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Ty's weekend movie picks for Friday, March 18, 2011

Posted by Ty Burr  March 18, 2011 09:28 AM

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godsandmen.jpgI've been away from the weekend tipsheet game for a while, partially because teaching a course on Friday mornings throws a spanner in the works but mostly because the movies have been so genuinely dreadful these past few months. As spring nears, though, so do reasons to go to the movie theater instead of staying home swaddled in Netflix and on-demand. This weekend I'd even venture to say there are some solid-to-excellent films out there, cautiously poking their heads up like crocuses. (Croci? Croquettes?)

Even the bad movies are pretty good. "The Lincoln Lawyer," an old-school Los Angeles crime suspenser based on a Michael Connelly best-seller, keeps you watching on the strength of its supporting cast (William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, Jon Leguizamo) and a star, lazy ol' Matthew McConaughey, who knows how to idle through a movie like this. Does it matter if the filmmaking is barely functional or that the second lead, Ryan Philippe as McConaughey's richie-rich client, is a mopey dud? Not with a story this efficient and with bones this familiar. "Lincoln Lawyer" (named after its rascally hero's conveyance of choice) is very much an airport-novel of a movie, and if that means you'll wait to see it on an airplane, don't let me stop you.

Also looking like cheese but a markedly better movie is "Limitless," which takes its gimmick -- a pill that allows the user to access 100% of his/her brain rather than the urban-legend 20% we're all stuck with -- and runs with it at increasing speed. There's a really smart moral drama about power and addiction to be mined from this premise, and director Neil Burger (who made the great magician melodrama "The Illusionist") isn't interested in making it. Instead, he and screenwriter Leslie Dixon (working from Alan Glynn's 2001 novel "The Dark Fields") toss in more characters, more plot, more speed, more more until the whole things boils enjoyably, preposterously over. Star Bradley Cooper spends the opening scenes behaving in un-Bradley ways before the drugs kick in and he reclaims his mantle as the most amusingly smug bastard in the movies, but I think the real star here may be Burger, who lets the visual style rip in ways that don't overwhelm the busy story. The guy has a masterpiece in him, even if "Limitless" ain't it. Still, it's more fun than the movies are used to having in March.

If that's too low for your brow, there's the excellent "Jane Eyre," an impassioned, intelligent, respectful adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte classic that gives us yet more reasons to like Mia Masikowska and Michael Fassbender. Having seen Cary Fukunaga's first movie, "Sin Nombre," I certainly wasn't expecting him to hit the moors next time out. But he's done an expert job steering "Jane Eyre" away from canned Merchant-Ivoryisms and letting the story bloom at its own cantankerously romantic pace. Like its heroine, the movie seems a drab thing until you notice the fire burning inside.

Another surprise: A fact-based drama about doomed Trappist monks in Algeria that, by its final frames, becomes an intensely moving spiritual experience. "Of Gods and Men" (image up top) has some of the same chilly transcendental vibe as the documentary "Into Great Silence" from a few years back, but the performances by Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale are intellectually and emotionally warming, and the film uses the music from "Swan Lake" to far more profound effect than "Black Swan". Directed by Xavier Beauvois and beautifully photographed by Caroline Champetier, it's a film of such austere benevolence as to make grown men weep. This is not exaggeration.

Not that Darren Aronofsky was seeking greater meaning with "Black Swan." Why bother, when he could give us cheap thrills and win his star an Oscar by remulching Roman Polanski's "Repulsion"? Don't believe me? The original is on view next week as the fitting climax of the Brattle's nifty Catherine Deneuve retrospective. Until then, if you've never seen "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" on a big screen, Saturday night is your chance to experience it in all its wonky Technicolor Michel Legrand-y glory. The theater hosts the annual Chlotrudis awards Sunday night.

More French classics: The Claude Chabrol festival continues at the Harvard Film Archive, with "Le Boucher" ("The Butcher") unspooling on Saturday -- one of the eeriest and best works from the late master of moral suspense. The MFA is in the middle of a Francophone film festival -- movies from French-speaking countries around the world.

We will not speak of "Paul," other than to note that the statute of limitations on Seth Rogen's charm may be running out much sooner than he wants.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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