Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner
Award winning Canadian director, Jean-Marc Vallée directs this biopic about Ron Woodroof, a con man who defied the odds, and the law, to get the medicine he needed to survive; and in the process brought hope and peace to many others. It is a well scripted, if linear, film that unfolds as McConaughey’s Woodroof learns about himself and the world around him at the height of the HIV scare in America.
What I liked: It’s no wonder the Hollywood machine has been buzzing around the performances of the two lead actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Quite simply, the heart and soul of the movie is in the acting. Both McConaughey and Leto utterly, and literally, morph into their characters – a scheming rodeo bigot and suffering transvestite. It is rare that such prominent Hollywood personalities would be unrecognizable but such is the case thanks to Vallée’s brilliant directing and seamless performances from actors who didn’t just lose weight but altered their mannerisms, their features, their voices and even something as simple as a smile. There is a moment at the end of the film where Woodroof, exhausted and achingly thin walks into a room of familiar faces and smiles. That smile expresses all of the film’s tension, emotion and beauty because it is so clearly Woodroof’s smile, not McConaughey’s.
What I didn’t like: My only complaint about the film is that there’s nothing new in the telling. After a mind-blowing experience watching Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club felt a little flat. I recognize that the two movies are not comparable but I still wanted perhaps more artistic license and vision from a director who has proven capable of both.
Last thoughts: As usual, Hollywood is placing more emphasis on the physical transformation of the actors than on the performance itself. Granted, McConaughey is so physically transformed that at times it’s tough to look at his sickly frame but I would hope that if either of them win the Oscar it’s for their performances and not because they know how to diet for a role.
My rating: Between this and Mud, McConaughey has two of my favourite performances of the year.
My Rating: 8/10 : 94%
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Peter Morgan
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara
It’s my firm belief that if you have to start a movie in medias res and go back to the beginning, then your original beginning isn’t strong enough. This holds true in Ron Howard’s latest film about F1 racing legends, the Maverick Brit James Hunt and his prickly Austrian rival Niki Lauda, where the movie opens at a critical moment only to immediately go back in time to recap. Ron Howard knows how to create drama, pace and suspense perfectly but there seemed to lack a cohesive narrative thread that would have made Rush outstanding.
What I liked: The movie is as slick as a race car and the racing scenes are wonderfully executed, especially when there is poor weather conditions. The movie is certainly entertaining. The characters and relationships however are underdeveloped and, frankly, a little wasted; except for Daniel Bruehl who plays Niki Lauda and adds all the heart and soul to this film. He is brilliant and seemingly reaches beyond the written character, if I am to compare him to Chris Hemsworth’s less dynamic portrayal. Somehow, while Hemsworth is convincing his character, ironically, lacks the charm to carry the emotion of each short scene, whereas Bruehl’s Lauda grows on us and stays with us. The best moments of the film come late when we come to respect the rivalry as they do. I enjoyed that there is no definitive hero and both characters make for a series of well captured scenes but…
What I didn’t like: The film unfolds like a feast of tasty appetizers that never settles into a meal. The story is interesting and there are well-executed moments of real connection and emotion but they never last long enough or fit properly to create a fluid whole. The camerawork by Anthony Dod Mantle was electric and worked very well in some seems but, again, seemed to piece together different moods or ideas that contributed my overall sense of disharmony.
My rating: Wishing for an Oscar nod for Daniel Brühl.
My rating: 7.5/10 : 88%
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Billy Ray (screenplay) and Richard Phillips (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman
Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) knows how to build suspense. His latest action/adventure Captain Phillips, based on the true 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship for ransom by four armed Somali pirates, is no exception. The movie creeps, crawls, rises and falls throughout its 2h15min running time. Tom Hanks delivers but the Somali pirates are the real stars of the film.
What I liked: Greengrass goes from 0-100 in a matter of seconds. The movie has a brief and awkward start but with one flicker on the radar and a hand-held camera we are engulfed in foreboding. The action gives the movie a frenetic pace but the performances win the day. Hanks is the everyman we can all relate to and be terrified for but it’s the Somali pirates who offer us more than stock villains, even with stock dialogue. Newcomers Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman are smart, devious, famished, suffering and wilful. They tug at our heartstrings even as we root for them to fail. They are the driving force behind a film whose conclusion made headlines.
What I didn’t like: Why did they cast the wonderful Catherine Keener if she was going to end up on the cutting room floor? This frustrated me to no end when the movie was over. I can also understand why the Navy hasn’t exactly applauded the film because despite their oppressive presence they don’t actually seem to do or accomplish anything. I understand the need to draw out action in order to build a climax but I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the sequences were just add-in plot points to embellish the drama rather than actual events.
My rating: Requires big screen viewing.
My rating: 7/10 : 94%
I’m pretty sure the final two entries on this list of top ten dramas on television will come as no surprise to anyone. I was first introduced to Orange is the New Black through my Facebook feed. After it premiered on July 11th in its entirety (thanks to Netflix), friend after friend updated their status as they completed season 1 in less than a weekend. The show, based on the real life experience of a young woman who was incarcerated for 15 months on a drug related charge, has grabbed everyone for its intelligence, wit, emotion, character development and authenticity. I’m actually less surprised by its success than the lack of hater-backlash, which inevitably happens to any trend. I have yet to hear a negative word about this show other than ‘it’s good’ rather than ‘it’s amazing!’
Rating: This is the second Netflix show with only one season under its belt. Still, Metacritic rates it at a 79%, which is well below the highest rated show in the top ten, but higher than House of Cards. Interesting.
: 8.6 :79%
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, T.R. Knight and a host of others.
This movie is a biography first and a baseball movie second. Director and screenwriter Brian Helgeland does more than recount the triumphs of MLB Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, he focuses on the backlash of the first African American to play professional ball for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
What I liked: This is a truly inspiring biography of an American icon, and it feels like Helgeland takes a step back to let the story unfold on its own. Despite the many clichés in the dialogue and relationships, that are part and parcel of a sports flick, I still felt the lumps in my throat at Robinson’s strength as he broke the colour barrier in baseball. As Stephen Whitty put it, Chadwick Boseman, who plays Robinson, “captures, in a clenched jaw or a sidelong glance, a lifetime’s worth of dearly attained dignity and barely contained rage.” Boseman is matched only by Nicole Beharie who plays his wife. The pair are as strong as their characters and make a, perhaps, unexceptional film heartfelt, meaningful and memorable.
What I didn’t like: I can commend Harrison Ford for stepping out of his comfort zone but his performance felt too forced to be convincing, despite his depth of character, as Branch Ricky the Dodgers Executive who searched out Robinson. Although, it might be that I’m so used to seeing Ford play a certain role in a certain why that I was taken out of my comfort zone with this performance…Finally, the ending is anti-climactic, and despite the team’s final achievement, I was only aware that it was the finale by the surging music and heavy editing.
My rating: Even if you see it coming a mile away, you’ll be fighting off tears.
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%