Beasts of the Southern Wild- A Must See

It’s rare to find cinematic dreams realized. It’s an elusive thing – finding that moment where you forget you’re even reading the book, watching the TV, watching the movie and you take it in on face value, like a dream, like the picture unfolded from your own mind seamlessly. It’s a minor miracle – a good film is. It makes your forget. It makes you live a life that’s not your own. It consumes you, then wakes you up to the tune of end credits. And that’s the kind of film director Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild is.

It’s reality, but it’s the fantasy version of reality. It’s child-like wonder. It’s dream-state. It’s where you get lost and when you find yourself at the end all you want is to be lost again.

Zeitlin’s Beasts, along with co-writer Lucy Alibar, create a film that redefines the fantasy genre. By construing the mental obstacles we face in life, along with the creation of a beyond exemplary live action fantasy based world, Zeitlin and Alibar have delivered the most effective fantasy film since Del Toro’s El Orphanato.

Beasts of the Southern Wild tells the story of six-year-old Hush Puppy, played by tenderfoot Quvenzhané Wallis, a suborn but strong willed girl, burdened with caring for her sick and short tempered father Wink, Dwight Henry, during a time of crisis.

Living in a fictitious, below sea level region called “The Bathtub,” Hushpuppy is foretold of gargantuan beasts that will soon be free to roam the world, and that upon their release from their polar ice cap prison, the oceans would flood her home. Now faced with losing her home and father, Hushpuppy has to quickly decide whether or not stand strong as an individual part of the universe, or be swallowed by the rest of it.

It’s not uncommon that the spark of a fantasy story be derived from a tragic event, forcing a young antagonist to fall back into an intimate world of fantasy. The film adaptations of the Narnia books depict the fantastic adventures of four young children after fleeing from a war-plagued country. Pan’s Labyrinth follows the journey of a little girl who seeks guidance in a fantasy world after losing her mother during the birth of her brother. A common factor in these stories and most other fantasy films is that they rely heavily on their fictitious creatures. The viewer is forced to learn from the words of a talking lion, or follow directions from a faun. This isn’t the case in Southern Wild.

As fitting as the idea sounds, Zeitlin is one of the rare filmmakers to express concepts via the interactions between father and daughter. The film contains several scenes in which Hushpuppy would appear to be lost without a cause until her short tempered father and his unconventional form of teaching is enacted to show his child the way. For example, there’s a scene in which Hushpuppy and Wink are forced to endure a storm of extreme magnitude. Both seeming to understand that they might not survive, Hushpuppy shows signs of fear. Upon seeing this, Wink grabs a shotgun and literally tries to take on the storm. In watching her father barge outdoors and shoot buckshot at raindrops, the lesson for Hushpuppy and subsequently the viewer was that one never has to lie down when the universe presents itself a threat; the option to fight is never out of our reach. This concept, along with others, is not only restated in several similar scenes throughout the film, but is supported via the continuous voiceovers of none other than Hushpuppy herself, confirming that she had retained and made the information her own. With each new obstacle that presents itself, the stakes are raised and Hushpuppy is forced to progress from student, to executer, and ultimately making her was to leader.

Quvenzhané and Henry are impeccable in their portrayals of Hushpuppy and Wink. It hasn’t been since the Pursuit of Happiness that a child has carried their role with the refined talent of an adult as displayed by Quvenzhané. Henry deserves applause for being able channel and maintains Wink’s southern spirit in every scene.

However, just as the Narnia children could sip tea with beavers, Hushpuppy was able to spend time beasting crabs with good ol’ Levy, a high-spirited, and seemingly “off” character, well played by Jean Battiste. The story contains several characters that resemble those commonly played by animals in fantasy films. Each character serves his or her function in supporting Hushpuppy and the decisions she makes throughout the course of journey. The film comes to a point where the adults have come up with a plan to solve their recent misfortunes. They plan to destroy a levy, which would in turn drain poisonous water form their community, giving them a fighting chance for survival. The catch is that acting out the plan requires one to question what’s right and wrong, to commit an act that would be considered criminal in a worldview, but necessary to Hushpuppy and those close to her. When the switch lands in Hushpuppy’s hands, she’s forced to act quickly and make a serious decision under pressure; something that those of us in the real world understand to be a difficult task.

