Film Review: Win Win (dir. by Thomas McCarthy)

When I watched the pilot episode of Game Of Thrones, I got very excited when I saw that Thomas McCarthy was credited as the director.  Now, McCarthy isn’t a household name but chances are, you’ve seen him.  He played the plagiarist journalist in the final season of The Wire.  He was John Cusack’s romantic rival in 2012.  He was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing the Pixar film Up.  However, McCarthy has received most of his critical acclaim as the director of low-key, character dramas like The Station Agent and The Visitor.  I have to admit that I was shocked to see McCarthy’s name linked to Game of Thrones because, with the exception of Peter Dinklage, it appeared to have nothing in common with his previous films.  Well, turns out that I wasn’t the only one who thought that because apparently, despite McCarthy being credited as the director, the majority of the pilot was actually reshot (quite well) by Tim Van Patten.

So, you might not be seeing Thomas McCarthy’s work on television but fortunately, you can still catch it in the movie theaters.  McCarthy’s latest film is a surprisingly poignant comedy called Win Win.

InWin Win, Mike (played by Paul Giamatti) is an attorney who works and lives in small New Jersey town.  Mike is married to Jackie (Amy Ryan), owns a big house, helps to coach the high school’s mediocre wrestling team, and can’t pay his bills.  Rather than let his family know that he’s on the verge of going broke, Mike instead becomes the legal guardian of one of his clients, the increasingly senile Leo (Burt Young).  In return to acting as Leo’s guardian, Mike receives a payment.  He also promises to take care of Leo so that Leo doesn’t have to enter a nursing home.  However, since Mike is played by Paul Giamatti, it doesn’t come as much of a shock that Mike promptly moves Leo out of his home and into the nursing home.  Leo, however, is too senile to understand that he’s being taken advantage of and all of Mike’s second thoughts disappear as soon as he gets the first check.

However, things get complicated once Leo’s delinquent grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up looking for his grandfather.  Mike takes Kyle to see Leo and soon finds out that Kyle’s mother (and Leo’s daughter) Jill (Melanie Lynesky) is currently in drug rehab and Kyle has nowhere to go.  Reluctantly, he and Jackie agree to allow Kyle to stay with their family until his mother gets out of rehab.

While Kyle, at first, seems to just be an inarticulate drop out, he quickly reveals to himself to actually be a very intelligent (if very angry) young man.  Even better, from Mike’s point-of-view, Kyle is a former wrestling champion.  Mike arranges for Kyle to enroll in the local high school and join the wrestling team.  With Kyle now on the team, they actually start to win matches.  Suddenly, everything is starting to look up for Mike.  He’s a town hero, Jackie starts to bond with Kyle, and Leo remains unaware of how Mike is taking advantage of him.

And then, Kyle’s mom shows up and everything pretty much goes to Hell.

Win Win is the latest entry in the genre of film known as Paul Giamatti Has A MidLife Crisis.  The fact that the film remains interesting despite being the thousandth time that we’ve seen Giamatti have a midlife crisis is a tribute to both McCarthy’s intelligent script and Giamatti’s excellent lead performance.  Giamatti could play these roles in his sleep and the fact that he doesn’t is what makes him such a consistently interesting character actor.  Giamatti gets strong support from Shaffer and especially Ryan.  However, my favorite performance in the film came from Bobby Cannavale, who plays Giamatti’s loyal if somewhat dull-witted best friend.  Cannavale shows that you can give a very smart performance playing dumb and hopefully, his performance here well lead to greater things for him.

Now, I have to admit — I know nothing about wrestling.  Actually, I know less than nothing about wrestling.  And, to be honest, I really don’t care if I ever know anything about it.  Yet this film, which centered around wrestling, held my attention because McCarthy, as a director, uses the wrestling story to portray something universal.  His direction here is never flashy nor is it technically perfect.  (To be honest, I counted three appearances by the boom mic.)  McCarthy isn’t a polished director but that lack of polish works to this film’s advantage.  He may not have been the right director for Game of Thrones but he was obviously just what Win Win needed.

