The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

THE GOOD DOCTOR Review

Orlando Bloom is an interesting case. He has always come off as a prestigious type of actor who peaked early and has since been unable to deliver a successful film that wasn't a part of The Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. He'll get a bit more exposure of course this winter as he reprises the role of Legolas, but in the mean time he has starred in and produced this small indie film that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The Good Doctor is a simple little psychological drama that is straightforward in the way it approaches its story allowing the real focus of the film to be on the odd principle character. The way in which I interpreted the film was more in the vein of a character study rather than any kind of commentary on the healthcare system or any allusions to what is wrong with that system. The film actually cares very little about commenting on those types of issues, if at all, but is instead more invested in the idea that someone with such knowledge and power will abuse it for personal gain. That is of course nothing new, people do it all the time, yet the angle the film takes on the idea the person with that power might not be of the right mind; that they would abuse that authority to the point it affects the entire life course of those who willingly submit themselves and their welfare to that person is what's instilled in the audience. It is enhanced by the films creepy tone and a rather impressive performance from Bloom who becomes increasingly dependent on this need for praise and respect he feels he rightly deserves. He believes it so much we can only hope he lives up to the reputation he's given himself and will be able to cure his own serious condition.

Martin Blake (Orlando Bloom) finds it odd a nurse
(Taraji P. Henson) is so rude to him.
In The Good Doctor Bloom plays Martin Blake, a first year medical resident who strictly believes in the train of thought that with all he has accomplished academically he should of course be regarded in a higher esteem then those around him. At first, it is hard to argue with this. He is a doctor in a hospital and he deserves respect, that is a given. It is the small things that bother the young doctor though such as a nurse who is somewhat rude to him when confirming what his sloppy handwriting says. He is, on the outside a shy, polite young man who only wants to be the person or the doctor that his aspirations always wanted him to be. It is the underlying tension that builds in him that creates the unease with us as a viewer and when we allow ourselves to take a step back makes us appreciate the full effect of Bloom's subtleties. It is hinted at early on that Blake is not a sinister character but someone who honestly wants to be what the title professes. He is scared to mess up and is frightened for his reputation when a mistake and lack of understanding create an incident that seems like it should have been handled a little more seriously than it was. It is when the good doctor becomes entranced by a patient who seems to adore him for all the reasons he feels he should be that he can't help but to want that admiration to continue. The engaging patient is a young high school student named Diane (played by an angelic Riley Keough) who girlishly flirts with the doctor and feeds his ego to the point he can't have her leave. When she does get better and her thankful parents invite the good doctor over for dinner he spikes her meds to make sure she will return to the hospital under his care.

Blake becomes fascinated by a young patient
(Riley Keough) that shows interest in him.
While it becomes painfully obvious to the audience what Blake is up to and how he plans to keep Diane at the hospital to the point she becomes deathly ill, it is a kind of a revelation to the audience that Blake can so cunningly get away with everything that he does. He is able to go to extremes while the colleagues around him either feel bad for him or are too afraid to question him though the feisty Henson does seem to go in and out of suspicions about the new doctor. We can't decide whether Blake is completely evil or if he has simply gotten himself in so deep that he feels no other way to escape his current predicament than to keep going down the rabbit hole. This is both where the film gets to its most meaty sections while also raising the most important question it fails to answer. We see Blake nearly lose it as he goes out of control to try and cover his tracks when an orderly at the hospital who blackmails him. Michael Pena gives a deceptive performance but he rises to match the doctor when he finds a diary that includes some incriminating evidence using it to hold one over on Blake to acquire drugs. While Blake exists in a world cleansed of everything that isn't unsettling and while we are certainly shocked at the turns the story takes we never truly feel we get to know who Blake is beyond his actions. What motivates him? There is never a sense outside of this small, narcissistic view that he displays that we get to know him. I wanted to know where he came from, what he was like in college, had he done this before? Certainly there must have been cases in his schooling where he thought of the situations this film documents. What fed his need to feel different and important before becoming a doctor? There is more to explore here, more to study about the character than the script gives him credit for and unfortunately the movie wastes more time setting up what the doctor is doing than examining why.

Blake makes a deal with an orderly (Michael Pena) to
keep what he found hidden.
Director by Lance Daly (an Irishman likely most known for his 2008 film Kisses) gives the world we watch Blake operate in a saturated look and an isolated feel. Its not often that we find Blake in the company of other human beings outside of the hospital and even there Daly and his cinematographers make the hospitals look as bland on film as they usually feel when you're stuck waiting in one. The elements of the film make it an enjoyable one, culminating in a final shot that is similar to one of my favorite films of last year Martha Marcy May Marlene. It simply cuts off, leaving you the opportunity to interpret what might come next or giving us the inclination about how the doctor will approach his life and work from that point out. It is an interesting route to go, but despite all of the things the film has going for it I never felt as if I was truly engaged in the story or wrapped up in the drama. Is it horrible what happens, yes of course and it does make its point with a good amount of effectiveness but it doesn't necessarily entertain or draw you in the way you might have expected it to after reading the plot synopsis. I expected something more along the lines of One Hour Photo but instead wound up with a film that while certainly borrowing some kind of tone from that film doesn't embrace its psychological study the same way. It could also be attributed to the fact Robin Williams gave such a drastic performance than his public persona we felt more informed about just how sick his character was. While Bloom doesn't have that strong of a persona it is not the actors fault that the film fails when it does. He puts on a solid show and the film is worth checking out for that alone, but everything else crumbles around him leaving the movie as it does the man, empty inside.

    

THE GOOD DOCTOR Review

Orlando Bloom is an interesting case. He has always come off as a prestigious type of actor who peaked early and has since been unable to deliver a successful film that wasn't a part of The Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. He'll get a bit more exposure of course this winter as he reprises the role of Legolas, but in the mean time he has starred in and produced this small indie film that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The Good Doctor is a simple little psychological drama that is straightforward in the way it approaches its story allowing the real focus of the film to be on the odd principle character. The way in which I interpreted the film was more in the vein of a character study rather than any kind of commentary on the healthcare system or any allusions to what is wrong with that system. The film actually cares very little about commenting on those types of issues, if at all, but is instead more invested in the idea that someone with such knowledge and power will abuse it for personal gain. That is of course nothing new, people do it all the time, yet the angle the film takes on the idea the person with that power might not be of the right mind; that they would abuse that authority to the point it affects the entire life course of those who willingly submit themselves and their welfare to that person is what's instilled in the audience. It is enhanced by the films creepy tone and a rather impressive performance from Bloom who becomes increasingly dependent on this need for praise and respect he feels he rightly deserves. He believes it so much we can only hope he lives up to the reputation he's given himself and will be able to cure his own serious condition.

