Oscar-worthy 'Dallas Buyers Club'
Owls Head — Dallas Buyers Club (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 117 min.). Do not be surprised if this fact-inspired film brings home at least a trio of Academy Awards. It tells the story of Texas electrician/rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof's efforts to find alternative medicines to treat himself and other HIV-positive patients, after he is diagnosed with the illness in 1985. Woodroof has to battle the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) because he uses drugs not yet FDA-approved and the drug manufacturer that is pushing AZT as the medical solution.
At the heart of director Jean-Marc Vallee's film, which earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture, are two extraordinary performances, both also nominated for Academy Awards. Matthew McConaughey continues his career turnaround with a brilliant turn as Woodroof. It is a very real performance, as he goes through denial, desperation and then hope, with the latter also turning into a business opportunity. Equally good in a supporting role is the long-absent Jared Leto as transvestite Rayon. Leto plays the role so convincingly, and with no sense of shame or apology. The two become unlikely allies, after meeting at the hospital, when Woodroof is diagnosed.
The partnership, and ultimately friendship, is unlikely because Woodroof initially is very anti-gay -- this is the time when actor Rock Hudson's death was making headlines -- but Woodroof soon encounters his own discrimination from his friends and co-workers. The development of the relationship is nicely played and laid out by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack's Oscar-nominated adapted screenplay. (The other nominations are for film editing and makeup and hair styling.)
Jennifer Garner plays Dr. Eve, who is sympathetic, but not allowed to help Woodroof. The hospital where she works is involved in the AZT study trials. The film's theme of the right of terminally ill patients ability to seek out their own remedies is still a relevant one. Initially given 30 days to live, Woodroof's efforts gained him another seven years.
Extras are minimal, namely five minutes of deleted and extended scenes and four minutes of promotional content. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extra 1.5 stars
All Is Lost (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 106 min.). This is a rare movie, one that will recall Tom Hanks' performance in "Cast Away." Robert Redford plays an unnamed man on a solo cruise in the Indian Ocean, 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits. Redford is the only actor in the film, and other some brief Redford narration, which sounds like a letter written to loved ones when facing impending death, at the beginning, there only are about 10 more words in the film. Also, the film's score is very minimal.
This is definitely a case in which the audio commentary, by writer-director J.C. Chandor and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb, is helpful, because unless you are a sailor, there are times you will not know what Redford's character is doing.
What starts the harrowing tale of attempted survival, and Redford's tour de force acting, is a nighttime collision of the yacht with an abandoned shipping crate. The result is a hole in the side of the yacht that requires a makeshift patch. As important, however, is that the radio equipment has been ruined by the saltwater that has entered the yacht. It is very interesting to see how the man -- very competent, but in ever more desperate situations -- manages to improvise solutions, particularly the one to obtain drinkable water. However, a ferocious storm, in which the yacht completely rotates upside down and back twice (once with the sailor outside of the yacht) greatly diminishes his survival chances.
Other extras include brief looks at the director, Redford and the story; a 12-minute look at the film's brilliant sound design; an 8-minute look at creating the storm; and discussing how the film falls between being an independent film and a blockbuster. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 2.75 stars