Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dallas Buyers ClubReleased: November 22, 2013. Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto. Runtime: 117 min.

I haven’t seen many films about the AIDS disease, but one can sure tell it’s dealt with sensitively here by director Jean-Marc Vallée. Humour is able to be written into the screenplay because of the charming cast and the characters’ personalities.

The film follows real-life electrician and occasional bull rider Ron Woodroof, a stereotypical redneck who is racist and homophobic. His lifestyle consists of drinking, gambling, drug use, and casual sex. While in the hospital because of a work-related injury, Ron finds out he is HIV positive. Denial strikes and his homophobic personality makes him lash out at the doctor, since it is a disease that (mostly) homosexuals get. He is given thirty days to live. It turns out, he contracts the disease from unprotected sex. (Cloak the joker before you poke her!) In 1985, the drug called AZT that treats AIDS is still in clinical trials – so he has to get the drug somehow under the table. He learns from a doctor in Mexico that other medicines do the trick better than AZT, and this is his story of how he helps other people with AIDS to get better.

In 1985, the cure for AIDS was still trying to be found, so this is an ideal year for the film to be set in. The way hospitals went about testing the drug AZT for human trials is where HIV patients approved for the drug were divided into two groups. One group received the legitimate drug, while the other group received a placebo drug. It’s a little ethically questionable because the patients receiving either one of the drugs are dying, so… Some might be getting better, and the others are getting sugar pills. I guess it’s the only way to tell if it works. For the patients who are simply getting sugar pills, that’s where Ron Woodroof comes in. He offers the people of Dallas diagnosed with HIV a membership to the Dallas Buyers Club, where for $400 they can have access for all of the medication they need. The reason the hospitals are so frustrated with Woodroof is because the people taking the medication aren’t being monitored, and there’s no way to tell if they’d work or not. They’re filled with nutrients and proteins that help make more cells in the immune system.

Though, the film isn’t a boring pharmaceutical film, so that’s really good. I think the storytelling is very capable because mostly it is telling an inspiring and great story. Jennifer Garner’s Eve represents the doctors of the medical community understand Ron’s motivations to help people and himself. I think the way Ron opens up to the homosexual community is very charming. He’s an innovative and smart character, and McConaughey plays him so powerfully and with ease. But that’s not saying his body transformation to play the role wasn’t easy. It also musn’t have been easy for this actor to do the full actor transformation from rom-com star to full-fledged actor. It’s a great turn-around, and he’s becoming one of my favourites – where he plays a character who lives life to the fullest, and enjoys a new outlook on life.

McConaughey opens up to the community by doing business with them, but mostly by befriending a transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto). They become business partners and friends, and the way Ron’s eyes are opened is beautiful. Homophobia is also depicted well and powerfully throughout the film, and often heartbreakingly. One can tell that Rayon has lived through a lot of discrimination, especially in one scene that I won’t spoil. It seems that there’s always been some controversy of Hollywood casting males in transsexual roles. I think that’s what might make the role so challenging for Leto, to let himself get enveloped by the role of Rayon, a flamboyant and hilarious character. But he absolutely nails the role. Most of the stuff coming out of Ray’s mouth made me smile, even if he has frustrating habits.

There’s a sort-of kindness to the character of Ron, where he wants to give medication to the people so they can survive and also live their life to the fullest. Even though many will struggle living a normal life with the unfortunate disease. In a film about survival, I think he represents those who can change over time. This great film also shows some of the most innovative ways to change society is by going under the law; and sometimes, it’s just a necessary thing, no matter what people say.

Score95/100

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

wolf of wall streetReleased: December 25, 2013. Directed by: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie. Runtime: 180 min.

I’m not going to claim that I’m an expert on anything movies just yet, especially not on films by Scorsese – hell, I haven’t even seen “Goodfellas” yet (something I plan on changing this weekend). All I know is this is a freaking awesome film. This is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Belfort made a lot of his money in the pennystocks after the market crash in 1987, where he started his own company. His commission would be 50%, so even if he had someone invest $10, 000; he would still be getting $5000. At one point, Belfort explains a bit how stockbroking works, and since the writers know most of us aren’t following what he’s saying, he gets to the point, and says all we have to know is it isn’t legal. The fourth wall is broken a lot, which is amusing.

