Reviews, Reports + Comments

Friday, March 4, 2011

Review of film: “WIN WIN” + Q&A with Director TOM McCARTHY

2011, 03-02:

Review of film:  WIN WIN  + Q&A with Director TOM McCARTHY




                           VICTORIES Don’t always come EASILY

The “tag line” of this film is, “In the game of life, you can’t LOSE them ALL…”  That’s doesn’t show any super “confidence”--  but it’s probably accurate in today’s times, when even LAWYERS have been affected by the downturn in the economy…

…  Mike Flaherty (PAUL GIAMATTI) is one of those lawyers.  He lives in a small New Jersey town named New Providence, and this period has gotten increasingly tough for him.  His office is in a bad state of disrepair, & their heating unit has given “threatening” signs of imminent future problems…  

…  He very much does not want his WIFE Jackie (AMY RYAN) to know the extent of his problems, or even of the stresses (such as declining health) he’s under…   About the only current work he has is representing a once well-to-do client named Leo Poplar (BURT YOUNG from the “ROCKY” films) who’s starting to suffer from dementia



…  The subject comes up of who to arrange as the ”GUARDIAN” for Burt & his estate (since Paul’s been unable to reach Burt’s daughter from whom he’s been estranged for 20 or so years).  As the Guardian will get paid a monthly stipend (seemingly from the State), the idea suddenly comes to Paul to propose HIMSELF for that position…

…  That’d provide much-needed extra money to Paul--  but it’s important to him to keep the “source” of the money SECRET from AMY & their two young daughters…  Part of that is keeping it hidden how  he’s moved Burt into an ASSISTED-LIVING / Nursing home rather than hire someone to care for him in Burt’s own home as he’d wanted…




…  One day, when Paul visit’s Burt’s recently-emptied house, there’s a boy with bleached-blonde hair sitting on the stoop in front of it.  When Paul asks the kid who he is & why he’s there, he’s told his name is Kyle Timmons (ALEX SHAFFER) & he’s Burt’s GRANDSON!...

…  Paul takes Alex to visit Burt, who says he doesn’t HAVE any grandson.  Alex reveals that he’s 16 years old & the son of his daughter back in Ohio who Burt hasn’t seen in decades & who’s in a hospital, which is why he’s come to stay with Burt.  (There’s no word on where Alex’s own dad is)…

…  Burt –clearly suffering from some dementia confusion -- is quite friendly to not-very-talkative Alex, & says he’d prefer being IN his own house where Alex came to stay, but he’s not allowed to be there… 

…  Without revealing everything to wife Amy, Paul proposes that Alex stay with THEM for a week or so while he tries to reach Burt’s daughter, which she reluctantly agrees to…



…  At one point, Alex decides to go BACK to Columbus...  But, he soon returns, with a black eye, which he tells Paul & Amy was caused by his Mom's boyfriend there who's now left his Mom since she's not around...
…  Paul has much trouble TRACKING DOWN Alex’s mom Cindy (MELANIE LYNSKEY), & is distressed to learn she’s in a DRUG-rehab program with an indefinite date of “recovery”… 

…  Amy is not “thrilled” at the idea of a longer period caring for someone they barely know…  But, since Alex has shown himself to be polite and thoughtful (including in the way he treats & plays with their little girls), she ACCEPTS his continued presence there for the time being…

…  In some ways, Alex might seem a bit “strange”--  but he’s mainly just a “QUIET” teenage kid, who keeps things to “himself” unless he gets in the “mood” to talk about some certain subjects (such as his own past life)… 

…  He’s also clearly CONSIDERATE (such as regularly visiting Burt in the Home) & also helpful, wanting to assist Amy in getting groceries--  & even asks to get a favorite cereal that Burt particularly likes… 



…  At one point, Alex asks if he can “watch” as Paul “volunteers” as a coach of the town’s high school WRESTLING team, the “Pioneers”…  The team has a long “history”--  for consistently LOSING their matches, although Paul & his assistant coach Vigman (JEFFREY TAMBOR) do the best they can with the 12 or so kids on the team…

