Tag Archives: Matthew McConaughey

CAPSULE: THE BEACH BUM (2019)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Snoop Dog, Ilsa Fisher

PLOT: Moondog is a hard-partying hippie celebrity poet living off his past glory and heiress wife’s fortune; when she dies, her will specifies he can’t inherit her millions unless he finishes his long-gestating novel.

Still from The Beach Bum (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Fortunately it’s not weird enough to have to worry about its merits as a film. It’s almost a normal stoner comedy—by Harmony Korine directing Matthew McConaughey standards, at least.

COMMENTS: Matthew McConaughey goes hog wild playing a fantasy version of himself as a perpetually high, holy fool beach bum in Hawaiian shirts and flip-up sunglasses. Topless women love him, for undisclosed reasons. Stray kittens love him, because they don’t know any better. Jimmy Buffet loves him enough to invite him to steal his spotlight. Rich heiresses gladly bankroll his middle-aged slacker lifestyle. Snoop Dogg loves him enough to share his secret stash of Jamaican Christmas Tree dank. Thin Jonah Hill, the Cajun literary agent, loves him, even though he hasn’t made a dime off him in decades. Moondog, the celebrity poet (!) can do no wrong, even when he finally shows up, drunk and high, for his daughter’s wedding in the middle of her vows, then grabs the mike (and the groom’s junk).

In fact, just about the only person in the movie who doesn’t love Moondog is the judge who sentences him to rehab (though even she is a fan of his older stuff). Fortunately, vape bro Zac Efron loves him enough to help him bust out of the group home. And Martin Lawrence loves him enough to take him on as an apprentice dolphin guide and let him feed his pet parrots cocaine and… well, you get the gist. The Beach Bum proclaims Moondog’s stupendousness for 90 minutes.

But although everyone in the movie loves Moondog, it’s hard for anyone in the audience to like Moondog. The script insists he’s a genius, but he seems like the kind of guy you quit inviting out a couple years after graduation because he still acts like he’s at a Saturday night kegger all the time. He’s , but without the fear or the loathing. Most of the time, when he recites poetry, he’s actually ripping off D.H. Lawrence or Baudelaire, and when he’s not, he’s writing odes to his own penis. Moondog would probably tell you that he doesn’t have to actually write poetry because he lives poetry, which for him means using a gas mask as a bong while riding a bicycle in a thong, or blowing up his own yacht with fireworks—you know, the kind of poetry frat boys would live, if only an heiress would bankroll them.

Now, it might be that the movie is shot through Moondog’s subjective lens, and everyone doesn’t really think he’s unbelievably awesome. (Radical subjectivity might explain some of the more hallucinatory incidents, like the blind airplane pilot who puffs on an oversized spliff that would choke Cheech and Chong.) A vintage video shows Moondog on a wharf, reading lame stream-of-consciousness verses while almost spilling his gin and tonic, looking like a bad motivational speaker in a rainbow sports coat. Present day Moondog is incredibly impressed by his older self’s performance, unlike the half-full, bored contemporaneous audience in fold-out chairs. This flashback could suggest that his poetic appeal is a product of his own imagination. Except that the evidence of the rest of the movie—including his receipt of the Pulitzer Prize—refutes this interpretation. Of course, consistency is not Moondog’s bag—it’s for squares, baby.

I came close to awarding The Beach Bum a “” rating. In the end, however, McConnaughey’s gonzo performance, and the picture’s cinematography and other technical aspects, make it too good for the lowest rating, while the Beach Bum‘s lack of any sort of seriousness or purpose means it’s not really worth the effort of hating. It seems that the rest of the world sees something in Harmony Korine’s work I’m obviously not getting. If the Beach Bum‘s joke is supposed to be that Moondog is an insufferable, talentless, self-mythologizing jackass coasting on decades-old success, but everyone around him treats him like he’s a genius… that’s got to hit close to home for an auteur with Korine’s ego. I’d be impressed if Korine had the self-deprecating self-awareness to make Moondog an autobiographical stand-in. But even if he did, that still wouldn’t make The Beach Bum a good movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s all incredibly fun, and hilarious, and weird, but with surprisingly earnest feelings of tenderness towards its subjects.”–Emma Stefansky, Thrillist (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: SERENITY (2019)

DIRECTED BY: Steven Knight

FEATURING: , , Jason Clarke

PLOT: A crusty commercial fisherman entertains an offer from his ex-wife to kill her current husband, an abusive alcoholic multi-millionaire.

