Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Artist

Year 7, Day 269 - 9/26/15 - Movie #2,161

BEFORE: Any time I get to cross a Best Picture winner off my list, it's a big deal around here.  But if that film is also on the list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die", it's an especially big deal.  And after watching "12 Years a Slave" and tonight's film, I'll have seen every Best Picture winner dating back to 1953, and several before that, for a total of 74 out of 87.  Not shabby at all.  

Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for airing this film in February, as part of their "30 Days of Oscar" programming.  I'd been waiting 4 years for some channel to air it, and I can't imagine what the hold-up was.  Jean DuJardin carries over from "The Wolf of Wall Street", and to give you an idea how quickly my list changes around, for a long while this film was serving as the link between "The Monuments Men" (which I watched in May) and "Eraserhead" (with Hal Landon, Jr., coming up in October).  After tearing my list apart and re-building it several times, about 5 months worth of films ended up getting sandwiched between those two.

THE PLOT: A silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions.

AFTER: It's a great time for me to watch an Oscar-winning film, as I'm filling out forms at work to submit an animated short for Oscar consideration.  There's an awful lot of paperwork involved with that, but if you don't get it done, a film has no chance of being nominated.  Sure, it's usually just a formality, but it makes me wonder how many films could get nominations but don't because someone made some kind of clerical error, or missed the filing deadline.  

I can also now review the award year of 2011, there were 9 films nominated that year for Best Picture, and with "The Artist", I've now seen 8 of them. (Sorry, "The Tree of Life".)  I'm not so sure that this film should have won Best Picture, at least according to my completely unscientific rating system.  If I review my ratings on all the nominees, I gave the best score to "Moneyball", with a 7, and this film would have come in 2nd - everything else got either a 4 or a 5 from me.  

There's nothing blatantly offensive here, in a film about a silent film actor having difficulties converting to talkies, except that I've seen that plot used before, most notably in "Singin' in the Rain".  The central character here, George Valentin, even reminds me of Gene Kelly with his slicked-back hair, and the fact that he's seen appearing in a "Three Musketeers"-like silent film.  The other part of the story, which concerns an actress whose career is taking off just as his is waning, is also something seen many times before, like in "A Star Is Born", for example.  

But what the film lacks in originality, it makes up for in style.  Everything is beautiful, glitzy, reminiscent of old Hollywood, and the first part of the film is silent, except for a music track, with a few key dialogue cards, the way the films of the 1920's presented their tales.  It turns out most dialogue isn't even necessary, and actors can say more with a gesture or a look than they can say with words.  The language of film has many dialects, and just because this one is so rarely used any more doesn't mean that it can't be used again, with the audience being able to understand it.  It's a bit like Latin, it's a mostly-dead language but there will always be people made to study it, because it's the foundation for so many other ways of speaking.  

In the second part of the film, taking place after synchronized sound is introduced in Hollywood, "The Artist" dispenses with the dialogue cards, but allows in sound effects to help tell the story.  It's a little too self-reflexive, however, that the main character notices the change, which temporarily might remind the audience that they are watching a film.  Finally, in the closing scene, there are some spoken lines, because there's just no real way to end this except to pull back from a movie set, reminding us that we have been, in fact, watching something that was being shot on a movie set.  And we hear the director call "Cut" along with the bustle of the production personnel and technicians.  

Normally, I'm against Hollywood films about making Hollywood films, or the problems of the cast and crew making them, because it's too much like Hollywood licking itself for fun.  And it often seems like the last refuge for filmmakers who don't have any other ideas about what to film.  "Uh, why don't we make a film about people who don't know what to make a film about?"  Nice try, guys, we all made that same movie in film school.  

But, since this was made by a French director and filmed (more or less) outside the Hollywood studio system, I can try to make allowances, especially since the filmmakers within the film never had any problems with writer's block (or director's block) - they were filled with ideas, the only problems came from the technical aspects of making films.  And the films they were making never turned into the film I was watching, so that's another plus.  

As another nice accidental tie-in with last night's film, both "The Artist" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" feature stock market crashes as plot points, just in different years - the 1929 crash and the Black Monday one in 1987.

