May 16--"MUD" (PG-13)
3.5 out of 4 stars
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, TYE SHERIDAN, REESE WITHERSPOON, RAY MCKINNON, SAM SHEPARD, SARAH PAULSON
Part "Stand By Me" coming-of-age tale, part love story and part thriller, this sweet and serious movie is easily the best film of the year so far.
It doesn't earn that honor with big names, special effects or a script filled with heavy-handed moments.
This movie provides a look at folks living on riverboats along an Arkansas tributary of the Mississippi River, and does it by feeling real.
It had this reviewer mesmerized from the moment one of the two young protagonists mentions his young buddy's name, "Neckbone."
Seconds later, it's shortened a bit: "C'mon, Neck, Daddy's gonna be looking for me," the character says.
Much of the buzz from this little movie shot on location in a small town has been about star Matthew McConaughey, and he's great as a superstitious rambler named Mud on the run from the law, hiding on an island in the Mississippi.
But it's the young leads Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone who give the film its soul.
We see the town, the river and the possibilities of love through the eyes of these young 14-year-olds.
They're just part of a strong cast. Ellis' parents, played by Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon, are convincing and sad as a couple torn apart by her desire to finally get off the river.
Sam Shepard is solid as the neighbor who lends some insight into this Mud character, and Reese Witherspoon is the lovely Juniper who may not be the winner Mud thinks she is.
Toss in young Ellis' young love and the boys' attempts to help Mud escape and connect with his true love, and this is a film that can grab you in many different ways.
McConaughey is a force of nature, delivering a striking performance in a string of notable roles in smaller, independent films.
He's displayed a talent for playing characters with an edge, showing a range far more extensive than the hunky leading man he had too often phoned in for rom coms.
Aside from the romance and intrigue, what's striking about the film is the freedom the 14-year-olds have in their lives.
From small boats to bicycles to a motorcycle that can pull a trailer, they are the captains of their universe on the paths, the roads and waterways they seem in sync with until they meet Mud, who forces them to take a closer look at their situation. Both teenagers are inspired by this big talker with a palpable sense of hope, but they also struggle to decide whether he's for real, or just a man from the mud he's named for.
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking. 130 min. [RF]
"THE GREAT GATSBY" (PG-13)
2.5 out of 4 stars
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, TOBEY MAGUIRE, CAREY MULLIGAN, JOEL EDGERTON, ISLA FISHER
For the first act or so, director Baz Luhrmann seems determined to put his own flashy stamp on the novel read in class by most high schoolers.
The opening minutes are filled with incongruous rap music (hey, wasn't this the Jazz Age?) as well as flashy parties, 3-D effects and shots where cameras breathtakingly swoop along the landscapes of spots from Manhattan to Egg Harbor.
At best, it's distracting; at worst, it's silly.
Thankfully, he drops it soon enough, shifting to a more measured telling of this tale about a rich old sport named Gatsby who possesses an amazing capacity for hope.
Though he's a bad choice for the role it's tough to believe he can't get accepted by New York's privileged society when he has a preppy look that screams Harvard or J. Crew Leonardo DiCaprio does a credible job as the man seeking out his beloved Daisy.
Better cast are Carey Mulligan as Daisy and Tobey Maguire as Nick, Gatsby's neighbor and friend who also narrates the movie.
Once the various plot points begin to play out, the power of the tale and talents of a solid cast take over and you're pulled into a story that's sad in so many ways.
If you can forget how much better Robert Redford, Bruce Dern and Mia Farrow did all this a few decades back, this "Gatsby" isn't half bad, old sport.
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language. 142 min. [MC, PV, RA]
2 out of 4 stars
KERRY WASHINGTON, DAVID ALAN GRIER, S. EPATHA MERKERSON, DIAHANN CARROLL
With a cast that's obviously talented, boasting Diahann Carroll and more, you find yourself pulling for this silly comedy, only to have it disappoint you. Often.
Any movie that starts with a main character singing songs for youngsters about the virtues of not wetting their pants is in trouble.
There are a few funny moments as Wade (Craig Robinson) tries to impress his girlfriend's father on a retreat to the Hamptons, but the moments that make you groan come far more frequently.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language. 95 min. [MC, RA, RF]
(c)2013 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)
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