THE TALL MAN Review

It is hard to come by a legitimate horror film these days. Maybe it has always been this way to the more seasoned moviegoers who know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to trying to make the audience jump out of their seat, but over the last five or so years it has become painfully obvious to me. It is really, a lesson we've all learned after seeing enough scary movies but it is films like The Tall Man that make me think we are heading in a far worse direction than the one we came from. I realize that the parents of my parents likely thought Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger were silly psychos in dumb costumes but they now, as icons of the genre, seem to have been so thrilling in that heyday. My generation has their own stamp on the genre with the Paranormal Activity films which took the reigns from the Saw movies and Jigsaw as our kind of Freddy or Jason figure but it is poor attempts like the title villain in this film that make me wonder where the genre is heading as a whole. This presents the main problem with the film: it shouldn't have been a "scary movie" in the first place. Their is a very interesting case study on not only society but of the perceptions individuals take on society and if they in fact have the power of persuasion the danger they can be when relaying these ideals to others, to followers. It is a complex idea that involves the class system and the evaluation of that system, how it came to be, why such lines exist and what has to be done to eliminate the weak.

Julia (Jessica Biel) checks on Tracy (Samantha Ferris) after
her daughter unexpectedly gives birth.
For the first half hour or so we believe the film is in fact something of a typical fright fest that sets us up in a small isolated town and gives us the premise that children keep disappearing or are mysteriously abducted by what the townspeople call the tall man. No one is able to explain it and the birth of any child brings fear to the parents who feel the need to free them from any kind danger. Jessica Biel who is clearly the only major star in the film as you could probably tell from the poster plays the town nurse Julia Denning who is doubtful of the whisperings around town about the creeper. She has a son of her known and a husband that we get a few slight references that allow us to assume he passed on many years before. Their is plenty of likely assumptions about who they think the culprit is besides the unlikely one that he is actually a ghost. Is it a child molester? Are the children being killed? Their are plenty of layers to the complications that pile on in the set up that make the bear fact that parents are losing their children all the more real and unbearable, but the film quickly sinks from taking this frightening situation and turning it into a plot device to move forward the harsh turn the film takes about an hour or so in. It may be considered a bit of a spoiler, so here is fair warning but the film takes a certain rule and bends it for what has always been an interesting ides to me There is a rule in constructing a story that the viewer must always be able to trust the narrator. That if they cannot trust the narrator the reader (or viewer in this case) will in the end feel like they were being lied to through the process of taking in the story and therefore resent piece of work entirely. It is an interesting tool that could certainly be used to varying degrees of success. Really given you trust the narrator they could tell you their side of any story and convince you to trust them or that they are in the right. The Tall Man tries to justify its actions by going a similar path, but ends up loosing its footing due to its identity crisis.

Julia is devastated when it seems the rumored Tall Man
has come for her own son.
Director Pascal Laugier is a French screenwriter and filmmaker who is known for his horror films and in his U.S. debut likely wanted people to think he continued his tradition of making fantasy/horror films like his controversial 2008 movie Martyrs. Instead Laugier has done is tell a story that is addressed in a subtle way while drenching it in horror movie cliches. Biel is appealing in her performance and surprisingly shows more range here than anything she's done in the past few years that have had her playing rather typical tough girl roles. The role requires her to do more than simply be a stock character in a stock movie. Biel's Julia has to both appeal to the naive in us and then at the drop of a hat become a completely different person. The fun of having such a character is to try and work out the reasoning we can no longer rely on someone we at first thought might be the only trustworthy character in the whole town. Laugier plays it close to the chest and in some ways I want to feel that he really pulled it off, but while I was initially intrigued by the unusual twist it soon became shrouded in over explanation that rather than clearing up the point the director is trying to make boggs it down with confusion and incoherence. In many ways I wanted to like the film if not for the attempt to defy genre boundaries, but for the fact that it was a horror film with bigger aspirations than to simply tell a creepy story, have a lame bad guy, and not open with a scene of a girl watching a scary movie on a Friday night. The Tall Man is a dreary movie, with a nice tone and some pretty good pacing up through to the latter part of the film. It is the fact that the movie is unable to layer these on in a convincing way when we are getting to the meat of it that makes this a bigger disappointment than it is a success.

Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) protects Julia's son David
(Jakob Davies) from the real threat.
When I first heard of the film it was through the initial trailer that appeared online. I couldn't even make it through the preview because, in all honesty, it looked like a standard non-imaginative scary movie that looked to cash in on typical scares and a hot chick in the lead role. I was surprised when it started to get somewhat favorable reviews and the fact that it was premiering with video on demand really gave me no excuse not to go ahead and at least give it a shot. I have been meaning to check out some of Laugier's work anyway so it was a chance to see what the fuss was all about when it came to him as well. I don't really understand it, the film skewed closer to another female-driven dud earlier this year called Gone or even last weekend's dud The Apparition than it did a small indie that dug into the psyche of a lead character who decided to take such drastic measures in the world so as to create change that even the lowest on the society poll would feel the effects. It is an admirable thing to attempt and it is likely that the director will eventually reach his goal of being able to fully break through the persona he has already created for himself. He clearly has an interesting way of approaching things and creating metaphors for social commentary, now if he can just find a middle ground in terms of genre or at least a less conflicting way of telling those stories he will do fine. I didn't expect to like The Tall Man that much and maybe in the end, that's why I didn't. It surprised me though, taking what looked like nothing more than a typical throw away February release and infusing it with hints of something more. Something I am eager to see be developed.

      

THE TALL MAN Review

It is hard to come by a legitimate horror film these days. Maybe it has always been this way to the more seasoned moviegoers who know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to trying to make the audience jump out of their seat, but over the last five or so years it has become painfully obvious to me. It is really, a lesson we've all learned after seeing enough scary movies but it is films like The Tall Man that make me think we are heading in a far worse direction than the one we came from. I realize that the parents of my parents likely thought Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger were silly psychos in dumb costumes but they now, as icons of the genre, seem to have been so thrilling in that heyday. My generation has their own stamp on the genre with the Paranormal Activity films which took the reigns from the Saw movies and Jigsaw as our kind of Freddy or Jason figure but it is poor attempts like the title villain in this film that make me wonder where the genre is heading as a whole. This presents the main problem with the film: it shouldn't have been a "scary movie" in the first place. Their is a very interesting case study on not only society but of the perceptions individuals take on society and if they in fact have the power of persuasion the danger they can be when relaying these ideals to others, to followers. It is a complex idea that involves the class system and the evaluation of that system, how it came to be, why such lines exist and what has to be done to eliminate the weak.

