- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Releases

Win Win

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


Actor, screenwriter and director Thomas McCarthy has built a solid reputation as a talented storyteller in the past decade, thanks to the small and touching films he has made on shoestring budgets.

“The Station Agent” brought together three people of unusual backgrounds in a small town and showed how the power of friendship magnified and deepened the bonds among them while minimizing their differences.

Mr. McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated drama “The Visitor” looked at how the life of a widowed college professor (best actor nominee Richard Jenkins) is re-energized when he discovers a young couple, a musician and an artist who are both illegal immigrants, living in the apartment the professor thought he had closed when he left New York City.

Early this year, Mr. McCarthy, who also had a major supporting role in the acclaimed HBO series “The Wire,” released his latest film, “Win Win.” In a spring movie season that was fairly full of forgettable efforts, this scrappy little film lived up to its name. It’s now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Paul Giamatti (“Sideways,” “Barney’s Version”) stars as Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer and volunteer high school wrestling coach with a growing family to care for. Through a series of ethically questionable actions, Mike becomes the guardian of an elderly man named Leo (Burt Young of the “Rocky” films).

It turns out that Leo’s grandson, Kyle, is a talented wrestler, so Mike brings him onto his team. Just when it appears everyone, especially Mike, is about to have their faith and trust in one another rewarded, along comes Kyle’s mother, broke, just out of drug rehab and threatening to wreck everything.

Mr. Giamatti brings his remarkable skill for making the lives and times of ordinary people quite fascinating. His Mike is not a bad person, per se, but a guy trying to do the right thing who stumbles over his desire to make things better for his family. Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”) is excellent as Mr. Giamatti’s loving, but realistic, wife. She sees what he’s trying to do and be, but she never holds back when something needs to be said.

In addition to the fine work by the veteran members of the cast, newcomer Alex Shaffer delivers an impressive performance as Kyle. His character, as written by Mr. McCarthy, has a number of layers, and Mr. Shaffer manages to explore them successfully.

As usual, Mr. McCarthy’s screenplay and direction are absorbing and telling without seeming too sentimental or sensational. The story and characters unfold naturally.

Extras on the Blu-ray edition of “Win Win” include commentary from Mr. McCarthy, deleted scenes, a conversation between Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Giamatti, and a music video for the song “Think You Can Wait.”

This is a movie you shouldn’t wait to see - rent it now.

MPAA rating: R for profanity.


Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Ever wonder just how much money product placement can put into a movie before it ever sells a ticket? That’s the idea filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) explored in his latest documentary.

Mr. Spurlock visited all sorts and sizes of corporations, asking whether they would “sponsor” or contribute to the cost of making his film. Some were wary, having seen the way some fast-food habitues responded to “Super Size Me” (and, yes, Mr. Spurlock did include McDonald’s among the companies he approached).

Mr. Spurlock retained the slightly offbeat sense of humor that has illuminated his previous films, moving back and forth between the pitch meetings - in which he makes it clear he is willing to sell as much editorial control as a sponsor wants, depending on how much cash they will give - to conscience-stricken conversations with the likes of Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky and “Rush Hour” series director Brett Ratner.

Though Mr. Spurlock’s style is amusing, you do end up wondering exactly what his point is. After all, much of what he reveals here is already well-known - most people can spot obvious product placement from miles away.

Extras on the Blu-ray version of the film include deleted scenes, a music video and a character chart during the closing credits.

All in all, “Greatest Movie” won’t necessarily make you a smarter movie viewer, but it will amuse a bit before you buy that next overpriced ticket.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for profanity and some sexually related material.

Joe Barber is the entertainment editor for WTOP-FM and a critic-panelist for WETA-TV’s “Around Town.”

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