Mud, despite its name, is anything but muddy. It’s a finely tuned man’s-man tearjerker about boys coming-of-age, fathers realizing what’s important, the women they love and the trouble we’re all capable of making for ourselves and others. Writer director Jeff Nichols (who previously haunted us with another fine piece of blistering Americana in Take Shelter) crafts the film like an adaptation of a long-lost great American novel, framing it with a strong plot and filling it to the brim with fulfilling character arcs, character foils, and visual motifs of migrating birds, slippery snakes, open windows and the great wide flowing waters of the Mississippi.
Mud sure is a tale, but it’s also a man – a man called Mud, played with crafted precision by good ol’boy Matthew McConaughey, who in the past few years with roles in films like Bernie, Killer Joe and now Mud, has eradicated the stank left on him from years of bad rom-coms and “sexiest man alive” shenanigans to emerge as a truly great (dare I say method) actor. Here he’s a man in hiding on an island out in the middle of the Mississippi River running through Arkansas. He’s discovered by a pair of young teenage boys: good-hearted, sensitive and eager-to-throw-a-punch Ellis (Tye Sheridan, who previously only got to cry and play in The Tree of Life, but here emerges as an appealing young actor worth watching for in the future) and shit-talkin’ smart-as-a-whip Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who ventured out to the island on the promise of finding a cool-ass boat lodged in a treetop (“A helluva thing,” says Mud). Turns out Mud’s been living in that helluva thing, and boy, does he have some stories for them boys. Continue reading →
Ah, to dine on filmlandia’s smorgasbord and taste the world! Behold, the treasures and the trash recently uncovered by the Spin that took us to India, the High Seas, South Africa, Detroit, Middle America and the backwoods swamps of the Deep South.
Stunning visuals make a trip to the theater worthwhile in Life of Pi.
Salty Sweet Pi: I was finally able to catch a screening of the much ballyhooed Life of Pi (in 3D no less, which no joke, is used brilliantly in this film and rises far above its typical gimmick status) which means Haneke’s sure to depress Amour is the only Best Picture Oscar nominee I have yet to see. Adapted from an international best-seller I never bothered with, Ang Lee’s film is a sure-fire visual stunner featuring some of the best use of 3D ever (I especially loved the opening credits and the sinking of the ship sequences). You’d have to be blind not be enthralled for two hours, but sadly the film is left adrift by surface level discussions on religion and an all too twee ”parable/fable” ending. Continue reading →
Stylistically the cold Russian film Elena and the perversely American film Killer Joe couldn’t be further apart. Yet they both are prime examples of neo-noir and in their own unique ways wallow in the melodrama of the downtrodden.
In Elena, the title character (Nadezhda Markina, a modicum of pent-up middle-aged rage) trudges through the routines of her day in her posh Moscow penthouse living with the wealthy husband she hooked ten years ago when she nursed him back to health. Her son is the epitome of the post-Soviet downtrodden, living in a trashy tenement tower underneath the shadows of nuclear silos with his lazy teenage son, do-nothing wife and an infant. He begs his mother for money constantly, and she eventually becomes obsessed with funding her grandson’s college education even though we all know he’s not college material. Her husband refuses to continue to support her loser family, even though he continues to dutifully spoil his own screw-up of a daughter. When he has another heart attack and decides to revisit his will, Elena must resort to desperate measures. Continue reading →
And I pray unto thee, Dear Lord Baby Jesus, that Bernie gets what he deserves.
I should preface this review by saying I’m no fan of Jack Black (though I think he sometimes gets an unfair wrap) or Shirley MacLaine (she’s a shrill weird old lady) or Matthew McConaughey (beat your bongos, son). I like some of director Richard Linklater’s oeuvre – most notably Slacker, Waking Life, Dazed and Confused and the Before Sunrise/Sunset films, but he’s made plenty of duds especially when he tries to go mainstream. Suffice it to say I didn’t pay any attention when this foursome got together to make Bernie.
Yet I started to hear some good things – and the plot sounded interesting enough, and I was really bored one Sunday afternoon. So there I was enjoying against all odds this tale of an affable busybody East Texas assistant funeral director (Black – nicely method and oddly endearing), the weird mean rich old bitty (MacLaine – well cast) he befriends, and the cocky country District Attorney (McConaughey – always better at comedy than drama and doing a tongue-in-cheek and dip-in-mouth riff on his own propensity to play impassioned lawyers) out to nail Bernie when the crazy lady turns up dead.
I’ve long made the case that the hardest film genre to pull off is the dark comedy. But there’s a subgenre that’s even harder to pull off - the light dark comedy. Successfully mixing elements of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, Robert Altman’s Cookie’s Fortune and the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, Linklater is spot-on in his delivery of this true-crime comedy. Continue reading →