Saturday, March 16, 2013

Iron Sky

Over the past few weeks, I have reviewed nothing but the 2012 Oscar nominees.  I need a break, and I am dubbing that break "Iron Sky."  I stumbled across this movie thanks to Netflix, and IMDb claimed that people who liked Iron Sky also liked the Men in Black trilogy, Galaxy Quest, Dredd and, uh, Tank Girl.  Those are surprisingly likable "similar to" picks, so I decided to read up on Iron Sky a little.  I got as far as the first half of the first sentence of the Netflix description before I hit "play."
Secret moon Nazis attacking Earth?  That sounds positively amazing.  Sign me up.

The year is 2018, because this is a historical document from our future.  Take note, students!  America has sent a manned flight to the moon because the President, a Sarah Palin analogue (), decided that the easiest way to gain minority support was to send a black astronaut to the moon.  I don't necessarily follow that logic, but in all fairness, the film doesn't address how successful that plan is.  It should be noted that the astronauts did not land on the sunny, closer side of the moon; they landed near the dark side of the moon.  That turns out to be a bad idea, for reasons that do not include prog rock or laser shows.
Yes, that is an astronaut being executed by a Nazi stormtrooper
It seems that the Nazis sent a group to colonize the moon in the last days of World War II because of course they did.  In the intervening 70 years, they have built an advanced society that honestly believes that they are going to invade the Earth and bring peace to the planet.
How?  Military-grade cleavage.
Apparently, there has been some disconnect over the years between the military branch of the moon Nazis and the propaganda branch.  Klaus (), the heir apparent to the Moon Führer (played by because why not?), is well aware of the horrors that the Nazis will drop on Earth, but his prospective love interest/Earth expert/propaganda teacher, Renate (), actually believes that Nazis will improve the world.  She believes that the Nazis were well-loved, and references the "ten-minute" film tribute, The Great Dictator, as proof.  However, once the Nazis are face-to-face with modern Americans, they realize that they might be a little outclassed; the surviving astronaut's smartphone is a more powerful computing device than the room-sized computers that the Nazis have.
Of course all Nazi scientists look like Einstein
To gain the necessary knowledge and materials to conquer the world, Renate and Klaus head to Earth.  But how will Renate react when she sees that the world isn't eagerly awaiting the return of the Nazis with open arms?  And what will happen when Klaus decides to rain hellfire from space?
Answer: B-movie space battles, that's what

When you watch a movie about Moon Nazis, you can be reasonably sure that the acting will not be a main priority.  To its credit, Iron Sky's acting isn't painfully bad.  is actually pretty decent as Renate, even though her character is (arguably) the stupidest person in the film.  She had a silly role and didn't do it half-assed, so kudos to her.  How dumb was her part?  She was undressed by a depressurized hull.
Dietze's role was pretty thankless, but the rest of the cast had even less to work with.  got to speak in stereotypical black slang and was the butt of very generic black jokes.  It gets worse when his character is Aryan-ized; if you thought the jokes about black people were weak, wait until you get the jokes about someone who used to be black.
"Nein!  I do not want to wait for pain!"
was mediocre as the main villain; he was unlikable enough, but the gags kept him from coming across as truly evil.  was actually a pretty good choice to play a creepy German character, but his part was small and underwhelming.  was...well, she was an obvious analogue to Sarah Palin, so your appreciation of her depends on how funny you find broadly drawn Palin jokes.
I am jealous that Fake Palin talks to holograms, though
Rounding out the cast, was almost fun as a somewhat skanky political advisor.  Almost.

The main problem for most of the cast was that the script for Iron Sky is pretty awful.  There's not much you can do when you're in a movie about Moon Nazis and the film isn't very much fun.  The script is certainly to blame for most of that --- the "jokes" barely deserve finger quotations, much less actual ones --- but the general plot was also underwhelming.  Iron Sky is about Moon Nazis invading Earth.  There is no excuse for extended chunks of boredom.  And yet, the audience is subjected to sub-SNL-quality political satire to fill the gaps between astronauts getting shot and space battles.
That is, ultimately, the worst thing about Iron Sky: it should be a lot of fun, but it thinks it is being clever.  It is not clever in the least.  Director and co-writer is mostly to blame for this clusterfuck, but when you have characters acting like complete jackasses, with zero chance of any comedic return, that blame deserves to be spread out a little.

