WENDY (2020)

March 12, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. When you think of Peter Pan, you likely envision either the 1953 animated Disney film classic or the writings of J.M. Barre, who first introduced the character in his 1902 adult novel, “The Little White Bird.” Whatever your impressions and memories of Peter Pan, they likely differ from those of filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, who was Oscar nominated for his stunning 2012 film, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.

The story begins at a small town greasy spoon diner nestled along railroad tracks. Birthday boy Thomas (Krzysztof Meyn) is devouring a plate of bacon and taking ribbing from the locals who are teasing him with tales of his future working at the diner. He storms out yelping “I ain’t gonna be no mop and broom man”. Toddler Wendy watches as Thomas jumps on the passing train and disappears with the wind. A few years later, Wendy (newcomer Devin France) and her older twin brothers James and Douglas (Gage and Gavin Naquin) are awakened by a passing train and spot a giggling Peter (Yashua Mack) running along the top of the cars. The siblings climb out the window and leap to join Peter. Soon, they are on an adventure to an island (we assume is Neverland) which seems to be populated with kids who run and jump and play all day. Among them is Thomas, who hasn’t aged a day since his birthday bacon.

Any re-imagining of a classic comes with risks. Messing with people’s childhood memories inevitably leads to push-back. Benh Zeitlin gives the impression that he’s a passion-project only type of filmmaker. This interpretation means something to him, and it’s obvious in the detail and creativity. The similarities in visual style to his previous “Beasts” film are obvious, and render quite a different look and feel than we are accustomed to with fantasy movies. But then, this is not a Peter Pan for kids. It’s really a philosophical analysis of life. Everything is an adventure for kids, and then somewhere along the way, we lose ourselves and start the ‘adulting’ portion of life – leaving our childhood dreams behind.

Buzzo represents the once young boy who lost faith. He’s now an old guy dreaming of recapturing his youth. Mr. Zeitlin’s film, which he co-wrote with his sister Eliza Zeitlin, includes magical elements, fantasies, realism, life lessons, hardships, and the importance of personal connections. The score from Dan Romer is exceptional, as are the performances from youngsters Devin France and Yashua Mack. It was filmed on the volcanic island of Montserrat, and thanks to the mythical “Mother” who lives underwater, it becomes a fable about keeping the faith and never growing old. J.M. Barre’s famous first line was “All children, except one, grow up.” Are you that one child, or have you lost faith?

watch the trailer:


BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

July 8, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. So many movies take advantage of our expectations and have a basis of familiarity in everything from community to setting to character personality and reactions. Every so often a movie comes along that reminds us there really is no such thing as “typical”. People and communities are all different. Some are more different than others, but none I have witnessed come close to the Bathtub … a self-contained world on the “wrong” side of the levee.

This small community of folks are clearly poverty stricken by societal standards, but their ability to live off the land and support each other is a world that will fascinate, frighten and inspire you. Wink is not the warm-hearted single dad we are often spoon-fed by Hollywood. Instead he is a fierce protector and teacher of survival techniques to his equally fierce daughter Hushpuppy. She is a force of nature and displays a near-feral intensity that will leave you speechless.

There is no need for much detail here as this film is best experienced with little upfront knowledge. First time director Benh Zeitlin lives in New Orleans and co-wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, whose one-act play the story is based. They wisely chose two non-professional actors as their leads, and both are stunning. Dwight Henry is a local pastry baker and family man, but you will struggle to believe that as you watch him fight the elements, time and a serious disease.

 As terrific as Mr. Henry is, the one who left me breathless was Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy. She is a six year old girl and hits the screen like no one you have ever seen. She is in-tune with the animals, nature and this wilderness life she is leading. Despite her internal strength, we are periodically reminded of the imagination and life-through-the-eyes of a 6 year old. A prime example is when she accidentally starts a fire, she immediately hides in a cardboard box assuming she is safe if she can’t see the flames. Just as quickly, Hushpuppy proves just how unusual she is as she stakes her claim in being remembered in the Bathtub long after she is gone.

**NOTE: it’s unusual to be talking about Oscars midway through the year, but young Ms. Wallis must receive consideration for this performance

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of independent filmmaking or take particular pleasure in unusual stories and characters

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: light-hearted entertainment with precocious well-trained child actors is your preferred movie type

watch the trailer: