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Entries in abigail breslin (2)

Thursday
Jan092014

August: Osage County

It must be tough being an actress in Hollywood knowing that no matter how hard you try and no matter how terrific your performance is, it will always be overshadowed by Meryl Streep. Streep, plainly put, is acting perfection. She never misses a beat and manages to give Oscar worthy performances year after year, even if the movie she’s in can’t live up to her talent. Take 2011’s “The Iron Lady” as an example, a film that was utterly wretched, but had a central Streep performance that was absolutely sublime. Only a year off will allow her competition to shine, but she shows no signs of slowing down after “August: Osage County” where she gives another breathtaking performance. The movie has some problems, but Streep (and the supporting cast) elevate it beyond its troublesome material. Expect Streep to soon be clutching yet another Oscar.

“August: Osage County” takes a look into a dysfunctional family that comes together after their father commits suicide. Barbara (Julia Roberts) is the oldest child of Violet (Streep), an overbearing painkiller junkie suffering from mouth cancer who takes her pain and anger out on those around her. Barbara is having marital issues with her husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor). Their daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), has become more standoffish now that she has reached her teenage years, though much of it could be due to the neglect from her parents. Barbara’s sister, Karen (Juliette Lewis), shows up with her new boyfriend, Steve (Dermot Mulroney), who eventually reveals his own sick perversions. Meanwhile, their other sister, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), has sparked a romantic relationship with another member of the family, Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), a timid fellow who is distraught after missing, or perhaps intentionally skipping, his uncle’s funeral.

And the list goes on. There are even more characters to discuss, each seemingly with something to hide, and their secrets are revealed at a deliberate pace. While some of it is truly surprising and meaningful within the context of the story, much of it is superfluous in nature, including the true (and rather disgusting) relationship between certain members of the family. In particular, the relationship between Charles and Ivy is left unresolved, eventually dropping before any real effect from their actions can resonate. With so many side stories packed into a mere two hours, the film finds itself at an inconsistent pace, unable to keep up with everything it has foolishly introduced.

Where the film hits its stride is in its more focused approach, generally from a bringing together of each family member into one place. One masterful, prolonged sequence around the dinner table exemplifies this well. The scene is uncomfortable, scary, traumatic and, given all the emotions on display, kind of heartbreaking. The dialogue flows naturally, but nevertheless comes quick. Appropriately, given the source material the movie is derived from, this scene is like a play come to life and it’s fantastic. It’s this scene that allows the talented cast to show their acting chops. Roberts gives what could be the rawest performance of her career and understated performances from the likes of veteran actors Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale give the scene real weight.

This scene is also where some of the film’s dark humor becomes most prominent, though it feels incongruous when coupled with such deep drama. While there are certainly some laughs to be had in “August: Osage County,” much of it falls flat, coming off as unnecessary and, due to the source material’s dramatic intentions, kind of mean. The movie does a good job of making you uncomfortable with its drama, as it should; it needn’t fall back on harsh humor to help.

The awkward family dynamic on display in “August: Osage County” is easy to relate to, as all of us have some type of dysfunction in our own families, but upon reflection, one can’t help but wonder what the point of it all was. The material doesn’t provide any real insight into anything in particular and so much of the story is left on the table that it doesn’t resonate. But, as with December’s “Out of the Furnace,” this is a case of the acting sustaining the structurally weak film. This is hands down the best ensemble of the year and with so many standout performances from both Streep (who the Academy should just give the Oscar to now and save themselves some time) and the cast around her, it makes it easily recommendable. But if you’re looking for insight, you won’t find it here.

August: Osage County receives 3.5/5

Friday
Mar152013

The Call

The worst type of movie is the type that starts out so strong and has so much potential only to fall apart by the end, completely squandering it. “The Call” is one of those movies and contains one of the most monumental meltdowns I’ve ever seen a film take. One moment, it’s an edge-of-your-seat nail biter and the next, it’s a laughable thriller that takes enough absurd plot turns to completely derail it.

The film stars Halle Berry as Jordan Turner, a 911 operator who has had her fair share of difficult calls. She’s usually at the top of her game, but one night she makes a grave mistake. She receives a call from a young teenage girl reporting an intruder in her house and she advises her to do all the correct things, effectively tricking that intruder into thinking she has fled. However, the call disconnects and she immediately redials. When the phone stops ringing, due to the girl’s answering of it, the intruder realizes she’s still there and finds her. Shortly after, they find the poor girl dead.

It’s a terrific beginning to the film and humanizes Jordan in an unexpected way. When her decision causes that young girl to die, she immediately breaks down and blames herself. She is haunted by what she has done and by the voice on the other end of the phone that tells her “it’s already done” when she pleads him to stop. It’s an effective opening because her job calls for her to be emotionally distant, never minding the fact that she is often the only thing standing between life and death for her callers. Despite her experience on the floor, she finds the event difficult to cope with, as anybody would, creating layers in her personality that a lesser movie would have kept hidden.

Six months later, Jordan has stepped off the operator floor and is training others, still unable to muster up the courage to answer the phone. However, when a newer operator finds herself lost in a similar situation, she takes the reins. This time, the girl is named Casey Welson, played by Abigail Breslin, and she has woken up in the trunk of a car. Here is where the movie works best because it finds its focus. With Casey in that trunk and Jordan at the call center, each talking to the other, you’re able to connect with them and fear for their plight. Their personalities are built up, broken down and the relationship they make with each other is meaningful because Casey knows full well that Jordan could be the last person she ever speaks to. One incredible moment comes when Casey, swelling with tears, gives Jordan a message to pass onto her mother, just in case she doesn’t make it.

Even better is that the characters do everything you would expect them to. Casey is asked to look for an emergency release lever, kick out the taillights and wave her arm around and even look around the trunk for objects that may help her. When she finds a paint can, she wisely opens it up and pours it out that now broken taillight in an attempt to provide a trail for police to follow. The only issue with these moments are the idiot civilians that try to help after seeing her in the trunk, but instead do everything they can to make the situation worse. Although necessary to keep the story moving, the decisions made by Jordan and Casey are so wise that it makes these moments somewhat frustrating.

But then it all goes downhill. Once Casey and her abductor make it to his hideout and the cops lose the trail, Jordan pulls that old action/thriller cliché and “takes matters into her own hands.” Without giving anything away, she becomes a better crime scene investigator than the actual crime scene investigators (at a place where, frankly, cops should have been posted anyway) and makes the boneheaded decision to follow the trail and attempt to rescue Casey herself rather than call the cops. Although meant to empower the character, help her overcome her fears and attain redemption, these plot turns take the film from something frightening and unique to silly and typical of your standard thriller.

This last act is so bad, it threatens to destroy everything that came before it, but to deny those early sequences their due would be foolish. “The Call” is half of a great movie and is enhanced by above average performances from a terrific ensemble cast. The villain, played by Michael Eklund, is truly wretched and only the most jaded of viewers won’t send their hearts out to Casey and Jordan. Because of this, “The Call” remains recommendable, but what could have been an enthusiastic recommendation instead becomes a passionless “meh.”

The Call receives 2.5/5