PREMIUM RUSH Review

Who would have thought long sequences of people riding bikes could be so entertaining? I realize it's the oldest trick in the book to open with a question to draw a reader in but that was the question I kept repeating to myself every time Premium Rush continued to surprise me. The film had become a sort of throwaway piece of entertainment as there was no real push in its advertising campaign to give it any real chance of reaching a broad audience to embrace it, but I don't know why. This is a thrilling little piece filmmaking that doesn't take itself too seriously and whips by as fast as its characters do in the streets of New York. Many movies will claim that the setting is another character in itself and seldom does that ring as true as it does here. Everything about the film is influenced by its setting and for those of us that have never been to New York ourselves it is a fascinating, ground look at the pace of the city and the atmosphere it breathes. The films running time is a mere 90-minutes and the adrenaline never stops pumping that entire time. The plot unfolds with a non linear fashion that keeps us guessing even if we might see where the film is heading a scene or two ahead of it actually getting there. It doesn't go down the normal, easy route of dealing with any kind of drug or generic road that makes us care less about the story and care more about the action but instead sets itself up for the challenge of having its characters being as invested in their quest as we should be in the film. It may not serve as any metaphor for something bigger going on in the world right now, it isn't addressing any political issues outright and in general seems to have no agenda other than to entertain. Sometimes that is all you need. And with a cast led by two greats such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon you really can't go wrong no matter what kind of movie you're making.

Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Vanessa (Dania
Ramirez) hide from the cops in their race against the clock.
While I expected nothing flashy from the film other than the way in which the chase sequences were filmed, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Premium Rush was not simply going to tell its story and insert a few cool  sequences in between. In short, I was delighted that the film was actually going to be a thinking persons film. It starts out blasting those opening chords of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and immediately jumps into this slow motion shot of Gordon-Levitt flying through the air and landing on the pavement in a state of confusion surrounded by concerned pedestrians and then a girl, close to tears drops in frame and is trying to keep Gordon Levitt's Wilee from slipping into unconsciousness but of course, he does. The film operates within a slim time frame. Starting initially at 7:30 and working its way back to 5:00 and then 3:30 to tell the complete story that includes all of the facets the story includes. There is some narration from Wilee in the beginning that educates us on the ins and outs of bicycle messaging and the complications that ensue in a city of speeding cars, cabbies (all of which include the nuisance of open doors at one time or another), and all those pedestrians walking the streets. The film quickly exemplifies these obstacles by showing Wilee's pre-meditated visions of how certain routes could end, most of which do with him hitting the pavement. He is in an on the rocks relationship with fellow messenger Vanessa (Danis Ramirez) while another of his fellow cyclists Manny (Wole Parks) insists on constantly trying to show him up in competing for Vanessa's affections and his status as the best messenger in the city.

As a bicycle messenger Wilee has to face many obstacles
in his day-to-day jobs.
It is when Wilee picks up an envelope from Vanessa's roomate Nima (Jamie Chung) that things start to deviate from the everyday routine. Wilee doesn't know what he's delivering, he just has a destination and a time to have it there by. That is all he needs to know and that is all he cares to know. Nima makes it clear the contents of the envelope are of the utmost importance and NYPD officer Bobby Monday seems to know why. From the moment Wilee is set to deliver the envelope Monday is on his case, chasing after him for reasons unknown. As Monday, director David Koepp (mainly known for his writing but has also directed the small charmers Ghost Town and Secret Window) has somehow managed to gather Michael Shannon to star in this slickly made if easily not seemingly forgettable film. Shannon, who is usually known for smaller projects or supporting roles turns up the intimidation here for what might be a little glimpse of how the actor will portray his villainous turn in Man of Steel next year. Not to get off topic, Shannon portrays the impulsive and angry detective with a flair for the dramatic and an overriding sense of entitlement that ultimately keeps the chase going and the complications piling. While Shannon hams it up with glee it is apparent he knows the kind of movie this is, but what separates he and Gordon-Levitt is that despite the younger leads understanding of what kind of film this is he still completely commits to making the guy the most genuine interpretation of the character he can. If there is one thing to be said for Gordon-Levitt and his sudden rise to the top of everyone's favorite list it is how versatile he is. Whether it be big budget actioners like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, small indie fare such as (500) Days of Summer and 50/50, or even his underrated turn in Hesher and the upcoming sci-fi flick Looper, I don't know that the guy can make a bad film.

Wilee is under the pursued by detective Barry Monday
(Michael Shannon) because of a package he is
in possession of.
It was with both an element of surprise and appreciation that I took in Premium Rush with as much energy as it offered up. The added weight of the exposition lends the film a credibility it would have likely not had otherwise. It is a formula film that exceeds its own constructs. It speeds along at such a quick pace you don't have time to question its logic or look deeper into the lives these messengers lead. In short, it is more than I expected it to be. I went in expecting a forgettable, formulaic action movie and that would be the end of it. Coming out it is indeed all of those things, but what I didn't expect was to enjoy the journey of it as much as I did. I would watch it again, probably several time just because it is that entertaining and that fun. There may be an easier way to say that Koepp and his crew knew what they were making and didn't intend to leave any kind of mark or make any kind of statement with the film, but in the end it does turn out to be more of an experience than a distraction which lends to it being more than it may have ever intended to be. There is a certain weight to it that wouldn't come if we tried to put on the breaks as our protagonist always advises against. We simply take it in and accept it for what it is while marveling at the break-neck action sequences that see our heroes weave through the streets of New York all while communicating a story (props to the actors for delivering most of their dialogue while on the go). The film has an essence that takes you in whether it be the thickness of the plot, the characters, or just that hot summer day in New York City where we get a glimpse into the underground world of these bike messengers. You may not take much away from Premium Rush except for a desire to ride a bike more often, but no one can argue that it does in fact, deliver.


PREMIUM RUSH Review

Who would have thought long sequences of people riding bikes could be so entertaining? I realize it's the oldest trick in the book to open with a question to draw a reader in but that was the question I kept repeating to myself every time Premium Rush continued to surprise me. The film had become a sort of throwaway piece of entertainment as there was no real push in its advertising campaign to give it any real chance of reaching a broad audience to embrace it, but I don't know why. This is a thrilling little piece filmmaking that doesn't take itself too seriously and whips by as fast as its characters do in the streets of New York. Many movies will claim that the setting is another character in itself and seldom does that ring as true as it does here. Everything about the film is influenced by its setting and for those of us that have never been to New York ourselves it is a fascinating, ground look at the pace of the city and the atmosphere it breathes. The films running time is a mere 90-minutes and the adrenaline never stops pumping that entire time. The plot unfolds with a non linear fashion that keeps us guessing even if we might see where the film is heading a scene or two ahead of it actually getting there. It doesn't go down the normal, easy route of dealing with any kind of drug or generic road that makes us care less about the story and care more about the action but instead sets itself up for the challenge of having its characters being as invested in their quest as we should be in the film. It may not serve as any metaphor for something bigger going on in the world right now, it isn't addressing any political issues outright and in general seems to have no agenda other than to entertain. Sometimes that is all you need. And with a cast led by two greats such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon you really can't go wrong no matter what kind of movie you're making.

