"Dallas Buyers Club" is a hardscrabble look at a real-life character who helped transform the nation's attitude toward AIDS. Ron Woodroof was a Texas roughneck working the oil fields, riding bulls in the rodeo and partying way too much for his own good. Cocaine, whiskey and trailer-trash hookers were the core of his life.
Woodroof was diagnosed HIV positive in 1985. It triggered the expected homophobic response from everyone he knew, including himself. With no FDA-approved treatment regimen in place, he set out to try all the experimental drugs and therapies the rest of the world had to offer.
Matthew McConaughey turns in an Oscar-caliber performance playing the complex and disjointed Woodroof. He lost 40 pounds to play the emaciated character at his lowest points. His transformation to a clean and sober crusader is a revelation. But he retains Woodroof's hustler persona as he enriches himself while helping other AIDS victims to get healthy through his club.
Jared Leto ("Fight Club") also turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as the outwardly gay activist who becomes Woodroof's business partner and confidant. Both men shine with a great sense of humor in a tough and emotional look at a very dark side of life.
'Thor' half-witted but fun
I didn't see the first movie, but making sense of "Thor: The Dark World" isn't difficult as long as you don't require much from this hunky intergalactic Viking superhero. It's all much more fun than expected.
For reasons not quite clear, the king (Anthony Hopkins) has determined it's hammer time once again for his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to save the universe against bad guys in cool looking headgear. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is locked away in a posh prison for being such a deliciously evil villain.
Indeed, the moments that display Loki's silken-voiced, aristocratic naughtiness are the best reasons to see "Thor." There are plenty of special effects to dazzle the eye, including a silly plot involving Natalie Portman. But nothing compares to the delight in Loki calling his brother a "half-witted oaf."
'Time' for another rom-com
"About Time," the latest romantic heart-tugger from the creator of "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually" is another surprising treat. It mixes the fantasy of time travel with a life-affirming story of an "openly ginger" young man named Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who uses his gift of being able to do over certain moments of his life.
That gift, revealed to him by his dad (the wonderful Bill Nighy), helps him win the heart of an American girl (Rachel McAdams).
Gleeson has a boyish charm not unlike Hugh Grant that's hard to resist. He has some very funny and poignant moments with Nighy, whose effortless style always tickles the funny bone.
"About Time" is a good mashup of writer/director Curtis' previous films. They portray the quirks, the everyday joys and sorrows that we humans call an ordinary life. Probably not everyone's cup of tea, but any movie that can make you smile through tears is worth a look.
JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.