Also starring Bérénice Bejo (last seen in "A Knight's Tale"), John Goodman (last seen in "The Internship"), James Cromwell (last seen in "The Cheap Detective"), Penelope Ann Miller (last seen in "Biloxi Blues"), Missi Pyle, Joel Murray, Bill Fagerbakke, Uggie the dog (last seen in "The Campaign"), with cameos from Malcolm McDowell (last seen in "Hidalgo"), Ken Davitian, Nina Siemaszko (last seen in "Jakob the Liar"), Hal Landon, Jr. (last seen in "Pacific Heights")

RATING: 6 out of 10 Variety headlines

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Wolf of Wall Street

Year 7, Day 268 - 9/25/15 - Movie #2,160

BEFORE: I've made it to the end of the McConnaughey chain - and I now realize that I didn't just go chronologically through his career, I almost went chronologically through history as well, starting with "Amistad", set in the early 1800's, and reaching to "Interstellar", set in the year 2060 or so.  The ones that didn't fit were "Dallas Buyers Club" and tonight's film, which are both set in the 1980's.  Oh, well, I can only organize the films one way.  Even though McConnaughey is not the star of today's film, according to IMDB he's in the cast somewhere.

After tonight, I've got just 11 films until I break for NY Comic-Con, then 19 more films will take me through to Halloween, then another 9 films gets me to "Star Wars: Episode VII".  If I stick to my actor-linked chain, that means I can start another topic, roughly based on movie stars and music artists, but I won't be able to finish it, I'll have to pick up on that topic next year.  I still haven't figured out what the first movie of 2016 is going to be, or what I'm going to watch in the first two weeks, since I've only been able to program from mid-January to mid-March.  Perhaps I'll get inspired over the holiday break - if not, I just have to pick from among 40 or so films that haven't been put in order yet.

THE PLOT: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

AFTER: Yesterday's film was nearly three hours long, and this one is another three hours even.  That's 6 hours out of the last 27 spent watching movies - I feel a bit like I've done nothing else for two days but watch "Interstellar" and this.  Oh, I've had longer movie-watching sessions, like a week at Sundance where I saw almost 20 movies over a 6-day stretch, but that was a special case - and at the end of that week, I was completely worn out.  Today I'm just regular tired. 

But my question is, did this film NEED to be three hours long?  "Interstellar" kept me fascinated for the whole film, because I love space travel films, and there were three different "acts" to the story, but this is just the same same same - selling stocks, doing drugs, sleeping with hookers, repeat - for the whole damn film.  Surely they could have told that story in two hours instead of three?  Mr. Scorsese, it's called editing, and perhaps you should look into giving it a try.   It's possible to showcase the excess of someone's life without being excessive in the film - or was that the point?

Like, if we had seen Jordan cheating on his wife four times instead of five, I think we still would have gotten the point.  Or if we had seen him stoned and acting irresponsibly nine times instead of ten, the effect would have been the same.  

Generally speaking, though, it's nice when there's a narrative film that has some semblance of cause and effect - this person does THIS bad thing, and other bad things happen as a result.  Without any sense of karma or cause + effect, this film just became three hours of near nonsense, from a storytelling viewpoint.  Like, I have no sympathy for the central character, because of what a royal bastard he was.  Couldn't we have picked a better person to make a movie about?

Also starring Leonardo DiCaprio (last seen in "Django Unchained"), Jonah Hill (last seen in "22 Jump Street"), Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler (last seen in "Argo"), Rob Reiner (last seen in "Edtv"), Jean Dujardin (last seen in "The Monuments Men"), Jon Bernthal, P.J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Henry Zebrowski, Ethan Suplee (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Cristin Milioti, Jake Hoffman, Bo Dietl, with cameos from Jon Favreau (last seen in "Something's Gotta Give"), Joanna Lumley (last seen in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"), Christine Ebersole (last seen in "True Crime"), Thomas Middleditch, Fran Lebowitz, Steve Wittig (last seen in "Bad Words").

