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

Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

Texas Chainsaw 3D

Confucius had some pretty good proverbs didn’t he? In fact, so too did a lot of other great minds throughout human history. Now is my time. Yes, in years to come, the future space people will somehow locate this exact page and nod with smug appreciation at how profound this one review is, and how important it would be to the future of mankind. For I ask… if a film is a reboot of a sequel that bears no resemblance to the first sequel and snubs the original’s reboot in favour of the real original, whilst forgoing all other subsequent sequels, is it a reboot after all? If you’re confused by that sentence, then spare a thought for me… I had to write that stuff! Christ, no-one ever told me being a genius would be this tough! I think I’ll revert to form, lest my Phagey brain explode. Here’s a review of Texas Chainsaw 3D… which might be a sequel… or a reboot… or a confusing mess… much like my mind.

Well, where to start with this one. I hope that all of you are familiar with the seminal 1974 horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? The one that features a guy called “Leatherface” – he’s a cheery chap that loves Black & Decker chainsaws and has an awful skin problem. I assume that’s why he chooses to stitch other people’s faces to his own. As Face/Off hadn’t been released back then I’d presume he’s not just a massive Nicholas Cage fan… although those hairstyles are pretty similar… OK, you’re with me so far? Good. Are you aware that the franchise has spawned three true sequels, in the form of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation? Maybe not. And let’s be honest, why would you? They’re awful. Come on – look at the title of that last one! So the 2003 reboot came as no surprise, and nor did Hollywood’s lust for horror with the 2006 prequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning… too bad both of those were about as exciting as a toothpick too.

Leatherface through the ages...

Leatherface through the ages…

So… All that being said, where does the ambiguously named Texas Chainsaw 3D fit into proceedings? On the surface, it looks like it might be a hokey 3D reboot of the original. You’d be wrong there. What it is in fact, is a sequel to the 1974 original. No, not the 2003 retreading, but the true original. How do you know this? Well, the whole opening of this film shows the ending to the original – the actual footage. The plot then picks up immediately after out victims-to-be have escaped and alerted the townsfolk to what’s gone on in deepest, darkest Texas. Of course, the townsfolk don’t take kindly to this and burn down Leatherface’s family house, complete with family inside. Jump to “modern day” (more on this later) and we find our protagonist Heather (Alexandra Daddario) has inherited a house in Texas from her deceased grandmother. A grandmother that is tied to the original murderous family. A murderous family that may not be entirely dead. And still has chainsaws. You get the picture?

Yes, the plot is about as obvious as me telling you that grass is green and the sea is wet. Heather’s road trip with her pals Ryan (Trey Songz), Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) doesn’t go as planned. But luckily she did pack every horror cliché in the play book. At times it felt like I was watching another god awful instalment in the Scary Movie franchise. You want the runner to trip up / stumble / make obvious noises? Check. You want to see some boobs? Check. Women in bras and lace panties? Check. Paper thin, disposable characters? Check. Yes, every box is ticked. But that’s not my biggest issue with the film. That rests with why the film doesn’t tell you about Heather’s magical youth formula or time travel machine that she clearly invented..

One of many shots to please the "slasher" diehards...

One of many shots to please the “slasher” diehards…

OK, the original film was set in 1974. It’s clearly 1974 – the clothes, the hair and the cars are all featured at the beginning of Texas Chainsaw 3D. That definitely sets up the time period. But then we switch to 2012 for the “today” action. Trouble is, you see young Heather as a baby in 1974… and you see her as an early 20-something in 2012. This would make her 38. This isn’t a deal breaker for the film, but how could someone have missed out on this? It’d have made more sense to base this off a completely “new” original and got the times lined up. A weak oversight.

What you can't see is how skimpy her top is. Another cliché? Tick!

What you can’t see is how skimpy her top is. Another cliché? Tick!

With all this being said, you’re probably expecting me to award this film something akin to 0%… but you’d be wrong. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a great film. Hell, it’s not even good. But not many slasher films are good to be honest. I just got a thrill out of seeing Leatherface (ably played by Dan Yeager here) running around with a chainsaw. Sure, it’s not the same as it used to be, as it’s all a bit too slick and not as gritty as the original. It had some fun times and I think that somewhere there’s a good story in there. Unfortunately, it’s let down by more holes than a crocheted blanket. And the final 15 minutes? Wow. The weak, colour within the lines characterisation of Heather is very weak. It’s just absurd. But I guess that’s how they go about setting up sequels nowadays! To me, it just reeked heavily of how Saw managed to extend their franchise. Except for the fact that Saw, despite its flaws, defined a new genre – regardless of how you view the “torture” style. Texas Chainsaw 3D, unfortunately, does nothing to innovate or resuscitate this emaciated franchise.

Texas Chainsaw 3D is a passable slasher movie, but that’s not a high commendation. It throws in every cliché by the truckload and will have you laughing in disbelief rather than cowering behind your hands. It’s a shame that such an iconic character as Leatherface has yet to have a truly great resurrection on screen. Just like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, I think he has had his time in the sun / moon light. I’m not saying they should be retired to their respective coffins, but they need a severe reworking if they’re ever to recapture them at their best.

