Dallas Buyers Club: A Cocktail of Awesome

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My favorite way, and the only way I can think of, to properly describe Dallas Buyers Club is that it’s a wonderful combination of Schindler’s List, Philadelphia, and The People vs. Larry Flynt. And yet, it’s entirely its own film. You have a self-interested man whose business leads him to empathize with and protect victims of an unjust world. You have a bigot, whose job forces him to interact with the very people he discriminates against, and who learns to consider these people as one of his own. Finally you have a man with a sizable ego who isn’t afraid to take on the government when they interfere with his ability to do his job.

The film is inspired by the true story of a man named Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey); an electrician, a con-artist, and a bigot, who discovers he has HIV and eventually AIDS. Ron ends up in a hospital where he is diagnosed and told he has thirty days left to live. Instead of taking it lying down and just accepting his fate, Ron begins to smuggle a new experimental drug, AZT, out of the hospital and self-medicates. This turns out to be a mistake, for though the drug helps to destroy HIV, it also destroys the rest of the individual from the inside out. Ron ends up in Mexico where he meets a former doctor who’s been treating HIV and AIDS patients by giving them cocktails that treat the symptoms instead of attacking the virus directly. Ron decides to make money by selling the drugs he can get from Mexico in the United States, except he needs to do so legally. So enters, the Dallas Buyers Club. As Ron explains to his customers and the cops who won’t leave him alone, he’s not selling the drugs to anyone, he’s giving them away for free to members of his club. He does however charge club members a fee of $400 per month. Ron teams up with Rayon (Jared Leto), another HIV patient, as they go off on this business venture while fighting the government at every step. They also get some help from Eve (Jennifer Garner) a doctor who is wary of the AZT drug and a quasi-love interest for Ron.

McConaughey pulls off one of the best acting performances of the year in this role. He brilliantly portrays a man who slowly makes his way through all the steps of culture shock as he becomes immersed ┬áin a culture of people he hates and is disgusted by. Hours after seeing the film, two scenes are so vividly still burned in my memory that so perfectly portray this. In this first, Ron awakens in the hospital after overmedicating on AZT, where he meets Rayon for the first time. Ron is instantly hostile towards Rayon and wants nothing more than for Rayon to go back to his own bed and shut up. Out of the blue Rayon suggests that they play cards, which Ron hesitantly accepts only when Rayon agrees that they do some gambling. This entire interaction is quite something. You have moments during their first meeting where you see Ron start to forget that he doesn’t like Rayon because he’s gay and talks to him like he would with anyone else. Then suddenly something would click and he’d go back to his insults and homophobic slurs. McConaughey so beautifully plays this scene, showing us how difficult it is for someone to maintain hatred towards another person when the hatred is based on nothing more than a negative predisposition to a specific group of people. This is where we get a lot of hints of Denzel Washington’s character in Philadelphia, where he played a lawyer that could not be more uncomfortable around gay people at the start of his business relationship with Tom Hanks’ character.

The second scene that really sticks out for me occurs in a super market. Ron is food shopping and meets one of his former, bigoted friends, T.J (Kevin Rankin). The last time Ron saw T.J, T.J and a group of friends ran Ron out of his former life once they discovered he had HIV. They insulted him, called him a fag, and locked him out of his own home. Now they meet again many months later, and T.J attempts to make small talk by pointing out all the”fags” hanging around the super market today, at which point Rayon approaches and introduces himself. When T.J refuses to shake Rayon’s hand, Ron grabs him from behind in a choke hold and forces him to shake Rayon’s hand properly before letting go of him. When Rayon looks at Ron glowingly for what he did, Ron just shrugs it off like he doesn’t understand what the big deal was. This is the first scene where McConaughey really shows us how far Ron has come as a character from the start of the film. With no second thought Ron jumped to protect his friend’s honor, something that he may not have even done for one of his former friends with the way he was at the start of the film. He didn’t just stop being a bigot, he matured as a human being and started caring about people other than himself.

Dallas Buyers Club is a wonderful mix of different pieces of movies all movie goers love, but adds something that’s entirely its own, unique and original. Overall, it probably isn’t my favorite movie of the year. Some characters are too stereotypical for my liking, and Garner’s performance is flat and uninspired. But for its few flaws, it has too many good things to miss. So go out and enjoy this cocktail of a film.

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Her: The Times They Are A Changing… No Matter What You Are (some spoilers)

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Coming into this movie with only a vague idea of what the premise is, I thought, and I’m pretty certain most had the same thought, that the movie would revolve around obsession with technology and the same old premise that people are growing more and more anti-social as technology evolves. To a small extent, the film does touch on this, but to an immensely greater extent, it was so much more. The true beauty of Her is that the ideas in the film are as complex as Samantha herself becomes and is moving and touching, with no criticism of the characters involved. They are who they are, as our protagonists slowly come to understand throughout the story.

