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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Two More Movies You Might Not Know

I'm adding two more titles to my Movies You Might Not Know list, both of which I recommended when they were in theaters, and are now on DVD.

Here's what I said about "Mud" in April:

"Mud" is a movie that starts out looking like "Stand By Me," then seems like something else, then reveals itself slowly as an adventure, a mystery, and a love story.

In rural Arkansas, two 14-year-old boys (who look just like the young Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix), set out to find a boat they've heard about that was swept up by a recent Mississippi River flood and deposited in a tree on a nearby island. When they get to the island, they find the vessel about 20 feet off the ground, stuck in the branches, so they climb up and scope out what they're already thinking of as their new playhouse. Then one of them discovers some fresh mud in boot prints on the wall, and a grocery bag with a can of beans and a loaf of bread. He realizes that someone else is already living there.

If that sounds like the opening of a horror movie, it could be, but that's exactly what "Mud" isn't. The man who's living in the boat turns out to be Matthew McConaghey as a mysterious character on the run from, well, we're not sure for awhile, and I'm not going to spoil the story for you. I will say that this is an interesting character study of both the mystery man and the two boys, who get more than they bargained for out of this adventure, plus a few life lessons along the way. McConaghey and the two boys -- Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland -- carry the weight beautifully, with strong support from Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, and Reese Witherspoon (in a small role, despite what the ads for the movie want you to believe).
And here's what I wrote about "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" in March:
Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi play magicians in the Siegfried-and-Roy mold, who have been doing the same stale act on a Las Vegas stage for a decade. The routines never change, have no pizzazz, and aren't pulling in a crowd any more.

I have witnessed this in person. While I never saw Siegfried and Roy, I did go to Lance Burton's show at the Monte Carlo several times with different people, and while his close-up stuff was terrific and his rapport with young audience members was nice, the bigger illusions were all of the hey-it-disappeared-wait-it's-over-there genre. David Copperfield suffers from the same problem -- the grander the attempt, the less impressive -- and the pasted-on smiles of the magical assistants didn't help.

At the same time Carrell and Buscemi's characters' careers are waning, Jim Carrey's is on the rise. He plays a street magician in the David Blaine/Criss Angel mold, with TV cameras following him as he performs in the midst of a crowd. Like Blaine, Carrey quickly moves from magic to exploits that aren't illusions, but blatant publicity stunts. Carrey isn't on camera a lot, and that's a good thing, because it allows his character to be outrageous without wearing out his welcome. Where Blaine spent a week in an ice block or on top of a pole for TV specials, Carrey ramps things up by lying on a bed of hot coals overnight or going a week without urinating.

It's also good to see Carrey being funny again. While he's done some good dramatic work ("Truman Show," "Man On The Moon"), this is a return to the Carrey of "Liar Liar" and "Ace Ventura," and it's refreshing to see. The "Incredible Burt Wonderstone" cast also includes Alan Arkin doing his usual solid supporting work (as a Harry Blackstone Jr. old-school magician who was Carrell's hero as a boy), plus Olivia Wilde as the obligatory female sidekick/magical assistant and James Gandolfini as a casino boss.

It's not a great movie, but for anyone who has seen too many guys in tuxedoes disappear from the stage only to re-appear in the midst of the audience, "Wonderstone" is funny and entertaining -- and a helluva lot better than James Franco's wizard.
Click here to see my entire Movies You Might Not Know list.