The funny thing about Sundance is that any person at any time could be a star. On the street you're just waiting to peer under a pair of aviators or a fur-trimmed parka hood to see someone totally famous. Everyone is looking for the same thing in the movie theaters too. You go out to see the stars, like Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon in the new movie Mud, but the problem is, while the stars show up, the movie always doesn't. Mud is a movie filled with great performances not only from the biggest names on the marquee, but also American Horror Story mainstay Sarah Paulson, Oscar nominee Michael Shannon and the two teenage newcomers Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland. The problem is, they're the best thing about the movie.
There are things to like about writer/director Jeff Nichols' (Take Shelter) heartwarming coming-of-age story, but its problems outweigh its delights. It's biggest problem is that the 130-minute running time is about 40 minutes too long. The second, and boy is it a doozy, that the movie is so close to verging on misogynist that the more feminist leaning parts of the Internet should rev up their keyboards now. There is not a woman in this movie who doesn't betray her man, cheat on him, use him, steal his home, rob him of his authenticity, make him move to a boring condo complex in the suburbs, or otherwise force him of his natural and driving male essence.
The story is about two boys, Ellis and the wonderfully named Neckbone, two kids who live along a river in Arkansas and one day stumble upon a fugitive (McConaughey) living in a boat stranded on an island in the river. He is a sweet-talking charmer (does McConaughey play anything but) who is on the run from the law after killing the man who beat up the woman he loves (Witherspoon). He has nothing but a pistol and a magic shirt that he uses for protection (the irony of the oft-topless McConaughey having a magic shirt should be lost on no one) and he needs the boys to bring him food. Slowly they get embroiled in his plot to escape with his girl Juniper and avoid both the law and the dead man's family that is hunting for him. This is all while Ellis' father and mother are getting a divorce and he's dealing with falling in love with his first girlfriend, who, of course, cheats on him and then humiliates him in public. This thing might as well be a river fort with a giant "No Girlz Allowed" sign out front.
The takeaway to the story seems to be that the only people you can count on in this world are your male friends and your father figure. At the end of the movie, after all hell breaks loose as Ellis and Neckbone's entanglement with Mud gets crazy and deadly, we see each male character have a touching moment with his father figure. None of them are any good – Ellis' father can't make money, Mud's adopted father is a deadly "assassin," and Neck's uncle treats women possibly the worst of any of them – but, heck, in a man's world it's the man who teaches you how to man like a man that man man man. And some of the man manning that men masculine you with is hatred of women. Ellis' father (the wonderful Ray McKinnon) tells him at one point, "Women are tough. They set you up for some." Eventually, when Ellis confronts Mud about how much girls suck, Mud replies, "If you find a girl half as good as you, you'll be all set." See, a woman can never be as good as a man. At least not a man who is loyal to other men. The movie ends with the Beach Boys song "Help Me, Rhonda," which a character explains earlier is about a man who needs to get over a girl by having sex with another girl. Even as the credits are rolling this movie is telling us that women are fickle and replaceable, good only for sex, and not nearly as good as the men in life.
