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

12 Years A Slave (2014)

12 Years A Slave (2014)

A few weeks back I derided the fact that December-February brings about an onslaught of films that I deemed to be Oscar fodder. You know the types of film that I refer to: ones that focus on race, prejudice or persecution. Or generally a mix of all three components. I won’t lie – I’ve been cynical of these types of movies, as sometimes it seems that they were conceived only to give the writers, directors and actors a chance of accolade. Indeed, I’m still sure this is how the studios see these films; I doubt they’re concerned with the pathos or poignancy of a piece, merely how much revenue it can bring it. After all, it’s a business! Awards buzz = more ticket sales as people clamor to see what the fuss is all about. Then something happened to make me repeal my cynicism. That “thing” was 12 Years A Slave.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

12 Years A Slave tells the tale of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the pre-Civil War USA. Solomon is a freeman, living up in the North East with his wife and two children. This all changes abruptly when he’s kidnapped and sold into a life of slavery with no proof as to his true origins. Over the next 12 years he sees himself overseen by various “masters”, from the more benevolent and forward-thinking Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbach) to the more oppressive and ill-tempered Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Solomon must witness all the untold horrors of slavery, whilst also keeping his past a secret lest he be lynched… slaves are paid to work, not to read, write, or think.

And 12 Years A Slave doesn’t pass up the opportunity to show you the horrors of slavery in the US. From what’s been told by director Steve McQueen, they actually chose to omit some of some of the acts that Solomon described in his memoirs (yes, this is a true story). Truth be told, you’d be surprised that that was the case. 12 Years A Slave is intensely visceral and sometimes makes for very uncomfortable viewing. It almost feels like you’re watching a snuff movie at some points. I defy anyone not to be unnerved by McQueen‘s unflinching decision to hold the camera on Ejiofor during a lynching scene… the cinematography, the noises and the background acting truly makes you want to look away or hide from the screen. Similarly, the scenes of lashings are also particularly harrowing. This isn’t a movie for the feint of heart, but is for people that want to acknowledge what actually went on in the past.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

Steve McQueen has done a fantastic job of sculpting arguably one of the finest movies in recent memory. The pacing of the film is sublime and the 120+ minute run time evaporates before your eyes. There’s no filler in this movie – it’s all top notch quality film making. And acting. Yes, a movie can only get so far on direction and story alone. The ensemble cast that’s been put together for this movie is beyond reproach. Although trailers and posters would make you believe this is a Brad Pitt fronted film (he does feature in the film… that much is true), that would be a huge disservice to the other actors, and indeed is a bit of a cheeky lie considering he doesn’t appear until the final act of the film.

British-born Chiwetel Ejiofor is  superb protagonist; capturing the joy, sorrow and adversity of the title character. I’d like to think that Solomon Northup himself would be pleased with this portrayal if he had the chance to watch this movie back. Ejiofor summons so much emotion that it’s hard to not be swept away and become emotional yourself when things don’t go his way (and that happens a lot). I feel more attention should also have been placed on Benedict Cumberbach and Michael Fassbender in the promotional materials, as both actors deliver in spades, even if this is the first time I’ve ever heard Cumberbach embrace an American accent. I really want to focus on Fassbender here though, as this is arguably one of his strongest performances to date. He embodies a vile, but critically broken man in an untold way. I was mesmerised by every scene that he was in, and he definitely deserves at least one gong for Best Supporting Actor at at least one of these upcoming ceremonies! If there’s any justice he will do anyway.

12 Years A Slave (2014)

Likewise, 12 Years A Slave as a whole, whether actors, director, screenplay or the film itself, deserves to be acknowledged for what it is: a spectacular piece of modern cinema. I expect big things for this movie over the coming month as the awards are handed out. I’m not normally one to be so taken with a film that’s a forerunner in these battles, but my mind has been changed. For me, it’s going to be a close battle between this and Captain Phillips. The true winners are however the audience… we’ve been spoiled, for sure.

12 Years A Slave is currently standing head and shoulders above all other contenders for Best Picture in our eyes at Film Phage. We’ve not been so moved and emotionally battered like this for a long time. Yes, the film is graphic, but why should the subject matter be sugar coated? Humans are a brutal species, regardless of race, gender or creed. It’s been the case since the first of our ancestors started to fight one another over territory or resources. Between Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbach, Michael Fassbender and a superb supporting cast, we have been blessed with a truly fantastic film to commence 2014.

You’ve got to taste the irony in my introductory paragraph don’t you? I talk at length about prejudice, and then air my own prejudices against flagrant Oscar-baiting movies. Although several are still to be unleashed in the UK, I doubt any will prove to be as worthy of praise as 12 Years A Slave. I don’t think I have any more superlatives to throw down here. Simply: see this film, or miss out on a true highlight. Done.

