business news in context, analysis with attitude

There's no point dancing around it. Dallas Buyers Club is one of the most remarkable movies of the year, and as far as I'm concerned, they should just hand Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor trophies right now. And that's in a year that has ended with a raft of great movies and fine performances.

McConaughey inhabits the character of Ron Woodroof, a real-life rodeo rider, electrician and homophobe who in 1985, after years of drug abuse and unprotected sex, is diagnosed has having AIDS and given 30 days to live. After expressing outrage and denial, Woodroof demonstrates a high level of intelligence by doing significant research into what his medical options might be. After being met with limited options - he can be enrolled in a test of AZT, which is believed to prolong people's lives, but the odds are 50 percent he'll just be given a placebo - he decides to explore less conventional options.

As Woodroof begins an odyssey of finding and importing non-approved drugs in from other countries, he begins out of a sense of personal desperation, which evolves quickly into a belief that there are enough people out there in the same situation to allow him to make a buck. He's assisted in his efforts by Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman, played by Leto with great delicacy and compassion, and a local doctor played by Jennifer Garner, who is frustrated by a medical infrastructure that seems more geared toward helping pharmaceutical companies than patients. And gradually, Woodroof begins to feel compassion towards the marginalized members of society that he finds himself helping, in part because he senses the extent to which they are disenfranchised.

McConaughey is nothing less than astonishing. He lost some 40 pounds for the role, and seems almost feral as Woodroof … frail and yet ferocious, finding unsuspecting inner reserves and in doing so, finding himself physically diminished and emotional enriched. And as disreputable a character as Woodroof is, I think he teaches us some important business lessons - that almost every employee has unsuspected strengths (Woodroof may be a rough specimen, but he is amazingly intelligent and intuitive), and how important it is in any organization to have someone who will not take "no" for an answer. He may be high maintenance, but he's worth it … because suffice it to say that he lived longer than 30 days.

Go see the movie, or rent it on iTunes. It is an amazing piece of work, with none of the trappings of an expensive Hollywood production and yet more heart and soul than most.

I finished a novel and a short story this week, and would recommend both to you. "Suspect," by Robert Crais, is the story of a seriously wounded LA cop who tries to rebuild his life and injured body by working in the LAPD's K9 unit; he is paired with a former Army dog, Maggie, that lost her trainer in Afghanistan and who herself was wounded. Both the cop and the dog are dealing with emotional and physical impairments, and find strength in each other.

Parts of "Suspect" are told through Maggie's eyes, which works a lot better than I might've expected. Crais, always a solid and engaging novelist (he writes the Elvis Cole series), does excellent work here. I liked it a lot, and not because I'm a dog guy.

"Switchblade" is a short story by Michael Connelly, only available as an e-book. Connelly is a savvy marketer; it dovetails with a small scene in his recent novel, "The Gods of Guilt," as well as features LA Detective Harry Bosch, the protagonist about whom he has written in a number of novels, and who is featured in a new pilot for a TV series produced by Amazon. I'm not entirely sure that "Switchblade" will work for people new to the Bosch universe, but for those of us who gobble up each new Connelly work with great enthusiasm, it is a nice little snack while we wait for the next Bosch novel.

As for the "Bosch" pilot on Amazon … I've watched it and was relieved to find that the producers did not try to cram an entire book into less than an hour. There are several plot lines running through "Bosch," and none of them are resolved … but that's okay, because it whets the appetite for more episodes, which is what Amazon wants. (Amazon asks viewers to vote on "Bosch" and other pilots to see which ones will go to series; it is entertainment democracy at its best.)

Titus Welliver ("Lost," "Deadwood") stars as Bosch, and I must admit that he is completely different from how I've always envisioned the character. But he's very good an embodying Bosch's relentless desire to find justice for victims - that everybody matters, or nobody matters.

Excellent work. My vote is cast.

While in Chicago this week, I did what I always do when I'm there. I stopped at Bin 36, the downtown wine bar, to say hi to Jimmy, one of my favorite bartenders. As is our habit, we chatted for a bit and then Jimmy picked out something that he thought I'd like.

As usual, he hit a home run - the 2011 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile's Montes Twins winery. It was big and juicy and perfect for sipping on a day when the temperature was cold and the snow was swirling.

It's a good life. (Don't tell my wife. She thinks I'm working.)

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

KC's View: