Tag Archives: coming of age

Mud – Review

10 Sep

One of the things I’d love to do with my life is to be able to teach film, wether it’s film history, writing, or anything really. That being said, there are times where I watch a movie and I think, “That’s one that I would teach.” This is where Jeff Nichols’ film Mud comes in. Without a great screenplay, there’s no way for a movie to achieve true greatness, but when I say the screenplay for this movie is the best I’ve seen in a long time, I would not be exaggerating. It may be a slow moving story, but it is full of mystery, true to life characters, and a strong sense of pacing.

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Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two 14 year old boys growing up in De Witt, Arkansas. One day while investigating a boat stuck on the branches of a tree on an island on the Arkansas River, they meet a man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who is apparently using the boat and the island as a hide out. According to Mud, he is waiting there for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), to meet him there and start the rest of their lives together. The two boys become so enraptured by Mud’s tale of love and adventure that they start bringing him food and helping him get the boat down from the tree to get away on, but little do they know the danger that lurks from Mud’s past and the trouble that their curiosity might get them into.

When I say the screenplay for Mud is some of the best writing I’ve ever seen, I don’t think I’d be kidding you or myself.Everything that is said or done over the course of the movie is important in some way. Not only that, but this movie works great as both a coming of age drama and a suspenseful work of mystery. The mystery begins right away when the boys find a boat in a tree, which is a really intriguing plot device. to begin with. Thing get even more complex and interesting when they meet Mud and he begins telling them what his life has been like and why he’s hiding out like he is. The thing is, Mud can’t really be trusted and the fact that we’re seeing all this through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy makes it more questionable.

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Having this movie’s story told from the perspective of a fourteen year old is a very important element to the plot. When you’re fourteen, the world seems huge, but you’re ready to face it head on. I know that when I was fourteen, I would hear something and believe it no matter what anyone else told me. This makes the character of Ellis so complex, because he can be so easily molded by what’s around him. This also makes his interactions with Mud more intriguing and mysterious, because even I didn’t know what to make of Mud or how much to believe him. I feel like I’m ranting now. What I’m trying to say is that Mud is a super deep film with themes that span from adulthood to love and to truth, just to name a few.

This was shot during McConaughey’s big comeback. Before this there was Killer Joe and The Lincoln Lawyer, then there was Mud and finally Dallas Buyer’s Club for which he won the Academy Award. Needless to say, McConaughey gives a fantastic performance as Mud, who is both likable and, in a way, reprehensible. Even the kids give good performances. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland have great chemistry and seem to have a great understanding of their characters. The only person I feel was underutilized was Reese Witherspoon. The scenes that she’s in are great, but she really isn’t in the film all that much.

Mud is one of the most well written movies I have ever seen, and anyone can feel free to disagree with me. It’s a deeply layered story of growing up and learning the truth from the adults around you, who are both liars and honest. I’ve seen comparisons to the works of Stephen King and Mark Twain, and I almost see this as a combination of their works. The only thing that doesn’t work is a tacked on ending that I don’t want to really get into. The bottom line is that Mud is a must see for the acting, the story, and the layers of the screenplay.

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It Follows – Review

26 Apr

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but it’s something I feel very strongly about. Horror movies these days have turned into spooky ghost stories filled with jump scares and very little real, lasting tension. But, there is a light, and it’s a bright one indeed. This light at the end of the tunnel of garbage is David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. Why does this horror movie succeed where everything else seems to be failing? Well, pretty much every memorable aspect of this movie is the answer. It Follows is the best American horror film since the ORIGINAL Paranormal Activity, and is definitely one of the best American horror films of the decade.

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Jay (Maika Monroe) is just your everyday college student that seems to be in your average, everyday relationship with he new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). After their first time getting a little hot and heavy together, Hugh lets Jay in on his horrible secret. There is a supernatural entity slowly following him, and since they had sex, it will now be following Jay unless Jay can pass it on to someone else through a sexual encounter, and if not it will kill her. Now, with the entity slowly following her everywhere with the intent to kill, Jay and her friends have to find a way to get rid of it, by either passing it on, finding another way to get rid of it, or suffer the consequences.

The best part about this movie is that it made me feel something. It made me feel distressed and anxious, which in turn made me feel nervous and scared for the characters. There’s real suspense happening in It Follows and the pay off rarely ends in a cheap jump scare. Sure, there are a few, but those aren’t the parts that are important. What really pulled me in is the fact that somewhere in the world, this thing is walking towards whoever has it, and it may not catch them very quickly, but it’s always there and it’s always walking. Just put yourself into the shoes of the characters. That is an awful thing to have to think about, and it made me relieved that I was just watching a movie.

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Let’s take a step back from the content and look at how the movie is made. It’s easy to shoot a bland movie. That may be why so many exist that really aren’t any good. I don’t expect too much technical achievements in a horror movie, but this one was just fascinating. Much like the supernatural being in the film, the camera always seems to be slowly moving towards the characters or peering through a door or window like some sort of deranged stalker. It’s a chilling effect and works perfectly for the movie. Now, add the excellent, retro score of Dangerpiece and you got yourself a treat. The music is eerie and unsettling and has been compared to the synth scores of horror movies in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The whole movie looks and sounds retro. Just count the cell phones.

What else do many horror movies of the past and present seem to be missing a good amount of the time? Intelligence? Yeah, intelligence. It Follows is a surprisingly intelligent movie with an original screenplay and characters written like actual human beings. Mitchell had a great idea and worked with it to achieve such an refreshing, original story. The actors in the movie also work well because A.) they’re talented and B.) they characters are written well and three dimensionally. It’s an excellent combination.

It Follows blew my mind, plain and simple. It’s a horror movie with brains, scares, talent, confident execution, and originality. There’s very little violence or gore, but there’s enough dread and suspense to keep me going for a life time. What David Robert Mitchell has done is get to the roots of what a horror film is and what it should do. There’s a message about sexuality and growing up weaved into it that makes you think while also being scared. Bravo, Mr. Mitchell. You’ve made something truly special.

Boyhood – Review

15 Jan

Richard Linklater has been the forerunner of independent film making ever since he jumped on the scene with his cult classic, Slacker. Since then the writer/director has been involved with many other projects like his history making rotoscoped films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, his stoner comedy classic Dazed and Confused, and his trilogy Before SunriseBefore Sunset, and Before Midnight. Little did we know that throughout all of these films, he’d be slowly constructing a twelve year masterpiece that changes the way stories are told in films. This movie is Boyhood.

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Mason (Ellar Colatrane) is an average, but special, kid growing up in Texas. The film chronicles different chapters of his life starting when he is six years old and he’s beginning to understand the relationship problems between his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). As time goes on for Mason, Olivia, and Mason’s sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), we see them age, grow a little more understanding or ignorant, and learn what it means to make mistakes and be part of a family.

At first glance, Boyhood looks like a three hour movie about a kid that’s growing up, what you would call a coming of age story I guess. That seems like a lot of time to fill to just show someone growing up, but it didn’t feel like three hours at all. This is a truly remarkable film and not just one of the best films of the year, it may even be one of the best films ever made. The technical achievement and patience that went into making this movie must have been staggering. While being technically shot over 12 years, it really only took a matter of weeks in total, stretched over a 12 year period. But it makes me wonder how the movie was actually written and edited, and how the actors were committed to the project for so long.

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Why I’d call this movie the ultimate coming of age movie, is because we literally see it happen before our eyes. A brilliant piece of film making is seen in Boyhood in that Linklater never specifically tells us what year it is or how long its been. Instead we see pieces of technology that weren’t publicly available before or a popular song playing on the radio that may indicate what year we’re in and how much older everyone is. It was also just fun to see certain things and remember my own childhood and growing up. I can’t tell you how excited I got when I saw Mason playing Oregon Trail on an old Mac in his school. Memories…memories.

