Dallas Buyers Club by Jean-Marc Vallée

Dallas Buyers Club by Jean-Marc Vallée

 

In 1985, Ron Woodroff (Matthew McConaughey), an electrician and avid rodeo enthusiast with homophobic views, contracts the HIV virus and is given 30 days to live. His doctor Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), tells him about the testing of an anti-viral drug named AZT – a drug thought to prolong the life of AIDS patients. Discovering that AZT is actually harmful, he switches to other non-FDA approved drugs ddC and peptide T and partners with Rayon, a transgender woman (Jared Leto), and creates the Dallas Buyers Club, providing drugs to patients for a membership fee.

Making his resurgence this year with a return to dramatic roles, Matthew McConaughey dives into the Ron Woodroff character with an incomparable passion and commitment in years. The monologue McConaughey delivered in the finale of A Time to Kill sent chills down my spine years ago, and since then I have been waiting for years for him to quit doing romantic comedies and now the wait is finally over. Looking dangerously emaciated and painfully frail, McConaughey brings a complex humanity beneath the swindling, trashy, rude exterior in Ron Woodroff. Never in any circumstance would you ever want to hang out with Woodroff, but you feel sympathy for his plight and cheer him on as he rids of his homophobia and starts helping other people. This is McConaughey’s career best.

From the sparse arthouse way he chooses his parts and dividing time with his music career, Jared Leto has gone unnoticed under the radar, most people still only remember him from My So-Called Life. Rayon is the single most compelling onscreen character I have seen this year. Leto tackles the role with such love and human warmth, breathing charm and a sense of humor into Rayon, the role transcends from being a flamboyant woman trapped inside a man’s body but a human being who desires to be truly loved. As Rayon tells her estranged father in a scene, “It’s not a choice.” I would never presume to know the life experience of transgender people, but after seeing Leto’s deeply moving performance I feel much closer. Campaign or awards politics aside, both actors should win the Oscars, period.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée adopts a handheld cinéma vérité style that brings rawness and immediacy, taking its heavy subject matter head-on and naturally lets the characters tell the story. Even with the latter introduction of the FDA subplot, the story never becomes a political debate about whether the law truly meets human needs. Dallas Buyers Club is a fascinating, powerfully moving story and told passionately by its makers. It is one of the year’s best films.

The World’s End by Edgar Wright

The World’s End by Edgar Wright

Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

The Cornetto trilogy is a trilogy in name only. As far as I can see, the chief link between Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz and The World’s End is Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Edgar Wright and the fact that they are all stories about friendships between men. There’s nothing in The World’s End‘s story or theme that forces any finality or closure.

The core story between the five friends dealing with being forty was compelling and heartfelt. It’s nice seeing Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan play bigger roles in a commercial film and a fresh turn seeing Nick Frost playing the most competent character. The story with Simon Pegg’s Gary King is genuinely the darkest and saddest territory these films have ever ventured.

When the genre stuff kicks in, it was quite the surprise. The first time around I couldn’t tell how exactly the core story about the five friends fit with the sci-fi genre elements that cut in the middle. The film simply operates too much on a thematic level. For example, the fact that the twelve bars they visit are all thematically named after points in the story seemed more on the nose than ironical. The humor itself is less blatant than in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz; it’s more akin to laughing at the thematic irony of the situation rather than laughing at funny zingers. It is all very clever stuff, but it may take multiple viewings to really digest its heavy ideas along with its spectacle. I had to watch it again before writing this review.

Now admittedly, out of all the three films, I knew least about the films that The World’s End is referencing. Audiences familiar with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter films will probably have a different experience than me. But at the end of day, science fiction or not, watching five men on a pub crawl just isn’t as cinematic as a zombie outbreak or a midday gun battle.

The fight choreography, although they are drunk bar fights, have a nice martial arts rhythm to them. It seemingly is an aesthetic Wright has brought from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. They were visually theatrical and matched the film’s ironic tone.

I take issue with the epilogue as the story ended on a rather cold morbid note that seemed mean to its characters. If only The World’s End was the second installment in the Cornetto trilogy, it would have relieved itself from following up on the more comical light-hearted expectations from Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, I probably would have liked it more as the darker second installment of the trilogy. That said, it’s dense and the film probably will grow on me with subsequent viewings.

Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson

Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson

A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

The film has a strong ensemble cast. The two leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward carry the film just fine. I believed their romance, connected with their loneliness and rooted for them. It’s been a while since Bruce Willis played a character. In America they call it character acting; the rest of the world just calls it acting. Don’t ask me why. But it was refreshing to see Willis play someone who functions at a lower volume compared to his larger-than-life tough guy action roles. It was also nice to see Edward Norton doing comedy and playing a klutzier character as well.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Moonrise Kingdom was its storybook aesthetic, which acts as the engine pumping a vibrant energy through the story. To list a few examples, the story is set in an enclosed world. A narrator delivers story information straight to the camera in a vocal tone that sounds like he’s instructing a child on how to use a toaster. The cinematography, with its camera movements, deliberately flattens the framing, subtly embodying the two-dimensional quality of a children’s storybook panel.

I liked the world that was created in the film. It was believable and at the same time contained a fairy-tale-like quality and a sense of wonder. As the two lead characters were trying to escape their home like a cartoon character trying to run out of the edges of a page, I could not have imagined what the outside world would have looked like. The world was just that well established. For example, product placement would have completely shattered the illusion of the world. Not that I was specifically looking for it, but I’m glad I do not recall any in the film.

There is a real sense of a community that’s attached to this place and I like that even the smaller characters all contribute to the action of the story rather than acting as mere background decoration. And for that, the characters earn their quirks.

The only other Wes Anderson work I have seen was The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. So I maybe unqualified to say this, but Moonrise Kingdom is probably the most accessible Wes Anderson film. The film is rated PG-13, but I do believe that the film will play well to children (from 9-10 onwards, it does have a few dark moments), particularly as a way to reach children who have been orphaned or have experienced a broken family. It feels as though Wes Anderson made this movie for them.

I was entranced, laughed and it put me in a fuzzy warm mood by the end. Moonrise Kingdom proves how simple stories can still be powerful and it does not take complex story structures to engage and move an audience.