Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

Matthew McConaughey plays a sleazy lawyer, Mick Haller, who is asked to defend a young, wealthy client (Ryan Philippe) who just may be innocent. Or guilty. Normally Haller would assume the latter automatically, and ask for the money up front, but this time things just don't add up.

This is not a complicated whodunit here, and you figure out things pretty quickly, but it's a lot of fun to watch fine actors go to work. We're not necessarily talking about McConaughey, who is just fine here; we're talking about the entire supporting cast, with actors like William H. Macy as his former cop investigator (every sleazy lawyer has one), Marisa Tomei as his district attorney ex-wife, John Leguizamo as the bailbondsman who seems to live in Haller's back pocket, the fine Frances Fisher as Philippe's mother, and many more. And the plot meanders just enough to keep us entertained.

Oh, and "Lincoln" refers to the town car McConaughey is chauffered around in during daytime hours by his trusty chauffeur, Earl (Laurence Mason).

Thumb's up.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Names of Love (Le Nom des Gens)

A rather stiff veterinarian meets a young woman whose main cause is to sleep with right-wing conservatives in order to change their opinion. Hijinks follow.

But this movie is not just about hijinks. Oh, there are plenty of amusing moments, even guffaw-worthy, as both characters are rather funny in their almost stereotypical way. However, as it turns out, there's more to Arthur Martin and Baya Benmahmoud than the assumptions one could make about their names or their looks.

The script is witty and challenging, all at the same time. You wonder why each of them doesn't split from the relationship, except that you understand the attraction. She's extroverted, gorgeous, inviting, but stubborn and sees only black-and-white. He's curious, smart, amusing, but stubborn and rather anal. And their parents are nothing short of challenging, but are charming in their own way.

It's an interfaith story with more than an interfaith bent. She wears her nationality on her sleeve, he dismisses his. There are more layers to these two than you're used to in a movie, and everybody has secrets. And as you peel these outside skins away, there's never a boring moment: I was enchanted from beginning to end.

Thumb's up.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

World War II was America's favorite war. What's not to like? It was easy to be on America's side. The Nazis were an obvious enemy, and weapons were fairly simple back then: tanks, grenades, lugers, and just plain fists. It's there we meet Steve Rogers, who's a real shrimp but long on bravery. When the U.S. Army gives him a 4F rating four times in a row, he opts for an experiment that might turn him into a fighting machine. Sure enough, Stanley Tucci (almost unrecognizable here except for that twinkle in his eye) gives him the full treatment, hoping that this time he'll be successful. Last time, he created a monster (Hugo Weaving, aka Johann Schmidt, aka The Red Skull, aka Mr. Smith -- oops, wrong movie).

But since Steve's heart is pure, we get Captain America. The film's script wisely doesn't send him immediately into battle; instead, we see him as somewhat as a circus clown, going around the country looking brave in a silly costume, getting the American public to buy war bonds. Rogers, you see, doesn't really have any super powers. He has enhanced human powers; in other words, the dude is strong.

This film would've been a disaster except that everybody plays it straight. A strong supporting cast -- Tommy Lee Jones, as one, as the Colonel -- sets up every situation earnestly so that Cap can fight his way out. Even Cap's costume got a workover, and it looks much better on screen than the old '40's uniform would have looked. Think X-Men dark.

One friend who saw the ending didn't like it at all, because it's not the bang-up ending you would normally get when your hero saves the world. However, I saw it coming because, after all, Captain America is the First Avenger.

You fanboys out there who want to see The Avengers, you have to see this one first, you hear? 'Nuff said.

Thumb's up.


Rango is a lizard who is just minding his own business, employing whatever is possible to work out stage play scenarios, when his cage is upended on a deserted highway and he ends up having to fend for himself. He wanders into a town full of other equally-sized animals, and ends up being sheriff. He tries to find himself in this new role as well as the town's missing water supply.

The movie has quite an unusual look to it. The animals are drawn quite realistically -- not animal realistic, but human-quality realistic -- and each character is quite intriguing. The story is a bit mundane, but it's spiced up by Johnny Depp's voice and comic acting, and the wonderful movie references scattered throughout the movie.

This isn't really a kids' movie, although it certainly has the look. Who wouldn't want to see different lizards and mammals dressed up in western gear, especially if you're 10? But the scatological humor and references are 'way above a 10-year-old. And there are some sexual references as well, although they are very few. Be warned.

The middle is lonnnng. Who knew that a search for water could be so drawn-out? But the unusual look, interesting plot-twists, Johnny Depp, and dialogue make this a look-see.

Thumb's up.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Barney's Version

I see a lot of Paul Giamatti films, strictly because I believe he’s one of the finest American actors today (see “John Adams,” “Sideways”). His films don’t always measure up, however (“Planet of the Apes” – the 2nd version, “Cold Souls”). But I would count “Barney’s Version” among his finest to date.

Barney’s Version follows the irascible Barney Panofsky through three marriages and most of his adult life. Each marriage he enters into seems to be a huge mistake, and you’d like to shake him and tell him that, but, like our kids, you finally allow that he has to experience all of this himself. And so he does rush forward into these unions, as we watch, gritting our teeth.

Dustin Hoffman, who is often known to command a scene, is quietly effective here as Barney’s father, a man who has been known to make a few life mistakes of his own. He’s a bit of a comic effect here, although there’s a certain poignancy to his lessons learned, and Hoffman brings a quiet dignity to what otherwise might be a stereotypical role.

In the end, it’s a touching film about a man who finally finds the woman who loves him for his flaws, amazingly, totally, while he doesn’t seem to change much for the better under this umbrella of adoration. Could you live with this man? He smokes cigars abundantly, even when asked or even told not to. Drinks to excess, often with his dad. He’s so fanatical a sports fan that he waves off remonstrations that he missed anniversaries, meetings, etc.

What’s great about Giamatti in the role is that he seems almost proud of these excesses, and seems to become the husband and father only when it doesn’t interfere with all of his other escapades. But there’s a very lovable component to Giamatti’s character that only this actor could imbue, a sweetness for which we almost forgive every mistake he lives.

The final act is rather devastating in this epic to middle age, but a fitting third act to a life lived not so well.

Thumb’s up.