Beasts takes an unusual task as a film, in that it not only chooses to teach the viewer but also expresses the results of that applied knowledge in a visceral manner. Zeitlin does this on several occasions while still mastering the other elements of film.

Zeitlin’s craft in constructing a world unique to his vision has created a film that viewers will forever recall as original and one of a kind. Beasts of the Southern Wild presents a world seemingly familiar to the reader but becomes completely foreign with the addition of a few simple elements. Adding to the wonder, Zeitlin’s talent with visual effects is displayed in how he creates motorboats built out of truck beds, mobile homes float 15 feet above ground, and a functional town exists in the center of a swamp that appears to have no connection to the outside world.

Beyond the first line of characters, Beasts of the Southern Wild contains several figures that are necessary in completing a successful story of fantasy. One of the most fantastic aspects of this film is that there are no color lines. Each character is respectively efficient in his or her role. While the viewer is lead by two black characters that are plagued by a series of misfortunate situations, there is never a hint that a “them versus us” situation refers to people of color versus those of Caucasian decent. The only division between people was that between those that can’t enjoy life in its purest form versus those that are happy to be alive. Were one to critique this film’s depiction of black and white interactions based upon those that take place in reality, he or she would be in a state of disbelief that a white doctor would be passionate about a sick and beyond poor black man’s well being. Or that a seemingly stable captain would find nothing odd and take aboard liter of filth encompassed children.

There were no angry black rants about how the white man doesn’t care about blacks, nor were there elite voices that forced people of color to remain in a poverty-stricken area. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a relish able film, composed of the perfect mixture of writing, acting, and directing.

Go see the movie and be consumed. See movies for what they were made to be – the augmentation of our dreams.

Think Like A Man: A Look At Black Relationships Minus Sex, Drugs & Insanity

Surprise, surprise.

With a large cast of journeymen (and women) black actors and all the familiar beats of a standard rom-com, the film adaptation of comedian-turned-relationship guru Steve Harvey’s book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man has defied what has befallen many a black film before – it’s not a stereotype.

But more on that later.

When I first heard film and TV producer Tim Story was making a film adaptation of Steve Harvey’s book, Act Like A Lady Think Like A Man, I was prepared to send Harvey a strawberry death letter. Defying the much mythologized “man code,” Harvey’s book was all about telling women the strategies men use to get into their pants … err … I mean, hearts. And in lesser hands, it would be easy to turn the instructional book into a tired, racialized screed on gender politics.

The film profiles black relationships, which typically get a heavy-handed treatment by Hollywood no matter who’s making the film. Complex relations are devolved into a crazy, violent blur, and I was prepared to watch Havery’s book turn into two hours of domestic violence and past due electricity bills.

But that didn’t happen.

Story, and his cohorts Keith Merryman and David Newman, have done the unthinkable – they managed to produce a film about African American couples that actually makes sense.

Usually when a black romantic comedy wields a star-studded cast as powerful as the one in Think Like A Man it’s only to distract the audience from realizing they’re sitting through another film that approaches the black relationship from a stereotypical point of view, ultimately leaving the viewer with a smile and nothing else to take away from the film.

These films deal in rote stereotypes about black love. Black women painted as problematic and undesirable characters, only seeking helpmates to raise their child with someone else. Painted as unapproachable because if you ask her out she could roll her eyes, cuss you out, or kick you in the nuts. Or, if you’re really lucky, do all three.

Black men are the ironic opposite of black women as film’s intangible sex symbol, regardless of how thuggish or feminine he is. The problem is all he has to do is be sexy with no intelligence or moral values. He simply has to take his shirt off, glisten, and wait for the end credits.

