Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tag: Jean-Marc Vallée

Demolition (2015)*

Title: Demolition
Rating: R
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Bryan Sipe
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper
Release Date: 4/8/2016
Running Time: 100 minutes

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Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker, struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. Despite pressure from his father in law, Phil (Chris Cooper), to pull it together, Davis continues to unravel. What starts as a complaint letter to a vending machine company turns into a series of letters revealing startling personal admissions. Davis’ letters catch the attention of customer service rep, Karen Mareno (Naomi Watts) and amidst emotional and financial burdens of her own, the two form an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her son, Chris (Judah Lewis), Davis starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew.


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Wild Review – 3.5 out of 5 Stars

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With Wild and Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallée has proven himself to be making some of the best dramas today. What I enjoyed about Dallas Buyers Club was the raw, up close take that it had that made it feel extremely personal. Vallee made a very down to earth movie and it was that style that probably helped lead the film to its two academy award wins last year. This same praise of authenticity can be rewarded in a somewhat lesser degree to Wild. Featuring one of the strongest performances of the year, Wild is a movie with a dedication to capturing the spirit and struggle of the real life of Cheryl Strayed in a way that overcomes it screenplay flaws and leaves you touched.

Based on a true story, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) overcomes her hard childhood, the death of her mom (Laura Dern), drug addiction among other things by traveling the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way, she will meet interesting people, reflect on her past and overcome many of her demons.

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Let’s get the part out of the way that you are probably expecting. Yes, Reese Witherspoon is amazing and deserves an Oscar nomination for her role here. Everything you’ve heard about how she is in the film is correct and she does a fantastic job diving into the troubled soul of her character. You can tell how much she was interested in this story because she seems to giving it her all. Every scene where she had to cry, scream or talk about what is destroying her feels real and it makes Wild a strong character study. There’s a scene where she is reacting to her mom’s death and all while this is happening the movie splices this with a time in her hike when she is having a hard time. Thanks to her performance, this is easily one of the most devastating and moving scenes I’ve seen this year. In fact, all of her scenes where she has to overcome the unexpected death of her mom were as powerful as anything I’ve seen this year and it makes the connection she had with her mom the true highlight of this story.

The movie rounds itself off with a really great cast to support Witherspoon along the way. In the few scenes we get with her, Laura Dern leaves a touching impact playing Cheryl’s mom Bobbi. All of her scenes are in short flashbacks but in that time we get enough from her to see that she is someone Cheryl loved and tries to imitate in her own life. Thomas Sadoski stands out as Cheryl’s ex-husband Paul and the relationship she shares with Cheryl even after they have left each other is pretty poignant.

The film also impressed me with its ambitious editing. While the main focus is to show Cheryl’s hike, we also get to see some of the things that brought her to where she is now. The movie tries to tackle a lot of things but the way it does this is different than the way you would think. Most movies that go back in time do this by presenting flash backs in order from oldest to latest and making them go on for long periods of time. Wild is much more psychological and non-linear in giving the audience Cheryl’s past. Flashbacks here go on for only two minutes at a time, often have just music over them and aren’t featured in order. By doing this, Vallee isn’t attempting your standard based on a true story movie but instead a look at its hero that goes much deeper. Presenting Strayed’s like this allow you to understand the troubled psyche of our protagonist and helps make clearer how these scattered memories are haunting her and battling her on her journey.

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What the films main theme is may also surprise you. While aspects of it are about her battling her demons and learning to live again, the conclusion is far quieter than you’d expect. Strayed’s win isn’t some strong, big yell of survival like Gravity or Captain Philips (not to dismiss those as bad movies in the slightest) but more like a moment of rest or peace within herself. Cheryl’s passion is nature and when everything in her life falls apart and she hates everything about her, she uses it to come to terms and seek tranquility. The walk isn’t about proving anything but instead being able to look at all that you have done and being okay with it. These things from her past all in one way or the other come back to haunt her on her travels but by the end of the hike her soul is at rest and all has come to pass.

On the hike, she is away from all her friends and all technology and all she has is the earth and the few, memorable friends she finds every once in a while. In viewing a more raw and bare lifestyle, she can find the things that matter the most and escape from all the issues that she has. This idea of seeking comfort within is something we rarely see in movies to this extent and it’s what makes Wild truly memorable.

I have a couple of issues with Wild that keeps this from being as good as Dallas Buyers Club though. I think the movie loses some momentum and gets a bit aimless near the end and by the last 15 minutes you’re kind of waiting for the final scene to happen. The ending scene is luckily outstanding but a large chunk of some of the stuff before it could’ve been left on the cutting room floor.

Something you have to understand going into this is that through and through this is supposed to be a character study. Because of this, Wild builds up a fascinating character but doesn’t deliver so easily on a real storyline surrounding her. It allows the movie to succeed in a lot of different areas but it also makes the movie fall short in some also important areas and it keeps me from falling head over heels for the thing.

Other than that, Wild is a movie I would give a recommendation to. The lack of a storyline is made up for by the astounding performance of Reese Witherspoon and the interesting way it presents the mind and demons of Cheryl Strayed. Vallee’s filmmaking continues to be excellent and we get to see a beautiful and touching look at finding peace with yourself and what is around you.

Rating:(3.5/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 12/19/2014

Rating: R

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann and Thomas Sadoski

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Screenplay by: Nick Hornby and Cheryl Strayed

Wild (2014)*

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TITLE: Wild

RELEASE DATE: 1/15/2015

RATING: R

A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.