Still from Serenty (2019)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a noir/mindscrew oddity that inspires a reaction of “huh” more than anything else.

COMMENTS: “Serenity” is the name of Baker Dill’s fishing boat and, one presumes, the state of mind to which he aspires. “Justice” is the name of the tuna (!) he obsessively pursues. A game Matthew McConaughey plays the role of Baker broadly and brashly—although not quite reaching levels of transcendent camp. He exhibits remnants of post-Iraq PTSD, has a psychic connection to the son he left behind, pulls a knife on his own fishing tour customers, acts as a part-time gigolo and cat-catcher when not trawling for tuna or slamming shots of rum, and shows off his taut butt every chance he gets: swimming nude, showering, or rising from bed for a smoke after pleasuring Diane Lane. Femme fatale Anne Hathaway (temporarily blonde for this role) saunters in at the end of the first act to swerve the narrative into noir territory. There’s also a bespectacled man with a briefcase bumbling around on Baker’s trail, always missing him by a few seconds. The action occurs on Plymouth Island, a small scenic isle in—the Caribbean? The Florida Keys? (It was actually filmed in the Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius, a paradise of translucent blue seas.) The locals are rugged individualists given to saying things like “You fish for the tuna. That’s a tuna that’s only in your head.”

And then comes that twist. It’s weird, yes, but somewhat telegraphed, and revealed in its entirety by the halfway point. You can see why audiences felt cheated by this sudden switch to the metaphysical. It’s not just that it’s unexpected; it’s unsatisfying. (“Preposterous” is a less flattering term that comes to mind.)

You won’t be confused about what happens in Serenity, but you might be puzzled as to why this strange script was greenlit. That’s not to say it’s terrible, exactly, it’s just… un-Hollywood. Director Steven Knight, the writer of the hits Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises and co-creator of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” had enough credibility to get a studio to back this commercial folly; when McConaughey and Hathaway signed on, it was a go. Unfortunately, their gamble on Serenity won’t do anybody’s career any favors; the film is already showing up on “worst of 2019” lists.

It’s not that bad; at least Serenity takes chances and is never boring, although neither does it ever exactly work as intended. The sunny postcard setting makes for balmy viewing, and McConnaughey’s gruff, committed performance is fun, if a bit fishy. That said—oh, that twist! It troubles our Serenity.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… if you like seeing authentically unusual movies, then ignore the haters: In its fusion of disparate genres, its sentimentality, and its weirdness, Serenity is actually worth watching.”–Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Mike B, who speculated “…it smells like a potential candidate. So far, the reviewers have no idea what the hell to make of it, which is usually a good sign.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Kim Henkel

FEATURING: Renee Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Jacks

PLOT: Teenagers leave prom, get in accident, get lost, meet cannibal slaughter family. 1)The TCM franchise isn’t exactly aimed at people who care for things like “plots”; the point is to watch it like a wildlife documentary with no narration.

Still from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are many ways to get onto the List of 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Stir-frying the original movie in your franchise with some sprinklings from Robert Anton Wilson’s spice rack, alas, is not a sufficiently potent recipe.

COMMENTS: Nothing says “October viewing” like a TCM sequel! Let’s check the IMDB rating for this one: 3.2. The box office was $141K, on a $600K budget. Oh, this is gonna hurt. I might even have to use my safe word.

But for real, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise was started by Tobe Hooper as a budget student project, a loose parody of the six o’ clock news circa 1974, which was—quote—“showing brains spilled all over the road.” Don’t expect Shakespeare. Ah, but twenty years later, an environment where a studio says “we don’t care what you do, as long as we release a TCM movie” is just the kind of liberating atmosphere that could allow weirdness to flourish, with the right strands of DNA.

How strange, then, that in 1994 original TCM co-scripter Kim Henkel decided to rewind through almost exactly the same story. Four random teenagers ditch a high school prom to drive off at night and get lost in the “extra foggy” woods, get betrayed by a seemingly helpful roadside flunkie who actually delivers them into the lap of danger, are pursued and menaced and even plugged onto a meathook by a family of deranged cannibals, and attend a gruesome dinner scene where many human fixtures are flaunted as home decorations by Martha Stewart’s evil counterpart. One final girl escapes, but the guy with the funny mask and power tool breathes free still. Why are we even doing this? The TCM franchise set one of the lowest bars in cinema history, just a couple steps above watching a tropical fish tank with a few predatory species mixed in. It takes a deliberate effort to screw it up, which is what this movie does.

