Archive for the ‘Matthew McConaughey’ Category

The Free State Of Jones

28 Jun

The Free State Of Jones – directed by Gary Ross. Historical Drama 139 minutes Color 2016


The Story: A Confederate Civil War deserter joins with local Negros and farmers to establish an independent county in Mississippi.


Newton Knight must have been a man of strong body and mind to have led so many into justifiable action in a difficult time. And Matthew McConaughey is an actor fortunate in his roles these days.

Unfortunately, the director wrote the piece. So, after the rescue in the swamp, the story demotes into a Hit-The-Highpoints Classic Comic, which enfeebles it.

For most directors should not direct their own scripts. They usually lack point of view about the story – how good it is, how long it is, and even as to whether it is a movie story at all. Unless the directors (Preston Sturges, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder) are inborn writers, chances are they’ll sink their own ship.

The problem is that this director/writer does not see that he has a dramatic story but does not have a dramatic character. What he has rather is a record of an unusual individual in an historical conflict, but that individual himself is not conflicted. Instead the movie’s only narrative option is to jam into the corset of itself the entire record so as not to leave anything out. It becomes a documentary.

As a history lesson of an unusual and worthwhile person and passage of American history, the movie has merit. And McConaughey is marvelous as the character, particularly in the early scenes as you first get to know him, and I’m glad he made it. But, as written, no interior drama exists in the character for him to play off of. Newton Knight is up against a lot in the war and its aftermath. He is never up against anything in himself.

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True Detective

12 Apr

True Detective [Season 1] – directed by Cary Joji Fukunga. Police Procedural 8 Part HBO Series. Color 2014.

The Story: Two incompatible cops are assigned to solve a strange crime.


The film is a remarkable collation of production, writing, design, filming, direction, editing, and acting. With one exception.

Matthew McConaughey is not that exception. For if you ever wanted to know what power in acting looks like, here it is! Power does not require scenes of vocal range, emotion, or physical display. It may include them, but the sense always is that the artist is nowhere near the limits of his technique, but that the range accessible to that technique is without limit, given the material at hand, the canvas at hand, the occasion at hand.

Seeing him one would never make the mistake of supposing that McConaughey could sing opera or play King Lear. He is an actor who never tries to dupe us into believing that he is greater or other than he is. There are more kinds of great actor than Daniel Day-Lewis.

For, watching him, nothing comes to mind but the desire to continue to do so. We are not distracted. Instead, we sense we are in the presence of a rare opportunity an actor of rare and minute focus, of tiny gesture, each one emerging from his guts in a part perfectly suited to him.

Inside the actor one senses latitude without boundary, which means: the ability to release the material as he wishes, a fastidious rendering of the role’s structure, a sense of the proper size of the role, a sense of a cunning relationship to the architecture of the story as a whole. He understands the period. He understands the rubric of film. He understands the decorum of the character. He can create the titanic with perfect silence. Large or small in his effects he is relaxed. As an actor he is operating out of freedom and in freedom. So all this appears easy.

It is not the same for Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is in a less gutsy role but a more emotional one. But Harrelson is given to a grotesque grimacing with his lower jaw. It is hard to watch and impoverishing to the performance. What is odd is that concurrent with this facial gesticulation is a good actor at work. He is not mugging, but it looks like mugging. Harrison is full of emotion, but releases it through a tic, which someone should be kind enough to ask him to stop. One turns one’s eyes from him, until McConaughey has occasion to call his character a moron, which, unfortunately is what the actor looks like!

It’s too bad, but it does not ruin a story that proves what others have said that the best film drama these days is on cable series TV.

If True Detective is typical, mini-series TV has also changed acting style. No longer speeded up by commercials or by a two-hour time limit set by cinema owners, actors now have space to slow down and open up their work. Golden Age Hollywood Crisp acting is nowhere on view in these mini-series. Nor is modern TV acting or movie acting what we see. No, rather it’s a style of acting with latitude of range, time, and silence. In its spaces we sit and contemplate the vast paradoxes that the art of acting has to reveal about human nature. No one on earth has a greater sense of this than actors.

I understand Season 2 has a different story and performers and that Season 1 is complete in itself. By all means, see True Detective Season 1.


Magic Mike

10 Aug

Magic Mike – directed by Steven Soderbergh. Backstage Stripshow. 110 minutes Color 2012


The Story: Experienced male strippers introduce a teenager to their chorus.


We haven’t got much story here. And the teenage lad is not a performer of much interest. But that’s not the problem.

