Movie Review: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

A recent movie review for The Pendulum‘s Style Blog, élan:

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Quvenzhane Wallis stars as Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The film is nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Captivating. Moving. Poignant. Emotional.

Beasts of the Southern Wild,” directed by Benh Zeitlin, is a movie infused with passion, both from the actors and the brains behind the film’s production. It debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and it’s gained a spirited and growing fanbase ever since. Its vibrant child star, Quvenzhane Wallis, was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award, and the film itself was recently nominated for an Academy Award in three other categories: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s easy to see why.

The movie is set in a makeshift community in the bayou of Louisiana. It’s called the “Bathtub”, and it’s faced with a constant threat of flooding. This tight-knit cast of characters is mostly neglected by the “civilized” folk who live on the other side of the levee, but they don’t see that as an obstacle to their well-being. What other people call poverty they call everyday life, and they embrace it.

Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy, lives in the Bathtub with her father Wink, played by newcomer Dwight Henry. She’s motherless, her father’s health is declining and he verges on being abusive. But Hushpuppy has a brilliantly curious and strong mind, and she’s determined to make sense of her seemingly small life and find where she connects to the big world outside.

And boy, does she face some obstacles. There are situations I could never imagine being put in — mega storms, accidental house fires, a constantly shifting home life — but Hushpuppy’s resilience is always there as a cornerstone of the movie. She finds connections between people and the universe that most kids would overlook, and it’s truly inspiring. The movie even toys with the idea of mythical creatures that seem to be created straight from Hushpuppy’s 5-year-old mind. This was one portion of the movie that wasn’t as clear to me, but maybe that means it deserves a second look.

Wallis and Henry do a phenomenal job in their roles. They were both newcomers from Louisiana before being cast in the film. Henry, specifically, was recruited while he still worked in a mom-and-pop restaurant near New Orleans. He had a spark the director was looking for, and he brought a certain rawness to every scene he was in. It’s quite impressive. His acting undoubtedly drew on his own experience in Hurricane Katrina — he was there in neck-high waters, and he felt the emotional toll of that disaster. And Wallis is spunky and fearless. She is someone you can’t help but root for.

The film is also shot beautifully, with energy and whimsical imagery packed into each sequence. It’s certainly not a comedy, and it’s not a feel-good flick, but it has elements of both woven into the plot. You feel like you’re dipping your toes in something a little deeper, like you’re in Hushpuppy’s young but wise shoes trying to figure out the world. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is refreshing, daring, heartbreaking and magnificent.

The Pendulum‘s rating: 4/5 stars

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Brian Williams moderates panel at Elon’s Convocation for Honors: ‘We Can be Better’

by Madelyn Smith
April 8, 2011

Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor, moderated a discussion for Elon's Convocation April 7. Photo courtesy of Elon University Relations.
Thursday April 7, Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor, moderated a discussion for Elon University‘s Convocation for Honors.

The discussion was titled “We Can be Better: Courageous voices confront our greatest challenges” and featured panelists with in-depth knowledge on U.S. policy and suggestions for government change.

The panelists were David Gergen, Senior political analyst for CNN; David M. Walker, founder and chief executive officer of the Comeback America Initiative; Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core; and David Levin, co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).

Williams addressed the audience of Elon students, faculty, staff and community members on the issues the U.S. and the world is currently facing. He blended wit into his discussion with the panelists but did not sugar coat the seriousness of the problems.

“There’s been an aftershock in Japan, where they simply cannot afford another earthquake,” he said. “There’s new fighting in Libya, and some aren’t sure how the Senate can avoid a government shutdown. That’s the world we hand you today. And oh by the way, you all owe your country $45,000 – that’s the debt each one of you inherits. But today, we have five very learned, talented and crucial voices to help bring light to these issues.”

‘A Rising Tide of Mediocrity’

Williams said in a recent NBC News and Wall Street Journal Poll, 66 percent of Americans said they were not confident about the future.

“Put another way, most people believe our nation is in decline,” he said.

David Gergen agreed, saying there is noticeable pessimism concerning the future of the U.S.

“A growing number of Americans believe that the darkest hour of the night comes just before it goes totally black,” Gergen said. “That is an issue all of us are facing today – there is a sense of ‘We can’t get there.'”

David Walker added that solutions to financial problems in the U.S. must start with a change in government attitudes.

“The leaders need to put progress over partisanship,” he said. “And they need to shed light on the 88 percent of spending they’re not talking about.”

