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Dallas Buyers Club

Oldboy & Out Of The Furnace

December 12, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club (***) R

Though not the heavy hitter in the dramatic department that I was anticipating, Dallas Buyers Club, nevertheless, delivers the goods on several levels, due in no small part to the performances contained therein. All of that talk regarding the physical transformation of the film’s principal actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, proves to be more than just hype. The fact that these two became so physically immersed in their roles informs each and every frame of their performances. For what shortcomings the film may have, it’s the terrific way that the actors fill these roles that carry things along when the film starts to exhibit a sense of déjà vu from time to time.

The film, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and scripted by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, relates the true story of Texas electrician/hustler Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), who in July 1985 discovered he was HIV positive. In the film’s opening scene, we are witness to Woodroof having sex with some unidentified woman. It’s fairly clear this type of risky behavior isn’t a one-time incident and is the root of the physical undoing that will inform the remainder of his days.

When he emerges from the encounter, it is all too clear that Woodroof is a very sick man. Clear to everyone but Woodroof, who goes on about his regular business, ignoring all of the persistent symptoms.

Jared Leto & McConaughey on a break filming ‘Dallas’

After a workplace accident, Woodroof is sent to the emergency room and learns that he not only has HIV and a T-Cell count of roughly 9, but that he also has around thirty days to live. There are references early in the film to Woodroof’s raging homophobia, revealed in an early scene involving a discussion of actor Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS. When Woodroof is given his death sentence, he refuses to believe that the disease is anything other than a something afflicting homosexuals and isn’t afraid to speak his mind on the subject, spewing homophobic invectives at every turn.

It is said that it is essential for all characters to grow and change during the course of a film’s story and Woodroof does eventually change, although there isn’t a moment in the film that one can pinpoint where this change precisely occurs and I liked that decision on the part of the filmmakers. Woodroof’s openness comes gradually as he struggles to live, battling the bureaucracy of the medical establishment in a search for effective medication in dealing with his illness. 

Woodroof eventually takes matters into his own hands by importing the drugs that he has determined—by trial and error—will curb his affliction. With a transvestite, Rayon, (Jared Leto) as his business partner, Woodroof opts to start a $400 a month private club where those who need the medication will have ready access to it, all the while attempting to dodge the FDA.

Along the way, Woodroof also develops a friendship with a doctor (Jennifer Garner) who is sympathetic to his plight.

Dallas Buyer’s Club is undeniably a well-crafted film. The problem lies in the over-familiarity of the cinematic treatment of the subject matter but that’s something that can’t be helped. Still, the award-worthy performances make it a journey worth taking.
 
Oldboy (***) R

If you’ve seen the original Korean film that Spike Lee’s Oldboy is based upon (also titled Oldboy and directed by Park Chanwook) I’m sure you may be wondering if the unforgettable scene from the first film involving the eating of a live octopus has been retained. The answer is no it has not, and it’s only one of the changes that writer Mark Protosevich has chosen to make in his scripting of this redo.

Although Oldboy, take two, doesn’t make any radical alterations to the fabric of the original’s plot, the changes that have been made seemed right to me. Still, I can’t imagine what mainstream viewer will rush out to see this film so I suppose it’s a moot point. Suffice it to say that if you’re like me and enjoyed the original 2003 film you find yourself getting caught up in what Lee has attempted to accomplish.

Josh Brolin, apparently playing a role veering too close to reality, in light of his recent personal troubles, has the leading man honors here as Joe Doucett. Joe is painted in broad strokes as a loutish alcoholic, recently estranged from his wife and attempting to somehow remain a presence in his daughter’s life in spite of the odds.

Josh Brolin in Oldboy

Joe’s life is changed when he is kidnapped one day for reasons unknown to him and imprisoned in a makeshift hotel room for the next two decades. Through the medium of television, Joe learns over the years that his wife has been murdered, he’s been framed for it through misuse of his DNA, and that his daughter has forgotten him and has been adopted by foster parents.

One day, for no discernible reason, Joe finds himself in the middle of a field in a box. He’s been released and finds himself disoriented at the prospect of getting reacquainted with the real world. He decides to make it his mission in life to identify his captors, aided along the way by old friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli) and a do-gooder by the name of Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), to whom he eventually finds himself romantically attached.

Joe eventually identifies his captor, a man named Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson, doing what he does best), only to discover that Chaney’s employer, Adrian (Sharlton Copley), is the real culprit. Adrian agrees to take the rap for Joe’s wife’s murder and allow him to remain free if he can determine who Adrian is and why he was imprisoned in the first place.

One of the things bound to make Oldboy palatable for those who have already seen the first film is Lee’s command of the medium, something that’s on great display here. I really enjoyed some of the stylistic touches that the director has chosen to employ in the film.

The only real quibble is the level of violence, which is bound to upset the more squeamish members of the movie-going public. Oldboy may be rated R but it’s definitely a ‘hard’ R. You have been warned.

Out of the Furnace (***) R

Out of the Furnace, director/co-writer (with Brad Ingelsby) Scott Cooper’s much-anticipated follow-up to his 2009 critical darling, Crazy Heart, has been favorably compared to the 70s classic The Deer Hunter and I would say there’s more than a kernel of truth in that assessment. Whereas Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter painted a vivid portrait of the 1970s America that Vietnam era servicemen found themselves returning to after their time spent fighting an unwinnable war abroad, Cooper’s film shows us the America that today’s servicemen are discovering as they return home.

Both films also take place in Pennsylvania. The difference is that Cimino’s film followed the plight of several servicemen, and Cooper’s film narrows its focus to one misplaced war vet, played to perfection in the film by Casey Affleck. We feel his pain as he attempts to find his place in the world after having spent what is presumably most of his adult life fighting ill-advised wars. We watch as he wrestles with what his life was and what it has become and his character is one of the most interesting things in the film.

Affleck’s character Rodney Baze, Jr., unfortunately, isn’t the center of the film. The character that anchors the film is his older brother, Russell (Christian Bale). It’s not that Russell is an uninteresting character he’s just not as interesting as his younger brother.

Christian Bale in ‘Furnace’

You wonder why Russell never chose to leave this one-horse Pennsylvania town that obviously doesn’t have much to offer, but I guess that’s beside the point. I suppose what Cooper is trying to say is that sometimes life just happens. At any rate, Russell spends his days working in one of those oppressive steel mills that probably offers a decent wage but not much else and spends his nights taking care of his terminally ill father and paying off Rodney’s gambling debts.

Russell has a steady gal (Zoe Saldana) and the future looks about as bright as it can in his small-town world, when he finds himself drinking one night and involved in a tragedy that turns his world upside down. Rodney, without the guidance of his brother, gravitates toward the nicest loan shark I’ve ever seen in a movie (Willem Dafoe), who cautiously agrees to set him up in the world of underground fighting.

The drug dealer/fight promoter (Woody Harrelson) in charge of the illegal brawling has other plans and when Rodney turns up missing, Russell tracks his whereabouts to the backwoods businessman and plots his revenge.

Out of the Furnace is an extremely violent film and will not be for all tastes. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I will say that in spite of some gaps in narrative logic, the film is fairly compelling. I won’t go so far as to say that it’s the final word in assessing the plight of our Iraq war vets, but kudos to Cooper for his ambition and the performances contained in the film.

Oldboy & Dallas Buyers Club are playing in Charlotte. Out of the Furnace is playing in Hickory and at other theaters.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug - A Franchise Is Revived

By JOCELYN NOVECK

AP National Writer
(Opening Friday, December 13, in Hickory)

Sleeping dragons, as we know from our childhood literature, eventually awaken. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a story. So it’s hardly news that in the second installment of Peter Jackson’s ``Hobbit’’ trilogy, the dragon rouses from his slumber.

What IS news: the franchise wakes up, too.

Die-hard fans might disagree, but to many, the first film, last year’s ``The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,’’ took way too long to get going and then dragged for much of its 169 minutes. ``I do believe the worst is behind us,’’ noted Bilbo Baggins at the end of that film, to which some of us wanted to reply: ``Well, we hope so.’’

