★★★ / ★★★★
Inspired by a true story, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), a hardworking bartender who had to support two teenage boys, decided to put herself through law school so she could get her brother, Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell), out jail for being wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983. Written by Pamela Gray and Tony Goldwyn, the film immediately established why, aside from the fact that they shared the same bloodline, Betty Anne would go to great lengths, even as to sacrifice her entire life and family, to free Kenny. Although it focused on their childhood, it was done with brisk pace and the techniques employed were not melodramatic. I could imagine kids from a broken home being separated to be raised by different foster parents respond in the same way they did. Swank had a challenging role. She had to balance being tougher than a leather Prada bag yet still remain sensitive so we could understand that her decisions of sometimes putting her family aside for the sake of her brother really did took a toll on her. Failing to reach that critical balance while making it look easy could have made Betty Anne look more like a caricature than a real person. Despite some formulaic elements, like scenes in the courtroom designed to make us feel that the murder was an open-and-shut case, the film was spearheaded by Swank’s nuanced acting. The way she held back her character emotionally was equally powerful as the explosive celebrations–like when we learned that she passed her bar examination and, along with the friend she met in law school named Abra Rice (Minnie Driver), when she found DNA evidence that could potentially exonerate Kenny of the crime. The picture was exciting for me because I never followed nor heard about the Waters case. Despite the DNA evidence, there was possibility that Kenny really did commit the murder. There was a feeling that maybe Betty Anne’s quest of more than sixteen years would not result to Kenny’s freedom. I wish the film took a moment to acknowledge that DNA evidence was not an easy solution: It could be tampered with while in storage and scientists were capable of human error. Such instances were not unheard-of. The filmmakers were smart in deciding not to inject too much humanity in Rockwell’s character for the sake of mystery. While there was a small evolution in his character, we were never certain whether or not he committed the crime. What mattered most was Betty Anne’s determination to fix what she thought was a crime in the justice system. Another fascinating character was a corrupt cop played by Melissa Leo. The one scene that Leo and Swank shared had deep tension that could scar. It look forward to seeing them star in the same film in the future. “Conviction” left some unanswered questions such as how Betty Anne was able to support her two boys with a bar-tending job while putting herself through law school and still living in a nice house. Her ex-husband might have supported or perhaps she took out a loan. Were her adoptive parents wealthy? It wasn’t clear. Regardless, the film had an inspiring story supported by the filmmakers’ defined vision and strong acting from the cast.
Something Borrowed (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) had been in love with Dex (Colin Egglesfield) ever since they met in law school. Rachel, recently turned thirty, successful in her career but still the same insecure girl she once was, was broken up about the fact that her best friend since childhood, Darcy (Kate Hudson), was about to be married to Dex. While on the way home from her birthday celebration, Dex leaned in to kiss Rachel. It turned out he wanted her all along. “Something Borrowed,” directed by Luke Greenfield, offered thinly established and ultimately annoying characters so following them, especially Rachel, in their journey to self-realizations was like pulling teeth. A lot of teeth. The screenplay by Jennie Snyder was a mess. While the material was based on Emily Giffin’s novel, the film would have benefited greatly if Snyder took ahold of her creative freedom and altered the circumstances that surrounded the characters. Since what was at stake seemed incredibly shallow, especially for adults thriving in the city, the movie could have ended in less than twenty minutes. Rachel and Darcy were supposed to be BFFs since they were kids. Yet I found it difficult to believe that Rachel couldn’t pull Darcy aside and say, “Hey, you know the man you’re about to marry? I’ve been in love with him since forever. Just thought you should know before you walk down the aisle.” (They really did talk like that.) I understood that Rachel valued her friendship with Darcy and she was afraid that if she admitted her feelings, the friendship could come to an end. But if she really cared about herself and her friendship with Darcy, she would summon up the courage and just be honest. Darcy would have a right to be upset, maybe even for months. But if she was really the best friend Rachel considered her to be, she would eventually come back. Faith is an important component of friendship and I wasn’t convinced that the filmmakers invested enough time and energy to drive that point across. As a result, Darcy and Rachel’s friendship felt shallow, reduced to moments like the two of them admitting that they were glad they had known each other for so long. Knowing somebody for a long time does not equate to a meaningful relationship. Speaking of meaningful relationships, Ethan (John Krasinski), Rachel’s best guy friend, deserved to have more screen time. Krasinski playing his usual sardonic character worked because I shared the same feelings he did about Rachel’s groan-worthy soap opera of a life. He was the voice of reason. Further, Krasinski would enter a scene and I immediately thought he was funny even if he didn’t say a word. That’s more than I can say about Goodwin and Hudson. I couldn’t believe they actually engaged on a dance-off to make us laugh. It wasn’t as funny as much as it was sad. Early humans primarily used body movements to communicate. These modern gals weren’t any different.
