Beasts of the Southern Wild

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a harsh, hopeful, tragic, and bold drama/fantasy unlike I have ever seen. It’s divisive film, too, not just a love it or hate tale, but one fully embraced or entirely repelled. This is no easy watch. We follow a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) living -– scraping by, really — with her father, Wink (another newcomer, Dwight Henry), in the shocking squalor of a direly impoverished fishing commune at the southernmost tip of Louisiana.

Distrustful of technology, government, and the modern amenities, the group lives by their own rules. They wish to live alone, to fish and party, the latter often to extreme. Their homes are trashed to the point of “Hoarders,” and the children are unwashed, food is eaten raw, and booze is plentiful. Judge them if you wish, they have no concern for our titles, names, or finger-wagging. Or politics. Yet, every person is family, no matter their skin color. The community is tight, and cares for one another deeply. Each person readily would endanger himself or herself to save another. Then a hurricane barges in and floods the make-shift town, drowning some, and sending others to retreat to the “outside” world. Those that remain survive on a floating make-shift trailer/boat. Life will get more difficult for all, especially Hushpuppy.

Wink and some other men attempt to blow a hole in a levee as they want to reclaim their homes and land from high water, and bury their dead mates as well as their livestock. The desperate, dangerous and darkly comical move brings them that satisfaction, but briefly. Federal officials move in, mandating an evacuation. It’s telling that screenwriters Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin neither condemn nor condone the authorities as it’s a near relief to see Hushpuppy delivered from such poverty.

There’s another tick: Wink is dying. I can only guess from septicemia fueled by long-term alcohol poisoning as the man has a profound drinking problem that sends him away mysteriously for days. Then Hushpuppy -– far wiser than her years, and accustomed to inch-by-inch survival — is left on her own, to cook, clean after herself, and care for the lot’s pigs, chickens, and dogs. She talks to her absent mother, and also chillingly imagines as only a scared, lonely child can, prehistoric beasts breaking free of the Antarctic ice and coming to kill her. (A story of Climate Change has sent her up a stream of paranoia.) These beasts for all intent and purposes are real to not just Hushpuppy, but our eyes as well, and in the final scenes we witness their wrath.

As with the harshest tale of childhood from Dickens and Twain, “Beasts” puts a child through a meat grinder that is difficult to stomach. It’s telling that her most safe, secure moments come later on a floating house of … shall we call it ill repute? See, there I go judging. That is not the place for such an act. Alibar and Zeitlin pull no punches. And Hushpuppy’s struggle feels desperately real. The documentary vibe comes from the film being shot on location with handheld 16-mm cameras, using all nonprofessional actors. In a just world, at the very least, Henry would get an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor. The man is a cook by trade. One would not know that watching here.

It’s a shocking, enlightening film to witness, with a final scene that leaves us hanging, and gulping. This fictional tale is a record of a tumultuous life of one smart amazing girl who puts her ears to the chests of animals and family to hear their heartbeats and fears the end of the world in real time. She could be the girl next door, in any neighborhood in America. But she exists in a place no cameras or politicians go, an America never discussed at, say, a multi-billion dollar political National Convention. It’s a hard film to shake, upsetting to the core, and hopeful, and funny, too. I look forward to going back to re-experience this story.

– Steven Mackay, Lyric volunteer

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Oh my, how does one write about Victorian manners and customs when discoursing on the portable hand massager? Why, quite tastefully, in fact, but not, shall we say, as done by French doctors!

I am a fan of such movies as The Importance of Being Earnest and this Victorian R rated flick manipulated my humorous streak quite handily. The characters were well fleshed out as was the story. Shades of Dickens, even, there was a poor house and need for charity, an engagement gone somewhat awry, and medical techniques energetically underexposed. The sets were, well, vibrantly well done. The costumes covered the period amzingly well as well.

Hysteria is a very funny movie. I found my my mind sometimes wandering around the Theatre, listening to the laughter from various seating sections, amazed in the fact that the audience was such a varied group. There is no nudity, no sex and only one actual kiss. Very chaste and proper as befits Queen Victoria, who plays herself, of course, in a brief cameo. I enjoyed the word play, double entendre and the use of “Ahoy” when answering the telephone.

Digging a bit deeper, the film is also right out of today’s headlines and political discourses. The rights of women, the enlightenment (or lack there of) of men, and the differences of class remind one of the current political debates going on today. Go see it. It s pretty amazing!

