Video Verdict: ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ ‘About Time,’ ‘Escape Plan’

Domhnall Gleeson, left, and Rachel McAdams star in the romantic drama “About Time.”

Domhnall Gleeson, left, and Rachel McAdams star in the romantic drama “About Time.”

This week’s home video releases include a romantic time-travel film and a drama that scored six Oscar nominations.

Dallas Buyer’s Club

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use
Universal Studios
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

With Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto winning best actor and best supporting actor from numerous awards groups, they are the unquestioned frontrunners in the Oscar race. Both men are deserving of the attention, as their performances in “Dallas Buyers Club” are the sort that should be remembered forever.

McConaughey famously lost more than 40 pounds to portray real-life AIDS victim Ron Woodruff. The Dallas resident refused to see his disease as a death sentence and began smuggling experimental medications into the U.S., then selling them to others with HIV. Leto plays a transgender woman named Rayon, who was created by screenwriters as a composite of numerous people in Woodruff’s life.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is one of those miracles of cinema that makes one wonder how any movie gets made. The film’s compelling narrative and six Oscar nominations, including acting nods for McConaughey and Leto, make it seem like a no-brainer. But co-screenwriter Craig Borten waited 20 years to see his work transition to a full-blown movie.

With help from co-writer Melisa Wallack and director Jean-Marc Vallée “Dallas Buyers Club” moved from stasis to one of the hottest properties of the awards season, and serious cinema fans are better for it. The movie is a critique of the American medical system, most notably the FDA and big pharmaceutical companies, as well as the story of a flawed man whose personal tragedy makes him a better person.

On screen, Woodruff is portrayed as a foul-mouthed, womanizing drug addict who contracts HIV through unprotected sex with various women. His initial reaction is disbelief, as he thinks AIDS is only a threat to gay men. But as the gravity of his situation sets in, Woodruff researches his illness and looks for ways to extend his life.

He is frustrated when he learns that experimental drugs are not made available to everyone because the FDA considers them too dangerous. Knowing he’s a dead man if he does nothing, Woodruff finds these drugs by any means necessary, eventually starting a lucrative co-op where other HIV sufferers pay him to procure their medications. He also changes his bigoted views on homosexuality.

McConaughey, looking gaunt and pale, turns in the finest performance of his career, and he is matched by Leto. The future looks bright for both actors because they prove here that they can compete with anyone working today.

Vallée’s direction is solid and capable, and he instills the movie with a sense of importance even when the pacing slows in the final act. Like most films about disease, “Dallas Buyers Club” can be difficult to watch, but that’s what makes it special. Movies that force viewers to acknowledge the ugly parts of our world are just as important as those that lift our spirits.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature and deleted scenes.

 

About Time

3½ stars
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

With “About Time,” writer-director Richard Curtis (“Pirate Radio,” “Love Actually”) tells the story of Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson), a kind-hearted-yet-sometimes-bumbling Englishman who learns he can travel to the past and change events he didn’t like.

He decides to use his abilities to find love, and the film follows him through a series of important events, including a chance meeting with a beautiful young woman named Mary (Rachel McAdams). Tim falls instantly in love, but time-travel related complications put his happiness in jeopardy more than once.

“About Time” is interesting because it combines romance and fantasy in a manner that should appeal to fans of either genre. The time-travel element asks viewers to think about the fragility and transient nature of life, especially the way seemingly small moments have the ability to change one’s destiny. It also forces one to think about the negatives that the ability to continually tweak one’s existence would bring. These big, theoretical ideas are set against a sweet, often sentimental backdrop that offers themes about familial and romantic love.

Curtis deserves credit for crafting such a clever and appealing story, and his work as a director is equally fine. He also gets nice work form his cast. Gleeson, son of actor Brendan Gleeson, isn’t well known yet, but he is an extremely likable leading man, and he makes Tim easy to identify with. McAdams is always a radiant leading lady, and she is typically winning here.

“About Time” can also be applauded because it has a decidedly adult feel. Many of today’s romantic comedies rely on lowbrow sex gags to make up for cliché plotting. “About Time” is too smart for this, but it never feels heavy or overwhelming, and that makes it a particularly good choice for date nights.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes, a blooper reel and an audio commentary by Curtis, Gleeson and other cast members.

 

Escape Plan

2 stars
Rated R for violence and language throughout
Summit Entertainment
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seven-year run as California’s governor did little to change his approach to moviemaking. Despite his advanced age, Schwarzenegger, 66, continues to make action films… even if they aren’t good ones. For “The Escape Plan,” he is joined by Sylvester Stallone, another aging star who refuses to abandon the action-hero stereotype he created more than three decades ago.

Most of Stallone’s and Schwarzenegger’s recent efforts make some trivial acknowledgement that they have grown older. Still, it’s clear that directors are selling their celebrity rather than opting for age-appropriate casting. In fairness, it’s usually not the actors who ruin their projects, as neither Stallone nor Schwarzenegger has seen a good screenplay in years. “The Escape Plan” doesn’t change that.

In the movie, Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a guy who makes his living by finding flaws in high-security prison systems. This lucrative-but-unpleasant job requires him to go undercover as a prisoner and attempt an escape. He always has an exit code in case things go wrong, but he doesn’t use them because he’s the best in the business.

Breslin is put to the ultimate test when the CIA hires him and his partner, Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio), to test a detention facility so secret that its location is a matter of national security. Despite reservations, Breslin can’t resist the challenge.

Once Breslin is inside, it becomes clear that he was set up. He has no way to contact his associates, his exit code doesn’t work and the facility’s warden (Jim Caviezel) assures him that he will be jailed forever.

With the stakes raised considerably, Breslin looks for a way out, and he gets assistance from a hardened inmate named Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger). “Escape Plan” has entertaining moments but far-fetched plotting undermines them all. As in most Schwarzenegger and Stallone films, the actors perform physical feats that would leave much younger men beaten and broken. That is not as big a problem as the fact that the big escape-attempt sequence is ludicrous.

It is OK for movies to transport viewers to fantasy worlds, but “Escape Plan” just feels ridiculous. People who love Stallone and Schwarzenegger may be able to look beyond the silliness, but those who expect actors to do more than flex their muscles and look tough should revisit “Rocky” or “The Terminator.”

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of featurette and an audio commentary by director Mikael Håfström and co-writer Miles Chapman.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Free Birds”: Animated movie about two turkeys who travel back in time in hopes of eliminating turkey from the first Thanksgiving menu. The voice cast includes Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler, Georg Takei, Colm Meaney and Dan Fogler. Directed by Jimmy Hayward (“Horton Hears a Who!”).

“Jules and Jim”: Criterion Collection restoration of French director François Truffaut’s 1962 movie about a long-time friendship between two men and their obsession with the same woman. Oskar Werner, Henri Serre and Jeanne Moreau star. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“A Case of You”: Romantic comedy about a writer (Justin Long) who woos a girl (Evan Rachel Wood) by padding his Internet profile. When she falls for him, he struggles live up to all of his falsifications. Directed by Kat Coiro.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Video Verdict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s