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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 11
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Pulpy Lincoln Lawyer a likable legal thriller
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Lincoln Lawyer
Opening March 18


Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a Los Angeles defense attorney making his living defending drug dealers, biker gangs, and other relative lowlifes using the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car as his office to wheel and deal with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and clients across the city. He's got a handful of ex-wives, including District Attorney Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei), with whom he shares an adolescent daughter. Mickey does his best to juggle it all and not get buried underneath the nastiness he submerges himself in daily.

But maybe Mickey's ship has just come in. According to bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo), the very rich Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) is interested in hiring him in regards to a pending criminal case. The wealthy realtor is charged with the assault and attempted rape of prostitute Reggie Campo (Margarita Levieva), and he feels Mickey's the one to get him off - even if his high-priced legal counsel Cecil Dobbs (Bob Gunton) and his smothering mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) don't quite feel the same.

Something smells off. After visiting a former client (Michael Peña) in prison (who is serving a life sentence for a murder he claims he did not commit), Mickey turns to friend and investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) to do a little more digging on his client's supposedly impeccable background. What gets uncovered and what transpires doesn't just put the case in jeopardy, but the attorney's family and friends as well, leading the attorney to consider that his life may not be as rosy as he's always leading others to believe.

The cast of The Lincoln Lawyer is out of this world, and that is its chief asset. On top of those already mentioned, the likes of Josh Lucas, Bryan Cranston, Trace Adkins, Michael Paré, Shea Whigham, Laurence Mason, and Michaela Conlin pop up in key supporting roles, and everyone adds just the right amount of grit and nuance to make their respective roles come to life. This is a movie where everyone feels like they're right in the middle of their perfect groove, no one upstaging anyone else, all working together to make the material simmer and percolate in a way that is consistently invigorating.

Based on the book by popular crime fiction author Michael Connelly, John Romano's (Nights in Rodanthe) workmanlike script does a good job of parsing down the source material's complexity, boiling things down into a straightforward narrative that's crisp and clean. There is no fat on this picture's bones, no excess material going off into unnecessary tangents that would slow down the momentum. This is a full-bore legal thriller of maneuvering and slight-of-hand, of parlor games and verbal ingenuity, and when all is said and done, the tension ratcheted up is of a higher pedigree than I would have believed was possible.

Not that we haven't seen this before. From Presumed Innocent to The Verdict, Primal Fear to To Kill a Mockingbird, A Few Good Men to Anatomy of a Murder, going inside the courtroom to solve a murder has always been a destination Hollywood has adored returning to. With the intricate complexities of Connelly's novel stripped away, there's not a huge amount of shock as to where everything is heading. The movie is obvious, and other than a last-second homage to Lady Macbeth, I doubt anyone is going to walk away afterwards surprised.

But they will definitely be entertained. McConaughey hasn't been this engaged and active in what seems like forever, the man taking on the persona of the fast-talking Haller and making the most out of the opportunity. Reading the book, I'd never have imagined him in the role (he's part Hispanic as written, after all). Now after watching the movie, I'm going to have trouble getting his portrayal of the guy out of my head, the actor dominating in such a fashion I was instantly reminded why so many thought he was going to be the Next Big Thing after appearing in the otherwise lackluster A Time to Kill.

Director Brad Furman made a barely-seen independent called The Take back in 2007, and he applies the same sort of dynamics here as he did in that freewheeling crime-riddled gem. The filmmaker keeps the focus on the characters, never veering away from them, understanding momentum must always be going forward and that his main players need to be the primary focus. His vision never wavers and rarely goes off-track, reminding me of the late Alan J. Pakula in regards to his attention to detail and ability to make even the mundane slightly fascinating.

The Lincoln Lawyer isn't a perfect film, and by all rights it probably shouldn't be. It's a pulpy legal thriller full of all the usual dirt and grime, and where it's headed isn't a shocker. But thanks to its solid script, confident direction, and pitch-perfect performances, there's so much pleasure to be had watching it that any familiarity isn't a problem. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and as far as my courtroom is concerned, objections to the contrary don't have even the faintest chance of being sustained.


Battle: Los Angeles a surprisingly entertaining, if familiar, ride
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Battle: Los Angeles Opening March 11
First things first: director Jonathan Liebesman's (Darkness Falls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) extra-terrestrial war epic Battle: Los Angeles is nothing more than a stripped-down, interstellar remake of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. From the way cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (Middle Men) shoots the action to the how editor Christian Wagner (Fast & Furious) chops things together to the gritty realism of Peter Wenham's (The Bourne Ultimatum) production design, everything here looks, feels and sounds a lot like that 2001 Oscar-winning military opus.

Writer Chris Bertolini (The General's Daughter) obviously studied the film, as well. He keeps things focused entirely upon a single Marine unit lost amidst the chaos of an alien invasion on the streets of Los Angeles. Cut off from their command, working on their own, doing their best to protect a group of civilians, everything that happens to this ragtag bunch is a lot like what Josh Hartnett's character and his team went through in Scott's picture - just substitute faceless alien soldiers for Somali gunmen and you've more or less got the exact same scenario.