The problem lies with the director’s penchant for dialogue improvisation, with the notion in his noggin that improvisation produces an effect, if not the reality, of natural spontaneity. What it actually produces is a baroque elaboration of painful discursiveness. The décor of the palace of Versailles is a final resting place for the over-complicated. Improvisation generally leads to splashing around in the shallows. Its effect is arch, longwinded, and spurious. It enervates drama. And it does not allow the audience to reveal human nature any farther than a raindrop’s circles in a puddle.

The effect on this material is that it attenuates the material beyond necessity, style, or stretching point. The result: so much time is wasted by the halting of scenes with their improvisation that there is hardly a story at all.

It doesn’t matter that a very good actor, Channing Tatum, is called upon to engage in it. In natural, real life people come into big dramatic scenes knowing their feeling exactly. Whatever hems and haws it takes to arrive at their utterance are over once over. Underlying the style lies a disgraceful bid for sympathy.

The annoyance of the inappropriateness of this style of directing – for which Soderburgh is renown – is remedied in part by the garish dancing of the men, particularly Tatum, whose métier this world once was. He is astonishing to behold.

It is also salvaged in part by the verve of Matthew McConaughey, playing the strip club owner.  As an actor, his application to the moment is admirable, and just what’s needed to play a character living on a racket. His seizure of every actor on stage with his attention enlivens every scene he is in. He is an actor of great wit, as well, which means he is quick enough and willing enough to play a character where he can make the joke be on himself.

The sequel, Magic Mike XXL, is better. For one thing, it has a story. It also has more interesting women. In Magic Mike all we have is Tatum’s leading leady, a pill. In Magic Mike XXL we have Andie McDowell and Jada Pinkett-Smith, both brilliant, both fascinating, both fun. The dancing more than carries both films, but in Magic Mike the only reason to revisit the film is the dancing itself. None of which is improvised.


The Wolf Of Wall Street

03 Jan

The Wolf Of Wall Street – directed by Martin Scorsese. BioPic Black Comedy. 189 minutes, Color 2013.

The Story: The rise and rise and rise of a sharpie-broker to the heights of wealth and disorder, and the outcome in ultimate wealth and disorder and gullibility for all.


I was disappointed to read in the credits that The Wolf Of Wall Street was based on someone’s life, for it is such an imaginative movie, I expected it to be as made up on the spot as the many dodges it chronicles. It is the wittiest movie I have seen in ten years.

It starts with a 26 year old Leonardo DiCaprio being put in a trance by Matthew McConaughey, a trance in which he remains for the duration, and in that trance enacts the dance of greed and more greed (in the word “greed” the “more” is silent), until at the end we are shown the whole world to be in an obsessive trance, too.

McConaughey’s fugazi-cadenza of the fairy dust of Wall Street opens the piece with a The Gambler’s Creed. It shows that capitalism, meaning brokerage investment (meaning stock and bonds), is silly. For it is based on a cheap thrill. To which one and all must be addicted. Meaning entranced. Get Rich Quick is the silly thrill.

The film is a must. For the writing. For the mastery of execution of the director. For the performances of the McConaughey, along with Rob Reiner as Belfort’s irascible father, Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, the beauteous Joanna Lumley as her aunt, and everyone involved, small part to major. Jonah Hill is the co-star, and his scenes put one in mind of the early work of Scorsese in Raging Bull, as does the acting work throughout, with its ruthless improvisations and trash talk at will.

Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor of deep shallowness as a leading man, brings his thin-sliced white bread and slather of profound character-acting talent to bear on the part of the cavalier investment broker on the make, and gets up on his hind legs, and his abilities shimmer throughout the picture and hold our interest at a fascinated distance, as he continues his compulsion to trick the customers into speculations from over-the-counter penny stocks, which no one may profit by but him. He gives us a deal of rash playing. The entire performance is flavored into reality by the fragrance of a Bronx accent.

The law bears down. This does not dissuade him from drugs, sex, and high-rolling.

But why go on? Why spill the beans, when it is such a pleasure for you to see them topple out on your own? It is because of Scorsese’s dab hand with this material that you must  attend, and for DiCaprio’s in playing it out with him.

Is it the best film Scorsese has ever made? Could be.

You tell me.


Dallas Buyers Club

14 Dec

Dallas Buyers Club – directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. Docudrama . A rogue cowboy discovers he has a fatal disease and ventures to defy law and save fellow sufferers. 116 minutes Color 2013.


Some actors are despicable: Jack Palance, Shelly Winters, Miriam Hopkins, Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum, Jessica Lange, Christian Bale. Humorless bullies all.

Matthew McConaughey stands tall in this category. There is no actor whose appearance in a film I more wish to avoid. A slivery egomania rules in him with imperious ease.  A smug cologne, unquestioned and rank, the attar of this assurance wafts about him.

He is dreadful looking, with fatal dimples, tiny teeth, and the most beautiful and seductive male speaking voice since Charles Boyer. He is worse than a rogue; he is a bounder. To be in his screen presence is to break out in a rash. He threatens to make one believe in evil.

