August: Osage County

January 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis
Directed by: John Wells (“The Company Men”)
Written by: Tracy Letts (“Killer Joe”)

After coming out with one of the most twisted films of last year, an adaptation of his own play, “Killer Joe,” playwright and screenwriter Tracey Letts might have hit the limit of how depraved his material really can get. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still toy around with some dark themes. Making use of a cast of acting veterans and Oscar nominees/winners, Letts pens another Southern-skewed darkly comedic drama, “August: Osage County.”

When the patriarch of a family goes missing, a dysfunctional and estranged family comes together in the house they grew up in. At the center is a mother, Violet (Meryl Streep) and her three daughters. With the stress stemming from a missing patriarch, Violet’s pill addiction and some heavy family tension, the Weston house becomes a place of utter chaos.

As an adaptation of a play, obvious attention is paid to the screenplay. Though it certainly has some sharp, witty dialogue, it is also deeply flawed with an insistence on big, loud, theatrical confrontations. Even though some of them are legitimately interesting and well-performed, the design of jam-packing melodramatic moments around every corner is taxing and leads to a few instances of perceived overacting, most of which is at the hands of Streep. She’s constantly spewing big, dramatic monologues with a thick, put-on accent, though this might be more of a character design flaw than anything else. This isn’t to say it’s a bad performance. All things considered, Streep is good in the role as the foul-mouthed and inappropriate Violet. She is, however, overshadowed by Julia Roberts who is fantastic in the best role she’s had in years.

In fact, many of the performances are mostly strong as director John Wells gets solid turns from such actors as Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper and Juliette Lewis, to name a few. It’s a shame that the structure of packing so many over-the-top dramatic moments makes the film become exhausting to watch at times. Still, “August: Osage County” gets by based on the strength of its acting, especially Roberts.

The Company You Keep

April 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie
Directed by: Robert Redford (“The Conspirator”)
Written by: Lem Dobbs (“Haywire”)

It might flaunt the most impressive cast top to bottom you’re likely to see this year on the big screen (21 Oscar nominations, 4 wins), but the script behind Oscar-winning director Robert Redford’s political thriller “The Company You Keep” can only lead its actors just far enough before they’re let down by the material.

It really is unfortunate since Redford, who earned an Academy Award for directing in 1981 for “Ordinary People,” comes into the project with a lot of the pieces already in place. This should be a more intriguing look into the radical leftist organization known as the Weather Underground in the late 60s and early 70s, but it falters. The revolutionary group, whose members were charged during that time for bombing a number of sites such as the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, were hell-bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.

In “Company,” Redford stars as Jim Grant, a New York City lawyer and former activist of the Weathermen, who has been living as a fugitive for the last 30 years after a bank heist he is involved in during his heyday claims the life of a guard. Jim is flushed from his quiet suburban home when one of his former Weather Underground colleagues Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is finally found and arrested for her involvement in the radical movement. Her arrest triggers a domino effect that leads to Jim’s participation in the crime. Now on the run with the FBI and media (Shia LaBeouf plays a scrappy newspaper reporter who cracks the case) on his trail, Jim hits the road in search of a way to clear his name.

Based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gordon, “Company” is a sort of slowly-paced road-trip movie where tons of characters join the fracas, but none are very important to the overall narrative. It’s great to see the likes of heavy-hitters like Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte and Stanley Tucci tag in and out like some kind of all-star contest, but the substance behind each of their individual connections to the story is thinly scripted.

The acting makes up slightly for the film’s lack of tension. We’re not looking for car chases and extensive getaway scenes here, but Redford’s inability to draw out more emotional conflict from the script is its greatest letdown. There just aren’t enough big moments the talent can sink their claws into. “Company” is never boring, but it also never shifts out of first gear, which poses a major problem when you have a fugitive on the run and a lot at stake.

The Muppets

November 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper
Directed by: James Bobin (TV’s “The Flight of the Conchords”)
Written by: Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshal”) and Nicholas Stoller (“Get Him to the Greek”)

If watching actor/writer Jason Segel reluctantly trying to impress Mila Kunis by performing a song from his Dracula puppet rock opera in the 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” made you wish all love was as eternal as a vampire’s, then you must’ve also been as intrigued as I was when news that Segel and Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller would continue playing puppet show by penning the script for a reboot to the famed Muppet film franchise.

