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Film reviews

Jul 1, 2013

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See itSet around the Mississippi River and told from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old protagonist, director Jeff Nichols’ third feature film, Mud, taps into a romantic image of a rustic alpha male: the man in the forest with the gun, the antiestablishmentarian, the vagabond who sleeps in a different spot every night. Nichols’ modest and meditative coming of age drama then chips away at it, the fibre of this mythical man’s strength broken down through his relationship with other people.

Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and pal Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) encounter the outlaw on an island, living in a small washed-up boat (very “up” — it’s metres above ground, jammed between trees) and his name is the film’s eponymous word. Matthew McConaughey, a fine choice to play a larger than life character whose simplistic mannerisms conceal inner complexities unraveled by changes of circumstance — especially given the actor’s current groove, riding the winds of a remarkable batch of career realigning films — is deep and soulful as Mud, a performance veneered with the kind of gritty masculinity easily mistaken for indifference or nonchalance. Continue reading “Mud movie review: mind, soul, McConaughey”

News & commentary

Dec 10, 2012

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Centuries into the future, when the pyramids have crumbled to dust and unionised robots with reproductive organs live, work and vote among us, historians may look back and discover the year 2012 marked a turning point in the evolution of human kind for three reasons: 1) the end of the Mayan calendar and thus, not the end of civilization, 2)  the discovery of the Higgs boson particle and 3) the year Matthew McConaughey officially became a credible and critically acclaimed actor.

Having been an avid follower of the ‘McConnaisance’ since the dawn of it — 2011’s twisty under-rated legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer, featuring a terrific performance from McConaughey as a smug attorney tricked into defending a client he knows is guilty of a crime another of his clients is in jail for — I was pleasantly surprised when, a few days ago, I Googled his name and the following auto-complete appeared:

If the algorithms of the world’s most sophisticated search engine are capable of determining that the star of such vomit bag rom-com fodder as Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past, The Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has changed his wicked ways, exchanging thoughtless “cha-ching” rom-coms for genuine “artistic” ventures, perhaps we can accept that the Higher Powers of the internet have written it in cyber stone.

Better yet, we can look at the films themselves — a string of productions boosted by high-impact performances from McConaughey that prompted The Guardian and countless other outlets to publish stories with headlines such as ‘From Himbo to High Brow‘. The McConnaisance presents one of the most spectacular career revivals of any actor in Hollywood history, made more tantalising by the knowledge that it may only have just begun.

How a former butt-of-many-jokes pretty boy scored such serious cred in a remarkably short period of time is a result of good fortune, gambles that paid off and the assistance of a bunch of well-regarded directors to help get him over the line. And of course, despite how odd this word may have sounded to the critical populace a year and a bit ago, talent. In the thick of new-found acclaim, McConaughey has defended his previous syrupy sweet rom-com oeuvre (“It’s easy to demean them…I enjoyed them. They paid well; they were fun,” he told The Guardian) but there is a sense a corner has well and truly been turned, and there’s no going back.

With the exception of The Lincoln Lawyer (released in March 2011) every McConnaisance movie so far (four in total) released in Australia arrived in the second half of 2012, in the space of a mere seven weeks. A concentrated burst of McConaughey muscle.

The 43-year-old actor 2.0’s scene-stealing performance in Magic Mike (released July 26) saw him play an entrepreneurial owner of a male strip club who dreams of expanding the business but has to put up with Channing Tatum to do so; hardly a fair trade. If the public thought “ah yes, that male stripper movie”, film aficionados knew better: it was directed by Steven Soderbergh, who smashed through the Sundance ceiling in 1989 with Sex, Lies, and Videotape and went on to forge an audacious genre-flipping career on the fringes of mainstream Hollywood. Now in the early phases of the annual American awards season, McConaughey’s performance is generating serious buzz.

In Bernie (August 16) Australians saw McConaughey in a wily, tightly calculated comedic role as a righteous sheriff of an East Texas community who rubs up against a kindly undertaker played by Jack Black. Directed by an in-fine-form Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, A Scanner Darkly, etc) the film was inspired by a real-life story and described, generously but not inappropriately, by The Age’s Jake Wilson as one of “the best comedies of the century“. Wilson also observed that: “McConaughey’s continuing comeback is a sight to behold”.

In Killer Joe (September 6), McConaughey stars as a disgusting hit man who makes women — at least one — commit unspeakable acts with chicken drumsticks. The film was directed by 77-year-old William ‘The Exorcist‘ Friedkin, whose work in the genre of projectile vomit and 360 degree possessed child head spins remains virtually unparalleled. The scumbag soul-less nature of McConaughey’s character, brought to life with frighteningly realistic menace, hits you like a shovel to the face, and proved just how far he had come. Women wouldn’t want to share the same postcode with this character let alone sleep with him. Salon ran a story with the headline ‘Matthew McConaughey’s comeback gets creepier‘.

But McConaughey isn’t resting on his laurels; not by a long shot. Writing on the yet to be released Mud, from emerging writer/director Jeff Nichols (who won the Grand Prix at Critics’ Week at Cannes last year for his acclaimed thriller Take Shelter), The Guardian’s Jason Solomons described McConaughey’s performance as “the best of his career”.

