Archive for the ‘Sam Shepard’ Category

MOVIE: Mud (2013)

June 12, 2013

mudEllis and his BFF Neckbone (“Neck” for short, because: obvs), are 14 year-old boys growing up poor in Arkansas.  Ellis lives on a houseboat on the Mississippi — his father is a fisherman — and he and Neck spend a lot of their free time zipping up and down the waterways in a boat, exploring the myriad islands that pepper the region.

One day, Neck takes Ellis to one of those island, eager to show him a discovery.  Out exploring, see, he’d come across the coolest thing — a big speedboat (I guess; I know naught of boats) stuck at the top of a tree, probably in the aftermath of a flood.  Excited to have found what amounts to a free tree house, the boys climb up and begin to explore, only to find the lower deck stocked with fresh food, a sure sign someone else got there first.

Just minutes later, they meet exactly whom — a tall, lanky, grubby-looking character named Mud (McConaughey).  Though Neck is wary, Ellis is immediately taken in by Mud’s personality, and his story.  He’s there, he tells the boys, waiting for the love of his life, Juniper (Witherspoon), to show up so the two of them can run away together.  The hitch?  He killed her last boyfriend in a fight — protecting Juniper, he says — and that guy’s extremely violent family is out for revenge.  What he needs is for Ellis and Neck to get him the supplies necessary to get the boat down and running again, and to find Juniper and pass her a few notes about the plan.

Neck is pretty “no way,” but Ellis, currently watching his parents’ marriage — and thus his whole world — crumble around him, is inspired by Mud’s yarns of everlasting love in the face of strife.  Which is how he quickly finds himself smack in the middle of Mud’s problems, danger (physical and emotional) and all.

This is a really beautifully made and thoughtful film, with astonishingly solid acting chops on both the boys at its helm.  The kid who plays Ellis in particular (Tye Sheridan) exhibits an incredible depth in a very 14 year-old sort of way (“I know everything, I am brave; I know nothing, I am afraid” is how I would describe that way).  The river as metaphor for the unknown, unforeseeable, and slightly scary paths we travel as we grow up works as well as it always does (think Huck Finn).

McConaughey employs his usual charms here, but this time with a hint of the unbalanced thrown in for good measure and to good effect.  He also gets an A for effort at looking ugly, never easy for him, though in putting in the crooked teeth, they might’ve made them slightly less Tony-Curtis-in-The-Great-Race white (*gleam*).  Mud is a complicated man with a complicated past, and he’s battling a set of very serious demons, as well as more than one delusion.  Watching Ellis get sucked into the “romance” of Mud’s life, only to get a series of smacks in the face from reality in response, is an incredibly gripping and moving experience.

Also:  Sam Shepard.  ‘Nuff said.

Highly, highly recommended!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Drama
Cast:  Matthew McConaughey, Michael Shannon, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Tye Sheridan, Joe Don Baker, Jacob Lofland

MOVIE: Killing Them Softly (2012)

April 1, 2013

killinghtmeThis movie is about a hit man, played by Brad Pitt, hired to take out two idiots who rob a poker. . .

. . . zzzzzzzz . . .

And then there’s something about Obama calling us a “community” but how we’re not really a community because everybody’s all alone in this miserable world of constant fakin’ it. The end.

(I don’t know — you watch it and tell me.)

[Netflix | Buy/Rent from Amazon]

Genre: Obfuscation
Cast:  Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Vincent Curatola, Max Casella, Sam Shepard

MOVIE: Safe House (2012)

June 22, 2012

Aside from the fact I’ve now decided Ryan Reynolds is the most boringest actor OF ALL TIME, I actually enjoyed this thriller, which was my Pay-Per-View pick at a recent librarian conference (my first night in a hotel for a conference, I always iron all my clothes while eating room service and watching a PPV movie — it’s a tradition).  The story’s about two CIA agents — a n00b, Matt Weston (Reynolds), and a old-timer-gone-rogue, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) — who begin as guard and prisoner and end as hesitant partners at work against a force of corruption on the inside.

As the movie opens, Weston is frustrated with his stale career at the CIA.  His assignment has been to sit on a safe house in a foreign country (I forget where, but it isn’t important), waiting around for someone to need it.  Nobody ever does, though, so in his off-hours, he’s cultivated a personal life — engaged to a beautiful woman who has no idea what he really does for a living.  (And yep, THAT’S coming back to bite him in the ass later in the film, believe you me.  Fellas, why do you insist on lying to your ladies about your secret agent jobs?  It just never ends well.  Never ever ever.  Ever.  Or ever.)

Matt’s life is about to get a lot more exciting, though.  Infamous agent Tobin Frost has just turned himself into the CIA, claiming he’s in possession of some super-seekrit data (the movie’s MacGuffin — most spy flicks gotta have one) that a group of bad guys would kill for.  To protect him (while also torturing him for information — ah, the irony of the US government!), the CIA takes him to the closest safe house — Matt’s.  And though Matt’s initially treated like a servant by the agents guarding Frost, who think of him as a rookie not ready to take on anything major, it’s not long before Weston finds himself on the run with Tobin, trying to hold onto him as a prisoner while also keeping them both from being killed by the aforementioned group of bad guys.

Cue chase scenes.  About ten thousand of them.

