His Name is Mud and it’s a Helluva Thing

Mud - in the trees

Look up there…it’s a helluva thing.

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

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That Gum You Like is Going to Come Back in Style

Twin Peaks - Midget Gum

While the midget (later learned to be Mike’s arm) prattled on about polymer oral treats, twas the girl who looked almost exactly like Laura Palmer who told Agent Cooper in the Red Room who killed Laura Palmer…but as all Twin Peakers know…that was 25 years later. After the series finale, were we to believe Agent Cooper (and/or his doppelgänger?) would be trapped in the Black Lodge all that time until the gum he liked was going to come back in style?

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it would be the cat’s pajamas if David Lynch and Mark Frost would indeed take us back to Twin Peaks 25 years later to see how Coop and Annie and all our friends were doing. Well…it’s been 23 years since we first visited Twin Peaks, which means they have 2 years to get their act together – and naturally rumors abound with Lynch allegedly thinking about returning to TV (hell, isn’t playing Gus the bartender on The Cleveland Show enough for him?) and Frost reminding people how he and David always imagined Twin Peaks as a continuing story. Meanwhile copy-cat shows continue with The Killing still killing on AMC, Bates Motel scaring up viewers on A&E and Netflix attempting to get people hooked on Hemlock Grove.

Thankfully, a new viral campaign to Bring Twin Peaks Back to TV has started over there on the Facebook and apart from the standard fan art, nostalgia, pining and petition signing, they’ve come up with a mondo clever Agent Cooper MISSING Poster Campaign where fans all over the world have been plastering posters every place they can and posting the photographs online.

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Home is Where the Heart is in 42

42

The true significance of the number 42 has nothing to do with The Shining or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, right?

Well, maybe not.  And maybe as a long-time baseball fan (not just of the game, but of the history and of its impact on American society) I took that for granted.  As the first African-American to play in the major leagues, Jackie Robinson put a dent in segregation in 1947 (and wore the number 42) long before Jim Crow laws were dismantled and the Civil Rights movement caught on years later.  Thanks to Brian Helgeland’s handsomely mounted and wholesome-as-Ma’s-meatloaf biopic, 42, younger generations will now have an entertaining and educational film to watch in history classes for decades to come.

Robinson is played with heart and panache by newcomer Chadwick Boseman while Nicole Beharie makes a nice splash as his devoted and strong-willed wife, Rachel.  Their love story forms the backstop of the story while Harrison Ford relishes in a playful scenery chewing turn as the moral trailblazing GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. Continue reading

Thunder and Lightning in The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines

If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.

Those words are spoken by auto body shop owner and bank robber Robin (the superlative Ben Mendelsohn).  He’s the colorful character who gets all the best lines and spouts all the wisdom in Derek Cianfrance’s epic generational Upstate New York melodrama that spans fifteen years and is told in three parts.  He says these words to small-time hood, motorcycle carnival trickster, blue-eyed and tattooed baby boy Luke (Ryan Gosling – aka The Gos, in his wheelhouse) who Robin has recently taken under his wing for a couple of bank jobs.

And no words spoken were ever truer.  Luke has just found out that a former fling named Romina (a smoldering Eva Mendes who first appears on-screen in a t-shirt with no bra underneath like KAPOOYA!) had his baby – but she’s trying to move on, do right, and has shacked-up with a real man.  Robin convinces Luke that his particular skill set (riding fast) would be best suited for crime and that is the best way to win back his woman and provide for his family.  But even Robin knows there’s such a thing as riding too fast. Continue reading

Life in the Key of Malick in To the Wonder

To the Wonder 1

I could’ve done without the “the” in Terrence Malick’s latest cinematic symphony To the Wonder.

To wonder…

…that is what Malick’s life as an artist has been all about. To wonder…what it’s like to kill for the heck of it (Badlands)…to love when life is like a shaft of wheat blowing in the wind (Days of Heaven)….to wonder what it’s like to kill someone and mean it, to live
and love in war (The Thin Red Line)…to wonder what it was like to discover a new land, a new love, a new way of life (The New World)…to wonder about the beginning and end of time and the loss of a loved one (The Tree of Life).

To the Wonder is a meditation on loneliness.

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The Fearful Symmetry of Kubrick’s The Shining in Room 237

Room 237

There are two things I watched as a child – that I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to watch as child – a special shout out to my mad cool parents, yo! – that I believe will stick with me forever…and ever…and ever. One is Twin Peaks. The other is The Shining. Oh yeah, and Fright Night. And that episode of Scooby Doo with the pumpkin-headed phantom. But seriously…about The Shining.

Like Twin Peaks it’s been an object of obsession for me. In Room 237, Rodney Ascher’s obsessive new documentary where half a dozen film nuts/Kubrick scholars obsess over every bit of minutiae in The Shining (check out all the stuff in the walk-in cooler at the Overlook…every brand name has a double meaning so sayeth them!), every cross dissolve (Kubrick dissolves scenes like Kapooya!), every continuity error (de-lib-er-ate they say!), there’s not a single theory presented that I haven’t heard before.

The Shining was actually about the Holocaust (the number 42 is quite telling…as is one cross dissolve of people into stacked luggage…and, you know, all that blood in the elevator)…no, wait…make that the American genocide of the Indians (think of the setting, and the set designs, and the back story of the hotel…and, you know, all that blood in the elevator)…no way…it was about how Kubrick faked the Apollo moon landing (duh, Danny’s wearing that Apollo 11 sweater, like, what did you think that meant?)…or…AHA! – it was about all of those things!

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