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.

Primer by Shane Carruth

Primer by Shane Carruth

Primer by Shane Carruth

Two friends, who perform scientific experiments as a hobby, accidentally discover a means of time travel.

If anybody has read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, you will know the workings of the Time Traveller’s time machine is never properly technically explained. The Time Traveller loosely explains his theory about time being a 4th dimension, pulls a lever on his time machine and is able to time travel forwards and backwards. That’s as scientific as the story gets. From a storytelling approach, like the exposition of the Frog DNA being the key to cloning dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, it’s important to give enough story information so the audience can suspend their disbelief but not too much or risk the logic collapsing itself.

Primer challenges this idea. Shane Carruth’s storytelling approach, much like his two main characters, is equally experimental. The realistic way he’s chosen to present the science is noteworthy. Is it more realistic than The Time Traveller pulling a lever to travel back in time? No. Because the science again is never explained in full detail. It’s the feeling of realism and science that’s put onto the story that makes it feel realistic. Many scientific discoveries in the past have been accidental and Primer puts the audience inside that drama through its two scientists Aaron and Abe. The technical jargon-heavy dialogue is probably as close to not having any exposition in a film ever. The effect is jarring because we don’t know what they’re talking about exactly. However, it refocuses on Aaron and Abe’s emotional reactions and that’s where Primer grabbed me. I believed that they were scientists and experienced their excitement and awe of their accidental discovery. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what will happen next.

I’m glad I didn’t see Primer in theaters, as the last 20 minutes of the film really test your brain power as an audience member. The story shifts into 4th gear and crescendoes into a finale. I had to rewind the last 20 minutes and rewatch it a few times to understand what was going on. For that Primer loses some points in my book because the film assumes that it’s okay for the audience to be lost in Primer, it accomplishes that for the first two thirds. Whether an audience member follows along the last third of the film will ultimately justifies Carruth’s story experiment. For me, it proves that as non-cinematic as it is filling your story with exposition, it is still a critical component to storytelling.

That said, I applaud Carruth’s experimental exposition-less approach to storytelling. I believe the completed film is 100% what Shane Carruth set out to make and the fact that he achieved his vision for 7000 U.S. dollars is impressive to me.

For Lovers Only by Michael Polish

For Lovers Only (film)

For Lovers Only bb Mark Polish

A reporter chances upon a former lover while on assignment in France.

Have you ever strolled with your girlfriend down the street in the perfect mutual moment and wished somebody photographed the both of you at the right angle and turned it into a postcard? That’s what this film feels like from beginning to end.

For Lovers Only is a completely intoxicating assault on the senses. They completely capture the intimacy of human touch; someone stroking your hair, nibbling your ear, the saliva strings between kisses, stroking their fingers across your back while clamping their legs around you in a deep embrace. It’s every picture-perfect chocolaty moment that any hopeless romantic would love to experience.

Stana Katic looks divine; her beauty makes me want to cry. Suffice to say, she gives a good performance. Mark Polish is fine but his performance is hidden beneath his sunglasses. Together they both make a believable couple and most importantly create the mutual overwhelming rush of passion. Also noteworthy is the film’s sensuous soundtrack, of which I listened through the film’s closing credits.

Romantic as it is, the Polish brothers also present an insightful examination of love. Relationships are spatial and temporal, and we are confined by how close we are and how much time we have. It’s always in moments of ecstasy where time zips by, you begin counting the seconds before the moment is gone. For Lovers Only incorporates this into its film language, most notably in its montage sequences.

Here we see how love amplifies everything up to eleven, how everything becomes life and death (which justifies the dreamy black and white cinematography). And how there is only one person for you in the entire world, right before you wake up and snap out of it. Through the sweet and the sour, we realize Sofia and Yves are intertwined in this moment of passion because of their past relationship and by the romantic excitement of their chance encounter. It’s suddenly romantic when they’re reminded how they are so used to each other. But does familiarity make a lasting relationship? That becomes the film’s central question, but they leave it up for the audience to answer themselves.

In the end, unlike the typical Hollywood romance, this film chooses the emotional journey of love over the final result of whether love is obtained. For Lovers Only is a bittersweet dark chocolate of a film and I recommend every romantic couple have a 89-minute affair with it. And for that, it seems appropriate to recommend this for Valentine’s Day as well.