Tag Archives: Matthew McConaughey

Hearing Voices

Sing 2

by Hope Madden

Are you ever absolutely slain by the voice talent in a cartoon? I find this especially true of a middling animation like Sing, or more to the point, writer/director Garth Jennings’s sequel, Sing 2.

Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Edgerton, Bono, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Pharrell Williams, Halsey, Letitia Wright, Eric Andre and Chelsea Paretti round out the set of vocal stylists bringing this animated animal talent show to the big screen. Was there any budget left for animators?

Well, sure. This is an Illumination animation—the good people behind the Minions and all that—and its visual style is bright, colorful and well suited to the animal antics afoot.

What antics, you ask? Well, big dreamer Buster Moon (a koala voiced by McConaughey) wants to take his enormously popular smalltown song and dance troupe to the big time! But are they ready? Will the man in charge of their destiny (a nasty wolf named Jimmy Crystal voiced by Cannavale) choose to murder Buster? And can they find the famous singer Clay Calloway (Bono) in time for the big show?

Who’s to say? What they won’t do is sing originals. Unlike your typical Disney musical, Sing 2 puts recognizable pop songs into characters’ mouths, so it plays a bit like one of those TV talent shows, except less annoying.

Halsey is memorable as spoiled Porsha, and Jennings himself shines voicing the character of theater assistant Miss Crawly.

Still, there’s not a lot new to see here—I think we’re all familiar with “the show must go on” stories. There’s even less new to hear. Characters are likable enough (aside from that wolf), and very solid lessons are learned and themes encouraged.

Plus, some fun song choices keep scenes lively and it is very hard to go wrong with this talent pool.

Not one memorable thing happens. Not one. But Sing 2 is light-hearted, good-natured fun while it lasts.  

Rumble in the Jungle

The Gentlemen

by George Wolf

If nothing else, Guy Ritchie and his Gentlemen are not lacking in self-confidence. This is a film, and a filmmaker, anxious to prove the old guys can still cut it, and that any young upstart who thinks otherwise has a painful lesson coming.

Ritchie returns to the testosterone-laden, subtitle-needin’ bloody British gangster comedy terrain of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – the early films that still define him – for a stylish ride through a violent jungle with a man who’s not sure he still wants to be King.

Matthew McConaughey is Mickey Pearson, an American Rhodes Scholar who put his brains to work in the drug trade, utilizing a string of expansive British estates to build an underground network that controls the supply of “bush” aka “supercheese” aka weed.

But now it seems he’s ready for a quiet life of leisure with wife Roz (Michelle Dockery), and offers to sell his entire operation to brilliant criminal nerd Matthew (Jeremy Strong) for a sizable sum.

As Matthew is mulling, Roz smells “fuckery afoot,” and she smells wisely.

There’s plenty, and a PI named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) thinks he has it all figured out, so much so that he visits Ray (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey’s number two, with an offer to save Mickey’s hide…in exchange for a hefty fee.

Ya follow? There’s plenty more, and it’s all spelled out via the screenplay Fletcher has conveniently written. As Fletcher joyously outlines the plot to Ray (and us) over scotches and steaks, Ritchie uses the device to play with possible threads, backtrack, and start again.

The Gentlemen is not just meta. As the double crosses and corpses mount, it becomes shamelessly meta, a sometimes engaging, other times tiresome romp buoyed by slick visual style and committed performances (especially Grant and Hunnam), but marred by self-satisfaction and stale humor that might have been less tone deaf a decade ago.

You get the feeling that after a marriage to Madonna and some big Hollywood franchise films (Sherlock Homes, Aladdin), Ritchie is out to prove he hasn’t gone soft with a little raucous, chest-beating fun.

But while The Gentlemen does show Ritchie’s way with a camera can still be impressive, its best parts only add up to a fraction of their promise.

Wastin’ Away Again

The Beach Bum

by George Wolf

Though it shares much more of the mind-altered DNA found in the works of Cheech, Chong  or S. Thompson, The Beach Bum left me quoting directly from John Hughes.

“You know when you’re telling these little stories? Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

Writer/director Harmony Korine spent years as the cult auteur behind such WTF classics as Gummo and Trash Humpers, only to go semi-mainstream in 2012 with Spring Breakers, a surprisingly coherent pop culture rumination buoyed by a memorable turn from James Franco.

The Beach Bum‘s star power burns bright courtesy of Matthew McConaughey, which has to be the main reason the film got this size budget, promotion and release. But after watching him party with Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Buffett while wearing women’s clothing for 90 minutes, even the effortlessly likable McConaughey’s welcome wears thin.

He’s Moondog, a legendary gonzo poet who hangs in Key West while his uber-wealthy wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) tends their mansion in Miami. Reality comes calling when the Mrs. cuts off the gravy train, kicking him out and insisting that he dry out and finally write his novel if he wants to regain access to the family funds.