``The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’’ is not much shorter—8 minutes, to be exact—but it feels brisker, lighter, funnier. The characters are more varied, more interesting; We’ll take a comic turn by the entertaining Stephen Fry over another Orc any day. There’s even an added romantic subplot.

Happily, ``Smaug’’ is vastly better from the get-go. Instead of a drawn-out intro, we get right to the action, which is of course the quest of Bilbo (Martin Freeman, himself livelier and funnier) and the band of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (a suitably noble Richard Armitage) to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor, under the Lonely Mountain, from the frightening dragon Smaug.

Gandalf: The brilliant Ian McKellan

As always, trouble takes many forms: not only the menacing Orcs, but giant spiders with sticky webs, too. Then there are the elves, who come to the rescue at an opportune time but then imprison Bilbo and his mates. (Gandalf, the always grand Ian McKellen, has other business, and leaves for long stretches.)

Lee Pace is fun as the campy and authoritarian Thranduil, leader of the elves. His son Legolas (Orlando Bloom, back from ``The Lord of the Rings’’) is talented as ever with a bow. And he has a love interest: Tauriel, a newly invented character, played with spunky sweetness by Evangeline Lilly. Tauriel, it turns out, has a soft spot for the dwarf Kili, a rather hunky Aidan Turner. (‘’He’s quite tall for a dwarf,’’ she says. ``But no less ugly,’’ retorts Legolas.)

Bilbo, ever bolder, helps the dwarves escape their jailers in a terrific scene, involving barrels, river rapids, and an endless supply of Orcs, that rivals a Busby Berkeley dance number. (Side note: These dwarves are awfully durable.) Further entertainment comes in Lake-town, led by a greedy Master (the engaging Fry) and his underling Alfrid (Ryan Gage, also fun).

It should be noted that Jackson has again shot his film at 48-frames-per-second, double the standard speed, to make things look sharper. But this time, the fanfare is gone; critics were not even shown the film at the faster speed. Jackson clearly doesn’t want the technique to dominate the discussion.

In any case, it all comes down to the climactic confrontation with the dragon; Unfortunately, the film sags somewhat here. It’s fun to hear Benedict Cumberbatch, as Smaug, hurl seething epithets at Bilbo, and Freeman is at his most pluckily adorable. Still, they really could have shortened this confrontation by a good 20 minutes.

But what’s 20 minutes when you’re taking nine hours to tell a story? Onward to the third installment. Jackson is back on track.

Three stars out of four.

 

ARCHIVES:

Philomena & The Book Thief

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire & Delivery Man

About Time & All Is Lost

Thor: The Dark World & 12 Years A Slave

Ender’s Game & Last Vegas

Bad Grandpa &The Counselor

Carrie & The Fifth Estate

Captain Phillips, Enough Said & Machete Kills

Gravity & Runner Runner

Metallica: Through The Never , Rush & Don Jon

Prisoners & Rush

Insidious: Chapter 2 • The Family & The Spectacular Now

Riddick

Getaway

The World’s End You’re Next

Lee Daniels’ The Butler • Jobs • Blue Jasmine

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters & Elysium

2 Guns

Blue Jasmine • The Wolverine & Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station • The Conjuring & The Way Way Back

Pacific Rim & Grown Ups 2

The Lone Ranger & Despicable Me 2

The Heat & White House Down

Monsters University, World War Z, Before Midnight & The East

Man of Steel & This Is The End

The Internship & The Purge

After Earth, Now You See Me & Frances Ha

The Hangover Part III Before Midnight

Star Trek: Into Darkness & Fast and Furious 6

The Great Gatsby & Frances Ha

Iron Man & Peeples

Pain and Gain & Mud

Oblivion & Lords of Salem

42 and Scary Movie 5

Evil Dead & Jurassic Park 3-D

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Tyler Perry’s Temptation

Spring Breakers Admission

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone • The Call

Oz: The Great And Powerful West Of Memphis

Jack the Giant Slayer The Last Exorcism, Part II

Dark Skies & Snitch

A Good Day to Die Hard & Safe Haven

Side Effects & Identity Thief

Bullet To The Head Warm Bodies


 

 

 

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