Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

I like it when people make up new words: neologisms, if you want to be technical about it. Sometimes they make little to no sense, but they still happen. Now, this probably shows my age (or my ageing mind, at the very least), but someone confronted me with the word “twerking” early last year and I had no goddamn idea what it was. I thought it had something to do with Twitter. I thought that was a pretty good guess right?? Ok, ok, not all words beginning with “tw-“ are to do with that little blue bird… in fact, I can think of some rather “blue” words that begin with “tw-“, but that’s for another day!! That was a case where I completely got the wrong end of the stick with these new words. That was never the problem interpreting the term “McConaissance”. Yes, this is actually a term that was coined a little while back to describe the re-emergence / renaissance of a certain Mr. Matthew McConaughey following several years of being out in the wilderness… and Dallas Buyers Club is testament to the latest episode in his McConaissance…

Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

Dallas Buyers Club tells the true story of Ron Woodruff (McConaughey) – your archetypal narrow-minded guy from Dallas in the 1980’s. He’s homophobic, uses women and loves the drink and drugs. He’s not the most likeable of human beings. So when he hears he’s acquired HIV (despite protestations about it being a “gay” (he uses stronger terms) disease), he’s a little shocked and taken aback. Especially when he learns that the FDA doesn’t support / endorse several drugs that could prolong his life. This leads to Woodruff “acquiring” these drugs from various foreign destinations, and, with the help of transgender Rayon (Jared Leto), forms the Dallas Buyers Club – a place where he can distribute these drugs to those willing to pay the membership fee in the US. All very illegal, all very Robin Hood… but with drugs… and taking money from the needy…

That’s the story in a nutshell! If anything the film really takes a lens to the real problems of the pharmaceutical industry (The Phage knows a little about this topic…) and how unfortunate it is that drugs are restricted to certain countries for reasons X, Y and Z. The tale itself is compelling and pulls you in, as you try to understand Woodruff’s plight and how this callous, shallow man will progress through the movie.

Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

But this is really a character-driven slice of cinema in its rawest form. Clearly, we have to focus on Matthew McConaughey here. Now, this guy came back onto my radar following the fabulous Killer Joe, which was actually the first review we had here on Film Phage (and it also reads like it was written by a 3 year old), so it’s got a special place in our Phagey heart for that reason alone. But it truly is fabulous. He’s followed that up with memorable roles in Magic Mike, Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, and will soon be in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. He’s re-emerged in a big way. A big, character-driven way. No doubt, he excels in Dallas Buyers Club – he embodies the larger than life character brilliantly and has clearly dedicated himself to the role – just look at his emaciated form! Having said that, it does sometimes come across that he’s playing the role a little “too” larger than life at times. Whilst it doesn’t detract from the film for the most part, it is notable…

Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

Especially when he’s compared to Jared Leto in the supporting role as transgender Rayon. Simply, Leto is sublime. For a guy that’s actually been out in the “wilderness” (he also fronts rock / pseudo-metal band 30 Seconds To Mars), he’s stormed back into acting with aplomb. Reading about his dedication to this role is humbling, as he really wanted to learn what it’s like to be transgender in Texas, so stayed in makeup and costume whilst off set; leading to all manner of remarks and comments. Leto brings something special to his role here and has fantastic chemistry with McConaughey, which makes it pretty unsurprising to see him nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. As much as we love Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave and Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips, we think this is Leto’s prize to lose based off this sensational performance.

Dallas Buyers Club is a captivating, politically-charged, and rewarding character-driven film. Some may see this as solely a McConaughey vehicle, but they should look deeper at the supporting cast here. Especially the fantastic Jared Leto, who we’d never really associated with strong acting chops. Whilst the movie certainly isn’t a cheery affair (it’s dealing with HIV after all), it has enough charm and drama to carry it over its two hour run time. It’s done fantastic service to Woodruff’s memory – there’s no sugar coating of his true character. A hero he is not, which makes him hard to root for, but you won’t be able to look away.