What to do?

Smoke some weed? Drink some beers? Bust out of rehab and wreak some havoc with Zac Efron? Sure, and maybe write a little bit on that old manual typewriter he drags around.

It’s all drenched in yacht rock (yes, that is “Key Largo” crooner Bertie Higgins), “Boats ‘N Hoes” bad boy style and improvisational freedom, and it makes for a shallow brew with a murky purpose.

Is Moondog’s crazy journey just an after-effect of Snoop Dogg’s special blend, Korine’s final ode to his wild past, or what?

What is clear is that after trying his hand at social commentary with Spring Breakers, Korine wants to have a good time. No doubt he and the cast (also including Johan Hill and Martin Lawrence) had a blast filming it, and good for them.

For the rest of us, though, The Beach Bum is a mildly funny one trick pony, a rambling barfly always cracking up at his own jokes.



Fish Story


by George Wolf


McConaughey takes a long, emphatic drag on a cigarette, then downs a shot of rum, his constantly wet t-shirt screaming for mercy.

Hathaway vamps in from the thunderstorm, wearing a hat pulled down low and a raincoat from the “nothing underneath” collection at Victoria’s Secret.

“I still love you, high school sweetheart, and now you have to save me…and our child,” she purrs. “Take my abusive husband Jason Clarke out on your fishing boat, feed him to the sharks, and I’ll give you ten million dollars.”


Yes, the noir is strong with Serenity, with familiar tropes laid so heavy you know something must be up. So when writer/director Steven Knight finally does make his pivot a la Gone Girl, the real eyebrow-raiser is why.

Knight, whose career has shown flashes of brilliance (Eastern Promises, Locke), takes his latest in some wild directions, almost none of which make much sense. There’s plenty of pretty island scenery, “fish on the hook” and “one that got away” symbolism, along with some random supporting talent (Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou) that feels as wasted as the leads.

The spoon-feeding that’s waiting at the end of Serenity is well-intentioned but structurally misguided, landing so far from the mark that just embracing that early Body Heat wave and riding it out might have made for a better crash.





In the Name of the Father

White Boy Rick

by Hope Madden

Detroit’s economic blight has offered a powerful backdrop to many a film—Only Lovers Left Alive and Don’t Breathe spring to mind. But for White Boy Rick, this decrepitude does not simply serve a fictional horror. It created a real one.

Rick Wersche Sr. peddled guns to Detroit lowlifes. Feds preyed upon his 14-year-old son with an offer: become an FBI informant or the old man goes to prison. Things escalated, Rick Jr. made some questionable decisions (as teens are wont to do), the Feds took advantage, and by the time he was 17, White Boy Rick was facing a lifetime prison sentence with no hope for parole. This for his first conviction, a nonviolent crime.

Making his acting debut, Richie Merritt cuts a believably affable street kid. He’s like a puppy, a mutt, with moppy hair and a bad teenage mustache. The characterization helps to clarify how he so easily ingratiates himself into dangerous gangs, or why he’s trusted by the same, but it’s a tougher sell when Rick turns kingpin.

Bel Powley nails the role of sister and more obvious victim of the family’s circumstances, while both Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie are a hoot in small roles. But it’s Matthew McConaughey who most impresses.

McConaughey hits not one false note as the self-deluded optimist, Rick Sr. All resilient façade and pathetic underpinnings, desperate to create a healthy future for his family even as his own illicit gun sales compound Detroit’s problems, Rick Sr. is a study in contradictions. McConaughey approaches the task with nuance and empathy, and the result amazes.

In its best moments, White Boy Rick laments the circuitous nature of poverty and urban decline. When it’s really on point, it even illuminates the infrastructure that perpetuates the tragedy.

In its off-moments, though, it tries too hard to present Rick Wersche Jr. as a good kid who didn’t deserve his fate. There is no doubt that Wershe did not deserve his fate, nor did countless other nonviolent felons convicted during the US’s dubious war on drugs. But there’s something about the way director Yann Demange (’71) differentiates the white boy from the rest of the criminals that is unsettling.

The racial dynamics of the film lack much of the nuance afforded the family drama. Demange invites us into the world that’s so appealing to Rick Jr.—a lure that’s far more compelling than just money—but he can’t follow through.

It’s too bad, because as a showcase for performances, White Boy Rick excels. It just can’t entirely decide what it wants to accomplish with its story.

“It” Looks Good, though, Right?

The Dark Tower

by Hope Madden

So, there’s this tower, see. And it sits at the center of all the parallel worlds of the universe and as long as it stands, it keeps the monsters away. Why? How did it get there? No time!

