Now more than ever, pop culture is about the small stuff — an obscure TV show, a few notes in a pop song, a tweet. To celebrate a year of micro moments, every day a new Grantland writer will highlight one specific thing — a Big Little Thing — that we won't soon forget.
When I decided I wanted to talk about Upstream Color as my favorite moment of the year, I naturally went back to revisit it on DVD. I didn't need to watch the whole thing, I thought, just find the scenes that I remembered being particularly noteworthy or intense. This was my first mistake, because Shane Carruth's second feature film falls apart, Jenga-like, the minute you try to take out any one piece. Here are the film's two leads (Carruth and Amy Seimetz) watching a flock of birds fly away on loop, here they are touching some autumn leaves thoughtfully, here they are ambling down a drain pipe and letting rocks slide down the sides just to the sound they make. I'm not going to say these moments don't make sense in themselves, because if I'm being honest, they only make slightly more logical sense when viewed in the context of the rest of the film. It definitely looked silly, though. I questioned my own judgment in the first half of the year; I wondered where it actually ended up ranking on my year-end movie list.
Which brings me to my second mistake, which was thinking that I could talk about Upstream Color in terms of moments at all, or big things, or little things.
A while back, author Nicholas Sparks explained to Entertainment Weekly that he figures out the plot for his next book by making sure it differs in some significant way from his last: "I just wrote The Lucky One. So the next one won't be a military story. I know that right off the bat. These characters were in their 20s, okay, so the characters are not in their 20s. Okay, so if you're in your 40s, what are the dilemmas? Oh, wait, I've got Nights in Rodanthe coming out, and that's a love story with characters in their 40s, so if I come out with a book just like that, people will think I'm not original." Aw, Sparksy. People will think you're not original no matter what you do! ’Cause you're not!
It's a week of mysteries, conundrums — conundra? Conundrae? — and confusion this week, as Wesley Morris and Alex Pappademas examine the career (lost?) arc of Harrison Ford and struggle to get a handle on Upstream Color, the new film from writer/director/actor/distributor/pig-wrangler Shane Carruth. So basically it's a special theme week and the theme is Things That Get Really Weird In The Third Act. Plus: major, major What Lies Beneath spoilers. You've been warned.
Sometimes movies slip through the cracks and, for better or worse, I catch up with them. Here's a handful, all directed by a range of men, from an Italian visionary to some dude named Robert Redford.
The Place Beyond the Pines, directed by Derek Cianfrance
A slow-burning drama told in three connected movements, all featuring an unusually haggard, unusually good Eva Mendes. The first has Ryan Gosling doing a version of his Drive persona, a bank-robbing, tattooed stunt biker living in Schenectady (a Mohawk word that gives the movie its title). The second miscasts Bradley Cooper as a lawyer turned cop in the same town. The last has two fantastic performances from Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan, whose relationship to each other and the rest of the movie is basically from the people who brought you Romeo and Juliet.
What Cianfrance has written has scraps of surprise and a fine chase sequence, but it doesn't reach for the stars or the emotional cosmos — or, at least, it doesn't know how to get there. He's given us plot points and episodes in search of thriller and tragedy. But no suspense. His previous movie with Gosling, 2010's martial-disaster drama Blue Valentine, was similarly unsure about how to build into something greater than shouts and murmurs. This time, you wonder whether Cianfrance reached the film's final third and realized that this was his movie, two high school burnouts who fascinate each other. But he had Gosling and Cooper and probably couldn't turn back. Once Ray Liotta shows up as his umpteenth crook, it's tempting to believe that a piece of software made the whole movie happen.
Silver: Scrumptious. My cerebral cortex is flooded with thoughts, due to the numerous mouthwatering elements seen in Mud’s trailer. Where to begin?
Writer/director Jeff Nichols’s previous film, Take Shelter, was the criminally forgotten film of 2011. With a much splashier cast, maybe this will be the vehicle to break him out.
Matthew McConaughey is on an incredible hot streak right now. 2011 and 2012 saw him gravitating toward darker roles, and in turn delivering some of the best performances of his career. His work in Bernie, The Paperboy, and Magic Mike was all outshined by his psychotic turn as Joe Cooper in Killer Joe, and his role in Mud appears to share some DNA with it.
The supporting cast of Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon (a vet from Nichols's Take Shelter), Sarah Paulson, and Reese Witherspoon is oddly enough anchored by Ty Sheridan. Who? As the child struggling to form a meaningful and loving relationship with his father, he was the only memorable and entertaining part of Malick’s unwatchable Tree of Life.
Among them, the three primary producers of Mud have overseen such projects as 127 Hours, Win Win, Take Shelter, Donnie Darko, The Prestige, and Memento. That’s a pretty solid pedigree.
Nominated for the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Mud feels like the perfect counter-programming to the overabundance of mainstream fare bombarding us this spring.
Browne: I'm a little perturbed that both of the young boy actors didn't get some love in the credits, but regardless I agree with your anchoring sentiments, Silver. I'm interested in McConaughey's mysterious Mud character, but the two boys are what have me captivated. Like, does this take place over a summer vacation? Who let them go to that island alone? At some point, are they going to turn on each other? Their story is what I believe will get me to a theater to see this. Matthew and the crew don't hurt, however.
Silver: OK, so you’re making your first film. It’s about a legendary recording studio that's hosted such acts as Nirvana, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, and Tom Petty, and which has since fallen into neglect due to the digital age. How in the world do you book interviews and get rights to all the music? Well, it helps if you're former Nirvana drummer, current Foo Fighters front man, and go-to Satan for Tenacious D Dave Grohl. Because booking Trent Reznor, Tom Petty, Lars Ulrich, and Dave Grohl (wow ... how’d he land that one?) is probably easier that way. But the question of the film’s quality still remains; will Grohl be just another renowned musician stepping behind the camera in hopes of earning their renaissance man/raconteur merit badge? I honestly doubt it. He’s hired some key folks from The Cove, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, and Dogtown and Z-Boys to help him through his rookie effort. So in the end, I’m guessing Sound City is going to be my 2013 Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap.
It is now being reported that Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz suffered a "mini-stroke" last Friday in Arizona — he was rushed to the hospital by friends after reportedly "acting really weird" and having difficulty speaking and understanding words. The cause of the stroke is still unknown, and Muniz is currently undergoing several tests. "Have to start taking care of my body! Getting old!" Muniz tweeted today. Meanwhile, at the Fountain of Youth, fellow 26-year-olds Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes be chillin'.