What movie was that...?

29 April 2013

Mud

directed by Jeff Nichols

My hopes and my gut served me well once again. Last year, when reviewing another spectacular Jeff Nichols film (Take Shelter), I predicted that Mud would be a stunner. And what a stunner it is, a perfectly sized story peopled with incredible actors doing incredible work. Perhaps most notably would be Reese Witherspoon, who plays Mud’s lost love Juniper with a kind of tarnished grace that captivates and wounds. But I am getting ahead of myself… Two boys take a fishing boat out to an island to locate the source of an unlikely tale, a boat treed by a flood. But before the two can claim it for themselves, they discover that someone has already taken up residence in their prize. As if out of thin air Mud materializes, a man on the lam armed with a catalog of superstitions and a mysterious tale filled with dark corners. A story told by Nichols is never just a story, it’s an allegory wrapped in a folktale and bound with the sinew of Americana in a way that breathes and bleeds and sweats like a tangible thing. Matthew McConaughey is riding high on the second wave of his already fantastic career (please Mr. McC, don’t go back to the romcom wasteland, ever), and Mud finds him restrained and magnetic, a natural yarn spinner at the mercy of his own bad decisions. Deserving accolades aside, credit for the success of this film rests squarely on the young and capable shoulders of Tye Sheridan (Ellis) and Jacob Lofland (Neckbone), two boys crafting and testing their view of world against the rugged and often sharp corners of reality. Nichols has done it again, cementing himself in my mind as a talent to be excited about forevermore. And while we’re at it, bravo, Sarah Paulson, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Michael Shannon. Brav-the-hell-o. One can never overstate the magic of a superb ensemble (just ask Andrew Dominik), and Mud is as much a testament to that as it is to the power of a solid story told solidly.

08 April 2013

Holy Motors

directed by Leos Carax

It’s a hell of a ride to be sure, but I gladly followed Leos Carax’s mesmerizing Holy Motors along its bizarre and wonderful journey, stopping throughout to drink in the decadence, despair and dreaminess of it all. We snobbish faux film scholars could spend days dissecting this film to death, but why? Why would we possibly want to dim the glow of such a treasure with dull analyses, with banal insights? At its most basic, Holy Motors is a glimpse of the artist’s mind, of what it means to create and to be haunted by worlds half-formed, to track and net such nebulous and flighty things. It is also a celebration of movies and storytelling, of the magic of escape. Carax invites (or coaxes) us inside his brain via main character Oscar (the always astounding Denis Lavant), who quite literally becomes many different people as he is driven around Paris. A gypsy beggar woman, a crazed assassin, a subterranean scavenger, a depressed father, and many more (all played by Oscar) coalesce into a kind of tableau of moments that, had they been part of larger narratives, would be the ones that crystallize and, preserved, drift immutably through time. Crystallize they do all the same, and that is in no small way thanks to the heaven-made match of Carax and Lavant. They seem to speak a language all their own, endeavoring to drill to the core of whatever vignette they seek out. The film is beautifully shot, beautifully scored and beautifully beautiful (even when it’s ugly), but as with all art, it’s the feeling of it all that sticks with you. It’s a lonely business, crafting lives, building worlds, but with Holy Motors, Carax allows us to peer through the keyhole, if only for a short time.