RATING: 4 out of 10 Quaaludes

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Year 7, Day 267 - 9/24/15 - Movie #2,159

BEFORE: This is the most recent Matthew McConnaughey film, I'm mixing up his chronology just a bit, because I need the lead-out that tomorrow's film provides.  So I guess I'm messing with the time stream, but considering the subject matter tonight, I figure maybe that's appropriate.  This is also the 2nd most eagerly anticipated film on the watchlist, after "Star Wars: Episode VII" of course.  I've watched every film directed by Christopher Nolan so far, and they're some of my favorites - "Memento", "The Prestige", "The Dark Knight" trilogy.  OK so I had my issues with "Inception", all that dream-within-a-dream stuff, but I still think the guy is a genius.  I'm willing to go along for the ride, wherever this guy wants to take me.

THE PLOT: A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space in an attempt to ensure humanity's survival. 

AFTER: Well, now I face a dilemma, because I think I love this film, even though I don't agree with everything it has to say about space/time, and some parts seemed contrived, and overly sentimental, but then, how often do you see a sci-fi film with any sentiment at all?  So maybe that's a good thing, I don't know - maybe I want to say that Nolan reached a bit too far with this plot, but again, maybe that's a good thing, because directors SHOULD reach far, and explore new territory, isn't that what filmmaking, and space exploration, are all about?  You can't fault a guy for trying, and this film represents a LOT of trying.  

But how do I talk about the film, without giving it all away, because I think the plot elements here are just too good to spoil.  I think what I'm going to do is talk about it indirectly, by referencing four other films, one of which is imaginary.  After all, the best films reference other films, especially in the sci-fi genre - you just can't make a film about an alien invasion, or interstellar travel, without paying some kind of homage to the films that have dealt with those subjects before.  And that leads me to: 

"2001: A Space Odyssey" - this Stanley Kubrick film is clearly referenced here.  And I love "2001", but I love its sequel film, "2010" (which also had John Lithgow in it) even more.  Why?  Because a lot of people get confused by the ending of "2010", with its intense time-warping dream sequence.  "2010" went a long way toward explaining what happened in "2001", telling us what happened after to the astronaut Dave Bowman, exactly why the computer HAL went crazy, the purpose of the monolith, and what it all meant for humanity.  My boss, who watches almost as many movies as I do, can't stand the ending because he doesn't understand it.  

I admit I had the inside track, because I read the books by Arthur C. Clarke - and there are FOUR of them, because he followed up "2010" with "2061" and then "3001".  In the later books Dave Bowman and HAL join with the monoliths to usher in a new golden age for humanity, making interstellar travel possible, and colonizing new worlds.  What does "Interstellar" borrow from "2001"?  Well, the talking TARS robot certainly reminds me of HAL, plus there's a mission to Jupiter in "2001" and a mission to Saturn in "Interstellar".  (In the original book of "2001", the mission was to Saturn, but the movie changed it to Jupiter for time's sake.)  Plus we have astronauts in suspended animation for the long trip, and an overall sense that there is another intelligence of sorts running the universe, and watching humanity develop over the centuries.  Sure, a lot of these things appear in many sci-fi stories, but they make me think of "2001".  

Then we have "The Black Hole", a Disney film from 1979, which was about a group of astronauts monitoring the title object, but really, this film was utter nonsense.  DisneyCorp was obviously trying to come up with a film to compete with "Star Wars", because this was decades before Lucasfilm was willing to sell them that franchise - hence the cutesy floating robots assisting the crew.  And human science was just starting to learn about black holes, which were believed to be collapsed stars with such gravity that nothing, not even light, could escape their pull.  So yeah, by all means, let's go send some people to get really close and study one.  But don't get too close, or you'll die - or will you?  Nobody really knows what happens when you get pulled into a black hole, so fuck it, let's try it.  Umm, that's just not how science is supposed to work.  

