Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Foster: Pigeon (Male)


New foster. Unsure what his mix is exactly... It’s a male, which I’m not ordinarily fond of. Specifically male puppies. Puppies are a handful in general but male puppies particularly enjoy marking their territory from the outset. You have to let him know from the moment that he attempts any dominant behavior that it isn’t going to fly, so you have to watch male puppies like a hawk for that very first moment… It’ll happen quick and it's so important that you catch it.

His name is Pigeon. He’s about 11 months old now. His former owner felt it necessary to drop him off at the shelter without filling out any paper work or giving any reason as to why the animal was being abandoned. Pigeon obviously required some shaping up from the time he arrived. As I mentioned earlier, he almost immediately began lifting his leg and claiming certain areas in my apartment his own but he’s growing out of that habit.

Unfortunately, Pigeon’s former owner clearly didn’t exercise very much discipline; He’s gnawed at my face once or twice but never in a threatening or hurtful manner. Always playful. However, that’s another dominant behavior that I've spent a lot of time stamping out with him and he's made tons of progress. I’m not opposed to gnawing on fingers when a puppy is teething but when the puppy thinks it’s okay to put his mouth on another person’s face, then gnawing on fingers or anything needs to be stamped out altogether. Pigeon is a puppy that needs a dominant owner but having said all this, he’s an amazing pup who has an immense amount of love to give.

He loves being cuddled, he loves being pet, and in general, he’s just loves to hang out. Pigeon likes three things: eating, playing and cuddling. I have a dog of my own who’s very dominant and playful so she’s been particularly stimulating for Pigeon in that regard. He’s getting stronger and stronger everyday as a result. She’s also managed to teach him to walk on a leash properly. When I first walked Pigeon on his own he was a complete mess, veering left and right. Beyond unfocused. When I brought Leeloo along, I remained persistent with keeping him alongside her at all times and as a result he began walking on a leash properly. He’ll get too excited at the beginning and try to run ahead of you but it’s important to make sure that you are the first person to exit the door and that he is following you out...

Pigeon has caught on to everything quickly. He’s a smart, playful, beautiful little puppy and anyone who adopts him would be lucky to have him. He’s also particularly gentle. My best friends have a small 4-month old pup named Lily who is an absolute angel and very fragile. Lily and Pigeon started rough housing a little but Pigeon was noticeably more patient and gentle with Lily versus my dog who was equal to his size and strength, if not more. Lily would give up very quickly due to Pigeon’s size versus her own but he would make gentle attempts at playing with her.

He's shown absolutely no signs of aggression thus far. Not one. Even when he’s been disciplined for doing something wrong, he’s shown absolutely no aggression. He’s an insanely gentle guy with lots of love to give. By the time I’ve finished training him, I don’t know how he won’t be adopted at the next adoption fair.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Movie Review: SNOWPIERCER



There are some films that have such an intensely realized vision on-screen that what’s unfolding in front of you transcends the movie theater and becomes a window into another world. For two hours, Joon-ho Bong’s SNOWPIERCER offers viewers a window into a post-apocalyptic world where most of Earth’s remaining population has perished in a frozen winter and distributed themselves throughout multiple cars of a fast moving train. If the train is stopped, it could mean the end of the human race. The train, if you haven’t guessed, is what the film’s title refers to and is separated by two sides: the front and the back. The back is for the poor and as you may have also guessed, it’s cramped and overcrowded while the front portion of the train is for the rich and privileged. The front portion of the train enforces their will upon the back portion, keeping them in check and away from their side of the tracks. The story lies in the breaking of that balance and what that could mean for the survival of humanity.

None of the characters are entirely good people, they are simply victims of circumstance. The closest anyone comes to being a “good guy” is maybe John Hurt, but outside of that everyone has a secret or a past they’re ashamed of that when revealed changes the way you saw the character a moment prior. No one in the film is an infallible saint and though the film’s premise is simple at heart, the characters and their relationships are anything but. The casting of Evans, who plays one of the lead characters, Curtis, was particularly effective due to his association with the iconic superhero Captain America and because of that fame he stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the cast, but his character reveals are all the more effective for this reason. In other words, despite his enormous star power, he still managed to feel human and real, which goes for the rest of the cast. I felt like I could touch their filthy, grimy skin from my seat. At some point during the movie, there’s a tracking shot behind Evans, and he’s walking over a bridge towards something I can’t reveal without spoilers being involved and there was something in that moment, perhaps the perfect unison of story, character, sound, camera, etc., I’m not sure, but I’d realized something rare had occurred: I was in a trance, and had been for the entirety of the film’s runtime.

The cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong, who also shot MOTHER for director Bong, is astounding. It’s downright frightening the more I think back on it. There isn’t a false note in the entirety of the film’s runtime, I have to say. I enjoyed everything from the film’s story to it’s execution. It was a rare science fiction experience where a writer-director had such a wonderful vision about the story he wanted to tell and such a clear idea about what he wanted that story to say. Characters constantly change right before your eyes either by what new information they provide the audience with or what actions they commit right before your eyes. And director Bong orchestrates all of this to such a degree that it appears effortless and despite the film’s cold look and setting, it’s the cinematic equivalent to a hot bath. It’s always a comforting feeling to know you’re in good hands when a movie starts but this cinematic experience surpasses comfort and becomes something far more magical than a standard two-hour summer distraction. When you’re in the hands of someone with such an assured vision as director Bong, the experience inspires reflection on one's own values and human nature and all of the technical aspects vanish into the experience.

Definitely one of the most assured visions I’ve seen in recent years.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Movie Review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.



My biggest concern regarding James Gunn’s comedic space opera upon viewing the first trailers was the tone. I was skeptical as to whether they could nail the comedic elements while expanding Marvel’s story in the cosmos outside of following around the overly-serious Asgardian demigod. THOR and THOR: THE DARK WORLD are not very good movies. The sequel might as well not exist. THE DARK WORLD was a perfect example of a story with no urgency, a lead character with no arc, a forgettable villain with nothing interesting to say or do (played by a favorite of mine, Chris Eccleston, mind you) and finally a movie without an identity. When I heard director Alan Taylor had been removed during the editing process or something to that degree, I wasn’t surprised. The film had no personality whatsoever. But I’m thrilled to report that isn’t the case with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

When I walk into these Marvel films now I don’t expect any surprise in terms of plot or formula. We all know that we are going to be introduced to a hero or group of heroes and they are going to be faced with an evil threat that they will inevitably extinguish. And more than likely no major characters will perish due to the actor’s binding 8-film contracts… But I can at least hope for moments. It’s about the journey and less about the destination, especially in regards to Marvel’s comic book movie universe. When we walked into the cinema to sit down and enjoy Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS, none of us were anticipating a member of the team would die. We didn’t go into that movie for the moment Loki gets killed off-screen in a non-Hollywood, artsy-fartsy fashion, we walked into that cinema waiting for that feeling that’d overwhelm us as we watched the team unite for the first time against unbelievable odds and win!

You have to accept that these movies are smaller pieces to a large puzzle that will end precisely the way each of these movies do. It doesn’t matter how formidable of a foe Thanos may be for the Marvel heroes because we all know where this going to go… We know how this is all going to end so when THOR: THE DARK WORLD was a purely, filler-based straight-face, overly serious boring hack job of a movie that I wanted to walk out of, I was concerned that Marvel had forgotten the appeal of it all. It’s about the moments where visual, audio, context, story and tone all come together in a moment of screen time that elicits an emotion from the viewer. That’s what it’s about.

When Gunn was hired for the job, I was relieved. I’ve been a fan of his for years now so when I heard he was given this opportunity, I was doubtful that he would botch it up but it’s a bit surreal how well he managed to make the film work. It reminded me of Pixar’s UP. I remembered liking that film a lot and being amazed that it’s seemingly random story elements and characters were able to prove themselves anything but with it’s strong message and storytelling. That happened here too.

Again, what unfolds onscreen wasn’t anything you haven’t already seen before in terms of where the story ultimately goes but, like CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, it at least has something to say about the world we live in and our relationships with the people in them. The cast across the board seamlessly fall into their roles. The most distracting was probably Zoe Saldana due to it being a very obvious choice but she holds her own in the group and disappears in the role regardless. Chris Pratt is a star and I’m thrilled that he has a long, healthy career ahead of him. Groot and Rocket, I think we can agree, were easily the two characters we were the most curious about working on-screen and eventually they managed to earn my affections. Cooper’s voice is pitch perfect. And Diesel deserves an academy award for his work…

However, my favorite cast member of the group was Dave Bautista. I was admittedly skeptical when I heard about his casting but he’s terrific. The words he chooses to use and the precise manner in which he delivers these obscurely structured sentences, then managing to maintain phenomenal comedic timing was a huge surprise. His performance carried so much more weight than I expected. These characters carried more weight than I expected. We all love the outcasts and we all want the underdogs to kick ass and take names but we also want storytellers who can deliver that to audiences without treating both them and the characters like imbeciles. I think Gunn has managed to achieve that.

