NINE LIVES (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Thematic Elements, Language and some Rude Humor

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Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Written by: Gwyn Lurie, Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Daniel Antoniazzi & Ben Shiffrin

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Robbie Amell, Cheryl Hines, Malina Weissman, Christopher Walken & Mark Consuelos

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t have high expectations for NINE LIVES. In the months leading up to the film’s release, I frequently joked about how this movie looked like one of the fake trailers in SOUTH PARK. I mean, just picture the narration: “Kevin Spacey was an Academy Award winning actor, but now he’s….a cat?!? He’s about to find out that being a cat is harder than it looks. Kevin Spacey has…NINE LIVES! Rated PG!” That sounds entirely accurate and it makes you wonder how/why this movie was made. Did Spacey owe money to the mafia and this was the quickest way to pay it back? Was his family kidnapped and held for a ransom that included 15 minutes of on-camera screen time and an afternoon in a sound booth to record his lines? The origins of NINE LIVES may go down as one of cinema’s greatest mysteries, but one thing is for sure: NINE LIVES is a terrible, woefully inept disaster.

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Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) is a workaholic businessman with no time for his neglected wife Lara (Jennifer Garner), ignored daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman), and co-worker son David (Robbie Amell). Tom is far too busy with constructing the tallest building in the northern hemisphere to make any time for his family. That all changes when he visits a strange pet shop to reluctantly buy a cat for his daughter’s birthday and through an oddly dark twist of fate, Tom finds himself stuck in cat’s body. Going by the name of Mr. Fuzzypants, Tom must get closer to his family by being a lovable cat and learning the real meaning of life…with furry hijinks and lots of strangely mature content for a children’s film (I’ll explain later).

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Though wild theories about this film’s production are far more interesting to think about, I’d be willing to bet that Kevin Spacey saw NINE LIVES as an opportunity for a quick paycheck and took it. He appears for a total of 15 minutes (tops) of screen time and seems like he ran through his lines during a single afternoon in a sound booth. His bored delivery and lack of emotion makes it sound like he was probably reading them for the first time as he recorded them. Jennifer Garner’s emotional scenes seem to be a direct result of starring in this dreck. At least Christopher Walken seems to be having fun as a kooky cat shop owner who also doubles as an exposition-spouting cat whisperer.

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Plot-wise, and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this, NINE LIVES doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This film seems far too focused on subplots that nobody really cares about, least of all little kids, than the goofy storyline of “cat reincarnation.” Suspected infidelity, conversations about life support and pulling the plug, potential suicide, attempted murder, and a total of four(!) business meetings take place within the confined of 87 pain-filled minutes that feel like an agonizing two hours. If that isn’t enough for your five-year-old to handle, brace yourself for jokes about jailbait and castration…because that’s what everyone needs to see in a family-oriented PG comedy. I’m far from a prude, but these bits slapped me with a shocked look as they simply didn’t belong in a family-oriented comedy about a talking animal.

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At long last, let me address what you were likely expecting out of NINE LIVES from the trailer: lots of cat animation combined with puppetry and an actual feline “performer.” These effects look like hot garbage. Clearly, most of the budget went to the sports car that Kevin Spacey drives in the first ten minutes of the film. If you want to see a cat getting drunk off hard liquor and destroying a picture of George Bush (both of which are highlights), then NINE LIVES is the film for you. However, you have to sit through a cringe-worthy sequence of the cat wrestling with a pen and pissing in a purse too. The funniest piece of cat animation won’t be given away in this review though, because it is a potential spoiler and made me laugh my ass off during the “emotional” finale.

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Who was this movie made for? The cat animation and hijinks suggest little kids. However, the office politics and a would-be murder mystery element overshadow any potential for the happy family comedy to shine through to younger viewers. I cannot believe that I’m saying this but NINE LIVES doesn’t have enough story geared towards Kevin Spacey turning into a cat. Even if you were to watch this with a steady supply of alcohol, pizza and bad-movie loving friends, you’re bound to walk away disappointed or (at the very least) perplexed as to what the hell you just sat through. Thinking of the possible studio discussions and conspiracy theories behind how this movie even got thrown into production is more entertaining than the actual film itself. NINE LIVES deserves to be killed in nine different ways!

