Why you should be binge-watching ‘Mr. Robot’

The first thing you learn about Eliot Alderson (Rami Malek) is that he’s an unreliable narrator.

He meets with psychiatrist Krista Gordon (Gloria Reuben). He talks about the men in black that follow him. He’s a junkie addicted to morphine pills. And he’s a depressed and paranoid schitzophrenic.

(You’re a voice in his head.)

But despite all this, Malik’s voice is hypnotic and even if his story sounds like a grand conspiracy theory, “Mr Robot” hits upon a nerve (this one encouraged people to Occupy Wall Street).

The tale Alderson spins is a superhero fairy tale, a modern retelling of Robin Hood. Actually, it’s one part “American Psycho” and one part “Robin Hood” — and the good and bad guys are painted in black and white like the bianary system of ones and zeros.

In Alderson’s story, anarchists work to dismantale the system of wealth and capitalism, to get rid of crippling student debt and eliminate the amount of money in your banking account.

Alderson’s twenty-first century superhero doesn’t don a mask, cape or sword. He wears a dark hoodie which wraps around him like a cloak. Behind a computer, he can take down child porn dealers, rapists and drug dealers. He’s hacked everyone he knows and fed online police tip lines.

But first back to Eliot, our paranoid narrator. By day Alderson works at Allsafe Cybersecurity, an online security firm with his boss Gideon (Michel Gill), his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) and her douchey boyfriend Ollie (Ben Rappaport). The firm’s contracted to protect big multi-national banking conglomerates like E Corp and it’s suppose to guard against hackers like him.

You can probably begin to see the problem here. By principle, Eliot cannot stand everything that E Corp, which he nicknames Evil Corp, represents. Evil Corp’s empire of 1 percenters is run by guys like Senior Vice President of Technology Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) — guys with slicked back “American Psycho” haircuts who specializes in “murders and executions.” What’s more, Evil Corp, a symbolism for capitalism itself, supposedly owns 70 percent of the global consumer credit industry including a large portion of people’s debt.

Eliot’s occupation gives him insider access to Evil Corp and perhaps that’s why Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) contacts and recruits him to his fledgling vigilante hacker group fsociety. Their goal: to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Created by Sam Esmail, “Mr. Robot’s” a wonderfully mad story that you wouldn’t believe. But recent current events seem to give this story credence. I mean, would you have believed that a child sex trafficking ring was held in the basement of a D.C. pizza joint with the help of top democratic politicians like Bill and Hillary Clinton? And if you did, would you have walked into this pizza joint with a loaded gun to investigate?

Or would you believed that a group of Russian hackers could sway a major U.S. election? And if you do believe in either of these things, whose to say there isn’t a small vigilante hacker group in Coney Island named fsociety who could topple world markets and eliminate all debt?

Clap your hands if you believe.

“Mr. Robot” was created by Sam Esmail. The first season is available on Amazon Prime. 

Advertisements

‘Wild’s’ one big leap for womankind

When “Wild” begins, we’re greeted by Cheryl Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) scream from the top of a mountain. She has a prominent bruise on one of her legs and is missing one of her toenails, but those aren’t the only things that mars her. Her journey up that mountain was a sort of personal atonement — the reconciliation she needed in order to absolve herself.

That’s the story Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (of the “Dallas Buyer’s Club”) creates with his 115-minute film, “Wild.” Based on the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, the film (whose script is penned by author Nick Hornby) is a sort of docu-drama. Witherspoon plays Strayed, a likable girl setting on a personal quest for redemption.

Along the way, Mother Nature beats her up. She loses toenails, boots and a string of condoms as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail by her lonesome. Meanwhile, she’s forced to confront some of harshest truths about her past. Among them: grieving for her mother’s (Laura Dern) death.

“Wild” is a long film. For almost two hours, we’re largely left alone with Reese Witherspoon as a companion. She’s personable and unassuming, but like her, we feel the repetitiveness of the hike. Each minute is a chore. The backpack is heavy on our backs. The hot desert sun is burning our skin. The taste of cold mush is hard to swallow. Meanwhile, we’re running out of water.

It’s as if Vallée has a running tally on the screen: Strayed vs. Mother Nature. And Mother Nature is winning by a longshot. Day one: Strayed carries a backpack more than half her size. Day two: she discovers that she bought the wrong fuel for the stove she packed. Day 30: she encounters snow.

Of course, those aren’t the only roadblocks on the road less traveled. There are multiple times when we think Strayed will either be raped or injured. She looks honest and vulnerable. A man tells her to wait in his van.

Meanwhile, Witherspoon mutters a litany of swear words with each step. “Remember, you can quit at any time,” she reminds herself.

She doesn’t. Strayed’s a survivor, persevering beyond stereotypes. Her walk is symbolic and empowering — as if one small step is one big leap for womankind.

“Wild” was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and written by Nick Hornby, based on Cheryl Strayed memoir. Reese Witherspoon was nominated for Best Actress in the 87th Academy Awards and the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards for her performance in the film. 

Manipulating ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’

Director Francis Lawrence’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” begins much like Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber’s 2004 picture, “The Butterfly Effect.” Its heroine/hero is running from the past.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has a lot to be running from. Memories of her time in both the 74th annual Hunger Games and the third Quarter Quell. Death threats from Panem’s oppresive tyrant, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Stings from tracker jackers and screams from jabberjays. Her post-traumatic stress keeps her up at night.

Still, she claws desperately at a future like a cat chasing after a laser light. She can see the ray of hope in her grasp, but it’s as empty as a hologram.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” — based on the bestselling young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins — picks up where “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” left off. Katniss and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) are rescued by a group of rebels led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her second-in-command, Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

As the film opens, it appears as if Katniss and Finnick have traded one prison for another. They are the rebels’ weapons — lured into a propaganda scheme to stir rebellion throughout the districts. Their loved ones, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutchinson) and Annie Cresta (Stef Dawson), are separated from them — residing in the clutches of the Capitol.

“I wish they were dead,” Finnick soberly tells Katniss. “I wish they were all dead and we were too.”

This sets the tone for director Lawrence’s grim picture. Katniss’ home resembles the aftermath of an earthquake — a mountain of skeletons and debris. Meanwhile, we’re privy to messages from the Capitol: public beheadings throughout the land. Bombings of sick and injured at hospitals. It’s as unsettling as watching a child execute two adult soldiers in broad daylight.

But war forgives extreme actions. While the rebels may be fighting a cruel and unjust dictator, they are like ISIS — hijacking the public channels of communication. Instead of Twitter and YouTube, these rebels breed discontent via outdated TV airwaves. Katniss is seen shooting flaming arrows at Capitol planes. “If we burn, you burn with us,” she says. This precedes a scene where a group of rebels lure a group of Capitol police into the woods in order to bomb them.

Like any war, though, history’s written by its victors.

The Hunger Games’ victors move us. Lawrence with her “performance” as Katniss, the “girl on fire” in the rebels’ propaganda films and Claflin as the sexy Finnick Odair, keeper of Capitol secrets. They’re talented actors, but you have a feeling that they’re being pulled on a leash.

This becomes apparent when Katniss is rehearsing her first propaganda, repeating words the rebels have scripted for her. Katniss is behind a glass, much like she was when she was trying to impress Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) during the 74th Hunger Game. A committee consisting of Coin and Heavensbee watch and examine her words and costume. They discuss her, but they don’t really see the girl behind the glass. All they see is a symbol — a false figurehead that they can manipulate: Katniss Everdeen, the mockingjay.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -Part 1” is directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, based on Suzanne Collins’ book. 

Conducting ‘Whiplash’

When you think of the jazz greats, there’s Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker and Andrew Neiman. You probably haven’t heard of the latter, though, unless you’ve seen Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-nominated film, “Whiplash.”

In the 107-minute drama, Miles Teller stars at 19-year-old Neiman, an aspiring jazz drummer attending the prestigious and cutthroat Shaffer Music Conservatory in New York City. He could be one of the kids from “Fame.” His dream is to become a household jazz icon and to do so means earning the respect of Shaffer’s studio jazz band conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).

Fletcher is not the encouraging chorus instructor in Ryan Murphy’s TV comedy “Glee”; instead, Fletcher resembles the abrasive cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester or a male version of Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada.” He’s the type of virtuoso that you both love and despise; you secretly hate him while constantly seeking his approval. Meanwhile, Fletcher spews cruel, racial, homophobic and religious slurs at you. He sounds like a football coach rather than a conductor, punctuating his speeches with curse words. But he can also be deceptively sweet.

In one scene Fletcher is reassuring Neiman: “The key is to relax,” Fletcher says. “Don’t worry about the other guys. You’re here for a reason. Have fun.” In the next scene, Fletcher humiliates Neiman in front of the band, hurling a chair at his head while enacting his favorite didactic story:

“Imagine if [Jo] Jones had just said: ‘Well, that’s okay, Charlie. That was all right. Good job,'” Fletcher says. “And then Charlie thinks to himself, ‘Well, shit, I did do a pretty good job.’ End of story. No Bird. That, to me, is an absolute tragedy.”

Simmons is absolutely captivating as Fletcher, abruptly changing his voice and moods like a finely tuned fiddle. One minute, he’s calm, melodic and inviting. The next, he’s loud, harsh and grating, instilling fear among his students. He dismissed his fourth chair trombone player, Metz (C.J. Vana), because the musician couldn’t answer if he was playing out of tune. He wasn’t, Fletcher later discloses, but that’s even worse.

Simmons and Teller jerk you back and forth from sympathy to disgust. Teller’s Neiman is driven, passionate and ambitious — literally drenching his drum sets with blood and sweat. But he can also be self-centered and high strung. At times, Neiman reminds you of Jesse Eisenberg’s antisocial portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s 2010 drama “The Social Network.”

When he prematurely breaks up with his love interest, Nicole (Melissa Benoist), you expect her to slap him. His reasoning seems distorted and he drowns a guarantee for normalcy with a slim chance for greatness. Drumming becomes his obsession; Fletcher, his role model. But this relationship is an abusive one.

The antagonistic relationship between a mentor and his young protégé isn’t new. We’ve seen this in dozens of films from “The Devil Wears Prada” to “Varsity Blues.” But director and screenwriter Chazelle (both literally and figuratively) drums up new momentum with the soundtrack (composed by Justin Hurwitz). Trumpets provide the sexy backdrop to young love while the breakneck double-time drumming provides the pulse in an adrenaline-driven frenzy. It’s uneven and all over the place —  just enough to give you whiplash.

Of course, the title of the film works on multiple levels. It’s the song that Neiman is learning to play when he joins Fletcher’s band. It’s also the visceral feeling you get when you watch some of the performances. (Chazelle’s even incorporates a car crash into his script, putting triple entendres to use.) It’s almost packaged too neatly, undermining the film’s playful and improvisational subject matter. That’s doesn’t mean this concert isn’t worth listening to.

Although “Whiplash” is only Chazelle’s second feature-length film, he’s a master conductor — cuing exacting cuts and powerful performances. It’s predictable and the story ends much like it begins — with a coda to Fletcher and Neiman’s perfect duet.

“Whiplash” was written and directed by Damien Chazelle. J.K. Simmons won a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor for his role. “Whiplash” was nominated in the 87th Academy Awards for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing.  

From ‘Selma’ to Ferguson

Although the march from Selma to Washington that inspired the movie “Selma” occurred more than 50 years ago, Ava DuVernay’s Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated film feels very modern. Early on in the film, Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) is petitioning President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in the Oval Office — asking him to expand voting rights for southern states.

King understood that voting was fundamental to change. There were murders and lynchings; the KKK blew up four girls in a Birmingham Baptist church. Everyone knew who the murderers were, but the terrorists were never punished. That’s because the scales of justice are weighted. “You can’t serve on a jury unless you can vote,” King tells Johnson. So white murderers were tried in white courts by white juries.

Oyelowo speaks like a Baptist preacher preaching the gospel of injustice. Scripted by Paul Webb and directed by DuVernay, Oyelowo’s speeches are very eloquent — full of metaphors and repetition. His words aren’t the ones King actually used — those words are copyrighted to DreamWorks and Warner Bros. for Steven Spielberg’s pending MLK biopic — but they wash over us like poetry. In one scene, Oyelowo compares the black suffrage movement to trying to get a seat at any lunch table. Unfortunately, blacks and whites are given different opportunities and blacks can’t even read from the menu.

DuVernay slams us with imagery, appealing to our pathos. Edited by Spencer Averick, each bomb and gun shot is slowed down and personified. The four black girls from Birmingham look like broken porcelain dolls as debris flies everywhere. Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) is taken down by Selma police officers like a big black gorilla. Time freezes when Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield) is shot. These scenes are as violent and as controversial as when Hammond police smashed a car door window to tase the African-American passenger in the car. When we eventually watch the violent and historic showdown at Edmund Pettus Bridge, it feels as if a dam broke, and we can’t stop the waterworks as we cringe with each beating.

We know how this story ends. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6.

But even as “Selma” presents us with a form of closure, we know that years later, the white police officers responsible for Oscar Grant, Travyon Martin and Mike Brown’s deaths were also tried by courts. BART officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison; he got out in less than a year. George Zimmerman was acquitted for charges of manslaughter and second-degree murder. Ferguson’s former police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted.

And we still march crying, “No justice, no peace.”

“Selma” was directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. The film’s song “Glory” won a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song. “Selma” was also nominated for Best Picture in the 87th Academy Awards. 

The je ne sais quoi of ‘Still Alice’

Early on in the film “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore is running. She’s not chasing after someone like she was in sci-fi thriller “The Forgotten.” She’s truly lost. And the monsters she’s running from are invisible — like the Silence from “Doctor Who.”

Moore plays Alice Howland, the type of woman you’d aspire to be. She’s poised and articulate. Intelligent and accomplished. And very, very loved. This is evident in the first scene of directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s film, “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore as the loving and successful Columbia University linguistics professor.

When we first meet her, Alice is surrounded by her impressive family. Her husband John (Alec Baldwin) is a doctor at Columbia University. Her eldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) graduated from law school and is an expecting mother-to-be. Her son, Tom (Hunter Parrish), is going through medical school. Her youngest girl, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), is pursuing a career in acting in Los Angeles.

Yet, if you’ve read Lisa Genova’s bestselling novel which the film’s based off of, you know how this story goes. Here’s a woman who has everything. Watch as she tragically loses it all.

Alice is running from something more far frightening than the aliens who kidnapped her kid. She’s running from Mother Nature, who gifted her with the inherited disease which also crippled her late father. At age 50, she’s been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer and she’s slowly losing her mind.

We watch Moore transform from the charismatic and self-assured professor and mother to someone who loses her bearings. She pulls out a bottle of Dove body wash from the fridge. She repeats questions and sentences over and over and over. She soils herself while looking for the bathroom in her own house. She doesn’t recognize her house-keeper or daughter. “I wish I had cancer,” she tells her husband. “I wouldn’t be so ashamed. People put on pink ribbons if you have cancer.”

As Alice loses more and more of herself to the disease, the camera blurs. Cinematographer Denis Lenoir focuses his lens on Moore’s forlorn expressions and vivid red hair. In one scene, Alice is the only one in focus. Her husband and children are blurry in the background, discussing her treatment as if she’s not there.

Glatzer, who’s been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, might know what it’s like to feel invisible. ALS has taken his words, but not his mind. The film treats disease with sensitivity, but also forces us to confront the frightening effects of aging. We might also lose our minds someday — our ability to see, hear and think. Whether it’s at 50 or 100, our years are all numbered.