When the final confrontation with the film’s lead occurs, the film doesn’t lose what made it appealing in the first place. It’s hysterical right up until the credits role and then some. I don’t go to the cinema to watch perfection unfold in front of me, I go to the cinema to escape into the way someone else sees and feels about the world through a story and characters. I go to the movies to get lost and escape and these characters, including the way Gunn and Nicole Perlman (and whatever other uncredited writers) wrote them from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s comic books to how well Pratt, Zaldana, Bautista, Cooper and Diesel (and the tons and tons and tons of VFX men and women who made those characters come to life) represented them was note-perfect.

One of my biggest issues with these comic book movies is the lack of weight that comes with loss of life. As I said earlier, most of the lead actors have contracts to fulfill and won’t be dying anytime soon in these movies but when you have hundreds of innocent bystanders dying amongst a massive superhero brawl, it’s important to remind the audience that these people are dying. There’s one specific shot that springs to mind and it’s completely insignificant. The shot consists of a character named Nebula, who’s the blue-skinned sister to Saldana’s Gamora, leaping from a gigantic exploding spaceship onto a smaller craft and commandeering said ship from some unnamed driver. For all we know it could’ve been Peter Quill and he just died in a wide shot! But that isn’t the case… The shot lingers in a wide and we watch the driver that Nebula has thrown out of the ship scream and fall out of frame. The shot lingers for a moment but only long enough so that it isn’t a distraction from what’s unfolding. But enough to make you think, "Peter was driving a ship exactly like that..."

My biggest complaints with the film lie more so in the technical aspects. There are some really fun moments in the cinematography, namely a moment where Dave Bautista’s character is submerged in this yellow ooze and they chose to shoot that at a higher frame in slow motion. Looked fantastic. There’s also another moment that comes to mind with Michael Rooker’s (who’s amazing) Yondu where he has Pratt pinned against the wall in his ship. Rooker’s make-up, specifically the shade of blue they decided on in conjunction with his red eyes, and the excellent quality of light coming through the shafts, keying Rooker popped off the screen in one particular medium close-up of Rooker. You can tell the filmmaker’s were also quite happy with how the shot turned out visually because they tended to cut back to it quite often. But I wasn’t complaining, it looked gorgeous.

Having said that, I didn’t think they pushed the grade far enough, or the "look" as far as they could've. I felt like the film had moments of inspiration here and there from a photography stand-point but ultimately felt safe and neutral to me. I felt like they could’ve easily stylized the film’s look more so than they did. I like that these movies are connected but I wish that didn’t have to stem into each of the film’s cinematography. I thought THE WINTER SOLIDER took more risks from a cinematography standpoint then GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY did. In that sense it felt very boring, which is fine and, don't get me wrong, GUARDIANS looked good, but I wish they’d pushed it just a bit further. Maybe even darker...

Outside of that, I both enjoyed myself and admired Gunn's ability to convey ideas and thoughts about the world we currently live in amid a very obscure, galactic canvas. The movie had something to say and I realize it's really one simple idea that all these movies are trying to get through to the audience, which is: you can't conquer the world on your own. You and I may feel like ants in this universe but ants are capable of pulling off unbelievable feats when they act as a group, as a team; As one, united whole we can conquer anything, or at the very least, that's how we feel when we come together. And that's what happens to our beloved Marvel comic heroes when they finally unite: they conquer the odds.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Netflix Review: SUPERHERO

The 2011 HBO documentary, "Superheroes", is a fascinating film without actually being a particularly good documentary. Based on the title alone, one would likely assume they were about to watch a documentary centering around the comic book superhero culture and how it’s progressed to the giant empire it’s become today; However, that’s not what this is about. This is about superheroes in the “real world”. Real people who wear costumes and masks to fight crime.

From the opening moments, I was fascinated for all the wrong reasons. The moment the documentary begins, they show us a montage of comic strips, which is accompanied by voiceover from one of the many superheroes in the documentary, and they essentially tell the audience how they managed to corner a criminal and work harmoniously with the police department to jail the perp. Immediately before they’ve shown you a single shred of footage, they’ve already said, “Hey, being a superhero has worked.” The opening moments are almost an attempt to squash an argument or thought before the thought can be had.

