At The Movies

“Win Win”

Directed by Tom McCarthy
As an actor, Tom McCarthy is one of those people that you probably recognize from multiple movies but might not be able to name off the top of your head. As a writer and director, he’s probably even less well recognized. That’s problematic, as he’s becoming one of the best in the business. He writes small, low-budget films about believable characters, with real-world problems, attempting to cope with life as well as they can. That may not sound too exciting, but they are some of the most compelling stories being told today.

His previous films are “The Station Agent” (2003) and “The Visitor” (2008), the latter being an extraordinary story of one man’s observation of U.S. immigration policy in practice, far closer than he had ever expected to see it. Capitol Weekly interviewed McCarthy about “The Visitor” for the May 15th, 2008 issue.

In “Win Win” the excellent Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a small-town lawyer struggling to keep his practice, his life, and his family’s finances afloat. As with many people, he can’t bring himself to discuss just how deep in trouble he really is and he starts clutching at straws to make ends meet. As with McCarthy’s other films, it’s not a glamorous story, but it’s hard to imagine a story more timely and likely to be widely appreciated.  

In the middle of his own financial crisis, a boy arrives on the doorstep of an elderly client and he finds himself having to cope with this smoking, troubled teen and his apparently absentee mother.

In a neat metaphor, the kid describes his unique perspective of getting himself out of trouble on the wrestling mat, and it’s eerily parallel to Mike’s own recent approach to problem solving. It’s an indicator of how blatant most storytelling has become, and how much more restrained McCarthy is as a writer that one expects to have this parallel hammered home an extra couple of times, yet it never happens.

Interestingly, the young actor who plays Kyle is himself an ex-state champion wrestler with no prior acting credits, who stopped wrestling after breaking his back. It’s a neat and valuable choice to have cast somebody whose wrestling moves seem easy and fluid, perhaps even more so than his acting – and the outcome works, with Kyle coming across as many teens (and adults) do, as somebody who communicates better through actions than words. Meanwhile, Mike is somebody who has communicated professionally through words who is caught out taking actions that speak volumes.

I’d recommend “Win Win” as the out-of-the-house third of a Tom McCarthy marathon.


“Arthur”: This week’s latest questionable remake stars the seemingly ubiquitous Russell Brand in the role made famous by the late, great Dudley Moore. As a standalone movie, it’s somewhat bland, but as a remake it suffers in the comparison with its forebear. That said, it’s not without merit, with the wonderful Helen Mirren in the role that won an Oscar and Golden Globe for John Gielgud, but with less memorable material to work with. Sacramentan Greta Gerwig, who is as delightfully natural as ever, is the love interest who exists largely as a foil to the excesses of the characters around her. I enjoyed those performances, but the original remains a classic.

“Hanna”: There’s a line in “Hanna” in which the title character, who has been groomed to be a grudge-settling killing machine by her ex-spy father, says, “I just missed your heart.” Meanwhile, the movie just missed my interest. It actually has an intriguing premise, but never quite seems to flow smoothly, with peripheral characters who seem a little too carefully intended to be quirky. It may sound like an odd analysis, but despite being an original screenplay and movie, “Hanna” somehow manages to seem like the Hollywood remake of a better European film. I enjoyed it at a modest level, and some of the action is well done, but it could have been so much more.

“Your Highness”: Seems like the poorly raised love child of “Pineapple Express” and “The Princess Bride” – although not up to the standards of either of its more endearing parents. The movie depends entirely upon a series of curse words that rely on their apparent incongruity with the rest of the delivery, and a similarly crude series of sexual references. But there’s relatively little that’s clever in the story itself, about a quest to save a maiden, undertaken by a brave prince (James Franco) and his distinctly less brave brother (Danny McBride) alongside an initially enigmatic and consistently enigmatically-cast lone warrior (Natalie Portman). If you deleted the lines you wouldn’t want a 12-year-old to hear, you wouldn’t simply have a tamer movie, you’d have virtually nothing left at all. Those lines might make you laugh at times, but they’re not very satisfying. Parody is better demonstrated in the recent “Paul.”

“Born to be Wild”: The latest nature-themed IMAX movie is better than most I’ve seen. Rather than introducing us to multiple species, “Born to be Wild” focuses on just two, African elephants and orangutans, in each of two projects that are designed to save orphaned animals and eventually return them to the wild. It also has some of the most amazing 3D effects at a time when the technology is becoming ever more common. Rather than attempt to wow the viewer with objects that suddenly fly towards the screen, several of the best shots bring the foreground so close that one almost feels inside the film. There were a couple of moments when I had to remind myself that the person two rows in front of me was quite safe despite appearing to be a foot under water. This is a short 40 minutes well spent.

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