Mike Kueber's Blog

April 12, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #109 – Dallas Buyers Club and Doubt

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 9:08 pm
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Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013) is an Oscar-nominated biographical drama about a heterosexual Texas cowboy, Ron Woodroof, who in 1985 contracts HIV from unprotected sex at a time when the only promising treatment, AZT, was still being tested by the FDA. The story focuses on Woodroof, who, because of his inability to access AZT, resorts to using some drug in Mexico that seems to help him and then becomes an entrepreneur in making the unapproved drug available throughout north Texas. Eventually the feds shut him down, but not before he survives for seven years past the 30 days he was given to live after his initial diagnosis. Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for playing Woodroof, and his transgender sidekick is played Jared Leto, who won a supporting Oscar. Jennifer Garner has a supporting role, too, as a sympathetic doctor, but she seems gratuitous to the plot. Her only significance is to create some discomfort for me in the end when it seems like the heretofore low-life McConaughey, redeemed by his entrepreneurial success with drugs, begins to think that a beautiful doctor might be interested in him romantically.  Thankfully, he doesn’t hit on her, but still McConaughey’s transformation, both social and financial, is too extreme to be plausible. The Rotten Tomato critics love the movie at 94% and the audience is almost as good at 92%. Not me – I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

Doubt (2008) is a drama about a young, progressive priest who is suspected by an elderly nun of being a child molester. I chose this movie because the priest is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has been characterized as the greatest actor of his generation since his death earlier this year. Plus Meryl Steep plays the nun, and she is often described as the best actress of her generation. Amazingly, both Hoffman and Streep were nominated for Oscars, as were two inconsequential supporting thespians, Amy Adams (a naïve nun) and Viola Davis (the abused’s mother). The theme of the movie is intriguing because it is set in 1964, a time when most people were not aware of the problem with priests. Yet Streep is much more conscientious in addressing the problem than Joe Paterno was just a few years ago. The movie’s major disappointment is Hoffman. I was prepared for him to knock my socks off, and while he adequately acted as the young, progressive priest early in the movie, he utterly failed later in the movie to reflect the sick malefactor when Streep exposes him. Rarely have I seen an actor seem more obviously as an actor instead of the character. The Rotten Tomato critics and audiences agree at 78%. I disagree and give it only two and a half stars out of four.

March 29, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #107

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 12:39 pm
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Revolutionary Road (2008) is a drama set in the 50s that brings together the Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, except this time they are not falling in love with each other, but rather are suburbanites falling out of love. The problem with their marriage is that they both originally wanted something different than a traditional suburbanite lifestyle, but DiCaprio’s posture was more a pretense and he eventually drifts back to suburban values of work and kids. Both stars are credible, and Michael Shannon plays a wonderful mentally-ill character who talks with a jarring frankness that exposes DiCaprio’s/Winslet’s lapses. The Rotten Tomato critics and audience are in general agreement with 68% and 71%, respectively. I liked it even better at three and a half stars out of four.

Adam (2009) is a drama about a young guy with Asperger’s syndrome, which is described in Wikipedia as follows:

  • An autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported.”

That description is accurately portrayed by Adam in this movie. Adam is a sweet, young computer guy in Manhattan who meets a sweet, young attractive woman who moves into his building, and they explore the possibility of having a relationship. Critics have accurately suggested that the plot is a bit implausible because such an attractive girl (Rose Byrne), not matter how sweet, would be unlikely to seriously consider a guy like Adam (Hugh Dancy). But they forget There’s Something About Mary, and we guys like to dream. The Rotten Tomato critics scored the movie, which was a box office flop, at 64%, while the audience liked it slightly better at 72%. I agree with the audience because, despite the simple, slightly implausible plot, the characters were likeable and the question of whether to have a relationship with an Asperger’s person is interesting. So I give it three stars out of four.

True Detective (2014) is an eight-part HBO series starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. I recently subscribed to HBO and my first order of business was to binge on this highly acclaimed series for a couple of days. The plot revolves around a 17-year murder investigation in Louisiana (the home state of writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto), and it seems like the state is filled with a bunch of Jerry Springer-type people. The story starts in current time (2012), but continually refers back to an early time in the investigation, and the aging/un-aging of McConaughey (actually 45) and Harrelson (actually 52) is amazing. For the scenes set in 1995, these guys actually look like they were in their early 30s.

Although both McConaughey and Harrelson play characters with horrible flaws, they are easily the good guys who you are rooting for. Their acting and Pizzolatto’s writing are superb.  And Harrelson’s wife, well played by Michelle Monaghan, supplies a critical dimension.  The Rotten Tomato critics loved True Detective at 87%, but the audience loved it more at 98%. I agree with the critics and give it four stars out of four.