He is one of those persons who stumble into acting and make a great success. This so rarely happens, it becomes legend, so we think if it can happen to Gary Cooper, it may happen to anyone. But legends are never common.

And what is not common about Matthew McConaughey is that, apparently and even so, he has discovered the craft of acting for himself. That is not an easy thing for a big star to do. Robert Mitchum never did it, nor did Gary Cooper.

But McConaughey is a person of enormous intelligence. Or maybe it would be better to call it smartness. After all, he’s a Texan. And in Texas intelligence means horse-sense. And horse-sense means a practical grasp of life as it is actually lived. What does an actor of his cheap effect do once his romantic appeal gets stale?

Mud was an example of this actor taking on the task of dropping out of the category of leading man and entering into the category of character lead. Going somewhere beneath or other-than his masher forte, he entered us into an arena of acting into which one never in a million years expected him to venture. What a revelation!

Of course, this switch may have happened more slowly with him: one sees but the sudden result: films take years to generate: his change may have been long pondered: this may have happened less suddenly in films of his I have not seen.

In the present film we see a character bodied forth who also took long planning, since the actor had to emaciate himself by 47 pounds or a quarter of his body weight to play it. He plays a hero, but is never noble, always the ornery cuss. Miss him play it in peril of the cultivation of your soul.

In the past, McConaughey has been the tray of despicableness on which the part was presented to us. In Dallas Buyers Club he takes that tray of despicableness in both his conscious hands and presents it and all that is on it to us as an offering of human truth.

It is wonderful to see an actor discover the great and dangerous craft of acting.



15 May

Mud -–– directed and written by Jeff Nichols. Drama. Two fourteen year old boys set out to rescue a derelict on a desert island. 230 minutes Color 2013.


Is Michael McConaughey despicable?

There are such things as despicable in the realm of acting. Shelley Winters? Yes. Jack Palance? Certainly. This does not mean they are bad actors. They have their uses. And long careers even.

McConaughey, with his sleazy confidence and smug affect– one steers clear of him, repelled. Partly because all of this is found to be mighty sexy by certain females.

And it is true that he has presence, moves interestingly, his face takes the camera well, he has a wonderful figure when stripped, fine sloping shoulders, a handsome back of his head, and the most beautiful speaking voice in film since Charles Boyer. My goodness. So Southern. So ruthlessly seductive. So smart. So all things Texas.

Despicable. As romantic leads. Playing what he calls Saturday boys. The sexually confident one in a modern comedy. Despicable. But here we have him actually playing a despicable character, and he is not despicable at all. He is quite fine, and all the character requires him to be: off-hand, devoted to a cause outside himself, efficient. He is well cast as a male whose body has nothing left but his masculinity, and nothing to do but devote his whole male being to a woman with it.

He is not a trained actor, but rather one of those who wandered in off the street like Gary Cooper and someone put a movie camera in front of him, and it took. Nor is it any mark against it that he comes to his craft untrained. Many a fine actor has done the same. He single-handedly wrecked Spielberg’s Amador with his mod beat jarred up against the era of John Quincy Adams, but what else could he do? He was incapable of anything else. And there are a lot of actors whom you can’t put into costume. Jimmy Stewart would head the list. Lots of them.

But here he is and he’s really worth being with. And so is everyone else in this fine and unusual picture. Which is really about a fourteen year-old boy who lives in a bayou houseboat with bickering parents. Living off subsistence fishing, the boy, well played by Tye Sheridan, comes upon McConaughey, as Mud, living in a boat in a tree on a desert island in the sea. The boy and his buddy get caught up in the romance of Mud’s needs which consist of his yearning for a rapprochement with his old sweetheart, Reese Witherspoon.

Everyone is dandy, and the setting and the story and the adventure keep one attentive right up to the end which is a bit more patly worked out than the texture of the material promises, but never mind. We have Sam Shepard, super as a cranky coot, leading a fine supporting cast. And fascinating are the settlings, the place, the world of the fisher folk. And completely believable is all those two boys dare on their secret rescue of Mr. M.



10 Jun

Bernie – directed by. Richard Linklater. Crime Docu-Comedy. A Texan do-gooder befriends a nasty old woman who abuses him mightily and he offs her. 104 minutes Color 2012.