I was legitimately excited to watch Iron Sky, and the first few scenes on the moon didn't disappoint.  Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is fairly slow and tedious.  I wasn't looking for Shakespeare, but I was hoping for something gleefully stupid.  Instead, Iron Sky is filled with characters trying to be funny, but not quite understanding how to make that happen.  You might think that such a drab effort would sour me on stupid Nazi movies, but that is not the case.  In fact, one of the worst movie studios working today managed to make a far more amusing stupid Nazi movie at almost the exact same time as Iron Sky...and I'll review it tomorrow.  Meanwhile, Iron Sky gets a little credit for its premise and the opening scenes, but it was a sincere disappointment from a "laugh and drink to this" perspective.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Of all the Oscar-nominated films of 2012, none was as controversial as Zero Dark Thirty.  There were a few different reasons for this (most of which boils down to election-year political babbling), but the element that received the most discussion --- intelligent or otherwise --- revolved around the film's portrayal of torture as an effective interrogation tactic.  I certainly will not be as eloquent as some of those articles, but I will try to address the issue in a small way.  First things first, though.  I went in to Zero Dark Thirty as the final film in a marathon of Best Picture nominees.  I had high hopes, even though I wasn't in love with Kathryn Bigelow's last film, The Hurt Locker.  I heard that this was a film that asked a lot of tough questions and did not give comforting answers.  America has been fighting its War on Terror for over a decade now, and we still haven't gotten a movie that (in my mind, anyway) makes an awesome statement about it.  It may be a lot to ask of a movie, but that was what I was hoping for with Zero Dark Thirty.

Zero Dark Thirty is the somewhat true-ish tale of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden (played by the always delightful Ryan Reynolds).  Maya () is a fresh CIA recruit in 2003, newly assigned to the task force that is trying to track down Bin Laden.  Right out of the gate, Maya is confronted with the harsh reality of torture.  One of her new coworkers, Dan (), spends a good amount of time at a Black Box site, interrogating detainees.  Dan and his subordinates threaten, badger, and offer the occasional kindness in their quest for information --- aaand they also torture the shit out of their prisoners, too.  Waterboarding, humiliation, sensory deprivation, and just general abuse are some of the more colorful ways Dan elicits information.
Above: Dan, scraping some "torture juice" off his shoes
While no one is willing to dish on Osama Bin Laden, Dan and Maya managed to trick one detainee into naming a courier that delivers messages to Bin Laden. In and of itself, that little morsel of information doesn't mean much, but over the next few years, Maya is able to piece together a small piece of the larger picture.  If she is correct, and this courier is trusted with an important job, then that means he actually meets with the elusive Osama Bin Laden.  If that is true, then all Maya needs to do is track down this courier (who she does not have a picture or real name of) to find Bin Laden.  It's as easy as combing through literally tons of intelligence reports for a single clue over an eight-year span, while negotiating changing political and professional priorities and surviving a terrorist bombing.
She went in a novice and left a female David Caruso.  YEAAAAHHHH!

If nothing else, does an excellent job subverting expectations with Zero Dark Thirty.  This is less of a war movie or a manhunt than it is a police procedural.  In that regard, it's a pretty solid one.  Jessica Chastain fills the role of the obsessive person who just knows that they're right capably, and Bigelow does a good job making her look like the most capable person in the room at any given time.  When it finally gets to be Zero Dark Fifteen-ish, Bigelow shifts gears and reminds audiences that she knows how to add tension to military scenes.
What I found most interesting about Bigelow's approach to the material was that it felt surprisingly light on judgement.  The torture scenes seemed to affect the characters just as much as suicide bombers, or the final assault on Bin Laden's complex.  This could easily have been a propaganda piece, like The Green Berets, but Zero Dark Thirty strove for a much more documentary feel.

As a movie that is, essentially, a procedural with documentary tones to it, Zero Dark Thirty is not a great spotlight for acting.  was pretty good as the emotional core of the film, but even her fairly rounded character exhibited frustration more than anything else.  She did morph into a convincingly bad-ass intelligence agent, but I felt that the personal investment of the character --- which was mind-numbingly large --- didn't translate into her performance. 
was impressive in a supporting role; the more I see of Clarke, the more I like him and truly believe that he's close to a breakout role.  He had one of the more despicable parts in the film, but he gave it some unexpected humanity, too.  Most of the rest of the film was filled with bit parts, and many of them were played by character actors.  Still, in the cast of thousands, there were some familiar faces.  On the political side of the plot, Kyle Chandler was (once again) a bureaucrat, Mark Strong was a sneakier type of bureaucrat, James Gandolfini was kind of a military bureaucrat, and John Barrowman essentially acted as Jessica Chastain's hype man with his sole line.  All of those are good actors, but only Mark Strong had an opportunity to show off any (which he did).  On Maya's team, Harold Perrineau made a very brief and very welcome appearance and Jennifer Ehle was pretty good as the intelligence character that always seemed to be wrong.  When the story turned to the military side of things, Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton were the face of the strike team.  Pratt was surprisingly engaging as a slight goofball, while Edgerton played his part more through glaring than with dialogue.
Their haircuts match their characters

