Friday, August 3, 2012

'Beasts of Southern Wild': It Doesn't Get Much Worse

"Beasts of the Southern Wild," showing at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke and bathing in rave reviews whose logic simply escapes me, is the bastard child of "Trainspotting" and "Blair Witch Project." I would say it contains the worst elements of both, but I can find no best elements in any of these movies.

This one has "Trainspotting's" obnoxious filth in every frame, its complete lack of anybody to like or even understand. It suffers from "Blair Witch's" cinematography: bouncing cameras that cause almost instant nausea in a movie that doesn't need to move us any closer to a run toward the bathroom.

This is the story of a six-year-old who is simultaneously being prepared for her father's death and the end of the world in a hellhole delta island called The Bathtub. It is a community based in filth, drunkenness and basic survival, which the dying father wants to give his daughter, Hushpuppy. Surviving to live here is not exactly a legacy.

This is one of those movies whose dialect is such that it fairly screams for subtitles ("Trainspotting" used the word "fuck" a lot and it was the only word in the film I understood). Irish, British and Scottish movies--wherein English is allegedly spoken--are often guilty of desperately needing subtitles.

I don't want to write much more about this waste of time because it so thoroughly offended me that I wanted to leave after five minutes. My companion is one of those people who believes that if you buy a movie ticket, the movie owns you until it's over, so I sat there steaming.

Miss it. You will have missed nothing worthwhile. It is, in the  vernacular, a piece of shit.


  1. I have not heard a bad word about this film until your review, and I've heard a lot about it. I'm fine with the fact that you don't like it, but I'm a little put off that you'd simply tell people "miss it" because "it's a piece of shit". Why not instead ask folks to watch it themselves and make a judgment seeing as some of the worlds greatest movie minds think it's the best film of the year.

    The fact that you couldn't understand the accents is not a fault of the film. The more you diversify your viewing habits the easier it will become to understand accents. Unfortunately the anthropocentric movie public seems to think all movie characters should have American accents or at least have the foreign accents watered down for their own enjoyment. If it did need subtitles, they probably could have been requested by the Grandin, thus your blame would still be misplaced.

    Lastly, your review is not really a review. It's a gripe, it's a moan, and in the vernacular "it's bitching." The only valid observation you make concerns the verite-style cinematography. The rest of your review compares "Beasts" to two totally different films which have nothing to do with the one you're reviewing. While I know that you don't claim to be a movie critic, you are a decent writer. For you sir, this piece is amateurish.

  2. Dusty:

    My take on any kind of communication is that, first, you must be understood. That clarity applies to every facet of communication and in film, it is especially important that the video and audio be seen and heard clearly. When I miss dialogue, I miss communication.
    When cameras are on a bumpy ride, out of focus, intentionally nausea-inducing, it is difficult to concentrate on any message the filmmaker might have for me.

    I will mention that I view two or three foreign movies a week, all with subtitles (thanks in general to Netflix) and I most often enjoy the variety, the viewpoint, the language and the experience of a different continent's take on a topic. I don't require American accents in anything. I do require that I understand what is being said, else the movie should be silent (and one of last year's best movies was, indeed, silent).

    This was a rant, agreed. It deserved a rant to my mind. I gave my opinion on this turkey because people read others' opinions in order to judgements about how to spend their entertainment dollars. Those who know me will value what I have to say, make their own choices and either see the movie or not. I do not ask that you share my view, but I offer it for you to put in the bag with others' opinions so you can at least have an idea that some might not think this is the greatest thing since "The Battleship Potemkyn."

    I compare "Beast" to two different films because they are very much alike in being unwatchable ("Blair Witch" literally made me vomit). "Beast" is far closer to a student's thesis than a great film. I appreciate your opinion, but I don't see you giving one here.

  3. Ha. I'm not sure how much more of an opinion I could have given. The problem with making comparisons is the assumption that your audience will know the reference. I'll admit that films like "Trainspotting" and "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" give me some trouble with dialogue, but context and subtext generally fill in the gaps.

    Shaky camera work can be an interesting medium but it takes some talent to make it work. More often than not it's used to mask continuity inconsistencies in action scenes. Then there's a film like Melancholia that is so grand you barely notice the shaking. I haven't seen "Beasts" so I can't say in which category it falls. I needn't ask your thoughts on it though.

    I think your theory that a film should "be understood or be silent" is so completely wrong. "Snatch" is a good case study. Brad Pitt plays a character whose language is impossible to decipher, but his motives and actions are clear. An even better example would be "A Clockwork Orange". Not a single phrase makes sense in that film without context. It's a dialect of its own. It's also a masterpiece.

    By the way, I hate Trainspotting as well. It's a well-crafted film with almost no watchable content. That's for a different day though.

    I know you don't do movies often on your blog, but I still think you should try to review more than rant. I've found that Chicago Sun-Times editor Jim Emerson has some excellent insights on the nature of criticism and I'd like to leave you a few links to explore.

    This is probably the most important one. It's titled "continuing to argue for the irrelevance of my own opinions"

  4. Dusty: We have expended entirely too much energy and far too many words on this topic. I do, however, like the line "continuing to argue for the irrelevance of my own opinions." That's it in a nutshell. I will suggest that if you have a counter view of the movie, write a review of your own.

  5. If I get the chance to see it I most certainly will.

  6. My take... I loved it. I was repelled, sure, but any film that can pull me through 100 pangs of feeling, is a work of art. And powerful. And I am a proud pal of Dan's...

  7. Love indie films.... grew up poor and still live in a neighborhood where many people have no electricity and often no running water.... and easily buy into magical realities and don't need a traditional plot....loved "Tree of Life". All that being said "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is among the worst movies I have ever seen. Besides the screen presence of the little girl and some amazing locations I found nothing whatsoever redeeming about the movie. My only regret is that I didn't walk out.

  8. wow, you sir should not be rating movies. As evident by the Oscar nod, your opinion is crap.

  9. Anon: The Oscars, like most other major awards, reflect nothing of quality. They reflect the amount of money invested in marketing and promotion by major studios, by and large. Every once in a while a good movie slips in more by happenstance than by intent.