Stephen Hawking managed to somehow theorize everything we need to know about black holes, and he didn't even have to travel to see one up close, that mofo did it all in his HEAD.  Now that's smart - only I read something recently about how he's changed up his whole theory.  Originally Hawking said that if you get sucked into a black hole, that's it, you're crushed dead because of the gravity.  But now he's saying something about how if you go into a black hole, because of the quantum physics involved, you create two timelines, one in which you're crushed dead, and another where you're not.  
Another theory states that your mass, charge and angular momentum will get preserved, so that's good news, right?  You can do a web search on the "Thorne-Hawking-Preskill bet" if you don't mind your head exploding with all kinds of sciencey stuff.  

As a kid, I got worried when they said there was a black hole at the center of our galaxy - this means we're all doomed, right?  Oh, it would take millions of years to suck in our planet, so I guess I can breathe a little easier.  And for all we know, having a black hole at the center of a galaxy is no big deal, maybe they're what cause galaxies to be formed in the first place, or they help keep them together.  Anyway, the film "The Black Hole" really wimped out when it came to showing audiences what happened when people travel into a black hole, because that's essentially where the film ended.  Ooh, let's leave it up to people's imagination!  What a pussy way to end a sci-fi movie.  

That brings me to the 1997 film "Contact", which was also highly anticipated by me, since I'd read the book by Carl Sagan and had been fascinated by it.  (That film also starred Matthew McConaughey, but he didn't play an astronaut, he played the central character's potential boyfriend, a preacher of sorts who debated the meaning of faith with regards to alien life and interstellar travel.)  Like "2001", "Contact" set out to show the progress of the human race, and what happens after it receives a signal from outer space, eventually decoding the instructions to build a spacecraft that will send an astronaut across the galaxies, thanks to convenient wormholes.  (black holes?  Einstein-Rosen bridges?)
It's a great book, and it's one of the things that got me interested in filmmaking - I wanted so badly to film a version of it, or adapt it into a screenplay, but that was in 1985, and I was 16 or 17 years old, and I figured maybe I should go to film school if I wanted to have any shot at making that screenplay or that film, or any film even remotely like it.  So I went to NYU, then got involved in other projects, things that paid the bills, and someone else made the film "Contact" - which got many things right, but got spoiled by repeated shots of Jodie Foster staring dumbfounded into the camera.  Seriously, there must be a way to convey the majesty and beauty of space travel without your central character always looking like she just got punched in the face.  

"Interstellar" borrows quite a bit from "Contact" as well - a strong female scientist character with an absent father, for example.  And then there's that suggestion again, that someone or something is running the universe, just waiting for humans to take that first sail out into the cosmic ocean, and then making sure that we arrive OK.  Which sort of draws a comparison between faith in God and faith in extraterrestrial life, while ignoring the fact that faith and science don't usually mix all that well.  Do astrophysicists really fall into the same trap that religious people do, believing that some higher power is in charge of everything, including space/time?  I think that scientists are more likely to have faith in things like mathematics and Kepler's laws of planetary motion, rather than saying "Because aliens, that's why."  (OK, maybe for some people belief in E.T.s is equivalent to belief in God, because in both cases, the notion that we humans are all alone in the universe is just too dreadful to consider...)

The fourth film I want to reference is an imaginary one, because it only existed inside my head, after listening to the Boston Album "Third Stage" in 1986.  This was right after I entered film school, and the band Boston hadn't released an album in over a decade, so the rock world was abuzz.  The band's album artwork on their first two records had featured guitars as giant spaceships, but this time their whole album seemed to be ABOUT space travel, with songs like "Cool the Engines", "A New World", and an instrumental called "The Launch".  After a few listens, a movie started to play out in my head, and it was like a long-form music video about a crew of astronauts taking the first near-lightspeed trip to a planet in another solar system.  I even resolved the fact that the album opens with a song about one woman ("Amanda") and closes with a song about another ("Holly Ann") by reasoning that maybe the central astronaut character had to leave his wife, Amanda, behind and by the time he got back to Earth, his daughter, Holly Ann, would be an adult, and his wife would be much older than him (either because of suspended animation during the trip, or the relative nature of time due to near-lightspeed travel.)  