No matter what the conflict is, sexy black characters rely solely on their physical appearance or attitude to gain sanction as a “hero” in the audience’s eyes. Since this tactic has been proven to work, in the sense that the film makes money, most filmmakers won’t take the risk of creating complex black characters.

Think Like A Man actually tries to subvert these tropes. In a scene with Romany Malco, the buff actor seeks the help of his friends after a few failed seduction attempts on his newest girl. While the friends are fully clothed, Romany isn’t, but being the good friends they are, they sincerely want to hear him out. Which would be a simple enough task if he would just put a shirt on.

In this moment, comedic actor Kevin Hart’s character Cedric reminds Malco’s character that there are no women present and his six-pack won’t help him get out of this problem. Thus, bringing home the point that a hard body won’t do the hard work of building a successful relationship.

While Harvey’s book was written for women, the film revolves mostly around the male characters, each struggling with a personal dilemma that keeps them from managing a successful relationship. There’s the sexy fool incapable of viewing women as people with emotions; the looker wondering if his approach to women is appropriate or moral; the “Mama’s Boy” portrayed as a young man raised by a single mother who demands affection from her son; the Peter Pan guy, afraid to grow up; and your classic “broke” brother.

That last role goes to Michael Ealy’s character, who unlike some of the depth the other male characters have, reminds us that the film is just that, a film. He plays a fictional character that’s basically good because he’s poor.

Jumping through some improbably hoops, Ealy’s character was often fanciful in a patently absurd way. I refuse to believe that a brother who drives a multi-colored Honda civic which is composed of more duck tape than car would quit his job to pursue a woman he’s never spoken to.

At one point in the film Ealy’s character lands a job in a high-class restaurant where he probably received a decent paycheck for his kind of work. Then in a scene where he notices Henson’s character from the kitchen, yes the kitchen that’s in the back of the restaurant that doesn’t have a good view of the dining area, he decides to go after her. His boss arrives just in time to tell him to help valet cars, where he decides to steal a customer’s hundred-thousand dollar car and pursue the woman.

It doesn’t matter that he’s poor and probably has no experience talking to woman who’ve have several times more success than him, all he has to is pull up next to her, yes the traffic lights were on his side, and ask her out.

While I understand what the film’s producer’s were trying to do with Ealy’s character, he’s not credible enough for me to believe that a viewer could take something away from his relationship with Henson’s character, which is solely based on chance. The character’s only personal conflict in the film is that he habitually jumps from career-to-career, which ultimately paints him to be an unreliable character that can’t make up his mind as to what he wants to be when he grows up. But we lucked out as viewers because we catch him at the exact moment he decides upon the career that he is destined to have, (but hey, he could be a bus driver in the sequel).

In the real world a poor black man would never be able to pull a high caliber women such as the one played by Taraji P. Henson, which brings us to the most miraculous aspect of the film.

The black women in Think Like A Man are represented as powerful, successful people. After decades of being portrayed as violent, insane, “unstable creatures,” the black woman is now appropriately represented from all sides. We find the highly successful character played by Henson to be strong, yet plagued with a small amount of “bourgieness” as a result of her success. Meagan Good’s character represents the kind-hearted woman who’s had to suppress her emotions because she’s been used by one to many R&B singers. I was glad to see that Regina Hall’s character didn’t indulge in much shouting and was literate enough to read Harvey’s book. She was faced with the difficult task of finding a good man that wouldn’t be hung up on the fact that she has a child. Gabrielle Union’s character didn’t kick her man in the nuts for not having a job. Instead she stood by him helped him make an adult decision as to how he wants to live his live.

Tim Story and company do a thorough job of duly representing the modern African American woman, and, in turn, thoughtfully represent black love. With the guidance of Harvey, and the comical yet enlightening narration of Kevin Hart, the subject of the relationships black people share is no longer an inexplicable slew of sex, drugs, and insanity. Think Like A Man acknowledges the difficulties our younger generation has when managing a relationship and sheds light on what used to be dark subject.

Go see the movie; it’s worth the twenty bucks.