Grade: F

DAREDEVIL: Director’s Cut (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language

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Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson

Written by: Mark Steven Johnson

(based on the graphic novel DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR by Frank Miller)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau & Joe Pantoliano

Once upon a time, DAREDEVIL was a good movie. That’s right! 2003’s DAREDEVIL has been the butt of many jokes since its disappointing release over a decade ago. The cut thrown into theaters was a mess. Audiences were forced to endure a plot that seemed half-heartedly stitched together, badly edited fight scenes, hollow characters and a clichéd romance. Turns out that DAREDEVIL was a victim of severe studio meddling and the Director’s Cut makes that more clear than ever. This original cut is the movie we should have received. With alternate scenes, an entire subplot reinserted into the film, less unbelievable romance, and far better action, the R-rated DAREDEVIL very much feels like a precursor to more serious superhero fare like Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy. In other words, this Director’s Cut was ahead of its time, but is well worth yours.

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Matt Murdock was blinded in a freak accident as a child, but gifted with superhuman abilities in his remaining senses. By day, he’s a lawyer working pro-bono for innocent clients in Hell’s Kitchen. By night, Murdock punishes the guilty who walk free as the masked vigilante called Daredevil. After taking on a particularly strange client and meeting the beautiful Elektra Natchios, Murdock finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that leads up to the Kingpin (a powerful mastermind behind most of the city’s crime). As Daredevil struggles to get to the truth, a dangerous assassin named Bullseye also makes his way to Hell’s Kitchen.

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It may sound stupid to phrase it like this, but the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL has an actual story! There’s a beginning, middle and an end. Things logically are built up, developed and play out in a way that makes sense. That wasn’t the case with the 2003 theatrical cut. An entire subplot, completely absent in the studio version, provides believable motivations and fleshes characters out. The plot isn’t revolutionary or entirely original, but it’s highly entertaining from start to finish.

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As far as casting goes, Ben Affleck is far more sympathetic as Murdock in the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL. Little touches are included that help make Daredevil into someone worth caring about as opposed to just another masked superhero. In a lot of ways, Daredevil is Marvel’s version of Batman and that’s a valid comparison in this take on the origin story (mirroring Frank Miller’s darker vision of the comics). Jennifer Garner is likable as Elektra and there isn’t forced chemistry between her and Affleck this time around. A hero is only as good as his villains. Colin Farrell delivers some of his lines as Bullseye in a distracting, snarling manner, while also being too over-the-top in places. However, he pretty much steals every scene he’s in. There’s also something to be said for his character delivering two of best fight scenes in the movie. Michael Clarke Duncan is well cast as Kingpin, but his character still remains underdeveloped (though he was ripe for a sequel that never happened).

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Another quality to be praised in this Director’s Cut is how edgy it feels. Almost every set and scene has a gritty atmosphere that combines popcorn superhero entertainment with just the right amount of darkness. The fight scenes are violent and well choreographed, unlike the edited-to-shreds action scenes in the studio version. However, not everything works. Besides Colin Farrell overacting as Bullseye, there are still out-of-place silly moments. A playground fight scene between Affleck and Garner remains totally intact and just as ridiculous as ever. There’s also predictability to things as this is an origin story, even if it happens to follow a unique hero. Joe Pantoliano’s reporter character feels like he was pulled straight out of Tim Burton’s BATMAN, even though he serves a purpose by the end of the film and could have been an important piece of a second installment.

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With 30 minutes edited back in, choppy studio scenes removed, and R rating firmly in tact, the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL is the movie that we should have originally received in theaters. Who knows? It could have been a huge financial success and earned better response from critics. In a perfect world, we might be swimming in an awesome DAREDEVIL trilogy. However, this Director’s Cut does the job just fine as a standalone superhero flick with dark sensibilities. Watch this Director’s Cut and pretend that the theatrical version doesn’t even exist.

Grade: B+

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content including Graphic Dialogue throughout -some involving Teens, and for Language

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Directed by: Jason Reitman

Written by: Jason Reitman & Erin Cressida Wilson

(based on the novel MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN by Chad Kultgen)

Starring: Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, J.K. Simmons, David Denham, Jason Douglas & Emma Thompson

I was actually planning on reviewing MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN during its theatrical run last October, but the film jumped in and out of theaters in a blink of an eye. The film tanked horribly and holds the title as one of the lowest grossing movie weekends for a film playing in 600+ theaters. The reason I didn’t watch this one in theaters was because it vanished within a week’s time. Jason Reitman’s dark ensemble drama about the dangers of the internet was on the same ground with BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP for briefest wide release in 2014. However, this movie looked good and I wanted to see it regardless. Having now watched it, I’m of the opinion that MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN is a severely mixed bag. There are things that stand out as good (even great) in areas, but just as many silly clichés and awkwardness where there should be emotions.