Needless to say, I never made that film either, partially because life got in the way, but also because I figured that famous rock bands weren't in the habit of letting 17-year olds with no filmmaking experience direct long-form music videos for them, and even if they were, I had no idea how to contact the band Boston or their management, and for that matter I had no idea how to make a music video or license the rights to a song or even write a pitch to do any of those things.  Besides, my main focus then was to get through film school and then figure out a way to get a job in the industry.  But I still see parts of that film I never made, every time I listen to that Boston album.  

But this brings me back to "Interstellar", because of the nature of the time/space continuum.  Without giving anything away, what is relativity and how does time pass differently for astronauts?  Well, if you believe that time is the fourth dimension, then whenever you're moving through space, you're also moving through time.  If you want to catch a bus, you need to know the location of the bus station (1st & 2nd dimensions), what level of the terminal the bus leaves from (3rd dimension) and what time it leaves (4th dimension).  And if you need to drive from New York to Boston, 200 miles away, you can figure that at an average speed of 50 mph, it will take you about 4 hours (not including rest stops).  Now, just expand that concept out into space, and you've got the space/time continuum.  The nearest star (except our sun) is 4.5 million light-years away, so if you could travel at light speed (which you can't), it would take you a mere 4.5 million years to get there.  

Relativity states that when a spaceship is traveling very fast, close to the speed of light, one's concept of time depends on where one is.  To someone watching the spaceship whiz by, it would appear to be going very fast, but the time on board would appear to be advancing more slowly.  To someone on board the ship, the universe would seem to be going by very quickly, and time outside the ship would appear to be advancing more quickly.  Einstein's thought experiments stated that people moving at different speeds would experience different time separations between events.  So perhaps a few seconds on board the spaceship would be equivalent to years for an outside observer.  We could send someone off on a very fast ship, and they might come back years later (by their clocks) to find that decades, even centuries, have passed by on Earth.  

Geez, I've written a whole essay on my favorite sci-fi films and on the theory of relativity, and I haven't even discussed "Interstellar" - or have I?  Looking back, I think I've told you everything, and I've also given away nothing.  Because Nolan went in a different direction than I expected, which is why I avoided as many spoilers as I could from reviews, and that's why I've avoided as many as I could while writing this review.  All you really need to know is that the film is set in the near future, and the Earth is close to having its resources used up, so it becomes imperative that someone gets to work on either finding a new planet, or figuring out a way for the human race to survive some other way.

Because fixing the planet is not an option, OK?  We couldn't fix the damn hole in the ozone layer, we couldn't agree on global warming, we couldn't get any real population control measures in place (God forbid, literally) and we never really gave solar power a chance.  See, THIS is why we can't have nice things.  Congratulations, humans, you broke the planet.  Congratulations, religious conservatives who are against birth control and oil companies who refused to consider the alternatives.  The hippies and the liberals were right all along, so enjoy what little time is left, future generations!

This is a fantastic set-up, and for the first two hours (out of three) the film really, really delivered for me.  But then it got all mucked up - for lack of a better term, Nolan "Inception"-ed his own story.  Is this the way space/time really works, or is this the way he needed it to work, to make the story that he wanted to tell?  I strongly suspect the latter.  Which is not a bad thing in itself, it just made a story that was supposed to have universal appeal come from a very personal place (I presume...).  And that's the trap of a time-travel (or a space-time travel) story - wanting to make the pieces fit together SO badly that you cut a few narrative corners here and there, shrug your shoulders and say "Because gravity, that's why." which in the end is just as bad as saying "Because aliens, that's why." or even "Because God, that's why."  

What ends up being universal is the stuff about parents and children - I don't have kids myself, but I can extrapolate, having been one.  Kids have to go to school, parents have to go to work, and so that relationship is always destined to become one where parents and kids are always saying good-bye to each other, whether it's for the day, or until next weekend, or until the end of the business trip, or if Mommy or Daddy have to go away for a much longer period.  OK, so space travel is a special case, but the principle is the same.  

And that's all I'm going to say, I swear.  I'm going to stop before I get myself in trouble.

