McConaughey’s Blazing ‘Dallas’; Awesome ‘Enders’: Movies

Among the considerable accomplishments of “Dallas Buyers Club” is Matthew McConaughey’s total victory over stunt-wasting.

Unlike Christian Bale’s freak-show emaciation for 2004’s “The Machinist,” McConaughey’s astonishing weight loss for his portrayal of AIDS activist Ron Woodruff doesn’t overshadow the movie. It reinforces the authenticity of this fine film.

Directed with a gratifying lack of sentimentality by Jean-Marc Vallee, “Dallas” recounts the real-life Woodruff from his 1985 AIDS diagnosis (he was given 30 days to live) through his final seven years as an unlikely activist.

A homophobic, rough-living Texas rodeo cowboy, the hacking, wheezing Woodruff turns for support to the local AIDS community -- the gay men he disdains -- in his battle with the FDA and hidebound physicians.

Together, the desperate men form a buyers club, a then-novel way to skirt FDA regulations by importing foreign drugs and providing them “free” to dues-paying members.

Woodruff’s partner in the profitable (and life-extending) endeavor is the drug-abusing, nail-tough transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto, in a performance equal to McConaughey’s).

Odd Couple

The odd couple’s eventual, mutual affection is as grudging as it is inevitable, an AIDS-story theme at least as old as 1993’s “Philadelphia.”

While much of Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s screenplay hits too-familiar beats, it skirts mawkishness with gritty performances and Vallee’s refusal to sugarcoat the grim predicaments of an ugly era.

In the movie’s pivotal scene, Woodruff, whose vocabulary lacks polite words for homosexuals, defends Rayon from the taunts of Woodruff’s old (and traitorous) drinking buddy.

It’s a stand-up hero moment, conventional and crowd-pleasing, yet the flinty McConaughey never lets us forget the selfishness that cohabits with Woodruff’s newfound conscience.

Even his rapport with a sympathetic doctor (Jennifer Garner, not up to the rest of the cast) doesn’t preclude some prescription-pad stealing.

Nearly absent a musical score, the film occasionally lets us hear the high-pitched ringing in the ailing Woodruff’s ears, a substitute for the strings that, in lesser movies, would beg a sympathy “Dallas” earns elsewhere.

“Dallas Buyers Club,” from Focus Features, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **** (Evans)

‘Ender’s Game’

Asa Butterfield’s steely blue eyes make him a convincing killer. He’s a wisp of a thing, but he out-acts the adults he’s cast against (Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and an atrocious Viola Davis) in “Ender’s Game” -- perhaps because, being young, he’s less embarrassed about saying his lines than they are.

Written and directed, on a huge scale, with massive explosions, by Gavin Hood, from the popular 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card, the movie is a fantasy about a “preventive” war against a planet of giant ants who (we’re told) want to colonize the earth.

Little Ender has been chosen to lead our forces because of his skill at video games. And what notion could be more gratifying to adolescent nerds?

To nourish his deadliness, he’s thrown into a military school that’s like a federal prison, where the pretty boy has to show he can fight off big bruisers. (He’s even attacked in the shower.) He’s a master strategist, and meaner than he looks.

The movie is enthralling and the effects are totally great -- though not great enough to keep your mind from wandering toward dark thoughts about what kind of society could produce this demented, militaristic poison.

“Ender’s Game,” from Summit Entertainment, is showing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Seligman)

Heated ‘Blue’

Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Lea Seydoux) meet when Adele is still in high school and Emma is working toward her university degree in art. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” follows the young French couple over several years.

Desire unites them; taste and class put up barriers. Adele is a lower-middle-class girl who aspires to be a teacher, and Emma, an artist from the bourgeois intelligentsia, has to struggle to hide her condescension.

In 1972, “Last Tango in Paris” showed that actors could integrate sexuality into their performances. The sex scenes in “Blue” are more graphic but also more ordinary; their intimacy, not their explicitness, is what shocks.

The sex in pornography is sex, not acting; that’s what makes it porn. The sex in “Blue” is acting, with an intensity that’s all but overwhelming.

At almost three hours and with minimal plot, the film (which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last spring) is nevertheless the opposite of tedious. It’s original and devastating.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color,” from Sundance Selects, is playing in selected cities across the U.S. Rating: ***** (Seligman)

What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include New York Weekend and Lewis Lapham on books.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.