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Live @ The Lyric 2012-2013 Season

Hey boys and girls, do you know what time it is? It’s (no it isn’t Howdy Doody Time) time for the 2012-2013 L@TL Series!! Please help spread the news. The Fall Line Up is: American Shakespeare Center’s Love’s Labor Lost on Friday 9/14 followed by artist Chris Raschka with the awesome Nikki Giovanni on Sunday 9/30. Chris will draw while Nikki Reads. Sara Watkins, formerly with Nickle Creek, graces our stage Friday 10/12 and Justin Townes Earle(w/Tift Merritt) rounds out the series Wednesday 11/14. Cash bar available for all but the Chris Raschka show.

Sponsors and Patrons: Tickets to all these events went on sale July 27 and are available now. All others may start purchasing tickets to all the events on August 17. Season Tickets for the Fall Season are also available and are aat a 10% discount off the face value of the tickets!

Spring Season will have The Second City on 2/1, Suzanne Vega on 3/1, Loudon Wainwright III on 3/22 (and we will not let him leave this time without singing Dead Skunk), and Regina Carter on 4/12.

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I am not a Jack Black fan but this movie changed my mind. There has been so much bad news in the world lately that seeing a movie about a murdering mortician was not high on my list. Lo and behold and Praise the Lord, the movie LIFTED my spirits, say “amen”! Tuesday night is seniors’ night and there were plenty on board to appreciate this movie as well. Lots of laughter out loud and not a texting screen in sight.

This movie seemed straight forward from the start but there are twists that I didn’t foresee. It reminded me of Waiting For Guffman and would have been equally funny had Will Ferrell been Bernie but as I said, Jack Black did an awesome job. A great documentary of a good boy gone bad … or did he? And the ending that was totally expected … well, no spoiler here.

The movie is at the Lyric for two more nights and I highly recommend it.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We recently showed The Avengers, a movie where Universes collided in mayhem and destruction at a superhuman level. Dial this back a little and add more collisions and you have The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

TBEMH is a very well done, very funny yet poigant story of a group of retirees from Great Britain who can’t afford to live there. They learn about TBEMH from a brochure and move to India to spend their last years in luxury. Lo and behold, the brochure was Photoshopped and is nothing like the brochure. It is a run down, broken down hotel run by a young man whose favorite saying is “Things always work out in the end. And if they don’t work out, it must not be the end.”

The rest of the movie is a series of contrasts and collisions of old and young, new and old, tradtional and modern, gay and straight and so much more. There are many laugh out loud moments and serious romantic moments. Each character is well drawn which makes the movie seem much shorter than the 124 minutes run time. Some are good and one is horrid but I found I really liked them all.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is well worth the watch and is held over until July5th.. You have no reason not to see it!

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The Avengers

It all leads up to this, “The Avengers.” Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, assembled in one massive movie, based on the must-read comic book that tied together the vast Marvel Universe like the quickest game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, month after month for decades. And still going strong, print-wise. Cinema-wise, after two hit “Iron Man” films, two “Hulk” movies (one in 2003 now disowned, the other in 2008 that was just OK), “Thor” and “Captain America,” we now have the comic book movie of the year.

The Avengers is an unlikely team of super heroes: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow, joined by SHIELD Agent Nick Fury in one massive film. (Classic B-side comic book characters such as Ant-Man and Wasp must wait for a sequel.) The plot follows the book’s lead: The team fights intergalactic threats, a power-mad super villain, and/or more likely each other or another Marvel hero.

Does the “Avengers” movie live up to the years of hype? Never could. This comic book nerd dreamed about such a movie throughout his childhood, and it’s a work of pop-art summer flick beauty for a boy who got himself happily lost inside three-color panels and myriad crossover cliffhangers for hours upon hours. It contains the single greatest ripped-from-a-comic-book-scene ever on film: The Hulk smashes a villain around as if he were a sock monkey, and drops a one-liner as he walks off, satisfied with his big, green, angry self. Cheer!

But that comes at the end, and I need to start at the beginning: We open in space – evil mumbling abound about the destruction of Earth, by a freakish, hooded alien of some sort. Loki – the villainous brother of Thor, both the hero and the namesake 2011 film, played by Tom Hiddleston – is to lead the charge. He zaps to Earth through a portal that opens at the headquarters of the super-secret spy group SHIELD, the latter tinkering with a glowing blue Cosmic Cube thingy that promises unlimited energy. (Confused? You have not watched the earlier superhero films.) Loki wreaks havoc, taking prisoners and under-mining a furious Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

The first 20 minutes is all SHIELD, an odd introduction, but director/ screenwriter Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”) is easing us into this massive universe, bringing in his team one member at a time. We hop from America to Germany then to a massive floating aircraft carrier (straight out of the comic books) and then to New York City for a 40-odd minute battle finale, complete with massive creatures reminiscent of the sandworms in “Dune,” floating above the skyline.