All these neologisms have made us hunger after some of our own. Maybe we should blend the word Phage in there too, for good measure? Phrage: the rage we get when we have people kicking the back of our chair / laughing at non-funny films, or maybe EnPhaged – when we’re so enrapt and engaged with a new film that we can bear to look away?? Hey, our name only has one syllable – this is tough! If you have some others… well, you know where the comments section is, don’t you? Don’t EnPhrage us…

Phage Factor:

4 Star

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

It’s always interesting when animals are shown to be humans. Not in the bizarre way that people dress up dogs to make them look like they’re going diving or for a round of golf, more in a “The Wind in the Willows” way. I mean, who could forget Mr. Toad? No-one! There are so many other stories of animals taking on some cooky role. Danger Mouse is another example that instantly springs to mind, as does anything featuring Donald Duck or the fabulous Scrooge McDuck. Ok, I’ve lost some of you here haven’t I? You’re sitting there thinking “what have you been blasting into your Phagey nostrils?” and you’re questioning my integrity as a (self-appointed) film critic. Well… there’s a link… and there’s even a link to blasting stuff into my nostrils. Yes, we’ve finally ventured out to see a film about a wolf. Sadly, it featured no wolves, just a very coked up broker. Welcome to The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Yes, weird intros aside, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the tale of the “wolf” Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he schemes and manipulates his way up the ranks of the stockbroker world, just as the real guy did back in the 1990’s to amass millions from playing the system. We see the rise of Belfort and how he leads his gang of fellow brokers, notably including Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and how he battles to elude the long arm of the FBI, headed up by Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler). I’ve probably made the story sound very staid and dull, but I can assure you it most certainly isn’t… This is a Martin Scorsese movie afterall…

First, let’s deal with the impression the trailer gives you about the film: high octane comedy featuring midgets, hookers, drugs and Matthew McConaughey. All of these elements are indeed in there (more of the drugs and hookers than the others), but the trailers do The Wolf of Wall Street a slight disservice, as this isn’t a laugh-a-second film. It certainly has some laugh out loud moments and some truly bizarre scenes with a paralytic DiCaprio sprawling around the floor with Jonah Hill. These parts actually reminded more of Pineapple Express than any other film! But as I say, this is a Scorsese film, so you’re getting a lot more depth here. I’d go as far to say that this is one of his best works, just because it flows so seamlessly and tells a truly interesting story over its 3 hour run time.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Yes: 3 hours. This will be enough to deter some folks; especially those that were expecting a comedy. Although the run time is long, and some might say “indulgent”, I thought it worked well. I found myself wanting to know how the plot was going to progress and was glad of the extra minutes to really detail more about Belfort’s life and extravagances. What really drew me in here was DiCaprio, as he really owned the screen every moment he was on it. Belfort, as a character, should be a vile and despicable beast, but DiCaprio gives him heart and soul. Although you probably won’t empathise with him, especially so in the latter scenes of the movie, DiCaprio shines in making him at least relatable, even if you wouldn’t call him “loveable”. Then there’s a turn from Jonah Hill sporting some of the most bizarre teeth I’ve seen. I’ve had a lot of time for Hill since his great turn in Moneyball opposite Brad Pitt, and this does more to cement him in my mind as a solid actor. Hell, the fact that he was reported paid only $70,000 for this role (he just wanted to be in a Scorsese film and didn’t care about the fee) is testament to his dedication.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2014)

Bringing these types of gritty crime-inspired stories to life has always been the forte of Martin Scorsese and The Wolf of Wall Street is no different. Whilst it veers into comedy at times, it still retains the man’s signature “feel”. I also think that the pairing of Scorsese and DiCaprio benefited the film immensely, leading to one of the most enjoyable Scorsese films in recent memory… and indeed one of the most enjoyable films period. As for how this will do in the upcoming Awards… well, time will tell, but after the stellar year we’ve had, I think it’s going to be a tough sell…

The Wolf of Wall Street is a vividly boisterous film that will enthral film lovers and deter those looking for quick, easy laughs. Although it’s certainly a lengthy tome, it’s entirely needed to really bring the story to life. It also helps having a fantastic cast to boot. What would be the point of a great story if it was acted out by chimps? Actually…

