Sex, Leins & Videotape #181: the rise and rise of Matthew McConaughey.

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Tom Leins reviews True Detective and Dallas Buyers Club.

After impressing with early roles in A Time To Kill and Lone Star, Matthew McConaughey had Hollywood at his mercy, and took on a series of eclectic if ultimately forgettable projects.  Somewhere around the turn of the century he lapsed into rom-com purgatory, a cinematic ghetto he struggled to escape from for a hefty chunk of his career. After a decade of increasingly dispiriting romantic comedies, McConaughey was forced to take stock of his situation and started turning down easy pay-cheques in an effort to reinvent himself. After a two-year break he resurfaced with acclaimed crime drama The Lincoln Lawyer in 2011, going on to notch up leftfield credits in the likes of Killer Joe (2011), The Paperboy, Mud and Magic Mike (all 2012). His hot-streak shows no sign of slowing down, and 2013/14 saw him hit dizzy new heights with Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective.

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The latest TV series to roll off the enviable HBO production line, True Detective (HBO Home Entertainment)sees McConaughey star asLouisiana State Police Detective Rustin ‘Rust’ Cohle, who is brought in – alongside estranged colleague Martin Hart (Harrelson) – to revisit a bizarre ritualistic murder that they worked on back in 1995. The investigation unfolds through the two men’s separate interrogations, and the tormented ex-cops find themselves dragged back into the murky case that has haunted them ever since, prompting them to take the law into their own hands in a bid to achieve closure.

Created and written by cult author Nic Pizzolatto – whose previous TV experience was limited to two episodes of the US version of The Killing – True Detective unfolds over eight gripping hours, and sees both McConaughey and Harrelson deliver pitch-perfect career-high performances. Despite his relative lack of experience in the TV world, Pizzolatto has weaved together a dense, allusive yarn that avoids easy answers and probes uncomfortable depths in an attempt to get under its protagonists’ skins.

Part noir thriller, part incisive character study, True Detective is evocative and impeccably crafted throughout. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga – whose debut feature Sin Nombre marked him out as a talent to keep an eye on – also delivers the goods, and has boosted his reputation considerably. McConaughey’s hot streak ensures that he will earn most of the plaudits as boozy, burned-out nihilist Rust, but Harrelson’s barely restrained Hart is also exceptional, adding light and shade to his similarly intense work in gritty recent fare such as Rampart and Out of the Furnace.

Bleak, aggressive and provocative, True Detective is easily the best US TV show of the year so far. Miss out at your peril.

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The release of True Detective coincides with that of Dallas Buyers Club (eOne), the movie that earned man-of-the-moment McConaughey a richly deserved Academy Award for Best Actor. The film examines the life and times of Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) whose free-wheeling life is overturned when he’s diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. Determined to outrun his fate by any means possible, Woodroof decides to take matters in his own hands by tracking down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. After finding an unlikely ally in Rayon (Jared Leto, who won the Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor), he establishes a hugely successful ‘buyers’ club’ and unites a band of outcasts in a struggle for dignity and acceptance.

McConaughey is increasingly comfortable taking risks that few of his contemporaries seem willing to match, and it is hard to imagine anyone else inhabiting the role of Woodroof quite as convincingly. Indeed over the preceding two decades, Woody Harrelson, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling were all attached to the project as it languished in development hell. Leto, who seemingly drops in and out of Hollywood between albums with his all-consuming musical side-project Thirty Seconds To Mars, is similarly impressive as Rayon, and reaffirms his position as one of contemporary cinema’s most intriguing stars.

After gaining 67lbs for his role in Chapter 27, the underrated biography of John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, method actor Leto lost 30lbs to play Rayon – a feat improbably bettered by McConaughey who shed 47lbs to better depict his character’s decline. The actors’ respective commitment to the cause tells you everything that you need to know about the dark drama at the heart of the film – not to mention the grim history lesson it shines a light on. Unique and persuasive, Dallas Buyers Club is an important movie that grips throughout, without ever coming across as sanctimonious. Hugely impressive.

 

 

Sex, Leins & Videotape #180. Tom Leins reviews Out of the Furnace, Inside Llewyn Davis and Wish You Were Here

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Blue collar violence, thwarted beatniks and deceit Down Under – Tom Leins reviews this week’s biggest DVDs.

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Directed by Crazy Heart’s Scott Cooper, Out of the Furnace (Lionsgate) is a bloody, sweaty drama that examines the violent lengths that some men will go to in order to survive in a ravaged steel industry town.

Russell Baze (Christian Bale, The Machinist) works a dead-end job trying to make ends meet so he can support his long-suffering girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) and his ailing father. After returning from active duty in Iraq, Russell’s tormented younger brother Rodney (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) gets involved with a bareknuckle fight club run by demented hillbilly Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson, Rampart) and his crime syndicate. When Rodney fails to come home after a fight, Russell puts his own life on the line in order to investigate.

Originally conceived as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio – with Ridley Scott attached as director – Out of the Furnace hasn’t obviously suffered as a result of the high profile withdrawals, with a haunted-looking Christian Bale giving a typically committed lead performance. He is joined by a top-notch cast, including Willem Dafoe, Forest Whittaker and Sam Shepard, although sole female cast member of note Saldana is shamefully underused in a superfluous supporting role.

The first half of the movie is excellent: brutal and unpredictable, but it loses its way as the narrative unfolds, and the climactic showdown feels disappointingly unimaginative. Considering the A-list cast, it is a shame that Out of the Furnace can only muster a B-movie plot. All in all, a good solid thriller, albeit one that doesn’t quite deliver the level of complexity that the bold casting suggests.