This voiceover originates from the superhero who supposedly accomplished all this, which means you need to take every piece of information you receive from this documentary with a grain of salt. It may claim to be dealing with superheroes in reality but it romanticizes vigilantism in the same way that comics and superhero movies do. Later in the film during one particular hero's patrol through a park, the film reveals that one of the cameramen of the documentary has involved himself directly with the patrolling. As soon as this occurred, it became clear what direction this documentary wanted to take, and it became significantly less interesting for it.

It’s wonderful to see people giving out food or toiletries to the homeless, even if they are wearing kevlar body armor and a horrifying mask, but that’s the problem with this documentary; The closest they ever get to showing an “ugly” side to all this is during the times they show certain character’s living situations. One of the heroes lives in an extremely compact one bedroom apartment, which he makes feel that much more compact by hoarding random items. Every square foot is covered with everything from stacks of paper to bottles and spray cans. This same hero proceeds to show us his fighting skills against a rubber sculpted torso and it’s one of the few times the documentary starts to get at something. We watch this guy fight the sculpted man thoughtfully and then suddenly, as if forgetting the camera is present, lets loose a multitude of sloppy slaps, punches and eye gouges. It’s easily the most effective scene in the documentary and the final shot made me laugh quite a bit.

Unfortunately, majority of the documentary spends it’s time glorifying the exploits of these random people who are all seeking to somehow make a difference. It never becomes personal or intimate. When asked why they do what they do, almost every superhero explains that they are trying to put a stop to corruption, but like the protestors at occupy LA, they don’t quite seem to know exactly who or what they are fighting. The documentary shows them prevent people from driving drunk or selling drugs in the park but their answers when asked why they fight crime behind a mask are all juvenile. No one has a personal story, like their parents were murdered and they became an orphan; Everyone just seems to enjoy wearing a snazzy outfit and stopping people from being assholes. Another member admits to the superhero patrol being his only substitute for alcoholism, so for many of these people it's an escape from reality, not necessarily a stop to corruption.

There’s a group of around 9 individuals who roam the streets at night in their costumes, looking out for any trouble, and one of these men wears a black outfit underneath a piece of red armor. On this armor is a pentagram, the same one used for Satanic rituals, etc., accompanied by a mask that could easily haunt your dreams if there were red glowing eyes in the sockets. His name is Devil’s Knight. The other 9 people that Knight walks the streets with wear equally horrifying masks. In other words, imagine every member of Slipknot taking a leisurely stroll together at 2 am in full costume through the park and that’ll give you a good indication of how absolutely fucking terrifying these people can appear to be.

I can’t consider this a legitimately good documentary. I think it’s opinion of these guys and what they’re doing is extremely skewed in the hero’s favor and, as a result, it makes for a particularly boring second half when all they focus on is hero team-ups and their nightly exploits. The first half seems interested in finding out exactly what made their subjects tick but later on, they become preoccupied with how much good they’re doing. I think it’s also important to mention a specific superhero with the symbol, 'SH', on his chest; It literally stands for Super Hero. He wears a tight red shiny top and blue shorts that ride up past his knees. While all that may sound wonderful, he also drives a 1970s burgundy Corvette with his logo on the front and his license plate inscribed with: “SUPRHERO”. The most troubling aspect of this man’s entire outfit was the button clipped to his left breast: a yellow smiley face with a spot of blood. This is a symbol most of you will know from Watchmen and if you know the context and meaning that comes with the symbol, then you, like I, would probably feel uneasy if a man like Super Hero were patrolling your streets.

The final sequence encourages the audience to follow in these people's footsteps, and while one of them resides in New York City, these heroes don’t live in East Los Angeles or Compton; Most of them live in Central Florida, San Diego or Canada, so I can’t say the stakes are at exceedingly high levels where they're fighting crime but, then again, that's probably what will keep them from having their brains plastered on the pavement.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review: EDGE OF TOMORROW



EDGE OF TOMORROW may not itself represent the definitive summer blockbuster of our time but it does clearly define what an enjoyable summer blockbuster entails. With working filmmakers such as Michael Bay normally dominating the summer schedule, you forgive certain lacking aspects of the bigger-budgeted movies, whether it's nonsensical screenwriting or terrible performances or racist robots, you cope with these flaws. You, as a movie-goer, want to sit back and comfortably enjoy something that required a lot of time, money and resources to create.

