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Tim Grierson on Matthew McConaughey’s Comeback

Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike

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Of the many pleasures of “Magic Mike,” one of the principle ones is the sight of Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the smooth-talking owner of the Xquisite, the strip club where Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer entertain the women of Tampa, Florida. In McConaughey’s inspired performance, there’s an element of the brazen showmanship that Tom Cruise exhibited as Frank T.J. Mackey in “Magnolia,” but Dallas’s bulletproof charm is all McConaughey’s. For too long, McConaughey was in danger of being not so much a star as a punch line: the beach-bum lady-killer who coasted on his looks in bad romantic comedies. But in the last few years, he’s focused on roles that have required much more of him. And he’s responded.

Most people’s first encounter with McConaughey was in 1993’s “Dazed and Confused,” where he played David Wooderson, a happily directionless stoner trolling for teenage girls. Wooderson has proved to be the template for just about every romantic/comedic role he’s taken on since, but early on it seemed like he had greater aspirations than just being the dude who wooed Jennifer Garner or Sarah Jessica Parker. In the mid-to-late-‘90s, McConaughey pursued a string of roles in serious or art-house films like “Lone Star,” “A Time to Kill” and “Amistad.” They weren’t all great fits. (In retrospect, the earnest “Contact” might have been better if director Robert Zemeckis had acknowledged from the beginning that having Jodie Foster fall for a New Age-y theologian who looked like McConaughey was simply ludicrous.) But at least they showed him taking risks, and even if he was a bit wobbly playing period in “Amistad,” it was hardly unseemly or embarrassing.

McConaughey didn’t stop taking serious roles after “Amistad” — he’s quite good in Bill Paxton’s little-seen 2002 horror-thriller “Frailty” — but the negative latter-day impression we have of McConaughey was first cemented thanks to the success of the 2003 romantic comedy “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” The film costarred Kate Hudson, and it featured the sort of absolutely silly plot that exists only in rom-coms: Hudson wants to prove she get a guy to fall in and out of love with her in 10 days; while McConaughey wants to prove he can get a gal to fall in love with him in 10 days. And so one of McConaughey’s biggest hits was born — and in the process solidified McConaughey’s onscreen persona as the hunky cad that women just can’t resist. Much of the ‘00s was spent cashing in on that persona in everything from “Sahara” to “Two for the Money” to “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, McConaughey’s natural charisma calcified into a smug Don Juan-like essence that wasn’t appealing. Whereas early in his career there was a pleasure in discovering McConaughey’s charm light up a film, now it seemed to be a cynical commodity. At first, his lackadaisical air was what made you like him — while everyone else on the screen was strenuously acting, he seemed to be having a ball — but eventually it just translated into what seemed like laziness.

Maybe it was turning 40, maybe it was the fact that 2009’s “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” didn’t perform all that well, but McConaughey has been showing us another side of late, and while it would be silly to suggest that he’s suddenly “taking his craft seriously,” he has been able to find that old spark that made him interesting in the first place.

The turnaround started with last year’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” which on paper was just an average cops-and-lawyers thriller. But McConaughey’s performance as slick defense attorney Mick Haller gave the proceedings a resonance that complemented the story’s page-turning efficiency — it was pulp with a little soul. (You also wonder if being around such good actors as Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy helped shake McConaughey up a bit.) “The Lincoln Lawyer,” which was based on Michael Connelly’s novel, wasn’t a huge smash, but it was the kind of adult drama that gave McConaughey a platform to show off his chops without breaking a sweat. (As always, he played the cocky guy, but one you actually liked for a change.)

Since then, he’s costarred in “Dazed and Confused” director Richard Linklater’s dark comedy “Bernie,” and while his turn as an attention-seeking Texas district attorney was a little too hammy for my taste, it again highlighted an actor who wanted to change your perception of him. And now he’s back with “Magic Mike,” which I think is a revelation in how it shows McConaughey playing with his persona and twisting it. Dallas really could be David Wooderson’s more ambitious brother: They both love drugs, women and rock ‘n’ roll, but only Dallas has figured out how to make a living from such interests. Buff and tan, McConaughey’s Dallas isn’t as young as his boy-toy dancers, and you can feel that conflict inside this aging man-child, who isn’t quite ready to admit that his time in the spotlight is fading. Like McConaughey’s characters in “Lincoln Lawyer” and “Bernie,” Dallas wants the attention, and in all three performances there’s a poignancy to that desire because none of them can see how faintly ridiculous their lives are. (Much to McConaughey’s credit, he plays Dallas straight, which gives his absolute devotion to the craft of stripping a dignity it wouldn’t have had if the character was just played for laughs.) Whether intentional or not, these roles feel like McConaughey’s way of acknowledging that his time as a young Hollywood hunk is rapidly ending. But unlike his characters, he’s trying to evolve and find a new niche for himself.

That evolution continues. Later this month, he’s going to be in the dark crime thriller “Killer Joe,” where he’s received great reviews, and by the end of year we should see him in “Mud,” the latest from heralded indie filmmaker Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”). You never know, McConaughey could still play opposite Kate Hudson or whatever new starlet comes down the pike. But the hope is that his recent critical success will remind him that he doesn’t just have to be that guy loafing around without a shirt.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.