…  To Alex’s asking if he might participate in some of the work-outs, Paul feels that’d be OK--  especially since Alex says yes, he’s DONEsome wrestling in the past…  When he works out, Paul sees Alex is VERY GOOD at the sport…




…  Paul’s best friend, Terry Delfino (BOBBY CANNAVALE), needs something to keep him “busy”, since he’s very upset over his recent divorce.  When he watches Alex practice, he also is amazed at how talented he is--  & “looks him up” on the INTERNET, learning that Alex had once been an award-winning athlete back in Ohio… 



…  Bobby becomes extremely “GUNG-HO” in having Alex join the TEAM (after Paul works to get him enrolled in the high school), & Paul has to keep trying to “restrain” Bobby’s enthusiasm…  Alex has an unusually good WORK-ethic, taking it upon himself to do things to help his training…

                              

…  Rather than make fun of any of the other under-achieving team members, Alex quietly works to encourage & help THEM in the sport.  He becomes a good friend to their least-talented team member, Stemler (DAVID W. THOMPSON) --  a tall, gangly, uncoordinated kid who he sincerely likes as a person, partly because of their mutual interest in playing VIDEO games…

                                 

…  Thanks to Alex’s presence, all the team members start to IMPROVE in their wrestling, to the point that they get along GREAT with each other & start doing really WELL in their meets... 


…  Paul & Amy grow increasingly FOND of Alex, & enjoy having him around (even if he never does initiate much in the way of verbal communications most of the time)… 

…  Alex & the wrestlers continue to gain an increasing amount of NOTORIETY in the town, especially as the team has a chance of going “ALL THE WAY” championship-wise in the area… 




…  Into that unusually “comfortable” mix, a walking “WRENCH” arrives--  in the form of the unexpected appearance of Alex’s mom MELANIE (whom Alex has long been on the “OUTS” with)…  And, we soon learn that she’s gotten in contact with a woman lawyer named Shelley (MARGO MARTINDALE)…


…  Will Melanie’s arrival turn out to HELP Alex in his wrestling, or hurt him?...   Is Melanie in town to try to “GET” something from Burt or Paul?...  Will Amy find out about Paul’s “SECRETS” from her?...  How will things “END-UP” for all the major characters?...


…  This is an UNUSUAL movie--  both in the way Paul Giamatti has a basically “CONTENTED” family life, & how you have a satisfying sports-related film WITHOUT the usual “PAT” type endings to the various plot lines…

…  The acting is both “controlled” & CREDIBLE, by both the old & “new” actors, the story is a fine one (showing how people can move forward even without moral “perfection” inherent), & it ended with my hoping there’d be a “CONTINUATION” of elements of the story (a/k/a some sequel)…

…  Thus, I’m rating this enjoyable entertainment at 8.50 out of 10 stars…


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                                Q&A with Director TOM McCARTHY



…  After the advance screening, there was an interesting Q&A held with the film’s writer – director TOM McCARTHY

…  Host “CAPONEof AICN.com pointed out how Tom [who’s done a bunch of acting] had previously written THE STATION AGENT[2003] & THE VISITORin 2007 [plus the story of Disney’s UPin 2009]…

…  Capone pointed out how this was a very unusual role for PAUL GIAMATTI--  in that he isn’t usually involved in a role where he has a HAPPY family life!...  Tom agreed…


…  Capone commented he’d heard that Tom had developed the characters for this movie before he’d developed the full STORY.  Tom said, that’s TRUE, & “I don’t usually DO it like that!”…  He added that, “I’m not as plot-directed as some directors… ”

…  Tom kidded that, having seen  Mickey Rourke’s starring movie role, he felt America was “ready”   for another WRESTLER movie!...  He himself had once done wrestling, but he wasn’t very GOOD


…  Tom had once known another wrestler named Joe who’d never written anything about his life in the sport.  He TALKED a lot to him & sort of “cherry-picked” thru elements of Joe’s life to get IDEAS for “WIN WIN”…

…  The decision was made to center the film around a 16-year-old kid who didn’t talk very much.  They had to do a big SEARCH, trying to FIND someone they felt would be “right” for the role.  Fairly quickly, they decided it’d be far easier to find a real WRESTLER who could act, rather than find an actor they could teach wrestling to...

