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.

Eat Pray Love

August 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco
Directed by: Ryan Murphy (“Running with Scissors”)
Written by: Ryan Murphy (“Running with Scissors”) and Jennifer Salt (debut)
When it comes to travelogue-type romances where a woman goes on a journey of self-discovery to exotic places around the world only to be swept off her feet when she least expects it, there’s not much a narrative can do with that setup that hasn’t been done before.
It’s not, however the cliché structure that is the problem with Julia Roberts’ new film “Eat Pray Love,” based on the memoir by writer and world traveler Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s actually quite interesting to watch Elizabeth (Roberts) admit she is unhappy and bail out on life to search for greener pastures. But “EPL” only scratches the surface of a story that deserves more than just spaghetti lunches, beautiful beaches, and Roberts’ ear-to-ear smile.

In “EPL,” director/co-writer Ryan Murphy (“Running with Scissors”) delivers plenty of eating, praying, and loving, but bows out before really doing any affecting. All the tools are there at his disposal, starting with Roberts herself. As Elizabeth, a woman who decides to take a year off to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia for a little “me” time, the film is cast well. There is a vulnerability to Roberts that is as intriguing as when she plays her more outgoing characters.

Where “EPL” takes shortcuts in its storyline is when Roberts bring a plus one. Besides a charming relationship she has with a medicine man on her trip to Bali, no one else she shares screen time with is present long enough to define the importance of them in her life. In one scene, Elizabeth is walking the streets of Italy as a loner. Two scenes later, she’s having dinner with close friends who have wedge their way into the plot without a sense of how they got there in the first place.

Even with the men in her life – Billy Crudup plays the jilted husband; James Franco plays the lover post-marriage; Javier Bardem plays the man who reawakens her soul – there no time for real connection. Even at 135 minutes, “EPL” skimps on the details. In doing so, we can never really engage in Elizabeth’s suffering or the healing process it takes her to find true enlightenment (an idea that doesn’t translate well on screen no matter how gentle Murphy makes it).

By the end of her trip, Elizabeth is saved. It would have been a lot more moving if we were allowed to see at least some of the damage she began with.

Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”)

Doing a shameless impersonation of director/writer Richard Curtis’ 2003 witty and warm romantic comedy “Love Actually,” the Hollywood-star-laden “Valentine’s Day” is a movie that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Flashing an attractive cast of audience favorites including Julia Roberts (“Duplicity”), Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and Taylor Lautner (“New Moon”) – among a laundry list of others – director Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”) takes a poorly-written multi-narrative penned by Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”) and hauls it through the same cliché and predictable plot points usually reserved for this type of cinematic fluff. It’s no wonder sensitive women everywhere have to drag their significant others to the movies for date night. When a feature is as contrived as “Valentine’s Day,” not even a pajama party with Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Biel is reason enough for anyone to endure over two hours (and yes, it feels like it) of unbearable schmaltz.

Without going into too much detail with the storylines – which all somehow connect in the most absurd ways – “Valentine’s Day” spends much of its runtime with Ashton Kutcher on screen as Reed Bennett, the owner of a popular flower shop in L.A. who has just proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and is ready to settle down and start a family. But like all these sad-sack characters, love is not in the air for Reed and he is left all alone with only his employee (George Lopez) to help mend his broken heart.

More lovesick vignettes follow that are just as sparse on romance and narrative appeal. Jamie Foxx plays a sportscaster who hates V-Day, but is assigned to produce a story by his boss (Kathy Bates); Biel plays a publicist whose client (Eric Dane) is contemplating retirement from pro-football; Patrick Dempsey flexes his acting range to play a cheating cardiologist having an affair with Garner; Cooper and Roberts play strangers who meet on an airplane and make small talk; Bryce Robinson plays a kid in love; Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins play teens in love; Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway play young adults in love; Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine play old people in love; and Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift dole out so much cuteness, you don’t know how the word “cute” even existed before this movie.

The “aww” moments are aplenty for moviegoers who don’t necessarily care about story, character or genuine heartfelt moments that don’t feel like they were mass produced like overstuffed Build-A-Bears. Like an open box of Walgreen’s chocolates in an office break room, gluttons for this type of cheap, faux-holiday filler will eat it up without much thought. For those who want their rom coms to have a bit more taste, it’s easy to pass on the flavorless eye candy.