What To Look Forward To: January 2015

4 01 2015

Inherent ViceI haven’t used this category of post in almost three years, so I figure it’s due for a good dusting off.  Here, I’ll give you a sense of what I’ll be up to this month at “Marshall and the Movies” and what might be cooking at a theater near you.

F.I.L.M. of the Week

You might have already noticed (that’s doubtful), but I have chosen to move my long-running “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column from Friday to Thursday.  The decision was manifold.  First, I wanted to take advantage of #tbt opportunities on Facebook.  Second, I needed the space on Friday to run reviews of new releases, which are often embargoed until opening day.  I look forward to bringing the same underseen or underrated titles to your attention on a new day!

Paul Thomas Anderson

I hinted last month that I would post a recap of the “On Cinema” that I heard PTA give, but I wound up focusing all my efforts on finishing all my 2014 reviews.  That and a ranked filmography will be coming next week to celebrate the release of “Inherent Vice.”

Tina and AmyGolden Globes Live Blog

One last hurrah for Tina and Amy!  I’ll be typing my thoughts the whole time.

Sundance Spotlight

The year always gets an injection of fresh energy from the outset thanks to Sundance, the American festival committed to highlighting new voices in the world of independent film.  To run parallel with the 2015 festival, I will be publishing a daily review of a film that came out of Sundance – both the good and the bad.

A Most Violent Year

Finally, I can share my thoughts – January 30, unless A24 changes their minds.

In theaters

I am SO stoked for “American Sniper” on January 16.  Holy cow.

In terms of actual January releases, though, the film that most intrigues me is “Girlhood.”

It’s going to be a good month (I hope!) – what are YOU looking forward to?

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REVIEW: Mud

19 01 2013

Cannes Film Festival 2012 / Sundance Film Festival 2013

(NOTE: I saw “Mud” at the first showing in Cannes last May.  I have no idea if the movie being shown in Utah is the same one I saw in France.  I have some lingering suspicion it might have been reworked and tweaked a little bit since it disappeared from the festival circuit for eight months.)

Third features are, for most filmmakers, really the first time we can gauge their capabilities and career trajectory.  A debut film is, well, a debut film.  Unless you are Orson Welles, whose first film “Citizen Kane” is the best of all-time to many, the first time behind the camera is rarely one that produces much beyond the promise of great things.  While many directors break out with their second film, some would consider that they still have the training wheels on the bike.

By the third film, however, we generally stop cutting them slack or grading them on a curve.  It’s do or die, make or break.  If you haven’t quite figured out how to make a good movie, perhaps it’s time to consider a career change.  Just to provide some perspective, Scorsese’s third film was “Mean Streets,” Spielberg’s was “Jaws,” Malick’s was “The Thin Red Line,” Jason Reitman’s was “Up in the Air,” and Ben Affleck’s was “Argo.”

Jeff Nichols, an emerging American filmmaker, made his first two movies with a very independent spirit.  His debut, “Shotgun Stories,” had an interesting concept but was poorly executed.  His second film, “Take Shelter,” was a superb ambiental drama that effectively visualized the state of economic and personal anxieties in the age of the Great Recession.  But his third feature, “Mud,” is so different that it almost feels like a first film.

With “Mud,” Nichols makes what I believe to be a very conscientious leap towards the mainstream.  It definitely plays more towards satisfying audience expectations with familiar storyline and aesthetics, not jarring them with the uncomfortable or the unknown.  And there’s nothing wrong with that; he’s fairly adept at capturing that boyish spirit in the coming-of-age movies that Steven Spielberg among others made so well in the 1980s.  But after the brilliance and originality of “Take Shelter,” I was hoping Nichols would not just fall in line.

And to reiterate, I don’t disdain “Mud” simply for daring to be similar.  It’s still quality filmmaking, but it feels more like a harbinger of things to come than something substantial in and of itself.  This transitional film is too populist to be indie; however, it’s also a little too indie to be truly mainstream.  I don’t usually talk about forces competing for the soul of a movie, yet it feels totally relevant for “Mud” as these two entirely different spirits of filmmaking run amuck throughout the movie.  Each claims a scene here or there, and the ultimate victor is unclear.

I would argue that the real winner of “Mud” are the characters, written with love and care by Nichols and brought to the screen with compassion by the cast.  Matthew McConaughey, the new king of career turnaround, beguiles as the titular character Mud.  He fancies himself an urban legend, an almost mythic figure of sorts.  Yet it’s fascinating to watch the man slip out from underneath his tough facade and see his guilt and shame manifested.

Though the movie is named for his character, Jeff Nichols’ film isn’t really about Mud.  It’s about the two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan from “The Tree of Life,” albeit totally changed since that film was shot so long ago) and his sidekick Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who stumble upon Mud hiding out in a boat in the trees.  While Mud drives the narrative forward, the movie’s real story and power comes from the way those events affect these two adolescents.

“Mud” mainly follows Ellis as he navigates a new world, one where nothing seems clear-cut or black and white.  Mud teaches him what love and trust really are when they are together away from society, and then he reemerges to find alternative meanings of such concepts.  Sheridan lends a real authenticity to the struggles of growing up and realizing hard truths in a performance that evokes Henry Thomas’ Elliott in “E.T.,” a movie that feels like quite a kindred spirit of “Mud.”

To tap into a fraction of what Spielberg achieved is quite an achievement.  Now, it’s time for Nichols to relocate his old voice of originality and create a work just like “Mud,” only with that old aesthetic brilliance and creativity.  B2halfstars





Random Factoid #552

31 01 2011

Today in my English class, we talked about how the system of moviegoing we have in place skewers our opinions of what we watch (as a branch of another conversation).  The perfect example given by one of my classmates was Oscar season: now, you don’t go see “The King’s Speech,” you go see the critically-acclaimed Oscar nominated “The King’s Speech.”  These are two entirely different beasts, and the expectations are skewered entirely.  The experiences completely changes as you watch a movie to check off boxes of approval, not just watching to watch.

That got me thinking: is it possible to see a movie without expectations?  To have the pure experience of moviegoing in our hands?

The closest thing I could think of was film festivals.  Even if we haven’t heard a review of a movie, we make assumptions based on the genre, the stars, the director, the trailer, and even other advertisements.  But at a film festival like Sundance, people just walk into movies with little to no idea what they will see.  And what we get are the best indicators of a movie’s actual worth.  (Judging by reactions, “Like Crazy” is great.  No one had ever heard of Felicity Jones before the movie, and based on the performance alone, she has been lauded … well, like crazy.)

I’d love to attend a film festival like Sundance or South by Southwest (Cannes and Venice are way out of my price range) simply to have this experience of unadulterated moviewatching.  I want to watch a movie to watch a movie, not fill out an approval ballot in my head.  I don’t think we were destined to watch movies like this – thanks a lot, mass media.