…  They called in wrestlers from the Tri-State (NJ-NY-CT) area who were generally under 5’5” in height [so they’d look to be the right age], & met a bunch of pure “jocks” who they felt simply weren’t “right” [as the guy’s supposed to be “unassuming”]…


…  Then, one day, ALEX [SHAFFER] chanced to walk in.  He came in looking just as you see him--  with the bleached-blonde hair.  It turns out that his whole TEAM in New Jersey had decided to affect that look, & all simply used plain BLEACH  to color their hair--  which his hair expert later told him was a very bad idea (because it’s overly strong]…


…  Anyway, Alex “had this really ‘weird’ quality” about him.  They him come back like 7 or 8 times to try out for the role, & eventually felt he’d be PERFECT for what they wanted to get “across” with him…

                                                 

…  His gangly friend “Stemler” in the movie (played by DAVID W. THOMPSON) was hired sort of immediately for his role, & strangely enough, he & Alex actually became really GOOD FRIENDS, just as they are in the movie!  So, that even “added” to the overall feeling in the film…


…  Alex is an excellent wrestler, so they didn’t have to teach him  ANYTHING in that regard, just about acting.  In fact, 2 weeks after finishing the film, Alex competed in New Jersey’s State championships at 119 pounds, & WON in his weight class!... 


…  Capone asked about some of the other acting roles.  Tom said, he loves using the woman who played the female lawyer (MARGO MARTINDALE), he said, he’s so familiar with her consistently-excellent work, she was hired with NO audition needed… 

…  Tom commented, “I’m an actor.  I LOVE actors!..  She’s a ‘Broad’!  She doesn’t take ‘crap’ from anybody!”, & she’s a delight to work with…  She & Paul have been known for years, & they get along great…

…  Capone commented about the characters that, “I want to know where they go from HERE!”, say in 5 years or so.  “I BELIEVE these are [real] people!”…  To that, Tom said, well, maybe there’ll be a “WIN WIN WINin the future!...

…  To some audience member’s question, Tom spoke of how he worked with a LAWYER friend, who helped with setting-up things to make Paul’s lawyer character Mike’s “transgressions” CLEAR to the audience.  Tho, since his friend talks like a lawyer, he had to sort of “translate” that into things the public could more easily “accept”!...

…  Capone said, he particularly likes the scenes when people (the characters) “THRASH things out” concerning their problems in the film, since it seems real…  He liked how you could “see” how AMY’s character “was so DISAPPOINTEDwith how Paul had kept “secrets” from her!...


…  Tom commented, “A lot of people who put us in economic PROBLEMS are people who [simply] made BAD choices”, rather than being bad PEOPLE who wanted to put us in such troubles…  He said, he used elements of the ENRON situation as a sort of a “termplate” for various problems dealt with in the movie:

…  Tom related how, he’d actually attended a High School called New Providence (like in the movie), & he went back to it at one point.  He saw that he himself was listed on their “Roll of HONOR”, which was simply a small area in a sort of bulletin board…

…  Also on there with him was a guy named Andrew Fastow who was the CFO at ENRON & who’d been sentenced to 6 years of prison time!  So, you were “honored” simply for being FAMOUS, not necessarily for doing anything “good”!   In other words, “As long as he’s getting ‘INK’—” publicity-wise, “that’s all the school cared about”--  which was sort of “WAKEUP” call to him!…

…  Anyway, he’d known Fastow, & his family was really NICE…  So, he began to see that it was one person making bad CHOICES rather than being from a bad “family” that was the problem--  & he tried to use that idea in what he has PAUL “do” concerning Burt in the movie…

…  At one point, an audience member asked about BOBBY CANNAVALE.  Tom said, he’s known him a long time, & he likes putting him in ALL his movies…  Right now, Bobby’s doing a lot of work on Broadway (in plays), &, “We’re very OLD & GOOD FRIENDS…”


…  My friend ED B. asked Tom a few questions.  Tom replied that, no, they didn’t use sound stages much, preferring to shoot on location around Long Island to take advantage of the tax credits offered by the State…  Altho “springtime” shows up at the end of the film,  they really started shooting in that season, using the hundreds of dollars” they’d had for their filming…         