PARANORMAN Review

I am always hesitant when it comes to stop motion animation. No matter the intrigue that might come along with it, there is something about the style that makes me feel no matter how hard I try I won't be able to get past it. This was true earlier this year with Aardman's Pirates! Band of Misfits yet I still found myself enjoying that film to a much bigger degree than I ever expected. This might have eased the resilience that would have usually come along with a film like Paranorman. In fact, I was very much looking forward to this film as it seemed, in the very least, to be one of those hand crafted movies that would employ its technique to emphasize the creepy tone of its story. One of those films where I would regain the sense of something along the lines of Hocus Pocus or Monster House where it is a movie I can always pull out around Halloween every year and never be disappointed. Suffice to say Paranorman more than meets the expectations I was holding for it and honestly delivers one of the funniest and more entertaining experiences I've had at the movies in a while (and I just saw The Expendables 2 which was riotously funny). The film has a sense about it where you know the makers understood every aspect of what they were trying to accomplish. They know their characters better than anyone else so when those characters encounter such strange happenings such as what goes on in this small little town they know how they would react and how they would deal with it while always keeping the focus on our main protagonist. And while if you've read the synopsis you may think this all sounds very Sixth Sense-like trust me when I say it turns that little plot device into not just a gift but a curse that justifies its surprisingly touching storyline.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) tries to hide from
the zombies he let loose.
All around we find that every aspect of the film nearly exceeds expectations. Whether it be in the actors voice work that helps develop the characters even further or the visual prowess that is inherit in every frame. I was consistently impressed with how the film rolled out and that I was never bored but instead engaged by how brilliant the pacing. When I was immediately intrigued by the story early on I worried it would end up going down a road that was less than satisfactory. In this regard, I was lucky enough to be proven wrong. When the film opens (with a great homage to the grindhouse/slasher flicks of the 70's and 80's by the way) we are not only immediately given a taste of the genuine affection the film has for scary movies, but we also see the delicacy and intelligence of the filmmaking in the way it is explained to us that Norman sees dead people and that is just something everyone around him needs to live with. We see that it is something not completely accepted about Norman, but it is known and it defines his life in this moment. Here is where the well rounded, fully realized character comes into play as it is clear that Norman sees this as something he'd rather not be burdened with, but he also likes to be alone and this is a fine enough excuse to be that way. He doesn't really care to have friends in the casual sense of the word. He would rather just be left to his own devices without having to deal with the humiliation he finds around every corner at school. This gift he has for seeing the dead is naturally not a random coincidence though and as Norman and his ever persistent companion Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) find out there is much more to the history of their town then the school play they put every year likes to include.

Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Norman, Alvin
(Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and
Mitch (Casey Affleck) are on a scary adventure.
While Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, The Road) creates a sense of maturity in a young Norman while still instilling the unjaded, child like wonderment that belongs to someone his age we are also treated to several other performances that make this a cast of characters one you don't mind going on an adventure with. I especially enjoyed the bits of subtle humor that were injected throughout. They weren't your typical bits of animated humor either, but significant in the way that they came perfectly integrated into the DNA of who the characters are. The school bully is named Alvin and he gets one of the few recognizable voices here from McLovin himself Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Alvin is an idiot and finds it rewarding to hide his shortcomings by pointing out Norman's. Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann provide a few great bits as the parents presiding over all of this while Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck are the older siblings to Norman and Neil who somehow get roped into the thick of the plot. Even John Goodman shows up early on as one of Norman's uncles who seems to share a certain trait that he needs to pass on to our hero. In the end, it really does come down to how the film took the archetypes of this rather tired premise and breathes life into it through the course they take in executing it and how they populate the world and realize that vision altogether. The piece completely compliments itself in every aspect. I thoroughly enjoyed it, my only drawback being that it doesn't ever truly find a ground on which to stand. It is stuck somewhere between genres and demographics, but I've never been one to let the lines restrict the need to create what one really wants to see their final product become so props to directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell.

Norman and his gang come to realize that all is not what
it appears to be in their small town.
That being said, there was the distinct concern as I watched the film about who exactly this was aimed at or made for. My mind kept coming back to the film lovers who specifically found their interests satisfied in old school horror flicks. Given that is a small demographic to create a film for I had to think there was more to it than that.  There were plenty of children in the theater with their parents and while there was a good amount of laughter coming from each their was also that concerned laughter at some of the more subversive humor from the parents that weren't totally sure if they were appropriate in laughing at what their child just missed, or if other parents in the theater might judge them for it. It straddles the description of "family entertainment" pretty strongly as there were certainly a few scenes and images that conjured up real fear in the children sitting around us. There were also a few jokes and words that weren't exactly subtle to the children sitting next to me either. I can't say that I really worried about this dilemma after seeing the film, I was more surprised at how damn charming the film was. I wanted to see it again and recall the jokes and was also wishing i already had the blu-ray so I could watch the special features. It is that kind of movie, it wraps you up in itself and takes you on an adventurous, scary, and outright fun trip that you hate to see end and only hope you can catch up with those folks again sometime in the future whether it be at home or in a sequel. Paranorman may not be for everyone, but that is what makes it so appealing to those who it is intended for.

PARANORMAN Review

I am always hesitant when it comes to stop motion animation. No matter the intrigue that might come along with it, there is something about the style that makes me feel no matter how hard I try I won't be able to get past it. This was true earlier this year with Aardman's Pirates! Band of Misfits yet I still found myself enjoying that film to a much bigger degree than I ever expected. This might have eased the resilience that would have usually come along with a film like Paranorman. In fact, I was very much looking forward to this film as it seemed, in the very least, to be one of those hand crafted movies that would employ its technique to emphasize the creepy tone of its story. One of those films where I would regain the sense of something along the lines of Hocus Pocus or Monster House where it is a movie I can always pull out around Halloween every year and never be disappointed. Suffice to say Paranorman more than meets the expectations I was holding for it and honestly delivers one of the funniest and more entertaining experiences I've had at the movies in a while (and I just saw The Expendables 2 which was riotously funny). The film has a sense about it where you know the makers understood every aspect of what they were trying to accomplish. They know their characters better than anyone else so when those characters encounter such strange happenings such as what goes on in this small little town they know how they would react and how they would deal with it while always keeping the focus on our main protagonist. And while if you've read the synopsis you may think this all sounds very Sixth Sense-like trust me when I say it turns that little plot device into not just a gift but a curse that justifies its surprisingly touching storyline.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 Review

