MIFF Movie Review ~ Mud

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mud

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Paul Sparks, Joe Don Baker

Director: Jeff Nichols

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Owing a lot to similar coming-of-age tales like Stand By Me, The War, and even Whistle Down the Wind, Mud is director Nichols third film and follow-up to his critically hailed feature of 2011, Take Shelter.  What Nichols has crafted for his latest movie is an involving tale that mixes a few genres into its pot, puts the top on, and then waits for it to boil over.  While it simmers for a while and eventually ends up a satisfying if not quite hearty meal, Mud was a strong showing in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival.

McConaughey has really been on a roll in the last few years.  After making a strong starring debut with A Time to Kill in 1996, he eventually sidelined into lighter fare that may have made money at the box office but didn’t season his acting chops any.  Then he started becoming involved with more independent features and that’s where he’s struck gold again.  Last year he made memorable appearances in Magic Mike (really the only good thing about the movie), Bernie, and Killer Joe.  Now he’s back in the leading man chair for Mud, playing the titular character…a man on the run that has a way with words.

Two boys find Mud living in a boat placed in a tree by flooding in the bayou and soon become involved with his plan to sweep the girl he loves (Witherspoon in a nicely muted small supporting role) off her feet and away to the gulf waters to avoid the law.  Mud paints a nicely romantic tale of forbidden love to the two boys but as the film develops we learn that everything isn’t as it seems and that some truths haven’t been acknowledged.

The film is told through the eyes of Ellis (Sheridan, in a well-layered performance) who seems to be on the same trajectory as Mud when it comes to falling for the wrong girl.  Barely a teen, he has eyes for an older woman and the pain of first love is handled by Sheridan and Nichols with care.  Paulson and McKinnon are nicely cast as Ellis’ parents, small-town folk adjusting to the reality of moving from their river home.

As you can see, there’s a lot of storyline to juggle and Nichols keeps everything flying for much of the film, only letting things dip when it feels natural.  Nichols once again is working with his Take Shelter star Shannon (Man of Steel) and resists casting him in several roles he may have been right for in favor of wisely utilizing him as the uncle to a friend of Ellis.

Mud is another nice departure for McConaughey – grubbed up with chipped teeth and greasy, tousled hair…he’s a fascinating character study that McConaughey seems to gobble up with aplomb.  As Mud starts to see the forest for the trees, we see the character at a crossroads rather than the actor making choices.  Nichols has given him a nice framework that McConaughey thrives in.

What I appreciated most about the film is the way that Nichols lets things happen in a naturalistic fashion.  It’s peppered with several edge of your seat moments…and not always for the reasons you’d expect.  If in the end the film sacrifices some of its earlier unexpected moments for a finale that feels too pat, it can be forgiven for the earlier noble attempts at something different.

Bond-ed for Life ~ The Living Daylights

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond is living on the edge to stop an evil arms dealer from starting another world war. Bond crosses all seven continents in order to stop the evil Whitaker and General Koskov.

Stars: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Jeroen Krabbé, John Rhys-Davies

Director: John Glen

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  In 1985, A View to a Kill marked Roger Moore’s seventh and final film as superspy James Bond so it was up to the longtime Bond producers to once again look for another actor to take on the legendary role.  Now, by this time the Bond character was part of the cultural landscape with most everyone being able to identify who James Bond was.  For an actor, that level of notoriety can be a difficult thing to take on and stepping into a role played by three men on screen already had its pros and cons.

It came down to two actors…both of whom had been on the shortlist of Bond replacements for several years.  For a time it looked like future Bond Pierce Brosnan would be making his debut in the role…until a last-minute option on his television series Remington Steele was picked up.  It was then that the role was given to Dalton, the Wales born classically trained actor who would make his debut with The Living Daylights.

The last Bond film with a title taken from the works of Ian Fleming, The Living Daylights is a decent debut for Dalton working with a script that was originally tailored to Brosnan.  Dalton’s Bond rights some wrongs brought on by Moore by giving 007 the edge that had been missing for most of Moore’s tenure in the role.  There’s something smart about Dalton’s approach to the role but it also keeps him a bit removed from the admittedly slight material that makes up this thrust of this outing.

Going back to the same story well involving Bond racing to stop another world war from breaking out, The Living Daylights features one of the more benign villains in Krabbe and Baker as men from two different countries uniting for world domination.  Most of their material is so jokey and played as farce that it’s hard to take either men as seriously as Dalton so desperately wants to.  Sometimes you can almost hear Dalton’s eyes rolling as Krabbe graspingly mugs for the camera.

Learning nothing from the bland Bond girl of Tanya Roberts in A View to a Kill, producers cast another blonde beauty with virtually nothing to bring to the table.  D’Abo has an interestingly European look but struggles quite a bit with her accent and limited acting skills.  The chemistry between Dalton and D’Abo is next to nonexistent so it’s just a function of the script that they end up twisted in the sheets together.

With a new Bond I wished that the producers has also brought in a new director as Glen’s fourth opportunity to direct doesn’t bring anything new to the series.   Had a different director been hired I’m wondering if that would have allowed the franchise to make some needed steps forward rather than continue to coast along at the speed limit.

Pop group a-ha provides a nice title track but Maurice Binder’s credits sequence seems a little underdeveloped…it’s another case of someone coasting along on the strength of their previous work.  Pushing the envelope was something that was needed here and Binder’s effort falls flat.

The Living Daylights is a respectable first entry for our new 007 that does hint at the promise of things to come.  Dalton seems eager to please and up for the challenges of the role – based on that obvious enthusiasm I’m sure the film will please Bond fans that were waiting for something different than what Moore had been offering up.