Before we formally meet drunken rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), the central character in Dallas Buyers Club , we see him taking part in a sweaty threesome with two women in one of the closed-off pens that are used for housing bulls. As a fellow rider is thrown from his mount in slow motion and kicked repeatedly, Ron continues on with his tryst, indifferent to the commotion. It's a perfectly hedonistic introduction for a man who indulges in every self-destructive impulse.
Unfortunately, Ron's freewheeling lifestyle has already gotten the best of him. A few scenes into the film, he's diagnosed with HIV, and from here, Dallas Buyers Club becomes about borrowed time and what we do with it.
Set in 1985 at the height of the AIDS epidemic, when fear and paranoia were never higher, director Jean-Marc Vallée's biopic—which opens Friday, Nov. 8, at Hillcrest Cinemas—follows Ron as he begins the titular membership program that caters to those people suffering from the disease who can't afford or don't want to take the antibodies that have been made available by prescription-drug companies.
It's an underdog story with a rough-and-tumble anti-hero at its center. Ron verbally abuses his transgender colleague Rayon (Jared Leto) and is initially all about the money. But McConaughey's engaging method performance gives Ron a sense of responsibility and weight. We see that his homophobic comments and blatant opportunism are just byproducts of his deep masculine insecurity.
Yet its star's admirable performance doesn't make Dallas Buyers Club anything profound. After focusing on Ron's inner conflict early on, the film becomes deathly preachy and an emotional hustle. As it examines (not very complexly) the social and political ramifications of his controversial actions, it descends into a formulaic redemption tale primed for Oscar voters who hear foul language and see a little sex and think "edgy."
Dallas Buyers Club : In 1985, a drunken rodeo clown Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughy) learns he has HIV. Seeing an opportunity to stave off his own death and make some money, he begins smuggling unapproved drugs in from Mexico. See our review on Page 23.
The Motel Life : Two brothers living on the fringe of Reno, Nev., experience a shift in their relationship after they are involved in a fatal accident. Screens through Nov. 14 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Mysteries of the Unseen World : This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
San Diego Asian Film Festival: The 14th annual event will screen more than 140 films at different venues around San Diego and feature galas, panel discussions and filmmaker Q&As. See our feature on Page 23.
Spinning Plates : Foodies will undoubtedly fall for this documentary about three very different restaurants and their unique owners. Screens through Nov. 14 at the Ken Cinema.
Thor: The Dark of the World : Thor (Chris Hemsworth) once again brings the hammer down on Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in order to save the human race and sustain the fragile balance of his own kingdom.
One Time Only
The Stone Roses: Made of Stone : Music documentary that charts the reunion of the iconic British band The Stone Roses. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at Arclight La Jolla.
Gimme Shelter : The Maysles Brothers' classic documentary confronts The Rolling Stones about their involvement with the notorious free concert at Altamont Speedway in 1969 that ended in tragedy. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at SME Presentation Lab at UCSD.
Thor and The Avengers : Before you see Thor: The Dark of the World , revisit the first two Marvel films featuring the Norse god who wields a massive hammer. Begins at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at various AMC theaters around the county.
Milking It : An entertaining one-hour documentary by Stephanie Cowan about the social psychology behind why so many mothers decide to get breast implants after giving birth. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
Breakfast at Tiffany's : Audrey Hepburn becomes smitten with a new tenant in her apartment building and finds unsuspected love in New York City. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, through Saturday, Nov. 9, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Sting : Robert Redford and Paul Newman are at their most charming in this Oscar-winning film about a 1930s con man out to revenge his partner's death at the hands of a gangster. Screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, and Tuesday, Nov. 12, and 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
The Room : So bad it's good, or maybe even great. Screens at midnight on Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Ken Cinema.
A Hijacking : Somali pirates overtake a shipping freighter, forcing the European crew to suffer for months while their captors negotiate with their corporate bosses. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Frankenstein : James Whale's classic adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel helped establish Universal Pictures as a juggernaut for horror films and made Boris Karloff a star. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Ingenious : A rags-to-riches tale about two shady inventors who hit rock bottom before inventing a product that causes an international craze. Co-stars Jeremy Renner. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Medora : A poignant documentary portrait of small-town America that explores the overlap between the economic downturn and the emotional toll such shifts have on the community at large. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Ritz : A straight man running from the mob takes refuge in a gay bathhouse in this adaptation of the Tony Award-winning farce set in Manhattan. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
Unfinished Song : Terrence Stamp fans will hardly recognize the intense British actor in this sappy romance about a grumpy retiree who finds happiness singing in a seniors choir. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the Mission Valley Library.
12 Years a Slave : Abducted and forced to work on a Southern plantation, free man Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejifor) experiences the horrors of slavery in Steve McQueen's stirring period-piece drama.
About Time : In Richard Curtis' ( Love Actually ) charming modern fable co-starring Rachel McAdams, a young man discovers he can travel through time and seeks to use his power to find his soul mate.