Song of the Day: Still Alive from Portal (by Jonathan Coulton and Ellen McClain)

The latest “song of the day” comes in just in time to show that my major bout with the cold/flu last week and this weekend hasn’t taken me out. It’s also a proper choice with the release of Portal 2, Valve’s sequel to their very popular puzzle-shooter Portal. What better way to send me off to Anime Boston this weekend but with the very geeky and otaku anthem of “Still Alive”.

“Still Alive” is the end credits song which plays once the player has completed Portal. The voice who sings the song (written by songwriter Jonathan Coulton) is one Ellen McClain and she is suppose to be the AI-computer GLaDOS lamenting the player’s success and escape. The song became as big of a hit with gamers as the game it was part of. Pretty much a whole cottage industry of all things geek-culture sprung up around this song. Shirts were made, youtube videos of varying quality using the song were uploaded and comic book, gaming and anime convention goers worldwide adopted the song as their unofficial anthem.

The song is pretty cute and catchy. The way the lyrics were sung with such sweetness by singer Ellen McClain makes it such a happy ditty. But when stepping back from singing along one really has to look at the lyrics and see how dark and twisted “Still Alive” truly was and still is. And on that note, catch you allafter Anime Boston.

Still Alive

This was a triumph
I’m making a note here
It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction
Aperture Science

we do what we must because we can
for the good of all of us except for the ones who are dead
but there’s no sense crying over every mistake
you just keep on trying until you run out of cake
and the science gets done and you make a neat gun
for the people who are still alive

I’m not even angry
I’m being so sincere right now
even though you broke my heart and killed me
and torn into pieces
and threw every piece into a fire
as they burned it hurt because I was so happy for you!
Now these points of data make a wonderful line
and we’re out of beta, we’re releasing on time
so I’m glad I got burned
Think of all the things we learned for the people that are still alive

go ahead and leave me
I think I prefer to stay inside
maybe you’ll find someone else to help you
maybe black mesa
that was a joke, haha, fat chance
anyway this cake is great, it’s so delicious and moist
look at me still talking, when there’s science to do
when I look out there it makes me glad I’m not you
I’ve experiments to run, there is research to be done
on the people who are still alive

and believe me I am still alive
I’m doing science and I’m still alive
I feel FANTASTIC and I’m still alive
While you are dying I’ll be still alive
and when you’re dead I’ll be still alive
STILL ALIVE, still alive…

RIP: Tim Hetherington

Today the film and journalist community has lost one of its bravest brothers as news reports have confirmed the death of Tim Hetherington. Mr Hetherington was an acclaimed British conflict photojournalist and co-director of the wartime documentary Restrepo which was nominated by the Academy for a Best Documentary in this past Academy Awards ceremony.

Mr. Hetherington was in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata when he suffered wounds from an RPG attack on April 20, 2011 that he would soon die from. Three other photojournalists working side-by-side with Mr. Hetherington were also  wounded with two of the photographers in severe to grave conditions (Chris Hondros and Guy Martin). The third photographer, Michael Christopher Brown, suffered non-life threatening injuries during the attack.

The loss of Mr. Hetherington is a blow to the documentary community and to the community of photojournalists who has taken it upon themselves to report and record the conflicts going around the world. Mr. Hetherington’s work on bringing to light the day-to-day life of American soldiers fighting in one of the most dangerous combat zones in the world with Restrepo has earned him accolades from colleagues and has earned him friends with the very subjects he chose to cover.

It is a sad day indeed this April 20, 2011. Tim Hetherington has been taken too early and his name and legacy will live on through his past work and the lives he helped cover and change through work he loved to do best.

EDIT: News has now come down that fellow photojournalist Chris Hondros has also died from wounds suffered during the same attack which took the life of war correspondent and docu-filmmaker Tim Hetherington.

Source: New York Times