Also starring Anne Hathaway (last seen in "The Devil Wears Prada"), Jessica Chastain (last seen in "Lawless"), Michael Caine (last seen in "Sleuth"), John Lithgow (last seen in "This Is 40"), Wes Bentley (last seen in "The Claim"), Matt Damon (last seen in "Stuck on You"), Casey Affleck (last seen in "Tower Heist"), David Gyasi, Topher Grace (last seen in "The Big Wedding"), Mackenzie Foy, the voice of Bill Irwin, with cameos from David Oyelowo (last seen in "The Last King of Scotland"), William Devane (last seen in "Family Plot"), Ellen Burstyn (last seen in "When a Man Loves a Woman").

RATING: 8 out of 10 blackboards full of equations

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dallas Buyers Club

Year 7, Day 266 - 9/23/15 - Movie #2,158

BEFORE: One whole week of McConnaughey, and I'm finally up to the film that won him the Best Actor Oscar for 2012.

THE PLOT: In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease.

AFTER: It's so incredible when an actor is willing to sacrifice his appearance and take a role in a film where he's not concerned about glamour, or his own personal image, where he can transform himself, gain or lose a lot of weight, disappear under a wig and basically get lost in a role, not just look like someone else, but in every essential way, to become someone else.  I'm speaking, of course, of Griffin Dunne, who was nearly unrecognizable, playing a down-and-out schlubby doctor who's lost his license and spends his days catering to terminal AIDS patients.

Oh, did you think I was talking about Matthew McConnaughey or Jared Leto?  Yeah, I guess they sort of went through the same acting process, and got a little bit of attention for their roles as an HIV-positive rodeo rider/electrician, and a transvestite drug addict.  Both roles required them to lose a lot of weight, so I guess maybe that's a little more difficult than letting yourself gain weight and scruffiness to play a discredited doctor. 

I don't know what process an actor usually goes through to lose weight, but I imagine that it's not much fun.  Ironically both characters have to spend time in the film eating healthy, after changing their diets to remove any processed foods that could be interfering with their vitamin-based treatments, and other medications.  (Yet, somehow, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are still used - guess old habits die hard in Texas...)

When McConnaughey's character, Ron Woodroof, is diagnosed with HIV, he doesn't want to believe it, because at the time it was still associated mainly with homosexual behavior, and in fact was originally called GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency, before scientists determined that the disease was not related to particular sexual behavior, even though it could be spread that way.  I remember some people mistakenly calling it "gay cancer" back then, before learning the facts about it.  This causes Woodroof to come into confrontation with his friends, and his own homophobia also.

But it's been said that nothing focuses a man like learning that he is going to die.  (In country music talk, that means "Live like you're dying.")  Instead of giving in, after being told that he has just 30 days to live, Woodruff seeks out new medications, new therapies, new ways of boosting his immune system, and not just accepting the very toxic AZT, which was the preferred experimental treatment at the time.  (Sure, it kills the virus - and just about everything else in your body with it...)  Woodruff finds a combination of legal drugs that works for him, and then sets about importing large quantities of it, to make money by selling them to other AIDS patients. 

This is going to be another case where my rating system falls short, because it's based on how much I enjoy a film.  Well, this film isn't necessarily meant to be enjoyed, but it's an extremely important film nonetheless.  AIDS was/is the most serious pandemic of our lifetimes, even if you're not a part of the queer movement, if you're a human you should have some compassion for the damage that this disease did over the years.  Progress was perhaps slowed because of homophobia, but oddly the gay rights movement became stronger over the years as the result of rallying to fight both the disease and people's stereotypes.  (And this topic is certainly more relevant than slavery, which ended in the U.S. about 150 years ago...)

The bull-riding seen at the end is a very powerful metaphor - I'm assuming that the bull is AIDS, but it could also represent life with AIDS, or life itself.  Every bull rider knows that he's going to get thrown from the bull - it's inevitable, but he doesn't know exactly how long he's going to last.  Nobody knows exactly when their own end will come, but it is inevitable - our goal is usually to stay up on that bull as long as we can, and that's what Ron Woodroof did. 