The point here, it turns out, was to inject a note of conspiracy theory into the Leatherface mythos, by invoking the Illuminati, JFK, and other random nouns grabbed from some thumbed-over copy of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook.” It’s a justification for why the cannibal clan flourishes: there’s a global conspiracy looking out for them. The filmmakers dub in some NSA watchlist words and add a couple characters who barge in and hastily retcon the series, tying it into conspiracy theories. That’s it, you’re done. Oh, but remove any attempt at characterization. The hillbillies use the same vocabulary as anybody else. Wait, castrate the series, too, because the first member of the cannibal clan we meet is Matthew McConaughey. This man could suck the testosterone out of a monster truck rally just by attending it, changing all the trucks into Daimler-Benz Fortwos. Here, his tow-truck driver persona is a serial killer so apathetic that he offs his victims with a shrug after giving them every opportunity to get away.

To its credit, the movie seems to have been made with a laissez faire attitude that makes it more of a TCM parody, with the usual tropes of the genre turned into exaggerated cliches and stereotypes. It’s mildly stupid/humorous, like a Scary Movie installment. A few off-kilter moments happen (picking up pizza takeout for dinner when you have a struggling victim in the trunk, huh), but it doesn’t go far enough to make it into “weird”;  barely “interesting.” If anything, your sympathy lies with the cast and crew at large; the whole movie is one big middle finger to itself, commiserating with the audience in a tone that says “We can’t believe you wasted money on this, and we can’t believe we’re getting paid for it either.” This style of franchising is most associated with The Brady Bunch Movie, released a year later. To have a TCM installment remind you of the Brady Bunch tells you all you need know about how scary or even gory it is.

TCM:TNG is a movie that begs you to hate it, so vilely does it hate itself. Instead, as is the case when reacting to any self-loathing moody snowflake, the only sensible reaction is indifference. There are hundreds of movies just like this one lurking behind long Roman numerals in horror franchise sequel hell. One might as well churn the bins at Dollar General’s DVD section with a pitchfork, because these horror franchise sequels are as indistinguishable from each other as straws of hay. The fact that one of them knows this and cynically reminds you of it doesn’t make it any better. It only depresses us for the lost opportunity as the movie gives up on itself in a peeved tantrum. Just look at Halloween III: Season of the Witch. It found itself in the same trash bin, but it seized the day and shot for the heavens and now we remember it, don’t we? That’s what you can do with the right strands of DNA.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Henkel resorts to the infamously gonzo subplots that have made the film memorable despite itself. No longer content to let a crazy group of cannibals be a crazy group of cannibals, Henkel went and turned the Sawyer clan into agents for some ancient Illuminati that may or may not be space aliens in what is truly the most off-the-wall reveal in any of the major horror franchises. Such wackiness might be commendable if it were accompanied by any true thoughtfulness, but it just stands as a random, mystifying element that feels like a joke nobody could ever get… One of the truly horrific franchise misfires of all-time, The Next Generation has to be seen to be believed; I’d like to say that it lives up (down?) to its infamy, but that still doesn’t quite capture the breadth of its inanity.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (DVD)

References   [ + ]

1. The TCM franchise isn’t exactly aimed at people who care for things like “plots”; the point is to watch it like a wildlife documentary with no narration.

CAPSULE: KILLER JOE (2011)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Matthew McConaughey, , Thomas Hayden Church, Gina Gershon

PLOT: A poor Texas family encounters serious trouble after a shady murder deal to acquire a life insurance policy on the mother goes totally wrong.

Still from Killer Joe (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although the film is exceptionally well made and immensely entertaining, it’s a rather straight exploitation film that uses crassness, violence and exaggerated black comedy to comment on the disintegration of American society.  It’s a fantastic film, but not even close to being one of the weirdest of all time. There is only one single scene that could ascend into the sacred cloud of weirdness, and it’s not the one most people are thinking of. Near the beginning of the film, Chris (Emily Hirsch) sees a ghost of his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) in a rather revealing garment, and she stretches her hand out in a peculiar and deliberate way before disappearing. The resultant silent motions and their rapidity gave the scene a creepy feel that was chillingly bizarre. Other than that, this solidly-made shocker doesn’t veer into any territories that are strange enough to stand apart from other movies of its type.