More often than not, however, these flaws overwhelm the movie-going experience and ultimately refrain you from fully engaging with the story and characters. Believability can’t be restricted to how terrific your special effects look; It has to be established with how convincing your story and characters are, otherwise you’re left with a fairly numbing experience at the cinema. I enjoy Bay’s work for what it is and there are far worse filmmakers I could mention but his personality is as front and center as the stars of his movies, no matter what the content. While I consider Bay's films to be their own experiences, a big-budget studio film with a good old-fashioned well-told story without a superhero or a number after it's title is rare and missed these days.

Doug Liman’s EDGE OF TOMORROW is a welcome change-of-pace even though the nature of it's story is confounding. An officer (Tom Cruise) is demoted and forced to fight in the front lines of a massive invasion against an alien-threat without any formal training (he can’t even turn his safety off). During the invasion, Tom’s character manages to kill an elite member of the aliens, covering himself with the alien’s blue plasma-like blood, which gives Tom the ability to reset the day. Every single time Cruise’s character meets his demise, the day resets. The same circumstances surrounding your character’s death in a video game are essentially implemented in the story’s structure.

In a video game, you can restart the level and try again once you’ve died. Much like a video game, Tom makes different choices which have different outcomes, avoiding pitfalls that lead to his previous deaths and in the process, he improves his abilities as a fighter. However clever this story mechanism may be, I found that it provided me with the same apathy towards whatever video character I’m playing as it did towards all the characters in the movie. That isn't to say that the performances aren’t terrific across the board, because they are, but more so to make a comment on what it does to a person emotionally when they’ve watched the same person die over and over again. It’s brilliant in a way because by the film’s end it’s a subjective experience in that you feel as the characters do about death and their own lives, but at the same time, I noticed myself being less and less emotionally involved with the movie altogether. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself but I wasn’t emotionally compelled by the time it ended. To be honest, the moment I left that auditorium, I started forgetting about the movie, which brings me back to my earlier point.

EDGE OF TOMORROW isn't Oscar bait but it does represent the best kind of summer popcorn blockbuster; The moment it begins establishing the dire circumstances of the world the story is taking place in through believable, relevant imagery, there’s a warm feeling of comfort that sweeps over you; That’s the feeling of knowing you’re in good hands or hands that you’re okay with being in for the next two hours. That is what a summer blockbuster is all about: ultimate comfort and immersion. Not once during the film’s brisk two-hour runtime did something about the script or the performances or anything, really, distract me from the world and characters I was experiencing. And that is what I expect from a good summer blockbuster: two-hours of pure escapism, which is what Liman and crew have delivered with EDGE OF TOMORROW.

Doug Liman did his goddamn job.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Current Foster Progress: Lulu (Brown_Chi-mix)

May 19th, 2014.

Lulu is my tenth foster. She's easily the most frightened of the dogs I've cared for. She's a short brown Chi-mix (picture attached) who's almost always curled up in the corner of the room, napping. Her age is unknown to me but I'd guess she's about three or four. She has an underbite that favors the right side of her mouth; It's endearing. One of her ears is bent while the other is always erect.

Over time Lulu has come to look forward to activities like walks but approaching her is a different story entirely. Anyone, male or female, that approaches Lulu is instantly met with fear. The first objective Lulu accomplishes upon realizing that a human being is approaching her vicinity is search for the exits. I've managed to get her to warm up to me by lying on the ground and allowing her to cuddle but otherwise, she's generally a timid, anti-social little Chi who's clearly been through a lot.

One of the many scenarios I tend to force my new fosters through is being left with two new humans. I have two very close friends that live two apartments down and they don't own a pet, so it's the perfect opportunity for the foster to have an entirely different experience. The entire fostering experience is about gradually unleashing these scenarios upon the foster so that they can be equipped to deal with the real world and this one is especially important because I want my fosters to be social with not just other dogs, but other people too. According to my neighbors, Lulu responded quite well to being left alone with them. During her stay, she roamed around and played with my friends more so than she did when she was over here.

