Posts Tagged ‘Matthew McConaughey’

Interstellar: Doesn’t Rise to the Occasion—Movie

November 10, 2014

Thank goodness for television’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the “Twilight Zone,” and their plots revolving around portals and dimensions, or else many of us would have no idea of what is going on in much, particularly the last quarter, of “Interstellar.” Who knew TV could be so educational? In all seriousness, “Interstellar” is not all that easy to understand or hear, for that matter. More about that later. Directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Christopher and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, “Interstellar” is beautiful to look at and boasts a very strong cast. However, when the film is over, it seems as if the overly complicated plots (and yes, plots) could be boiled down to the Beatles’ song, “All You Need is Love.”

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“Interstellar” opens with an elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn) talking about her father and the days when she was a young girl. Then we go back in time to those days set in the not too distant future. Thanks to drought, blight and dust storms, food is in very short supply and there is good reason to believe that the planet will not be able to sustain itself much longer.

Former NASA test pilot turned farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is a widower who lives with his children, 10-year-old Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and 15-year-old Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow). Murphy is much more like the scientist part of her father and they have a very close connection. One night the two accidentally discover the secret NASA headquarters where a Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and others, chief among them, his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), are trying to find another planet on which humans will be able to live. Brand, who is Cooper’s former professor, decides to take advantage of Cooper’s special skills. To go further would give away too much of the plot. Suffice to say that a good portion of the remaining film takes place in space.

Matthew McConaughey is outstanding as the farmer/pilot. It’s unfortunate that his Lincoln car commercials premiered before this film because some of his dialogue and delivery sound like they come directly from those commercials. However, much of “Interstellar” falls on McConaughey’s shoulders and he carries the weight well in spite of that distraction. He’s very convincing in all the many facets of his character’s personality. Jessica Chastain is very good as the adult Murphy. She has very emotional scenes, some of them absent any dialogue, and she shines in all of them. But Chastain is no match for the actress who plays her as a young girl. Mackenzie Foy is simply terrific and her scenes with McConaughey are really at the film’s core and they are amazing together. The one minus is that Foy bears no resemblance to Chastain, in fact looking much more like Anne Hathaway. Hathaway turns in a fine performance as McConaughey’s traveling companion, although her role calls for her to be a tad too emotional at times. Michael Caine’s role is small, but his scenes near the film’s conclusion are great. The film features what’s been called a cameo appearance by an actor who is critical to “Interstellar’s” plot (if you’re a reader of the tabloids, this actor is won’t be much of a surprise). He provides a good performance even though it’s not always clear what his character is doing or why.

Hans Zimmer’s score is extremely good, but its use is horrific. The music is simply too loud which makes portions of the dialogue impossible to hear. The same can be said for much of the film’s special sound effects. Louder does not mean better, especially if it’s blotting out what could be important conversations. Much of what is being said is hard enough to understand without the added burden of not being able to hear.

It’s clear that Nolan was going after something big. Unfortunately, despite the spectacular visual effects and some good acting, the unnecessarily overly complicated, hard-to-hear “Interstellar” falls short.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

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The Wolf of Wall Street: This Wolf Really Roars—Movie

January 2, 2014

Holy cow, Leonardo DiCaprio…what an absolutely amazing, amazing performance! Director Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio take movie-goers on a wild and thoroughly entertaining ride through all three hours that is “The Wolf of Wall Street.”Wolf of Wall Street

Based on Jordan Belfort’s autobiography, The Wolf of Wall Street, with screenplay by Terence Winter, the film is the story of penny stockbroker Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) staggering rise to the top and his less than staggering fall, by a normal person’s standard, that is. The real Belfort has been quoted saying his “role models were Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, in the movie ‘Wall Street’ and Richard Gere from ‘Pretty Woman’.” Judging from this film his “sleazebagness” has far surpassed them…in fact, his role models are mere pikers when compared to him. While under no circumstance is Belfort any kind of hero, far from it, his story is definitely a compelling one, and in the extremely capable hands of Scorsese and DiCaprio, more than merits your time.