Okay, I've covered the plot, the direction and the acting.  What about all that torture?  On the one hand, I can agree (to an extent) with the argument that acceptance can be construed as condoning.  I honestly don't get where people are coming from when they say that the overall message here is that torture was necessary to find Bin Laden.  At worst, this film takes an indifferent stance on the issue.  Of course, the message is not that torture did no good, either; information gleaned through torture did eventually lead to the film's climax, but the methods are not shown as heroic or even necessary evils.  As with so much of Zero Dark Thirty, it would be so much easier to derive meaning and intent if this film had given in to machismo or back-patting nationalism.  Instead, the audience is subjected to extended periods of unpleasantness as the detainees are tortured on-screen.  If there is a message in Zero Dark Thirty about torture, I would argue that it is closer to "torture sure is messed up, right?" than anything else.

I was not sure how I felt about Zero Dark Thirty when it ended.  It certainly did not live up to my expectations, but that is not a bad thing.  This was a substantially different film than I was expecting, and I respected the emotionally-neutral choice of tone.  I would have preferred something that asked questions instead of simply reported issues, but that would have fundamentally altered Bigelow's documentary-feel.  I wish it had felt more immediate, though.  I was so separated from the emotions of these characters that the exits of Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Ehle had no impact on me, much less anything that happened to Jessica Chastain.  Everything just felt too impersonal.  That can happen in procedural dramas, but the main character's charisma or brilliance helps keep things exciting as the audience is drip-fed clues.  Chastain was at her best in conference room scenes, convincing bureaucrats to believe her.
There was a shocking amount of whatever you want to call this
For Zero Dark Thirty to work as a procedural, her best scenes needed to be her putting the pieces of the puzzle together.  This is a movie that could have done more, but also could have been truly insufferable.  Instead, it landed somewhere in the middle for me.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

To be perfectly honest with you, I wasn't thrilled with the 2012 Best Picture Oscar nominees.  I really liked Django Unchained and Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Argo was also very good, but the rest underwhelmed me.  I've never been a huge fan of David O. Russell.  I've always found Bradley Cooper a little annoying.  I hate Chris Tucker.  Suffice to say, I wasn't looking forward to Silver Linings Playbook very much.  Luckily, I really enjoy Jennifer Lawrence, and this is the role she won her Best Actress award for.  Will that be enough to make this worthwhile for my admittedly subjective tastes?

Do you like stories about people with psychiatric disorders?  Are you tired of watching Mad Love over and over again to get your bipolar disorder film fix?  Then I have a movie for you!  Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat () as he recovers from a mental breakdown that led to him losing his job and wife.  Pat's bipolar disorder was treated in a psychiatric institution until his mother, Dolores (), took legal custody of him.  Now, Pat is living at home with his parents until he can convince his estranged wife that he has changed enough for her to take him back.
"That sounds like a pretty terrible plan"
To do this, Pat has been working out and has decided to read all the books his wife is teaching at her high school.  Unfortunately, she has a restraining order in place, so it's a little difficult for him to show off his insane plan growth.  That's where Tiffany () comes in.  She is also a little crazy, but in a I've-just-been-widowed-so-I'm-having-sex way.  The pair bond over medications and being the disappointments of their respective families and eventually come to an agreement.  If Pat is really going to convince his wife that he has changed, he needs to do something that requires dedication and is far outside his comfort zone.
Considering that wearing garbage is something he's okay with, that could take some work
Tiffany needs a partner for an upcoming dance recital and promises to sneak Pat's wife some letters if he works with her.  Now, spending a lot of time dancing with an attractive woman who is fifteen years your junior may not sound like the best way to convince your wife to forgive you, but keep in mind that everyone in this story is a little crazy.
The age difference doesn't bother anyone else?  Nobody?

