Tag Archives: Matthew McConaughey

“The Dark Tower”



For a lifelong Stephen King fan like me, watching “The Dark Tower” is both fun and frustrating. The movie’s storyline does not closely follow the one set in King’s epic eight-book series; as close as I could tell, the movie takes elements of books one, three, four, and six and somehow reduces them to a 90-minute story with more of a beginning, middle and end than one would think possible.

Truth be told, it’s more like an alternate version of the story I’ve been reading since I was in middle school. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, necessarily; in some respects, director Nikolaj Arcel and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman have captured the essence of the story: the man in black (Matthew McConaughey) fled across the desert, and the gunslinger (Idris Elba) followed. But watching it is akin to listening to only a few bars of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”: you get the idea of the thing, but you are missing so very much.

That said, the movie is decent enough. McConaughey chews scenery as Walter, the man in black, and Elba turns in another reliably good performance. The story moves along briskly enough, and there’s a memorable sequence at the Dixie Pig that alone is worth the price of admission. King fans will delight in some of the Easter eggs and well-placed references to other books he has written. And seeing these characters brought to life on the screen is satisfying in its own right.

It’s clear that The Dark Tower books deserve a much more comprehensive treatment, which the planned television series could deliver. This movie is better than nothing, but not as good as you want it to be.





Inspired by true events in the 1980s, “Gold” tells the story of down-on-his-luck Nevada prospector Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) and his partnership with fellow miner Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez) who strike gold in Indonesia. The men hit a huge payday and must fight against a Wall Street takeover. This is undoubtedly a great idea for a movie, but comparisons to far better films “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Big Short” are inevitable.

This classic rags to riches story is unnecessarily complicated. It’s as if director Stephen Gaghan (“Traffic,” “Syriana”) and writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman were too afraid to leave out even the most insignificant detail of Wells’ life, even though he is a fictional character. Yes, there is no real life Kenny Wells, he’s just a composite of a bunch of real men, hence the “inspired by” disclaimer.

We are forced to watch as Kenny drinks a lot of booze, his failed attempts at making up with his devoted gal (Bryce Dallas Howard), and repeated trips to the jungles of Indonesia to just look around. The real story is in the film’s final twenty minutes when we finally get to the compelling part of the plot, but the slow pace leading up to the big “gotcha” is mostly a chore to suffer through. The movie is overly long and feels much longer than it actually is, which is never a good sign.

Sure, everybody loves money and even more so the dream of an easy payday. What’s a real shame is that there’s no audience hook; nothing to make us care. Even worse is the story’s lack of structure and bland, pedestrian direction. This movie left me longing for what could have been if only this story had fallen into the hands of a more capable screenwriter and director.

McConaughey is good but he’s always good, so nothing in particular stands out about this performance except that it’s wicked fun to stare at his portly pot belly (the actor gained 40 pounds for the role), his balding head and weirdly off-putting snaggletooth (all makeup). Howard is out of her league yet again, unfairly paired with one of the greatest actors of our time. Her lack of talent is amplified when next to McConaughey and quickly becomes even more distracting than usual.

I appreciate McConaughey’s commitment to the material, but even he cannot save this sinking ship.

“Kubo and the Two Strings”



Move over, Pixar: there’s a new game in town. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the latest big screen effort from Laika, an animation studio that has had its own ups and downs over the years, but reaches a new level in quality and storytelling with this gorgeous, haunting film. The sheer artistry on display here is overwhelming, from the richness and scope of the animation to the imaginative fable that incorporates Japanese samurai mythology.

Laika’s signature animation style is loved by some and loathed by others (I’m in the former camp). Since it’s stop-motion yet still computer animated, the characters move in a very specific way, which really adds to the feel of the film. There’s a great deal of depth and complexity in the animation that mirrors the story’s narrative. The overall themes of kindness, remembrance, redemption and discovering your own bravery are decidedly adult. It’s hard not to love and be inspired by Kubo’s heroic nature.

In the story, young one-eyed boy Kubo (Art Parkinson) accidentally summons a spiteful, vengeful spirit. Guided by his late father (who appears as a silent origami warrior), Kubo goes on a great quest with Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and Monkey (Charlize Theron) to solve a mystery involving his dad’s armor. Kubo must eventually face his grandfather, the evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), to take a stand against his blindness to humanity. Kubo does so with his magical musical instrument as his only weapon.

The voice talent reaches perfection across the board. McConaughey adds comic relief but in a sincere, honest way. Theron gives a heartbreaking, quietly ferocious performance too, and Fiennes finds the perfect balance that mixes sinister with kindness.

Make no mistake, this is a very sophisticated film in both style and tone (and in my opinion shouldn’t be marketed to family audiences). There are more than a few very frightening scenes that are certain to scare delicate kiddos. I would recommend this film for mature, thoughtful kids ages 11 and up. A good litmus test for parents is whether or not your kid could handle “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman” and “Coraline.” If they sailed through those without incident, then “Kubo” will be suitable for them.