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Inside Llewyn Davis (Studio Canal) follows a week in the life of the titular folk singer (Oscar Isaac, The Two Faces of January) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Set against the backdrop of an unforgiving New York winter, the movie sees hapless Llewyn bounce between friends’ couches as he struggles to secure a foothold in the merciless music industry. With his debut album ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ floundering, the singer is forced to perform on novelty records cash-in-hand, as he embarks on an odyssey to audition for legendary music mogul Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham, Homeland), a man who can make or break his career.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a wry, amusing movie that finds the Coen Brothers indulging themselves to the hilt. As an evocation of a bygone era, the Coens latest period piece is excellent – doing for the 1960s New York folk scene what Barton Fink did for 1940s Hollywood. What it lacks compared to the earlier movie is a greater sense of narrative purpose, with the directorial duo preferring to stitch together a series of quirky vignettes rather than tell a broader tale.  Long-term collaborator John Goodman is in scene-stealing form as a junk-addled jazz fiend, but his character doesn’t spark the film to life in the same way he did in Barton Fink.

Indeed, the supporting cast grows more impressive with each passing scene (Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver, Carey Mulligan), but does little to develop the plot. Oscar Isaac is tremendous in the lead role, but the sense of aimlessness and lack of a satisfactory ending will ultimately ensure that Inside Llewyn Davis won’t rank alongside Coen classics like Fargo, Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona and the aforementioned Barton Fink. That said, the soundtrack, as overseen by long-term collaborator T-Bone Burnett, is just about worth the price of admission alone!

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In Wish You Were Here (Metrodome) married coupleDave (Joel Edgerton, Animal Kingdom, Warrior) and Alice (Felicity Price, Home & Away) are about to become parents for the third time when they agree to join Alice’s younger sister Steph (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr, Banshee) on an impromptu week-long trip to Cambodia. Their week of sun-soaked debauchery quickly turns sour, however, when brash Jeremy vanishes without a trace. After an official investigation fails to shed any light on the disappearance, Dave and Alice return home to their young family. Steph initially remains in Cambodia, desperate for answers, but her eventual return sees a series of dark secrets come tumbling out, threatening not just Dave and Alice’s domestic bliss – but Dave’s life itself.

Australian Edgerton – star of the upcoming Ridley Scott Moses epic Exodus: Gods and Kings – is a brooding, charismatic presence, and it is interesting to see him step back from his recent work in Hollywood to work on a modest homegrown movie such as this. Actor-turned-first-time director Kieran Darcy-Smith – he starred alongside Edgerton in Animal Kingdom – has helmed a memorable first feature, albeit one that sometimes suffers from pacing problems and a muddled sense of purpose. The psychological baggage affecting Dave is convincingly rendered, but the movie as a whole could do with a few more heavyweight scenes and a bit more Cambodian colour. Don’t let the jaunty title fool you – for the most part Wish You Were Here is gritty and absorbing with an impressively queasy pay-off.

 

A Penny For Them

A Penny For Them! Oddbodies crowdfunding for dark tale of greed, fear, Vikings and taxes

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The films of the fantastic Oddbodies dwell in a weird and slightly scary crepuscular (that dimsy, to you) world, so our hairs stood on end to hear that they’re in the midst of a new project. And you can imagine where our hairs were when we also heard that you can join in with the film through its crowdfunding project.

The film is called A  Penny For Them a darkly comic and slightly twisted tale of greed, fear, Vikings and taxes… Continue reading

Sex, Leins & Videotape #179. Tom Leins reviews Orange Is The New Black and Hinterland

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Tom Leins reviews two fascinating new TV dramas in this week’s DVD round-up.

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Based on the bestselling memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, Orange Is The New Black – Season One (Lionsgate)tells the story of what happens when engaged New Yorker Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling, The Lucky One) is arrested and sent to a federal penitentiary for the ten-year-old crime of transporting money for her drug-smuggler girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon, That 70s Show). In prison the pair are unexpectedly reunited and forced to re-examine their relationship at close quarters, while playing an active role in the lives of their fellow inmates.

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Two short Nights

Exeter’s Two Short Nights Film Fest 2014 call for entries

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The Exeter Phoenix has announced that the Two Short Nights Film Festival’s call for entries is now open.

Two Short Nights celebrates and promotes short film and the people who make them. Now in its 13th year, the festival is proud to nurture new and emerging talent and offers a platform for regional, national and international short films to be seen.

This year’s festival will take place on December 11 and 122014 at Exeter Phoenix and the festival will include screenings, talks and the premiere of the Exeter Phoenix Short Film Commissions as well as the new Artist Moving Image Commission.

The deadline for entries is Friday, July 18 2014 and films of any genre under 15 minutes in length are invited to submit.

More information about the terms for submitting films and how to enter can be found on the Two Short Nights website and on the Exeter Phoenix website.

Still from Icelandic film Metalhead directed by Ragnar Bragason

Scandiland, Scandiland: a season of Scandinavian and Nordic cinema in Exeter

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Exeter Phoenix will receive funding for a Season of Scandinavian and Nordic cinema. Scandiland will involve a variety of events at alternative venues across the city, and will feature full length films, documentaries, short films and popular examples of Scandi noir from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finnland.

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D&CFilm is the best place to come for the world of film in Devon and Cornwall. D&CFilm is for film lovers, filmmakers and all those who enjoy the moving image. There are reviews of latest releases and DVDs plus film features, film interviews and film news.