What to do with your free time…

…if you still have any.

I can’t remember the last time I fell as completely and utterly in love with a film as I did with Mud, which I saw on Wednesday evening. It certainly wasn’t the last time I made it to the cinema, to see Les Miserables – the only bit of which I didn’t find glaringly underwhelming being Eddie Redmayne’s face. I spent most of that genuinely concerned that Hugh Jackman was going to do serious damage to his vocal cords: “he’s not going to go for that note, is he? No, he’ll never make it. Oh, he is…? Brave. Very brave.”

But anyway. Mud. Set along the Mississippi, in Arkansas, two young teenagers find a man hiding out on an island near their riverside homes. He goes by the name of Mud, and is waiting for a girl – a girl he’s been in love with for years, and whose violent ex he killed – and is trying to stay off the radar of the dead man’s family, and the authorities. The two boys get drawn into his story, and begin to help him – the sensitive one, Ellis, more readily than his brilliantly-named friend Neckbone. Ellis is having problems of his own; his parents are on the verge of splitting, and he’s got a crush on an older girl. He’s amusingly given to throwing punches when frustrated in his endeavours – I kind of wanted to ruffle his hair and tell him that in four years’ time, he’d probably be needing two sticks to fight off the ladies. And then I remembered he’s a fictional character.

It’s achingly middle-class to get gushy about cinematography, but Mud definitely warrants it. Thanks to its glorious, wild setting and Steadicam camera work (I’ve been reading everything I can find about this film; can you tell?) it’s a film you want to step right inside and explore. I’ve also had the soundtrack on repeat for the last few days; it’s as country as you’d expect, with some really nice guitar work going on. In particular, the track called “Snakebite” (which doesn’t give away any major plot points, not at all), with its spiky guitars and menacing drums, makes whatever you happen to be doing while listening to it feel like The Most Important and Epic Thing You’ve Ever Done. I was proofreading the absolute shit out of my work on Friday to it… (You can find it on YouTube if you want to see what I mean.)

There is nothing about this film I did not love – the plot feels like it could have been adapted from a classic American novel, and it doesn’t descend into cliche. Even Ellis’ dad, who could be your standard emotionally-unavailable hard-ass, has his softer moments. Everything wraps up quite neatly, sure, but thanks to the story-telling and really good performances from Matthew McConnaughey as Mud, Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Ray McKinnon as Ellis’ father, you don’t feel short-changed. And plus, who doesn’t love a sort-of-coming-of-age film that ends in a shoot-out?

I mentioned in the last post that I’d wanted to include something about the new Thea Gilmore album, Regardless, but that I’d run out of words. So while I’m on the topic of nice things to see and listen to, here goes. In several reviews of the album, much was made of how Ms Gilmore has reached musical maturity and finally found her “place” in the British talent line-up. Biased though I may be, I think what’s actually happened is that British music has finally found a place for her. Presumably she has, more or less, always made the music she’s wanted to make, and for any artist, that’s going to change between the ages of 23 and 30-something. It’s probably true that in Regardless, Thea Gilmore has struck her best balance yet between finely-articulated rage against injustice and apathy, and writing about more universal themes of love, family and loss. Stand-out tracks include Start As We Mean To Go On – my new drinking song, surely – Something to Sing About, and Spit and Shine. And if you manage to listen to My Friend Goodbye and remain dry-eyed, then you’re a robot.

And so to reading material. On my desk, there’s a stack of things I should get on and read, one being The Second Coming, by John Niven. It’s the sequel to Kill Your Friends, a book so sharp you could hurt yourself on it. With a protagonist so vile you finish the book and feel a genuine need to read the Bible – but he has such a strong voice you find yourself slipping into his thought patterns. It’s funny, but black comedy doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s a triumph of a novel, but God, you feel dirty afterwards. I’m both nervous and sceptical about the sequel – it’s got so much to live up to.

To lighten the mood, I’ve also got Hadley Freeman’s Be Awesome. It’s not a self-help book; it’s closer to a more balanced How To Be A Woman. I worship at the altar of Caitlin Moran as much as the next 23-year-old upstart who thinks she’s cool, but her first book probably should have been called The World According to Catmo. Freeman writes in a similar way – it’s like having a long, putting-the-world-to-rights chat with your best mate – but her arguments seem slightly more measured. And it’s worth reading for the chapter entitled “A day in your life in Daily Mail headlines” alone.

That’s all for now. Have some… oh God, I’m struggling for musical recommendations… Oh, this is quite Sunday-ish, that’ll do.

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