Brian Williams, left, moderates a discussion at Elon's Convocation for Honors with panelists Eboo Patel, David M. Walker, David Levin, Shirley Ann Jackson and David Gergen.

Gergen said national spending and the resulting national debt is an example of a ‘rising tide of mediocrity’ concerning major government decisions.

“We let these things like debt accumulate,” he said. “And then you pay a huge price. Because of this, we face a tough future, and it’s going to require more people who put the country first.”

Students, Teachers: Key Players in Our Nation’s Future

Gergen, Walker and the other panelists urged current seniors and other Elon students to welcome their role as the future of the nation in order to fight mediocrity within the government.

“We cannot wait for you to spend another ten years to jump in the pool,” said Gergen. “David Levin got involved with reform at the age of 22. Eboo Patel got into interfaith work at 22. These are your role models for jumping into the arena early. Don’t wait. You’ve got to realize that it takes a long time to get hard work done. Both of these men have been in this for 20 years – that’s a long time. So you’ve got to make this the work of a lifetime.”

David Levin, who has been a teacher for 20 years, is the co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which runs a national network of public schools dedicated to guiding low-income students to academic success. Most beginner KIPP students come from areas with a predicted 8.3 percent college entry rate. But after going through KIPP schools, nearly 85 percent of the students will attend colleges nationwide.

Levin credits the students’ success to innovative teaching – for example, using music and rhythm to learn certain subjects – and the ‘sense of team and family’ that exists in KIPP schools.

“People come into our schools and they hear music, they hear joy,” he said. “And that kind of energy is so important in our education system today. There is no higher calling than teaching. Take any teaching chance you get.”

Williams added that the U.S. continues to fall behind in math and science education compared to other countries. Levin credited this problem to the gap between higher education and grade schools.

“When it comes to education, we need a Pre-K through grade 16 approach,” he said.

He stressed that if not enough attention is focused on math and science in grade school, the interest and confidence level of students in these areas will not be high when they enter college.

Steps to Improvement

Shirley Ann Jackson said it is best to take a ‘portfolio approach’ to approaching the nation’s most heavy-hitting problems, especially those dealing with the environment and energy use.

Among the items in this packed portfolio for nationwide improvement are
-Transparency of energy markets
-Consistency of health and energy regulation
-Sound infrastructure

Jackson added that people should strive to suggest improvements in all of these areas, and that
the most hope for improvement lies in the college-aged generation.

“I educate people your age,” she said. “And I think because of you, the future is great. Those of us who have been around a while longer have the opportunity and responsibility to inform, but we also have to help you do that too.”

Battle of the Fro-Yo: The latest snack craze

photo by Madelyn Smith.

Bright walls. Modern furniture. Umpteen flavors and toppings laid out before you in a virtual rainbow of candy-coated splendor. Such is the atmosphere of YoZone and TCBY, two popular frozen yogurt shops in Burlington.
YoZone is the newest edition to the frozen yogurt – nicknamed FroYo –craze that is rivaling cupcake shops and ice cream parlors nationwide. It opened on Huffman Mill Road in Burlington in December and has since been the go-to place for Elon students, families and large groups.

“We didn’t think we would be doing this well, this fast,” says owner Jim Wood.
He says the shop is busiest each night between 7:30 p.m. and closing time, which is 9 p.m., and that the majority of these nighttime customers are Elon students. “And to make it easier for the students, we just got the machine in for them to use their Phoenix Cards,” he adds.

TCBY, a veteran in the frozen yogurt business, is located a minute away on South Church Street. This makes it an obvious contender in the FroYo battle. What sets it apart besides its well-known name?

“They have themed days like Waffle Cone Wednesday and Free Topping Tuesdays, which are great for college budgets,” says Elon sophomore Jessica Simermeyer. And unlike YoZone, TCBY sells food items other than yogurt such as milkshakes, smoothies and fruit bars.

YoZone’s “serve yourself” approach also appeals to the frugal student with its weigh-in pricing. Because customers are putting their own yogurt and toppings in their cups, they are able to control how much they will pay. Not to mention, creating a personalized mini yogurt masterpiece is just plain fun.

While YoZone and TCBY both sell frozen yogurt with optional toppings to add on, it’s worth comparing both shops to determine the best fit for your FroYo needs.

Elon students may soon have an even tougher choice choosing their favorite when Local Yogurt comes to Elon’s campus March 5. Local Yogurt – nickname “LoYo,” aren’t these names fun? – already has locations in North Carolina and its owners are confident that students will frequent the shop.