Tag Archives: Sam Shepard

Cold in July (2014)

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An ordinary man undergoes extraordinary duress that has the potential to break him or change him forever. This is the basic premise of “Cold in July,” a bloody Southern-fried thriller that is undeniably slick in execution yet nevertheless manages to maintain a higher level of realism than many films of it’s ilk. But “Cold in July” still managed to surprise me, going in a direction I had never expected and growing twistier by the minute.

Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, Dexter) is an average schmoe who kills a home invader accidentally-ish and must protect his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and son (Brogan Hall) when a man who appears to be the intruder’s father (Sam Shepard) threatens their lives. But just when you think the grizzled old goon’s going to be the lead antagonist and pull the conflict toward a predictable conclusion- Bam!- the plot swerves another direction entirely. It’s surprising and actually really cool to see Ben (Shepard,) Richard (Hall) and a slick-as-ice good ol’ boy named Jim Bob (who ‘knows a guy who knows a guy,’ to quote Breaking Bad‘s Saul,) played by Don Johnson, join forces to fight a greater evil.

The effect of this movie is not dissimilar is digging into a happy meal to find a prize that totally isn’t what you expected, but hey, looks pretty good on your bureau after all. The color scheme is wild and crazy, and above all, striking– most scenes are shot with a filter that seem to cloak the environment either in orange and yellow or an intense cyan color. This is a daring move on the cinematographer’s part, although sometimes it doesn’t quite work- the colors are at times so turned-up that it’s hard to focus on anything else.

The Electronica-heavy soundtrack might turn off some potential viewers and drive others to agitation, but it was just fine by me. Another radically unique way they set up the movie is the atypical portrayal of action hero Richard. Unlike most of these kinds of movies, it doesn’t seem that Richard enjoys killing, although he feels compelled to do it later on in the film. The killing of the burglar is messy and violent, but neither Richard nor the filmmaker seem to particularly take glee in it.

After the event, Richard seems visibly shaken, which is a powerful anecdote to all those testosterone fueled protagonists who take pride in their first kills. When Richard kills again, it is a out of a sense of duty to his companions, but he still doesn’t seem to get any enjoyment out of it. He’s not the quipping, sneering hero of 80’s action movies. He is you. He is me. He doesn’t really know how to handle a gun, but he wields one anyway because it is what is expected of a Southern father and husband. Whether it serves him well is ultimately up to you to decide.

There are unrealistic moments in “Cold in July” (like Richard dodging machine gun shells towards the end of the film, I mean come on!,) but if you’re looking for something quite different from your average, run-of-the-mill action flick, I suggest you give this solid little thriller a try.

Warning– As the stream of violence is continual and gruesome (and because of a scene of violence against women,) weak stomachs may want to steer clear of  this gory, gutsy revenge flick.

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Mud (2012)

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“Mud” is director Jeff Nichol’s third feature following the intriguing ‘crazy… or not?’ rural thriller “Take Shelter.” As impressive as “Take Shelter” (and Michael Shannon) were, I think “Mud” trumps it, delivering an arresting and fascinating plot that is, above all, I think, a coming-of-age story. Young Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives alongside the Mississippi River in a boat with his quarreling parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson.) The boat is in danger of being taken down for complicated legal reasons, and Ellis must contend with both the possibility of losing the only home he has ever known and the disintegration of his parents’ marriage.

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Ellis’ best pal is Neckbone (Jacob Lofland,) and the two go on adventures that us overprotected Suburban kids can only dream of. They take a boat down the river and to a island, where a storm has tossed a boat in a tree. “This is our boat,’ they declare, as they climb the tree and into their new abode. Turns out the tree and boat are already occupied- by a man called Mud (Matthew McConaughey,) an eccentric loner on the run from the law. Mud needs food- and the more idealistic Ellis complies, while Neckbone keeps his distance.

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Mud professes his love for Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) to the boys, and Ellis is sucked in by his tale of chivalry and true love, and decides to help him. But Ellis soon realizes that relationships are a lot more complicated than he had first assumed, and this is mirrored by his attempts to engage the interest of pretty yet fickle teen May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant.) Growing up is hard. But when you’re fighting for your life (as Ellis soon is when men come looking for Mud,) there isn’t a lot of room for mistakes.boat

Yes, McConaughey is great here, but I think the main kudos belongs to Tye Sheridan as Ellis. Together Sheridan, and the director, propel this film past common coming-of-age territory.  One asset is the unique setting of the film. I’ve been on these roads, I’ve seen these landmarks. Okay, not literally, but I live in a similar area, a place that, similarly, would not generally be portrayed in the movies. A hundred times I’ve gotten a snack or a soda from a gas station identical to the one’s in this town.

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“Mud” has a feeling of gritty realism without ugly attempts to make Southerners into nasty toothless pieces of human waste. The characters are three-dimensional and sympathetically wrought; there’s a certain complexity that fits with the boy, Ellis’, increasing awareness of the adult world.  I simultaneously felt jealous for Ellis’ childhood of freedom and closeness with a best friend and worried for him as he navigates difficult social mores, hits emotional milestones and is actually physically endangered at times. Life’s not easy when you’re a plucky teen who’s better at getting into fistfights than getting out of them.

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The whole cast is great here, and Michael Shannon, who was brilliant in “Take Shelter,” features again as Neckbone’s Uncle Galen, a shameless bad influence.  We don’t live as far down South as Ellis and his family and friends so I missed the chance to be named ‘Neckbone’ or ‘Mud.’  What a pity.

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I can’t help being reminded of the 1999 English film “A Room For Romeo Brass,” a movie about two undersupervised kids who fall in with a shady man with a dynamic personality. Both start similarly but end quite differently, as “…Romeo Brass”‘s eccentric adult companion turns out to be all kinds of crazy. I highly recommend both as looks at a most unusual male adolescence.

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“Mud” is a compelling watch that becomes a mite implausible in the end stand-off. This didn’t bother me particularly because it is, after all, a movie.  Matthew  McConaughey uglifies for this role (what is  with that buck-toothed thing he does throughout?) and proves, once again, he is not just a pretty face. Tye Sheridan is thoroughly captivating in the lead role. I hope to see more of him shortly. A good way to spend 2+ hours.

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