Film Review: The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

The interesting thing about The Lincoln Lawyer is that it never gives us an inspirational courtroom speech about truth or fairness.  In fact, the protagonist, a heavy-drinking defense attorney, never expects anyone to sympathize with his search for justice, probably because he gave up on such a thing happening a long time ago.  The man’s past is never fully explained to us, but it may be correct to guess that he used to be a bright, young law student passionate about finding the truth.  Over the years, he has learned the tricks of the trade, and though he is honest and trustworthy, he knows what he can get away with to get the job done.  The events that take place in this book-based courtroom drama are not ones that are pivotal moments in Mick Haller’s life, but ones that are mysterious and intriguing, and they certainly add up to terrific results.

The screenplay, written by John Romano, shows Haller working for a few different clients, but it mainly focuses on a case in which he represents a rich, young man who can beat the system and escape the horrific charges against him.  This causes the attorney to wonder whether to get his client out of the case or secretly set him up to get caught.  Actor Matthew McConaughey takes on the job of bringing us the character of Haller and he is the one who makes the movie enjoyable.  His likability draws us into the film to begin with and his performance keeps us interested.  The film contains an excellent supporting cast with William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Pena, and Josh Lucas.

While McConaughey helps us enjoy The Lincoln Lawyer, there are other things that make the movie great.  The editing provides added excitement, the soundtrack perfectly expresses the mood, and the script keeps us on the edge of our seat.  It is a whodunit, a thriller, a character study, and a drama all at once.  Out of the few courtroom dramas to come out this year, this one is the most consistently entertaining.

Rating: 4.5/5

Film Review: Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton is the ‘fixer’ for a New York law firm engaged in a class-action law suit, when one of the firm’s legendary attorneys uncovers evidence that they are on the “wrong side.”  Clayton, brought to life by one of today’s finest actors, George Clooney, is cool and intelligent, but thanks to Clooney, a softer side is subtly revealed.  Accompanying him are actors Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and the late Sydney Pollack.  Wilkinson is the attorney who loses his job and eventually, his life, after making a vital discovery; it is an Oscar-worthy performance.  Swinton (also known as the White Witch in the Narnia movies) actually did win an Oscar for her bit as a lawyer opposing the actions of Wilkinson.

Clooney’s poise makes for the best performance in the bunch, but Michael Clayton boasts more than good acting.  Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut is pulse-pounding and above all, impressive as a first-rate paranoia thriller.  The striking score, the abundance of blue and gray, and the building suspense create a wonderfully ominous tone.  It is this tone that makes the whole picture stand out among other thrillers.  Sharp dialogue is common here, as well as a truck-load of details.  Every member of the audience who wants to get his/her money’s worth out of this film will have to pay attention.  While the movie is pitch-perfect, it moves rapidly and it can be easy to fall behind.  Keep up and you’ll be happy that you were along for the ride.

Michael Clayton never really had a chance of winning Best Picture at the 2007 Oscars, especially over two masterpieces as incredible as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.  Nonetheless, it was nominated because it was well-made, and should not be missed.  It will always be a favorite to those who love movies that require them to think and be fully alert.

Rating: 4/5

Criterion Film Review: Modern Times (1936)

Prior to promoting his classic film, City Lights, during 1931 and 1932, Charles Chaplin arrived back in America with intentions of implanting important social and political themes into his next feature. He long contemplated the subject of this new picture and eventually chose to focus on the rise of the machine. Watching this film today, one can clearly see that Chaplin was against these large machines that were beginning to be used in factories, and he demonstrates his point by making his own Little Tramp one of the many men to be replaced by such machinery. Joining him, is actress Paulette Goddard playing a memorable companion to the Tramp, while also beginning both a professional and personal relationship with Chaplin that eventually ended in divorce after bad experiences together on the set of The Great Dictator (1940).

Modern Times is such a delight, especially when considered among the many unfunny comedies that Hollywood produces today. Not only are we entertained by the appearance, antics, and actions of Chaplin’s Tramp, we are also captivated by a heart-warming romance. This little film, running under an hour and a half, contains so many scenes that are incredibly easy to recall that it makes it near impossible to not love it. In the beginning, Chaplin performs a hilarious string of gags within a factory set made up of giant gears, levers, and assembly lines. As we make our way further into the story which he has written, we find ourselves immersed in something stunning. The genius of Chaplin shines through his masterful work here. His Tramp is funny, innocent, likable, and goofy, making for the ideal protagonist of such a simple plot. That is what made the star into a legend. In fact, so popular is the image of the Tramp, that many people believe that the mustache, bowler hat, and cane were all part of Chaplin’s regular everyday attire.