Battle: Los Angeles is hugely entertaining all on its own, plagiarism or no. The movie is immersive, transporting the viewer right into the heart of the action from the word go, and the group of soldiers - led by a commanding Aaron Eckhart as Marine Sgt. Michael Nantz - becomes a fully-formed unit I came to care about. Their journey through the increasingly devastated streets is like a trip down some bullet-riddled rabbit hole, and the tension ratchets up and builds to a satisfying climax that had me on the edge of my seat.

I love the way Bertonlini and Liebesman waste no time in getting right to it. Their setting up of Nantz's new crew of soldiers is fluid and quick, but doesn't skimp on making each Marine their own person. No one here is nondescript, all feel real, and when they ultimately enter into the fight, their eventual sacrifices have weight and impact.

Even better, unlike recent alien invasion misfires like Skyline, this one never offers up moments of silly incredulity bordering on the unintentionally hilarious. The filmmakers treat the material seriously, as do the actors themselves (Bridget Moynahan, Michelle Rodriguez, and Michael Peña pop up in key supporting roles), giving the resulting film a gravitas pictures similar to it (i.e. Independence Day) usually lack.

There's not a ton more to add. Based on his previous efforts I'd never in a million years believe Liebesman was capable of bringing something like this off. The director shows a restraint and a character-driven dramatic fortitude none of his previous features came close to hinting at. This is the kind of movie that remembers that all the visual whiz-bang in the world doesn't mean a thing if the story is an uninteresting snore, and as such it's hard not to come out of it feeling like you actually got your money's worth.

Make no mistake, Battle: Los Angeles is nothing more than your typical men-at-war melodrama gussied up with the threat of invaders from another planet. But just because that's so doesn't make it any less enjoyable, and for the two hours I spent in the theater, I was happily content. This movie is fun, nothing more and certainly nothing less, making it a spectacle-laden treat I'd be tempted to see again.


Carmen stuns in 3D
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Do we really need opera in 3D? The very idea seemed pretty silly to me. My technical requirements are good picture and, above all, excellent sound. Beyond those, only musical and dramatic excellence matter.

Then, along comes Carmen in 3D from no less than The Royal Opera, Covent Garden. With a pedigree like that, I had to check it out.

Before I write about the performance itself, let's deal with the 3D question. First of all, the quality of the 3D could not have been better. Having seen Avatar in 3D (both on standard and IMAX screens), I can say that this operatic 3D was state-of-the-art. While the film director here avoided gimmicky used of the medium, there were nonetheless a few moments when a sword or singer's gesture did reach out to the space a couple rows ahead of our seats - enough to be fun, but not so much as to become annoying or distracting. So, I give the 3D, as projected at the Thornton Place cinema, an A+.

But, the same caveats apply here as to any well-done 3D movie. Some people experience eye fatigue, headaches, and even motion sickness when watching a 3D movie. I assume an opera might be somewhat less likely to cause such side-effects, given the lack of high-speed chases, gigantic explosions, and the teenage attention span camera action of today's action movies.

I had absolutely no discomfort from the 3D medium or the required glasses. And, yes, the 3D did add to my enjoyment of the opera. Aside from the slightly darker picture (a side-effect of this technology), it gave us a simply more natural-looking experience. In fact, because these digital projections were taken off a disc, rather than being sent live via a satellite, the picture was also much sharper than the Met Live in HD presentations in regular 2D.

Perhaps the most surprising fact was the ticket price: $13 on the Fandango website! That's far below the $22 price for the Met Live in HD showings. The Carmen, of course, is not live, and is showing no less than six times.

As for the performance, I have seen only one other Carmen that I liked better in my 50 years of attending opera. This Carmen, sung by Christine Rice, was vocally gorgeous and visually stunning. The whole production was super-sensual, and she was no exception. One cannot tell from a video just how big the voices were, but she used her considerable dynamic range with exceptional intelligence.

Bryan Hymel as Don Jose wowed me with a voice that reminded me of Joseph Calleja and Jussi Bjoerling. Utterly beautiful. Handsome and smart in his acting, he appeared natural throughout. The Escamillo of Aris Argiris was adequate and marginally convincing.

The production, under the direction of Francesca Zambello, is the same as on the superb DVD that I reviewed in these pages a few months ago. That DVD, with Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose, is indeed my favorite Carmen of all.

There will be more 3D operas to come from The Royal Opera and from English National Opera as well, although the ENO's Lucretia Borgia will be 'the world's first live 3D opera' in the U.K. and as such may not be intended for U.S. time zones. Although the Met is going to use 3D projections in the opera house in next season's Siegfried, I have not heard of any plans to change its Live in HD series to 3D in the cinemas.

Bottom line: I highly recommend this Carmen in 3D. There is nary a boring moment in the whole 170 minutes (includes a 20-minute intermission). Whether the 3D is a plus or minus is a highly personal matter. Remaining screenings at Thornton Place are March 12 and 20 at 3pm, March 15 at 7pm, and March 21 and 26 at 1 p.m. Check www.carmen3d.com for other venues.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.




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Girl Talk a mix of spectacle and fizzle
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Pulpy Lincoln Lawyer a likable legal thriller
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Battle: Los Angeles a surprisingly entertaining, if familiar, ride
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Carmen stuns in 3D
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