The acting in Silver Linings Playbook is universally good.  I'm not a fan of , but he played his bipolar character convincingly and I didn't feel pandered or preached to.  I didn't like his character --- everything from his motives, to the way he reacted to his parents, to his emotional triggers annoyed me --- but none of that his the fault of the actor.  This is easily the best work I have seen from Cooper to date.
Thankfully, was amazing.  I thought she showed a very realistic dose of "everyday crazy" and came across as a believable, natural character.  She delivered most of the best lines in the film and had the most impressive character arc.  Lawrence is the difference between this being a mediocre character piece and being a Best Picture contender.  
You don't think Bradley Cooper can carry a prestige picture, do you?
One of the biggest surprises in this film was 's best work in at least a decade (is it bad that The Score is the last thing I remember him being decent in?).  I'm not entirely sure what was behind his character (undiagnosed OCD is my best guess), but DeNiro was vulnerable and energetic.  was pretty good in an underdeveloped role; I like Weaver, but I think her Best Supporting Actress nod has more to do with it being a thin category than thanks to her work.  If she had five more minutes of solid screen time, I am sure she could have changed my mind.  The biggest surprise for me was the fact that was actually pretty good and not at all annoying. 
"I didn't think it was possible either"
The rest of the supporting cast was decent, but nothing particularly impressive.  Veteran Bollywood actor made an appearance as a pretty well-adjusted therapist, was okay as a supposedly "normal" guy that was acting a little crazy, and was convincing as a horrific bitch.

David O. Russell directed the film and adapted the screenplay for Silver Linings Playbook.  He obviously did a good job with the actors, even if you ignore all the accolades the cast received.  Just getting DeNiro to wake up and act in a film these days shows impressive pull with a cast, and turning Bradley Cooper into a viable lead character was equally impressive.
*** cue sheepish grin ***
As far as the rest of the movie, I though Russell did a solid job.  The script was a little too heavy-handed for my liking --- did everyone have to display a degree of "crazy"? --- but the script was reasonably smart.  I felt that the turning point was telegraphed, and I would have preferred for it to be less obvious when Pat worked everything out in his head, but he handled the emotions in the story well enough for that to balance out.

It would have been nice if the plot was surprising at all.  This isn't necessarily as formulaic as your typical rom-com, but it's not far off.  For a script that could occasionally be very witty, the plot was pretty conventional.
A romantic movie with a diner scene.  How novel.
That familiarity is Silver Linings Playbook's biggest obstacle.  This movie wants to stand tall as a realistic and funny movie about people functioning with psychological disorders, but it is so eerily reminiscent of other movies about so many other things (Garden State, My Best Friend's Wedding, Timecop, etc.) that it feels like a bit of a rehash.  That doesn't make it bad, and Jennifer Lawrence alone makes this worth watching, but a more unique plot and a more lovable main character would have gone a long way toward making Silver Linings Playbook more special.

Life of Pi

I am a man of peculiar tastes.  I am more than willing to sit through a horrible B-movie to enjoy a single scene, but there are some talented filmmakers out there that I tend to ignore, for no particular reason.  Ang Lee is a good example of this.  I have liked --- or at least been interested by --- every film of his I have seen to date, but when he puts out a new movie, for some reason I do not make an effort to see it.  I do the same thing with Pixar movies, even though I always end up loving them.  Again, in some ways, I am very odd.  
In fact, the only reason I have seen Life of Pi is because I caught a marathon of this year's Best Picture nominees.  There are not a lot of acclaimed films that I have no desire to see, but I will admit that I wasn't looking forward to this one.  So, how wrong was I?

Life of Pi is the story of a guy telling a story to another guy, who will turn the whole thing into a book.  No...strike that.  While technically true, that is merely the framework of this tale --- and I use "tale" for a reason.  This is the impossible story of Pi ().  Pi and his family were traveling by ship to Canada (along with their collection of zoo animals) when a freak storm hit and sank the ship, because God hates Canada.  Pi survives the storm and reaches a lifeboat, but his is not the lone survivor.  A wounded zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and Richard Parker (a Bengal tiger) all managed to squeeze into the lifeboat with Pi.
It helps that Pi is 2' tall
Not surprisingly, that status quo doesn't last long; the survivors are quickly reduced to Pi and Richard Parker.  Now, all that Pi needs to do is survive on a lifeboat with a hungry tiger in the middle of the ocean, until he can make it to land.  That may sound like the makings of a claustrophobic action spectacular, but the ocean is a really big place.
Judging from this, it might be a while

The acting in Life of Pi is understated.  made for a fine narrator, and his impassive descriptions only emphasized the strangeness of what he described.  does not do much as the writer who is listening to Adult Pi tell his tale, but he provides as three-dimensional of a character as you're going to get with so few lines in the script; it's not tough work, but he plays his part.  The bulk of the work is done by , as Pi in the story.  As the only true character in the film, there is a lot depending on Sharma.  He is not outstanding here, but he was likable.
To put it another way, there is an awful lot of this.
It would be easy to compare this shipwrecked character with that of Tom Hanks' in Cast Away, but this is not a character study, it is essentially a fairy tale and that does not typically lead to outstanding acting.  Still, the camera is almost always on Sharma and the film doesn't suffer for it.  The rest of the cast is barely anything more than a few cameos, culminating in "hey, is that ?"  Yes, it is.  And then he's gone.
His last words: "Depardon't do it!"

