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Beasts of the Southern WildI’ve been a bit lacking in the reviewing-of-films department on the blog recently. Not that I’ve seen a great deal of new films. I’ve only been to the cinema once since The Hobbit, but I have seen quite a few on the small screen, some of which have been wonderful. So here’s a brief round-up of three good films I’ve seen in the last month or so, and then I’ll try to get back to the longer reviews.

First, Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Absolutely the best film I’ve seen for a long time. Lyrical, astonishing, heartbreaking. Tough to sum up, as a simple plot summary does not do it justice. Dreamy (and nightmarish) magical realism set in a Louisiana Bayou, directed by Benh Zeitlin, all seen through the eyes of a little girl. And what a little girl… Quvenzhané Wallis is incredible, despite the fact she was what, five years old when this was made? She carries the entire film with a touching, believable performance of incredible strength and vulnerability. I cried like a baby at the end. There are strong layers of metaphor you can read here, ecological messages and the tide of progress sweeping aside the poor, but at its heart this is a personal journey about the courage of the tiniest resident of the ‘Bathtub’.

lifeofpiLife of Pi was the last film I saw in the cinema and I’d intended to write a proper review, but never got around to it. Now it’s been too long since I saw it to write something of substance as the movie is not fresh enough in my head any more.

Being a long-time fan of Yann Martel’s book I’d always thought Life of Pi would have suited being made as a stylised animation to suit the meditation upon storytelling that is at its heart. In the end, with the aid of modern visual effects (of which there is a controversy bubbling in Hollywood) and the directorial eye of Ang Lee the story has been brought to life superbly, retaining the stylised, animated feel I’d hoped for while at the same time employing elements of realism. Richard Parker the Bengal tiger is utterly believable as a CGI creation which, for once, I stopped seeing as special effects. The 3D is actually used creatively and lends texture to the images in a way that makes its use important here, unlike so many other 3D films where it’s just a gimmick. The visceral aspects of Pi’s journey are captured beautifully and Suraj Sharma is terrific in the role. Lived up to and exceeded my expectations for a film of this book.

synecdoche-new-york-posterSynecdoche: New York is not a recent film (2008), but one I’ve wanted to see since I first heard about it. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, who has been responsible for some of the best writing in film of the past decade – Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

This won’t be a film for everyone, that’s for sure, but for me it was sublime. Working on the level of dream logic with a magnificent scope as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s playwright/director character creates a gigantic, unending production based on his whole life in an aircraft hangar-sized warehouse. The play within the film is peopled by lookalikes and other actors playing roles from his life until those roles cross over into real life and all the lines are blurred. I loved the idea that he eventually becomes little more than a bit-part player in the production of his own life. It’s baffling and inscrutable, but hypnotic and funny at the same time, with some genuinely awesome imagery. One to watch, not one to describe.