The Counselor

Things to like about The Counselor:

  1. Cormac McCarthy’s literate script. The master novelist transfers his writing talent to a screenplay.
  2. Ridley Scott’s compelling visuals. Every scene in The Counselor looks good onscreen.
  3. Cameron Diaz’s silver fingernails. Stylish. (as Malkina)
  4. The love scene between The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) and his lady Laura (Penelope Cruz). Tastefully sexy amongst the white sheets.
  5. Brad Pitt in a cowboy hat (as Westray) telling The Counselor that he could be happy living in a monastery. Why doesn’t he? In a word, he says, “women.”
  6. Javier Bardem (as Reiner) telling a very dirty (but funny) story about a Malkina sexual escapade on a Ferrari windshield.
  7. Bruno Ganz (as the Diamond Dealer) triggering memories of the Hitler Reacts videos.
  8. The Counselor’s repeated requests for advice from others. Ironic role reversal.
  9. Ruben Blades back on screen as one of those who counsels The Counselor.
  10.  Rosie Perez back on screen as a prisoner The Counselor is assigned to defend.
  11. The creative method of transporting dope into the U.S. via oil drums hidden inside a tanker truck’s tank.
  12. Dean Norris back on screen as one involved in the drug trade. Ironic role reversal for Breaking Bad DEA agent Hank.
  13. Malkina’s leopards chasing jackrabbits.
  14. The classy look of most of the settings: Reiner’s restaurant, Reiner’s residence, The Counselor’s apartment, the spa where Malkina and Laura visit together.
  15. The gritty look of the garages where the dope is loaded and unloaded.
  16. The Counselor’s discomfited reactions to all the cautionary words he hears.
  17.  McCarthy’s clever use of the word “cautionary.”
  18.  The creative methods of killing people.

The Counselor does lean heavily on dialogue but there is plenty of action to balance it out. The story—a drug deal that doesn’t come off quite as planned with money missing—is standard stuff.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Ridley Scott movie or a Cormac McCarthy novel, don’t miss The Counselor.

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Captain Phillips

I agree with the blurb on the TV spots—Captain Phillips IS one of 2013’s best films. Tom Hanks turns in his usual strong portrayal, but it’s the guys who play the Somali pirates who help give the film its realism.

Captain Phillips has the three elements that make a good movie: a compelling story, compelling characters and an interesting way of telling of that story.

Captain Phillips is based on a true story, though some of the actual crew members claim that they didn’t get the love they deserved and blame the real-life Captain Phillips. Also: a movie, even one based on real events, takes liberties with characters, timelines and minor details in its storytelling.

Having issued those disclaimers, I can assure you that Captain Phillips sometimes feels like TV news coverage. (Although, unlike many films based on recent real-life occurrences, we do not see clips of TV news reports of the incident.) With many handheld camera shots, plus scenes filmed in close quarters, Captain Phillips has an air of reality that many similar films do not have.

Phillips (Tom Hanks) is a regular guy from Vermont who happens to have a job as a sea captain. As the film opens, we see him riding to the airport with his wife (Catherine Keener) who sends him off to his next trip. He runs a cargo vessel that has to sail in open waters near Somalia. Hanks has great range as an actor, but playing everyman is his sweet spot.

Admirably, director Paul Greengrass also shares the Somali pirates’ backstory. He shows them gathering on the beach, choosing a team and constructing a longer ladder to enable them to board large vessels. During their takeover of the ship and all that follows, the audience comes to know these guys and their motivations. They are not sympathetic characters, but they are not just a bunch of faceless thugs.

Native Somali Barkhad Abdi (now a U.S. resident) plays Muse, the rail-thin leader of the pirate takeover. His machine gun allows him to display some swagger, but his cool helps him calm dissension within his gang of four. Could this unknown be 2013’s version of Quvenzhané Wallis, last year’s awards season darling?

Although you as a moviegoer know in advance that Phillips made it out alive, as with Titanic and Apollo 13, discovering the outcome is not the reason to see Captain Phillips. It’s the journey that each of the characters takes that keeps the tension building right up to the film’s climax. Also, it’s rather cool to see the way U.S. military involvement in the event is depicted.