Life of Pi was directed by , and it shows, although not in a flashy way.  That's not really how Ang Lee movies work.  The cinematography is lovely, the acting is understated, the theme has a bit of psychology to it, and the pacing is...well, a little leisurely.  If you are familiar with Lee's work, all of that is to be expected.  The man is nothing, if not consistent in those regards.  I will admit that I was impressed by just how visually impressive this film was.  You might not expect much to excite your senses with a guy on a boat for 2+ hours, but Life of Pi was surprisingly dazzling.
While this isn't the first time Lee has worked extensively with CGI, I thought the animals and the myriad oddities in the script all looked fantastic.  I liked that the film didn't get over-dramatic or strive for an epic feel.  Ang Lee had a clear idea of what tone would work for this story, and he stuck with it.  A less assured director might have tried to force a more pronounced emotional struggle for the main character, but Lee stuck with the book's subtler plot and it paid off.  I also have to credit Lee for his use of 3D in the film.  It's not splashy, exploitative stuff --- the 3D is used to make the unique visuals more spectacular. 
Which is good, because 3D of floating gets old FAST

Having said all that, Life of Pi was pretty good, but I wasn't thrilled by it.  I feel the same way about a lot of Ang Lee's films, so it might just be me; I can appreciate the man's craftsmanship, but I've never really loved anything he's done.  If I had to give a reason for that, it would be the pacing.  As pretty as this movie was, it never excited me because it always felt like I had at least another hour of the movie left.  This is a well-made and polished movie, but I prefer movies with a bit more flair, even if they are more distinctly flawed.
Yes, I accused this movie of having no flair

Speaking of flaws, I noticed some buzz around this movie, concerning its ending.  I wouldn't really call it a "twist" ending, but I can understand some people feeling that it cheapened the story as a whole.
Like a plot where someone starves, but also sometimes has dozens of fish
Any time you can dismiss a movie by saying "It was all complete bullshit," you run that risk.  Personally, I liked the ending.  I thought it salvaged the entire movie.  Until that point, I was impressed by the technical aspects of the film, but did not particularly care about any of the characters.  The ending is what makes it personal, which provides all of the payoff.  For me, that was enough to make me like (but not love) this movie. 

On a side note, how strange is it that Roger Ebert can make absolutely no mention of the ending of Life of Pi in his 4-star review, but he shat a brick about the ending of The Usual Suspects?  They are, essentially, the same plot device, right?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

So.  Child actors.  They're typically kind of crappy, right?  Really, until the Culkin clan arrived, were there any reliably decent child actors?  Sure, every so often you would see a kid in a role that suited them well, but for every Oscar nominee, there were about a dozen Young Ron Howards.  Even today, we seem to have only one or two impressive child actors each decade, and are still cursed with an unfortunate amount of Jake Lloyds and Jonathan Lipnickis.  Every so often, awards programs find a child actor that they decide to fawn over, and Beasts of the Southern Wild was this year's choice.  Before you sit down to watch this film, you should ask yourself: Am I prepared to watch a movie about a six year-old girl?  Hint: you should be.
Hushpuppy () lives in part of the Louisiana bayou called The Bathtub.  This is a community that lives on the wet side of a levee, with no roads or electricity or government or just about anything you would expect to find in an American community.  Hushpuppy lives with her daddy, Wink ().  Well, they live by each other; each one has a dilapidated trailer, propped up by debris so they don't flood.
But they still make sure to wear matching clothes every day
Wink and all the adults in the Bathtub are usually drunk, and when Wink vanishes for a few days, Hushpuppy --- a six year-old --- doesn't make a big deal out of it and takes care of herself.  In case you were wondering, that involves eating cat food as part of her every day living.  Existing outside of society can't last forever, though.  The aftermath of a hurricane (I'm pretty sure it's Katrina, but it could have realistically been any of the six that have hit the area since then) ensures the intervention of the civilized world, and Wink's declining health complicates matters.  Still, if you're going to find a silver lining, having a child narrate your story is as good of a start as you can get.  There might be one slight stumbling block for that happy ending, though: namely, this nightmare beast:
What?  You don't know an auroch when you see one?