The film begins with a wild office party at Belfort’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, where little people are being launched into the air as human cannonballs. We then go back in time to 1987 and Belfort’s first day of work at a Wall Street firm. He arrives to his job in normal fashion—by city bus—and given a goodbye kiss for luck by his wife, Theresa (Cristin Milioti). This may be the last normal scene in the entire movie and perhaps the last normal period in Belfort’s life. He’s taken out for one of the strangest lunches imaginable by his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), during which Hanna reveals his philosophy for success—prostitutes and drugs—and encourages Belfort to follow his lead. Belfort’s reaction to all of this is fun to watch…he’s so naïve in the beginning.  Belfort passes the Series 7 Exam and earns his broker’s license, but when the firm dissolves following Black Monday, he’s out of a job. He starts over again as a salesman, dealing in penny stocks for a company located in a Long Island strip mall. Belfort is a born salesman and starts making money…a lot of it. During this time he meets Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), who joins up with Belfort, soaking in all of Belfort’s sales’ knowledge. Together the two of them make a ton of money, enough to enable them open their own firm, Stratton Oakmont. And that’s when the fun begins in earnest. Stratton Oakmont makes money hand over fist, bilking hundreds of people as a matter of course. There are women, drugs—cocaine and Quaaludes—hookers and mistresses along the way. Eventually Belfort acquires a new wife—in with the blonde, Naomi (Margot Robbie), and out with the brunette, Theresa. But not everything is coming up roses…the SEC and the FBI start investigations—and before you know it, Belfort is looking for places to hide money. Enter hilarious trips to England and Switzerland…a wild boat ride and one of the funniest physical comedy scenes by a world-class actor in years. To go into more detail would truly ruin the fun of the movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio is in every second of this 3-hour film and he just astounds. Watching him portray the innocent financial newbie in the film’s beginning, growing into the womanizing, drug-taking man he later becomes, is one of the movie’s real delights. His character is certainly over the top, but DiCaprio is pitch-perfect. His enthusiasm literally jumps off the screen and his spirited call-to-action to his employees is no less inspiring than Shakespeare’s Henry V “Saint Crispin’s Day speech to rally the troops. He is so believable that I was ready to pick up the phone and start dialing. And his physical work is just as impressive as his acting. It’s an utterly fantastic performance.

Matthew McConaughey is only on-screen for 15 minutes—max. But you can’t take your eyes off him for that entire time. It’s the most shockingly great piece of work…one you will long remember. Jonah Hill, wearing a terrible set of false teeth is outstanding as the slimy Donnie. He’s great at making you feel dirty just watching him, and his physical work is terrific, too. Rob Reiner, as Belfort’s accountant father handling the firm’s books, is fabulous. He has one quiet scene with DiCaprio—just a father/son talk that feels very genuine in one of the film’s few from the heart moments. But in other scenes it’s as if he has been reborn as Archie Bunker. Reiner hasn’t done much acting in recent years, devoting his time to directing and producing. This is a more than wonderful welcome return to the screen. Jean Dujardin gives a fun performance as Belfort’s Swiss connection as does Joanna Lumley as his English contact. Finally, Jon Favreau as the SEC attorney and Kyle Chandler, in yet another turn as a government employee, this time with the FBI, are excellent in their small, but important scenes.

Martin Scorsese is 71, but he certainly isn’t lacking in energy. “Wolf of Wall Street” had to be a complicated shoot, but it doesn’t feel like it. From crashing helicopter to rockingly hazardous boat ride to some of the best performances given by a variety of actors, Scorsese delivers seamlessly on every level.

Are Scorsese and DiCaprio endorsing Belfort or his life-style? Emphatically no. But they do give a mind-blowing look into how he lived and how he got there. It’s a long journey, but it so worth the trip.

For more information about Jordan Belfort, there are three very good articles:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/features/3635727/Jordan-Belfort-Confessions-of-the-Wolf-of-Wall-Street.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/briansolomon/2013/12/28/meet-the-real-wolf-of-wall-street-in-forbes-original-takedown-of-jordan-belfort/2/

http://www.deadline.com/2013/12/wolf-of-wall-street-leonardo-dicaprio-fleming-interview/

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Dallas Buyers Club: Membership a Must—Movie

November 14, 2013

Sometimes heroes emerge from the most unlikely sources. One such hero is Ron Woodroof, founder of the Dallas Buyers Club and a fighter for the right to use unapproved, alternative drugs in the battle against HIV-AIDS. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, with screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, “Dallas Buyers Club” is the story of how that hero came to be and how far his journey took him.Dallas Buyers Club

In a frighteningly great performance, an emaciated Matthew McConaughey portrays Woodroof, a drug-using, womanizing, hard-drinking, homophobic rodeo cowboy/electrician.  An accident in 1986 sends him to the hospital where a routine blood test shows that he has AIDS. His doctors (Denis O’Hare and Jennifer Garner) tell him to get his affairs in order because he has 30 days to live–he is that far along. Unconvinced that he has the disease and, in truth, worried more about people thinking he’s a “faggot” if word gets out about the diagnosis, he discharges himself from the hospital and immediately goes on an alcoholic, drug-taking binge. But Ron is not as dumb as he would have one believe. When his nagging cough doesn’t get better, he begins to do research on the disease. In so doing, he learns about AZT, a drug that’s being tested as a cure for AIDS. When he goes to the hospital to see if he can get the drug, the doctors tell him it’s not yet considered safe. While at the hospital, Ron meets Rayon (Jared Leto), a transvestite who also has the disease. In their own way the two become friends which will take on more importance later in the story.

