aggressively awful films of recent memory-- when I was already checking the time eight minutes in I knew I was in trouble. What's worse is I can't even give it pity points for the positive attributes others have begrudgingly allotted: The little girl is nothing special, what we can see of the set design when the camera stops shaking is just art school ugliness, and the characterizations are unbelievably grating. It's all presented in a fidgeting, artless hapdash of shots and camera movement, assuring any remote pleasures are drained from the process. The mere notion that it'll get Oscar recognition over Moonrise Kingdom is enough to right click delete the entire movie industry

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#18 Post by Cocus » Sun Dec 09, 2012 5:17 am

I didn't think the movie was as good as -- or as bad as -- previous posters have said. I liked it for the most part, but still.... The film is over-rated, over-hyped, formless, slimly plotted, and often obviously trite. The father is a stereotypical mean drunk (who still loves his kid), and the kid -- Hushpuppy -- is a solemn and precocious six year-old. They live in a shattered but colorful community on the gulf side of the levee. The community is comprised of stereotypically colorful drunk people who also love and care about Hushpuppy. Hushpuppy is interested in things that don't usually concern girls of her age: the after-life, ecology, such eternal questions as the meaning of life. She of course loves her mean drunk father (who would be arrested for child abuse if he was in a different film, or lived in a different community) and all the furred and feathered creatures that live in their little farmlet.
There is an air about the film that is surreal. The characters in their madness are a bit like the characters in Mad Max. They are all over-sized and eminently watchable in their enthusiastic inebriation. But I wished for a few moments of lucidity, where people just talk to each other without ranting and raving. The overall impression is one of deep sadness. There is very little joy -- other than that which comes from the bottle -- in their lives. That joy is suspect and patronizing.
This said, I enjoyed the movie, but in a guilty sort of way. The character's lives are painful and the film exploits that. It is set in a part of the world that we don't normally see, with people we would generally avoid. Technically it is very well done. The visuals are great. I would recommend seeing it but not attending too much to the surrounding hype and not expecting too much.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#19 Post by wattsup32 » Thu Jan 10, 2013 6:30 pm

I was more hoping for Wild Turkey.

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HistoryProf
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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#20 Post by HistoryProf » Fri Jan 11, 2013 2:12 am

This seems to be the most polarizing film of the year for sure. Some seriously harsh criticism has been levied bashing it to smithereens as little more than Precious Part II.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#21 Post by CSM126 » Fri Jan 11, 2013 9:25 pm

So apparently the people at badazzmofo seem to think that any film which doesn't feature at least one affluent black person is automatically racist. That article is pretty idiotic, and frankly borders on racism towards white audiences, whom the author seems to believe either want black people in poverty, or that they are too stupid to know well to do blacks exist unless a movie tells them so. Presenting a group of characters in a certain situation is not a declaration that everyone who shares a particular characteristic with those persons is exactly the same as them. If that were the case, one may as well write an article about how Juno somehow perpetuates the idea that all teenage girls are pregnant.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#22 Post by HistoryProf » Fri Jan 11, 2013 9:46 pm

CSM126 wrote:So apparently the people at badazzmofo seem to think that any film which doesn't feature at least one affluent black person is automatically racist. That article is pretty idiotic, and frankly borders on racism towards white audiences, whom the author seems to believe either want black people in poverty, or that they are too stupid to know well to do blacks exist unless a movie tells them so. Presenting a group of characters in a certain situation is not a declaration that everyone who shares a particular characteristic with those persons is exactly the same as them. If that were the case, one may as well write an article about how Juno somehow perpetuates the idea that all teenage girls are pregnant.
I agree 100%. I didn't want to suggest posting those links meant I agreed with them - just that there seems to be a growing number of similar reactions to the film now that it's getting awards buzz. I still haven't seen it so I can't comment yet....I just think it's interesting that the reactions seem so polarized.

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#23 Post by CSM126 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 3:09 am

"It's popular. We should hate it so we look cool. It's Oscar nominated? Oh dude, that's totally racist."

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#24 Post by swo17 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 3:48 am

I dunno, I didn't think the film was that bad. I mean, I did probably spend as much time looking down at my cyanide pill as at the screen, but to the film's credit, I didn't take it in the end. That has to count for something, right?

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Re: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

#25 Post by domino harvey » Sat Jan 12, 2013 4:19 am

CSM126 wrote:"It's popular. We should hate it so we look cool. It's Oscar nominated? Oh dude, that's totally racist."
This is such a dumb argument. I bought the film unseen, having heard great things, none of which materialized. I wouldn't have done this had I only planned to despise it for "Internet Cool Points" or whatever you're envisioning. Many people like other films which are popular, you can't throw this around when they hate one as well.

As for the second half of your comment, I think the film has enough problems without stacking the deck with racism charges, but complaints of this nature may well just be critical manifestations of coping with and/or explaining away the grating awfulness of the material and how it's expressed. Both articles linked above were written before the Oscar noms, btw.

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