Saturday, November 23, 2013


Rated:  R

STARS: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto,  Jennifer Garner,  Steve Zahn
DIRECTOR: Jean-Marc Vallee
GENRE: Drama

Ron Woodruff was a Texas good ol' boy who was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1986--back when AIDS was a highly misunderstood, feared and maligned disease. Rather than accept a doctor's bleak prognosis, Woodruff became a crusader (without the cape) for alternative drugs and supplements not approved by the FDA, but which showed some promise in treating the disease. And that's how The Dallas Buyers Club came into being. Woodruff became a smuggler--obtaining his meds by hook or by crook from far-flung locales such as Mexico and Japan. He then sold them to AIDS patients who, by all accounts, benefited through his efforts. And he kept himself alive for several more years. 

In The Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays Woodruff as a foul-mouthed, bigoted, chauvinistic, homophobic, drug and sex addicted redneck rodeo cowboy who wants to take a swing at anybody who slights him or doesn't give him his way. The real Ron Woodruff was reportedly a bit of all that, but everything gets magnified in the movies. McConaughey has the look down pat--he dropped more than 40 pounds for the role--but the real Ron Woodruff had a softer, baby-faced kind of look, and he is remembered fondly by those who knew him. So I suspect he wasn't quite the scowling first-class A-hole portrayed here.  

Jennifer Garner plays Dr. Eve Saks, who becomes Woodruff's ally and friend. Jared Leto is Rayon, a transgender fellow AIDS sufferer who helps turn Woodruff from homophobe to seemingly compassionate advocate. Both characters are composites, and not based on actual persons. 

How much of Woodruff's motivation in forming The Dallas Buyers Club was selfish--to provide an income and keep himself alive--and how much of it reflected a compassionate activism, especially as time went on, is open to speculation. He stated in an interview that his mark-up on the drugs only covered his operating costs.

How much of Matthew McConaughey's motivation in shedding 40 to 50 pounds to be appropriately gaunt looking for this role was motivated by his paycheck, or wanting passionately to tell a compelling story is also open to speculation. Sacrificing for one's art is a noble endeavor, but in this case--messing around with his health in such a manner--I think he's plain nuts. 

But he's a lock for an Academy Award nomination, and most likely wins for Best Actor. (Anthony Hopkins has to consider himself lucky in that all he had to do to become Alfred Hitchcock was wear a fat suit!)

Grade:  B  +


Is it me or are more and more movies being made these days that are 'based on real people'? I guess Hollywood moguls have finally bought into the idea that "truth is stranger than fiction." Only in their eyes, "truth is more lucrative than fiction." Is it? If The ButlerCaptain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks are any indication, I'd say it is. Personally, I'd much rather watch something based on reality even if the screenwriters take a lot of liberties with the story line and the main character. No doubt Tim's research about Ron Woodruff being less of an asshole than the Ron Woodruff we see in The Dallas Buyers Club is accurate. But just like I prefer nonfiction movies, I also gravitate towards 'bad boys.' Nobody does bad boy better than McConaughey. And once you get over how incredibly skinny he is in this film, you can't help but love/hate the guy.

Those early days of AIDS are quickly established in the beginning of this movie when a bunch of redneck rodeo riders sit around gay-bashing Rock Hudson who, it has just been announced, has AIDS. (Of course I loved one knucklehead's reaction: "Who's Rock Hudson?") It's a poignant film and often painful to watch. And the person I predict will get an Oscar nod is Jared Leto who, aside from being a brilliant actor, is an accomplished musician and the main songwriter for the rock group Thirty Seconds to Mars.

I'm with Tim on this one. It's worth the price of admission—and then some.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

ALL IS LOST (2013)

Rated: PG-13

STARS: Robert Redford
DIRECTOR: J.C. Chandor
GENRE: Action--Adventure/ Suspense

Going to a movie called All Is Lost,  you may psych yourself into being depressed by the time you hit  your seat.  Sometimes a title is meant to mislead you. Not here.  Robert Redford's character is in trouble from the get-go. He's piloting a small yacht  in the middle of the Indian Ocean , and his craft has just collided with a huge railroad type shipping container. Now there's a hole in the side of the boat, and it's taking on water. 

Plot aficionados, this won't be your cup of tea. Because there is only one question--will he or won't he survive?  If you enjoy character-driven drama,  you're S. O. L. as well.  We learn next to nothing of the man. Not his name, nor why he has embarked upon his foolhardy journey. He apparently has a family somewhere. But then, most people do.

All Is Lost is pure action and a man's will to survive. Redford gets jostled about in the craft during storms and knocks his head. He tries unsuccessfully to send a mayday call on his radio. He climbs up and down the mast and does other manly type things. He charts his course on a map and sees that he is drifting toward the shipping lanes, and potential rescue. But will help arrive in time before he runs out of food and water, or becomes some shark's dinner entree?