In my review of the first Expendables film I ended it by saying that the film was nothing more than a good time and I imagine that is all Sylvester Stallone really desired for his audience to have. That he did a fine job at achieving that goal and that I couldn't wait for the sequel, quipping that maybe Jean-Claude Van Damme would show up next time. One can imagine my excitement when it was actually announced that the Muscles from Brussels would not only be showing up in The Expendables 2, but would be playing the bad guy. Perfect! It is easy to criticize these films for their lack of any kind of ambition outside of the bad 80's action flicks they intend to pay homage to, but that is their purpose and if you go in wanting or expecting anything more than that you will be sorely disappointed. If you know what to expect at all though I can't see how one could not thoroughly enjoy themselves as this sequel is everything the sequels of that action hey day aspired to be. Bigger, louder, and packed with even more action heroes with more bullets to hand out than you could ever imagine. While I looked forward to the first film for the reasons of seeing Stallone's old school style and ideals mix with someone leading the new school such as Jason Statham that excitement has passed and so to find something to actually look forward to and invest in with the sequel we find it to be the fact that there is an even bigger palette of action stars than the first one offered. We look to see the minor cameo roles of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger expand to where these three titans of the genre stand together on the front lines. The last twenty minutes is worth the price of admission alone and to boot, this is so ridiculously entertaining you'll find your self surprised at how much you can't wait to see The Expendables 3.

From left: Maggie (Yu Nan), Caesar (Terry Crews), Barney
(Sylvester Stallone), Road (Randy Couture) and Gunner
(Dolph Lundgren) are the Expendables.
While story only matters so much in a movie like this, there is a surprising amount of attention paid to the details here. We open this time with a major action set piece, something I wanted from the first film that felt a little underwhelming. Barney Ross (Stallone) and his crew that includes Lee Christmas (Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and newcomer Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) bust through some poor little Nepal town where the old school mercenaries blow holes in everyone who gets in their way, busting down structures with their parade of tanks all in order to rescue a Chinese businessman for God knows what reasons. It is purely the set up to re-introduce us to the wide cast of characters while putting on display exactly how outlandish and graphic the violence of the film is going to be. Li's character is dismissed early as he escorts the businessman back to their hometown so we are treated to some nice bonding moments and a hint at a storyline that is never further explored that has Barney disliking Christmas's plans to move forward in his relationship after the cheating episode of part one. This is minor to the introduction of little Hemsworth though who is an expert sniper and slowly taking that place of Barney's right hand man from Christmas. That is, until Billy admits the life isn't for him. The thick of the plot begins when Willis's Church comes a callin' for the payback Barney and his boys owe him. Church sends them on a seemingly simple mission that asks them to take along female tech genius Maggie (Yu Nan) and retrieve an item from a safe on an airplane that crashed in Albania. The mission is completed quickly, but the victory is short lived as Jean Vilain (Van Damme) and yes, that's seriously his characters name, kidnaps one of the Expendables and demands the item from the plane. Barney is hesitant, but gives in while Vilain takes the life of his captive anyway. It is now personal, and you know they're going to make sure they get revenge.

Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Barney, and Church
(Bruce Willis) let loose on their enemies.
As far as summer blockbusters go, it will be hard to beat this one in terms of pure enjoyment. There is a sense of carelessness, of fun that goes along with the ride the film takes you on while still containing some nice attempts at genuine emotional moments as well as several hilarious bits, some of which are even intentional. In this aspect I think I may have laughed at The Expendables 2 more than any other comedy that came out in the past three or four months. There is a point in the film where the team is trapped, surrounded by members of Van Damme's gang known as the Sangs. Naturally, there is no way all of these guys can bite the bullet and so who else is there to come to the rescue but Chuck Norris? Literally every time Norris appears on screen as the lone wolf Booker I was smiling. It completely epitomizes the cheesiness of the series yet perfectly captures the tone that Stallone established in the first one and director Simon West carries over so well in this one. West is no stranger to big, giant action films as he's made a few successful ones of his own including Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, as well as working previously with Statham on The Mechanic. The director not only improves on the way in which they convey the intentional, almost satiric tone of the films but he also stages the action pieces with a more brutal force. Whereas under Stallone's direction there were clearly a few messy edits and sloppy action sequences built on great ideas that didn't transition as well to the screen as I would have hoped, they seem all the better choreographed here while still allowing each character a moment to shine. There is no shortage of action here though, and the whole thing is completely relentless in its goal to create an all-out, over the top action movie they just don't make anymore. If they were made more often The Expendable  films likely wouldn't have as much charm as they do, so the film ultimately benefits from being one of a kind in this day and age.

Bad guy Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) faces off against
Barney in the finale.
In my initial reaction to the first film I was so in love with the idea of the film and was satisfied enough with the final product that I gave it a rating of three and a half stars. That was my initial gut in what I would rate this film as well. Looking back I would probably take away the half star or maybe even a whole from the original. That speaks bad for the first film, but it means well for this second entry in the series as it shows the potential for what that first movie should have reached. Does it mean there isn't room for the third one to grow and be even better? Of course not, with this series there will seemingly always be room for improvement and they are far from perfect, but they serve their purpose as well as any Oscar bait drama. There is plenty of bad acting and horrible dialogue here, but Hemsworth lends the movie a bit of credibility while Van Damme is living it up, making what could have been a stale role this juicy experiment as this ridiculous villain who plays up every cliche of a foreign bad guy you could imagine. The final showdown between Van Damme and Stallone will elicit several cheers while the corny dialogue exchanges between Willis and Schwarzenegger in the heat of battle will have you rolling in the aisles. I can only imagine Stallone intended to have another successful franchise on his resume when he began to shape this idea of an orgy of action heroes rolled into one film together into an actual reality and he has delivered what he promised, only improving on the formula this time around. I really am excited about part three coming down the tube. I hear Eastwood may show up next time or we may even get a trip inside the Cage on top of what will no doubt already be the most bombastic chapter yet.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 Review

In my review of the first Expendables film I ended it by saying that the film was nothing more than a good time and I imagine that is all Sylvester Stallone really desired for his audience to have. That he did a fine job at achieving that goal and that I couldn't wait for the sequel, quipping that maybe Jean-Claude Van Damme would show up next time. One can imagine my excitement when it was actually announced that the Muscles from Brussels would not only be showing up in The Expendables 2, but would be playing the bad guy. Perfect! It is easy to criticize these films for their lack of any kind of ambition outside of the bad 80's action flicks they intend to pay homage to, but that is their purpose and if you go in wanting or expecting anything more than that you will be sorely disappointed. If you know what to expect at all though I can't see how one could not thoroughly enjoy themselves as this sequel is everything the sequels of that action hey day aspired to be. Bigger, louder, and packed with even more action heroes with more bullets to hand out than you could ever imagine. While I looked forward to the first film for the reasons of seeing Stallone's old school style and ideals mix with someone leading the new school such as Jason Statham that excitement has passed and so to find something to actually look forward to and invest in with the sequel we find it to be the fact that there is an even bigger palette of action stars than the first one offered. We look to see the minor cameo roles of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger expand to where these three titans of the genre stand together on the front lines. The last twenty minutes is worth the price of admission alone and to boot, this is so ridiculously entertaining you'll find your self surprised at how much you can't wait to see The Expendables 3.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS Review