For all of its gorgeous cinematography and Southern charm, this is a well-told story. Film festivals need another movie about teenage boys coming of age and their complicated relationships with their father like a Big Mac needs more calories. And it's not especially adept in its storytelling. There is a mention of snakes in the first 30 minutes followed by a complicated explanation that everyone in the theater sees is going to end in a snake bite and a redemption. The ending isn't as saccharine and predictable as you might think, but it's close. And of course that redemption in the end is only for those in the possession of at least one Y chromosome. Seriously, our stars deserve better than this.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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Within the whole sports genre we really haven’t seen a Ping-Pong movie before—especially one portayed in such a spectacularly goofy way. Former child Ping-Pong prodigy Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) who was unceremoniously defeated decades ago is now reduced to performing ball tricks on stage at a local bar. But Randy’s luck changes when FBI Agent Rodriguez (George Lopez) recruits him for a secret mission: to ferret out FBI’s Most Wanted arch-villain and Ping-Pong connoisseur Feng (Christopher Walken) the man who killed Randy’s father. But times have changed since Randy choked and Ping-Pong is now played in an unsanctioned underground and extreme kind of way. Randy has to get into shape with the spiritual guidance of a blind Ping-Pong master named Wong (James Hong) and his kickass niece Maggie (Maggie Q) in order to make it to Feng’s mysterious jungle compound to play in the most unique Ping-Pong tournaments ever staged. Randy has his work cut out for him though if he’s going to wield his paddle and triumph over rampant wickedness. Who is this Dan Fogler guy and why haven’t we seen him before? Apparently he’s been on stage winning a Tony Award for his work in the Broadway play The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee among other things. Now Hollywood is beckoning—and it looks like Fogler has the chops to stick it out. Sort of a cross between Jack Black and Meatloaf the actor totally makes Balls of Fury’s campiness work. He also has lots of help from his fellow players: Lopez is hilarious as the FBI agent who has been working a desk job but fancies himself a James Bond; veteran Asian actor Hong gets to use chopsticks in some interesting ways as the sage but cantankerous Wong; the hard-bodied Maggie Q (wonder what the "Q" stands for) who up to this point has only kicked butt in action movies like Live Free or Die Hard and Mission: Impossible III plays it light in Balls; and of course Mr. Walken as the evil Feng doing his own impression of any Bond villian you can think of while still being Christopher Walken. That man has WAY too much fun in this film. Also look for loads of cameos by recognizable folks. Director/co-writer Robert Ben Garant and his screenwriting partner actor Thomas Lennon (who plays Randy’s hysterical uber-Nazi Ping-Pong rival Karl Wolfschtagg) certainly have a peculiar sense of humor something they created while working on MTV’s The State’s sketch comedy back in the ‘90s and then cultivated on their Comedy Central show Reno: 911!. They’ve gone PG with writing credits such as Night at the Museum and The Pacifier but have gotten R-rated especially with the Reno 911: Miami big-screen effort. Balls of Fury falls somewhere in between (that would be PG-13)--a mixture of James Bond bad martial-arts films Matrix-like slow-mo effects and just about any sports movie starring Will Ferrell. In other words for as many tiny balls that get batted around in any number of silly ways if you buy into their particular brand of comedy (like me) Balls of Fury will keep you in stitches. Oh and if you're a Def Lepperd fan you'll also be pleased with the soundtrack.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Don’t let the previews fool you—Terabithia isn’t anything like Chronicles of Narnia. Based on the Newbery-Award winning children’s novel by Katharine Paterson the story is more about childhood friendships and the way imagination can quite literally open new worlds. Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) sees himself as an outsider at school—and at home. He really only feels himself when he’s drawing. Then he meets the new kid Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) who has just moved from the big city. Despite their differences—she’s rich he’s poor—they become fast friends. Leslie who likes to spin magical stories opens Jess’ eyes to the possibilities and together they create the secret kingdom of Terabithia a mystical place accessible by swinging on an old rope over a stream in the woods near their homes. Interacting with the Terabithian denizens they’ve imagined both evil and good Jess and Leslie learn to deal with the pressures of their young pre-adolescent lives—and learn what the power of real friendship truly means. The young fresh cast really make Bridge to Terabithia work. Robb and Hutcherson are already veteran kid actors: Robb is best known for stealing hearts in Because of Winn-Dixie (another kid novel adaptation) and popping chewing gum as Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while Hutcherson played the tough older brother in Zathura as well as Robin Williams’ kid in R.V. Their acting experience clearly shows as they make the friendship between Jess and Leslie both genuine and heartfelt. There isn’t a false moment in their performances especially from Hutcherson who at first sends off an I-could-care-less vibe but through his soulful eyes becomes more attached to Leslie and their secret place. And as Jess’ little sister 7 year-old Bailee Madison plays the moppet without any cutesy affectations. As far as the adults are concerned stand outs include Robert Patrick as Jess’ stern dad just trying to make ends meet for his family and Zooey Deschanel as the kids’ music teacher who Jess has a crush on. In 1978 author Katharine Paterson wrote Bridge to Terabithia for her then 11 year-old son David Paterson about a special friendship he had. It was an instant hit. Now David all grown up is able to bring his mom’s touching story to life as one of the writers. Talk about a family effort backed by Walden Media--the geniuses behind Holes and Chronicles of Narnia. Directed by Rugrats creator Gabor Csupo Terabithia truly captures the essence of childhood imagination even I dare say more so than Narnia. Maybe it’s because the idea of Terabithia comes from the minds’ of very real children who are going through very real emotions as they enter into adolescence. Csupo keeps the imagery simple allowing audiences to create a fantasy world filled with mythical creatures right along with the film’s main characters. And if you haven’t read the book you might be surprised by the story’s poignancy. In a saturated field of animated duds and kid films better suited as after-school TV specials Bridge to Terabithia stands out as a one of the better family movies to come around in a long time.