From there, the story takes a pretty predictable path.  If you’ve ever seen a Hollywood movie — especially one starring Denzel Washington — then you know how this is going to end.  The protagonists start out as enemies, Weston’s youthful idealism keeping him from believing Frost’s story of massive government corruption.  But as the evidence piles up (along with the bodies), that idealism is replaced by savvy grown-up cynicism, Weston ultimately revealing himself to be a talented agent with great instincts for the job.  Frost and Weston end up working together to solve the mystery at hand, and, you know, tidy little ending, blah blah blah.

There’s nothing in this film you haven’t seen a hundred times before, in other words, but what makes it entertaining is — well, hell, I don’t know.  Something.  Something other than Ryan Reynolds who, MY GOD, is just the blandest person alive.  Washington does what he always does, though, which is something I happen to like, so he’s fun to watch.  And the rest of the cast is strong as well — Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard (mrrrowl!) and good ol’ ex-Boyfriend Liam Cunningham, who is always a pleasure.

All in all, well worth a rental.

[Prequeue at Netflix]

Genre:  Action, Spy
Cast:  Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham

MOVIE: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

March 17, 2008

Many, many years ago, I read the novel on which this movie is based. I’d picked it up at a bookstore one day because the title had given me a chuckle. Not the part of the title in which it is told to us that it’s about Jesse James getting assassinated (a couple of weeks ago, by the way, a friend of mine asked me what this movie was “about,” and I was all, “Um, did you just ask me what a movie entitled ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ was ABOUT?”). But instead the whole title itself, which is so reminiscent of those old — oh hell, what are those things called? Not dime novels, which came later, but the little books they used to write about Western heroes back in the 1800’s? The ones about the Earps, Doc Holliday, and, of course, Jesse James.

It’s been years now since I read Hansen’s novel, and though I remember really enjoying it, I don’t remember anything else about it. When I heard it was being made into a movie with Brad Pitt as Jesse and Sam Shepard as his brother Frank, though, my reaction was one of unbridled glee. First of all, we need more Westerns. And second, Brad may be just ridiculously gorgeous, but he is also, without a doubt, a truly talented actor with an extremely wide range. I could see Brad doing James pretty easily. And what’s more, I really WANTED to see Brad doing James.

Unfortunately, as a film, I have to say this one fell a bit flat for me. Part of the problem with this movie is that it tries to get too arty for its own good. I started out loving the gorgeous scenery — the pause when the train comes around and you see its lights glowing through the trees, the sweeping prairie shots, etc. But once it started moving towards (and then past) the 120 minute mark, I confess I got a bit impatient. Westerns are often full of rambling slow moments of sweeping scenery — consider the ubiquitous tumbleweed shot — it’s one of their trademarks, really. But in a GOOD Western, the scenery should feel more like an extension of the cowboy himself, rather than an attempt on the part of the director to win an award for cinematography. Here, it just felt too heavy-handedly like the latter. To me, anyway.

And as for Brad Pitt’s Jesse James, he takes a quintessential American hero/anti-hero and turns him into. . . yaaaaawn, I’m sorry, were you saying something? I nodded off there for a second.

Know what I mean?

I appreciated that, for once, a movie about Jesse James made the attempt to demonstrate that he was, in fact, a really bad guy (compare to, for example, unBoyfriend Colin Farrell’s James in American Outlaws). Pitt’s James is clearly violent, lugging around some pretty intense mental and emotional demons (take the scene in the barn with the kid, for example). But his attempt to do “troubled and intense” mostly seemed to involve sitting around looking stony-faced, and it just didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid.

Casey Affleck, on the other hand, is just plain genius as Robert Ford. About twenty minutes into this film, it occurred to me that what I was watching was actually Single White Female with dudes on horseback — it really is the same story. It’s the tale of a young man totally infatuated with the person he thinks lives the perfect, most ideal life imaginable. Infatuated to the point of obsession. But it’s not that Bob wants to be partners with Jesse James, or even to earn his respect, really. It’s that he wants to BE Jesse James. The more he comes to realize the only person who can be Jesse James is Jesse James, the more he starts to turn ye olde stalker message of “If I can’t have you, nobody can” into “If I can’t BE you, nobody can.” And it’s all kinda downhill from there for both parties.

As with Gone Baby Gone, Affleck brings an truly fascinating balance of innocence and toughness to his part. Even knowing, as we all do from the title, that Bob is going to kill his childhood hero by the end of the movie, we can’t help but feel sorry from him from the moment he enters the screen. He’s a sad, pathetic little wannabe, desperate to be taken seriously. But he doesn’t have the intelligence and strength to actually obtain greatness. So, he does what so many pathetic little wannabes do to try to become famous — he assassinates someone bigger than he is. And down in history he goes.

The last thirty minutes or so of this movie, focusing purely on the two Ford brothers (Bob’s brother Charley is played by Sam Rockwell, by the way), is one of the best parts of the entire film, in my opinion. It follows Bob and Charley’s respective regrets and downfalls as they first try to capitalize on the murder by turning it into a stage play, thinking they’ll be heroes for having brought down one of the notorious bandits ever, and finally realize they are even less respected than ever before (didn’t help, of course, that Bob shot Jesse in the back). This was a part of the story we don’t often see, and it was a part I found both intriguing and moving.

In any case, despite my minor complaints, I think this is a movie well worth seeing. I think it could’ve benefitted from stronger editing and better pacing, though. And, sorry to say it, someone other than Pitt in the title role. Nevertheless, Western fans will find much to enjoy here, and so will anyone interested in the history of an American legend.

(By the way, best version of that Jesse James song at the end of the film in the bar? The one by The Pogues.)

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Western
Cast: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider, Mary Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Jeremy Renner