The Chimps of Chelsea… The Bears of Broadway… The Dolphins of Detroit. Yes, I can see many exciting extensions to this film, and I can see those hoighty toity chimps with their monocles, those bears blasting out show tunes and those dolphins… erm… talking at length about the once great automotive hub that was Detroit? Ok, maybe that last film isn’t a winner. Unless you gave them some hookers. Dolphin hookers… they make it hard to look at blow holes the same…

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

Mud (2013)

Mud (2013)

I like it when an actor blindsides you with a performance you really weren’t expecting. Especially when they’ve been somewhat typecast in previous movies. Sure, you might be able to identify the odd movie they had that was a break from the norm, before they reverted back to their “type”. And actors sure do love playing up to their “type”! I don’t think we’ll be seeing Dwayne Johnson playing a hopeless romantic any time soon… unless his romance is between him and a free weights section at the gym. Conversely, you’ve got someone like Channing Tatum – a guy that’s willing to experiment with his roles, which has led to some startlingly good performances where he doesn’t just dance around the screen… But all of this pales in comparison to a performance from 2012 by one Matthew McConaughey. That film was Killer Joe. His new film promised more of the same: a break from “type”, but did Mud deliver?

Hey Joe!

Hey Joe!

I must say that Mud came at me from under the radar. I had no hype for it and it honestly wasn’t even pushed very hard in the UK. If I’m honest, I only became aware of it thanks to Keith over at Keith & The Movies putting it as his “most anticipated” movie of 2013. This guaranteed I had to go out and see it when it hit the UK… and it’s now hit. In an extremely limited release! Coming off the back of a disappointing The Place Beyond The Pines, I was eager to see a movie that lived up to my expectations from its protagonists. Well, Mud did at least achieve that… but just didn’t hit all the high notes I was expecting.

Mud is the tale of two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who are growing up in the river communities of Alabama. Life’s pretty boring, but they love to explore, so they think all their dreams have come true when they find a boat lodged in a tree following a flood – their own private hangout. But the boat’s not entirely unoccupied. It’s here that they encounter the eponymous Mud (Matthew McConaughey) – he’s homeless, but don’t call him a hobo. What unfolds is Mud’s tale of why he is where he is – he’s murdered someone for treating his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) in a terrible manner. He’s on the run, and not just from the police, but from the dead guy’s family too… And our two young leads become embroiled in proceedings.

Mud (2013)

Let’s start off with what I really enjoyed about the movie, and that’s the acting. I felt that every actor was really pulling their weight here. A lot of credit has to go to Tye Sheridan for carrying the movie so well on his young shoulders. He really had to run the gamut of emotions in this movie and really captured the frustrations of being at that age – dealing with the confusing Mud situation and dealing with those pesky “love” emotions. Similarly, Jacob Lofland was ably suited to his role too; providing much of the comic relief in the movie. Not that there were laughs galore to be had, but he broke the tension well. But this is Matthew McConaughey‘s movie, yet again. His character, Mud, is a mysterious one. And thankfully it’s one that doesn’t rely on getting his top off (all the time… it does happen though), or smiling at the camera as McConaughey is so accustomed to. I’d argue that his performance here isn’t as startling as that of Killer Joe, or indeed A Time To Kill, but it’s still resoundingly strong. And before I leave this little “acting love-in”… Reese Witherspoon? Who’d have expected her to be doing some genuine acting too!?

The other thing I loved about the movie is it all just “fit” into place. It didn’t seem like a movie – it was like the cameras turned up and just captured the everyday lives of its inhabitants as they were. It’s hard to put this into words to accurately convey the feeling I had here, but the cinematography and direction by Jeff Nichols was suitably apt.

Mud (2013)

However, the film isn’t without its problems – crucially in pacing. The movie does drag its heels at several occasions and the film doesn’t need to be over two hours long. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It seems like the constant “fetch quests” that the boys went on carried on for far too long. This gave the impression that the film was somewhat directionless, as you couldn’t really see any plot progression aside from the fact that you wondered what was going to happen to McConaughey‘s character… at some point. All of this changed dramatically in the final 30 minutes, which was choc-full of action and drama. But for me, it was a case of “too little, too late”. The plotting was there, the script was there and the acting was definitely there. It’s just a shame the film became a little too enraptured with itself to really steam along at a brisk enough pace. Don’t get me wrong, I can do slow and lingering, but there’s a limit on this. Unfortunately, Mud went past that point.

