Thursday, July 28, 2011

Flick of The Day: The Lincoln Lawyer

Once upon a time John Grisham was the king of the legal thriller, where every new book was snapped up by a studio as soon as it was released. The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Rainmaker, the list goes on. However times change and Grisham has expanded his oeuvre away from pure legal drama. Step in Michael Connolly, the crime writer with a strong following for his Harry Bosch series with his first legal thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer, a twist filled tale and today's flick of the day.
Matthew McConaughey is Mickey Haller, the low rent lawyer of the title, so called because he conducts most of his business from the back of a Lincoln town car. He specialises in getting guilty men off for cash fees, in short he is as low rent as his clients. His newest client though is different. A wealthy spoiled brat played by Ryan Phillipe called Louis who has requested him by name. He is accused of brutally beating a young woman though protests his innocence. Mickey and his investigator begin to dig deeper into his story and the more they find out, the more they doubt his story. The case bares striking similarities to a murder which Mickey unsuccessfully defended a few years back and he now fears he helped send an innocent man to prison. Of course all is not as it seems and Mickey is forced to question whether his own client is trying to frame him.
McConaughey is pitch perfect as the charming lawyer with an air of sleaze. Haller is both a brilliantly tricky customer inside the courtroom and out of it. The scene where he completely outwits both the prosecutor and his own client is thoroughly entertaining.  There is a fine supporting cast to help carry the film along including the terminally underrated William H Macy as Mickey's investigator and Marisa Tomei in an underdeveloped role as Mickey's ex wife. There is also a blink and you'll miss it performance from Bryan Cranston.

Mick Haller: When do you retire, Lankford? 
Detective Lankford: When do I retire? 
Mick Haller: Yeah. 
Detective Lankford: Eighteen months. Why? 
Mick Haller: I wanna make sure I show up the next morning so I can kick your ass.

Ryan Phillipe makes the most of his role as the scheming Louis. He is a truly dislikeable character without any redeeming features.
 Films like this live or die by how clever the plot is. Thankfully, this is clever enough to keep you guessing till the end. Sure its nothing more then multiplex fluff but it is well crafted and entertaining fluff. Something so many modern films fail to achieve. Stylish and suspenseful it passes a few hours pleasantly.

Frank Levin: [looking out of top floor window] Your so vain. Nobody would care if you killed yourself. 
Mick Haller: It'd look cool. What do you think the last thing to go through your mind would be? 
Frank Levin: Your asshole. 
Mick Haller: Yeah.

All in all, a worthy addition to the genre and the kind of old school thriller based on a best seller that just doesn't get made too often these days. Why bother paying for the rights to a novel when you can just adapt a video game or television show from the 70s?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Flick of The Day: Up in the Air

American director Jason Reitman burst on to the scene with his debut film Thank You for Smoking, a witty and acerbic take on the big tobacco lobbying industry and followed this up with the lovely Juno. Hopes were high then for his third film, an adaptation of a 2001 novel by American author Walter Kirn which is today's flick of the  day Up in the Air.
George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a businessman who travels more then 300 days a year, moving around the country working as a consultant who fires people on behalf of large companies. He lives a life of solitude and revels in the little details and status symbols of his life on the road. His air miles, his priority check-in at the airport and car rental office. Alone by choice, he revels in these little perks. Then of course he meets someone, a fellow traveller called Alex played by the gorgeous Vera Farmiga. Two very similar people, they are soon synchronising their schedules to meet up in hotels across the country. Of course Ryan's perfect bubble life is soon threatened by the arrival of a career oriented twenty-something Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick who has big plans for his business including taking people off the road and firing people via video conferencing. Ryan convinces his boss Jason Bateman to allow him to take Natalie on the road and show her the ropes. It is a learning experience for both of them and as the film moves towards a conclusion, Ryan is forced to engage with real life and reconcile himself with the remaining family he has left.
George Clooney is the real star here but there are some fine performances from a great ensemble cast. There are blink and you will miss it cameos from J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis and they all make the best of a great script. There is a great sense of realism to Clooney's characterisation. His regimented method for passing through airports is a delightful truism. That said, we never really get to the bottom of why he lives life the way he does, in a luxury cocoon with nothing to tie him down. Indeed, while much of the film is upbeat and quite funny at times, it ends on a sour note. Ultimately, it becomes apparent that he longs for more and is in fact lonely. No man is an island I suppose.
It is an ambitious movie and Reitman deserves to be lauded for this. It attempts to ask serious questions about modern life and the way we compartmentalise our lives while still offering a funny and entertaining piece of cinema.