So, yes, it’s a Michael Bay “Transformers” finale with smashed buildings and fleeing extras, but Whedon whets our appetites (mine anyway) with long shots of the heroes, standing in a circle, backs to each other, ready to fight, and every hero -– even the relatively unexplored Hawkeye and Black Widow – gets a shining moment. Captain America, in the middle of the battle, takes charge of the team as the only man with real-war experience. Iron Man blasts his way through canyons of skyscrapers. Then there’s that beaut scene with Hulk and sock monkey Loki. It’s everything you want in a comic book, outlandish action with wit as Loki lays hyper-ventilating and thinks, “What am I doing?”

The real Whedon coup, though, is fitting all these heroes and actors into one film and making it work – Chris Evans as Captain, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk. Major names mixed in with minor names, and of course Downey rules the roost with his Tony Stark strut and outsize ego, but Ruffalo uses nerdy charm to win scene after scene. When minor-league Evans — he can’t compete with Oscar nominees -– steps up to the plate to take over the team, we’re cheering for the actor as much as we are the character.

I never thought a live-action film of the Avengers could be pulled off, but Whedon has done it. It’s not perfect — that plot is weak, in case you didn’t notice, Lokis lizard baddies are faceless and void of personality, but Downey’s Stark can drop a shawarma reference out of the blue, and make it sing. “Avengers” is bright, bold fun, with the inner-fights of heroes, and their coming together against a world threat a reminder of the best of all humanity. As Stan Lee always said, “Exclsior!
–Steven Mackay, volunteer for Lyric

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Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar might be a great movie. The subject matters – immigration, terrorism, suicide, political correctness – seem to be explored and work well with the characters. My problem was I am not fluent enough in French to follow the nuances of the these themes and the subtitles were white on white. Come on people – you subtitle using computer graphics so either make the subtitles contrasting to the screen image or do white with a black outline.

I started out not liking Bashir. Does he need to be deported? Maybe. I learned to like him as he learned how to teach from the children. His empathy for Simon and Boris especially. The whack on the back of the head a la NCIS and his touching Simon when he has his breakdown showed a person who cared even when the system told him to be cold and unfeeling.

I also liked seeing his relationship with Claire develop … or not develop. Claire was a very interesting character. She sought to define herself as a world refugee by visiting the sad and poor regions of the world and brought her experiences to the classroom in Quebec. Her intentions and Bashir’s naive consciousness as he mourned his wife’s death provided some intricate misunderstandings about personal feelings and world views. Claire explaining the shuffle feature on an iPod was very funny.

So, while there were some communications problems for me, I think Monsieur Lazhar is a movie worth seeing.

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The Lorax

The Lorax is not an awesome movie but an enjoyable one. The message – clean air and trees – is not subtle but the writers did have some fun with it. There were several groups of teenagers in the audience Tuesday night and they laughed out loud several times. I am not a fan of 3D but it seemed much less intrusive than say in Hugo. This is not a must see movie but it is an enjoyable 86 minutes and reaches all ages.

The groups of teenagers did need a lesson in movie courtesy. My biggest problem with the movie was the the texting going on during the movie. The many flashes of phone screens was very distracting. Was it really necessary to interrupt an 86 minute movie with 86 texts per person? It was rude to say the least. The young people seemed to see nothing wrong with it but maybe there needs to be a slide before the movie saying “Turn your cell phones off.” I offended once, a long time ago, not turning my phone off and getting a call during a movie and I was very embarrassed. A short lesson in etiquette would be nice, but who would deliver it?

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A Dangerous Method

It is hard to call this a “movie” – it is, rather, a series of voiceovers with still lifes. Yes the actors move, stiffly, but even the dialogue is in total deadpan with no emotion. Even the knife scene is done almost without movement. Sex? Jung never even unbuttoned his shirt nor undid his tie. Maybe this is the way life was in the time period portrayed but I found no life in the characters. The scenery was gorgeous. The movie, not so.

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Nanci Griffith

Whoa – it is hard to believe that we have not sold out for Nanci Griffith on Thursday April 12. But is a way, that is good because that means there are still some tickets available. Get them while you can because this portends to be an AWESOME concert!

I had heard of Nanci Griffith for years before I heard Other Voices, Other Rooms. I wore that CD out. And the replacement CD. And my iPod got tired of it, but I didn’t. Then Flyer. Clock Without Hands. I was blown away again and again but her songs and her covers. Her West Texas twang has filled my head for many years.

Yes thee are stull tickets available for Nanci Griffith. I hope it sells out so she can see what a monserous welcome Blacksburg can give a fantastic singer!

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