The plot is centered around Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix… the lawyer in me wants to make a joke about the name Twombly, but that would’ve been too obscure, even for me). Theodore has separated form his wife and is in the process of signing divorce papers, which he has so far avoided doing. He also works for a company that writes letters for people to send to other people, able to beautifully express the thoughts that individually could not express to their own satisfaction. While strolling through stores, he comes across OS1, a new, artificially intelligent operating system that designs its own personality to match your own needs and personality; she calls herself Samantha.

Samantha starts off what seems like a friendly office assistant, except with no body. She’s nice, she’s friendly, she’s funny, she can organize the fuck out of eight thousand emails. But she’s also evolving. She becomes a true companion for Theodore, who speaks to her through an earpiece that he’s always wearing, and let’s her see the world through a small camera phone he carries around in his breast pocket. When things don’t work out with the first woman he’s gone out with since he split with his wife, things heat up between him and Samantha, who is constantly growing in her ability to express emotions and her curiosity of the world. They end up dating to the extent that a person can date an operating system. He takes her out, they go on double dates with other couples, they have sex … sort of. There are some rocky moments in the relationship as they try to adjust to the fact that one of them is not a living person, his ex-wife certainly doesn’t accept the relationship as real, claiming that he dates a computer because he can’t handle the complexities of a real relationship. She’s wrong of course, Samantha’s range of emotion makes her as real to the audience as she was for Theodore. And Theodore isn’t alone, we learn through Amy (Amy Adams) that other people have relationships with their OSs as well. Some are just friends, some are also dating, and some people try to date other people’s OSs. But, as is inevitable when a guy dates an OS with limitless computing power, she expands beyond just him, starts communicating with other artificially intelligent OSs and eventually leaves him, but not before professing that she still loves him. Though heartbroken, Theodore has changed as well, and is able to move on and live his life again in a way that he couldn’t before, because of his divorce. Samantha changes him as much as he did her, and they both matured as beings because of each other.

At the end of the film we’re left to wonder how real his relationship was. He loved her, there’s no question. She loved him, there’s also no question. Except that there is. Every now and then, in the back of my mind it would click in my head “she’s still just software, and it’s odd that she can feel this much, and it’s odder that Theodore is going through true emotional pain when he deals with their relationship issues.” When their relationship is on the rocks, the tone of the film changes, focusing heavily on shots of people talking to their phones, not making clear whether a live person is on the other end. When their relationship is strong, the scenes are filled with other loving couples having as much fun together as Theodore does with Samantha. I truly don’t believe that Spike Jonze intends for us to criticize Theodore for the choices he made, merely to experience his life and his relationship the way that he does. There are even times when Theodore reminds himself and Samantha that she’s not a person, which are some of the most emotional scenes in the film. This is the magic that Spike Jonze has made for us.

Spike Jonze doesn’t get all the credit however. I cannot end this review without talking about some of the most brilliant acting I’ve seen this year. To call Joaquin Phoenix’s performance a powerhouse wouldn’t do his work justice. This role, more than any other, could have gone horribly wrong for another actor. It’s easy to see how this character could be pitied or criticized if the performance were any different, but what Phoenix did here was nothing short of perfection. We must also give credit to Scarlett Johansson, whose voice acting was only second to Phoenix’s performance. Once her character truly gets going, and changes from a clever, computerized office assistant, to basically a full consciousness, we as an audience almost forget at times that Samantha isn’t in fact human. Johansson adds so much personality to Samantha with her voice that Samantha actually becomes a character we care about, and not just a tool that Theodore has become obsessed with. I also need to give credit to Amy Adams. First, a huge kudos to her for two knockout performances in both Her and in American Hustle. She’s just had an awesome year for herself. Adams’ character, which she plays wonderfully, gives is the other side of the coin to relationships. While Theodore’s relationship with Samantha thrives, Amy’s relationship with Charles dwindles and breaks. She also helps us validate our confirmation of Theodore’s relationship when she gets her own OS friend, a female OS, who helps Amy get passed her break up with Charles. Adams presents us with a character who clings to a relationship she thinks she should be in, though it’s made obvious to us how poor the relationship is, and it’s only after a last-straw type fight, and Amy befriending her own AI that she is able to also change and move on by the end of the film.

I won’t prattle on any longer, but I’ll just end with saying that the film was wondrous and unexpected, and everything I could hope for in a Spike Jonze film.