Mud

Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland and Matthew McConaughey in Mud

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

10 December

 

 

Huckleberry Finn published, 1884

On this day in 1884, Mark Twain published Huckleberry Finn. It was the second book to feature the vagabond child of a vagrant drunkard father, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer being the first. Huck Finn would appear in two more short books, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective, but only as the narrator. Huckleberry Finn is a romantic character, the free spirit not bound by the rules of bourgeois life – hence nice kid Tom Sawyer’s attraction to him. He was based on a Mississippi character called Tom Blankenship, whom Twain was friendly with as a child. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was… ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed… he was the only really independent person – boy or man – in the community… continuously happy and envied by the rest of us.” The book’s plot largely deals with Finn running away from his father and drifting down the Mississippi River on a raft with Jim, a negro slave running away from his owner, because he fears she is about to sell him. By the end both are free – Jim because his owner has died and granted Jim his freedom in her will; Huck because his father has died. A wildly popular book for decades, largely on account of its story of freedoms large and small, Huckleberry Finn has fallen out of favour in recent years, in no small part because of the frequent use of the word “nigger”. Whether it is used in a derogatory fashion or in a much more neutral way is what the ostensible argument boils down to. Though there is also a community who won’t rest until all the bad, aka “inappropriate”, words have been removed from language, because they believe that sanitising the language equates to changing society. Hence a recent edition of the book which has edited out the offending word.

 

 

 

Mud (2012, dir: Jeff Nichols)

Jeff Nichols makes films about families hitting the skids. In Shotgun Stories it was half-brothers heading for a nasty showdown. In Take Shelter it was a marriage falling apart as a huge storm threatens. Nichols loves his Americana too, and there’s plenty of it in this Mississippi-set story of boys becoming men one weird summer in the company of a hobo (Matthew McConaughey) called Mud who’s suddenly turned up in their area and is hanging out down near the river’s edge. The boys are not brothers but they are as good as – the mouthy one (Jacob Lofland) and the cautious one (Tye Sheridan) – and Mud is your wayward uncle type writ large. But then types feature heavily here – Reese Witherspoon is the cock-tease love of Mud’s life who has spent a life disappointing him by running off with other men, at which point he’s usually done something really bad to the other men. It’s a Huckleberry Finn story, Mud being the grown-up Finn with a lifetime of knocks having shaped him on the way. And the result? An utterly charming though potentially dangerous free spirit who offers the boys a glimpse of life lived without restraint, but whose every decision has taken him a notch lower in status until here he is, with nothing, relying on boys to bring him food and information about the outside world. What plays out barely matters, such is Nichols’s focus on mood rather than plot, types rather than characters. But there are nuggetty plot-driven moments that cry out for attention – driven by Witherspoon (she doesn’t turn up in any old rubbish any more), Joe Don Baker as a local bad guy eager to get some payback against Mud, and Sam Shepard as Tom (name surely not a coincidence), a river dweller who knows what’s what and who’s who. But let’s not get bogged down in star worship, this is a film about the boys, their last summer of innocence, which demands and gets great performances, particularly from Lofland, who we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future, no doubt.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Nicholls has not made a bad film yet
  • Any film with Witherspoon is also worth watching
  • The watery Arkansas locations
  • McConaughey is acting in this one rather than just taking his shirt off

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Mud – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

2 September 2013-09-02

Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson in Gimme the Loot

 

 

 

Gimme the Loot (Soda, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A debut movie by writer/director Adam Leon, someone with something to say, Gimme the Loot is appropriately about two black kids (skin colour is an issue) who do a lot of talking as they wander around a present-day New York like Belmondo and Seberg once wandered through Paris in A Bout de Souffle. Do not be put off by reference to the French New Wave, I’m just trying to say Gimme the Loot is energetic, fresh, nervy, in love with the idea of youth, full of lip and very hip. Reinforcing the idea is the soundtrack – cool 60s R&B, soul, jazz. And it’s about the have-nots making up for what they don’t have with what they do have – sass, style, sex. Starring Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson, the plot has something to say too – he meets a moneyed white girl (Zoë Lescaze, excellent) and comes away short-changed, she has similar low-scale adventures, until they both meet up for what looks like an extended flirt, a tease, an introduction to the idea that they might be in love but have spent their lives so trying to verbally outgun each other that they don’t quite know how to broach the subject. What a refreshing and lovely film.

 

Gimme the Loot – at Amazon

 

 

Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/VOD)

I loved the first of the Star Trek reboots – Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto and the whole damn crew doing their best Shatner/Nimoy etc while JJ Abrams sculpted a throbbing space adventure from the DNA of an exhausted franchise. This time, for reasons I don’t understand, Abrams is playing to the geek gallery, not realising that geeks don’t need playing to – they’ll make phasers from chicken bones. And worse than that he’s remade The Wrath of Khan, a seriously dull film not made any better this time round by the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan – that’s more Sherlockian nodding towards the geeks. Things to love include Pine’s continuing mad Shatner impersonation, Karl Urban’s even better Bones “Are you out of your cornfed mind?” McCoy and some big money special effects sequences out in space. Much as I love Simon Pegg I don’t love the way his Mr Scott wanders off accent – he cannae take it, it seems – nor am I particularly aroused by Abrams handing out a storyline to every single one of the familiar crew members, like a movie that cost this much money was some elementary school prizegiving. Looks like this franchise is going the way of the last one.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness – at Amazon

 

Blackfish (Dogwoof, cert E, DVD)

What happens when you take an “amazingly friendly” killer whale and lock it up in an oceanarium, confine it by night, force it to do stupid tricks for fish? In the case of Tilikum, the orca in Blackfish, it becomes a killer whale, literally. The brilliance of this documentary lies in the measured way that director Gabriela Cowperthwaite goes about assembling her evidence – she talks to guys who first caught orcas off the coast of California about 40 years ago, she talks to previous owners of Tilikum, who knew he was a killer, she talks a good number of ex-trainers at Seaworld Orlando, which is where Tilikum finally lost the plot and set about eating his bright, committed trainer, Dawn Brancheau. And Cowperthwaite knows how to structure drama – from 911 phone call replayed over the opening scene, when the operator is told that an orca has eaten a trainer and is simply stunned into silence, we are gripped. Moral: the animals don’t like being there, they’re not engaged in valuable scientific research – let them go.

 

Blackfish – at Amazon

 

Love Is All You Need (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The ageing populations of Western Europe need their own romantic comedies, ones that reflect the pantechnicons of baggage that come with any midlife relationship. Enter Pierce Brosnan, still in ladykilling form as a wealthy grieving widower. And from the other side the delightful (and unknown to me until now) Trine Dyrholm as a love-damaged hairdresser who has no hair, thanks to recent chemotherapy. Nice. The original title in Danish translates as The Bald Hairdresser and tells us two things – first, that the Scandinavians have a much less mimsy way with words, and second, that the film is in Danish. Even Pierce Brosnan utters the odd word in “foreign”, as the action transfers from the cool north to sun-drenched Italy, where the romantic, comedic action plays out against the prospective wedding of his son and her daughter. Subtitle-phobes needn’t worry, the film switches frequently into English and the busy action, charming performances and great support acting means you’ll hardly notice. Susanne Bier’s film is much like a wedding, in fact – not necessarily everyone’s idea of a great day out but a lot of messy chaotic fun once you’re there.

 

Love Is All You Need – at Amazon

 

Mud (E One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Time to see Matthew McConaughey being acted off the screen by a pair of kids. Everyone, in fact, is outdone by the two young stars of Mud (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland – stars of the future), a kind of Huckleberry Finn meets Beasts of the Southern Wild drama set in Arkansas and revolving around a pair of lads and their relationship with some weird, though charming hobo (McConaughey), who may or may not be dangerous. Reese Witherspoon turns up, playing the charmer’s cockteasing lost love, lending the production the patina of class. And also suggesting that Mud is a movie for adults. It isn’t really, it’s for kids, the 12 certificate in the UK (PG-13 in the US) just about right for what is basically a primer in the ugly stuff that adults get up to. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, whose “storm’s coming” psychodrama Take Shelter is highly rated in some quarters, this is a flavoursome, folksy coming of age entertainment but at 130 minutes it’s a good 20 minutes too long.

 

Mud – at Amazon

 

What Doesn’t Kill You (Signature, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A movie that’s been sitting on the shelf since 2008, presumably because there were just too many Goodfella wannabe movies lining up for release. Which is what this is, being about two guys from Boston who become very small cogs in a low-rent local gangster operation – extortion, mostly – and what happens to them. So, in plot terms, nothing to see here. The acting is worth a watch though, since it’s Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo, each goading the other to be better (and succeeding) and the MO is interesting too, since what we’re mostly doing is following these two dim bulbs as they walk and talk (mumble, in fact, subtitles useful) around the neighbourhood, edging further and further into Palookaville.

 

What Doesn’t Kill You – at Amazon

 

The Little Mermaid (Disney, cert U, Blu-ray)

1989’s The Little Mermaid is seen as marking the beginning of Disney’s renaissance, though there have been a few of those. To my aged eyes it has all the hallmarks of everything that’s wrong with Disney – the interchangeable bland handsome prince, the whining heroine who wants, how she wants, something (legs, in this case), the comedy sidekick animals, which, in The Little Mermaid, every single main character is equipped with. And Alan Menken’s songs (this was his first Disney), which might work on Broadway, where singing to the back of the room is a necessity, but just seem a bit declamatory and box-tickingly diverse in their musical styles. All that apart, there are some lovely visual sequences in here, which mostly happen when the story is shunted into the background and the animation teams are issued with a “vamp moodily” instruction, at which point the Disney of old – of the forest in Snow White, the flying elephants of Dumbo – comes to the fore. The good stuff. I can’t say much about the restoration, it looks fine, bright and crisp – does old-fashioned 2D animation really need that much restoration? Will the target audience, under 10s, really care?

 

The Little Mermaid – at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013