Matthew, Jared And So Much More In “Dallas Buyers Club”

I finally decided to watch this film with the sole objective of discovering why it swept the acting awards in the male category at this year’s Oscars. I came from this film armed with a pretty feasible theory as to why.

But don’t get me wrong: “Dallas Buyers Club” has a pretty good story to tell. McConaughey is Ron Woodroof, an alcohol-drinking, hooker-banging rodeo hustler/electrician who discovers he’s got AIDs after a hot night with an injection-using prostitute. Woodroof is told that he’s got about a month to live. He’s told of a testing drug called AZT and decides to acquire the stuff himself, desperate for a cure to his disease. Instead, Woodroof’s health deteriorates and he lands himself back in the hospital. Itching for more of the drug that he believes is the cure, Ron drives all the way to Mexico to discover that AZT isn’t the cure that he’s been looking for. He’s prescribed ddC and peptide T instead, vitamins that vastly improve his health. It is then that Woodroof gets the idea of selling these drugs to other HIV patients in the US, and the Dallas Buyers Club is born. Leto plays Rayon [Raymond], Woodroof’s cocaine smoking transgender business partner, while Jennifer Garner is Eve Saks, Woodroof’s ‘medical connection’ and sort of love interest.

McConaughey has never been known for serious roles. From blockbuster flops to huggable chic flicks, he’s hardly taken the risk of uglying himself on camera. Leto’s had a number of supporting roles in so-so films–some memorable standouts being “American Psycho”, “Girl, Interrupted” and “Fight Club”. My point is simple: before “Dallas Buyers Club”, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto weren’t Meryl Streep type actors. They weren’t the types who frequented major awards shows because they were nominated. For both of them, Dallas Buyers Club could easily be considered (in the words of Peter Travers) “career best” performances. I’m personally not extensively familiar with their filmographies, but from what I’ve seen before they’re both brilliant in this film.

McConaughey uses more than just his Texan roots to make Ron Woodroof believable: he uglies it up big time, echoing Christian Bale’s weight loss three years ago. But this is where McConaughey wins out: he did more than lose weight for the role. Perhaps this credit is deserved not by McConaughey, but by the Hair and Makeup team behind the movie. Woodroof is more than just an emaciated presence onscreen (reminiscent of Bale in the Machinist), as even his skin seems to somehow evoke his condition. Leto astounds big time, seemingly shedding his masculinity so believably one seems unsure whether he even is male.

Most people have said that physical transformation is the key to winning an Oscar in Hollywood– the signs are there (Charlize, I’m looking at you). But there’s more to changing oneself physically that separates a good performance from a great one. This is where McConaughey’s Texan roots come into play, as he’s got the cowboy flavor down pat.Leto convinces not just with the wig and the dresses, but with the attitude– surprisingly convincing to the point of oddity. Has he been practicing since youth? one can only wonder.

The same couldn’t be said for Jennifer Garner, whose warm presence makes up for her lack of Southern believability (perhaps Reese Witherspoon seems to be a better choice?). Going back to my point…

Two things made McConaughey and Leto worthy of their Oscars: change and believability.

The first step involves the standard Hollywood formula for Oscar gold: physical transformation. Both changed themselves physically to the point of being unrecognizable. One could watch this film and find themselves unaware that they’re watching Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey– that’s how good their changes were. [The Hair & Styling Oscar is well deserved!]

The second step is what sealed the deal: believability. This is where things like roots and raw talent come into play. As mentioned earlier, we had Texan roots on Matt’s side and attitude on Jared’s side. We saw these actors harness these things into giving their best performances to date in gritty, real roles that forced them to go beyond their comfort zones. This is what got them the Oscar.

But don’t get me wrong: Dallas Buyers Club isn’t watchable solely because of these two. Just as 12 Years A Slave centers on the slave trade, this film centers on its own cause: AIDS. Just as the story of Her is relevant to the modern age, so is the story of this movie and the disease behind it. Relevance and awareness, coupled with career best work that is at the very least, stellar– what more could you ask for in a film? Dallas Buyers Club has it all.

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“Her”: An Exploration of Interaction Amidst Technology

“Her” is shot in a sunny shade of Instagram, a color that is both clear and vague at the exact same time. It is a hue that seems perfect for a movie that involves clarity and a certain level of vagueness– such being present in the relationship between Theo Twombley (an oddly handsome Joaquin Phoenix) and his OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johanssen). 

The film is not a perfect exploration of communication, but does a formidable job of making us want to explore interaction ourselves. Its theme is particularly relevant, especially at a time when the internet has changed the way we communicate with one another. Physical interaction is somewhat emphasized in the movie, as seen in Samantha’s desire to inhabit a physical form. Informing the reader of Samantha’s subsequent decision with regards to form would spoil the plot. Instead, this writer would like to take the time to explore the human characters in the film. 