Maybe it is that we have now grown accustomed to who Greg is that he doesn't bother me as much anymore, maybe the fact that Rowley keeps getting weirder makes me understand Greg more, but what I've really began to question, especially in this third outing for the Wimpy Kid series is why or how these two guys are friends in the first place. It is obvious that they are cut from two different cloths. Rowley is the more sheltered and privileged dork that at this point in his life still believes life is a bouquet of roses. Nothing wrong with that, but he's reaching the age that he's going to need to make a few of his own mistakes or his life is going to be a trainwreck (the kid has a fit here because he lied to benefit his best friend). On the other end of the spectrum is Greg, a middle class kid that is likely the average summation of every thirteen year-old boy out there. He loves video games, has a love/hate relationship with his older brother and is trying his best to stay on good terms with his parents. It speaks well for the series that the main protagonist is someone who the core audience of these books will be able to relate to and I have had pleasant experiences with the previous two films in this franchise, but there was something missing from the latest installment. Whether it be that Dog Days chronicles the adventures of summer rather than the events of the school year or that there is no sense of urgency to what is going on here. The film ends up feeling as lazy as the main characters desire to be during their summer break.

Greg (Zachary Gordon) and Rowley (Robert Capron)
attempt to call Greg's school crush Holly.
As the title clearly indicates this time around Greg, Rowley, and the gang are out for summer break and as far as Greg is concerned he is looking to do as little as possible. He knows his dad will expect more though, always encouraging them to play outside but never picking up a ball to play with them Steve Zahn has found himself comfortably playing the dad in these movies, but in one of the only highlights of this film, we get to see that role expanded past the standard enforcer of the house. Zahn is a gifted actor who can pull off heavier moments while remaining a true example of comedic timing. It's hard to believe the guy can even play a dad so convincingly considering some of his early roles, but as the main ideas and theme of Dog Days revolve around the father/son relationship it is nice to see the relationships develop more towards bonds than standard relationships written to abide by the standard rules of movie families. While Greg genuinely wants to make his dad proud he has also made it his mission to hang out with his crush Holly at some point during the summer. On the last day of school he almost scores her phone number through the classic year book signing move, but is left to figure out the entire number when fate intervenes and takes away the easy route. When Greg accompanies Rowley to the country club and finds Holly there teaching tennis lessons it becomes clear that Greg will stop at nothing, no matter the trouble he gets in to win time with Holly and he will inevitably damage his relationship with his best friend in the process.

Frank (Steve Zahn) introduces Greg and Rowley to his
old scout master in an attempt to help them enjoy
the good ole' fashioned outdoors.
The main issue I hold with the film is the fact it feels somewhat disjointed. It is strange in some ways because these types of movies are the ones that are the most absent minded about the criticism that may or may not even be made about them. They are live action family films, they are the genre that has been fading ever since the 90's ended. Maybe it's the fact I haven't been in the target demographic for those kinds of films since that time but it is clear the advancements in computer animation and the domination of that art form made the demand for live action films intended for children all the less necessary. There have been a few here and there throughout the past few years, but the ones that come to mind are nothing if not easily forgettable pieces that the actors cashed in a nice paycheck for and then moved on. They haven't been of a high enough quality to rival anything Pixar or Dreamworks has made and their hasn't been a box office hit of their kind since maybe Enchanted in 2007? Do you see what I'm getting at? It takes a satire of sorts of old albeit classic animated Disney hits to have had a successful live action film aimed at families. Lucky for this franchise, it had a built in audience with the wildly successful book series by Jeff Kinney. The books were a hit because they were relatable, they connected with kids who are most of the time forgotten between the birth to eight year-old age range and the pre-teens. Kinney took advantage of that and connected with this group. The movies have done an admirable job of replicating this formula, but it is clear in this third entry that time may not be on their side.

Rowley, Greg, and Holly (Peyton List) find some peace in
 their summer vacation.
While the series may be losing steam in terms of ground to cover that seems to be the least of their worries here. Dog Days has so much going on but feels like it drags along (that's not good when a film is only an hour and a half long). Yet between the father/son portions, the Greg/Holly storyline, the Greg/Rodrick storyline, and the always necessary adventures of Greg and Rowley its as if they are trying to fit everything into as many movies as they can before the kids get too old. There are some great moments in the film that include the opening scene where the Heffley's go to the public pool to break in the summer season and have clearly had the same idea as everyone else in the neighborhood. Greg is forced to walk through the public locker rooms where he gets an eyeful of mature men and then is forced to have "fun" by his parents in an overcrowded pool that is more pee than chlorine. It is the small moments of recognition such as this or when Greg's mom opens the blinds for the first time and Greg has to allow his eyes to adjust to the light before he continues playing his video games without missing a beat that elicit the most laughter. They are genuine laughs because they are true and while there are splashes of them here the first two films were filled to the brim with those humiliating yet funny moments. I like the Wimpy Kid series and in many ways think it offers they kids of today an escape from all the computer animation into something not so fantastical but instead is based in their reality. Maybe I am missing the point of it as it is not my reality anymore, but those first two films made me remember things that hadn't crossed my brain in years about my childhood. This latest film didn't manage to do that. It's means well, but not worth skipping the better fare that is certainly out there.


DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS Review

Maybe it is that we have now grown accustomed to who Greg is that he doesn't bother me as much anymore, maybe the fact that Rowley keeps getting weirder makes me understand Greg more, but what I've really began to question, especially in this third outing for the Wimpy Kid series is why or how these two guys are friends in the first place. It is obvious that they are cut from two different cloths. Rowley is the more sheltered and privileged dork that at this point in his life still believes life is a bouquet of roses. Nothing wrong with that, but he's reaching the age that he's going to need to make a few of his own mistakes or his life is going to be a trainwreck (the kid has a fit here because he lied to benefit his best friend). On the other end of the spectrum is Greg, a middle class kid that is likely the average summation of every thirteen year-old boy out there. He loves video games, has a love/hate relationship with his older brother and is trying his best to stay on good terms with his parents. It speaks well for the series that the main protagonist is someone who the core audience of these books will be able to relate to and I have had pleasant experiences with the previous two films in this franchise, but there was something missing from the latest installment. Whether it be that Dog Days chronicles the adventures of summer rather than the events of the school year or that there is no sense of urgency to what is going on here. The film ends up feeling as lazy as the main characters desire to be during their summer break.