Anyhoo, an evildoer (Matthew McConaughey) wants to knock it down, let in the monsters and rule it all. But there’s this kid – you know what, let me not summarize what amounts to little more than a summary in the first place. Suffice it to say, The Dark Tower is not very good.

There are a lot of bad Stephen King movies. But even Dreamcatcher, The Night Flier and Sleepwalkers (three of the worst) offered a sort of B-movie charm. The Dark Tower is not even the fun kind of bad. It’s tedious, lumbering and schmaltzy, visually unappealing, narratively embarrassing and a woeful waste of Idris Elba.

McConaughey, on the other hand, makes the most of his time onscreen as Walter – which is a much funnier name for the prince of darkness than Man in Black. As the antagonist, he brandishes a restrained evil and moves with a little swagger, plus there’s that wig. Glorious! Real Shatner – hell, even Travolta-esque.

But McConaughey and Elba – true talents, no doubt – are hamstrung from the beginning by the production’s meat-cleaver-and-band-aid approach to screenwriting.

Nobody is more convinced than I am that Stephen King uses too damn many words. Too damn many! Succinct he will never be. But to believe you can boil his multi-volume, many-thousand-page Dark Tower series into a coherent 90 minutes is just brazen idiocy. No offense to the team of writers working on the adaptation – some of whom have talent; the other one is Akiva Goldsman.

Director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair– also credited with writing) is zero help, managing to take this Cliff’s Notes version of King’s prose and still produce something bloated and slow.

I remember reviewing the Tom Cruise debacle The Mummy earlier this year and thinking, this isn’t even any fun, it’s just bad. Dark Tower makes The Mummy feel like a rollicking good time.

But, hey, the trailers for It look great, don’t they?


Drowning in Sap

The Sea of Trees

by Hope Madden

In 2002, filmmaker Gus Van Sant released one of his more polarizing and thoughtful films. In Gerry, two guys named Gerry (Casey Affleck and Matt Damon) hike ill-prepared into the desert to find themselves fighting for survival.

A quick glance at The Sea of Trees suggests that perhaps Van Sant returned to these themes. Matthew McConaughey loses himself in a Japanese forest, befriends another wayward traveler (Ken Watanbe), their treacherous journey offering life lessons aplenty.

Because horror writer Chris Sparling penned The Sea of Trees, I was kind of hoping the film would be a cross between Gerry and The Blair Witch Project.

It is not.

No, it’s an overtly sentimental, culturally patronizing waste of one Oscar winner and two Oscar nominees.

We wander Aokigahara, Japan’s “suicide forest,” with McConaughey’s Arthur Brennan. Brennan’s a scientist, and you know that that means. That’s right – atheist.

Van Sant falls back on the crutch of the flashback to help us understand what this handsome scientist is doing in the suicide forest. It’s in these segments that we meet Naomi Watts’s Joan Brennan and begin to unravel the mystery behind Arthur’s trip into the woods.

Watts suffers most from Sparling’s hackneyed dialog. Her few scenes need to be pivotal and weighty – we know this because of her utterly unrealistic speeches as well as Mason Bates’s condescending score.

Van Sant is no stranger to schmaltz. As great a filmmaker as he has been, sentimentality tripped him up in Promised Land, Finding Forrester and others. His career is peppered with other writers’ projects, many of them with a point to make, and those statement films tend to be Van Sant’s weakest.

Perhaps it’s because, rather than finding his own language for the story via camerawork or score, he relies on an existing style. The Sea of Trees certainly suffers from a heavy handed score. Van Sant also misses opportunities to create a sense of foreboding, claustrophobia, isolation or even redemption with the forest itself, Kasper Tuxen’s photography instead offering irrelevant yet lovely images of windblown treetops.

Trees can definitely be sappy.


Swampland Rebellion

Free State of Jones

by George Wolf

For all the onscreen battles in Free State of Jones, a more persistent one dogs the film throughout, as writer/director Gary Ross struggles to find cohesion for elements that too often conflict. The historical drama at the film’s core is so vast, it feels as though Ross just couldn’t bring himself to restrain any part of it.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Newton Knight, a farmer near Jones County, Mississippi who deserted the Confederate Army during the Civil War. As the numbers of fellow deserters grew, Knight led what came to be known as the Knight Company, a small army of Southerners that battled the Confederacy in an attempt to establish the “Free State of Jones.”

Historians still argue over Knight’s true motivations, but the film is less than nuanced at the outset, clearly drawing Knight as a poor man refusing to die in a rich man’s war, and unable to accept “any man telling another man what he’s got to live for, or what he’s got to die for.”

Ross (The Hunger Games, Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) does find more subtlety as the film progresses, but Newton’s heroically righteous nature, albeit delivered through a committed and moving performance from McConaughey, feels manufactured. Ditto the minimal racial tensions present in a unit mixing runaway slaves and AWOL Confederates.