Phoenix is a brilliant misfit. Not too handsome, yet not too dull… he’s a likable everyman. The mustache is an odd, yet charming touch to his writer facade. Rooney Mara is his feisty yet forgettable bride, whose brief appearance serves its purpose to move the story on. Olivia Wilde seems miscast as the smart yet slutty blind date, an even more brief part that was relatively okay in itself. A barefaced Amy Adams makes a 360 degree turn, saying goodbye to cleavage and pompous seventies hair in American Hustle for a role as Theo’s friend Amy. Adams is a less demanding presence, but a stronger supporting act– a hallmark of majority of her work. 

The film’s real star is Johanssen, whose presence is so radiant even without her famed cleavage  it seems a total injustice that she wasn’t honored during awards season with any nomination. How could the film academy not consider an actor’s ability to evoke emotion with their voices alone a feat worthy of recognition? Sad. 

“Her” has no intentions of preaching anything towards its viewers. Instead, it tells a relevant story and leaves the ending rather open, implying no obvious conclusion for Theo. All it does is show, and it does so rather powerfully– presenting viewers with a story they realize is no one else’s but their own. Jonze’s ability to present the intricacies of human interaction and encourage reflection is brilliant. His Oscar for Original Screenplay was well deserved: besides creating a relevant plot, Jonze’s direction proved to make the story come alive beautifully onscreen. 

“Her” is a gem of a film. It may not be the most brilliant, but  it is a film worth watching. For some, it may open eyes and make us think twice about how we communicate with one another. For others, it may simply warm hearts and remind us about the things that truly make the world beautiful: each other. 

 

 

 

A Review of “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” a.k.a. My First Time At CCP

In a desperate attempt to prepare myself appropriately for the second phase of my life (a.k.a. young adulthood), I embarked on my first journey inside CCP in order to watch a play entitled “Mga Ama, Mga Anak”.

Upon entering the lobby for the first time in my life, the one thing that came to mind was: #throwback. It seemed as though the interior of the place had hardly changed since the 1970s (was this really the case?). The place was dark and cold and the walls were a gloomy shade of gray. The only thing that brightened up the area were the massive paintings that hung near the doors that led to the spacious bathrooms. The center’s archive/collectible store was a fascinating little place, complete with shelves of records and VHS tapes of classic Filipino films. To top it all off, the place was filled with people from (almost) all walks of life– gone was my perception that the theatre was reserved solely for snobby culturati in multicolored scarves.

The theatre felt like a horribly detached place. It resembled a movie theatre, the only difference being that the stage had a set instead of a large, flat white screen. Our distance from the stage was far. Sure, we could see everything pretty well, but it didn’t seem to suffice for me. Perhaps it came from having gotten used to watching plays in a smaller, close-knit room (a.k.a. the RMT in Ateneo). I wondered whether the emotions of the actors would be as penetrating as they were. I had doubts.

“Mga Ama, Mga Anak” is the Filipino translation of “Three Generations”, a short story by Joaquin that he rewrote as a three-act play the year that he was declared National Artist. Directed by famed film director Joel Lamangan, the play stars a number of veteran actors of the Tanghalang Pilipino (CCP’s resident theatre group). It tells the story of an estranged father and son and deals with morality, finding your own path in life and the family dynamic.

MaMa is no stereotypical family teleserye. Joaquin’s brilliance on paper lends itself to the plot, unearthing cerebral yet relatable elements in ways that are surprisingly real. The generation gap shows in some aspects (I was clueless as to what a ‘boogie woogie’ was until about a few seconds ago), but the general themes are timeless. This is a story you know.

The acting and casting were not superb but each aspect had their good side. The casting of Bessie was one such example– the lady who played the role of Zacarias’ mistress was brilliant in action, but looked nothing of the part, resembling a rich girl trying hard to rebel instead of a beer house dancer. Celo was another example of such a miscast in terms of appearance. Yet both were formidable onstage, delivering laudable work that definitely did its job. Chitong was a standout more for his looks instead of his acting. Yet, for a young guy among so much veterans, he definitely made his presence felt instead of melting into the background. Good work. Standouts include Sophia and Mrs. Paulo– strong, witty women who were clearly behind the play’s comedic punch. Bessie comes in at a close second– her costume on the other hand…

Production design captured what it needed to, yet it still seemed too bright. I didn’t feel the sense of ‘decrepit’ that was hinted at by the dialogue and the colors of the walls. On the other hand, imagining the grandeur of the dining hall that is described repeatedly in the play was a tasteful and unique experience— one that made use of brain cells that needed much work. Brava!

My big beef with the play– costume design. It took time to figure out the time setting of the play because everything may have looked dated [for a specific decade]  but the context was vague. Perhaps another effect of generation gap, I suppose (??) The clothes represented the characters well, but the chosen clothing for these characters seemed unplanned.

Real and relatable in so many aspects, Mga Ama Mga Anak is minimalist yet substantial. It is this paradox that could somewhat be considered a hallmark of Joaquin’s work, a testament to how a story need not be over the top in order to be brilliant or overtly dramatic. It is a welcome escape from the exaggeration of Filipino television, perfect for a time when thinking should be the order of the day.