After 12 years without a theatrical release (their last was the second-rate, Gonzo-centric “Muppets from Space” in 1999), there would finally be what the studio was calling a fresh take on the beloved cast of characters who first appeared as a group on “The Muppet Show” in the mid ’70s. If by “fresh” they meant “The Muppets” would feel like it was plucked from the days when Bob Hope and Milton Berle would cameo, then, yes, a lifelong Muppets fan like Segel should be proud of sticking to tradition despite original muppeteers like Frank Oz opining about the script’s lack of respect for the characters.

For people like myself, however, who grew up watching reruns of “The Muppet Show” in syndicate and trusted Segel and Stoller wouldn’t harp on homage so much and be brave enough to take some creative license, “The Muppets” is in many ways both a charming return to form and a surprising letdown. Sure, Judd Apatow humor, while usually clever, might be considered much too mean-spirited for the wholesomeness of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. But the new version is so far from modern that even Statler and Waldorf would deem parts of it all dried up.

Still, playing the nostalgia card is welcomed. We get a glimpse of the Muppets’ past at the beginning of the movie when we’re introduced to Walter, the Muppets’ No. 1 fan (and a Muppet himself) who grew up collecting their memorabilia and watching the old TV show with his human brother Gary (Segel). When Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams in an equally chipper role as “Enchanted”) invite Walter to tag along on their anniversary trip toLos Angeles, he jumps at the chance to go so he can visit the famous Muppet Theater. Now abandoned, the theater has caught the attention of wealthy oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants to buy the building and bulldoze it so he can drill for the sweet crude underneath. The only way to save the theater: raise $10 million in two days by reuniting the now estranged Muppets for one last extravaganza show and telethon.

It sounds easier said than done, which makes Segel and Stoller’s decision to give Kermit, Gary, Mary, and Walter only 48 hours to track down all the Muppets, rehearse, and find a celebrity to host the event and TV network to air it, all the more ridiculously impossible. To help with the time constraints, the writing duo incorporate a few meta techniques to cheat their way through the narrative such as admitting to the audience that a musical montage would be used to skim happily through the Muppet hunt (or making sure said audience remembers they’re watching a movie). None of it comes off as clever as it probably did on paper, but Segel and Stoller stick with it nevertheless. Even the save-the-theater storyline itself didn’t rely on much thought. Whether it’s saving an orphanage in “The Blues Brothers” or a community recreation center in “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” or — get this — the Muppet Theater in 2002’s “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie,” originality isn’t a key element in the screenplay. Segel and Stoller would’ve had better luck coming up with something imaginative by filling in the blanks of a Muppet MadLibs.

Instead, “The Muppets” goes for quick and easy jokes like outdated references to “Dirty Dancing,” “Scarface,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Even more contemporary gags like chickens clucking to Cee Lo Green’s always-edited single “F*ck You!” will be overshadowed by the disappointment lingering after you realize another 12 years from now, the biggest cameos in this newest version (Jim Parsons, really?) will be just as memorable as Rob Schneider and Andie MacDowell’s in the last.

Remember Me

March 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rob Pattinson, Emilie de Ravin, Chris Cooper
Directed by: Allen Coulter (“Hollywoodland”)
Written by: Will Fetters (debut)

If British actor Robert Pattinson has proven anything to us during his six-year career in Hollywood it’s that there are many ways to look forlorn without showing any real emotion.

Pattinson doesn’t need to be a bedazzled vampire hunk to get his pout on in “Remember Me,” a drama that exhibits a slew of characters feeling sorry for themselves for nearly two hours before the surprising albeit gimmicky twist at the end tries desperately to be affecting.

