Monday, May 13, 2013

The Film Round-Up, May 2013: "At Any Price," "Mud," "Koch," "To The Wonder"

In this edition of the Film Round-Up: Heather Graham looks great, but her career? Uh...Matthew McConaughey's streak continues....The Ed Koch bio is quite good...And To the Wonder is a lovely poem of a film. 

My professional life is pretty isolated -- if you followed me on Foursquare, you'd probably kill yourself -- so it's always nice when to meet colleagues. And it's not just to prove that I can spit out sentence fragments and limply shake hands. 

When I went into New York last month, I met two people whom I've corresponded with and even worked for: Will Leitch, whose work I've admired for a while. (I also wrote a couple of pieces for Will when he edited Deadspin.) And I ran into Jesse Hassenger, the witty critic for The L Magazine, who is also a Twitter pal. Jesse, incidentally, is the first Racket writer I've ever met in the physical world. Strange.

Meeting these two gentlemen was a highlight. It's so nice to know people outside their avatars.

Anyway, my apologies for just getting this stuff up now. I used to be vigilant about posting, but as my writing load has increased, the blog is getting pushed to the side more and more. Stuff will still post, but it won't be at the speed of my younger days. I'm trying to accept that. 

Boy, making a living is tough! I've hard to start my day at 10:30 a.m. now. I'm like a goddamned farmer. 

These four reviews all previously appeared in the May issue of ICON, and are reprinted with permission. Please read these, as I'd love to know if captured To the Wonder in less than 200 words. It's about robot detectives, right? 


At Any Price (Dir: Ramin Bahrani). Starring: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Maika Monroe, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Chelcie Ross, Clancy Brown, Red West. The corn country of Iowa is the setting for this modern-day family drama. Henry Whipple (Quaid, looking pained and awkward) is a seed salesman and farmer who wants to pass down the family business but finds no takers. One son is out climbing mountains in Argentina; the other, Dean (Efron, finally shaking off his awkward teenage star blues), is the town hotshot. He’s more interested in pursuing a NASCAR career than sweating over soil samples. As Dean and Henry butt heads, both deal with a heap of personal and professional issues that seal their futures. Bahrani and Hallie Newton’s overwrought, clunky script may steer audiences’ eyes toward their watches—or the exits. Every character is presented as a problem, a font of prairie wisdom, or, in Graham’s unfortunate case, a slut. Bahrani so overwhelms the story’s strong emotional foundation with conflicts that he overlooks something important: we have no reason to care about anyone in this confounding, frustrating movie. [R] **

Mud (Dir: Jeff Nichols). Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Joe Don Baker. Grungy Mississippi River boys Ellis (Sheridan, The Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Lofland) head to a small island to claim their bounty, a boat nestled in a tree, only to find that a charismatic, shaggy-haired refugee named Mud (McConaughey) is living in it. Ellis takes a shine to the man and offers food. The rapport grows deeper. Eventually, the boys try to reunite Mud with his girlfriend (Witherspoon) before an angry Texas mobster (Baker) discovers him. Writer-director Nichols (Take Shelter) delivers a fugitive story with different spins, all of them pleasantly surprising and heart-warming. Occasionally, it’s a growing-up story with Sheridan’s Ellis providing a splendid example of how to be a kick-ass young adult. Then, it’s about how women can turn the most stoic men into emotional wrecks. At the heart of Mud, and what makes it a gritty treasure, is its exploration of male relationships. Every man needs another man to love. It could be your dad, an uncle, or a filthy fugitive with superior muscle tone. Sheridan and McConaughey are excellent. [R] ***1/2

Koch (Dir: Neil Barsky). It’s very easy to categorize Ed Koch, the three-time New York City mayor who died February 1 at age 88, as a borscht belt bully; a guy who was a little too in love with himself and his agenda. This touching documentary provides a heaping dose of perspective, and not just in defining Koch’s political legacy in New York, which includes affordable housing and starting Times Square’s renovation. Barsky provides context to Koch’s personality. He embraced the theatrics of politics. Whether it was staging a relationship to quell rumors of his homosexuality (never confirmed) or playing the role of heavy with the press or putting on his “how I’m doin'?” everyman shtick, Koch knew how to get the city’s attention. Love him or hate him—and Barsky finds plenty of sources in the latter camp—Koch represented the politician as schmoozer. The public life was his life. Away from the cameras and hellos, Barsky shows a man unfamiliar with the concept of solitude. Koch, a Jew, is buried at Trinity Church’s non-denominational cemetery. His reason? It’s bustling. A stellar directing debut from Barsky, a former journalist. [NR] ***

To The Wonder (Dir: Terrence Malick). Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams, Tatiana Chiline. Malick’s latest tone poem/meditation on the everyday has Neil (Affleck) bringing paramour Marina (Kurylenko) and her child (Chiline) from Paris to suburban Oklahoma, where domesticity slowly poisons everything. She and the child leave. He stays and begins a new relationship with a childhood acquaintance (McAdams), one his taciturn nature can’t sustain. Marina returns. Resentment builds. And in the middle of all this the town’s priest (Bardem) finds his faith crumbling. Like he did in The Tree of Life, Malick uses cryptic, thunderous narration and Emmanuel Lubezki’s museum-worthy cinematography to present (to paraphrase Tennessee Williams) a haunting memory film. With intense relationships, we don’t remember the details. It’s the grandness of our feelings that lasts. Some will call Malick’s presentation pretentious; others will call it brilliant. Say anything you want; don’t say you’re not engaged. So many directors spoon-feed us the answers. Malick, bless his heart, never stops challenging us to think beyond concrete concepts. [R] ***1/2

No comments: