Thursday, December 19, 2013

Guest Blogger: Carrie Lynn Patiño: Mud (2012)

MudAnother movie with a shirtless Matthew McConaughey? Well yes and no. McConaughey plays a character named Mud and does have a small scene in which he is indeed shirtless (I don't know if it's in his contract to appear shirtless in all his films just like I don't know if it's in Anne Hathaway's contract to show her breasts whenever she stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, but I digress); however the movie is about much, much more. It is a young boy's journey learning about life, love and trust. The main character is 14-year old Ellis (Tye Sheridan), a romantic at heart who believes in a love that is pure. That is until he learns that his parents are separating and that his "girlfriend" has been untrue.

Ellis and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) hear about a boat in a tree on an island down river from their home in Dewitt, Arkansas. The boys take Ellis's boat to the island to lay claim on the treasure in the tree. They find proof that someone is living on the boat. That someone turns out to be 30-something Mud (McConaughey). Mud and the boys hail from the same neck of the woods and even share a common acquaintance—a recluse called Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard).

As the unlikely relationship develops between the boys and Mud, we learn that Mud is waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who Mud has known since she saved him from a Copperhead snake bite when he was 10. Mud tells the boys how Juniper is the most beautiful woman on Earth, that he loves her and she him. This prompts Ellis to help Mud reunite with his true love.

One afternoon while Ellis is searching for a reason to speak to the 17-year-old girl he loves named May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), he sees a boy groping her. Ellis runs across the street and coldcocks the boy, a senior at May Pearl’s high school. May Pearl is impressed by Ellis’s chivalry and tells him to give her a call if he can find her number. At the same time, Neckbone spots a blonde woman that fits Juniper’s description. The boys follow to confirm that it’s her and deliver a letter from Mud. She seems happy but has a noticeable ambivalence as well. Ellis is elated that he is bringing the two soul mates together, especially after learning his own parents are separating.

When the boys visit Mud again, they report what happened with Juniper and that he is a wanted man. Mud tells them why he is  wanted. He then devises a plan to use the boat as his and Juniper's getaway, reneging on his deal with the boys. They strike a new deal and the boys help Mud get the necessary items to restore the boat and get it out of the tree which includes a visit to Tom. The relationship between these two men is uncertain but essentially Tom has helped raise Mud. Tom knows the reason for Mud’s return involves Juniper. He knows the mad love that Mud has for Juniper but believes she manipulates Mud and will be his demise.

Ellis has moments of clarity regarding love. He is hurt and betrayed by his dealings with women and with Mud. This leads to the climax where Ellis will see what Mud is really made of.

This film is beautifully shot and honestly acted staying true to the essence of the movie. You as a viewer really feel that you are part of the story because you can identify with characters portrayed because each one of us has experienced life, love and trust. And we have all made choices whether right or wrong, but ultimately without regret.

cutmypicCarrie Lynn is a hip single mother of two. When she’s not working her fingers to the bone at three jobs, she’s rooting for the Chicago Cubs or taking in a rock show. Her favorite cocktail is a blackberry mojito brought to her by her favorite bartender at Ñ.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Enough Said (2013)

Enough SaidWho would have guessed that Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini would have such great chemistry? Nicole Holofcener, that’s who.

Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) is a single mom and masseuse. She attends a party where she meets poet Marianne (Catherine Keener) who becomes a client and then a friend. After the party, Eva starts dating Albert (Gandolfini). Despite Albert not fitting into her preconceived categories of good looking, she is attracted to him and they have a lot of fun. As she gets to know Marianne and hears about Marianne’s issues with her ex-husband, Eva begins to second-guess her relationship with Albert, his bad habits and his overflowing belly.

Eva is also preparing for her only child’s departure to college across the country in New York City. She is contemplating her ex-husband and what initially drew her to him because he is a man with whom she couldn’t share a laugh. Her best friend Sarah (Toni Collette) and Sarah’s husband Will (Ben Falcone) are frequent companions and we are privy to their marital foibles.

Enough Said is a feeling person’s romantic comedy. The story develops well, pulling us into a spiral that will leave several people scathed. It rolls up its sleeves and digs past the surface into the relationship dynamics and struggles affecting new couples, couples who’ve been together for a long time and friends. It poses questions about what is appropriate, the complications relationships present and the cracks that surface. It also showcases the differences between men and women’s thinking and problem solving.

I liked the ending. My companions did not. I would love to go on and on about it but that would ruin the ending for you. Go forth and enjoy this delightful offering and note it is one of Gandolfini’s last films.

Writer/Director: Nicole Holofcener

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 91 minutes

Scale: 4

Uno (2004)

UnoAksel Hennie is a recognizable face in Norwegian cinema. Perhaps his most recognizable role stateside is as Roger in Headhunters based on the eponymous novel by Jo Nesbø. Uno is Hennie’s directorial debut; he also wrote the screenplay.

Twenty-something David (Hennie) lives in a cramped apartment with his distant mother, terminally ill father and younger brother Kjetil (Espen Juul Kristiansen) who has Down’s Syndrome. David actually sleeps in the apartment’s storage space, ceding the shared bedroom to his brother.

David spends his days working at a gym with his best friend Morten (Nicolai Cleve Broch). Gym owner Jarle (Bjørn Floberg) would have his hands full with his inept thug of a son Lars (Martin Skaug) were it not for Aksel’s constant interceding to get Lars out of jams. Lars sells steriods and brings guns to the gym while holding on to his dream of becoming a cop (social commentary?). Jarle disapproves of Lars criminal missteps, not in the criminal activities themselves. Lars’s floundering illegal activities thrust David into the crosshairs of real gangsters when Lars backs out of a shady steroids deal with Khuram (Ahmed Zeyan), a deal David helped Lars secure by assuring Khuram that Lars was good for an outstanding 40,000 worth of drugs. When Lars can’t meet the deal, David is on the hook. This follows a steroids bust at the gym when David is faced with a choice that will change his life.

Uno delves into friendship dynamics and betrayal. It’s a character-driven drama and while David is no longer an adolescent, Uno plays like a coming-of-age meets loss-of-innocence meets welcome-to-the-world movie. Hennie gives us clues. The ending has problems but overall, the movie works. There’s even a subplot involving a dog but that doesn’t end well, especially if you are a dog lover.

If you like Uno and want more of Hennie and Broch, check out Buddy, another Norwegian offering starring Broch and Hennie. It’s a feel-good movie—very different from Uno.

Writer/Co-director: Aksel Hennie

Country: Norway

Genre: Drama

Run time: 100 minutes

Scale: 3

The Heat (2013)

The Heat

In one corner, we get FBI agent Ashburn (Sandy Bullock)—tightly  wound, ruthless and arrogant (characters Sandy has played well in her film past)—all traits that could keep her from getting her desperately coveted promotion. In the other corner, we have hard-mouthed-cursing-every-other-word, ruthless and arrogant Boston cop Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) verbally abusing her entire precinct. Sounds like a good match, eh? When Ashburn invades Mullins’s turf, the two spar until they have to go into cahoots to bring down a crime boss.

In their quest to track their target, the ladies cross paths with Marlon Wayans as an FBI agent, Jane Curtin as Mullins’s disappointed mother, Demian Bichir as Ashburn’s boss, Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s real-life husband) as a past fling of Mullins and Michael Rapaport as Mullins’s brother. Neither these secondary characters nor even the plot can compete with the antics of the two leads. This is not a believable movie but it’s a treat. The lengthy bar scene alone will be worth it.

If you like Sandra Bullock, you might like this one. If you like Melissa McCarthy, you’ll probably like it. If you enjoy both ladies, see it!

Director: Paul Feig

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 115 minutes

Scale: 3

Monday, December 2, 2013

Secrets & Lies (1996)

Secrets & LiesMike Leigh is a master at dissecting the dysfunctional family. He fills a cauldron with sadness, regret and shame. He gives it a swirl, adds a man as peace-keeping patriarch among three women seeking solace but with simmering recriminations. He serves it up, introducing us to the Purley family.

Factory worker Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn) and her nearly 21-year-old daughter Roxanne Purley (Claire Rushbrook) bicker as Cynthia tries to forge a closer relationship. Roxanne pulls away, horrified her mother wants to meet her boyfriend and talk about birth control. Cynthia is estranged from her brother Maurice Purley (Timothy Spall) because his wife Monica Purley (Phyllis Logan—you’ll recognize her as Mrs. Hughes of Downton Abbey) isn’t fond of Cynthia. Monica suffers cutting disappointment at not being able to conceive while Cynthia has been fertile under less-than-ideal circumstances.

When photographer Maurice drops by unexpectedly after nearly a year to see Cynthia, they snap back into their relationship and we learn about the deep familial wounds and strong connection they share. Maurice decides to throw Roxanne a 21st birthday party.

Add to this already volatile mix a young African-American woman Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who comes calling for Cynthia, claiming to be the child she gave up for adoption when Cynthia was 15 years old—a secret that will be unleashed and create upheaval in the Purley households.

Secrets & Lies is a classic that holds up 17 years later. The dialogue is rich with characters deflecting questions and offering more in non-answers. The movie rolls like a play. It beckons the viewer to join the characters in their sadness, anger, frustration and humor. The viewer readily obliges because it’s a well-made movie.

Writer/Director: Mike Leigh

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 140 minutes

Scale: 4

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Daniel & Ana (2009)

The high after Searching for Sugar Man didn’t last long because of Daniel & Ana, a disturbing movie that left a part of me dead.

Ana (Marimar Vega) and Daniel (Dario Yazbek Bernal) are siblings in a tight-knit family. They share an ease that shows the viewer they are good friends outside Daniel & Anasharing DNA. Ana is in her early 20s planning her upcoming nuptials. The only snag she’s facing is that her husband-to-be Rafa (José María Torre) would love to relocate to Madrid for a job. Ana won’t leave Mexico nor her family.

Daniel is 16 and exploring his budding sexuality with girlfriend Mariana (Jéssica Castelán). They haven’t gone far but “doing it” is on the horizon. He takes every chance to drive the family car and is angling for his parents to get him his own automobile.

One day, Ana asks Daniel to accompany her on an errand. As they drive there, Daniel misses the turn. In circling the block to return to the street, two armed men jump into the back seat and instruct them to remain calm and follow directions.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Daniel and Ana are addressed by name by the men and are forced into the trunk. They are taken to a house where they are made to strip and presented with a choice: either engage in sex with one another or be shot and killed. No explanation is given for how they were known to these men or why they were chosen. After great reluctance and mental anguish, the two are filmed as they have sex. Afterwards, they are dropped off. The two return home. They don’t tell their parents. They don’t discuss what happened. They isolate themselves in the emotional fallout of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ana tells her fiancé she has doubts and ceases further wedding planning. She avoids Daniel. Daniel skips school, stops talking to his girlfriend and spends a lot of time in bed. As Ana tries to re-gain her life, Daniel spirals. His concerned parents keep removing privileges to get through to him but nothing impact him. He’s catatonic, cares about nothing and gets through his days like a zombie, until the day he loses it with an act of savage consequences.

Daniel & Ana brutalizes you. At the start, the viewer is told that this is a true story, that only the names have been changed. The movie doesn’t explain what the kidnappers/video makers had to gain by making the video, outside of black-market porn profits. Neither victim nor their parents are threatened with exposure. The movie takes a horrific what-if situation, exploits it, shocks the viewer but doesn’t provide any resolution. Reminiscent of a less-artful Michael Haneke film taking similar risks, Daniel & Ana proves less satisfying.

Writer/Director: Michel Franco

Country: Mexico

Genre: Drama

Run time: 88 minutes

Scale: 3