And what of my proverb? Is a reboot of a sequel that bears no resemblance to the first sequel and snubs the original’s reboot in favour of the real original, whilst forgoing all other subsequent sequels, actually a reboot after all? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I’d put my money on it being a new sequel and not a reboot or retooling. It’s simply opened up an entirely new dimension for Leatherface to invade. After all, considering Heather is able to look so damn youthful and hot despite her apparent age of 38, reality bending inter-dimensional time travel is definitely possible.

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

The Imposter (2012)

We’ve all lost a pet at some point in our lives: whether it was little Hammy the hamster, Goldy the goldfish, or Floppy the rabbit. Usually, this is due to them being ushered to the big playground in the sky. Your parents may have played this out in several ways; for instance they may say your pet had run away (probably due to those god awful, unoriginal names you used), or they may explain the cold hard truth – your pet is dead – get over it. More likely they’ll have tried to replace your cherished pet with a replica, so that you (the naive little kid) have no idea about the horrible fate that your little buddy succumbed to. But you know something’s wrong. That little creature just isn’t quite right… there’s something a bit different. Little “Hammy” is in fact an imposter.

Now imagine that this pet isn’t a pet… imagine it’s a brother, a son, or nephew; lost in their early teen years. No-one knows where they went, or where they are. They remain lost for over three years. Then suddenly you get a call – the boy has been found half way across the world. But this “little boy” isn’t your lost little boy. He’s someone else – an imposter. This is the premise behind The Imposter, a part-documentary, part-thriller, but very much true story in the vein of Catfish or Talhotblond. And boy do I recommend you watch it.

As per usual, I’m not going to explicitly reveal the plot here, but if you’re interested in the “true story’s” authenticity (and more on the plot), then read these articles in Time Magazine and The Guardian newspaper. I can reveal that the film tells how the Barclay family deals with reuniting with “Nicholas” in 1997: three years and four months after his disappearance from a small Texan community, in which time he seemingly had travelled to Spain and developed a French accent. Do they accept him? Do they figure it out? You’ll have to watch to find those details. This is Film Phage – we don’t spoil!

This isn’t Nicholas Barclay, nor does he look like a blonde haired, blue eyed Texan… but he’ll say he is…

If you’re familiar with Talhotblond (and if you’re not, I urge you to check it out), then you’ll recognise the format of the film. It primarily plays out as a documentary, with all of the key players talking in a frank and open manner about the events that occurred in the late 1990’s – these are not actors, these are the real people, each with their own view on events. This is interspersed with “flashbacks” that does use actors. After all, a film needs some action here and there. And I’m a sucker for genuine true stories, not this rubbish that’s so often cooked up by Hollywood as being a “true story”, when all that’s “true” are names and locations. Nothing more. This is the real deal, with real world implications.

If you’re going to watch The Imposter, you’re not going to see great acting, because there isn’t much on show – it has re-enactments in the same way that Crimewatch or America’s Most Wanted does, but this isn’t why I enjoyed the film. It’s the story. I don’t recall the original events from 1997-1998, and was unfamiliar with the tale. If this is true for you too, then do not read up on it, as the film plays out much better if you have no clue about what’s coming next – it really adds to the suspense. I’m a sucker for a twisting plot, and this had it in spades. And the genius thing? It’s not the imagination of a writer – these are real events. This single fact makes you question the rationale and intelligence of some people, as well as their moral compasses.

Some of the real people involved in the case: from sister to FBI agent, all angles are covered.

That being said, the film is not an edge of your seat thriller from beginning to end. It does slow down considerably at the end of the first act, where the film loses its momentum somewhat and attention begins to wane. I even found myself becoming slightly sleepy due to the fact that the film is slim on music and noise in general – it’s primarily a vocal delivery. But luckily this drought was short-lived and the intrigue and suspense kicks back in again with a vengeance.

By the time the epilogue and credits roll you’ll be wondering how on Earth this is a true story. Some of it is so far fetched that you’d be forgiven for doubting its authenticity. You’ll be left with just as many questions as answers… and that’s the joy of it. I love a cerebral film and one that provokes discussion and introspection. Although the film will not be to everyone’s tastes, nor is it a flawless piece of cinema, it is one that I have no qualms in recommending thoroughly. There are never just two sides to a story…

You’ll be shocked, you’ll be intrigued and you’ll be stupified. I’ll guarantee these three things of The Imposter if you’re unfamiliar with the tale of Nicholas Barclay – the lost little Texan boy. And in a summer that’s also seen the release of Killer Joe, I doubt you’ll be wanting to visit Texas any time soon either…

Imagine you had that sense of loss and longing for that absent love – little Hammy. Then he’s swapped. Unknowingly. Would you know something was awry? And if you did, would you still accept him, and why? Does this desperation make you rash, or is there something being covered up? Something sinister? Would you rather just not know why Hammy changed after mum had done the vacuuming so thoroughly? The truth sometimes really is far stranger and more frightening than fiction.

Phage Factor: