Archive for William H. Macy

Room: Haunting

Posted in 8, Drama, Horror, Ratings, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , on February 21, 2016 by mducoing

RoomThere are films that frighten audiences. Others that lash, others that endear, others that fester and still others that cause emotional arrest. All these are true of Room, a film that handles an unspeakable tragedy in such a mundane manner as to make one wonder and ultimately succumb.

Premise: After five-year-old Jack and his mother escape from the room that has been their captivity, life afterward is more challenging than they dreamed. Result: A mesmerizing, tragic drama far from ordinary.

It is a room. In it are things, ordinary things that anyone might expect to find in any ordinary home on any ordinary street in any ordinary town. There is a small skylight to let in the dim glow of the sun. And these regular belongings appear to be owned by normal, if unkempt people, a young boy and his average mother, lounging about, sleeping, transfixed by television or mundane tasks about the kitchen.

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The Sessions: A Powerful, Beautiful Story No One Was Expecting

Posted in 8, Drama, Independent, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2013 by mducoing

The SessionsWritten and directed by Ben Lewin, The Sessions is one of the most potent stories about the true meaning of love and intimacy in quite some time.  Based on the true story of Mark O’Brian, a man with a terrifyingly debilitating disability, The Sessions explores questions many of would never even know to ask.

Premise: A paralyzed man seeks sex therapy from a sex surrogate to explore intimacy. Result: A beautiful, must watch film that hides nothing but reveals much more about us than we might expect. .

The Sessions explores a difficult topic for most people: sexual intimacy among the disabled.  The disability in question is a form of paralysis that subject Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) experiences at an early age as a result of Polio (he is not actually a quadriplegic: he has sensitivity in his body but his muscles below the neck simply will not function.)  Nevertheless, this disability has left him incapable of most movement and he is entirely dependent on others.

But this physical dependency has made him powerful in other ways: while this disability may have destroyed others in his place, he graduated from college and is an exalted poet and writer able to support himself and his expensive iron-lung/homecare-provider habit.  Nevertheless, he confides in long-time Priest Father Brendan (William H. Macy) that he has never experienced intimacy with a woman, but deeply wishes to feel it.  This is all the more exacerbated by his awkward admission of love to his nurse Amanda (Annika Marks) who determines the best course of action is to flee in terror.

But this is not as extreme as one might think. Other typical reactions to similar situations are extreme discomfort and even to simply ignore them; they complicate matters for us, make us conceive of difficulties we’d rather not consider. Father Brendan considers this when asked what God would think of pursuing sex outside of marriage to experience that intimacy; fortunately he admits that in Mark’s case, exceptions might be made.

At this point, Mark meets with a sexual therapist who ultimately recommends that Mark meet with a sex surrogate.  This said person is Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a professional whose responsibility is to help Mark and others with intimacy issues, overcome the obstacles. She is not a prostitute, she notes, and they only have six sessions.  Let the games begin.

Supported closely by new nurse and resident anti-make up activist Vera (Moon Bloodgood), Mark begins his sessions with Cheryl.  At first they are awkward, even mortifying, as Mark must overcome psychological, emotional as well as physical complications.  But Cheryl is patient and caring and progress is made.

As the film progresses, certain themes are delivered intricately and intimately, flowing from the on-screen activities to audiences, brilliantly forging connections not thought possible.  As we reflect on Mark’s difficulties and the emotional complications that inevitably arise from such an unusual case, it is impossible not to consider our own sense of intimacy, love, as people with far fewer obstacles. And the irony that the story is largely narrated through poetry and told to a Priest, a man who by all accounts is celibate, somehow works wonders in the film.

The performances in the film ultimately take matters to the next, unforgettable level.  Hawkes is simply astounding as Mark, not only delivering a performance worthy of special note in and of itself, but made more special by the inability to use his body.  But this drawback was used as a weapon, not a crutch, and he is endearing and stunningly powerful delivering on an emotional level that will destabilize most viewers.

Helen Hunt: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?  At every moment in this performance, at every syllable, every cringe, every expression, every tear, every smile she is better than most.  She is flawless and manages a stirring confidence that transcends her role in the film, forcing audiences to consider her on a meta-level, reminded with every breath that she won an Oscar standing up to Jack Nicholson.  And with a character as nuanced and subtle as Cheryl, accompanied by her daring nudity, she may be even better.

Macy, as usual, is fantastic in this film and should be noted as well.  He, like much of the cast, is noteworthy; yet due to the profound nature of the roles of Mark and Cheryl, their own contributions through no fault of their own, while great for the film, are decidedly second flight.

