Mud: A Clear Winner


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In “Mud”, director Jeff Nichols (who also gave us the magnificent, and I suspect, under-viewed “Take Shelter”) has created an engaging, nuanced coming of age story set in the other-worldly environs of the Mississippi.

Told mainly through the eyes of the principal character, Ellis (Tye Sheridan), it’s the story of two boys who discover a boat wedged in the top of a tree on a deserted island somewhere in the middle of the fast flowing river. They claim the boat as theirs, only to discover that there’s someone living in it. That someone turns out to be a disheveled, chipped-toothed Matthew McConaughey (the eponymous Mud) in one of his finest roles since “Lone Star”. He spins the boys a story about waiting for his lover, a story that Ellis, with his fine sense of chivalry and innocent idealization of true love, swallows hook line and sinker. What Mud hasn’t told them is that he’s really on the run, having killed a man in a jealous rage. True love and true jealously are twins that we see unfold.

The main storyline concerns the actions of the boys as they try to rescue Mud – from the island, the law and, eventually, from his less than faithful lover (a sexy, white trash Reese Witherspoon).

The influences of Mark Twain’s Mississippi books are evident – the boys, Ellis and Neckbone (newcomer Jacob Lofland) are Huck and Tom; Mud is their version of the fleeing Nigger Jim. Like “Huckleberry Finn”, the movie’s bi-focal vision looks at the small domestic drama of one boy’s rite of passage into the flowering of (a priapic) maturity, as he learns to see things as they are, and not the romanticized fantasy of how they should be… about finding the kernel of truth hidden within its husks of lies.

It is also, like the book, about the nature of flight and freedom. At its most obvious, Mud is fleeing the law and a posse of ruthless vigilante bounty hunters, lead by the wonderful, jowly Joe Don Baker as the God fearing father of Mud’s victim, bent on revenge. He (Mud) also has to free himself from his own fantasized version of Juniper (Reese’s character) whose on and off love is destroying him. She herself, trapped, doomed, trying to escape to a better life has a tattoo of a bird in flight, the ultimate symbol of freedom. Ellis’ mother Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) has to escape a failed marriage and free herself from the isolation of the river (one of the characters early in the film describes the river as the place where you either found a living, like Neckbone’s uncle -the compelling Michael Shannon – or isolation). Mud’s father (or father-figure), Tom (Sam Shepard) has himself escaped a shady past to the freedom offered by the isolation and invisibility of the river.

There are two recurrent images and symbols – of snakes and of birds in flight. Mud has a large curling snake (tattoo) wrapped around his torso; he’s been bitten in the past by one and nearly dies (as happens to Ellis); at various points, people are disparagingly cursed as “nasty snakes”. The snake seems to be the hard and harsh reality that you need to be aware of and avoid. It’s the danger lurking at your feet. The graceful flocks of birds that arc across the sky from time to time are the obvious image of the unfettered life, the kind of life the boys seem to have as they whizz about in their small boat and motorbike; the kind of life that’ll end soon enough as maturity and jobs hem them in.

Jeff Nichols paces the movie nicely, slowly building the narrative and drawing us in to Mud’s every changing stories about himself, his lover and his father, even as the darker forces of retribution arm themselves and quicken the story to its final explosive shoot-out.

 

 

Star Trek Into Darkness. Beam me Out Scotty!


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In short: Spock is dead. No he isn’t. Kirk is dead. No he isn’t either. He’s demoted. Then promoted again. The Enterprise is savaged. Except it isn’t. Spock cries. Things explode. We go into warp speed. Boldly. Spock and Uhuru are an item. Interracial, interspecies love. The defense shields fail. Things explode. The evil Khan is bent on destroying whatever hasn’t as yet exploded. They explode.

After more than two hours of JJ Abrams’ latest quasi-movie videogame, you just long for the Klingons to kill ‘em all. I just wanted to be beamed out of there. Anywhere, where so many things weren’t mindlessly exploding

Exhausting: Iron Man 3


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“Iron Man 3” promises more than it delivers. Which is a pity, because its flashes of fine writing and genuine wit are solidly buried under the burden of bludgeoning, frenetic and often meaningless blockbuster action sequences.

This is one mother of a loud movie that bangs and bangs and bangs away at your ear drums. I guess that’ll be the pattern for the next few months as Star Wars, World War Z, Man of Steel, Thor etc flash into our retinas.

At the center of IM3 is the deeply subversive (because it’s based on reality) idea that the key bogey-man (a marvelously funny Ben Kingsley), the Mandarin, is actually nothing more than a false construct, an actor standing in for the darker, truly evil force that goes right up to the heart of power. Kingsley’s shift from a Bin Laden type bogey man to a down in the mouth cockney actor is probably worth the price of the ticket.

The movie also offers us a nice, mini buddy movie interaction between Tony Stark at his smartass cynical best with a kid (Ty Simkins), with whom he teams up to rebuild his exoskeleton armor.

That’s the good news.

And then there’s the tedium. As if the authors (Director Shane Black and Drew Pearce who we’ll hear from later this season with “Pacific Rim”) weren’t all that sure that they could carry through the original conceit of the image of evil v the reality of it, they throw in a bit of IM1, in which Stark, the mechanic, has to create the armor in a garage; they throw at us an offhand reference to drones as the Stark we see is either the man in the suit or a drone that looks like the man in the suit; and there’s an entire sub plot about a vice presidential bid to unseat the presidency, not to mention the sub, sub plot about Gywneth Paltrow’s relationship with a former flame, Guy Pearce as arch evil Aldrich Killian. Her sub plot about a former lover is not to be outdone by Stark’s sub, sub sub plot with his former lover, Maya (an under-utilized Rebecca Hall)

And then, you know, things explode, people fly about in slow motion, buildings crash into the ocean etc.

It’s long as well. Director Shane Black (who gave us “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang…and has now given us “Bang Bang Kiss Kiss”) has crammed so many story lines and villains into the plot that it takes a good two hours and more to kill them all off. He seems to have killed off Stark as Iron Man as well. Maybe Robert Downey Jr. was simply exhausted with it all and wanted out.

There really out to be a board of governors whose permission is necessary in order to be able to carry a sequel beyond two episodes. Batman managed to pull it off nicely, but it’s time for Die Hard to quietly retreat into the sunset and for X Men, now called Wolverine to be absolutely decommissioned.