COMMENTS: The distinct flicking sound of a Zippo lighter breaking the black sets the stage for Killer Joe, a film about family, lust, betrayal, and fried chicken. A cavalcade of rednecks, trailers guarded by muscular pooches, booze-hounds, druggies, incest, a nowhere-town pouring with rain and a step mom who refuses to groom her womanly regions follow. By the time the end credits rolled around (with a God-awful country tune in the background), I came to the conclusion that Friedkin and his brilliant cast truly delivered the goods.

Ansel Smith (Thomas Hayden Church) supplies sardonic humor as an utterly careless deadbeat. He is totally subservient to Matthew McConaughey’s Detective Joe Cooper, dutifully responding with “yes sir” after being repeatedly humiliated. He accepts a plan to murder his ex-wife as a chance to get some extra cash, and he appears to be unconcerned for the danger his son Chris is in. The comedy of the film mostly centers on Ansel’s goofy and dim-witted assessments of the terrible trouble his family is in, while the darker aspects come from McConaughey’s complete depravity and manipulation of the Smith family. Throw in an unfaithful wife and a son who cuts too many corners (Chris is shown gambling at the tracks even when he owes money to mobsters), and you see that the rest of the family isn’t much different. Dottie is nuts as the virgin sister, standing naked and pigeon toed before a sexually repressed Detective Joe in one of the movie’s more uncomfortable scenes. The scene reflects the widespread and under-reported sexual abuse that happens in America’s domestic landscape, as well as its effect on society at large. Indeed, the “date” scene is one of the few moments in the film that reveals Joe Cooper to be vulnerable, depicting his discomfort and residual frustration while listening to Dottie’s memories of childhood trauma. He quickly and aggressively changes the subject, asking her to put on a black dress, escaping his own feelings by controlling the actions of others. It becomes apparent that these characters share similar psychological issues, but the social leverage created by age and power posit a complete devastation of morals committed by Joe towards the Smith family. Although everyone in the family is up for plenty of misdeeds and rotten amorality, it is McConaughey’s deliberately physical performance that lingers to sinister effect here. Notice the way he walks around a room, slowly calculating not only his words but the environment itself, checking to make sure everything is exactly as it should be, eyes intense and exerting absolute control at all times.

The tightness and coherence of Killer Joe‘s structure cannot be understated. It weaves its way through its sickening plot with grace, while including a plenitude of seemingly mundane details that enhance characterization while efficiently raising the suspense level as the story runs its course towards the nasty climax. An example of this kind of cyclical plot device can be seen when Detective Joe manipulatively turns off the television each time he enters the Smith family’s house. Near the end of the film, we are expecting him to yet again turn off the television as he walks towards it, but instead he picks it up and smashes it on the ground, signaling the beginning of his most overtly heinous act in the film and establishing his right to complete dominance over the family. Another sublimely subtle connection occurs when Digger playfully mentions his reluctance to stay away from fried chicken right before he orders his biker-goons to beat Chris to a bloody pulp. It foreshadows the upcoming shock-scene quite nicely. It’s clear that Digger, Joe, and Rex (Chris’s mom’s boyfriend, flaunting a loud yellow Corvette) represent the American business/ruling class in the film, and the Smith family can be seen as the desperate underclass willing to forsake morality, dignity, and intelligence to survive their hopeless economic state. As in Friedkin’s Bug, the main characters are desperate to the point of delusion, only this time their vile acts of familial betrayal for the sake of capital stretch them into larger representations of disintegration, stagnation, and ignorance. We feel some sympathy for Chris, who is shown as being slightly justified in his attempts to shield his sister from Joe, a fact highlighted to amplify the downright anarchic ending. McConaughey completely elevates himself as an actor in the ending of this film, gleefully abandoning his accumulated social precisions to expressions of ecstatic sexual bliss as he brutalizes the family. Church makes us smirk while we are watching horrific violence by acting oblivious to it, even while participating in it. One final and devastating note is dropped before the credits that implies these cycles of violence and stupidity will continue. It may be some time before I get hungry for fried chicken again.

Killer Joe was adapted from his own play by Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Tracy Letts.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…lurches from realism to corn-pone absurdism and exploitation-cinema surrealism. Such lurching isn’t necessarily bad and could have proved entertaining. Yet… it feels as if Mr. Friedkin is consistently controlled by the story’s excesses rather than in control of them.”–Manohla Dargis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “e.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)