December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
Directed by: Jean Marc-Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Written by: Nick Hornby (“An Education”)

Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”) becomes one with nature in “Wild,” an emotionally affecting biographical drama adapted from writer Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name about her 1,000-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail during a tumultuous time in her life. As a film that centers around a character’s self-discovery and redemption, “Wild” is genuine, heartbreaking and thoughtful and features what turns out to be a career-best performance by Witherspoon (not to take anything away from her roles in “Line” or “Election”).

In “Wild,” we watch Witherspoon disappear into the role of Cheryl, a damaged and self-destructive woman whose marriage ends in divorce because of her promiscuity, and whose loving and unwavering mother (Laura Dern) has just succumb to cancer. Cheryl also finds herself battling a serious drug addiction, which is fueling her mental instability and disregard for the value of her own life. When Cheryl commits to turning everything around for herself, she decides the only way she can do that is by wiping the slate clean and challenging herself to a solo walk from the Mojave Desert in California to Washington State. During her walk, Cheryl reflects on the choices she’s made to get her to the place she currently finds herself and meets people along the way that help shape her into the new person she’s supposed to become once her journey is completed.

Through mesmerizing flashbacks of the life Cheryl hopes to leave behind, we watch her relationships break apart as she loses herself to her addiction and nosedives into an existence she never planned for herself. We also see the connection with her mother Bobbi, someone she always credited for saving her family from unhappiness, but never fully appreciated until she was gone. As Bobbi, Dern epitomizes what it means to have a full heart but live a fragile life. Her scenes with Witherspoon are beyond moving. Witherspoon on her own, however, is equally transcending as this three-dimensional character who ventures into the vastness of the wilderness alone and vulnerable, yet motivated and self-confident.

In one scene, Cheryl, after fellow hikers joke with her about how massive her backpack is by calling it “Monster,” decides to get rid of some of the stuff she really doesn’t need to lug around so her pack can be manageable for the rest of her trip. It’s a perfect metaphor for what Cheryl is experiencing. Shedding the extra, painful weight off one’s shoulders should be paramount to any healing process. In “Wild,” Witherspoon’s Cheryl has hit rock bottom, but is equipped enough to make an inspirational climb we can all admire as heroic.

Dallas Buyers Club

November 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée (“The Young Victoria”)
Written by: Melisa Wallack (“Mirror Mirror”) and Craig Borten (debut)

If you thought actor Matthew McConaughey offered up career-best performances last year in “Killer Joe” and “Magic Mike,” 2013 only proves those roles were anything but a fluke. Sure, it’s easy to mock McConaughey for his rom-com debacles that have come and gone in the last few years (not to mention the unwarranted shirtless scenes that make the ladies hoot and holler), but there was really no reason to think his acting chops wouldn’t reveal themselves sooner or later. He had pulled his own weight in films like “Lone Star” and “A Time to Kill,” so it was only a matter of time before a few more well-written scripts crossed paths with the now 44-year-old actor from Uvalde, Texas.

Two strong screenplays found their way to McConaughey this year. In “Mud,” he showed his range playing a criminal on the run who enlists the help of a couple of young boys. Now, square in the middle of awards season, McConaughey gives us what will easily earn him the first Oscar nomination of his 30-year career. In the biopic “Dallas Buyers Club,” he portrays Ron Woodroof, an electrician/rodeo cowboy who is told by his doctors in 1985 that he is HIV-positive. Reluctant to accept his diagnosis (the epidemic is fairly new and Ron thinks AIDS is a disease only “faggots” get), Ron brushes off the news despite the doctors only giving him 30 days to live.

But as his health deteriorates, Ron decides to do a little research on his own and soon realizes his promiscuous lifestyle and drug use throughout the years have, in fact, led to his sickness. Ron, however, isn’t ready to give up. He’s also unwilling to believe his doctors are doing everything they can to save his life. Ron takes his treatment into his own hands and creates the Dallas Buyers Club, an underground organization where, for the price of membership, he makes unapproved HIV drugs he illegally brings in from other countries available to fellow patients. With the FDA breathing down his neck, he and his business partner and HIV-positive transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto, also in a career-best performance) fight through the system while giving hope to people who would, instead, just be waiting around to die.

While Ron isn’t what you would consider a likeable character, especially in the first half of the film when his homophobia is on display, McConaughey slowly brings viewers to a place where we can sympathize with everything he is going through. McConaughey’s drastic weight loss to play the role might be hogging all the headlines, but it’s more than his physical transformation that makes Ron a fascinating person. Credit for defining Ron on an emotional level definitely goes to screenwriter Melisa Wallack (“Mirror Mirror”) and first-time writer Craig Borten, who give us an effective character study of a man who refused to take no for an answer.  There might be a few fragile decisions made in the narrative from a historical aspect, but what McConaughey does on screen is enough to forgive “Dallas Buyers Club” of its storytelling shortcomings for the most part.

The Young Victoria

January 26, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée (“C.R.A.Z.Y.”)
Written by: Julian Fellowes (“Vanity Fair”)

As a period piece, “The Young Victoria” is fairly generic when it comes to offering a history lesson, but credit must be given to Emily Blunt and her portrayal of Queen Victoria during the first years as ruler of England. As the young queen, Blunt plays the real-life character both mature and inexperienced.  Add to that some top-notch costume design by two-time Oscar nominated (7-time nominee) Sandy Powell (“The Aviator,” “Shakespeare in Love”) and solid production design and “Victoria” is right at the edge of a recommendation.