SPARKLE Review

Sparkle is a story we have seen time and time again. In many ways its hard to see the film as a legitimate theatrical release because it feels like something tailored more to the VH1/Sunday afternoon type viewing than it does a night out with friends or a date. We have heard the tale before: struggling musicians just trying to make it in the business with obstacles that range from parents to drugs, to significant others. It doesn't help that Sparkle is also set once again in that late-60's era where Motown was everything and the music industry was a completely different monster than it is now.The idea that we have seen the story before though could be argued with pretty much any movie these days so I will not harp on that flaw as its main weakness. In fact, overall Sparkle proves to be just as entertaining as any Jackson's or Temptations biopic, but with much better acting. There will no doubt be added interest around the film due to the fact it is the last performance from Whitney Houston and while I'm sure she might have preferred to go out on a flashier note, there is something humbling about this supporting role that not only sheds a nice light on the singers legacy but also a willingness to confront those very public demons she was constantly facing. Regardless of if your reasoning for going to see the film though you will find no shortage of melodramatic entertainment. Though it sometimes skewed a little too close to Tyler Perry territory for my taste I was nonetheless wrapped up the music aspect of the story and that is where Sparkle will win you over. Whether it be the appropriately cast Jordin Sparks (for whom this movie is really a vehicle for), the breakout star of it all Carmen Ejogo or Ms. Houston herself, its their voices and soulful songs that will be what truly move you in the end.

Dolores (Tika Sumpter), Sister (Carmen Ejogo), and
Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) mix it up on stage.
I haven't seen the original 1976 film this was based on, but I can guess that much of the music is either taken from that movie directly or inspired by hits of the era in which it was made. If the music is what keeps this new Sparkle afloat it is the the overly played melodrama that pulls it down. What the difference is between real, life-like drama and these soapy situations is how the movie chooses to play them. I would have loved to see a more raw approach to Sparks character and her drive and determination to not simply defy her mother but to continue to push forward with what she wants out of life. Their is ripe opportunity here to introduce the youngins of the tech generation not only to the great simplicity of 60's soul music, but to demonstrate a way of life and how times change, but the essence of people will always seemingly remain the same. Sparkle keeps it too squeaky clean to really dig into the complications of real life though. Sure, there is spousal abuse, drug use, and even death sprinkled throughout the script but even in the most serious of situations I found myself laughing at the way in which director Salim Akil (Jumping the Broom) decided to document such events. Whether it be odd use of slow motion or tracking shots, even the aesthetic choices seemed out of place in moments while others felt nothing short of authentic. It was almost as if they couldn't decide to keep it light in the deeper dramatic moments or to really go for it and instead became stuck in the awkward middle somewhere. In the end, it comes back around to that music that again, if anything, will show the kids of today how heavily their pop stars rely on the music of Motown to continue carrying their hits.

Sparkle is comforted by her mother (Whitney Houston)
before going on stage for her first solo show.
Going into the film I wasn't overly familiar with the territory the film would be covering other than what I imagined it would. unfortunately, it pretty much went down exactly as I expected with a few minor curve balls along the way. One of those curve balls was just how engaged I was by the majority of the cast and how well they were able to convey what was no doubt slightly cheesy on paper. The first surprise comes when we meet Sparkle (Sparks) and her sister known simply as Sister (Carmen Ejogo). As the more outgoing, self-centered of the two Sister has no problem strutting her stuff in front of people to get what she wants. She can sing, for sure, but she has the attitude, the presence to carry a show and to hold the audience's attention. Sparkle is clearly the more shy, reserved one and keeps her passions of songwriting and singing to herself. She wants Sister to perform them, to make them her own and Sister has no problem taking the adoration that comes along with doing so. It is Sparkle that catches the eye of the new guy in town Stix (the always reliable Derek Luke) though. He's an aspiring manager staying with his cousin in Detroit because he knows its the place to be for anyone wanting to be anything in music at that time. Stix sees the potential in Sister but he doesn't really understand what he has until he stumbles upon Sparkle composing her own hits at the piano. The two form a stable and understanding pair. he helps her realize what she wants and he gets satisfaction not only out of loving her but achieving his goals through her. Luke is more than capable at handling this type of material, but it was Sparks I was really interested in seeing blossom. She isn't really required to do much here other than act determined and sing her pretty little heart out though.

That is left to Sister who has the most interesting arc in the film as she is easily seduced by the money fame can deliver but unfortunately goes the most clich├ęd ways possible (drugs, abusive husband, etc.) to slip into the dark side of what she was destined for since her troubled childhood ruined her. Ejogo nearly steals the show every time she is on screen though. Like her counterpart she takes every pair of eyes watching and demands they be on her. I anticipated this being a coming out event for Sparks but it might have just introduced us to a more versatile performer. Then there is the case of Mike Epps. That abusive husband role I've been mentioning is filled by the usually light, comic relief actor that Epps too often turns into. He at least shows some diversity here by swaying back and forth between a light public persona with a monster of a temper when the curtain is pulled shut. The fascinating part about it is how good Epps is at playing the villain, he should try his range more often. Someone needs to give this guy a good, credible, leading role. The remainder of the cast does fine work, but it is the soft spoken but stern mama hen that Houston plays and who is able to wrap it all up nicely in the end that will stay with you the most after the credits have rolled and the last song has been sung.

Stix (Derek Luke) and Sparkle share a night under
the stars together.
While Sparkle drags a little bit in the middle there is enough going on here to get a solid recommendation. Maybe it was the fact I didn't really expect too much going into it, but I rather enjoyed myself in the moment of watching the movie play out. It was a refreshing diversion from what we've seen lately. It plays it safe but the heavily influenced Sunday sermon lessons that run rampant through the whole thing give it a kind of comfy feeling, a kind of spirituality that doesn't feel forced. It is hard to say how much of an impact Sparkle will have, if any, but in many ways I hope that it does considering that if it is indeed a hit the actors that really shine here will not only become bigger stars but be afforded the chance of more opportunities. People will come to see the last performance of Whitney Houston but will leave with an appreciation for the way things used to be and the charismatic turns from Ejogo and Epps. It may or may not add a boost to Sparks career, but she does well enough to earn a hit every couple of years and if she really wants to impress she'll need to find a role that will really challenge her rather than relying on her seasoned vocals to carry her meek persona. For a movie that dips in deep melodrama, delivers feel good, catchy tunes and solid acting it never rises above a certain quality line that I hoped it would. Still, I've clearly had a lot to say about it and in that I can recognize it connected with me on many levels. It may not be the best movie in theaters right now, probably not even the second best, but it well worth your time and you will be nothing if not entertained.