Beasts of the Southern Wild is the first major directorial effort from , as well as the first major motion picture developed by any member of the Court 13 collective of filmmakers.  As far as directorial debuts go, this is a pretty good one.  Zeitlin captured a subculture in America that has rarely (if ever) been captured before.  In a Google Earth world, it can sometimes be astounding to see what exists within the borders of the "civilized" world; in some ways, this movie feels like it is taking place in an anthropological nature preserve.
Look, a porcupine house, in its natural environment!
Zeitlin's camerawork starts out annoyingly shaky, thanks to the hand-held nature of it, but evened out as the film progressed.  By the end of the film, I was more impressed by the stark shots more than the nauseating beginning.
It's like Mad Max: On Water
What impressed me most, though, was how well Zeitlin handled the talent.  There are no seasoned actors in this film.  What you see are raw amateurs at work.  But Zeitlin makes them work, and work extremely well.  Wallis gave a pretty good performance for a six year-old, but her voice-over work was inspired.  The fact that Wallis looked so good --- and she definitely did --- is in no small part thanks to his editing.
The difference between this and awesome: voice-over
Speaking of the editing, I really liked how Zeitlin handled edits from a storytelling perspective.  Just take the scene where Hushpuppy recalls her mother --- that scene made me giggle with joy from a film fan's perspective.  It wasn't flashy.  It was just perfectly effective for what it needed to be.

The big story with the acting in Beasts of the Southern Wild is Quvenzhané Wallis, and justifiably so.  The movie focuses on her, and she carries it with ease.  I do not typically hype child acting, but the overall affect of her performance is staggering here.  From a strictly "acting" perspective, Wallis was pretty good.  She emoted and seemed to do what the scenes required of her.
Above: not really acting
The voice-over she provided, though, just killed me.  That is the backbone of this film, and she was heart-breakingly good when you combined those two elements.  I would argue that Zeitlin deserves more accolades than Wallis for her performance, but the bottom line is that she was pretty great.  It helps that Dwight Henry gave one of the rawest performances I can remember seeing.  I can't imagine his part being played by someone with more polish, though.  Henry played a complex character well, conveying his love, terror, and pride in surprisingly deep ways.
Who's the man?  I'M THE MAN!!!
One of his more out-of-left-field effective scenes was in the "Beast it" scene, where he initially appears inexplicably abusive, but it eventually turns into a triumph orgy.  The rest of the cast, while numerous, doesn't really impact the story at all, so I'm leaving them out of it.

In may ways, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a sad bastard movie.  It is designed to make you cry, and it probably will make you tear up.  This culture appears to be living in a dump AND a 200-year time warp at the same time.  Just making a documentary about these people and the pride with which they live their lives would have been heartbreaking.  When you add in a small child narrator and a dad character with health problems, that sadness is a foregone conclusion.  
It's just too heavy for Superman to lift
BUT.  BUT.  BUT.  Thanks to the sad bastardization of the story, there is also a silver lining.  That child narrator also provides a touching amount of innocence and hope to a story that could have just been Requiem For a Dream-depressing.  That little bit of innocence --- and this is not exactly a movie that wears rose-colored goggles --- makes up for a lot of otherwise hopeless moments.  I wouldn't go so far as to call this movie "uplifting," but it doesn't suck the life out of you, despite the subject matter.  This may have been one of the lesser-known Oscar nominees this year, but it was certainly deserving.  The acting was impressive and urgent, the direction was smart, and the story was unlike just about anything else in theaters this year.
No other film mastered the art of Farmstock Fones

The only missteps this movie makes are fairly big ones.  First and foremost, the foreshadowing of the aurochs never pays off.  I get it.  The aurochs symbolize fill in the blank.  They are pointless and clumsy in the big scheme of things.  They could have been completely omitted and affected the emotional and story arcs not at all.  I also would have liked more time in that strip club, because that scene had much more potential than it got to display.  In short, if the aurochs thing actually had a payoff, this movie might have been great.  As it is, this is very good, with a few heavy-handed moments (the aurochs) that would have been better spent elsewhere (at the strip club).  It is still very effective and worth seeing.

This is the song I had stuck in my head while reviewing this movie.  I think it's pretty apt.