Ryan Bingham: [on getting through airport security] Never get behind old people. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left. Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and they have a thing for slip on shoes. Gotta love 'em.

You can't really ignore that ending though, it is a sad film at heart and that is not something that the proceeding 90 minutes would lead you to expect. Man lives in bubble. Man decides to leave bubble. Man is crushed. Man returns to bubble. 
All in all, an enjoyable film and well worth a look. It marries the usual charm of George Clooney with some fine character actors and a great script. A bold and modern romance, it was nominated for Best Picture losing out in a strong year. It is definitely worth a viewing and I look forward to Reitman's next film.

Ryan Bingham: [End of closing monologue] The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Flick of The Day: Source Code

British director Duncan Jones created a sleeper hit with his 2009 low budget sci-fi flick Moon with a stand out performance from Sam Rockwell. It successfully played with perceptions of reality to create a modern take on the perils of artificial intelligence. He is in similar territory with his latest film though on a much more Hollywood style budget. Today's flick of the day is Source Code.
Jake Gyllenhaal is a US Army Captain who takes part in a military experiment. In the aftermath of a train bombing in downtown Chicago which kills hundreds, he is given the ability to experience the last 8 minutes of the train journey through the eyes of a dead passenger. In an effort to solve the crime, he must experience those final 8 minutes numerous times, each time adding more clues to the final mystery. Of course this is not the whole story as we are repeatedly led to question the reality of what we are seeing and indeed the inherent possibilities. Gyllenhaal's only contact with the real world is an Air Force Captain named Goodwin played by Vera Farmiga. As time ticks, he must solve the crime before the bomber strikes again and find the truth about why he himself has been selected for this mission.
Jake Gyllenhaal has built a career on bringing a quirky intensity to his roles and having a keen eye for an interesting project. In a relatively short career he has taken on roles as disparate as Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac, showing a great range of talent. He is then perfect of the kind of film which this is. To enjoy you really have to sit back and suspend your disbelief for a moment. After all, this is the kind of film where characters utter lines like the below with a straight face.

                                             "This is not time travel. This is time re-assignment."

That said, It is not my intention to denigrate the film for it is very entertaining at times and delivers an ending which is both pitch perfect and very smart in its own way.
Th real strong point of the film is that by keeping the viewer in the dark for so long as to the true intentions of the plot, that it allows them to create their own idea of what is happening and thus retains interest until the final reveal. This of course an old film making trick but it is used to good effect. What better way to keep a mystery engaging then to leave people to draw their own conclusions till the critical point.
All in all, this is a worthwhile piece of work and a cut above the standard multiplex fare. It requires you think along the lines of Christopher Nolan's recent Inception and anything that improves  the standard of Hollywood action pictures above the thrashy likes of Michael Bay and his oeuvre deserves praise. While not a classic, it is an entertaining picture and worth a look.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Flick of The Day: Don't Look Now

The psychological thriller is a delightfully dark genre and something I am a big fan of. It relies on the psychological state of the protagonists to drive the plot and thus has led to some great films down through the years. Here at The Daily Flick, we've previously reviewed some of the best of them such as Les Diaboliques and The Vanishing and today we add another to the list. Director Nicolas Roeg made several complex and difficult films during his career but perhaps none more so then today's flick of the day and perhaps one of the scariest psychological horror film's of all time, Don't Look Now.
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star as a young English couple who are struggling to come to terms with the sudden drowning of their young daughter which opens the film. Based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, this is a classic tale of loss and the effects of grief. In an attempt to move on, they move to a crumbling Venice, shot in Winter time, where Sutherland's John has been hired to oversee the restoration of an old church. However, Venice is full of reminders of their daughter while all the while the city is struggling to cope with a series of grisly murders. John begins to see fleeting glimpses of a young girl in a red raincoat, similar to the one his daughter died in. Christie's Laura becomes involved with two elderly sisters, one of whom claims psychic powers and an ability to contact their daughter. As the film moves toward a climax, the labyrinthine streets of Venice seem to close in and the red coated figure makes increasing appearances culminating in a shocking ending. 
There is something deeply unsettling about the Venice which the grieving Baxter's inhabit. It is full of dark alleys and gothic architecture which seems to close in on the pair by the end in an almost hellish vision. The sound seems to have been recorded to disorientate the viewer with steps reverberating off walls, leaving you unsure of where the sound is coming from. For a horror film, this does not rely on gore or grisly horror to touch the audience's nerves but rather builds up a heavy atmosphere and uses Venice itself as a tool of the supernatural. It is because of this that it is a far better and indeed far more unsettling film then many of its glossier and more obvious contemporaries.
Sutherland and Christie deliver career best performances as the grieving couple and there seems to be genuine chemistry between the two. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the film is the graphic love scene between the two, indeed rumours best ignored have persisted with the idea that the scene was not simulated something denied by Sutherland. Regardless it is central to the plot and today it appears more touching and human then in any way shocking. It is a testament to Roeg's abilities as a film-maker that the film still hold the power to frighten even today with an ending that will stick with you.
All in all, this is a landmark film in the genre, using atmospherics to create a haunting meditation on the grieving process and the supernatural. It has two strong performances from the leads and a steady hand from the director. It doesn't rely on cheap tricks and theatrics, leading to a shocking ending. A must see but remember, don't look now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Flick of The Day: A Prophet / Un Prophete