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The story revolves around five different families who are all struggling with dark secrets. Helen and Don Truby are a bored married couple who both desire to be unfaithful, while their fifteen-year-old son struggles with a pornography addiction. Patricia Beltmeyer is an extremely overprotective mother, whose misguided actions (monitoring every one of her daughter’s online interactions, text messages, tracking the GPS on her cell phone) are smothering her frustrated teenager. Then there’s Joan Clint who helps her daughter with a modeling website that’s overly risqué. Wait, did I forget to mention the Mooneys (father and son who are both struggling with identity crisis after their wife/mother leaves them) and the Doss family (whose cheerleader daughter is suffering from an eating disorder)? You might already see a bit of the main problem with MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN in this synopsis which is that there’s way too much ground to cover for a two-hour film.

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Director/co-writer Jason Reitman adapts Chad Kultgen’s novel and doesn’t seem to grasp that there simply isn’t enough time to properly show every single scene of 320-page book on the screen. It’s almost as if Reitman tried to adapt all the subplots and two of these could have easily been cut out entirely. The social issues that the characters struggle with are important (body image, addiction, temptation, etc.), but the whole film tries to encompass every one of these problems and doesn’t have a full grasp any of them. Since the focus is mainly on the actions of the characters, actual character development is kept to a minimum for most of the cast. This also leads to unresolved plot threads as this film is tackling about 17 characters and wants us to feel something towards each one of them.

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Even with character development is on the shallow side, the performers almost save the film in some ways. Ansel Elgort (a hit among young adult audiences with FAULT IN OUR STARS and DIVERGENT) takes on his most emotionally mature role yet as a kid suffering from depression. Judy Greer is solid in the role of a mother vicariously living through her child and Jennifer Garner is frustrating as a misguided mom who won’t even let her teenage daughter breathe without permission. Most surprising is Adam Sandler’s understated role as Don and shows that he still has dramatic chops when he chooses to use them. The young cast members (far too many to list) all sell their characters as believable teenagers struggling with their own problems. Seeing as the movie takes on far too many characters, a few quality actors are swept to the sidelines, including J.K. Simmons and Dean Norris.

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, from left: Travis Tope, Olivia Crocicchia, 2014. ph: Dale

I imagine that most people will have a problem with the overall message and execution. This might not have been the deliberate intention of Reitman, but it feels like a lot of blame is going towards the internet at the sole cause of every one of these problems. Though there’s no defense against social networks and websites fuelling issues that were already there, it feels like too simple an answer to blame addiction, body image, and cheating spouses completely on modern technology. Those issues existed long before the dawn of the internet and will continue long after. It feels like the film is trying to make a grand, sweeping, and revelatory statement, but it’s old news and has been seen in better films (2013’s DISCONNECT).

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, from left: Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, 2014. ph: Dale Robinette/©Paramount

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN doesn’t make any new discoveries about technology feeding into serious problems and tries to cover way too much ground at once. There are great scenes hidden in the plodding two-hour run time and many solid performances as well, but these are almost drowned out by a pretentious attitude towards the material (coming off as cliché more than once) and underdeveloped characters that populate a massive cast. The good and bad evenly weigh themselves out into a middle-of-the-road experience that is likely to leave just about everyone unsatisfied or slightly pissed off.

Grade: C

Derrick Carter’s Top 10 Films of 2013

List by Derrick Carter

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Trance, Ender’s Game, Simon Killer, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, Rush, Captain Phillips, Stoker, and Side Effects

10. Dallas Buyers Club

10. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB: This film may not be entirely true to the events that it’s based on, but DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is the kind of the movie that makes you re-evaluate just how you’re living your life once the end credits have begun to roll. Matthew McCounaghey and Jared Leto give two of the most heartfelt performances of the year. It’s not a movie that you’ll want to watch on repeat (mainly due to the fact that it’s a film about a man fighting an incurable disease and the war the FDA launches on him), but it’s certainly a powerful one. This is a movie that drained me emotionally by the end of the film, because I was feeling the same frustration at the injustice of how the characters were being treated. Excellent film and I’ll be surprised if both Leto and McCounaghey don’t get Oscar nods.

9. Maniac

9. MANIAC: 2013 was a fantastic year for cinema, but it was a bit of a pathetic year for the horror genre. The best wide-released horror flick was YOU’RE NEXT (which is missing from this list and isn’t even in my Honorable Mentions). There’s always independent and foreign horror to satiate the need to be frightened. MANIAC is a remake that outdoes the original in every conceivable way, whilst also adding the element of seeing the entire film literally through the eyes of a serial killer. What could have wound up being a cheap gimmick becomes a wholly disturbing and chilling experience that will leave you struggling to get a good night’s sleep for a long time after.

8. Place Beyond The Pines

8. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES: There are gripping stories, moments that shock you, and conclusions that leave you emotionally devastated. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES contains all of the above in a narrative that could be seen as almost an anthology format. It’s a story that follows three different characters that are forever shaped by the choices of someone else. Tragedy is one of the most accurate words I can pick when describing this film. Also, it should be noted that the final moments of the film (fueled with a haunting score) had me crying like the first time I saw AMERICAN HISTORY X.

7. Frozen

7. FROZEN: It seems like ever since Disney switched to the computer animation format, they lost the spark of what made their former efforts so magical. Gone were the musical numbers. The sense of timeless fairy tales seemed to be replaced with potty humor and pop-culture references. Recent films like TANGLED and PRINCESS AND THE FROG tried to recapture that flame that gave Disney films like THE LION KING and BEAUTY & THE BEAST. Somehow, against all odds, FROZEN winds up being the best Disney film in about two full decades. The songs are catchy and have stuck with me since my viewing experience. The script also gives memorable characters, while mocking certain Disney clichés and delivering a timeless, wonderful tale. FROZEN is truly something special!

6. American Hustle

6. AMERICAN HUSTLE: Capturing the essence of the 70’s from set designs, costumes, a very cool soundtrack, and Bradley Cooper’s unforgettable perm, AMERICAN HUSTLE told an intense and very entertaining crime story without ever delving into the ultra-violence that the subgenre usually contains. It was a bold move on the part of David O. Russell, but he’s crafted a fantastic film that let the A-list cast run loose and wild to my delight. This is a movie about people double-crossing each other and by the time everything begins hitting the fan, it’s unlikely that you guessed much of what was in store for you as a viewer (including one very neat cameo).

5. Gravity

5. GRAVITY: You can’t get much more epic than the setting of space itself and that’s exactly the canvas that director/writer Alfonso Cuaron (who held off on directing this film until technology was advanced enough to get across his vision) uses for this tale of survival. It’s spectacle, but cinema comes in many forms. It’s not all about important statements, human drama, character studies, or entertainment. Sometimes, a film just needs to be a ride and this is what GRAVITY was. A huge roller-coaster of a movie and I enjoyed it as such. It’s been a tad overhyped at this point, but GRAVITY still remains on my top 10 of 2013!

4. Worlds End

4. THE WORLD’S END: The final part of the “Cornetto” trilogy (also consisting of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ) is my favorite of the comedic trifecta. Some human drama is thrown into this sci-fi comedy which makes for some unexpectedly emotional moments (much like in SHAUN), which in turn make the laughs that much more heartier. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright have closed off their so-called trilogy in grand style and though it’s sad to see it come to a close, I can’t imagine a better way to conclude the so-called Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy. Jokes are brilliantly set up in advance and the chemistry between the cast is so convincing and enjoyable to watch that you may even forget there are robots that show up later on (I certainly did).

3. Prisoners

3. PRISONERS: Few movies have ever made me as uncomfortable as this one did. I was uneasy for the entire running time and for good reason, PRISONERS quietly builds suspense and keeps itself one step ahead of the audience. It’s unflinching in its violence, but also shows restraint when it needs to. Some of the more shocking moments in the film come as to what’s implied rather to what’s shoved into the viewer’s face. This script was supposedly passed around from many directors and tons of different casting choices. The end result is so flawless that it makes one wonder if how it even would have stood a chance with anybody else involved. Heartbreaking, intense and concluding in the most provocative way possible. PRISONERS is the best thriller I’ve seen since Fincher’s GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

2. Wolf Of Wall Street

2. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET: Give Leo the award. Just give Leo the award already! The man is proving himself to be a chameleon of acting (in the same way Gary Oldman is). In THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Leonardo DiCaprio skillfully slips into the skin of drug addicted, sex addicted, all-around rich scumbag Jordan Belfort. Far from an unpleasant watch, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is easily the most entertaining film I’ve seen in all of 2013. I haven’t laughed harder at a movie all year (the scene involving Leo and Jonah Hill high on Quaaludes is one of the funniest movie scenes I’ve ever seen in my life). The three-hour running time seems to rush right past, showing the best pacing I’ve seen in a movie this length. Overall, just see it. I loved this movie and it’s one that I plan on buying the moment it hits home video!

