Thursday, February 27, 2014

Finally!!! Feeling tons and tons better! Took long enough, jeebus! I'll tell you, I haven't had a cold or flu that bad in years. Thankfully it's all over and I can actually get back to enjoying some normal life. Now that I'm feeling good I can actually enjoy some of these movies I've been watching and not have it feel like a chore. Don't get me wrong, this Best Picture goal has been a blast, but when you're sick, it's hard to have fun with it.

Ok, here we are today with Philomena and Dallas Buyer's Club.

First up, Philomena.

Okay, well, that trailer, yeah... it kinda lies. The trailer makes it look like a touching, heart warming comedy with a smattering of real life drama tossed in for a bit of flavor. Nope. This is a pretty serious and heavy drama with some cute, albeit quiet jokes tossed in. This is the story of real life Philomena Lee, played by the always wonderful Judi Dench, whom as a young girl got got pregnant outside of marriage. The problem is Philomena is Irish Catholic and it was in the 1940's and there was a custom of shaming young girls that dared to commit this terrible "sin." Their course of penance was to be confined to an abby for a period of 4 years where they would work hard labor 7 days a week as they watched their children be adopted whether they wanted to keep the child or not. If the mother's didn't die giving birth, they were given minimal care, as was the case for Philomena who had to endure a breach birth without any proper medical attention as part of her penance. See, told you it wasn't funny.

Flash forward 50 years and we meet Martin Sixsmith, played by a dry Steve Coogan, who also cowrote the feature. Martin is a former BBC reporter and political spin doctor - who just lost his job and is searching for a project to focus on. During a chance meeting at a party, Martin learns of Philomena's story and her struggle to find her son and he decides to make it his next project. Together the two set about visiting the abby where Philomena stayed and ultimately fly to America to learn the truth.

This is another one of those movies where I feel compelled to be extremely vague about the details. If you don't already know the story, or have read the book that it was based on, it helps to not know too much going in. Next thing that I can't help but mention is that it has a very anti-Catholic sentiment running through it. While Philomena is a strong Catholic herself and manages to forgive and find goodness in everyone, she seems to be the one good Catholic in the entire show. And given what was done to her, I can't say that I blame the filmmakers for taking this rout with the movie.

In spite of the dark subject matter, this is a very fine movie. Well made and competently told. Judi Dench is always amazing so heaping more praise onto her for doing what she's always done best is kinda silly. With that, I have to give a huge shout out to Steve Coogan for turning in a fantastic performance. Usually I see him in more madcap comedy roles or if he's playing it straight and serious, it's in much smaller roles than this. And as a co-writer I have to give him a lot of credit for tackling the material as they did while still finding small places for happiness to sneak in here and there. My only "gripe" if there is one, is that this is not the movie advertised. But that's the fault of the marketing team, not the filmmakers.

I can see why it's a Best Picture contender - it has a lot of Oscar friendly elements working for it, but it too, doesn't have a chance to win the gold dude. If it does, it would only be because votes are going to be so split by other contenders. Even then, it still shouldn't win. I don't mean to be down on the movie or negative, it's just not the best movie of the year. It is very good, and if people are looking for a good drama to take in, I'd recommend it, but that's as far as I'm willing to go in my praise of this movie.

Up next, Dallas Buyers Club

In the words of the brilliant thespian, Keanu Reeves - "Whoa!" This is a hell of a movie. Heavy and serious yet wonderful and heart warming. Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a self described "Rodeo Man" who openly and frequently uses any number of homosexual slurs to describe "those people" and anyone with HIV and AIDS. That is of course until he is diagnosed with the disease himself.

This true story hits when the AIDS epidemic was just getting going, and coincidentally, exactly when the most could have been done to steam the tide of infection and treat the disease, only due to politics - it wasn't. I was born in 1982, and growing up through the 80's I still have clear memories of hearing about people doing anything and everything they could to get the medications that worked, but weren't approved for usage in this country. I still remember Ryan White, the teen who contracted the virus from a tainted blood transfusion and the incredible amount of advocacy work he did before he died. With that, seeing Ron's story played out by some of Hollywood's finest, delivering their best performances, makes knowing and remembering the history of how people with this awful disease were treated all the more serious. This isn't a subject people should make light of or forget. Wisely rather than pointing fingers at a specific politician or political party, the film focuses on Ron's fight with various bureaucratic agencies to get the medications he and many others needed.

Ron was a fast living guy who drank like a fish, put what ever he could up his nose, and frequently had unprotected sex with numerous partners. So how he contracted the virus is pretty obvious and straightforward, and thankfully, the movie doesn't shy away from. Because it's his personal journey from being a misogynist and a homophobe into someone that fights for people to get the medications they need by traveling overseas and illegally importing these medications is what's important. Helping him along the way is his doctor, Eve, played by a wonderfully sympathetic Jennifer Garner, and a transvestite named Rayon played by an unrecognizable Jared Leto. Was Ron right to break the law and do what he did? Hard to say. But when you consider the FDA and other agencies were dragging their feet and roadblocking research efforts, it gets pretty easy to paint Ron in a heroic light.

The film is quite simply, incredible. There just isn't another word to describe it. The performances are amazing, and if I have to call the Best Actor race, I have to say McConaughey is pretty much a shoe-in. And it isn't because he lost all that weight either. Sure, his physical transformation is incredible, but his commitment to the role and the emotional weight he gives every scene makes his performance one of the best in the history of the medium. It isn't enough to "play" someone in a biopic movie like this. You have to become that person, and McConaughey did that in spades. Also, I gotta tip my hat to Jared Leto who held nothing back for this film and is equally deserving of his Best Actor In A Supporting Role nomination, if not the little golden dude himself. I just can't praise this movie enough.

So what do I have to say when it comes down to the movie's Best Picture chances? Well, this is where things get really tough. Now between this movie and 12 Years A Slave - we have two of the best movies put to film and released to an audience. Not only are they great, they're both important representations of eras in our nation's history that shouldn't be forgotten. Is one inherently better movie material than the other, AIDS vs Slavery? No. Both movies take on their respective subjects with an honesty and frankness that should be praised to no end, if only to encourage this kind of attention to detail from future films. I simply can't pick one movie over the other. If there is justice to this whole Best Picture system - both movies will win top honors because both deserve it equally.

Could my mind change tomorrow since I still have to review Her, and The Wolf Of Wall Street? Possibly. But then after what I've seen so far, the competition is pretty thick. See you then! Be good, and hot damn am I glad I'm feeling better!   

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