Directed by Jeff Nichols
Opens April 26
Despite the distracting prosthetics of his faux snaggletooth, Matthew McConaughey, continuing his departure from rom-com schlock, delivers his finest performance to date in Mud, the latest offering from talented director Jeff Nichols.
14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) is thrust into manhood as he bears witness to the struggles and imperfections of his parents. He and his best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), make their way to an island said to be home to a boat stuck high in an old oak tree. The excitement the boys exude when they first see the vessel is palpable. Audiences will recall similar, though likely less grandiose discoveries from their time adventuring in the woods, and chuckle as the two find a stack of Penthouse magazines in the ship's cupboard.
Before the boys can enjoy their newfound treasure, they encounter a sun-dried drifter who has already laid claim to the boat. The man (McConaughey) identifies himself as Mud and tells them that he killed a man to protect Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), the femme fatale who is in town, waiting for rescue. As Mud asks them for help, Ellis sees the seemingly noble quest as hope for the crumbling marriage of his own parents. The boys agree to, communicating with Juniper for Mud, bringing food and eventually parts for the boat which Mud intends to use for his escape. This is no easy task, as a crew of armed thugs and bounty hunters searching for Mud lurks outside the motel where Juniper stays and interrogates the boys.
While there are hints of action and suspense, the film truly shines in its cinematography and nuanced performances. The young Tye Sheridan continues to impress, improving upon his breakthrough performance in Tree of Life.
Mud is more of a character study than an adventure tale and suffers some pacing issues because of it. That and some heavy-handed foreshadowing keep the film from reaching its full potential, but those flaws aside, Mud comes across as more than a Southern-twanged melodrama. Its beautifully crafted take on classic Americana uplifts its audience. (Ryan Freeman)
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Oblivion begins as assured working-class sci-fi and ends up as a half-hearted space opera. Our hero, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), flies around and repairs drones that protect what's left of barren Earth from a faceless force from another planet. An inspired pre-credits montage explains how the world got to be so screwy-aliens blew up the moon, changing Earth's weather, ruining its surface. Before you know it, though, the movie catches the big-budget epic bug and abandons its patient presentation of a workaday existence in 2077. A mysterious woman appears (Olga Kurylenko), Morgan Freeman shows up as a revolutionary and explains that the good guys are the bad guys, and Harper finds himself saving the world.
Luxuriating in a cold, dead future elicits some Kubrick vibes, but Cruise portrays Harper as a macho sentimentalist moved by all this useless junk left lying around (books, football stadiums, nature) and longing for a wife he maybe never had. It affords the messy movie a little heart, which it needs. When he hands a flower to his co-worker (and kind of lover, played by Andrea Riseborough), she immediately throws it out the window for fear of contamination. It's a curt, effective characterization. But it's also cheap, because she's correct about some plant from bombed-out Earth potentially killing them both. That's Oblivion's deal, pretty much: clever scenes that are only effective if you don't think about them very hard.
Once Oblivion attempts anything more than atmosphere, it stops making sense (and not in a just-go-with-it Prometheus way either); cribs half-clever twists from Moon, Total Recall, and The Twilight Zone; and calls it a day. Still, there are stunning moments-shots of the moon, half-destroyed, still in orbit, like a stain in the sky, rank among the most memorable images this year so far. And a palpable sense of too-in-love-for-this-world romantic longing, furthered by the always-arpeggiating M83 score, makes the tone-deaf plotting negligible. Also noteworthy is a movie in 2013 willing to acknowledge the quotidian use of drones. If only this were as dumb as Hollywood sci-fi gets. (Brandon Soderberg)
Directed by Ken Scott
Opens at the Charles Theatre May 3
If loving your family and cheerfulness strike you as lame, then Starbuck-about a man who unknowingly fathers 533 children-is not for you. If, however, you can stomach a happy-go-lucky movie, the 2011 Canadian film offers a well-made pleasure cruise that isn't at all saccharine.
Over a 23-month period from 1988 to 1990, young David Wozniak donated sperm 693 times at the same clinic for $35 bucks a load. Before the credits roll, we see the young man in a sterile room with a stack of girlie mags.
In present day, a jock-ish, haphazard 40-something David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) works for his family's slaughterhouse in Montreal as a meat deliveryman (his vocation is a little too on the nose for a man whose swimmers succeed as often as Wozniak's, but it plays). David's father and two brothers-his mom is deceased-obviously regard him as the family fuck-up. He's $80,000 in the hole for some unnamed debt and has bruisers breaking into his apartment demanding the money. He's unsuccessfully growing weed in his apartment to try to make some extra cash. And he's just knocked up his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Valérie (Julie LeBreton), who's none too pleased about it. Valérie turns David away at her door; he shows uncertainty about fatherhood.
This news coincides with a lawsuit filed by 142 of David's offspring against the fertility clinic to reveal his identity. (He masturbated under the alias "Starbuck," the name of a bull that sired hundreds of thousands of calves in the '80s and '90s.) As David ponders the tack he should take with Valérie, he's confronted with an envelope filled with bios of the various sons and daughters who want to know their biological father's identity. Reluctantly at first, but later with gusto, he begins a quest to anonymously parent them all.
Starbuck develops rapidly, and the unreliable Wozniak that the opening scenes establish evaporates slowly as his more defining, admirable characteristics shine through. He seeks to become a better man, and it feels good to watch-like a more mature, more layered version of Knocked Up. Starbuck's American remake, Delivery Man, is due out in October of this year; we hope it does this original due justice. (Jenn Ladd)
Directed by Drew Bolduc and Dan Nelson
Plays at the Autograph Playhouse April 26, 9:30 p.m., as part of Mondo Baltimore's Pity Party
Part of Mondo Baltimore's Pity Party "Tromapalooza" lineup, this zooted release from the production company still best known for The Toxic Avenger is a hot mess of dumb dick jokes ("Stimulate the dick receptors," a dead-serious scientist exclaims), John Watersian over-the-top dialogue ("It's your fuckin' grandpa, I hate that asshole," husband tells wife upon answering the phone), and-inexplicably-mumblecore-chic camerawork. And just consider the plot of The Taint: A make-your-penis-bigger super serum gets into the water and turns men into raging, boner-popping, head-smashing misogynist assholes. The result is a post-apocalypse situation, with women living in constant fear of the infected and still-healthy dudes, both of whom capitalize on the end-of-times deal and rape and pillage for kicks. The only redeeming male character is Phil (played by director Bolduc), a hipster doofus who teams up with Misandra, a shotgun-toting badass, to take out these sexist jerks.
Sure, the whole thing is ridiculous, but we're treated to the simple rewards of low-stakes cinema here. A Gummo-meets-Flashdance montage introducing an evil gym teacher character-imagine Booger from Revenge of the Nerds in the Ogre frat-prick role working out to budget Billy Squier-oozes goofy menace. Thanks to sophisticated doses of sympathy doled out to the female characters, directors Bolduc and Nelson wisely differentiate their movie from, well, the past 50 years or so of C-grade T&A fare. The Taint presents a ridiculous, nightmarish vision of a world in which millennial males are just a few misfired synapses away from turning real life into an even more hellish version of the stuff they watch on YouPorn. Where else can you see that? This kind of homespun exploitation cinema just doesn't get made all that much anymore. (BS)
Mondo Baltimore's Pity Party runs April 26 and 27 at the Autograph Playhouse. For the full lineup of flicks and more information, visit mondobaltimore.com.