Sunday, November 24, 2013


    The new film from director Alexander Payne takes us back on the road as Woody and his son, David travel from Billings Montana to Lincoln Nebraska in search of a million dollar prize Woody thinks he has won. It is a family drama laced with quite a bit of low key humor.

     Bruce Dern plays Woody and Will Forte is David. Mr. Dern is excellent as a man who knows his best days are behind him but holds onto one last dream.  Mr. Forte finds his own zone against the veteran actor and the two men play off each other brilliantly. Co-starring is June Squibb as Woody's wife, Kate and she pretty much steals the film. In a smaller role, Woody and Kate's other son is played by Bob Odenkirk (fresh off "Breaking Bad" as the devious lawyer, Saul Goodman).

      Mr. Payne makes a wonderful choice to shoot the film in black and white. The cinematography is outstanding. Devoid of color, the landscapes look bleaker as do the faces of the weather worn cast but there is beauty in almost every shot. When Woody and David make a pit stop in Woody's hometown, we meet a bevy of interesting characters, friends and family members, who all take an interest in Woody's alleged winnings. The stark black and white images in many of these scenes are remarkable. 

       Watching this unlikely pair bond in a subtle but realistic way makes the journey more interesting than the destination. Its a memorable film both for the acting and the resonating beauty of it's visuals.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

         The Marvel movie machine rumbles on with this enjoyable sequel.  It will definitely help if you have previously seen the first Thor film and also "The Avengers" as this new film follows a specific continuity firmly planted in the Marvel universe. But of course movies like this have a built in audience and there is enough exposition by the characters to bring everyone else up to speed.

           The original cast returns and pick up where they have left off. Chris Hemsworth embodies the Marvel version of Thor very well. Natalie Portman is his mortal girlfriend, Jane Foster. Anthony Hopkins hams it up as Odin and thankfully Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki raising the quality of the film every time he's on screen. Idris Elba also returns as Heimdall and is given more to do this time than just play Asgardian doorman. The villain this time is played by Christopher Ecclston barely recognizable under tons of makeup. 

             The story concerns Malekith, lord of the Dark Elves trying to destroy the nine realms with a dark force called the ether but the rambling plot is just an excuse for Thor to swing his mighty hammer and save the day. For the purist, the characters are drawn from the Marvel comics (with some minor tweaks and exceptions) and there is a deliberate bridge to the next Marvel film waiting for us during the credits. There is also a clever cameo, played for laughs like much of the movie itself.

               The film doesn't have the gravitas of The Batman Franchise. It is, however, a fun romp that passes the time well until the next Marvel superhero saves the day.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

       Based on a true story, this is not an easy film to watch but it chronicles an important time in our history and has two of the best performances on film this year.

      This is the story of Ron Woodruff, a macho electrician and rodeo cowboy who finds out he is HIV positive in 1985.  He is given 30 days to live but once he accepts the truth, he dedicates the time he has left to find drugs that will keep him alive. Matthew McConaughey plays Woodruff and he is devastatingly good. He inhabits the role inside and out (having lost a shocking amount of weight to play the part) and is brilliant in every scene.

      Ron finds out about AZT and does everything he can to get the drug legally from his doctors but soon turns to illegal means to keep himself alive. The early results on AZT were  not great (until lower doses proved more effective) and Ron finds other alternatives from a doctor in Mexico, played by Griffin Dunne. When he starts to respond to the new therapy, he devises a way to get rich and keep himself and others alive at the same time. Thus, The Dallas Buyers Club is born. He gives the drugs away for "free" with a paid membership creating a loophole around the FDA.

       In a strange twist, this "macho", firmly anti-gay Texan ends up befriending an HIV positive transsexual named Rayon who eventually becomes his business partner. Rayon is played by Jared Leto and he is simply remarkable.  Both he and Mr. McConaughey have Oscars in their future. Also co-starring are Jennifer Garner and Dennis O'Hare as a sympathetic doctor and her doctor supervisor who first diagnose Mr. Woodruff. 

      The film is heartbreaking and powerful but probably could have been a bit shorter with the same impact. While certain scenes become repetitive, the performances are riveting and keep you engaged.  While the drugs have gotten better and more people live longer HIV positive, AIDS is still a world wide major concern. Mr. Woodruff's story serves to remind us just how devastating this disease remains today.