Doonby : When a handsome drifter appears out of nowhere, the citizens of a small town are faced with a mysterious character who may or may not be a threat. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Ender's Game : Orson Scott Card's classic sci-fi novel about a young pilot fending off an alien threat finally gets adapted for the big screen, surely angering fans everywhere. Harrison Ford co-stars as a growling general.
Fame High : A group of high-school freshmen and seniors experience a rush of new emotions in this powerful documentary by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Scott Hamilton-Kennedy. Screens through Nov. 6 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Free Birds : This animated film follows two combative turkeys (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) as they try to get the gobbler off the holiday menu by traveling back in time.
The Last Elvis : Factory worker by day, singer by night, "Elvis" Gutierrez attempts to make it big by impersonating the King of Rock, slowly becoming more connected with his alter ego than his own family. Screens through Nov. 7 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Last Vegas : A foursome of aging Oscar-winning actors (Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Robert De Niro) play seniors who head to Las Vegas for one final hurrah of debauchery and camaraderie.
Let the Fire Burn : In May 1985, police surrounded a residence in urban Philadelphia to evict a black militant group called MOVE. One day later, three square blocks were ravaged by fire and 11 people were dead. This meticulous documentary examines in detail why it happened. Ends Nov. 7 at the Ken Cinema.
The Pin : An old man recalls his experiences during WWII, when he met a beautiful young woman trying escape the Nazis. The two develop a relationship while hiding in an abandoned house in the forest. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
All is Lost : A nameless Man (Robert Redford) battles extreme weather and technology failure to keep his small sailboat afloat in this thrilling tale of survival from director J.C. Chandor ( Margin Call ).
The Counselor : Director Ridley Scott brings esteemed author Cormac McCarthy's first feature screenplay to life. The story centers on a corrupt lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who gets in deep with a drug kingpin (Brad Pitt).
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa : After grossing out America in 3-D, Johnny Knoxville gives his grumpy, ill-mannered, senior-citizen sketch character a feature-film platform.
Kill Your Darlings : The major icons of the beatnik movement meet at Columbia University in 1943 and spend their early years writing, drinking, dreaming and falling from grace. Stars Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr.
Carrie : A supped-up remake of the classic 1976 horror film that nobody asked for and probably no one will like. But, hey, that's Hollywood! Stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular shy girl turned telekinetic monster.
Escape Plan : Action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger play aging inmates trying to escape from a super-maximum security prison by combining their brainpower. Talk about a work of fiction.
The Fifth Estate : Benedict Cumberbatch stars as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in this biopic that spans the rise and fall of the infamous Internet pioneer, notably his clash with the U.S. government over damning video clips from the war in Iraq. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Captain Phillips : Based on actual events, this thriller by director Paul Greengrass tells the story of the container ship Maersk Alabama and its leader, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), who was kidnapped by Somali pirates during a voyage in 2009.
Born to be Wild : Morgan Freeman narrates this stunning IMAX wildlife documentary about scientists trying to save elephants in Kenya and orangutans in Borneo. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Ends Nov. 7 at Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Deep Sea : A glorious ocean exploration with Del Mar's own veteran underwater filmmakers and explorers, Howard and Michele Hall. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Gravity : Sandra Bullock plays a marooned astronaut struggling to survive an epic space disaster in Alfonso Cuarón's breathless adventure film.
Don Jon : Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and stars in this coming-of-age story about a young New Jersey lothario addicted to the fantasy world of pornography.
Enough Said : The latest slice of modern melodrama from director Nicole Holofcener ( Please Give ) features a mosaic of confused couples. Stars James Gandolfini in his last screen role.
Inequality for All : Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich uses the documentary as platform to raise awareness of the country's widening economic gap. Ends Nov. 7 at the Ken Cinema.
Rush : Ron Howard's biopic about the bitter rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), who battled for track supremacy throughout the 1970s.
Wadjda : In this first film shot completely in Saudi Arabia, an enterprising Saudi girl competes in her school's Koran-recitation contest to raise the remaining funds she needs for a green bicycle that has captured her interest. Ends Nov. 7 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Prisoners : A desperate father (Hugh Jackman) takes the law into his own hands after his daughter disappears, despite the ongoing investigation by a dedicated police officer (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Insidious Chapter 2 : More horrific and ghostly images from director James Wan, the devious auteur behind Saw , The Conjuring and, of course, Insidious .
Instructions Not Included : A smarmy playboy (Eugenio Derbez) gets a rude awakening when an ex-flame drops off a baby at his doorstep, forcing him to become an unlikely father figure.
Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation : The venerable edgy 'toon-fest has returned to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location with a 20th-anniversary show that runs through Nov. 23.
Lee Daniels' The Butler : Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) serves as a butler in the White House for seven consecutive presidents, witnessing shifts in civil rights and foreign policy from a fascinating vantage point.
Cosmic Collisions : So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.