Mud is another star turn for Matthew McConaughey, who’s picked up something of a habit of taking roles you wouldn’t have assigned to him half a decade ago. Whilst I wasn’t as blown away by Mud as I was by Joe in Killer Joe, this can still be classified as a success for him. Similarly, I want to see more from Tye Sheridan in the future. The kid’s got talent and I’m keen to see where he goes next. Unfortunately, the film trips itself up with its rather slow pacing, which makes the second act drag to an alarming degree. So, ultimately, Mud‘s a solid movie, but isn’t one I’d rush out to see again any time soon.

Why don’t more actors follow Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum? Take some of those wild and whacky roles. Take a risk! I want to see Megan Fox in a cerebral thriller about feminism, I want to see Tommy Lee Jones doing some slapstick comedy opposite Rob Schneider and I want to see Samuel L. Jackson… erm… what genre hasn’t this guy done!? OK, perhaps everyone should follow Jackson‘s lead and not the others’. Then they can all star in such fabulous movies as Snakes on a Plane, The Spirit and Deep Blue Sea… oh, wait…

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Magic Mike (2012)

An entertaining, but predictable magic trick…

If you asked me to list some movies that revolve around the age-old profession of stripping, it’d be no problem whatsoever. Of course, you have Showgirls and Striptease from the mid-90’s, whose VHS cassettes were the equivalent of gold dust to every teenage boy of the day; back when a) VHS was the standard, and b) this was the ultimate in semi-accessible titillation… hell, these movies pre-dated 56Kb modems for most! If you preferred a more male-centric clothes-shedding tale then there’s the British classic The Full Monty where a motley crew of unemployed guys from the UK city of Sheffield star in their own strip show. It also made Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff the sexiest song of 1997 and made Post Office queues that little bit more exciting; albeit briefly.

So now we come to Hollywood’s late rebuttal to the UK’s men’s strip show film. I wasn’t aware that a rebuttal was needed, but here it is nevertheless. Magic Mike follows the tale of the eponymous Mike (Channing Tatum) – an “entrepreneur” who dabbles in tiling roofs, building unique furniture… oh, and getting down to a thong as “Magic Mike” for the gathered throngs of women baying for flesh on Thursdays through Sundays. Though Tatum is a key player in the film, it really revolves around Adam (Alex Pettyfer; I Am Number Four, In Time) who’s introduced to the business through Mike. What follows is an enjoyable, occasionally lighthearted, if not lightweight tale of the underbelly of the stripping business.

“What did you say about my shirtless tie outfit?”

The strongest asset of this film is without doubt Tatum himself, who was once upon a time a part-time stripper. Whilst he gets to use some of his dance moves from his days in Step Up, he really showcases his abilities as an actor. In particular, his one-on-one scenes with Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) are particularly poignant; coming across as effortless and genuinely authentic – the mark of a true actor. The other “top billed” name on the posters, Matthew McConaughey, fares just as well playing Dallas: the club’s owner / MC / dancer, and primary antagonist of the film. What’s so remarkable is that Dallas is instantly dislikeable; you know from the outset that he isn’t a nice guy. Indeed, I found McConaughey‘s character in Killer Joe (reviewed here) – a guy who forces someone to perform oral sex on a KFC drumstick – to be more likeable than Dallas. It’s great to see these two actors again expanding their repertoire and avoiding the clichéd roles they’ve become synonymous with in recent years, as I’ve discussed previously.

Where the film loses its way is the fact that some of the plots seem too railroaded and scripted – you can see the eventual incidents coming from a mile off. You could predict the third act of the film before the fourth thong-clad rear is on-screen. A few decoys are deployed where you expect the plot to go down a certain alley; but overall this isn’t an example of effective smoke and mirrors. A golden era M. Night Shyamalan film this is not. And for those curious about the nudity in the film, yes you’ll see a lot of bethonged rump and guys will have that feeling that they did watching 300: “damn, I need to work out!”. McConnaughey in particular, who’s now cruised past 40, looks in remarkable shape.