There is one moment of comic relief where the man rears back and lets fly with an expletive to ring through the universe. You would too in his predicament.  It's a truly existential moment. Why are we here? What the hell is going on? The only entreaty to the gods that seems to make any sense is:  F_  _ K!!!!!!

All Is Lost is a unique kind of movie that won't challenge you much, in the sense that if  you nod off for a minute or two, you haven't missed anything. You may wonder why Robert Redford would make such a film. I think it's because he wanted to demonstrate what a tough and spry old fart he is at age 77.



As I watched this movie, I kept thinking of nasty headlines I could write: "Stick to directing, Bobby!" "All will be lost at the box office with this turkey!" or"See Spot Sink." I know, I know. It's mean-spirited of me. But so is ALL IS LOST.  Mean-spirited in the sense that it totally disregards the needs of the average film-goer. Now if you're an avid sailor, that's different. Or if—like most men—you are map-obsessed, ALL IS LOST will certainly keep you 'on course.' Just out of curiosity, I looked around the theater and I'd say 80% of the audience was male.

Yes, Mr. Redford is certainly nimble for his age. But the dyed hair (possibly enhanced by a wig?) and withering biceps were a dead giveaway. Much as I liked him in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,  I've always felt Redford's performances were pretty wooden. As a director, however, the man is a genius.

While trying not to nod off, I developed a mad-on for Redford's character labeled in the credits as "Our Man." People whose egos are so huge they think they can overcome any and all obstacles piss me off. This guy reminded me of the bear activist in Grizzly Man who thought he could communicate with grizzlies -- to learn too late that he was wrong. Part of me was hoping Our Man would get eaten by the sea. Oh well. The underwater photography was beautiful.


Saturday, November 9, 2013


Rated: R

STARS:  Domhnall Gleeson,  Rachel McAdams,  Bill Nighy,  Lydia Wilson,   Margot Robbie
DIRECTOR:  Richard Curtis
GENRE: Romantic Comedy/ Fantasy

Cross Groundhog Day with The Time Traveler's Wife and you get something called About Time--with much of the humor, cleverness, and charm of the former, and a little of the head spinning stay-on-your-toes-and-try-to-keep-up aspect of the latter. 

The romantic lead,  Domhnall Gleeson, is no Hugh Grant-- the common denominator in previous Richard Curtis faves such as Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary.  He's an average looking bloke, but he grows on you. 

Born into a well-to-do English family, Tim Lake (Gleeson) has just turned 21, and it's time for the fatherly talk from dad (the irrepressible Bill Nighy) on the subject of stepping out into the world. But it's not what Tim is expecting. Dad informs him that the men in the family have always had the ability to travel through time, and Tim has it too. He can't change the world in any monumental way--just his own personal experiences.  So naturally, Tim takes advantage of his newly found abilities and zips back to a crappy New Year's Eve party where he failed to kiss the girl...and...kisses the girl. Hey, this works! You pretty much know  where it's headed from here. Tim uses time travel to find the perfect girl, (Rachel McAdams) fall in love, and make the events of his life work to his liking. Except every act creates some kind of karma, so he finds himself having to go back and tweak things here and there, with consequences that set the theater audience laughing uproariously or wiping away a little tear.

Love Actually is on my top ten favorites of all time list. So I was eagerly anticipating About Time. It's not a perfect film. It's overly long--a little over two hours--and not in the way that leaves you thirsting for more. It could have easily been condensed by twenty minutes and the movie would have been less wobbly on its feet.  As it is, it's not so much a story as it is a saga. And the theme that kept coming into my mind--whether it's moral to manipulate people and events to one's own advantage without informing them of what you've done--is not explored.

But About Time has all the hallmarks of any feel-good Richard Curtis film, and despite its shortcomings, (or long-comings) profound life lessons are imparted, and your spirits will soar.

Grade:  B +


Feel-good, schmeel-good. When a film presents a premise such as being able to go back in time, I don't like it when that premise gets tinkered with halfway through the movie. I won't bore you with the details of how it gets tinkered with (and why the final turnaround doesn't make any sense). Suffice it to say that neither Tim nor I could justify the obvious inconsistencies. Clearly it didn't bother him. But me? I'm more anally retentive than that. Still, it was—as the Brits would say—a rollicking romp of a movie.

Of course I have a secret crush on Bill Nighy ever since I saw him in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" – which I hear is slated for a sequel. And he is utterly charming as the head of a rather bizarre household that includes an uncle whose suits are tailored to a fare-thee-well but whose conversational skills leave a lot to be desired. Rachel McAdams is a treat to look at and personally I found it hard to believe she'd fall for a geeky-looking guy like Tim. (Hugh Grant, yes. But Domhnall Gleeson? 'Fraid not.) In researching her other films, I found it rather amusing that she was paired with yet another time-traveler (Eric Bana) in "The Time Traveler's Wife." I didn't hate ABOUT TIME. But compared to other Richard Curtis' offerings, I was disappointed.