Sometimes a big star promotes a movie with maximum gusto to generate a decent opening weekend, before ticket buyers figure out that it is not a very good movie. Hanks has been flogging Captain Phillips like crazy in recent weeks. In this case, it is not to salvage a mediocre film but to generate long-term box office. The guess here is that Captain Phillips will have “legs” and that Tom Hanks is in line to get a large percentage of those ticket sales.

In mid-summer, I had only a couple of films on my 2013 “must see” list. Happily, the list has grown in recent weeks. My latest “must see” movie is Captain Phillips.

 

 

Gravity

And you thought George Clooney was up in the air in 2009!

How good is Gravity? It’s pretty darn good, but it falls way short of greatness. Still, it’s a movie to see because (1) it’s a complete, competent movie with only two onscreen actors and (2) it has some spectacular images.

Is every special effect awesome? No, a few are fakey, obviously done with miniatures. But many do look terrific.

The title has two meanings here. Gravity is the force that pulls us to the earth. And gravity describes a tense, serious life situation.

George Clooney, as astronaut Matt Kowalski, defies gravity—both kinds. As a veteran of the space program, he has escaped earth’s gravity numerous times. And in a time of looming danger, he wants to tell stories of a trip to Mardi Gras in the 80’s and flirt with space chum Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock).

Astronauts (especially those from the Right Stuff era) are a different breed but Kowalski seems more like a typical earthbound Clooney charmer than a NASA space cowboy. His almost flip attitude is balanced by his deep fascination with the views he sees, even after many trips to the sky.

Stone, on the other hand, is all business. She’s an engineer and has a stoic, let’s-stick-to-the-task disposition.

Their spacewalk is interrupted by orbiting space debris. The flying flotsam wreaks significant havoc on its first go-around. The experienced Kowalski points out that the next orbit of space junk could be worse.

Interestingly, when Stone takes refuge inside a space station, the first thing she does is strip down to her shorts and t-shirt. Sure, it’s less bulky than a spacesuit, but it also serves to add a bit of sex appeal when she “swims” weightlessly through the facility. This setting renders a memorable shot when the camera backfocuses on a floating tear.

Gravity is essentially a story of survival, one where human instincts merge with technical knowledge and skill. To be sure, we haven’t seen this many narrow escapes since Indy Jones hung up his fedora. But the intensity starts early and keeps going to the end. Enjoy the ride!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enough Said

Here is an excellent movie for grownups. Two extremely likeable characters fall in love in a movie that has a message for all couples.

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced woman who goes to a party at the urging of her unhappily married friend Sarah (Toni Collette). At the party, Eva meets Albert (James Gandolfini), a divorced man. Eva also meets Marianne (Catherine Keener) who becomes a massage client and, in short order, a friend and confidante.

Albert and Eva go out on a date. Neither expects anything special, but they enjoy each other’s company and soon are sleeping over. They have one big thing in common: both have daughters who are about to finish high school and go away to college. This circumstance requires that they interact with their exes.

The message for couples in Enough Said is not to let little things become deal breakers. Those of us who’ve been married for a while know that both partners have to tolerate their mates’ imperfections. For instance, dirty underwear left on the bedroom floor may be an annoyance but not grounds for divorce. On the other hand, when one partner is aware of his/her annoying behavior and makes zero effort to change, that can be a problem.

Eva has scenes with Sarah and her husband Will (Ben Falcone). They nitpick and bicker but manage to stay together.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is totally charming as Eva. She frequently flashes the great smile that her often snarky Elaine (on Seinfeld) shared minimally or, often, sarcastically.

James Gandolfini is just a big, sweet teddy bear as Albert. I had a melancholy feeling watching Enough Said because I knew that it was one of his last roles before his sudden death last June. His performances during the past year in Zero Dark Thirty, Not Fade Away and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone showed promise of a hugely successful post-Sopranos film career. Sadly, that will not happen.

Let me offer a huge hat tip to the woman who wrote and directed Enough Said, Nicole Holofcener. Her dialogue is clever, funny and believable. Her directing is efficient and never overbearing. Honestly, the only thing I dislike about Enough Said is its rather generic title.

If you’re looking for a movie for grownups without violence and peril, escape to the movie house to check out Enough Said.