Sunday, January 6, 2013

Movies x 5

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Video Vault has always been about finding that little movie you've missed.  But today we're going big and going small at the same time by talking about some Oscar hopefuls as well as one small film that you will likely never hear of that just blew me away.

We'll start with the big awesome films and work our way down to the smaller awesome films.

Vault thinks the best picture of the year has to be the indie wonder "Beasts of the Southern Wild."  Starring nobody you've ever heard of and directed by first time writer-director Ben Zeitlin, Beasts, and everyone connected with it, is going places.

Zeitlin creates a kind of fable world, called "The Bathtub," a kind of submerged jungle bayou shanty-town whose very existence is threatened by rising sea-levels.  In this closed-off, nearly tribal, community lives Hushpuppy with her dying father.  Hushpuppy is played by this tower of awesomeness, the then 5 year old Quvenzhane Wallis.  So special is this child actor's debut that she must be nominated for best actress.

While we're talking about magical films, "Life of Pi" comes in a close second for Vault this year. Filmed in a sumptuous 3D, director Ang Lee gets even more fable-ous in this story about an Indian boy trapped in a life-boat with a Zebra, Orangutan, Hyena and a Bengal Tiger.

The story is exotic and strange and some of the individual shots in this picture are absolute stunners.  But what Vault was left with was a beautiful parable about the nature of faith.  You are presented with an unbelievable story and then are asked whether or not you can believe it.  The great teachers in the world have taught in parable.

In taking in "Lincoln," Vault felt a bit like I was being forced to do my history homework.  The film is masterful in many ways, especially in the way it distills a story about Honest Abe into the fight over the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

If a single actor can make a film, Daniel Day-Lewis delivers this baby in the kind of performance you'll see maybe two or three times in your entire life.  This is the closest thing to a lock for the Best Actor Oscar I've ever seen.  You can bet your house on this.  And it is this performance that makes "Lincoln" a must see.

Day-Lewis is backed by an amazing cast including the scene-thief Tommy Lee Jones as Senator Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania.  And the film has the full weight and might of director Steven Spielberg behind it, so it'll probably win more awards than it actually deserves.  And it deserves more than a few.

Now, I'd like to come away from all this Oscar talk and talk about two films that I just plain liked, "Promised Land" and "Surviving Progress."

I don't know whether I liked "Promised Land" so much because I agree with its message against the natural gas industry or because it was just a pretty good film.  I so worry that the "fracking" boom in Pennsylvania is going to ruin our water supplies and leave us with nothing.  If your water is polluted, your community is done.

So I was drawn in by the story that finds Matt Damon and Frances McDormond trying to sell a rural Pennsylvania town on natural gas leases while an environmentalist, played by John Krasinski (of "The Office" fame),  tries to inform the locals of the dangers of the gas boom.

I mean, I identified.  I've been walking along old dirt roads on Rockton Mountain that were beaten down and made wider by the gas rigs going in.  These once beautiful country lanes that now have posted speed limit signs.  I mean, I've stared at those drilling crews from Texas and Oklahoma and West Virginia as they drove by me and I fought back the urge to grab them by the throat and rip them outta their big trucks.  The Mountain, you see, is being raped again.

But allow me to choke back my rage and tell you that the film does a great job capturing the rural Pa. vibe.  I mean, the look of this film could be Main Street in Coalport or any other little town around here.  I just found the film to be really about us and so I liked it a lot.  You should go and see it.

And lastly, here's a little documentary that I must have read about once and never got around to plucking out of my Netflix queue but it may turn out to be one of the most important films I've seen in years.  Perhaps you will agree.

"Surviving Progress" is a film that tackles some of the anxieties that we wrestle with here on the blog.  It features some of the great thinkers of our time such as Steven Hawking and Jane Goodall among many others and  it asks a simple question:  Is mankind's rapid technological and cultural progress really a trap?

The film, in a very real way, lays out its thesis in broad strokes.  What is progress?  What is the function of economy and are the ways we practice economics in need of a serious rethinking?

Vault was blown back so often by so many of the great minds featured in this film that I can scarcely highlight much of it to you.  Still, I will leave you with this quote from Steven Hawking:

"We are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history.  Our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past, but I'm an optimist.  If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue.  If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe.  We have made remarkable progress in the last 100 years.  Our only chance of long term survival is not to remain on planet earth but to spread out into space."

Until Next Time!  Enjoy.

Shawn Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments on 'Lincoln.' It is far and away the best movie that I've seen in decades. For those who haven't read it already, I'd recommend reading the book on which it was based, 'Team of Rivals' by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
    While the book covers just the last few months of his life, the book covers Lincoln, and the key players in his cabinet from the early 1850s until the assassination. I read it after I saw the movie, and as always, I wish I'd read the book first.
    I haven't seen 'Promised Land' yet, but I certainly intend to. It was filmed in part in the area where I grew up, in the Kiski Valley.


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