"Blue Jasmine"

Let's assume for the sake of this review that you are able to put aside the troubling headlines about Woody Allen's personal life and decide to sit down to watch his latest film. If you do, you'll find a sad tale, punctuated with only a sprinkling of Allen's trademark humor.

Anxiety we've got in spades here, with Cate Blanchett (a strong contender to win the Best Actress Oscar) playing the widow of a Madoff-like character (Alec Baldwin) who flees New York and moves to San Francisco to live with her estranged sister.

The acting is top-notch -- including an impressive showing from '90s cacophonous comedian Andrew Dice Clay -- but Allen's script borders on the annoying. It's one thing to enliven flawed characters with humor; that makes them more likable. Here our protagonist Blanchett is impossible to appreciate. Just when we start to feel sad for her wretched predicament of destitution and ostracism, she acts entitled and ridiculously self-centered.

While Allen & Co. filmed some exterior shots in San Francisco, this is not the picture postcard love letter to the Bay Area that we are used to seeing. The city is gray, the bland, midcentury architecture is prominently on display and the city itself seems to mirror Blanchett's state of befuddlement.


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Too depressing and confusing for most kids and teens. And pretty depressing for the rest of us, too. (PG-13: sexual themes and language). 1 hour and 38 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 2½ stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 1½ stars

Adults: 2½ stars

Seniors: 3 stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- quality performances in a dark drama.

"Dallas Buyers Club"

I've always thought something about Matthew McConaughey was just a bit off. This is one of the reasons, perhaps, that he was perfect to play the role of a redneck rodeo hand who contracts HIV in Texas circa 1985. McConaughey's dedication to the role -- including dropping to a disturbingly emaciated weight -- is unquestionable, and he delivers an exceptional performance that rightly earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

McConaughey's character is a straight homophobe who goes to extraordinary means to prolong his life when he realizes he has AIDS during the early, terrifying days of the disease's emergence. Based on a true story, McConaughey moves heaven and earth to research and smuggle in new medicines not yet available in the United States. At the same time, his innate business acumen kicks in, and he realizes there is a way to make money selling these drugs to others inflicted with the illness.

Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack (also nominated for Academy Awards) are virtuosic in their ability to transport viewers back in time. It is impossible not to feel empathy for, and share the horror, anger and desperation of, their characters. Director Jean-Marc Vallée manages to bring it all together without being preachy or lionizing these complex people. That's why this is one of the best films you will see all year.

Given the intensity, mature teens should watch with their parents for providing additional context. (R: violence, language, sex and drugs). 1 hour and 57 minutes.

Ratings (out of 4 stars):

Overall: 4 stars

Kids: N/A

Teens: 3 stars

Adults: 4 stars

Seniors: 3½ stars

Should you watch it? Yes -- profound, expertly made drama on America and AIDS.

J.B. Alderman lives in Piedmont and can be reached at jason@alderman.net.