Archive | May, 2013

Bring some bug spray, because ‘Mud’ (2013) is scorching.

31 May

Mud poster

Exams are over, baby.

If you thought that Matthew McConaughey wasn’t shady, grungy or downright sinister enough in films such as Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Bernie or The Paperboy then this might be the movie for you. Here, McConaughey plays a fully-fledged killer… And his name is ‘Mud’! Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Mud is a drama set in the hazy swamps of Arkansas. Two young boys, Ellis and the brilliantly-named Neckbone, stumble upon a boat hanging off a tree while surfing the bayous. Childhood curiosity gets the better of them as they examine their unusual find, but to their alarm they discover that Mud has been using it as a hideaway from the feds. He and the kids make a pact of friendship, but as his dodgy past is revealed, so too are the limits of their impromptu comradery.

Nichols is known for 2011’s extraordinary Take Shelter, and Mud is a similar film insofar as it not only takes its time with storytelling and dramatic progression, but it likewise delivers the goods with a stunning sense of aesthetic prowess. Vast, rolling skies watch over the serpent-infested waters and choking humidity of the Deep South; this is the sort of film to watch on a chilly winter’s night, as you can feel the warmth of the sun emanating from the screen.

While the geography is sumptuous, Mud is really all about its characters. Lets not mince words: this is easily McConaughey’s best acting role to date. His character is brooding, otherworldly, and is so charming as to not only win the trust of the kids, but also win over the beautiful but troubled Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), a trashy angel with nightingales tattooed on her hands. He accomplishes all this with only the shirt on his back, crosses on his heels (“to ward off evil spirits”) and a head of matted, greasy hair.

McConaughey's grubby shirt is practically a main character.

McConaughey’s grubby shirt is practically a main character.

Although their names do not grace the title, it’s Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, respectively) that are the real stars here. Both giving wonderfully believable performances which don’t even feel like acting, they refrain from being the precocious little moppets we as audiences are so accustomed to; these are rough kids, brought up as they are by impoverished families with meagre earnings. The unfolding events combine into one brutally honest lesson for them, namely that the adult world is deluded, volatile and ultimately unreliable.

A distinctly American film, Mud is very reminiscent of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird in that while they may match in terms of both style and setting, Mud is also a coming-of-age story that presents a distinctly negative, but honest juxtaposition of childhood innocence with the trials and tribulations of adulthood. Lethargic, delicate but packing quite an emotional punch,  Mud is one of the best films of 2013 so far. Go see it, but don’t forget the sun cream.

[Written for The Student Standard]

Simon says: at the moment, it’s the film of the year.

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’21 & Over’: a BETTER ‘Hangover’.

11 May

21 & Over posterSorry I’ve been away for so long, folks! Essays, assignments and exams have just been eating up my time. They’re very, very hungry.

Did you like The Hangover? Well, 21 & Over might be the film for you! It’s virtually the same plot: a pair of early twenty-somethings wake up, dazed and confused, to find themselves naked, branded and suffering from mild amnesia. The film follows the crazy events of the previous alcohol-fuelled night, as leads Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), convinced their best friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) to engage in a few hours of debauchery, ignoring the fact that he has a life-changing medical school exam the following morning. Will he make it, or will the stampeding buffalo, naughty sorority girls or inevitable alcohol poisoning get the better of him?

Though it was written and directed by the writers of The Hangover, where 21 & Over differs is not in its subject matter, not in its presentation or even in its humour: it’s at where the humour is aimed. 21 & Over is very equal-opportunity in who it makes fun of – no group of people are safe, and even the name-callers and joke-crackers themselves get their comeuppance in the end. This is the sort of film where a legion of Hispanic supermodels are tricked into paddling and making out with one another by the leads, but who avoid the descent into misogynistic plot-conviences by exacting their eventual revenge.

Casey and Miller have a great comradery together; Casey is the straight-faced, neurotic guy who’s anxious about the whole affair, whereas Miller is the dumb, wise-cracking waster who revels in his unemployability. Both turn out to be much more layered, multi-faceted characters than anyone from The Hangover, while Jeff Chang’s secrets gradually unravel to reveal a deceptively complex persona. His stereotypically overbearing dad (who is that ‘High Expectations Asian Father’ meme personified) is hilarious, and proves to be a lead protagonist, alongside the brainless athletes and enraged Latino sirens.

One of these men ends up with a stuffed bear glued to his penis. Can you guess which one?

One of these men ends up with a stuffed bear glued to his penis. Can you guess which one?

Shot on-campus at the University of Washington, there are lots of beautiful natural scenes and impressive architecture for viewers to gaze at, before hurling some ‘dumb jock’ humour our way. The montage of their getting wasted is superbly shot from a technical point of view – nice camera angles abound as time is slowed down. Is it weird that one of the best sequences comes from Jeff Chang’s projectile vomit, hurtling in slow motion as it does across the room and landing in people’s faces and/or drinks?

All that said, 21 & Over is nothing special. Of course, since it’s Hollywood, the characters are forced to have this predictable revelation as they come to terms with their fledgling adulthood. This very jarring tonal shift comes out of nowhere and really grates with the happy-go-lucky, carefree nature of everything that’s come before.

This is my only criticism, mind. If you enjoyed The Hangover then, in theory, this should be your cup of tequila. On the other hand, if you’re among the five people who just found Cooper and co.’s alcoholic antics lacking, then 21 & Over could be your answer. Brainless, harmless fun.

Simon says: 21 and Alright Like.

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