Movie Review: Beasts of Southern Wild

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a six-year-old girl who lives with her dad Wink (Dwight Henry) in a forgotten bayou community called the Bathtub off the shores of New Orleans. She lost her mom and she knows her dad is very ill. She wants to save the reality she loves: the ramshackle huts in a swamp she and Wink call the most beautiful place on earth. Her father loves her and is trying to raise her to be able to stand on her own, albeit his methods border on child-abuse. He knows he won’t be there much longer to take care of her. When a wild tropical storm approaches, some of the inhabitants of the Bathtub decide to stay and ride it out, including Hushpuppy and Wink.

Hushpuppy will do whatever it takes to save her life and her reality – and her reality is overpowered by a fantastic imagination and an indomitable spirit.

This movie by Fox Searchlight Pictures was directed by Benh Zeitlin and written by Lucy Alibar and Zeitlin, based on Alibar’s play “Juicy and Delicious.” All the actors are non-professionals and this was their first role. The story meanders and the camera is shaky to the point of making the audience dizzy at times. When I came home afterwards and walked into my own clean bedroom I remembered Wink’s dilapidated shack and all the junk littering the place, and I wondered if we could possibly be living in the same country.

Ebert gave this movie four stars and calls it one of the year’s best. He does an excellent job reviewing it. He also met Dwight Henry, the actor that played Wink.

In the end, I enjoyed this film, but I would not tell my friends to go out and see it. Quvenzhané Wallis will be acting again, I am sure. She she is beautiful, she has spunk and she’ll get lots of attention for Beasts of Southern Wild.

Rating: ** 1/2

Movie Review: Charlie Wilson’s War

Occasionally I watch a movie that opens my eyes to well-known events and shows me an angle that I had not considered before.

Charlie Wilson’s War is presumably based on true events, and I have no evidence of  this being true or false, so let’s say it’s true. In the late 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was getting all the credit for ending the Cold War, the Russians were fighting a cruel and bloody war in Afghanistan. They had absolute superiority in terms of numbers and military equipment. The Afghan freedom fighters were resisting with rifles on the ground. The Soviets came in with helicopter gunships and blew away villages, men, women and children indiscriminately. They actually created mines that looked like toys, so the children would pick them up to play, and their hands and sometimes arms were blown away, if they survived. The Russians had figured out that it takes much more time and effort to take care of maimed children than healthy ones, and parents taking care of children had to time or resources to take up arms against the Russians. By 1990, half of the entire population of Afghanistan was under 14 years old, and many of the children were maimed.

In comes a U.S. Congressman from Texas, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks). He travels to Afghanistan and sees the refugee camps, observes the sorry state of the resistance, and is truly moved to do the right thing. That’s a stretch for a hard-drinking, cocaine-using and womanizing congressman from Texas, but he seems like just the right guy for the job. With the help of a Houston Socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) and a cunning and courageous CIA veteran Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour), he raises money from the U.S. government for the Afghans. Five million dollars a year gradually turns into one billion dollars a year for Russian weapons that, through a complex set of maneuvers, comes from Israel through Pakistan into Afghanistan. Helicopters get shot down, tanks get blown up, and the Afghans start getting the upper hand and drive out the mightiest army in the world. The cold war ends, and Charlie Wilson does not get any credit. Really, did you know who Charlie Wilson even was before seeing this movie?

This is where the movie review ends and the social criticism starts: Fast forward a few years. The lost, abused and maimed children grow up. What will their worldview be? They need to survive, without much of a country, with no parents, no industry, no love and no hope. The very freedom fighters that we trained and supplied with arms in 1988 slowly morph into – yes – the Taliban. The poverty, despair, physical pain, hunger and lack of love and security drives them to Muslim fundamentalism. Soon they blow up schools, libraries, art, treasures of antiquity and anything foreign. They brutalize their own women, take away their rights to an education, and start turning against the West. Terrorist camps arise, and soon 9/11 happens. We don’t remember that we helped create this in Afghanistan. Do the research! Just like we armed Saddam Hussein in those days. Oh, how quickly nations forget.

All that and much more buzzed through my head as I was watching Charlie Wilson’s War.

Rating: ***

We Were Soldiers – the Movie

A 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson as a colonel in the US Army, leading a battalion in 1965 in the Vietnam War. Get ready for graphic violence and horrible war scenes. This is another war movie that leaves you speechless about the futility of war. Men on both sides get mowed down. They lose their lives on the battlefield. Then they are told they are doing this for their country. What did 58,000 American soldiers lose their lives for in Vietnam? It’s easy for us to say today that the Vietnam War was a useless war. Tell that to the soldier on the battlefield.

What are we telling soldiers on the battlefield in Iraq today? And what will we say about the Iraq War 43 years hence in, dare I write it down, 2052? I will likely not be here in 2052, but my children will. What will they say then?

This is a movie about leadership. The commander of the operation is the first soldier to step onto the battle ground, and the last one to leave. This is in direct contrast to the Vietnamese colonel, who led the entire Vietnamese effort from inside an underground bunker, safe and protected, while the sent his young soldiers into ridiculous suicide missions. After it was all over, he walked the battlefield, examined the mounds of his dead comrades, neatly stacked by the Americans, and mused about the tragedy of war.

It seems every war movie has the same formula. Get to know the players,  see them crumble under pressure, or soar above everyone else and hopefully survive, coming home a reluctant hero, forever damaged. When the lights come on, we blink, we rub our eyes, we marvel how it can be possible to have stuff like this happen, and then we go about our business again in gross-national-product-land.

Rating: ***