             

SPARKLE Review

Sparkle is a story we have seen time and time again. In many ways its hard to see the film as a legitimate theatrical release because it feels like something tailored more to the VH1/Sunday afternoon type viewing than it does a night out with friends or a date. We have heard the tale before: struggling musicians just trying to make it in the business with obstacles that range from parents to drugs, to significant others. It doesn't help that Sparkle is also set once again in that late-60's era where Motown was everything and the music industry was a completely different monster than it is now.The idea that we have seen the story before though could be argued with pretty much any movie these days so I will not harp on that flaw as its main weakness. In fact, overall Sparkle proves to be just as entertaining as any Jackson's or Temptations biopic, but with much better acting. There will no doubt be added interest around the film due to the fact it is the last performance from Whitney Houston and while I'm sure she might have preferred to go out on a flashier note, there is something humbling about this supporting role that not only sheds a nice light on the singers legacy but also a willingness to confront those very public demons she was constantly facing. Regardless of if your reasoning for going to see the film though you will find no shortage of melodramatic entertainment. Though it sometimes skewed a little too close to Tyler Perry territory for my taste I was nonetheless wrapped up the music aspect of the story and that is where Sparkle will win you over. Whether it be the appropriately cast Jordin Sparks (for whom this movie is really a vehicle for), the breakout star of it all Carmen Ejogo or Ms. Houston herself, its their voices and soulful songs that will be what truly move you in the end.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD Review

Beasts of the Southern Wild offers its audience many ways to approach it. I am still not sure how I'd like to do so. In many ways the film baffled me. I had little knowledge of what the story concerned going in besides what I'd heard about its beautiful look and a few comparisons to The Tree of Life. Having absolutely adored Terrence Malick's masterpiece of speculation on the universe and what it all means, where we fit into it, and those moments in life that define us I was, needless to say, anxious for what this critical darling might offer. It wasn't exactly what I expected. The film had moments where I was completely wrapped up in the tale of young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and the dynamics of her relationship with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) both who have been praised for their performances considering neither of them were professional actors before this. I, in moments, understood what writer/director Benh Zeitlin was attempting to capture but then there were the long stretches of the movie where I was, to be forward, bored. The film has a lovely tone, a revealing look at some seriously impoverished conditions by storms and hurricanes that have ravished this small bayou community referred to as "the bathtub". It embraces the view of the world through its young protagonist and though the visuals weren't nearly as accomplished as I'd expected it seemed the filmmakers certainly did the best with what they had to work with. I feel as if the film should have made me feel something more than it did. Instead I left the theater wondering what had stood out to others that I was missing. What did I not "get"? As much as I'd like to say it moved me beyond words, the truth is it didn't but that doesn't mean I disliked the film, I just didn't love it as much as everyone else seems to.

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her father Wink
(Dwight Henry) relish their primitive lifestyle.
While my grading scale on this one might be considered a little harsh it can likely be attributed to the fact that I expected so much of this film going in and came out underwhelmed. If I were going in with no preconceived notions of what to expect my entire interpretation of the film might have been different, but regardless I doubt it would contain the same amount of adoration as the majority of the reactions I've seen or heard from others. While I recommend one does go into the film with little to no idea of what is actually going on here there really isn't much more to add as it is one of those movies not necessarily about the plot points happening on screen as the feelings certain events in the lives of the characters it is following elicit. To be clear though, our protagonist is a six year-old girl who has been raised by her father in the lowest part of the delta. They exist in two separate houses that are closer in reality to boxes on sticks. Hushpuppy's is an old, worn down trailer that is elevated on top of other junk that has gathered to keep her above flood level while her father lives just across the way in what seems to be nothing more than an improvised shack. A string connects the dwellings with a bell attached on Hushpuppy's end to let her know that it's "feedin' time". The relationship between Hushpuppy and her father is the core of the film. Wink is a drunk and stuck in his ways. He refuses to leave what he knows and feels an unshakable loyalty to his home. There are few indicators to what brought him to this place or even why he has come to feel this way about the distant piece of land. I assume it is all he's ever known and change is a scary thing when you already feel so far behind. He treats his daughter with what could be called tough love, but there are times we could simply call him bipolar. It is clear in the movies best moments that he loves his daughter, he loves what she represents, what she reminds him of but most of the time he dismisses her. Forcing her to fend for herself, preparing her.

Hushpuppy is forced to learn many tough lessons
very early on in her life.
Under Hushpuppy's narration we not only become infused with her struggle to survive but we become one with her surroundings as she has. This aspect was my favorite part of the film. The way in which Zeitlin documents the bathtub, its way of life, the people that carry it out and everything else that makes it up. We get to know the bayou as much as the characters we are watching drown in its limitations and harsh conditions. We see where there affection comes from, but we don't understand their reasoning. In the midst of these lives that have become stalled by their surroundings and the harsh reality it presents we have this little girl who views it all as a kind of fairy tale. A quest even. Much has been made of Wallis's performance and I can certainly understand where they are coming from. In those moments I mentioned earlier where the film truly got to me, where my core was really shaken by the events going on on screen, most of that is due to the performance of this little girl. Much of what she does seems to be nothing more than acting her age, but we all know how hard it is to come off natural when you have a camera on you. There is that need to impress, to entertain that kicks in when we know there is the chance of others seeing it. Wallis is able to put those inhibitions aside and turn in a raw performance of truth while delivering heart wrenching moments when the script demands she be more than just a six year-old. This is also where I become torn on the film as it is clear I developed an empathetic feeling for Hushpuppy and her situation as well as being fascinated by the world in which she lives and most of the time thrives in. What I was disappointed in was the fact those ideas that Zeitlin clearly has at work here were not given a strong enough story to get them across better.

Wallis gives a great performance as she leads other kids
from the bathtub on a journey of self-discovery.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is, in reality, almost too artsy for its own good. It skews too much towards the structure of a poem rather than the medium it has decided to tell its story in. Clearly, some people will have no issues with this kind of storytelling and it is in fact different from what we are accustomed to as moviegoers. There is nothing wrong with trying new things, new things should of course always be encouraged and attempted but it just turns out that I didn't really take to this change as I might have something else. This is by no means a bad film; the characters are clearly realized and well acted, it has a great sense of what it is as a movie and I really enjoyed the music made for it as well. There is a fare amount of stuff that is interesting, especially considering the ideas it explores about innocence, childhood, and the way life or the world works without resorting to a typical message for children. It is almost a film you would want your kids to see were it not more racy than parents might like in a few parts and too scary for those that skew the same age as Hushpuppy. Maybe the story is the relationship between Wink and his daughter because I cared about that and I needed to know that she was going to make it, that she would be okay. Maybe I am just missing something, I will certainly watch the film again when it comes to DVD and see if I get more out of it upon a second viewing, but for now the most I can do is appreciate the attempt Zeitlin and his crew gave in trying to bring something mystical and different to the movie screen. I appreciate it, I really do, but to hold my interest I needed something more.