Hank’s Recommendations 12/11/12

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD — This deceptively simple film, seen through a young girl’s eyes, about the taming of the “beasts of the southern wild”—storms and flood, environmental pollution, the daily struggle of a marginal existence—takes place in a Louisiana bayou. Its uncanny acting (by non-actor locals) and imaginatively vivid camerawork conveys the strengths of parental teaching in the midst of adversity and the yearning for community in a failing world: dramatic illustrations it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of in our own current time. Mrs. Video dubbed it the “film of the year.” It also reminds me of another great film, in part seen through a child’s eyes, about how the world works in harmony toward it’s own good end until interfered with by evil (in this case the widow-slaying preacher played by Robert Mitchum) in the Charles Laughton/James Agee film, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, which, now that I think of it, is a great film to share with the family on these holidays. Both poetically lyrical films offer suspense and enlightenment in equal measures.

QUEEN OF VERSAILLES — This outrageous and inadvertently funny documentary filmed before and after the crash of 2008 offers another fable for our current times: the attainment and loss of the American Dream. Tiffany, a meat-and-potatoes middleclass former Ms. Florida, becomes ersatz royalty when she marries a time-share resort magnate who’s thirty-one years her senior. Waxing rhapsodically about their eight children and the largest house in America they’re having built, Tiffany continues to shop even after the market drops. Blithely and mostly unblinkingly she faces the monetary and family dysfunction around her as the dark underside of their privileged lives becomes as exposed as the rafters in their unfinished mansion. Fittingly taking place in Las Vegas, this is the kind of film that makes you laugh and shake your head in wonderment about how, indeed, the other half lives.

THE BOURNE LEGACY — In order to avoid scandalous exposure, a clandestine intelligence program needs to be erased, along with all its agents, one of whom, Aaron Cross, must use his genetically engineered skills to survive. In fact, this “Bourne”-again film actually has nothing to do with Jason Bourne (although we do get a fleeting glimpse of Matt Damon’s photograph), though it does offer similar state-of-the-art flight/pursuit action. Rachel Weisz (DREAM HOUSE, PAGE EIGHT, THE WHISTLEBLOWER, THE LOVELY BONES, AGORA) as an unknowing scientist on the project who becomes Aaron’s ally plays her familiarly imperiled role, the intelligent actor Edward Norton seems oddly miscast as the head of Intelligence while the rest of an otherwise amazing cast (Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy, Joan Allen, Albert Finney) seems figuratively if not literally wasted. But otherwise the movie offers an intriguing and suspenseful first half with some beautiful Alaskan footage, a fantastic motorcycle chase at the end and a good performance by THE HURT LOCKER’s Jeremy Renner. It’s true they don’t know how to end this film, but then this is a franchise that will probably have no end. It’s a movie that will fill the bill if you’re in the mood.