For those of us who have seen his masterpieces, laughed at his gags, and been moved by his stories, Chaplin is more than the little man with the funny walk. He is the father of cinematic comedy and the face of all silent films. And yet there is a question that I have attempted to answer on a number of occasions: Is Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton the greater silent comedian? Before watching Modern Times, I probably would have told you that Keaton was my favorite. After watching Modern Times, I can say that I have no earthly idea. The pleasant smile of Chaplin is certainly more inviting when compared to the stone-cold, determined countenance of Keaton, yet Buster’s films are every bit as funny and we do actually end up caring about him. This question may have to be solved at a later date, but rather, the purpose of this review was to ensure any skeptical reader that Charlie Chaplin should not be written off by modern audiences just because he made silent films. Most all his movies are as good as this one, and a few might actually be better. I would encourage anyone reading this to at least give him a try. Watch Modern Times and see if it is not as good as I have said it is.

Rating: 5/5

Criterion Review:

The Criterion Collection gathers great films, whether foreign silent gems or forgotten modern masterpieces, and restores them to high quality sound and visuals. They distribute them on DVDs, which most always have an awesome cover design, and include behind the scenes featurettes, interviews, commentary, and booklets containing essays by film critics and historians. These can be hard to find and especially for a good price, but I luckily found my copy of Modern Times during a sale at a Barnes and Nobles. After watching the film and all the bonus features (and reading the essays), I can honestly say that the purchase would have been worth it at the regular price. The restored print is incredible, in fact, I giggled with delight at the sight of the first shot. The few words that are said (or sung) are clear, and the additional footage is fascinating. Also, there is a short film starring Chaplin which showcases his rollerskating abilities, a silent movie documenting a journalist’s yacht vacation with Chaplin, and many other various joys. For anyone who loves Modern Times, Charles Chaplin, or just film itself, this particular two-disc collection is a must.

Film Review: L’Avventura (1960)

Most movies unfold before the audience while Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura evolves.  After the first hour, a jumbled mystery becomes a disturbed romance.  Audiences meet Claudia, Anna, Sandro, and their friends, all taking the day off on the shore of a barren rock island.  They swim, they flirt, they argue, and then Anna goes missing.

The island is not home to any animal life, and its only residents are thousands of rough-edged boulders.  Claudia and Sandro, Anna’s best friend and Anna’s boyfriend, both refuse to do anything until Anna is found.  But after days of searching the island and towns close to the coast, what the two are really searching for becomes more obvious.

Most would say that it is love, but in all actuality, it is really just a search for something to do.  They are searching for the sake of searching.  Along the way, Claudia falls for the charms of Sandro, but neither lover is in love with the other, whether they realize it or not.  And as both fail to do anything worth-while, we find that they seem incapable of genuinely loving anyone.

Antonioni’s skill in making this intriguing film can be caught in one shot.  When Sandro and Claudia continue their search to an abandoned town, the camera is positioned in a view that seems to be peeking out of the shadows of a hotel.  Are we perhaps, seeing the view of Anna?  Is she hiding, never to be found by her seekers?  Then we move, as their car moves out of the city, we watch longingly, but careful enough to not show ourselves.  That one, single shot may be the answer to the film’s most compelling question.

Rating: 4.5/5

Please comment.  I’d like to know your thoughts on the movie and the review…

Film Review: The Next Three Days (2010)

A married couple is alone in their home with their young son when a large group of policemen break into their living room.  Before they even know what happened, the wife is arrested for murder.  Three years later, the wife is still in prison and has made an attempt at suicide.

Meanwhile, the boy, who now attends elementary school, is growing without the care of his mother.  The father believes that his wife is innocent, and he manages to continue life with very few opportunities to see her.  But when he learns that his spouse is being transferred to a distant prison facility, the troubled community college teacher decides that he can no longer see his wife suffer.

Interviewing an escaped convict (played by Liam Neeson), watching YouTube videos to learn to pick locks, and purchasing forged passports, he prepares in every possible way for the chance to free her.  But what if his wife did murder as she was accused of? The powerful part of The Next Three Days is that the man doesn’t know that his wife is innocent, but instead, he relies on who he knows she is; and he knows without a doubt that the woman he married isn’t a murderer.

There are precious moments in this wonderful action thriller when we are shown, thanks to great performances, the complicated emotions of the characters and the motives behind their actions.  What we seem to uncover is that these people are very much like us.  And for this reason, the audience cares about John Brennan and his family.

Our attachment to the Brennan family makes each plot twist and moment of suspense more dramatic than the average action film.  This makes the film entertaining and moving, but it is usually pointed out by the movie’s critics that the story is too unbelievable.  I too doubt that such events could take place, however, I found the realistic characters to be enough to balance any absurdity.

The Next Three Days is not action-packed, but there is great suspense. It seems to last forever, but it proves to be completely worth it.  I honestly did not expect such a seemingly average thriller to be so memorable.

Rating: 4.5/5