Valdosta Daily Times

December 7, 2013

Movie reivews: "Dallas Buyers Club," “Philomena” and “The Book Thief”

Adann-Kennn Alexxandar
The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — “Dallas Buyers Club” (Biographical Drama: 1 hour, 57 minutes)

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn and Jared Leto

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Rated: R (Sexuality, profanity, thematic elements, violence, nudity and drug usage)

Movie Review: The nature of this screenplay is gritty realism served with a large side of humanitarianism. The cast is superb and the overtone set is one that captivates and energizes. As a drama, this is one of the best of 2013.

In 1995 Dallas, Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is an electrician and rodeo bull rider. His life is habitually partying; cigarettes, sex with multiple women, gambling, alcohol and drug usage have damaged his body. Now, he learns he has HIV. This diagnosis changes Woodroof, who is a racist and homophobic man. While in the hospital, doctors tell him he has about 30 days of life left. When told drugs for the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) are not available in the United States, Woodroof goes on a mission to find the necessary drugs to keep him alive. Along the way, he is shunned by longtime friends and coworkers, meets shady doctors and pharmaceutical representatives, takes on overbearing government officials of the Food and Drug Administration, befriends Rayon (Leto), a gay transvestite, and falls for a beautiful, intelligent Dr. Eve Saks (Garner).

This script is a biographical slice of life of real-life AIDS victim Ron Woodroof. Before Woodroof died, he had lost a considerable amount of weight. Matthew McConaughey lost weight to make his body nearly skin and bones to play Woodroof.

McConaughey plays Woodroof with a keen talent. This is McConaughey’s best role. He wrapped himself in this character to become a man faced with quickly approaching mortality. Although Woodroof is far from being a saint, McConaughey makes the man tangible. Care for his cause is contagious, even if one does not care for Woodroof’s careless lifestyle. McConaughey is definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Leto is also striking as an actor. He plays a transvestite. He is barely recognizable under wig and makeup initially, but he gives a strong performance that should also net him an Academy Award nomination. At moments, he rivals McConaughey. The two men’s scenes together are some of the film’s best.

Garner is dazzling, too. She plays a female medical doctor in an era when men still ostracized female doctors. Garner holds her own with McConaughey and Leto.

If they all receive praise at awards ceremonies, these three cast members would deserve it. They make this film compelling.

Even more, the film uses sounds and visual angles that propel Woodroof as a persona. Sharp high-pitched sounds and cameras peeking through fence posts or other objects give audiences a chance to see life as Woodroof is viewing it as a man with a terrible ailment. These nuances work well to facilitate the story.

The story works well. It is believable. It is moving. More important, it is worth seeing because of many good attributes.

Hats off to Canadian director Vallée (“The Young Victoria,” 2009) for this resolute view of one man’s life, the cast for solid acting, writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and the rest of the crew for this solid piece of work. This is one of the best original screenplays of 2013.      

Grade: A (Buy into this club now.)


“Philomena” (Drama: 1 hour, 38 minutes)

Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark

Director: Stephen Frears

Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, thematic elements and sexual references)

Movie Review: A solid story and great acting propel this drama. It boasts incredible talents. Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen,” 2006) helms these aspects in a refined, potent method.

Based on the 2009 investigative book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” this real-life story focuses on the efforts of Philomena Lee (Dench). She was a young mother — only 14 — when a local Irish Catholic convent sold her out-of-wedlock child to a middle-class American family. Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) takes her story as a human-interest piece. He plans to help her find her son, but he soon finds Lee’s story is a fascinating one detailing another dark moment of Catholicism. Even more, their search for Lee’s son leads to some interesting finds in the United States, too.

“Philomena” is an unexpected treat. It gives audiences something new with each scene. This keeps the film energetic and moving at a nice pace. Just when you think it is at an end, it reinvents itself in a manner that leaves one in a continual cliffhanger state. They work and stay on topic. The film never loses focus through the multiple surprises.

Simultaneously, the film also works because of the always award-ready performance of Dench and a marvelous Coogan; they are exceptional actors. Most scenes feature them having conversations. During this process, viewers have a chance to know them and their motives. Although their on-screen personas’ motives may change, the characters remain true to who they are without jeopardizing believability.  

A good example of this is the manner in which these characters see religion. Dench’s Philomena Lee is devoutly Catholic. She is woman of genuine faith. Coogan’s Sixsmith, an ex-Roman Catholic, sincerely does not approve of the church. He is antireligious. Yet these two people have an amiable relationship that works well on screen.

Audiences not only see them face tribulations, but we see them face these trials through a lens of religiosity. This drives the film in various scenes.

Frears nicely directs this moving drama about a mother’s search for a long-lost son. Coogan and screenplay scripter Jeff Pope co-wrote this piece. They make sure the characters are as important as their quest. For that, hats off to them, Frears and cast. This is an incredible story that stays with you long after you finish observing it.

Grade: A- (This is a moving tale about a mother’s love for her child.)


“The Book Thief” (Period Drama/War: 2 hours, 5 minutes)

Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Liersch and Ben Schnetzer

Director: Brian Percival

Rated: PG-13 (Violence and intense depiction of thematic material)

Movie Review: An adaptation of the novel by Markus Zusak, this nicely told venture is a World War II drama set in Germany. Liesel (Nélisse), a young girl, has a love for books. She steals them, often sharing the books’ words with others. One of the people she shares the books with is Max (Schnetzer), a handsome, young refugee living in her family’s basement. Liesel’s adopted parents, Hans and Rosa (respectively Rush and Watson), help hide the young man from Nazis.

This is tale is about young love, doing what is correct, overcoming obstacles and appreciating books. “Thief” presents a childlike manner at times, including the way the narrator introduces the setting and characters. It starts more like a light fairy tale, but it quickly becomes a fine drama.

Liesel’s story is a grand one. This girl finds herself living a grand adventure during turbulent times in Germany. Her relationship with Max and her parents is moving, although this screenplay relies too heavily on sentimental aspects occasionally.   

Yet, one cannot help but like the cast. It is easy to care for them. They did not ask to be in these situations, but they are making the best of bad conditions. They have hope.

Audiences should find that same hope and understanding through a well-acted cast. This exists because Nélisse plays an intriguing character. Her relationships, her parents played nicely by the talented Rush and the incredible Watson, the kindness she shows Max and camaraderie she has with Rudy (Liersch), a next-door neighbor, are fascinating. These associations make the film worth it.

The film also uses natural light in beautiful ways. The colors in some scenes are picturesque moments worth framing. Every shot uses space of sets exceptionally well. This makes the movie a visual treat if nothing else.

This film does not reach its full potential as a war drama, but it provides plenty for those looking for a nice retreat. It displays the notion people of all types matter in our lives. That should mean much for those looking for an inspiring film.        

Grade: B (Book seat now to see this.)