Ron’s efforts to get a steady supply of AZT lead him to a doctor in Mexico. The doctor, however, warns him off AZT as a cure-all and introduces Ron to a combination of other drugs which are not approved by the FDA, but more successful and less harmful than AZT. At first, Ron, with the help of Rayon who has access to the gay community which Ron does not, sells these drugs out of a motel room. Ron literally goes global to find the drugs he needs. When attempts to bring the drugs into the U.S. and sell them to other victims of AIDS run into legal obstacles, Ron happens on a news article about the creation of buyer clubs to distribute AIDS-related drugs. Forming the Dallas Buyers Club, he begins selling memberships in the club, which gives members access to the drugs as a way around the drug sale problem.

The making of the “Dallas Buyers Club” could be a movie in and of itself. Ron Woodroof first came to the attention of the public in a 1992 article, “Buying Time,” by Bill Minutaglio, in the Dallas Life Magazine. A then young Craig Borten thought this story would make a terrific film and interviewed Woodroof for several days with that in mind. He wrote a screenplay that had many fits and starts, but finally came to fruition nearly 20 years later, in the resulting “Dallas Buyers Club.”

McConaughey and Leto make the 20 years to get the story to the screen well worth the wait. They give positively brilliant performances as Woodroof and Rayon respectively. Both actors have literally transformed themselves, but their portrayals are much more than mere physical changes. Woodroof’s and Rayon’s personalities are way over the top, but in different ways so that their depictions never overlap or overwhelm. McConaughey has always excelled at playing good-old-boys, but in “Buyers Club” that persona has a real edge to it. Leto hasn’t been on the screen in some time, but his performance shows us what we’ve been missing.

AIDS is still frightening, but much of the hysteria and discrimination associated with it have ebbed. “Buyers Club” brings back all of those feelings as we experience the fear and shunning of Woodroof’s former friends once his disease becomes public. “Dallas Buyers Club” is a reminder of how far we’ve come thanks to the courage and determination of people like Ron Woodroof. The film does him proud.

4 nuggets out of 4

Mud: So Much Good Beneath the Surface—Movie

May 13, 2013

Something has happened to Matthew McConaughey and it’s all good. He’s making great acting choices in small movies and the results are stunning performances. Beginning in 2012 with “Magic Mike” and “Bernie,” this terrific streak continues into 2013 with “Mud.”Mud poster

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, “Mud” takes place on the Arkansas waterfront—the banks of the Mississippi—in DeWitt, Arkansas. Two young teens and best friends, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland ) have discovered a boat washed ashore…it’s actually hung up on a tree. While trying to dislodge the boat and take it for themselves, they encounter Mud (McConaughey), a disheveled mess of a man. Of the two boys, Ellis is the more romantic, and is intrigued by Mud, while Neckbone is more wary. However, both of them eventually agree to let Mud keep the boat and provide him with provisions on the sly. Over time, their help becomes less about food and more about friendship and thus increasingly dangerous…to them and Mud.

“Mud” is highly entertaining on so many levels. The story takes place in an area  we don’t often see and many viewers, including myself, don’t know much about. I had no idea that so many people lived in ramshackle houseboats as Ellis’. That aspect of the film is fascinating. One sidenote—these two boys might actually be the only boys in the United States who don’t use cell phones or computers. Never once do they make an appearance and it’s refreshing.

Absolutely fantastic acting is displayed throughout “Mud.” McConaughey seamlessly infuses his character with smarts, eloquence, fragility and sympathy. He is simply amazing. Matching him step for step is Tye Sheridan. Watching him become a man is performance to behold. Not far behind is Jacob Lofland. It will be fun to see what the future holds for these two young actors.

If ever a movie screams best ensemble cast, it is” Mud.” The supporting cast is second to none–Sam Shepard as Mud’s long-time friend; Reese Witherspoon as Mud’s girlfriend on the run; Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon as Ellis’ parents—all are just brilliant. After a long absence from the screen, Joe Don Baker makes a great return as a man from Mud’s past who wants him dead.

At first blush, Mud seems like a coming of age story…for Ellis and Neckbone. But it is more than that. It’s also the story of Mud’s coming of age and with it is Mathew McConaughey’s coming of age as an actor, too.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

 


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