By Mike Cuthbert
“Get Low” (PG-13) *****
Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is a reclusive, highly anti-social hermit, so it is no surprise that he has a secret. For 40 years he lived in a self-imposed hermitic state in isolated repentance for an act for which he cannot forgive himself. He breaks out of his isolation after seeing a young man, Buddy (Lucas Black), and his family at a church where he has gone to request a funeral service — for himself. Buddy tells his boss, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), about Felix’s odd request and, since Felix is a funeral director who needs the business, he has Buddy approach the old man about handling the details.
It turns out that Felix wants it to be a party, while he’s alive, in which all the guests will tell stories about him — good and bad. He later sweetens the pot by running a raffle, the winner to get his house and 300 acres.
This film is exquisitely lit, sensitively acted and subtle to the point of a shiver. Sissy Spacek, a widow named Mattie who has returned from Illinois to settle in her old home town, is wonderful to watch in her scenes with Duvall, as is Black, who grows more effective as the picture proceeds. From naïf he moves to enraptured friend of the old man, and their relationship warms the latter half of the picture as Frank becomes more calculating and venal.
Add a touching performance by Bill Cobbs as Reverend Charlie, an old friend of Felix’s who knows the truth about him, and effective smaller parts, and the result is an ensemble production of great and gentle power. If you, like we, heard about this film through word of mouth, believe what you’ve heard. It really is that good.
The Town (R) *****
An excellent cast, a gutsy plot, action that seems possible if not always plausible, and outstanding direction by its star make “The Town” one of the best films of the season. As my movie-going partner said, “It was so good I forgot it was a movie.”
Ben Affleck (Doug MacRay) is stupendous as the morally torn captain of a team of bank and armored car robbers from Boston’s most crime-ridden neighborhood, Charlestown. One of his jobs is to try to reign in Jem Coughlan (Jeremy Renner) who once again proves that there is no person alive who demands more of his friends than a convicted felon who’s served his sentence. That he is also a sociopath or worse doesn’t make Doug’s job any easier.
As if Affleck is not deep enough into villainy, he has to deal with Pete Postlethwaite as “Fergie” Colm, the godfather of the team who does most of the planning. Fergie gives Doug ample reason to dispatch him as he brags about getting Doug’s mother hooked on drugs while turning on Doug’s father, putting him in the pen where he is murdered. But Affleck has some banks to rob and some love to fall into in the person of the almost angelic Claire Keesey, played by Rebeccas Hall. Claire was a hostage in a bank heist, and Doug is making the move on her to find out what she knows. It’s clear that the FBI, particularly agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), is exchanging information with her.
Affleck and Hall find a remarkably affable chemistry that makes a caring audience member wish the best for both of them. Alas, it is not to be as Doug agrees to the fatal “one last job.” The movie rushes, under control, to a conclusion that should satisfy even the most fastidious moralist.
This is a truly magnificent fall entry in a shaky season. I might suggest planning a double-header of “Get Low” and “The Town” for a truly memorable adult evening at the cineplex.
“Easy A” (PG-13) ***
As teen movies go, not awful but very strange. Because of her low, husky voice, topped by a teasing little lisp, Emma Stone as Olive sounds both like an adult and a child. Her lines are witty, wise, and very insightful and adult for high school. Her parents, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, almost stock Boomer parents, are on her wavelength, and scenes with just the three of them are marvelous. Then Olive gets back to high school where the lines and situations are adolescent and often inane, and the texture comes apart.
Allison Michalka, has an unsatisfactory turn here as Olive’s alleged BFF, Rhiannon. (Seriously. Why “Rhiannon”?) She is far too interested in her own breasts and her own image to be anybody’s BFF, and one is left wondering why she and Olive were ever friends to begin with. Amanda Bynes, star of other teen flicks, has a stock role here as the head of the local prudish and hypocritical Fundamentalist group, a savage portrayal that should make Fundies angry.
The plot concerns Olive’s attempts to be popular, which fail, so she lies about losing her virginity and is soon rumored to be the school bike. She digs herself deeper and deeper by continuing to lie to help other low-esteem students purchase some esteem with predictably bad results. Oddly enough, nobody, including her English teacher who selected “The Scarlet Letter” for study, recognizes the inappropriate use of the red letter on Olive or the Exodus 20:14 warning against adultery: Olive is not committing adultery, nor has she lost her virginity.
Almost worth the time for Stone’s performance along with Tucci and Clarkson, but maybe not quite. Oh, and the stoic presence of a wonderfully large and huggable dog warms the heart, if not the mind.
Enjoy more of Mike movie reviews at www.towncourier.com.