December 03, 2003 9:35am EST
Sundance Film Festival officials have announced entries for dramatic, documentary and "American Spectrum" categories of the 2004 festival, which runs Jan. 15 through Jan. 25 in Park City, Utah.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the competitive categories at this year's festival include big-name actors appearing in films by relatively unknown directors, and a record-breaking number of projects from black filmmakers and projects influenced by Sept. 11:
Actor Kevin Bacon and his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, star alongside hip-hop artist Mos Def in The Woodsman, directed by Nicole Kassel. It revolves around a convicted pedophile who returns to his hometown after 12 years in prison and tries to start a new life.
Courteney Cox Arquette stars in November, directed by Greg Harrison, about a Los Angeles photographer who struggles to put the tragic circumstances of her boyfriend's death behind her.
John Curran's Adultery, starring Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts, follows two couples who are friends and whose relationships are intertwined.
Writer/director Rodney Evans' Brother to Brother is about an 18-year-old, gay, black artist who discovers the hidden legacies of gay and lesbian subcultures within the Harlem Renaissance. The film is one of a dozen projects that center on the black experience or are by black filmmakers--the most ever on a Sundance roster, according to the Reporter.
"We have 12 features that are either about, produced by or directed by African-American filmmakers," Festival director Geoff Gilmore said. "What's good is that it indicates that there are a lot of African-American filmmakers working in the independent arena because these are works that would not have been made for studios. It's really of interest to me to see a whole range of people now trying to produce independent work."
Gilmore added that some of the entries in this year's festival are the first generation of post-Sept. 11 films. "These are films by filmmakers that were entirely conceived, developed and then produced following those events," Gilmore told the Reporter. "The insularity of America pre-Sept. 11 and the assuredness that existed in the world at that time followed by the anxiety that exists in the world we are in now. These are films about trying to find things out."
The lineup for the festival's remaining categories and the opening night film are expected to be announced later today. Short films appearing at the festival will be announced Dec. 8.
