Saturday, April 27, 2013


The Way 0f the River                           
by Mark Dispenza

Mud is a coming of age tale that echos the stories of Mark Twain.

Although the film is set in contemporary Arkansas, the lives of the people who derive their living from the mighty Mississippi aren't so different from their ancestors of a century ago.  It's here that Ellis, played by Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life), and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two young men caught between the responsibilities of adulthood and the wonder of childhood, rush to complete their chores so they can sneak out to find adventure.

Find it they do.  They go out to a small island in the middle of the river to locate the wreck of a boat that became lodged in a tree during the last big flood.  They hope to make it their secret hideaway, but someone has beat them to it. "Mud," played by Matthew McConaughey, has made it his temporary hideout, while he awaits rendezvous and escape with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), the love of his life.

Matthew McConaughey

Mud is a fugitive from the law, and while he does not want to attract attention to his location, he finds the boys to be useful and all too willing allies he can use to make supply runs without giving himself away.  Over the course of a few days, Ellis learns a lot about love and personal responsibility, and he has an incredible adventure while doing so.

Reese Witherspoon

This is a story well-told and a very entertaining way to spend two hours at the movies.  Writer-director Jeff Nichols, best known previously for Take Shelter, confirms his status as a filmmaker who knows how to spin a good yarn and keep the audience completely mesmerized for the duration.  The cast includes Nichols veteran, Michael Shannon, and Sam Shepard in standout supporting roles.

The river itself is a character in the film, which is partially a tribute to the rapidly dwindling population of rural river dwellers, soon to be a vanished breed.  Mark Twain would be proud.

"The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise..."

Mark Twain in Eruption

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Room 237

Signs and Interpretations                
by Zac Ryan

It has long been known that was a perfectionist, sometimes calling for hundreds of takes with the same line read over and over, just to get the right nuance and emotion from the actor. To say everything that ends up on the screen was meticulously planned and planted by the iconic filmmaker may be a stretch, but Room 237 goes into great depths to bring to light several conspiracy theorists and lovers of The Shining to highlight the little nuances that indicate there may be something deeper there than an adaption of the best-selling Stephen King novel - an adaptation that the author hated so much that he made sure the film was remade into a less-than-stellar, but more faithful miniseries adaptation.

In this day and age of the internet, there are countless conspiracy theorists with a forum to tout their ideas to the public. Several years ago on the web,  I first came across the documentary's craziest of assertions, that Kubrick used the film as a confession that he was hired by NASA to fake the first moon landing. Clues validating that theory can be found by watching the film with an obsessive eye through countless viewings. Even that theorist, one of the many disembodied voices of the documentary, claims that while what we saw on television was faked, NASA did in fact land on the moon. It may be a crazy pill to swallow, but this obsessive viewer isn't the only one to find a deeper meaning in Kubrick's film.

Room 237 is filled with accounts of what Kubrick may have been trying to say, and if he were alive today, he may have been filled with glee to see so many different interpretations, only to stay mum about why the film diverges so far from King's original novel. Two of the doc's other subjects feel Kubrick was trying to deliver a message about genocide. One find clues behind the Calumet powder cans on the Overlook Hotel's supply shelves, with their depiction of a native American on the label, and believes that Kubrick was trying to bring to light the demise of the American Indian. Another theorist sees a deeper message in the recurrence of the number 42, along with different divisions and multiplications of that number, as a sign of the Nazis and a reference to the holocaust.

The last of the conspiracies goes into great detail about the layout of the hotel, including the patterns in the carpet and how Danny's ride on his tricycle is totally impossible. It is one of the most plausible and interesting of the takes. But honestly, anyone who has ever worked on a film set knows that everything cannot align perfectly or make total sense spatially. Films are filled with countless continuity errors, usually missed by everyone on set, including the director, that aren't noticed until the film is watched several times. Every film's page on IMDb will have at least one of these errors listed, but with Kubrick's madness, could there be any meaning beyond that, or were they just mistakes? We may never know.

doesn't bring anyone on to counter his subjects' asinine ideas and theories, but the film still works. Each theory is given in voiceover, without identifying the theorist, and it works. Scenes from The Shining and other Kubrick films are shown over and over in detail, with occasional stock footage or alternate film scenes, to clue us in on what might be seen. Maybe they're right, or maybe they're nuts, and that's why we don't want to see what the theorists look like. Their appearance will not cloud our perception.

Room 237 takes obsessive culture to a new realm, and even if the film does drag on a bit in its 100+ minute runtime, I immediately wanted to watch The Shining again to see if I could find any other tidbits that Kubrick may have hidden or mistakes in continuity that weren't meant as anything more. Cinephiles, Kubrick fans and those who like dissecting conspiracy theories will dig the film, but outside of that small demographic, viewers may be left wanting a little more.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Sapphires

A Really Good Show                                    
by Mark Dispenza

The latest film from the land down under is formulaic, predictable and loads of fun.

The Sapphires has a simple story line that's a proven crowd-pleaser.  It's shades of Disney's Cool Runnings infused with American Idol, or rather, Australian Idol in this case.  An alcoholic, disillusioned white guy stumbles upon four Aboriginal girls with big dreams and unrefined talent.  They convince him to become their manager and whip them into shape for the big time - the opportunity to join a USO tour of Vietnam.

It's easy to root for these underdogs.  Each character faces a unique personal challenge, and watching them grow and develop together is fun to watch.  In the end they overcome their differences, come closer together, and talent manager Dave Lovelace, played to perfection by Chris O'Dowd, finds that he learns a lot more from the girls than they will ever learn from him.

Chris O'Dowd and Deborah Mailman

The film is a nostalgic journey back to 1968, a year of Motown hits, global upheaval and a new era of civil rights for black people in both Australia and the United States.  The girls have mixed race parentage and they are survivors of a shameful period in Australian history, when mixed race children were often taken from their parents and forced to live a segregated lifestyle on special reserves or missions.

Fortunately the politics of the Vietnam War are not rehashed in this story, although the dangers and personal sacrifice experienced by the troops are much in evidence.  This tale is all about the girls and their personal journeys together.  Director Wayne Blair, an Aborigine himself, gets it right and he keeps true to the spirit of the Tony Briggs play on which the film is based.   The play was inspired by the true story of Briggs' mother, Laurel Robinson, and his aunt, Lois Peeler, who actually sang in a USO tour of Vietnam in 1968.

The Sapphires doesn't break new ground in filmmaking or story development, but sometimes it's fun to just sit back and enjoy the show.