While the film making is fantastic, a lot of the credit has to go to the actors who put so much into making this movie possible. Patricia Arquette pretty much steals every scene she’s in as a mother who’s trying desperately to keep a family in a healthy environment. Ethan Hawke is probably my favorite part of the movie as the over excited dad who’s just happy to be around his kids. It was also refreshing to see how Ellar Colatrane and Lorelei Linklater kept their performances very together and on point throughout the years. To all of the actors really, who had to keep a sense of their characters over such a long period is very commendable.

Boyhood is the most impressive movie I’ve seen in a very long time, and that’s during a year of very impressive movies. It’s been hailed as one of the best pictures of the year, already picking up Golden Globes for Arquette, directing, and best picture. Now it has 6 Oscar nominations, but that’s still not for a bit. I loved this movie more than I thought I could and it just blows my mind that Linklater and the rest of his cast and crew made it work. This is film history here, people, you don’t want to miss out on it.

Ratcatcher – Review

18 Aug

Back when I was just starting college, I took a class called “film and video analysis” where we would watch a film and dig deep into how it was made and what the entire point of the movie actually was. Amongst a few others, one that really stood out to me was Ratcatcher, a film that is really nothing like it sounds. Over the years since I took that course, I haven’t gotten a chance to revisit the movie until just recently, and I was pleased that it still had the same effect on me as it did when I first saw it. This is a somber yet poetic movie about the loss of innocence in an environment where only certain people could survive and even fewer escaped.

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After accidentally causing his good friend (Thomas McTaggart) to drown, James (William Eadie) is left to suffer with his guilt while trying to make the best of life in a poor section of Glasgow during garbage strike of 1973. Trash and pests litter the streets and backyards of James’ town, which causes him to dream about life outside of the city. James’ parents George (Tommy Flanagan) and Anne (Mandy Matthews) are doing what they can to provide for their children and be relocated to new developments outside of the city, although James’ relationship with his father is strained by alcoholism and a severe lack of any other connections. James finds solace in visiting the new housing projects and making friends with neighborhood girl Margaret (Leanne Mullen), who is tortured by the local teenage boys.

Ratcatcher is a very episodic movie without a really strong conflict holding the entire movie together. What really holds the movie together is the thematic mood that writer/director Lynne Ramsay has created. The style of this movie is very similar to British Realism, and Ramsay’s particular film making techniques reminds me of Andrea Arnold’s (Fish TankWasp) technique. While Ratcatcher takes place in Scotland, it is a British and Scottish production, so similarities in style makes sense. This works perfectly well for this movie, and I would consider it one of the most honest films I have ever seen. There is no sugar coating or inappropriate optimism here. It depicts a difficult life for a most difficult child.

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That picture right above this really summarizes the mood of the film. I have to give major props to the child actors in this movie, but especially William Eadie. His role is extremely difficult, and it’s surprising that he manages to hold it all together so well. He comes across as very intelligent but just as naïve. The weight of this role really should be more than a kid his age could handle. He’s up there with Catinca Untaru from The Fall. Another excellent performance can be seen in Leanne Mullen, who plays the role of Margaret, the tortured neighborhood girl. I read one review that compares her facial acting to Maria Falconetti and her performance in The Passion of Joan of Arc. This movie, especially with its roots in British Realism, wouldn’t have worked without the performances of these young actors.

Something else that Ramsay really succeeds at is painting a portrait of the time period and the setting that Ratcatcher is trying to portray. This is a dark side of Glasgow in the 1970s during a most unbelievable conflict concerning the trash men. It’s amazing that people lived this way for a while with rats and garbage piled up and dead animals laying amongst it. Ramsay’s uncompromising portrayal of this deserves a round of applause, especially with everything she had to go through to get this result. She even went so far as to dig a new canal for filming purposes. That is dedication that payed off in the end.

Ratcatcher is a thought provoking coming of age story that I still can’t quite get a grasp on. Is it a commentary on the lifestyle of the time or is it simply about loss of innocence in the most extreme way possible? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Still and all, I was pleased to see that this movie still amazed me even after the time that I haven’t seen it. I remembered a lot from when I watched it in school, but there were parts that still surprised me. This is a disturbingly poetic film that tells a wonderful story about a damned childhood. Definitely a must see.