I also made it to Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It’s a wonderful movie (*****), but I don’t feel like I can do it justice in a small review here. Hopefully I will get motivated to write a longer review in the near future.
The Lincoln Lawyer
The Lincoln Lawyer is refreshing if not spectacular courtroom drama that reminds us of those intricate legal procedural thrillers of the 1970s and 1980s like And Justice for All and The Jagged Edge in which smart characters trying to outwit one another had audiences guessing. Matthew McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a shark of an attorney who lives for getting his clients off. He knows most are guilty, but over the course of the film we realize there is an underlying psychological motivation that isn’t all about greed or winning in the courtroom. When Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), the son of a wealthy real estate family, is accused of beating and trying to rape a young woman, he calls on Haller to defend him. It quickly becomes clear that not all is as it seems, everyone is lying and the only one interested in the truth is Haller, the so-called shady defense attorney. McConaughey brings the right mix of charm and sleaze to Haller in a performance that resurrects his career from mindless romantic comedies and tabloid exploits. He is effective as a man who uses the cover of greed to get his clients off in the desperate hope that one may be innocent. His cynical and jaded persona masks a man who passionately cares about justice; he would just rather see ten guilty men walk to ensure one innocent man is spared a jail sentence.
So it’s nice to see McConaughey back. Phillippe is also good. Like McConaughey he is both smarmy and attractive – almost a mirror image of the man he hired to defend him. Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, and Josh Lucas also turn in nice supporting performances. The movie is fairly intelligent, has audiences guessing, and its relative success at the box office should reconfirm for studios that there are audiences for grownup entertainment. (Rating ***1/2)
The major flaw of Limitless is the script is not nearly as smart as it needs to be. If a pill gives a character access to parts of his brain previously dormant and becomes wickedly smart, then we shouldn’t see his mistakes coming a mile away. Credibility crumbles when we are able to see supposed twists coming that catch Eddie Morra, the uninspired slacker writer who for some unexplained reason is given smart juice, by surprise. If he’s so smart and can truly, as he says, see every scenario and puts him 50 moves ahead, would he make some of the dumb mistakes he does that any schmuck sitting in the audience can see through? If he’s really so smart and has found a way to ensure profit on the stock market, why would he be in such a hurry to make a fortune? (A plot point that is never really explained.) Why would he then go to a Russian loan shark to borrow one hundred thousand dollars? Us idiots in the audience know that even if Eddie can pay back the money, he won’t be able to shake the guy. (Especially since he doesn’t pay him back after making a couple million – super smart.) He also knows some unscrupulous people have killed to get their hands on these pills. If he makes a splash on Wall Street – from slob to star overnight – wouldn’t that be a sure sign that he has the pills and make him a target? And why is it we in the audience know he should never trust anyone with the pills, but he happily hands them over to his lawyer?
For this movie to be successful, it needed to outsmart us, to outthink us the way Eddie would have been able to (until a tacked on, unearned ending). Instead, he does nothing amazing with his new skills, except finish his book in a few days and learn some languages. Screenwriter Leslie Dixon just couldn’t think past the clichés of the genre, turning the movie into a tiresome mash-up of Flowers for Algernon and The Maltese Falcon, without the intelligence of either. He gets into the same jams anyone in a thriller would and the filmmakers don’t have the patience or the time to wrap them all up. (If you’re going to introduce a murder subplot, don’t leave it unresolved and hope your audience will forget it by the end.)
One last flaw: if he’s so smart, why would he want to be in the Senate? Anyone with a brain knows that would be a soul-crushing place for a genius. (Rating **)
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star as British sci-fi nerds who trek to San Diego for Comic-Con and an RV tour of the Southwest’s UFO landmarks. Along their journey they pick up an alien named Paul (of course) on the run from Area 51 and, in the spirit of E.T., help the little guy get back to his own planet. If that sounds fairly predictable and like a movie you’ve seen before, that’s because it is. But it is a loving tribute to science fiction featuring references to Alien, Battlestar Galactica, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, among others and, unlike another genre pastiche Rango, it uses them to create a fairly successful movie.
Paul does have a lot going against it. The foremost complaint is Seth Rogan voicing the alien. As I’ve said before he just isn’t funny and, to make matters worse for a voiceover part, his voice is grating and unsympathetic. He turns Paul into yet another wise-cracking, slacking, stoner slob, an overplayed comedic characterization of aliens from Alf (minus the stoner part) to Roger on American Dad. I’ve always felt like this is a cynical ploy to portray highly evolved extraterrestrials as much like doughy, videogame stoners who make up much of the audiences for these movies. What an affirmation of their sedentary, stoner lives it must be when they see E.T. loves pot too. (And when are we going to get over pot gags? It was barely funny when Cheech and Chong did it, but we’re getting the same stuff again and again, as though it’s fresh and subversive.)
Despite these substantial complaints there was enough in the picture to win me over. Making the main characters British gave them a great opportunity to shine a critical, but funny, light on some of the quirks of the United States – like Kristen Wiig’s crazy Christian fundamentalist who gleefully shows off her t-shirt of Jesus shooting Darwin in the head. The movie makes a mistake, though, when her faith is overturned early (in one scene!); it would have been funnier if she remained firmly faithful and Graeme (Pegg) still falls in love with her, having to balance her nuttiness with his love. Pegg and Foster do a good job as lifelong friends and are supported by a great cast, including Wiig, Jason Bateman as a single minded federal agent, Jane Lynch as a waitress, Jeffery Tambour as an arrogant science fiction writer, Bill Hadder as an incompetent agent, John Carol Lynch as a gun-toting Jesus freak, Blythe Danner as the crazy old lady waiting for aliens, Sigourney Weaver as a Cheney-esque villain, and even Steven Spielberg in a clever voice cameo. Paul is hardly a great comedy, but once you get over Seth Rogan, it turns out to be pretty good. (Rating ***)