What a true pleasure it is to see a smart animated film with such a fully realized scope. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is touching, magical, masterful and a must-see.


Beautifully animated by the studio Laika, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a well-written story of a brave young boy who must set out on a epic quest following the death of his parents. It is easily one of my favorite animated movies of the past several years and proves the point of how an art form using drawings, clay figurines, and computers can be used to express emotions in a way that can be even more evocative than using live actors.

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy living in a village with his mother. When vengeful supernatural spirits come looking for him, he is forced to venture out in search of a magical suit of armor that can help protect him against his evil grandfather (Ralph Fiennes). Along the way, he is helped by his guardians Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

Laika’s stop-motion animation style is well-suited for Kubo’s story; the world of “Kubo and the Two Strings” is fully realized. The backgrounds are subtly textured and the paper and clay models lifelike and expressive. The principal voice actors turn in strong performances; even though there are a number of recognizable names in the cast (which, in animated features, is usually all about stunt casting to increase box office draw), they each do a good job of imbuing their characters with a distinct and authentic personality. There are no false notes here; the studio does a great job of building on their strong past (which includes the gems “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”) by taking as much time to get the script right as the animation.

A word of warning: although it’s animated, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is not the right choice for children of all ages. Although the main character is a child, many of the themes are more adult in nature. It’s full of dark material that will frighten younger kids. For older kids and adults seeking a timeless tale of good versus evil in a land of magic and magical creatures where friends, family, and loyalty will help to win the day, it’s a great choice.


“Free State of Jones”



“Free State of Jones” should be required viewing for all students. Students of history? No, students of the art of filmmaking. This well-intentioned mess of a movie may feature the compelling historical figure Newton Knight, but the film’s overall poorly executed storytelling ultimately sinks it to the depths of blah-ness.

Matthew McConaughey plays the Southern farmer Knight, and he (as expected) delivers — but just barely. There are also some decent turns from his supporting cast: Mahershala Ali (Moses), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Rachel), Christopher Berry (Jasper) and Keri Russell (Serena). These actors deserve a better movie.

The film tries to be too much and consequently loses its focus from the get-go. Is this a thinly veiled propaganda piece, a violent (and gory) Civil War battlefield action movie, a heartfelt family drama or a tragic exploration of American history? I guess the answer is yes to all of these. If there had been a tighter focus this would’ve been a pretty effective movie. As it stands, “Free State of Jones” is utterly confusing and just way too long.

There are repeated melodramatic ‘Oscar bait’ scenes of McConaughey delivering teary-eyed, stirring (read: booooooring) solo speeches about inequality in the most manipulative manner possible — and our audience ate it up. Even worse, this mess of a movie tries unsuccessfully to blend a 1960s racial court case (in a paltry attempt to make it relevant with African American struggles today) with Knight’s backstory. It’s confusing, ill-conceived and not well done at all.

In what should’ve been a compelling, rousing rallying cry for justice, I was instead left weary, tired and ready to leave the theater at the film’s halfway point. Pay attention class: this is ineffective filmmaking 101. It’s such a shame because the story is a good one. This is a fascinating historical figure and his story needed to be told, but this movie provides a terrible vehicle for doing so. I recommend this film only to folks who really, really love American history. Otherwise, it’s not worth your time.


“Free State of Jones” is an incoherent, interminable movie that should have been a television miniseries. The film tries to do far too many things and tell too many stories. At a running time of 140 minutes, it’s sure to leave audiences exhausted.

Starring Matthew McConaughey‘s sneer, “Free State of Jones” tells the true story of Newton Knight, a man who deserted the Confederate Army during the Civil War and created his own militia of other deserters and freed slaves who fought back against the Rebs and their predations on poor local land owners. Sounds interesting, right? That part is . . . kind of. But then the movie also spends much time on the post-war aftermath of Newton and his group after the war, and the history of freed slaves in the South after the war, and the way that rich Southern men were able to keep their abandoned plantations after the conflict ended, and the travails of Newton’s descendants, and, and, and.

The trailer would have you believe the film focuses only on Newton’s deserting the army and building his own fighting force — an interesting story to be sure. If writer-director Gary Ross had focused his story on that alone, it might have been a better film. As it exists now, however, it’s essentially an extended lesson that would serve as a good way to teach this material in high school history courses, but that’s about it. It’s hard to understand why the movie was released in the summer.

Even the usually-reliable McConaughey was disappointing in “Free State of Jones.” His range was limited to somber or angry and sneering. The supporting actors were generally decent, but given few opportunities to shine.

If you want to learn about another side of the Civil War, its terrible consequences, and the grave injustices visited on supposedly “freed” slaves after the war ended, then this would be a good rental. But don’t expect to be entertained.