The prison film is a well travelled genre. There is something about the incarceration of our fellow man that for whatever reason leads to great drama. I suppose as it is unnatural for human beings to be incarcerated, it is then the strongest sentence a society can impose to restrain that natural freedom. This struggle creates drama, plot and ultimately a compelling story. There have been many very fine prison dramas from Cool Hand Luke, to The Shawshank Redemption, one of the all time greats. To this list then must be added today's flick of the day, A Prophet.
A young man of Arabic descent, vulnerable but retaining immense character is immersed into the hellish world of a notorious French prison after receiving a sentence of 6 years for a crime that is never explained in any detail. Malik played by newcomer Tahar Rahim is quickly initiated into brutality of every day prison life.The prison is initially split into two rival groups, the Corsicans led by a violent brute called César Luciani played by  the brilliant Niels Arestrup who hold all the power and the Arabs while growing in number are very much under the boot of the Corsicans. César gives Malik an ultimatum, either he murders a fellow Arab due to testify against a Corsican or he himself will be killed. A torn Malik is pushed into the hit and gradually earns a grudging respect amongst the Corsicans. Before long, he graduates from small time criminal to fully fledged gangster creating his own criminal network on the outside. Eventually he outgrows the machinations of César and becomes his own man.
Directed by Jacques Audiard, this is a triumph of a film on so many levels. Firstly, the performances of young Tahar Rahim and the legendary Niels Arestrup are one of the finest on screen pairings I have seen in many years. The growth of Tahar's character from callow youth to gang leader over the course of two and a half hours of screen time is breathtaking as he comes under the influence of Arestrup's brutish and yet quietly scheming César. Arestrup was previously seen in another French flick of the day, Farewell. Secondly, the film is perfectly paced, written more like a novel then your average film. With each chapter additional layers are added. Central to everything is that Malik is a very compelling character. Shunned by his fellow Arabs for being close to the Corsicans and too Arab to ever be a Corsican, he is in the middle of the prison's gang wars and is smart enough to ultimately play one against the other. Malik is no angel, he is capable of violence but yet compared to the fearsome César is a character you can root for.
A big international upon its release, A Prophet was just pipped to the Best Foreign Language Picture at the 2010 Oscars by the equally brilliant The Secret in Their Eyes. It is well worth another look, it is the kind of film that once again reinforces my opinion that the best film-making in the world today is not in Hollywood but in the rest of the world. A triumph.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Flick of The Day: When Saturday Comes

