The titular substance usually connotes filth, squalor and entrapment like quicksand. About the only positive spin I can think of are mud baths in a health spa. But I digress. Mud acts as an effective tapestry in Jeff Nichols’ follow-up to his doomsday preparer saga, “Take Shelter.” It’s the name of the arcane protagonist (played with vigor and game by Matthew McConaughey, whose trademark southern drawl is aptly perfect for the Arkansas setting), a metaphor for the sticky situation he’s in and can’t get unstuck from, and it’s everywhere in the Arkansas Delta where many of the characters live in ramshackle houseboats and eke out a living pulling fish, pearls and salvage from the silt-lined bed of the mighty Mississippi.
Like the olio of treasures found at the river’s bottom, “Mud” is a lot of diverse things compressed into one. It’s a southern gothic, a pulpy crime noir, an account of a fading way of life, a contemplation on love and most of all a coming of age tale that evokes shades of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. As Ellis and Neckbone, the proverbial Twain tandem, Tye Sheridan – one of Brad Pitt’s lads in “The Tree of Life” – and newcomer Jacob Lofland imbue the film with a sweet innocence and impish teen know-how.
Neckbone lives with his uncle (Michael Shannon, who starred in “Take Shelter”) and never knew his parents. Ellis lives in a dingy but cozy floating shack, and his parents are on the verge of splitting. The two find solace in each other and their mini adventures. Their latest involved the rumor of a boat lodged high up in a tree on an island after a recent flood. The rumor turns out to be true, and the boat happens to be where they meet Mud, scraggly, starving, feral and needing their help to get food. He can’t set foot in the mainland, because he’s a wanted man. Continue reading
“Pain & Gain” documents the American Dream gone amok in another Day-Glo Miami. Think of Tony Montana in “Scarface” and imagine comedic inepts such as Stan and Laurel wielding the Uzis and machetes and calling the shots. It’s not a pretty picture. One worthy of a few laughs perhaps, until you consider it’s based on a true story.
Mark Wahlberg’s reliably effective as Daniel Lugo, an ex-con with jacked pecs, a silvery tongue and a tank full of big ideas. He starts out thinking small: Build a following at a niche middle-tier gym as the happening trainer; move in for a cut. Not a bad plan, and Daniel is a pretty amiable chap, but then he starts thinking of short cuts. One of his clients (an uproarious Tony Shalhoub, who at times seems to be channeling Joe Pesci from “Goodfellas”) made it big in unscrupulous ways and shares all the ins and outs with Daniel. There’s also an omnipresent TV guru (Ken Jeong) espousing get-rich-quick schemes, and somewhere in the middle a kidnap and extortion scheme is hatched. Continue reading
The dictionary defines memory as “the ability to recall.” For a computer, it’s an exact science when regurgitating programs, data, and facts, but for humans, that process can be ephemeral, flawed, and selective. It’s also an essential component of our existence, as our memories and emotional attachment to our pasts define who we are; it’s been argued that memories, along with the pillars of civilization, war and sex as a pleasure sport, are the defining cornerstones that separate mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Human memories and their mercurial, inexact nature also make for high drama in life and story, most especially in film. What if you couldn’t remember your name, or you blacked out during the critical moment of a murder or robbery? What if, as in Rashomon, different players’ POVs of a series of events result in diametric outcomes, onuses, and liabilities? There’s immediate conflict and intrigue, but to make the payoff and to sell the feasibility of it throughout—and often through the eyes of an unreliable narrator—requires work, artistry, and agility. Take Lenny in Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending Memento, or Dr. Edwardes in Hitchcock’s Spellbound. One has short term memory loss, the other amnesia, and what they know in their impaired states of mind is all the audience knows. Their stories build one foggy bread crumb at a time with many false steps and sudden revelations along the way. Each new reveal, true or not, ripples through the audience’s understanding of what has transpired, halting, upending, and enriching it. In Memento, we yearn to know who killed Lenny’s wife, and in Spellbound, the world sits rapt to see if the virtuous Gregory Peck (well, his character, Dr. Edwardes) is actually capable of murder. The gradual reparation of the splintered memories takes the viewer teasingly close to the truth, and then, in the denouement, the final curve masterfully reshapes and cements everything that came before it. Continue reading
Thirteen films to see at the 11th Boston Independent Film Festival, which runs April 24th through the 30th.
New Hampshire State Police bring a military-style vehicle to Watertown during a search for bombing suspects. (Photo: Sally Vargas)
With the spectacular apprehension of bombing suspect No. 2 (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev) Friday evening, Boston, Cambridge, Watertown and the surrounding areas can breathe a little easier. As expected, a pall of paranoia and unease is a given, and questions linger that perhaps we won’t have the answers to for months. So in the aftermath of five days of mayhem, we try to make sense of the senseless.
At the base of it all is the why. How could someone who lived here among us, shook our hands, smiled at us, went to school with us, smoked weed with us, married us, competed alongside us, had children with us, shamelessly and maliciously and with intent kill innocent people, including an 8-year-old boy with a sweet spot for ice cream?
Shocking and unconscionable, yes, but why, after pulling such a heinous and cowardly act did the two bombing suspects hang around town? Did they assume going about their business as usual was a good cover, or was there more to come? Continue reading
It’s some 70 years in the future and Earth is a wasteland, barren and plucked clean by nukes. Nukes mind you that weren’t unleashed on man by fellow man, but man nuking invading aliens who, during their incursion, blasted the moon in half, throwing off the tides and setting off tsunamis and earthquakes that accelerated Earth’s demise to a radioactive and near uninhabitable state. So the final vestige of mankind, which lives above the planet on an inverted-pyramid-shaped monolith/spaceship, waits as turbines on Earth siphon off seawater and convert it to stored energy so they can jet off to a distant moon where a new Eden awaits.
All that’s the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” preamble before we get to Herr Cruise. And the movie, in case you were wondering, is all about Tom Cruise. As one of the only two people remaining on the surface of the planet, there’s plenty of Tom time. Cruise plays Jack Harper (not to be confused with Jack Reacher, Cruise’s last role), a one-man militia and maintenance crew who keeps the turbines chugging and, with the aid of a smattering of drones, keeps the remaining aliens, embedded in caves and subterranean mazes of ruined stadiums, at bay. Jack’s partner Victoria, (U.K. actress Andrea Riseborough) helms the control console and reports up to command while Jack dashes about in his ornithopter (stealing that term from “Dune” because it’s applicable – more on that later) and tends to the drones and turbines. Continue reading