(Video on Demand, February 2014) Three decades after the beginning of the AIDS crisis, twenty years after the obvious tears of Philadelphia, we’re not talking about the disease the way we used to, even in historical retrospectives. Dallas Buyers Club may go back to 1986, but it does so with the knowledge that AIDS has, in some ways, become a treatable chronic disease. Rather than focus on the inevitable death sequence (although we do get that), it’s a film that dare to blend all-American entrepreneurial spirit, antiestablishment smuggling and expert-defying hunches into a fight-back story against AIDS. Anchoring the film is Matthew McConaughey’s astonishing physical transformation into a gaunt but indomitable figure, as his radical post-Lincoln Lawyer career renaissance had led him to a pivotal dramatic role (and modified audience expectations accordingly). Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner turn in serviceable supporting roles, but this is really McConaughey’s movie. Skillfully directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, Dallas Buyers Club offers a look at the early AIDS era that is both unflinching and more than occasionally entertaining as we see the protagonist defy the medical establishment’s glum predictions to provide a better life for other afflicted people. It’s a surprisingly entertaining film that keeps the preaching to a minimum –as should be, considering how attitudes have changed.
(On-demand video, March 2012) I like to think that I’ve got a pretty good knowledge of the past few years in science-fiction movies, but some things can still slip through the cracks. Missing out on a big-budget experimental SF movie shot in Montréal with tons of special effects, and featuring at least four name actors, is a pretty big oversight. Granted, Mr. Nobody is a very unusual kind of Science-Fiction film: It’s about a 118-year-old man reminiscing, circa 2092, about all the lives he’s led. Most of those occur between 1980 and 2010, meaning that most of the film takes place in contemporary times. Still, there’s little that’s ordinary about this 140-minutes meditation on fate, choices, happenstance and a rewinding universe. Mr. Nobody hints at a multiplicity of lives by showing the protagonist in three different marriages and about as many other fates. The first few minutes show a far future psychiatry station, a spaceship breaking apart, as well as the protagonist getting shot, and drowning in at least two different ways. Don’t hope for a tight movie, though, because in-between the SF framework, Mr. Nobody sometimes takes a lot of time to make its dramatic points: The first fifteen minutes are a fast-paced montage of marvels and the last ten wrap up everything very well, but in-between the film can dawdle for a while. Still, the result is often pure cinematic joy. Jared Leto makes the most out of a complex role(s) and the cast of character around him include names such as Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley and Rhys Ifans. Director Jaco Van Dormael has an ambitious agenda with this film, but he seems equally at ease with big ideas and small character moments –the film is packed with inspired moments even when they don’t quite sustain critical scrutiny. (Many SF-related details look good but are wrong, and let’s not even get into the role of coincidence in the story.) What is perhaps most impressive from the film, from a critical SF perspective, is how the SF devices are used in support of what the story is trying to tell about the human condition –that’s a textbook-perfect definition of what Science Fiction does in the best of circumstances. For a film that got nearly no attention in North America, Mr. Nobody really isn’t too bad: I hope more people get to see it, even as flawed as it is because its strengths are considerable. Few films are good and meaningful enough to make one viewer happy about life, but this is one of them.