Mud (2013)

MudTwo teenage boys encounter a fugitive living in a boat in the trees on an island. They form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.

Release Date: May 10, 2013

Director: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland

Runtime: 130 min

If you take anything from this movie; it should be that Southern gals named Juniper are bad news.

Mud is a modern-day fairy tale, a crisp chase thriller, and a coming-of-age drama all in one. It’s a gritty fairy tale because Mud is waiting for his love on an island; and there are themes of happily ever after, true love; but it’s less “Repunzel, Repunzel, lay down your hair!” and more like “Mud, Mud, let down that boat!” It’s a chase movie because Mud is a fugitive on the run, attempting to evade some lethal bounty hunters. As for the coming-of-age tale, that mostly lies with Ellis (Tye Sheridan).

He’s at the delicate age of fourteen, the age where one begins to choose role models. His parents are on the brink of divorce, and they really aren’t there to offer much advice; so the role model he chooses is Mud. Ellis must make his way through adult lies and learn his own way through hardships of love. Neckbone doesn’t latch onto Mud the way Ellis does, mostly because he finds a solid role model within his Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon). Mud is a superstitious character, but he’s also a serial liar. He tells great story after great story, and as the film progresses, the audience learns he is appropriately named, because he really is full of shit. The character contrasts are fascinating; Mud wants things to be done, but Ellis (and Neckbone) are the two to do them. Ellis seems to have a lot more backbone than Mud ever would. The lady loves of the story, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), Mud’s love, and May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), is the gal that Ellis has his eyes set on; some of their character traits have striking similarities, and the way Jeff Nichols makes them mirror each other is truly stunning and creative.

Jeff Nichols writes in a lot of themes, and while they may suffocate the story at times, they’re still very beautiful. Nichols suggests that the water current could really make one’s hardships more difficult, because Ellis lives on a makeshift boat on the banks of an Arkansas river, and his parents are struggling with their relationship. Nichols seems to have a true handle on some natural elements. The symbols of snakes and Mud’s wool shirt are thought-provoking and, often enough, poignant. Nichols’ third feature film states that he just didn’t become lucky with a few winners, this states that he is an artist; and most will love the story Nichols has to tell.

The story has a comfortable pace and it knows where it wants to go. It’s slow, but engaging. There are some scenes that might feel redundant at the time, but they don’t interrupt the flow of the film. The cinematography has a crisp feel to it, and it’s stunning when the camera is looking out into the hopeful horizon. The characters will keep you engaged. The relationship that blossoms between Mud and Ellis is about as beautiful as a relationship between a thirty-something sandy-haired fugitive and a fourteen-year old boy can get. Juniper and Mud want to be together; and even if we do not feel we can always trust Mud, he’s always very intriguing and has a lot of depth.

Matthew McConaughey delivers a tour de force performance, and seeing what he does here, it’ll make you much more excited for the upcoming Dallas Buyers Club. Tye Sheridan portrays Ellis very well; he’s capable of being tough, sweet, confused and vulnerable. The performances are superb all across the board. Jacob Lofland gets outshined by Sheridan, but he’s a great comic relief, and a nice presence. His name also reminds us that this is truly a Southern film. Some of the actors have characters that just don’t do much.

Reese Witherspoon portrays Mud’s love, Juniper. She has about ten minutes of screen time. Witherspoon does well with what she has, but if she gets an Oscar nomination for what little she does; it will only be a smaller farce than Jacki Weaver’s nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. Though, Witherspoon being under-utilized is not Nichols’ biggest crime. Michael Shannon has a criminally low amount of screen-time. He portrays Neckbone’s uncle, Galen, where he works as a role model for Neckbone and he wears this huge, comical scuba diving gear – and that’s about it. Shannon is a go-to guy of Nichols, as he is been in his two prior films, as the lead in Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories. It’s great to see Shannon in anything, but if you’re not going to use a guy of Shannon’s talent extremely well, don’t use him at all. This is Nichols’ biggest mistake, and if he does show a preference to use him, he should have cast him as Carver (Paul Sparks), the main bounty hunter adversary of Mud. He would rock that role!

The cast is an excellent ensemble, also including Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Sam Shepard. The story is impressively engaging, even if it has little wiggle room because of its many themes. Jeff Nichols writes a story that has enough power to strike you down like a mighty current, and raw emotion that will maul at your tear ducts. One thing is for certain, you will never believe a movie with such a dirty title could become such a beautiful work of art.

86/100

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Silver Linings Playbook

Release Date: November 21, 2012

Director: David O. Russell

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Runtime: 122 min

Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is a former history teacher who has been in a mental institution for the past eight months because he nearly killed the man who was having sex with his wife. Now, Pat is out and he’s trying to reconcile with his ex-wife, Nikki. He is staying at his parents house (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), and all they want him to do is move on and share their family obsession of the Philadelphia Eagles. Pat then meets a mysterious girl named Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman with many problems of her own. After their meeting, things get very complicated.

The relationship between Pat and Tiffany is pretty nice. They both have many problems. Pat is struggling with consistently taking his medication, he is not fully comprehending that he might never be able to reconcile with his wife, and he is having much difficulty controlling his emotions and anger. He’s sort of like a fairly more controlled Hulk.

Tiffany is a very young widow that has recently lost her job. She lost her job because she slept around with just about everyone in her workplace. This may sound sort of peculiar, but the way she tells the story is actually quite funny. Tiffany may have multiple problems of her own, but she is much more comfortable with her current state of mind than Pat is with his own.

Soon enough, Pat learns that Tiffany has a way of communicating with his ex-wife, Nikki. He cannot do it himself because of the restraining order, but he asks Tiffany if she could deliver a letter to her. But wait, there’s a catch. Tiffany needs help with this dance competition, and if Pat helps her, she’ll deliver that letter. This allows them to bond over time, and grow a solid relationship. Together, these crazies will have to find that silver lining on any old negative or dark day.

Silver Linings Playbook offers a great story that will be talked about for years to come. The plot may seem like yet another traditional romantic comedy, but no, it is much more than that. While it does have some components of the formula to make a romantic comedy, it is far from that. This is more of a dramedy with a few spices of romance, for good taste.

There’s a great canvas of incredible characters. The whole cast brings the multi-layered characters of Matthew Quick’s novel to life. Each actor wonderfully captures the exact emotions they are supposed to be expressing. A notable character is Chris Tucker’s Danny, who further adds some comedy to the feature. Though, the real notable performers are the two primary characters themselves, Bradley Cooper as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. They both express craziness well, they are both very hilarious, and they express emotions of stress, anger and anxiety well. When they are called to have an outburst, they do it very well. The direction by David O. Russell is also very amazing, and he directs these people with ease. To any ordinary director, directing these performers may be difficult, but this guy makes it look easy.

Silver Linings Playbook offers an experience that is difficult not to love. It is hilarious, sexy, beautiful, meaningful, sad, emotional, and sometimes quite dramatic. All of these aspects go very well together. Some thing that helps that is the impeccable writing by David O. Russell, and Matthew Quick who originally wrote the novel. The pacing never gets off track, and it never misses a beat. The viewer may not be able to relate to the exact situation of these characters, but they could fully understand their motivations – and most may have felt similar emotions that these characters express on a daily basis. This makes 2003’s Anger Management look like trash, and it ranks up to the greatness of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Sure, it may not be as dramatic as Cuckoo’s Nest, but it has great performances like that – and it sure is funnier than Anger Management. This is easy to admire because at times, it finds comedy in many intense situations.

100/100