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Ben Nyce | Via Latina

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“Dallas Buyer’s Club” dramatizes a single individual’s battle against stultifying authority. What gives this conventional story line vibrant life are two superb performances: Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof the AIDS-infected rodeo rider and Jared Leto as Rayon the transgender member of the Dallas gay community. Ron is an unpleasant hard-drinking macho, full of homophobic prejudices. He takes on the FDA in his desperate attempt to cure himself and others with the drug AZT. He hates Rayon and only works with her to increase his market in the gay community. Gradually he comes to respect and even love her. This process is treated with great realism and helps the film avoid sentimentality. McConaughey slowly changes from a frail, raging misanthrope to a kind of mensch. The script refuses to idealize him. He grows in health and empathy but he’s also in it for the money from his AZT buyer’s club. As played by Jared Leto, Rayon maintains her equanimity in the face of prejudice. She helps to humanize Ron and he eventually acknowledges her both in his person and in business. Business can be good for you – an American message if there ever was one. But not big business: big pharma and the FDA are a malign influence in the film.

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“Her,” directed and written by Spike Jonze, is a delightful and subtle take on our computer-saturated age. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a depressed fellow about to be divorced. His job is to write letters for people who no longer write letters. In his spare time he plays on his computer at home. Since the time is around the 2030s the power of the computer is manifold. Theodore falls in love with a computer generated woman Samantha whose voice (Scarlett Johansson) anticipates his every need. “Her” is a film of close-ups and voices and thus not very interesting in visual terms except for the shots of a future Los Angeles of high rises bathed in soft radiant light. Its power derives from Jonze’s original script. The virtual reality it explores is on a human scale, as opposed to the sci-fi reality of many films today (sons of “Terminator”). The film is close enough to ordinary experience to pull the viewer into Theodore’s life. We watch him as he becomes more and more attached to Samantha. He even has passionate sex with her as he lies in bed. At the orgasmic peak the screen is a fuzzy blank for a full minute. Their love is disembodied. Theodore’s wife accuses him of disregarding human love in favor of his laptop. This prompts him to question his absorption with Samantha and gradually to pull away. His neighbor and only close friend Amy (Amy Adams) is undergoing the same experience – divorce and retreat into computer fantasy, then doubt. The last scene shows them affectionately together, a too facile ending to a film which powerfully and wittily dramatizes the seduction of virtual reality.



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