While I may have spent most of this summer making my own film, I was still able to watch many great, small films that I did not have time to review. These films kept me going throughout the difficult editing process, inspiring me. I feel it is important for me to talk about them now to transition from a filmmaking focus back to one of writing about film.
Many of the summer’s blockbusters disappointed, and yet hidden among those much bigger films, were smaller gems.
Someone at the Warner Bros marketing team deserves a raise. Magic Mike became a solid hit this summer, and for a relatively low-budget, realistic look at the life of a male stripper, that is an impressive task. The trailers for the film were not selling a completely different film, but they did seem to gloss over the realism of it, not to mention Soderbergh’s unconventional style.
While I was expecting to like it, upon revisiting the film, I realized just how much I loved it. Soderbergh has perfected his style, and Magic Mike is a great example of this. It is not aspiring for greatness, but not all films have to. That does not mean it is simply mediocre, it is far more than that.
It is a very fun film, that does not need to become overtly showy to be entertaining. It is a very confident, small film that avoids being classified as one genre. If the trailers did not sell you, Soderbergh’s third last film before retirement is certainly worth a shot.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Occasionally a film comes around that reminds you of the untapped possibilities of cinema. Beasts of the Southern Wild is one such film. It is the debut feature from Behn Zeitlin, and while you can certainly tell, it is not to the film’s detriment.
Beasts takes place in a fictional part of America, called the Bathtub. Told from the perspective of Hushpuppy, played wonderfully by six-year old newcomer Quevenzhane Wallis, the film follows her struggle to survive in an area in constant danger of flooding.
It is a film full of ambition and light on story, and while it may occasionally fall off course, it is not long before it is realigned. Zeitlin does things a first-time filmmaker should never attempt, and it is this naivety that makes the film great. In many ways, Zeitlin sees cinema as Hushpuppy sees the world, full of wonder and possibility.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is as strong a debut feature as is just about possible. It is beautiful, touching and at times, scary. Zeitlin is a true talent, I just hope he does not lose the naivety that made this film such a unique wonder.
This year has had few true surprises so far. Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights was my first. While I was a fan of Arnold’s previous film, Fish Tank, a costume drama was not something I was looking forward to from the filmmaker. Finding it available in England while I was there in July, I decided to take a look. From the first frame, I was unable to look away.
It is an achingly beautiful, and difficult adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights. Unlike most costume dramas, this film feels real. It spoke to me in a way few films do, from the brutal love story to the stunning cinematography. It all works, and yet it is dark and twisted in ways you do not expect. While not the most pleasant love story, the filmmaking at work here is at such a level that you are left wanting more. That is a sign of a great filmmaker, and Andrea Arnold is certainly one.
Take This Waltz
Sarah Polley’s sophomore film Take This Waltz is special in many ways. It is a relationship drama that does not judge, nor does it ever resort to being obvious or explicit. It is a mature, realistic look at a seemingly perfect marriage slowly falling apart.
Michelle Williams plays Margot, a woman in a wonderful marriage who happens to fall for her neighbour. It seems that many critics have taken issue with the perspective from which this film is told. It is understandable in some ways. Instead of having a villain, we see the film from the eyes of the person we should be rooting against. We do not hate her, instead, we just feel sorry for both Margot and her loving husband, played by Seth Rogen.
Sarah Polley shows her first film was not simply a fluke, with this even more impressive second film. It is beautiful, and at times, hard to watch. It is refreshing to see a story like this told without judgement. And while some critics had problems with it, Take This Waltz is one of the most refreshing and heartfelt films I’ve seen in a long time.