Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

Tonight I saw The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe.

Mick Haller (McConaughey) is the type of defense lawyer the really, really bad guys call when they've done something really, really bad.

Lewis Roulet (Phillippe) is an attractive rich man whose mother foots the bill for his many toys and indiscretions. He's also been accused of a violent crime, so he hires Haller to ensure he won't serve jail time.

But is he guilty?

The audience is told fairly early on in the film what the answer to that is, and the result sends the maybe-not-so-slimy-after-all lawyer back to the drawing board to make his case, protect his family and mourn the loss of the innocent who get caught in the danger zone.

There are predictable twists and turns leading up to the final courtroom scenes, which seem to last the duration of a real trial.

Marisa Tomei is along for the ride as Maggie, a prosecutor and the most nurturing ex-wife anyone has ever seen. She takes care of drunken Mick nearly more than she does their young daughter and even goes for the occasional roll in the hay with him (even if he has to put up with a harsh, out-of-nowhere scolding the morning after).

All of the actors are well cast (though Tomei is somewhat wasted in low cleavage and excessive giggles) and it is especially pleasurable to watch Phillippe act menacing versus saintly (as most of his roles would dictate).

McConaughey was tailor-made for his part: he's slimy, sexy, beautifully frustrated and able to show off his gorgeous biceps at a moment's notice. This was especially evident as he exits the hospital after an incident in a wife beater, and carries his suit jacket alongside him.

There is an undeniable element of cheese that permeates the film, with its too-perfect dialog and shots that speed up a la Guy Ritchie at the drop of a hat.

The film is enjoyable, but that's really all it is.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Taxi Driver

Last night I screened the 35th anniversary re-release of Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

That line from The Beatles'"Eleanor Rigby"fits this film like a glove, as its main character, Travis Bickle (De Niro), tries to find companionship and contentment in 1970s New York.

He's a veteran of Vietnam (though that detail is not overblown) who has alienated himself intentionally from his family and taken on a job as a cab driver, working extended hours to combat his insomnia.

As he drives the streets of the gritty city, he witnesses horrific acts of violence and deviance. And though he's judgmental of these behaviors, he himself has a porn habit and thinks nothing of taking the woman of his dreams, Betsy (Cybill Shephard), to an adult film on their second date.

When Betsy up-and-leaves near the beginning of the film, Travis is baffled by her reaction and continues to attempt to connect with her, though she rejects him.

He becomes obsessed with righting wrongs in his own way, tries to rescue a not-yet-teenage prostitute, Iris (Foster), and purchases an arsenal of weapons to execute his plan. He is a fully functional, mentally ill mess of a person.

Having watched this film a handful of times on VHS and DVD doesn't compare for a moment to experiencing it on the big screen. Hearing the crowd react to the 'surprises' in the storyline and seeing repeated close-ups of the young De Niro acting primarily through expression truly reveals the genius of director Scorcese's depth.

Iconic lines are delivered with conviction; tension is built through the continuous loop of saxophone; just enough comic relief is introduced to allow the audience to breathe.

A pre-Giuliani New York City is the second most important character to De Niro's Travis, showed as the dangerous, dark place that it once was.

Something must also be said for Jodie Foster's amazing performance as a young hooker who knows no other life. The wisdom of this then-future Oscar winner shines through as she holds her own with De Niro and Harvey Keitel. It's a role all young actors should be forced to watch.

35 years later, Scorcese's masterpiece remains just that—a brilliant character study and master class on portraying mental illness.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

No Woman, No Cry

Last night I attended the Seattle premiere of the documentary No Woman, No Cry.

Most folks know Christy Turlington Burns from her successful career as a supermodel, but few know the serious complications that occurred after the birth of her first child.

Luckily, Mrs. Burns was in a birthing center inside of a respected hospital and was given the necessary medical attention to heal safely, but what she learned following her ordeal is that many women aren't so fortunate. In fact, women without access to similar care could have died in a the same situation.

This inspired her to learn more about women's health (she's currently earning her Master's of Public Health at Columbia University) and travel to different countries to examine maternal health through a closer lens.

She and her film crew visited Tanzania, Guatemala, Bangladesh and also a clinic within the United States. In each place they found challenges that no pregnant woman should have to face: proximity to care, access to care, money to pay the hospital, etc.

The film spotlights various expectant mothers in each setting and chronicles the pain and suffering they sometimes endure just to bring a new life into the world. In what was the hardest part for me to watch, she also visits an American widower who lost his wife during a natural childbirth in what he describes as both the best and worst day of his life. Absolutely devastating.

The film is currently 'on tour' with Mrs. Burns presenting after the screenings, and will make its television debut on OWN on Mother's Day.

It's something everyone should see, regardless of gender or economic status.

To learn more about the film, visit

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cedar Rapids

This morning I saw Cedar Rapids, starring Ed Helms and Anne Heche.

Tim Lippe (Helms) is a small-town insurance agent who honestly believes in his work and does his best to do right by his clients. After all, most of them are his friends and family.

Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) is the used-car-salesman of the insurance industry. He offers bribes, tries to spook the competition and lacks respect—for himself and others.

The two meet at an annual conference, where Tim is a classic fish-out-of-water in the "big city" and has trouble acclimating to the group mentality.

Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Heche) is a married mother of two who treats this yearly outing as an excuse to let loose. She immediately targets Tim as a plaything and soon has him loosening up among his new friends.

Though Helms is charming and well-cast in this role, the screenwriters didn't bring much "fresh" to the novelty of him being a rookie conference attendee. The joke of him figuring out a room key card and in the same breath, being startled by the presence of a black man just don't play funny.

Reilly is practically a caricature and even less funny than Helms because he has the added bonus of bathroom humor on his plate.

Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development provides the most refreshing laughs in her turn as a prostitute, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as the token black character also lights up the screen with the best lines in the movie referring to his obsession with The Wire.

I was disappointed that the film never 'picked up' and paid off the two romances it began for its main character, but it's certainly not the fault of the actors.

With a better script, they'd have done just fine.


Monday, March 07, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Yesterday I saw The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #102, so tune in later this month for our review.