Legally Blonde (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Law school is for people who are boring, ugly, and serious,” claimed one of the characters from the film but Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) begged to differ. Elle, the head of her sorority, could easily be labeled as a dumb blonde because she was used to using her beauty and penchant for saying “like” every other word to get what she wanted. But when her boyfriend (Matthew Davis) broke up with her because he claimed he wanted to start being serious since he got accepted to Harvard Law School, Elle did her best to get into the same school and excel. The picture was pretty much a case that highlighted (in pink) the lesson about not judging a book by its cover and the importance of self-reliance. Although Elle started out as a girl who depended on a guy, I immediately connected with her because of Witherspoon’s sense of fun and wit. It was like she was channeling a valley girl version of Tracy Flick from Alexander Payne’s “Election,” with equal determination minus the desperation. Without Witherspoon’s ability to balance the airhead laughs and genuine intelligence, I think the project would have fallen apart because it would have been one-dimensional. In a nutshell, Witherspoon proved why she was a star and kept the movie afloat despite the predictable supporting characters. For instance, I would have loved to have seen Selma Blair being someone other than an overprotective law student, Victor Garber as a cutthroat lawyer, and Jennifer Coolidge as a soft-spoken manicurist. While they played their roles well, an extra spice was missing because I did not see them evolve in a non-transparent way. “Legally Blonde” could also work as a satire for elitist jerks in educational institutions. In high school, if asked if I could choose between beauty and brains, I would have easily chosen brains. But now that I’ve graduated from a university, I am a bit more hesitant because having a brain does not necessarily equate to having a good heart and therefore having emotional intelligence when it comes to dealing with people. The uptight and snobbish law school students depicted on this movie were not at all dissimilar from some people I met in college. So, in a way, even though I’m not a blonde or an airhead (although I like fashion), I can relate to Elle because she meant well and she tried her best to not be affected by negative energy that surrounded her. I also like to balance and apply my knowledge of pop culture and the other things I’m passionate about in every day conversations. Based on a novel by Amanda Brown and directed by Robert Luketic, “Legally Blonde” is a very enjoyable movie because although it is as light and sweet as cotton candy, it packs a punch.
The Great Buck Howard (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Sean McGinly, “The Great Buck Howard” stars John Malkovich as a magician/mentalist who desperately clings on to the remaining celebrity he has left from his best years of performance. Forced to work on small venues, he one day hires Troy (Colin Hanks), a twentysomething who recently drops out of law school to pursue his dream to be a writer, as Buck Howard’s very own errand boy. I have to be honest and say that I did not expect much from this movie. However, twenty minutes into it, I was really into it because it had a certain insight about the struggles of a person who wishes to break out of the expectations of his parents (in this case, Troy’s dad was played by Colin’s real-life father, Tom Hanks) and follow his true passion. I guess it was easy for me to relate to it because my graduation from the university is just right around the corner. It also had some insight when it comes to satirizing celebrity life. This picture had a plethora of cameos to offer such as Regis Philbin, Conan O’Brien, George Takei, Jon Stuart, and many more. At first I thought Buck was just a washed-up sham who claimed to have known and met all the celebrities he mentioned and that it was only a matter of time until we get to know who he really was. When in fact, the story unfolded in the opposite direction. It had a bona fide sense of humor even though Malkovich’s character was vain and at times quite poisonous with his words. I also enjoyed the romantic angle between Colin Hanks and Emily Blunt. I did not think that the two would have chemistry but, surprisingly enough, they did and the whole thing was magic (pun intended). I also never thought that Colin ever looked like his dad but when Colin and Blunt were on screen, I noticed certain quirky body movements and intonations in Colin’s voice that truly reminded me of his father. In under ninety minutes, this film managed to entertain and surprise me in many ways so I’m giving it a solid recommendation. Lastly, one should not miss Malkovich being brave enough to take his character to the extreme yet not lose heart so that we can ultimately root for him to succeed.
The Firm (1993)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a John Grisham novel, “The Firm” is about a Harvard Law School graduate named Mitch McDeere (played by Tom Cruise) who receives an offer from Bendini, Lambert & Locke with an offer that surpasses other firms’ with benefits that no man in his right mind would refuse. McDeere’s wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn), coming from a rich family, tells her husband that it’s too good to be true but McDeere ignores his wife’s concern, only to find out later on that the firm he works for are tied to organized crime like the Mob. I’m at the borderline whether or not to recommend this film because even though it managed to entertain me more than half of the time, I didn’t find any reason for it to be two hours and thirty minutes long. Though its story is shrewd, it’s not efficient in its way of telling the story. It purposely piles a stack of one complex idea after another to the point where I found myself giving up trying to find out how one thing relates to another and just observe how it would all play out. It’s a shame because this movie had powerful performances, not just from Cruise, but also from Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook and Holly Hunter. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me but I thought there were some unintentionally funny scenes during the last thirty minutes of the picture. Even though what’s being presented on screen is serious, the soundtrack suggests otherwise which was aided by Cruise’ tendency to overact. Maybe Sydney Pollack, the director, wanted to achieve something different but that lack of agreement between images and tone took me out of the experience. I feel like if it had been darker and edgier, I would enjoyed “The Firm” a lot more instead of just giving it a slight recommendation. I was very interested in the story and the way McDeere untangles himself from the trickiest situations but the execution could’ve been stronger.