In “Remember Me,” Pattinson plays Tyler Hawkins, a NYU college student with daddy issues who continues to struggle with the death of his older brother. First-time screenwriter Will Fetter writes Tyler’s father (Pierce Brosnan) as a cold and distant lawyer with little time for his family. It’s a personality trait that infuriates Tyler mostly because his pop pays little attention to his youngest kid Caroline (Ruby Jerins, the best part of the film). It’s also a plot point Fetter flip-flops on later without much motive.

While “Remember Me” likes to flaunt its dysfunctional family elements, this is a love story…mostly. After Tyler is arrested one evening by Sgt. Neill Craig (Chris Cooper), his roommate Aidan (Tate Ellington) somehow talks him into asking the cop’s daughter Ally (Emilie de Ravin) out on a date as some type of lamebrain idea for revenge. Here, too, Fetter offers no real purpose behind these characters’ decisions. Tyler gives no evidence that he is the type of person who would do something like this, so why set it up that way?

Nevertheless, the courting begins as Tyler and Ally lean on each other for emotional support (Ally’s mother was murdered in the subway a decade prior to her fling with Tyler and her overprotective father has suddenly become abusive). The time can’t pass fast enough as Tyler and Ally exchange sob stories as well as tacky and cliché dialogue from Fetter. He seems to be writing for the prejudiced tween audience who is simply trying to pass the time until Pattinson’s Edward Cullen returns for “Eclipse.” Words such as “Fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch” might read like a genuine sentiment if it was etched on a tombstone, but no one says stuff like that out loud.

Tweens may love the way Pattinson dishes out “freaky, poetic crap,” a phrase Aidan uses to describe his misunderstood and sensitive friend, but this unrealistic romance is built on unstable concepts, overacted melodrama and limited chemistry from the leads. Even Pattinson can’t charm his way out of this one.

Married Life

March 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by: Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”)
Written by: Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”), Oren Movermen (“I’m Not There”)

“Married Life” is either an adult comedy with dark themes or a dark comedy with adult themes, although neither genre in this specific instance is particularly enjoyable even on a twisted level of simplicity.

Although you would be hard-pressed to find two actors more natural than Chris Cooper (“Adaptation”) and Patricia Clarkson (“Pieces of April”), the problems lie in the not-so-fascinating screenplay of Ira Sachs and Oren Movermen.

Set in the 1940’s and given a sort-of film noir ambiance, “Married Life” follows Harry Allen (Cooper), a hopelessly romantic businessman who wants to kill his wife. It is, of course, not his wife Pat (Clarkson) who he is in love with any longer. Harry has moved on and found a younger woman with whom “to be truly happy.”

Her name is Kay Nesbit (Rachel McAdams), and Harry is wild about everything she brings out of him. As a lonely widow, Kay has found a stable relationship that she can count on. As a married man, Harry wants nothing more than to leave his wife and start a new life with his mistress.

But in the 40’s, divorce wasn’t just something people do on a daily basis. There was embarrassment involved from a social aspect because people viewed it as a failure in life. So, instead of divorcing Pat, Harry decides that he will have to kill her to save her from the whispers she might hear after their split. How thoughtful!

All the while, no one has as much power and influence over Harry and Pat’s marriage as Harry’s best friend Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan). Like a fly on the wall, Richard knows everything that is going on between all parties involved and always has the upper hand to get anything he wants, even when that includes Harry’s new gal. Brosnan, who is also the film’s narrator, is excellent in this role. He keeps up with Cooper’s cunningness both as friends and competitors for Kay’s love.

Although the acting is top-notch in this intelligent albeit soft-around-the-edges drama, one can’t ignore the tediousness that lingers between the characters’ separate stories. These minimal moments muddle the tension and also Harry’s point-of-view, which is the most ruthless and indifferent you could imagine. Some of the best parts of the film are when Harry, only moments away from poisoning Pat, can still give her compliments and make her feel like she is the only thing that matters to him. (“You’re prettier today than you’ve ever been,” he says without a smirk).

Still, Cooper and the rest of the acting talent can’t hold the film together on their own. With a story of deception, extramarital affairs, and murder, you would think the “Married Life” script has a lot going for it. But halfway through, you’ll feel just like Harry and want out in any way possible. Well, almost any way.