Sundance: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' and 'The Raid' impress on different levels
PARK CITY - The day started out with a slight panic this morning as I woke up later than I wanted to and had to bolt out the door to make my screening of Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild." When I reached the Holiday Village, I discovered, whoops, it was Antonio Campos' "Simon Killer" that was screening at that time, not the Zeitlin. (I had been going back and forth on which to see and got my wires crossed.)
No harm, no foul. I popped into "Simon Killer" for a half hour before having to leave and line up for "Beasts," and, well, I wasn't disappointed by that at all. It wasn't clicking for me. I won't pass any real judgment until I see it in full, naturally, but actor Brady Corbet, after the success of "Martha Marcy May Marlene," is continuing a nice trajectory of interesting choices. He was captivating in what little I saw. Many respond to the Campos' style, but it felt a bit labored to me. Anyway, I'll give it a solid look eventually and hold off on an opinion until it's a better-informed one.
Then it was on to "Beasts," a Sundance baby workshopped in the Institute's labs. And I have to say, I needed some time to roll it over in my head afterward. The leap to ecstasy over the film didn't hit me the same way it did for most; it's so far the biggest hit of the fest, with studios circling it and emailing for reactions. But what I did come away with was immense respect and admiration for the assured hand with which the film is conveyed. Indeed, agencies are already jockeying for dibs on Zeitlin.
The film, shot in New Orleans, is a bayou fairytale of sorts, presenting a world familiar yet foreign, an "issue" film without being an issue film at all and ultimately, I found, a reminder of the trajectory David Gordon Green appeared to be on at the start of his career. (Green, a former if not still current New Orleans resident, is thanked in the closing credits, in fact.) It's dense with thematic substance that could be spun this way or that, which I dig, and the narrative is confident in its fantastical bent to a point that you just have to applaud the spirit of it all.
At the center of things is an outstanding child performance from actress Quvenzhané Wallis, who I happened to meet at the bus stop after the screening. "May I shake your hand," is all I could muster. And as uniquely talented as she clearly is, a lot of the credit for this kind of work belongs to the director, I feel, and balancing that kind of guidance with a vision such as this is a powerful feat. You'll be hearing more from this guy.
(I should really mention Dwight Henry, too, who conveys a dynamic range and crafts a novel, elusive and mysterious character in the process.)
Greg Ellwood reviewed the film last night, so check that out for more plot specifics. I wasn't as over the moon for the whole as I was the sum of its parts, though I bet it's one that grows on me with subsequent viewings. Whatever the case, I can't wait to see what Zeitlin does next.
Later it was off to catch Gareth Evans's "The Raid," which had its coming out party as a Toronto Midnight Madness entry back in September. (Here is Drew McWeeny's review from there.) The frothing over this one amongst the online set has been considerable so I figured I had to give it a look.
Indeed, this pot-boiling martial arts extravaganza is flat out awesome...until it starts to become numbing. No question, Evans has filmmaking chops to spare as there are a ton of intriguing visual flourishes and storytelling innovations throughout, but the various fight sequences began to blur together and felt less and less creative as the film wore on. At some point prior to a big two-on-one climactic brawl, I started to glaze over a little bit.
It's a small quibble, though, because the film is intense and exciting and pulses along with a score and pace that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Showy performances from Ray Sahetapy and mini badass Yayan Ruhian stuck out to me, while more dialed-down work from Iko Uwais and Doni Alamsyah is commendable as well.
Meanwhile, the snow had finally slowed down, but now it's back with a vengeance. It was a solid seven or eight (likely more) hours of massive, fluffy flakes throughout the day, which has finally left Park City caked in white. And with this next gust, it's only gonna build. I'm loving it.
Later tonight it's Stephen Frears's latest, "Lay the Favorite," with Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
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