…  Tom spoke more about how all the kids you see doing WRESTLING are REAL wrestlers, & “They were GREAT!”, very cooperative & helpful…  They didn’t have to do much “choreography” work in the wrestling scenes, since the guys “KNEW” what to do overall [& just needed to be told what was wanted for the scene], & so they set up their 2 or so cameras & shot what the kids provided…


…  As to the “crowd” scenes watching the wrestling, they just brought in people from the area [some seemingly being relatives or friends of the wrestlers]:  “The crowd was really ‘IN’ it [as to what was going on action-wise]…  It really helped—” in getting the ”mood” they wanted for the film…

…  They started filming around March 1st  & first did the “exterior” shots, having gotten a very helpful line producer who knew the good areas, etc…     

…  An audience member commented that, he was surprised & pleased at how the film was “a big laugh-out-loudtype, which is a feeling he hadn’t gotten (expected) from the trailers.  Tom was glad to hear that, tho it was hard to tell how it’d be received in front of maybe “1200” people at the Sundance Festival where it was initially shown…

…  Tom said, he “wanted the audience to stay ‘connected’—” to the characters in the story.  To him, one of the most exciting thing for him is traveling around & SHOWING the film to various audiences around the country… 

…  When asked where the idea came for having Paul follow Alex’s request to “slap” him to get him to “focus” on the match, Tom said (as I recall) that he got it from a BROTHER of the character coach Vig (Jeffrey Tambor) was based on.  It was done to help get him Alex more “engaged in the game”…

…  Tom also spoke of how one guy had said, maybe he should put a banner on the ceiling saying to the wrestlers that, “If you can READ this, you’ve been ‘TURNED’ [by your opponent]!”…

…  Tom commented on how Alex was helpful in clueing them in as to how young kids DO things nowadays, to try to make certain scenes better…

…  Alex was called back to do some “ADR” sound work after the main acting work was done, & when Tom told him he wanted him to do a bunch of “grunting” to add to the soundtrack during his wrestling efforts, Alex pointed out that, “Wrestlers DON’T really MAKE noise—” when competing, which Tom realized is correct!..

…  Tom was very PLEASED with the work done by Alex:  “He’s a funny, funny, funny kid!...”

…  When asked, Tom said no, Paul’s role was not written with Paul specifically in MIND for it.  But, “Paul makes the role look so ‘easy’—”, & he was very happy that Paul turned out to be AVAILABLE for it, since he’s known him for like 20 years & it’s great to work with him…


…  Tom kind of “heard Paul’s ‘voice’—” in some of the dialog, sent the script to him--  & Paul HIMSELF commented on how “unusual” the role was for Paul in that his character “is content with his life”…  But, Paul said, “Yeah, I totally WANT to DO this!  The guy is totally f----- HAPPY!”…   

…  To a question asked by an audience member, Tom said no, he was not in any way tempted to use BURT YOUNG in any “training” scenes [ala “ROCKY”], since “Burt served a different purpose— [in the film]…  What a TERRIFIC actor!...” 


…  Tom spoke of how Burt at times would do the same scene in different ways, which was always interesting.  But, when he felt he’d gotten it “right”, Burt wanted to STOP, & if asked to do he scene still another time, he’d at times say straightforwardly, NAH—I’m done!… You’re kind of a pain-in-the-ass!...”

…  The theater person said, they’d have to stop the Q&A as they needed to set up to show another film…  Capone THANKED Tom for his attendance…

…  In the hallway, I myself spoke to Tom, commenting on how I’d ENJOYED his film, for which he thanked me as I prepared to shoot a couple more photos of him (with his persmission)...


…  I said, one thing I wondered was, did wrestler ALEX (who’d never acted before) decide after the film that he’d like to do more ACTING?!  A woman nearby said, ah, that was just the thing she’d wanted to ask also! ...


…  Tom said, “Actually, YES [he DOES want to act more]!…  [As his character says in the film], he’s ‘FULL ON'!  He’s got the ‘BUG’!...”  I said, I think that’s great actually (since he was so very good in the role) , & thanked him again…         


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