The Best Thief in the World, Jacob Kornbluth
Book of Love, Alan Brown
Brother to Brother, Rodney Evans
Chrystal, Ray McKinnon
Down to the Bone, Debra Granik
Easy, Jane Weinstock
Evergreen, Enid Zentelis
Garden State, Zach Braff
Harry and Max, Christopher Munch
Maria Full of Grace, Joshua Marston
Napoleon Dynamite, Jared Hess
November, Greg Harrison
One Point O, Jeff Renfroe, MarteinnThorsson
Primer, Shane Carruth
Adultery, John Curran
The Woodsman, Nicole Kassell
A Place of Our Own, Stanley Nelson
Born Into Brothels, Ross Kauffman, ZanaBriksi
Chisholm '72 -- Unbought & Unbossed, Shola Lynch
Dig, Ondi Timoner
Farmingville, Catherine Tambini, Carlos Sandoval
The Fight, Barak Goodman
Heir to an Execution, Ivy Meeropol
Home of the Brave, Paola di Florio
I Like Killing Flies, Matt Mahurin
Imelda, Ramona S. Diaz
In the Realms of the Unreal, Jessica Yu
Deadline, Katy Chevigny, Kirsten Johnson
Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Robert Stone
Persons of Interest, Alison Maclean, Tobias Perse
Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock
Word Wars, Julian Petrillo
CSA: Confederate States of America, Kevin Willmott
Dandelion, Mark Milgard
Dirty Work, David Sampliner
Everyday People, Jim McKay
Lbs., Matthew Bonifacio
Let the Church Say Amen, David Petersen
Mean Creek, Jacob Aaron Estes
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky
MVP, Harry Davis
Open Water, Chris Kentis
Second Best, Eric Weber
September Tapes, Christian Johnston
Speak, Jessica Sharzer
November 22, 2002 5:27am EST
In the last Friday movie the Jones family won the million-dollar lotto jackpot and left the 'hood for Beverly Hills. But the money has run out in Friday After Next and the clock ticks down once again on another Friday in the 'hood. Craig (Ice Cube) wakes up in the wee hours of Christmas Eve to find a scrawny Santa stealing the contents of his and his cousin Day-Day's (Mike Epps) apartment including Christmas presents and the rent money. "The ghetto " Craig commiserates "is the only place where you can get fried by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve." To avoid getting evicted--and possibly roughed up by the landlady's newly paroled son Damon (Terry Crews)--the two get jobs as security guards at a local strip mall where their uncle Elroy runs Bros. Bar-B-Q restaurant with the slogan "Tastes so good makes you wanna slap yo' mama." Day-Day's rent-a-cop antics eventually land the duo in some hot water resulting in yet another action-packed Friday. Friday After Next has some great lines but it's mediocre compared to its predecessors. Don't expect the staple marijuana humor here either; it has been replaced with raunchy R-rated dialogue instead.
The best thing about Friday After Next is the terrific character acting by the cast. Ice Cube's Craig is still the most reasonable Jones of the clan and his character's levelheadedness strikes a nice balance between him and Epps' motor mouth character Day-Day. Epps made his first appearance as Day-Day in Next Friday after Chris Tucker who starred as Craig's original sidekick Smokey in Friday left. Together Epps and Ice Cube who also collaborated together on All About the Benjamins fit neatly like a sort of urban Laurel and Hardy. A hilarious new edition to Friday After Next is Katt Williams in the role of Money Mike who runs the Pimp N' Ho's clothing store. Williams' diminutive size doesn't hamper the stand-up comedian-turned-actor's performance as he prances around the strip mall like he's a big man on campus. While the film has some new faces it also has familiar ones like the return of John Witherspoon in the role of Craig's father. This time around Witherspoon has made his character Mr. Jones much more crass.
While all three installments of the Friday series were scripted and produced by Ice Cube Friday After Next marks video director Marcus Raboy's feature film directorial debut. So while the films have some common thematic elements such as having to come up with cash in 24 hours (usually followed by an "or else") or being terrorized by a neighborhood bully they differ in look and style. Raboy's style here is similar to a music video; that is fast paced bordering on frenetic. And while he achieves the campy '70 look he was aiming for you may leave the theater thinking too much happened between Thursday and Saturday. Craig and Day-Day for example spend too much time chasing after the ghetto Santa or being chased by hooligans and not enough smoking weed. Ice Cube and Epps have such a great rapport on screen that it would have been nice to see them sit back and exchange witty dialogue. Their was also too much focus on the older cast members including Witherspoon and Don "DC" Curry who spend the entire film being repulsively raunchy--which is disturbing in a hearing-your-parents-talk-about-sex kind of way.