In the end, The Sessions was a crucible of emotion that far exceeds expectations.  It is a beautiful story with fabulous writing and stellar performances between several top-tier actors.  And any film that can deliver a tough topic while still connecting deeply with sympathetic audiences should be roundly applauded.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

The Lincoln Lawyer: A Fun Film that Does What It Needs to Do

Posted in 7, Drama, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2011 by mducoing

Matthew McConaughey returns to a genre that suits him, as an attorney with something to prove and thankfully far away from the Rom-Com formula that was box office poison and even soured our eternal love for Kate Hudon (sorry Kate, but when you and Matthew get together, terrible things happen, like Fool’s Gold, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and I suspect, at least two of the Zodiac Killings!) The Lincoln Lawyer is a relatively smart film that does many things fairly well, even if only slightly reaching beyond pretty good.

Premise: A fast-talking attorney conducts business from his Lincoln town car and stumbles on a high-profile client only to realize he has been brought into a dangerous game. Result: A complex and enjoyable film that is worth watching before it fades from memory.

Director Brad Furman quickly builds audience interest in this film by unleashing his most powerful weapon: the fast-talking, highly engaging lawyer Mick Haller played by a Matthew McConaughey that is light-years away from the hookah and drums that have so decorated his off screen life.  Here, McConaughey slithers from scene to scene, navigating through a life as a defense attorney set on defending a cavalcade of flamboyant criminals from prostitutes to biker-drug dealers to rapists.  However, despite his unsavory clientele, a very noticeable point of contention between himself and his ex-wife and assistant DA Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei), he manages an endearing, likeable disposition as a loving father and competent attorney.

The film begins with Haller being tipped off to a high-profile client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), by his “man-on-the-inside” Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo.) Roulet has been charged with the brutal assault of a woman but claims his innocence. Haller and his friend and investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) begin to wade through Roulet’s story and the evidence under the watchful gaze of Roulet’s family attorney, Cecil Dobbs (Bob Gunton) and mother, Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher.)

The film can really be viewed in two parts: the story and the trial.  The story component is the typical twist and turn of any legal drama as sure things becomes overly complex and mysterious.  Ultimately, Haller and Levin become convinced Roulet is guilty and in an exhilarating crucible of sudden, intense twists uncover a disturbing truth about Roulet and confronted with an even more disturbing reality: how can you defend a man you know is guilty, and worse still, has manipulated events to make Haller complicit. 

The story becomes compelling as Haller must struggle through this realization as well as personal dangers with which he is confronted, including the murder of Levin as he tries to find evidence against Roulet.  This conflict is heightened as the second stage of the film, the trial, pits Haller against not only Roulet but ruthless ADA Ted Minton (Josh Lucas.)  The true drama, however, never really comes out in the courtroom as Minton appears over-matched at every turn, walking into every trap possible.  While Haller appears to struggle, it’s from his very real battle with Roulet, with Minton a side-nuisance the audience loses interest in quickly.  Fortunately, McConaughey executes his role well-enough to keep our eyes on him as he dances around the prosecution, keeping our disappointment at bay.

The ultimate resolution is this film is bitter-sweet.  While the winding story is exciting and may leave the audience pleased, the scenes suffer from odd pacing problems and ultimately become too rushed.  Additionally, it seems like someone quickly sketched them out on a napkin, even if they did make sense. Nevertheless, there is enough to leave without feeling cheated.

The greatest problem with the film doesn’t rest with the film, however.  Ultimately, The Lincoln Lawyer is a modern-day, poor man’s version of Primal Fear. The films have different premises but there is an unshakeable similarity that hurts Lawyer. While there are times when McConaughey approximates great, he is not Richard Gere; while Ryan Phillippe certainly demands the audience’s contempt as a passable villain, he never comes close to Norton.  Worse still, Lucas’s Minton is pathetic in comparison to Linney’s Janet Venable (an issue more in the writing than in the acting, it could be argued.) And the rest of the cast is strong, but more akin to shadows cast on the walls of a one-man show.

In the end, The Lincoln Lawyer is a magic trick performed by a very good magician.  We all watch, intrigued, amused by what we see before us and at the end we are satisfied with the prestige that the magician has executed.  But, like any magic trick, we leave knowing it was magic, an illusion, only an approximation to the very exhilaration of not quite knowing.  This film is good, entertaining, and relatively well acted.  It does what it needs to execute a complex premise, well enough to leave audiences happy; and audiences will leave entertained, even if they need to be reminded to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Rating: 7 – A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!

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