1. 12 Years A Slave

1. 12 YEARS A SLAVE: It’s pretty surprising that there’s never been a proper film depicting the horrors of slavery until 2013 (ROOTS doesn’t count). This is a heartbreaking movie that tore my emotions apart and had myself (along with a sold-out movie theater) crying heavily during multiple points in the film. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is the kind of film that you never forget once you’ve seen it. It will stick with you and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes required viewing during History classes for its unflinchingly realistic look on the dark stain in American history. The acting from everyone is top-notch, as is every single aspect with this film. I can’t say that I enjoyed this movie at all, because it’s not made to be enjoyed. It does show one man’s struggle to retain his humanity and survive a 12-year-long period in slavery. Hard to watch, but ultimately rewarding in many ways, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a masterpiece through and through!

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, some Strong Sexual Content, Nudity and Drug Use

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Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Written by: Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn & Dallas Roberts

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is based on a rather incredible true story. Notice that I said the film is BASED ON a rather incredible true story, instead of that it IS a rather incredible true story. As with many movies that claim to be inspired by true events, the screenwriters took creative liberties with the script. So much so that they wrote in two supporting characters that never really existed. This might seem like a big problem from the point of view of someone who hasn’t seen the film, but it actually helps the movie as a whole. We need to remember that the film world and the real world are (and always will be) two separate entities. They should be taken as such. As a film, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB comes off as a masterwork of emotion and the power of what one will do to ensure that their life means something.

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It’s 1985 and Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) parties hard. By partying hard, I mean that he pretty much has sex with any beautiful woman that he fancies, chain smokes, abuses many drugs, and drinks himself silly. With this dangerous lifestyle come some risks and one of them rears its ugly head in a discovery that changes Ron’s outlook on life. After feeling sickly for a while and passing out at his job, Ron is taken into the hospital and diagnosed with HIV. Immediately shunned by his so-called friends and with an estimated 30 days to live, Ron desperately tries to sneak some trial drugs from the hospital.

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Of course, this can’t (and won’t) last forever, so he packs up his things and heads to Mexico where he finds some unapproved (by the FDA) drugs that produce amazing results. Seeing dollar signs at first, Ron makes a deal with the doctor and sets up a paid program. This Buyers Club, as he calls it, is a place where HIV-Positive patients can get drugs that actually work. Befriending a transsexual (Jared Leto) and confiding in a doctor (Jennifer Garner), Ron engages in an all out war with the FDA to keep his Buyers Club alive, along with his newfound friends and club members.

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As a testament to DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, I can safely say that I was engaged in the film from beginning to end. The two hours felt like exactly the right amount of time to tell this story. With such a time, the film never wears out its welcome. The addition of fictitious characters in films based on true events comes as nothing new (e.g. THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND). This is one of those cases where the addition of these characters actually adds to the power of this as a film, rather than a completely factual tale ripped right out of the headlines.

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These characters would be nothing without the talent giving them life. Jennifer Garner is sympathetic as a doctor torn between what her job dictates and what she feels is right (even if it may be considered unethical by her employers). Jared Leto gives an absolutely amazing performance as Rayon, a transsexual who quickly befriends Ron. Speaking of which, Ron Woodroof isn’t the most likable guy at the beginning of the film. He stars off as a redneck trailer trash hick and he’s highly homophobic to boot. We watch as his views change through the movie and he becomes more accepting of those radically different from him. It will be a crime if Matthew McConaughey doesn’t get a nomination at the Oscars and equally surprising if Jared Leto doesn’t get one as well for Best Supporting Actor.

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The mark of a good movie is getting the viewer involved in the what’s going on in the screen. It’s more than just watching the scenes unfold, it’s feeling the same emotions as the characters and the power that comes with them. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB excels in this regard. I was frustrated when Ron’s battle with the FDA escalated. On a side note, this movie may also make you think twice before taking any FDA approved drugs. That’s not what the film is about though. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is a movie about life itself and how people will dig deep in themselves to make their existence matter. It’s not only a phenomenal film, it’s also one of the very best 2013 has to offer.

Grade: A+

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