Sport and football in particular is something you would imagine naturally lends itself to the big screen. It is replete with action, drama and twist endings. It is then a wonder that there have been so few great films about football, if any. Generally the rule appears to be the less actual sport played on screen, the more likely the film is to succeed as drama. Though the recent Goal! Trilogy managed to fail on both counts. In general, the Venn diagram between skilled footballers and talented actors has a very small intersection. It is a pleasure then to report a very decent film about the game and today's flick of the day, When Saturday Comes
Starring a young Sean Bean, an actor who has for so long been typecast as a bad guy in American movies and now earning long overdue plaudits in HBO's Game of Thrones, this is the story of a talented young footballer called Jimmy Muir. Muir is given two choices when he leaves school, either work in  a factory or down a coal mine though he harbours dreams of playing professionally. Fast forward a few years and Jimmy is working for a brewery while playing at an amateur level. He lives at home with his parents including his overbearing drunk of a father and an impressionable younger brother.Sheffield is a hard industrial town and the film pulls no punches in documenting Jimmy's life. By chance, Jimmy is spotted by Ken Jackson played by the late great Pete Postlethwaite,  a talent scout for the local big club, Sheffield United. Jimmy has one last chance to redeem his life and perhaps make up for lost time.
Bean shines as the hidden talent desperate for a chance to shine. Perhaps something that sets this apart from so many other rags to riches sports dramas is the emphasis on working class life in a grubby industrial city which gives it a feeling of authenticity. If anything, this is revelled in too much with every second person an alcoholic with a gambling problem or a housewife broken by life. It is possible to thrive in this environment and writer/director Maria Giese ladles the school of hard knocks too heavily. That said, there is much to enjoy and Postlethwaite and Emily Lloyd excel in their supporting roles. Lloyd in particular makes you wonder what might have been. At one time, she was a promising talent who starred in films with Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis. Her career has been blighted by mental illness over the past twenty years however and she hasn't acted in a feature since 2008. A talent all the same though.
All in all, a worthy addition to the genre and an enjoyable film. Bean and Postlethwaite deliver strong performances and but for some heavy handed direction, could have been so much more. Well worth a look.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flick of The Day: Rear Window

Following on from last week's debut Hitchcock flick of the day, today's is another classic from the master of suspense. Perhaps his best work, Rear Window, is one of those rare films that is as good and as thrilling today as it was upon release. 
A story so breathtakingly simple that it has been redone and ripped off innumerable times since the original, Rear Window is a classic of suspenseful film-making. Starring the ever reliable James Stewart as LB Jeffries, a dashing photojournalist who is layed up with a broken leg in his tiny courtyard apartment. Between visits from his nurse, a wonderful Thelma Ritter and his girlfriend Lisa played by a gorgeous Grace Kelly, he watches his neighbours idly. There is the young couple, the struggling musician, the siren, the depressed spinster and perhaps a murderer. Late one night, Jeffries witnesses what he thinks is the murder of a neighbour by her long suffering husband Thorwald, played by Raymond Burr. Of course he can't be sure, and as an audience we are sceptical but as Jeffries gets drawn into the chase and shares his obsession with the initially sceptical Lisa, the tension begins to mount. A thrilling finale ensues but not before some nail-biting drama.
Stewart and Kelly are perfectly cast as a couple with his world weary cynic Jeffries dove tailing with her young idealism. There is great chemistry between the pair and Grace Kelly never looked more radiant as in this film. The history of cinema is littered with famous beauties, but for my money she is the last word. There is wonderful interplay between the two.

Lisa: I wish I were creative. 
Jeff: You are. You're great at creating difficult situations.

The various characters which populate the courtyard are perfectly drawn and avoid being mere ciphers to advance the plot. Indeed as the film trundles along, they each have their own small story which is tied up neatly at the end. All solid film-making so far then but what sets this apart? As usual it is Hitchcock's ability to gradually raise the tension over the course of the film, sucking the audience in so that when Lisa is in danger and a helpless Jeff looks on from his apartment, we are equally worried. 
It is a very simple camera setup, with the vast majority of the film being seen from the window of Jeff's apartment or indeed in Jeff's apartment. Indeed it is only at the conclusion that we see a shot looking toward his apartment and it is momentarily jarring.In this way, Hitchcock limits what the audience can see to what Jeff sees. The audience becomes the voyeur. Like Jeff, we are immobilised and cannot intervene. It is an interesting study into why people look and perhaps indicates a normal universality to it.

Jeff: She wants me to marry her. 
Stella: That's normal. 
Jeff: I don't want to. 
Stella: That's abnormal.

All in all, a wonderful film that perfectly blends thrilling tension with comic moments. Hitchock displays a lightness of touch not normally seen in modern Hollywood thrillers and this is satisfying even today. Technicolour gives the film that wonderful glow of 1950's modernity and Grace Kelly and James Stewart sparkle in their roles. Ultimately when the ending comes, we want to dive back in and spend more time with Jeff and his girlfriend and the happenings of the small apartment building. A classic.

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