Conversely, amid this idealism, the film is effectively brutal in its depiction of war and the deep, ugly roots of racism. But even here, the pendulum eventually swings back to manipulation, as Ross’s aim seems to be less about learning from history and more about being proud of how badly we feel.

Sparring tones continue, most specifically when the Knight Company uprising is woven through details of a decades-later jury trial involving one of Knight’s descendants from his marriage to a former slave (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Bridges between each thread are built with dry, history-lecture sequences that are equal parts salient info and narrative distraction.

Ross’s passion is understandable. This truly is an incredible piece of America’s history, but one so expansive that an approach this broad is hampered from the start. Free State of Jones leaves fine performances and effectively-crafted sequences strewn across the battlefield, but the emotional connection needed to bind them remains just over that next hill.





What a Long, Strange Trip


by Hope Madden

Christopher Nolan is nothing if not ambitious. He first wowed audiences with Memento, putting us in the shoes of our protagonist by telling his story backwards. Later he singlehandedly revolutionized the super hero film, then did it again, and then again. He also told the headiest tale imaginable about dreamshare technology, and pulled it off like some sort of magician. (He crafted a lovely tale about a magician somewhere in there, too.)

Well, Nolan is out to top all of that with an intergalactic drama that sees Matthew McConaughey heading into a wormhole to save the world.

In the unspecified future, the earth is seeing its last generation.  But Michael Caine (regular Nolan go-to) has concocted a plan to save humanity, and it involves sending McConaughey and a crew in search of a suitable replacement planet.

As perfunctorily SciFi as that all sounds, Nolan (scripting again with his brother Jonathan) can be trusted to spare no expense, establishing the earth’s plight realistically, outlining the likely-doomed mission with little hyperbole, and basically connecting his story to science so it never feels like Armageddon II.

Properly grounded, Nolan then sends us to the heavens.

The balls on this guy!

Wormholes, black holes, relativity, 5th dimensions, the time/space continuum – all of it handled with just enough layman’s terminology to make it palatable but not entirely understandable. It’s a trick he picked up with Inception, one of the cleverest SciFi adventures of modern cinema.

Like all galactic exercises worth their mettle, Interstellar borrows from and celebrates Kubrick, although Nolan’s film certainly never feels stale or derivative – more like the next logical step in SciFi.

The sounds and silence, the mind-bending imagery, the danger and loneliness – all of it impeccably, almost overwhelmingly captured.

It’s hard to watch the film without thinking of Alfonso Cuaron’s 2013 galactic masterpiece Gravity. One of that picture’s greatest strengths was its utter simplicity.

Nolan is not one for simplicity, and that need to complicate has a negative impact on his effort. Earthbound entanglements lose their draw in the face of the travelers’ peril, and Nolan and his terrestrial cast can’t compel attention or interest.

At home and in space, characters sometimes make unlikely yet convenient choices to further the story, which is a disappointment in a film otherwise so well crafted.

It’s also quite long and it feels long, but whatever its faults, you can credit Nolan for creating a genuine epic, and an experience filled with terrified wonder.


Fright Club Fridays: Frailty

Frailty (2001)

“He can make me dig this stupid hole, but he can’t make me pray.”

Aah, adolescence. We all bristle against our dads’ sense of morality and discipline, right? Well, some have a tougher time of it than others.

Back in 1980, Bill “We’re toast! Game over!” Paxton directed the short music video Fish Heads. Triumph enough, you say? Correct. But in 2001 he took a stab at directing the quietly disturbing supernatural thriller Frailty, with equally excellent results.

Paxton stars as a widowed, bucolic country dad awakened one night by an angel – or a bright light shining off the angel on top of a trophy on his ramshackle bedroom bookcase. Whichever – he understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.

Whatever its flaws – too languid a pace, too trite an image of idyllic country life, Powers Boothe – Frailty manages to subvert every horror film expectation by playing right into them. We’re led through the saga of the serial killer God’s Hand by a troubled young man (Matthew McConaughey), who, with eerie quiet and reflection, recounts his childhood with Paxton’s character as a father.

Dread mounts as Paxton drags out the ambiguity over whether this man is insane, and his therefore good-hearted but wrong-headed behavior profoundly damaging his boys. Or could he really be chosen, and his sons likewise marked by God?

Brent Hanley’s sly screenplay evokes such nostalgic familiarity – down to a Dukes of Hazzard reference – and Paxton’s direction makes you feel entirely comfortable in these common surroundings. Then the two of them upend everything – repeatedly – until it’s as if they’ve challenged your expectations, biases, and your own childhood to boot.

Paxton crafts a morbidly compelling tale free from irony, sarcasm, or judgment and full of darkly sympathetic characters. It’s a surprisingly strong feature directorial debut from a guy who once played a giant talking turd.