McConaughey will also appear opposite Nicole Kidman and John Cusack in The Paperboy, “a dark, angrily steaming tale“. Currently in production is The Dallas Buyer’s Club, based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic drug-taking HIV patient. Matthew McConaughey plays Woodroof. The director is Jean-Marc Vallée (Café de Flore).

As if sensing that his envelope of critical kudos needed a stamp — something to really deliver a message once and for all that More Ghosts From Girlfriends Past is not a sequel on the cards anytime soon — McConaughey is now dabbling in the old ‘psychically deformed’ chestnut, having lost obscene amounts of weight for his upcoming role in Wolf of Wall Street. He went from an actor whose on-screen look went from this:

To this:

The director of Wolf of Wall Street? Some guy named Martin Scorsese.

Photographs of McConaughey show a man who looks wan, scabby and riddled with diseases. Coupled with his spectacular career realignment, this performance doesn’t just smell like bad health. It smells like an Oscar.

 

News & commentary

Nov 27, 2012

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One memorably awkward scene in writer/director Ben Lewin’s acclaimed Oscar-ready drama The Sessions depicts a full-body-naked Helen Hunt, who plays a “sex therapist”, perched with her genital area positioned directly above the mouth of John Hawkes, who plays a paralytic polio-afflicted poet incapable of moving his arms or legs or spending more than four hours away from a gigantic metal box that helps him breathe.

Muffled sounds emerge from Hawkes’ mouth. Hunt, who was once paid a million dollars per episode of Mad About You and is now clearly under the sheets of an “artistic” film with a “vision,” asks “are you OK down there?”

“You’re choking me,” he responds, and with that line whatever vague traces of romance the scene had disappear faster than Hawke’s character climaxes, which is about the same time it takes to snap your fingers.

Despite its heart-on-sleeve sentimentality The Sessions handles its subject with restraint and a lightness of touch, but this is nevertheless an indisputably strange sequence, a rare moment of kooky Hollywood kink. Particularly for a film so widely associated with “Oscar bait.”

It’s not the only time this year American movies got freaky in the bedroom; not by a long shot. Representations of carnal encounters are a dime in a dozen in an industry populated by people who have long understood the holy significance of the mantra “sex sells” but 2012 has been different. Memorable. A special splotch on the bedsheets of American filmmaking. Continue reading “Lights, camera, smut: the year Hollywood got its rocks off”

Director Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is apparently loosely based on the real-life raunch to riches story of its star, former male stripper and current Hollywood beefcake of the month Channing Tatum. Perhaps his back story as a himbo in the flesh trade goes some way in explaining his strange sounding name, though if you don’t know what a “channing” is or how to do it to somebody, one assumes it is best not to ask.

From a screenplay by debutante Reid Carolin, drifty and convention-aware in the manner most Soderbergh films are, Magic Mike works with a Boogie Nights-esque structure, showcasing a glowing cash-strewn catwalk empire before eventually urinating all over it. The story builds a castle of sand, smut and debauchery in the first half then takes the gloss away, brick by brick, in the second, to expose the shonky world of stripping as the vacuous culture we assumed it would be.

Mike (Tatum) isn’t the sharpest knife in the draw but smart enough to know that his days as a stripper are numbered. Mike wants to make a go of it in the furniture business but finds the task of freeing himself from the sweaty shackles of his well-oiled occupation fraught with difficulty. Continue reading “Magic Mike movie review: Soderbergh’s striptease”

Ghosts of Girlfriends PastRed lightIt’s A Christmas Carol crossed with The Wedding Crashers crossed with lobotomised generic rom-com in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, director Mark Waters’s slushy love anthem that mingles Dickens’s famous morality fable with the ever-wooden Matthew Mahogany. Mahog, er, McConaughey stars as a promiscuous a-hole who Hates Love and woos ladies by reciting humdingers like “every night I swim in a lake of sex” and “spooning is nice but forking is better.” Over-played bastardry in act one suggests over-played salvation is comin’ up in act three and thus it is so, the protagonist Connor Meade (Mahogany) destined for a crude philosophical U-turn upon the arrival of three ghostly girlfriends who come to visit on the eve of his brother’s wedding.

The first supernatural visitor isn’t a woman but Michael Douglas, who for no apparent reason bases his performance on caricaturing the late studio mogul Robert Evans, with a dash of Hugh Heffner thrown in for good measure. Douglas is Uncle Wayne, Connor’s uber cool chick magnet mentor, but unca is back from the grave to pooh-pooh his old lifestyle and nudge his nephew down the righteous road towards meaningful long-lasting monogamy (with Jennifer Garner no less) and sickly sentimental wedding speeches. In one scene Connor and Wayne attend Connor’s future funeral, with only his younger brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) in attendance, and Wayne quips “nobody’s really gonna miss ya.” The same could be said if Mathew McConaughey went the way of the dodo and never made a movie again. Continue reading “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past film review: Charles Dickens meets Matthew McConaughey in a slushy rom-com dud”