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Special thanks to Frank S. for this submission

Dallas Buyers Club Review – 3 out of 5 stars

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Article By: Dan Clark

Having death at your door can change a person. Certain priorities go by the way side, while others are quickly brought to the forefront. This exact phenomenon occurs in Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest film Dallas Buyers Club, where Ron Woodroof a full-blooded hard-living Texan and part-time rodeo bull rider has to deal with the devastating effects of the HIV virus. Inherently this based on a true story is full of sentimental drama and intricate conflicts. The issue remains how to handle all these multifaceted parts, and it is that question which consistently impedes the film. A little bit of focus would have gone a long way in collectively bringing everything together. Dallas Buyers Club is unquestionably a film worth seeing. The performances alone make it a must watch for any award season bucket list. If it was only able to be more cohesive it could have made better use of those performances.

One thing you must consider is where the world was when this movie took place. Today many if not all the myths associated with HIV and AIDS have long been forgotten. During the mid-80’s we will still yearningdallas-buyers-club-movie-wallpaper-2 to understand the disease. Most of the world was plagued with misinformation. Woodroof, like many at the time, assumed it was segregated to only homosexuals and would not touch a man of his caliber. Slowly he begins to accept his fate, but he is not willing to go away silently. Working out of a room at a sleazy motel he creates an international network of unapproved medical drugs. A network he uses to sell the drugs the hospital is unable and unwilling to prescribe. What starts as a fight to save his own life morphs into a brutal battle against the FDA.

What will garner the most attention is the physical transformation Matthew McConaughey underwent to star in the role. Transforming your body to extreme conditions is not new for Hollywood actors. Christian Bale seemingly does it every other week. The question is within that change do we see a performance that stands on its own, or are we just crediting actors for their dietetic choices? McConaughey could have the physique of a chiseled Greek god and this performance would be nearly just as effective. He meshes his rebellious country attitude with a deeply hidden shattered soul. His portrayal of this character is the epitome of authenticity. Woodroof is a man’s man who lives a lower echelon rock-and-roll lifestyle full of sex, drugs, and fast-moving money. Likely due to that reckless lifestyle he contracts the HIV virus.

After contracting the virus he reluctantly becomes a major player in the homosexual community he once shunned. The handling of this moralistic change is one of the big difficulties I had with the movie. His change is drastic and without strong evidence. You can understand why he would take advantage of these people, but his deep concern comes off as false. Most of that issue is due to fragmented editing. Intertwined throughout are titles cards that chronologically spout off how much time has passed. This technique is nothing new for cinema, but it is not used with great effect. In a way it felt like an excuse to explain the disconnected flow of the story. I found myself playing way too much catch-up trying figure out where we were.

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His relationship with Jared Leto’s character Rayon is the best example of this. Rayon embodies nearly everything Woodroof isn’t and does not care for. He is a cross-dresser full of unabashed pride. Due to a series of odd events he becomes the unlikely business partner of Woodroof. There are a great deal of powerful moments between these two characters. From their hospital bedside introduction to a supermarket showdown against Woodroof’s past friend, this relationship gives the film some heart and much-needed levity. The problem resides in its evolution and the lack of reasoning to justify the change. Leto does give a marvelous performance to match that of McConaughey’s. Seeing these two acting titans at the top of their game was a unique experience I was impressed to witness.

On the other hand this is a classic case of trying to do too much. This plot is an amalgamation of a man fighting for his life against a deadly disease, the creation an underground crime syndicate, an avocation of social change, and an examination of the conflict of providing proper medical care while adhering to the law of the land. Considering everything it entails it is not nearly the mess it could have been. Also it brings to light many issues with our medical system that are worth discussing, yet there was never any interconnection between these different parts. Nearly every scene would rapidly shift to different thematic element. One moment Woodroof is fighting prejudice he once took part in, and the next he’s swindling money from one of his suffering patients. Seemingly it was unaware of how it would almost contradict itself at times. I just wanted the movie to figure out what character it was trying to build.

One conflict that stood out above the rest was Woodroof’s fight against the FDA. At nearly every turn Woodroof’s attempt to sell these unapprDALLAS-BUYERS-CLUBoved drugs is met with the FDA creating barrier after barrier. There is no question that during the 80’s the FDA’s practices to combat the HIV and AIDS epidemic where questionable and very often unethical. However, the film is uneven with its approach towards this dispute. It has the guile to depict the FDA and our medical institution as a whole as this group of callous villains consumed with greed, yet it never questioned the ethics of Woodroof. When Woodroof turns away a sick young man who cannot afford his medicine it is treated with a tongue in cheek tone. As if to say; “That’s just Woodroof being Woodroof”. By making what is clearly not a black and white issue into one the final message lands with a dud.

Part of the problem is due to the Jennifer Garner. She was the one person stuck in-between both sides, but her character was so lifeless and her performance so wooden that the struggle had little impact. Compared to the other actors she was out of her league in nearly every scene. Although I may sound overly harsh, Dallas Buyers Club is a movie I recommend. It avoids many of the tropes you find in similar stories that become consumed with tugging at your heartstrings. Thankfully melodrama is nearly nonexistent, and this story is supremely fascinating. Leto and McConaughey’s lead the way with such a force I only wish others would have followed more closely.

Final Rating:

RATINGS - 3.0 STAR

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

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TITLE: Dallas Buyers Club

RELEASE DATE: 11/1/2013

RATING: R

The story of Texas electrician Ron Woodroof and his battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies after being diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1986, and his search for alternative treatments that helped established a way in which fellow HIV-positive people could join for access to his supplies.

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NOTE: In memory of Arne Robert Frazin 1951 – 1995.