Who else is going to be sporting this fetching yellow crop top at the gym this summer? Just me? Damn…

Overall, Steven Soderbergh‘s (Ocean’s Eleven, Contagion, Haywire) film has its heart in the right place, but falters due to a predictable storyline. It also irritatingly leaves a number of plot threads deliberately open for the already talked about sequel. Personally, I feel that Magic Mike needs a sequel about as much as Contagion (a phage’s favourite film – the virus is the star!) does. But then again, this is Steven Soderbergh, a man who is a more than capable director, but he’s also the man that brought you the uncalled for Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen. However, it’s great to see Channing Tatum flourishing into a well-rounded actor who’s deviating from GI Joe-esque roles. The future is very bright for this guy, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Magic Mike proves to be more of a daytime TV magician than a David Blaine, Penn & Teller or Criss Angel: his tricks are a bit too transparent. The film’s respectable and earns its place, but it’s not playing with the big boys out in Vegas thanks to that plot. But maybe I just prefer a bit of Donna Summers’ Hot Stuff in my strip scenes, as opposed to the latest Skrillex wub-wub-athon… Now where’s my VHS player…?

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Killer Joe (2012)

Finger Lickin’ Good…

So often nowadays do actors become type-cast into particular roles and genres. You’re going to see a Michelle Rodriguez movie? Well, you know she’s not going to be wearing a dress and brandishing a sterling British accent. You’re going to see a Jason Statham movie? Well, likewise, you’re not going to be getting an engaging story about how one man battles adversity and discrimination to be taken seriously as a Spanish teacher in downtown Madrid. Unless by “adversity” and “discrimination” you mean “pimps” and “drug runners”, and by “Spanish teacher” you allude to “mean bad-ass”…

Joe… not a man you want to disappoint.

That’s why it’s so great to see an actor break out of their shackles and surprise you, like Jonah Hill in last year’s fantastic Moneyball, or Channing Tatum flexing his comedy chops in 21 Jump Street. So when someone throws the name Matthew McConaughey at you, I’d presume you’d think of the latest “first date” fodder film, such as How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days or The Wedding Planner, and not his fantastic turn in A Time To Kill. Well, chalk this one up with McConaughey‘s “non-rom-com” films… and also rack it up as one of his best.

Briefly, Killer Joe follows the exploits of a family in the backwoods of Texas as they scheme to off someone for a lucrative life insurance premium. So who do they turn to? Joe (McConaughey): the detective who moonlights as a killer-for-hire of course. As the family can only pay after the contract has been completed and the insurance claimed, Joe chooses to take a “retainer” just in case he doesn’t get his cash, and that retainer is Dottie (a captivating Juno Temple) – the young, naive daughter of the family. What ensues, for those unfamiliar with the award-winning theatre production, is an undeniably enthralling number of twists and turns as we learn how the tale of this desperate family unfolds.

What’s so great about this film is the same “just one more page” compulsion you get with all the best novels: you’re dying to know what’s coming next, due in no small part to the fantastic cast and sharply delivered dialogue. McConaughey and Temple are ably backed up by Emile Hirsch as the indebted son Chris and Thomas Haden Church as the good-for-nothing father Ansel, whose world-weary one liners provide some much-needed comic relief during some of the most intense scenes of the film. And believe me when I say “intense”. When this film chooses to get dark, it’s like wandering into a cave. At night. With a blindfold on. It can make The Dark Knight Rises look about as diabolical and dark as The Smurfs. My mind immediately leaps to parallels with 2011’s fantastic Drive, which whilst fantastic, didn’t shy away from some graphic beatings. However, Killer Joe also delves into sexual depravity on several occasions – something not seen in Drive, but don’t let that perturb you; it’s worth it. And if nothing else, I can guarantee that you’ll not look at a KFC drumstick the same for a good few weeks…

An enthralling, yet deeply sinister story of murder in darkest Texas. The entire cast shines in what surely must be one of the must see’s of the summer if you love a character-driven tale. Maybe not a film for those that are faint-of-heart or have a particular affection for the Colonel’s fried chicken…

Phage Factor:

4 Star