Phage Factor:

5 Star

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

With the Oscars’ nominations comes the slew of “hot” films from the US. I say “hot” films… they’re pretty luke warm once they get here, considering they’ve been out across the Atlantic for a good few weeks or months. And with those accolades comes a hell of a lot of pressure, as you’re almost pre-conditioned to expect the film you’re about to see to be at the top of its game. For some, it can also alter their opinions: for better, or for worse. On one hand you may be so psyched for the film that it’s not going to live up to its hype, but on the other hand your opinion could be favourably improved as you sit there thinking “well, everyone else loves this… Perhaps I do too?” I can tell you that The Phage is as swayed by these opinions as an oak tree is. We like to make up our own opinions… so let’s begin the season to be jolly glamorous daaarling with Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

This is a film that can’t have escaped your attention owing to the fact that it also made international news headlines thanks to its touchy content: torture and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Yes, this is that film. Behind the camera we have Kathryn Bigalow – the Academy Award winning director that brought you The Hurt Locker – another current affairs / war based epic. I still think Point Break‘s her best outing to date, but who doesn’t love a bit of surfer Keanu Reeves dude? Bodacious. Gnarly. Rad.

But back on track and onto the plot (if you hadn’t guessed it already). Zero Dark Thirty follows the posting of CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) to the Middle East as she attempts to track down the leading Al-Qaeda generals that were on the loose following the events of September 11th 2001. And who’s the big target? Osama Bin Laden, of course. I can’t spoil the plot as every man and his dog knows the outcome of this particular hunt for America’s previous “Most Wanted”, but not many people appreciate how much intelligence work went into the man hunt. The film swears its telling the true accounts of people that were there over the decade-long hunt for Bin Laden – the US government disagrees with this statement somewhat, so I guess it’s up to you to make up your own minds.

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Zero Dark Thirty is a very dry movie – it’s heavy on emotion, heavy on drama and heavy on suspense, despite the fact that you know the outcome from the outset. The torture scenes are indeed barbaric and retreading all of the terrorist events, from the attack on New York in 2001 to the July 7th bombings in London and everything in between and since, has been covered. For some it’ll re-open wounds that are best left to heal. Some may argue that this film is “too soon”, just as The Hurt Locker was “too soon” after the US-Iraq War. I’ve got to hand it to Kathryn Bigalow; she’s a gutsy woman to tackle all of this. But what concerns me is that she’s followed up a “true to life” war drama with… a “true to life” war drama. I really worry about her becoming set in a rut here if she continues this. If 2014 brings Point Break 2: Bodacious Waves then maybe she won’t succumb to being tarred with that brush.

Aside from the content of the film, much has also been made of Jessica Chastain‘s performance here. I’m very relieved to say that she is utterly compelling as Maya. You see her development from a somewhat shocked rookie through to hardened and determined agent. She runs every emotion over the film’s lengthy 157 minute runtime and really sells you every single one. I’m convinced she’s a shoe-in for an Award in the upcoming season. Sure, I really liked Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, but it can’t compare to this, can it? A lot of credit has to go to the entire supporting cast too, especially Jason Clarke‘s Dan, but this is really Chastain‘s vehicle, with many other characters simply being “there”.

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Whilst I admired how gritty and real Bigalow has kept Zero Dark Thirty (I don’t think I’ve ever heard a machine gun sound so offensively realistic in a cinema. Absolutely sublime editing and effects), it still had its problems for me. I just found myself getting distracted as the film progressed. Some of the sections just felt very long-winded and drawn out, as I waited for the pace to once again pick up and become engaging. Sure, Chastain held every scene admirably, but I wanted more. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a war movie here. This isn’t meant to be Full Metal Jacket and I get that, but I still wanted something else.

Overall, I’m in agreement that Zero Dark Thirty deserves the praise that’s being lauded on it: it’s visceral, suspenseful and supremely acted out by Jessica Chastain. But it just failed to hit those really high notes for me. I definitely can’t brand it a classic, as I can’t see myself wanting to re-watch it again, which for me is the hallmark of a truly fantastic movie. But it is another solid film for Kathryn Bigalow. I just hope that she diversifies her subject matter in future endeavours.

So despite the hype, I fail to see why Zero Dark Thirty should stand head and shoulders above the other nominations that I’ve seen so far. Although we remain highly impartial until we’ve seen the film ourselves, we can’t help but feel a little let down that it isn’t the stone-cold classic we were anticipating. Having said that, if someone wants to start hyping up Point Break 2 then I’m totally on board that hype train. Full steam ahead dude!!

Phage Factor:

4 Star