The opening scene in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” begins with great promise. We’re introduced to an enchanting seven-year-old girl, played to perfection by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis. She takes us by the hand on what will be a narrative adventure into her unseen world — the murky backwaters of the Louisiana Bayou. As starting credits rolled, I thought to myself that I was about to experience one of the best films of the year.
Instead, an hour later, I was standing out in the lobby following a walkout.
So — what happened?
Critics have fallen all over themselves in reviews of this film. It’s received almost universal praise – for cinematography, story, performances, and originality.
It’s easy to see why the reviews have been so positive. Indeed, the film is original. It’s emotional. It’s a tremendous cinematic achievement, especially given its low budget ($1.8 million, paltry by Hollywood standards). Filming in a swamp, which is the setting for the entire film, must have been a daunting challenge. Moreover, for a film with no known actors, the performances prove to be not only realistic, but perhaps too convincing for conventional tastes.
A French movie with English subtitles enters the finicky American movie market with two strikes against it.
It’s French — strike one.
It has subtitles — strike two.
Which is a crying shame, because one of the year’s most enjoyable and uplifting films has pretty much come and vanished from theaters, unable to garner much attention during another summer filled with mindless action adventure “thrillers” and sleep-inducing “comedies.”
The Intouchables is a marvelous film. Carried by two outstanding lead performances by Francois Cluzet (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Dustin Hoffman) and Omar Cy (who deserves an Oscar nomination for a movie-stealing performance), this film has wit, candor, humor, sadness, and ultimately great inspiration. The film’s credibility is boosted by it being based on a true story.
Cluzet plays a quadriplegic, which means he is confined to a wheelchair unable to feel any sensation below his neck. If there’s any upside, it’s that he’s also very wealthy, giving him considerable options that would not otherwise be available to a person of lesser means.
Cluzet is utterly bored with his life, not the least of which has anything to do with his physical impairment. One senses that even if he were not parked in a wheelchair, he would still need something more. A great deal more, in fact. What Cluzet needs is stimulation, excitement, and most of all – someone he can call a friend.
He finds all of this in the unlikeliest of places.
Woody Allen’s seventh postcard from Europe lacks enough postage. It should be rubber-stamped “Return to Sender.” This is undoubtedly the most disappointing of all his films set in Europe.
Following a lifetime spent channeling New York’s neurotic side, creating some of the most memorable roles in modern film history (Annie Hall, Leonard Zelig, Danny Rose, and of course – Allen himself), the 76-year-old film legend abruptly departed his familiar Manhattan backdrop in 2004, taking his introspective wit across the Atlantic, initially to London, then Barcelona, followed by Paris, and now Rome.
His latest release To Rome with Love has all the ingredients of yet another tasty Allen stew. But in the end, all we sample is watered-down broth, poorly seasoned, with stale recollections of the spicy flavors that made Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris so thoroughly original and enjoyable.
To be fair to Allen, he’s coming off his biggest commercial success ever, which is a hard act to follow. Since his heyday as a writer-director-star during the 1970s, Allen’s films haven’t performed particularly well at the box office. But like summer stock theater, they tend to make just enough money to keep Allen atop the list of directors most actors long to work with. For that reason, Allen pretty much gets his pick of the litter as to who he casts in his films, and often writes characters perfectly suited to the typecasting.