If it was Glatzer and Westmoreland’s intention to make us empathize with the sick and elderly, they’ve succeeded. The camera focuses on a series of text — Words with Friends, plays, lecture notes — all the building blocks of human communication. When we lose our words, we lose our ability to think as well as our ability to express our desires. We become invisible. A husk of our former selves. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have thoughts or feelings. We just might not know how to express them.

Through Glatzer and Westmoreland lens, Alice is never invisible. Moore shines. Instead, words, people, faces and settings blur around her. She’s still Alice — even as she loses her sense of time and place, her words and memories. She says so in a tear-jerking speech given at an Alzheimer fundraiser: “I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once…. It means so much to be talking here, today, like my old ambitious self who was so fascinated by communication.”

“Still Alice” was written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland based on Lisa Genova’s novel. The film is nominated in the 87th Academy Award for Best Actress. Moore won the 2015 Golden Globe award for Best Actress for her performance as Alice Howland. 

Amibi-‘Dexter’-ous: Solving crimes by day, killing by night

As messy as crime can be, the pilot of Showtime’s “Dexter” (which first aired in October 2006) seems unbelievably contrived — packaged as artificially as the frozen and bloodless limbs Miami blood splatter specialist Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) finds at multiple crime scenes.

Morgan’s character, based on Jeff Lindsay’s 288-page paperback “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” (2004), stars as an extremely high-functioning sociopath who kills killers. His post with the Miami forensics department positions him like a double agent. His “pet projects” make him a vigilante. But while his morally ambiguous behaviors seem almost admirable, the dark and disturbing sentiments behind them are repulsive. Blood turns him on whereas sex doesn’t.

Written by James Manos Jr. and directed by Michael Cuesta, “Dexter” takes you inside the fanscinating mind of a T.V. serial killer, billing itself as an edgy Showtime show. But it’s more more sensational than cerebral.

“Most true crime really is pretty trashy,” Salon‘s Laura Miller tells NPR’s “On the Media’s” Bob Garfield last week. “I mean, it’s voyeuristic. It’s lurid…. Given how much of a factor crime is in all the entertainment that we consume — “Law and Order” or you’re reading detective fiction, which is pretty much the most popular form of genre fiction there is — you’re just consuming a huge number of narratives that are not necessarily representative of what crime and justice and detection are in real life.”

Brimming with qualifiers (a killer who kills killers), that’s what “Dexter” is — a safe and acceptable way to be a voyeur, giving us false and artificial insight into a world we can even begin to fathom.

“Dexter” was written by James Manos Jr. and directed by Michael Cuesta, starring Michael C. Hall. The show went on for eight season (2006-2013), winning two Golden Globes and four Primetime Emmys.  

Christian Bale’s American villians: ‘American Hustle’ vs. ‘American Psycho’

When you watch Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) glue and rearrange his hair on his balding head in the first scene of director David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” you get a sense of déjà vu.

We’ve seen Bale in front a mirror — surrounded by more hair and beauty products — when he played the infamous Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” (2000).

Sure, Rosenfeld is older and heavier than Bateman. Bateman isn’t plagued by high blood pressure and a manipulative know-it-all wife (played by the fantastic Jennifer Lawrence).

But they’re both American con men — practiced liars and actors whose confidence is as deadly as a siren’s song.

Bateman was the mad New York “mergers and acquisitions” man from Bret Easton Ellis’ novel. He murdered his acquaintances to the soundtracks of Huey Lewis & the News, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston.

Rosenfeld and his pretty partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) listen to Duke Ellington and John Cotrane. They run a successful Ponzi scheme in the tri-state area. Sydney would pose as Lady Edith Greensly, a rich English girl with London banking connections. They would deny it as they swindled desperate clients thinking their investment would more than double under Rosenfeld and Prosser’s fake firm, London Associates.

Or at least that’s what Rosenfeld and Prosser did until FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) caught them.

Now, their “get-out-of-jail-free” card is to help the FBI catch corruption. And boy, are DiMaso’s sights high…

If this story sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve lived through it.

“Some of this actually happened,” reads a black title screen.