The fault primarily there lies within the presence of my own brown chi-dash mix, Leeloo. She's a hyper, dominant little year-and-a-half-old pup and not every foster that I have come through takes kindly to Leeloo. She likes to play constantly so she's great in the sense that she truly forces my fosters to be social with other dogs, however Lulu is a tough case. In the two weeks that I've had her she hasn't made as much progress as I'd hoped. She made a good amount the first four days or so but since then her progress has been stagnant. She still goes to the corner of the room everyday. She still has a tendency to pull on the leash every so often. She has a tendency to freak out during walks when she hears loud noises. There are many things Lulu has to work on before she's truly ready to be adopted.

I'm taking a vacation with the friends I mentioned earlier. Lulu is currently staying with a temp foster so if she isn't adopted before I get back then we'll see how she reacts when she sees me again.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Movie Review: MUD



There are filmmakers in this world that make their job look like cake. I consider Jeff Nichols among that rare breed of working directors who make the filmmaking craft seem effortless. Storytelling is clearly a natural ability for Nichols; Each new work proves him that much stronger of an auteur. The stories he chooses to tell are wholly unique, in that, the framework of each film is heavily grounded within a believable story with characters that feel absolutely authentic. But, in addition to that, there's always this tinge of whimsy, or playfulness that sneaks its way into his work, and 'Mud' may be Nichols' most illusive trick to date.

The film centers around two boys, Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan, TREE OF LIFE), and Neckbone, (played by Jacob Lofland) who frequently venture out to a secluded island together on their motor boat not far from their homes. The island contains an abandoned boat that's wedged high-up into a tree and the boys frequently visit this boat to hang out in. During one particular visit though, they discover a homeless man, simply named Mud (played by Matthew McConaughey), living in the boat now, and quickly liken to him. As the relationship between the three of them develops, the boys quickly discover the truth behind Mud's reasons for living in the abandoned boat and decide to assist him in his troubles.

What is with McConaughey lately? He truly has re-awakened. Like DALLAS BUYERS CLUB or THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Matthew again astonishes. This isn't the same person I watched in SAHARA or FAILURE TO LAUNCH; This is someone else entirely. I didn't see a movie star going through the motions, I witnessed a terrific character being brought to life by an exceedingly gifted actor.

Matthew is wonderful from opening to closing frame and, if he wasn't already receiving recognition for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, I'd be in arms over his performance being overlooked here. There's a particularly iconic moment later in the film that cements Matthew as one of the iconic actors of this generation. In the scene, Matthew's standing by a telephone pole waving to another character across the street and what his eyes communicate says everything the audience needs to know. It's that unspoken communication with the audience that you so rarely experience in a cinema and that moment is attributed to both Nichols' assured direction and McConaughey's masterful abilities.

Every performance, particularly from the two boys who befriend Mud, are note-perfect. Truly astonishing, more specifically, is the performance of Tye Sheridan as Ellis. While I'm a fan of Tye's previous work in TREE OF LIFE, I feel his acting chops are truly on display here. There's a scene early-on where Ellis defends a cute girl, which leads to his first date. Later in the film, however, Ellis experiences severe rejection from this same girl and when that pivotal moment occurs, he encapsulates everything that's painful about being rejected without saying a word. It nearly feels like having the experience for the first time yourself all over again!

Other cast members come to mind such as Ray McKinnon as Ellis' father, Senior, who genuinely creates a real person without falling prey to the distracting number of clich├ęs that could've sunk his character. Not only the writing, but the precision in his performance keep it from feeling old-hat. It's a rewarding performance. Michael Shannon, who plays Galen, Neckbone's uncle, has a brief but welcome appearance. His relationship with Neckbone showcases extremely sweet moments throughout. Galen keeps a sharp, protective eye on the boys; One wonderful moment particularly where Galen asks Neckbone to hang out with him while his friends and him play music together but when Neckbone declines, Galen mumbles, acting slightly hurt, "Whatever…" This moment precedes another moment where Galen warns Ellis not to involve his nephew in "anything he can't get him out of" and it isn't threatening in any way. Galen is simply protecting who he loves and it's refreshing to have Shannon as a warm presence in one of Jeff's films for a change!

If I could describe the experience of watching MUD in a singular word, it would be: butter. I can't recall a moment in the movie where the camera or lighting drew attention to itself. Or a showy line of dialog distracted from a scene. And despite the fact that you're watching Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey, arguably two of Hollywood's most beautiful working actors, portray characters in the deep south, you believe every moment of it.

MUD is butter, that's all I'm trying to say.