By Robin E. Simmons
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
There’s no question about Matthew McConaughey getting a best actor nomination for his galvanizing role as a free-spirited Texas cowboy diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live becomes a fiercely determined entrepreneur of compassion and care. A frail looking McConaughey plays real life Ron Woodruff who, during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, decides to use any means, legal or not, to find alternative medicines and create a collective buyers club for his fellow sufferers, all of whom have been shunned and shamed by society. We all understand the struggle for dignity and acceptance. It is universal, as is the healing power of love. But this terrific film is about far more than resilience and persistence. As someone once said to me, “There may not always be a cure, but there can always be healing.” Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Griffin Dunne and Steve Zahn co-star. Jean-Marc Valée directs. Don’t miss this one.
A big win at Sundance, Ryan Coogler’s passionate film follows the story of 22 year-old Bay Area resident Oscar Grant (Michael Jordan) who, on the morning of December 31, decides to jump-start his New Year’s resolutions by being a better son to his mom, a better dad to his beautiful 4 year-old daughter and better, more honest, partner to his girlfriend. But what started out with such high promise ends in a dark place when BART officers shoot him in cold blood at the Fruitvale stop on New Year’s Day and ignite the anger of the Bay Area — shock the country.
Michael Shannon is mesmeric as Richard Kuklinski, a hired killer who, while living the American dream as a loving husband and dad, fulfills executions contracts for his mob boss. The film follows notorious contract killer Kuklinski from his early days in the mob to his arrest. I could hardly breathe as this tense, unnerving character study unfolded. As outrageous as it all seems, it’s all based on real people and events. When Kuklinski was arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters had a clue about his real profession as a ruthless hired killer. Shannon’s incredible performance alone makes this worth finding. Look for Ray Liotta, Wynona Ryder and David Schwimmer in strong supporting roles with cameo appearances by Stephen Dorff and the ubiquitous James Franco.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance (BLUE VALENTINE) tackles big themes of fate and family when Luke (RYAN GOSLING) commits a crime to support his child — an act that makes him a suspect in the eyes of cop Avery (Bradley Cooper) and puts both men on an inexorable collision course that will eventually impact both men and their families in the years to come. This is an ambitious, multi-stranded saga about the “sins of the father.” It could’ve been a cable series. There’s strong support form Ray Liotta, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper and Rose Byrne.
NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:
MAN OF STEEL 3D
Hugely anticipated, but finally unsatisfying reboot of the ultimate superhero makes it’s way for home consumption in a great looking transfer with sharp 3D effects. Henry Cavill is just about perfect as the alien-born humanoid who comes out of hiding on earth at the same time evil immigrants from his home planet threaten our planet and it’s inhabitants. Underneath the action and long-winded back-story is the looming question of weather Superman will risk everything to save an ungrateful planet. But somehow that potent story never really takes hold. The disc comes with a boatload of cool extras. Warner Brothers. Blu-ray 3D.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: JFK
PBS Distribution announces the release of a 2 disc hi-def version of their flagship series special on the life of John F. Kennedy. Talking heads and vintage film and video clips reflect on Kennedy’s accomplishments and his unfulfilled promise. This classy, rather elegant — if restrained — look at a beloved, controversial and mourned President who lived a risky private life and had a vision of a world at peace and a sense of a shared humanity. Oddly (at least to me), the moment and circumstances of his murder are not a part of this documentary. The retelling of the so-called “Cuban missile crisis” is electrifying. PBS. Blu-ray.