Also starring Jared Leto (last seen in "Alexander"), Jennifer Garner (last seen in "The Kingdom"), Steve Zahn, Denis O'Hare (last seen in "A Mighty Heart"), Griffin Dunne (last seen in "Stuck on You"), Dallas Roberts (last seen in "Shrink"), Michael O'Neill, J.D. Evermore (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Kevin Rankin (last seen in "White House Down"), Deneen Tyler.

RATING: 6 out of 10 prescription pads

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Year 7, Day 265 - 9/22/15 - Movie #2,157

BEFORE:  Day 6 of McConnaughey Mania, with just three to go after this one - but they're the three longest and most anticipated ones.  I don't know much about "Mud", I think I got it off cable just to fill up the disc with "Dallas Buyers Club".   My original plan was to watch "Interstellar" right after "Failure to Launch", because the names (sort of) both connect to space travel, but I'm going to stick with the chronology of McConnaughey's career.

THE PLOT:  Two young boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the vigilantes that are on his trail and to reunite him with his true love. 

AFTER: I get a real "Sling Blade" sort of vibe off of this one, not only because the film is set in the South, but also because that film was about (among other things) the relationship between a questionable man and a young boy, and here there's a relationship between a questionable man and two young boys.  The man in question here is named Mud, and that's not usually a good sign.  

The boys find Mud on an island, living in a boat that's stuck up in a tree after a flood of some kind.  That's what I was able to piece together, anyway, the Southern accents in this film are really thick, and it took me a while to understand what people were saying.  For the second half of the film, I turned the closed captioning on, and that made things a lot easier.  Eventually we learn that Mud is hiding from the law, and has plans to get the boat out of the tree, fix it up and sail away, spoiling the kids' plan for the greatest treehouse ever.  

Hmm, this is the third film in the McConnaughey chain to be about boats in some way, after "Amistad" and "Failure to Launch" - in the latter film he played a boat broker and went out sailing with his phony surrogate girlfriend.  I wonder if the actor has an affinity for boats in real life.  Look at that, Wikipedia says he sailed down the Amazon River in 2005 to promote the film "Sahara".  Interesting.

Without saying too much about why Mud is hiding out, it has everything to do with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Juniper.  For the sake of story convenience, she is staying at a nearby hotel, and the boys, in addition to bringing Mud food and supplies, are enlisted to carry messages between Mud and Juniper.  Meanwhile, the relationship problems of both one of the boys and his parents are explored, with a common thread, that of the transitory nature of relationships, largely due to fickle women.  

When you put this next to "Failure to Launch", that's a large coincidence - women are the players, the deceivers in both films, and the men are the faithful ones, the ones still hurt from their last relationship, and unable to recover or move on.  Obviously the audience is seeing just pieces and parts of the relationships in question, and there may be another side to the stories, but it's telling that what we do see always seems to put the blame squarely on the female side.  The fact that men tend to fly off the handle and act violently when things don't go their way couldn't have anything to do with it, now could it?  

This is a very slow-moving film, the story progresses at a snail's pace, but things do speed up near the end.  I admit I only made it halfway through before falling asleep, and I had to finish in the morning - but I'm glad I stuck with it.  I'm hard pressed to determine the point or moral of the film, though, other than that women are deceptive snakes, and that relationships are transitory.  And we get to learn the true meaning of the song "Help Me, Rhonda".  

But I can't help but feel that Mud's back-story was much more interesting than the one shown in this film.  There are so many references to that, as what took place before is slowly revealed, that I think we were shown the wrong time period in Mud's life.  My maxim "Show, don't tell" suggests that the earlier events would have made for a more interesting movie. 

Also starring Sam Shepard (last seen in "Crimes of the Heart"), Reese Witherspoon (last seen in "The Importance of Being Earnest"), Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Michael Shannon (last seen in "Revolutionary Road"), Joe Don Baker (last seen in "Tomorrow Never Dies"), Paul Sparks, Stuart Greer, Bonnie Sturdivant.

RATING: 4 out of 10 bonfires