A missed opportunity, here, particularly for Jack Black who plays Bernie to perfection. Perfection is never enough. The sweetest man in town and the meanest woman in town, yes – the opportunity missed, though, is that they are really the same person, and we never get to know it. The same person? There are certain males who from an early age decide to be old women. Bernie is such. We do not imagine he has or wants a sex life. All he wants is to hobnob with widows. In fact, it could be said that, more than an old woman, he is himself a widow; that is to say, an old lady who does not have sex. Everyone in town loves Bernie: he is so kind, so thoughtful, so giving. A little swish, it is true, but who cares? – he sings in the choir, gives to charity, and organizes the community for its better good. However, we only see him in public, singing in amateur theatricals, giving money to the Boy Scouts, presiding beautifully as an undertaker. Everyone is his friend. But he has no friend. But that we do not see. What we do see is that he woos the town witch. Under the aegis of all they have in common, they become buddies; they go to concerts together, travel together, and she hands her financial affairs over to him. She melts like Margaret Hamilton under the douse of his decency. But, since she has a great deal of money, she pays for everything, and bit by bit he buys into the life style she provides and bit by bit she enslaves him to it. And when she does she becomes mean to him. Why doesn’t he just quit? Because she’s so bad, something comes over him first and he shoots her four times in the back with an armadillo rifle. What is the something that comes over him? We are never given to know. What it is is that he has a great public life, but he has no private life, but we are never given to glimpse that fact. We get neither inside Bernie’s house nor Bernie. The script scoots along on the surface, and never examines the bitter gun of his essential solitude. She thinks she is her money; he thinks he is his niceness. They are both suckered by themselves. Shirley MacLaine plays the old lady expectedly. That is to say, we expect her to be cast in the part and we expect her to play it the same way she has played this same part for years, and she does. Plastic surgery has mummified her face; it is quite awful to behold. What was she thinking of; she’s in her seventies; did she think people would think she wasn’t? The detestable Matthew Mconaghey is perfectly cast as the detestable  D.A. who puts Bernie away. And the big treat is the Carthage townspeople (for this is a true story), whose heads talk brilliantly and funnily all in favor not just of Bernie but of the murder itself. “Suddenly I was someone else,” says Bernie at his trial. The real gun was in him all along. But, alas, we never see it, for those scenes are missing or were never written. What we see is a performance of great discretion, appeal, and fairness by Black, which makes the film worthwhile viewing, not just because it gives us the liberation of watching a nance as a leading role, but because of the acceptance of him by all those smart good-hearted East Texas types who refresh the film with their innate democracy and talk their heads off about him for us. Their perspicacity is nil, but their diction in achieving it is priceless.



27 Feb

Amistad — Directed by Steven Spielberg — High Tragedy. Men on a slave ship revolt, are captured, and brought to trial in 1838. 2 hours 15 minutes Color 1997.

* * * * *

High tragedy, yes, that rare thing in movies, as a great and noble king in exile is brought to the point of death by his captors and rescued by a deus ex macchina in the form of another great and noble king. I have not seen all of Spielberg’s films, but this is the finest I have seen. It is perfectly cast, produced, written, and performed. It is narrated by the director unexceptionably save for the coda of the destruction of the slave fortress in Sierra Leone, which should interlace the main tale itself as a counter-chorus, and not come wagging its tail at us in the end, but then, all Spielberg’s finales are false. The music by John Williams is not as vulgar as that which wrecks The Color Purple, but its Orff-like choruses and excessive swells almost overset the craft a number of times. The great Pete Postlethwaite as the opposing lawyer is concise, real, and fair. As the President, Nigel Hawthorne gives us a man helpless before his own real ignorance. Morgan Freeman stands in reserve as a force of Negro abolition almost out of touch with his original slave past. Matthew McConaughey brings a, perhaps, natural crassness to the part of the young lawyer who takes on the case and he is very convincing as a man whose limited vision and slightly cockeyed rashness moves the case forward. Anthony Hopkins, in his best screen performance, dodders and pots as John Quincy Adams, the old former President, who finally raises the Supreme Court to liberate the Negros and return them to Africa. But the film depends entirely for its power, its movement, and its authenticity on Djimon Hounsou, the leader of the Negros, their particular king. A man of great stature and bearing, he performs with an emotional immediacy and truth and rashness of being that causes him to stand for everything — and not just to stand for  — but to be it in our hearts and souls as we watch — everything that the film means to say. Which is to present under attack the essence of freedom itself in a human being, as though that freedom had never been born or seen before. Anyone who has ever been oppressed, has ever oppressed, or wishes to oppress, wants to see this film, because this actor reveals to us that freedom is inherent in us, not bestowed, not legalized, not purchased, and that its abrogation and annulment by anyone or any agency or any thing is an agony titanic. If this makes the film a civics lesson, so be it, for it is a record of the Exemplary in our American ancestry and in the ancestry of the world, and we benefit and are enlarged by such examples. I am moved by Djimon Hounsou’s soul, and I recommend that you place yourself before it. This is a film which proves what film at its best can do. Give it to yourself somehow.


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