Written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer, “American Hustle” is loosely based on the story of “sting man” Melvin Weinberg. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Weinberg helped the FBI entrap six congressmen, a U.S. senator, a New Jersey state senator and a mayor accepting bribes in the undercover operation, Abscam.

“You set up a crook to catch a crook,” Weinberg tells “60 Minutes'” host Mike Wallace. “We put a big honeypot out there and all the flies came to us.”

Bale’s swindler is oddly sympathetic compared to Bateman. For Rosenfeld, conning is a way of survival: “We’re all con ourselves from one way or another, just to get through life,” he says.

Perhaps it’s the way Rosenfeld looks — balding with a bit of a belly. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy as his wife berates him.

“She was the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate,” he says.

Or perhaps it’s just the masterful acting of Christian Bale, conning himself into our hearts as he changes his figure and assumes yet another elusive identity (After all, how much can you trust a con man?).

At least this one looks and feels human.

“American Hustle” was directed by David O. Russell and written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including best actor, best actress, best supporting actress, best supporting actor, best costume design, best directing, best film editing, best production design, best original screenplay and film of the year.

‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’: Betting against AIDS

In the first few seconds of “Dallas Buyers Club,” Ron Woodroof’s (Matthew MacConaughey) safely riding a broad at a rodeo while watching and betting on bull riders. But he might as well been riding a bull himself, or standing in front of Mother Nature’s horns.

With the way he bets and gambles, parties and engages in unprotected sex, some may think he had it coming. As any bull fighter secretly knows, “It’s not a matter of if you’ll get hurt. It’s a matter of when.”

And the when comes in the form of hard coughs that wrack his entire body. It’s accompanied by a faint high-pitched ringing that never ends.

“You’ve tested positive for HIV,” the doctor tells him when he’s knocked off his feet.

It’s 1985 in Dallas. HIV’s the gay disease: a social and physical death sentence.

Based on a true story, Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Dallas Buyer’s Club” chronicles one man’s battle against the AIDS epidemic. AZT had just been released for testing in select hospitals, but it’ll take another two years before the FDA formally approves the drug. Meanwhile, people are dying and willing to do anything to survive.

Enter Ron Woodroof, whose diagnosis takes him across the border to Mexico. There, he meets Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), who’s created an non-FDA approved HIV/AIDS supplement that Woodroof smuggles into the U.S. Teaming up with the transgendered Rayon (Jared Leto), Woodroof starts the Dallas Buyers Club, which distributes the unapproved formula for $400 memberships.

Although Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack’s Oscar-nominated screenplay’s somewhat formulaic (think “Moneyball” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”), “Dallas Buyer’s Club” succeeds because of its incredibly talented and committed cast. McConaughey — the normally tan Texas-native known for banging bongos while naked — lost 47 pounds and shut himself in for months in order to appear pale and sickly. Leto stopped eating, lost 40 pounds and lived as his character, Rayon.

The transformations paid off, lending to heartbreaking performances and earning both actors a much deserved Golden Globe and place on this year’s shortlist of Oscar nominees.

McConaughey’s his charming, Southern self, calling co-star Jennifer Garner (who plays a doctor who treats HIV/AIDS patients) “Nurse Ratched” one minute and giving her a painting of wildflowers in the next.

And Leto’s playful performance as the beautiful and optimistic Rayon keeps the film from becoming too depressing.

When the two begin working together, the homophobic Ron curses and threatens Rayon if she ever calls him Ronnie or hangs Boy George posters again. This initially antagonistic relationship (and the teasing banter that accompany it) provides some humor in this otherwise elegiac story.

“Been looking for you, Lonestar,” Rayon teases Ron in another scene.

“You know I could have killed ya,” Ron answers.

Rayon’s levity is refreshing in a film about AIDS.

Because deep down you know it’s not a matter of if they’ll die. It’s when.

“Dallas Buyer’s Club” was directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée and written by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack. McConaughey and Leto won best actor and best supporting actor at the 2014 Golden Globes. The film was also nominated for best actor, best supporting actor, best original screenplay, best achievement in film editing, best makeup and best picture of the year in the 2014 Academy Awards.