The film is downright hilarious; its type of comedy is dark, oh but it is the funniest film of the year that isn’t primarily a comedy. This is a tale about amoral behaviour, but it’s not as if the crew members are advocates for this kind-of behaviour. They’re compelling characters, either way, and likeable for drug crazed folks. It’s a similar case with “Pain and Gain,” but it’s not like the characters in this film are full-blown psychopaths like in “P&G.” They’re cheating people, but they’re not killing anyone. They’re just greedy and really love money. Belfort is a sex and drug addict who really likes this drug called Ludes, it was around as a sleeping pill, but if you could last fifteen minutes on it without falling asleep, you’d get a wicked high. The characters are hilarious on these ludes, by the way. DiCaprio portrays Belfort to near-perfection, causing heartbreak in the viewers here and there. He has some true power in this role, and it’s compelling when he realizes how he often hurts the people around him.

Jonah Hill plays his best friend Donnie, a man with big pearly whites and a really funny personality. He’s one of those characters that does some stupid stuff, but you still like him a lot even after he does it. The plot follows the trouble Belfort faces and the colourful characters he meets along the way, and it’s so nice to see Ethan Suplee again in a small role. Matthew McConaughey teaches Belfort the ropes of the stockbroking business and how to be a better one – lots of jerking off and lots of cocaine. As you can see, the film can be a bit filthy with all of its sex and drugs – but it’s often sexy. A lot of the sexual acts are over-the-top and therefore just really funny; so if you see it with your parents, you’d be entertained and might feel uncomfortable at the same time. This has spectacular pacing for a film that’s three hours long, and it has some compelling character development. I like the way it shows how money can change a person. The stockbroking game is a crazy life, apparently, but it helps make this film entertaining and great, and my favourite of the year. I really can’t wait to see this again.

Score100/100

Bernie (2012)

Bernie

Release Date: May 4, 2012

Director: Richard Linklater

Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Runtime: 104 min

Tagline: A story so unbelievable it must be true.

  Oscar nominated writer (Before Sunset) and director Richard Linklater, known for directing such comedies as Dazed and Confused and School of Rock; and such dramas as Before Sunset and Me and Orson Welles. Now, he’s back in the directing chair after a three-year hiatus and back in the writing chair after five years, with this clever dark comedy.

 Meet Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) the nicest [closet] killer you’ll ever know. Bernie’s the local funeral director in a small town in Texas, called Carthage. He’s the nicest guy around town, as he has a great ability to make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. He’s the best at what he does, he has a magnificent singing voice, and is just about the biggest legend around town. After Bernie strikes up an unusual relationship with the town female Scrooge and recent widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), and changes her for the better, for a short time. When she turns even bitter to even Bernie; he reaches a breaking point and must put on a whole charade, hilariously, to hide his dark secret from the whole town.

It’s a well-made little comedic docudrama that had me laughing at all the comments of Bernie from the townspeople. I liked the way it was made, it’s a little low-key and the documentary-style of it made it a fairly unique viewing experience.

Before this, Jack Black’s best work was in School of Rock (a project also with Linklater), for his great comedic timing – but Black has proved himself as a great drama actor too; even though this film combines all elements of comedy, drama and crime. The great acting he brings to this film though, is even better than his work in King Kong.

Jack Black is equal parts funny and dramatic. Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine also bring solid acting jobs here. MacLaine’s character isn’t overly hysterical, she does a great job at playing this overly cold woman. McConaughey does get a few laughs here as the District Attorney Danny Buck. The people who get the most laughs are the locals offering some insight and commentary to the situations in the film.

The whole true story of it all is the most interesting aspect of the flick, but it really all is pretty bizarre (making the tagline [A story so unbelievable it must be true] a very accurate statement). It’s funny in the worst of situations, and that is one thing that is admirable about it. Some of it feels quite dragged out, and the morals of it are all a little twisted. You definitely don’t want Bernie going to jail, because he’s just so likeable. It’s one of those films where the main protagonist is a criminal, and then MacLaine’s character and McConaughey’s are the antagonists.

Bernie is a film that may not be for everyone, but is definitely an interesting experience. It’s a pretty controversial (because you may relate to the criminal) witty dark comedy that offers low-key crime entertainment and pretty solid performances by the three main stars.

80/100