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Entries in Chris Cooper (3)

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

Wednesday
Nov232011

The Muppets

In the mid-50’s, the late Jim Henson introduced the world to the Muppets and for over 50 years, they’ve entertained generations of children and the young at heart. Although it debuted before my time, reruns of The Muppet Show dominated my childhood. I loved the catchy tunes, celebrity appearances and silly puppetry that show spotlighted. Memories from watching it have stuck with me over the past 25 years and I’m grateful for them. In a way, they’ve kept me forever young and even today, those episodes are just as entertaining as ever. For those not yet old enough to have memories of the Muppets, the newest movie, succinctly titled The Muppets, is a great and lively introduction, but for people like me, this is a wondrous treat. It brings back everything that was great about the Muppets and is guaranteed to leave all but the most hardened moviegoers with a smile.

The Muppets follows two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (a puppet played by Peter Linz). Gary is in a relationship with Mary (Amy Adams) and they are on their way to Los Angeles for their 10 year anniversary. With Mary’s approval, Gary brings Walter along so they can tour the old Muppets studio. When they get there, they find out that the studio is about to be sold to Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an oil tycoon who is going to tear it down and drill the ground it rests on. To save it, $10 million must be raised, so Walter, along with Gary and Mary, head off to reteam the old Muppet gang, beginning with the one and only Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire).

Thanks to movies like Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (the less said about both, the better), the public’s interest in the Muppets began to wane, and with good reason. They hadn’t done much in recent years and what they did do wasn’t particularly memorable. So what I’m about to say may surprise you: you miss them. You might not know it yet, but you do and this movie will prove it. But it doesn’t prove it simply by being a good movie. It does it with an emotional narrative wrapped around the revival of The Muppet Show that asks whether the Muppets are still relevant and if the public still cares about them. (They are and we do.) Watching The Muppets brings back a wave of nostalgia while simultaneously keeping you in the moment and it will set your imagination wild, a feat matched in recent years only by last year’s Toy Story 3.

As with most Muppet adventures, part of the fun of The Muppets is spotting all the cameos. Some are obvious, like Emily Blunt reprising her role from The Devil Wears Prada, and others will only be noticeable to a select few, like a certain rock star who plays the part of Animal in a Muppets cover band (humorously named The Moopets). But the real pleasure comes from the witty writing, which is filled with self-referential humor that acknowledges it’s a musical movie, and the song and dance numbers themselves. The songs are fun, catchy, occasionally sad and the choreography is excellent. By the time the film gets around to singing one of the Muppets’ most cherished and recognizable songs, tears of joy will be streaming down your face.

All in all, this is a delight and any faults are minor at most. Due to the fact that many of the original puppeteers did not participate in this movie, some of the voices sound a bit off and the love story between Mary and Gary is dispensable. The real heart comes in the form of Gary’s relationship with his brother Walter and Walter’s love for the Muppets, which ultimately leads to him finding himself. The tacked on relationship seems forceful and there only for the purpose of having a pretty leading lady, though to be fair, Amy Adams is radiant in the role; the most lovable she has been since winning everybody over in 2007’s Enchanted.

In a way, The Muppets almost feels like a send off for our old friends. It does what any final installment would and brings the story full circle, taking the characters back to their roots and having them relive their magic one last time. Though I’m sure not intended, if this is the last time we see those rascally puppets on the big screen, they can be proud they went out with style. But if we’re lucky, this will be only the first in a string of many more fantastical adventures.

The Muppets receives 4.5/5

Friday
Sep172010

The Town

A few short years ago, hating Ben Affleck was the cool thing to do. Gigli, Daredevil and an astoundingly bad performance in Pearl Harbor all provided enough ammunition for Affleck haters to spread their contempt for the man. But in 2007, he released his first directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, an intense, dramatic and wonderful little gem that should have been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Although questions remained about his talent in front of the camera, he showed he was more than capable behind it. Now three years later he releases his sophomore effort, The Town, which, though flawed, should dispel any remaining doubt.

The film takes place in Boston, the bank robbery capital of America (at least according to the opening text). Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is one of the reasons why. Along with his partners James (Jeremy Renner), Desmond (Owen Burke) and Albert (played by rapper Slaine), Doug is a professional thief and he is on his way to rob a bank. Although he hopes to do it swiftly and safely, they run into a snag and are forced to take a hostage named Claire (Rebecca Hall). After they get away, they let her go thinking she saw nothing, but as Doug gets closer to her, eventually developing a romantic relationship, he learns that she has seen more than she lets on. To make matters worse, local FBI agent Adam (Jon Hamm) is on their trail and is doing everything he can to bring them down.

It is now evident. Ben Affleck is multi-talented. He can write, he can act and he can direct and he gives a terrific performance here while honing his craft behind the camera. Direction wise, The Town is a step up from Gone Baby Gone, but its effect is, unfortunately, a bit flat. Its story isn’t as interesting—coming off as a bit derivative of other heist movies—while the thought provoking, morally ambiguous ending of Gone Baby Gone is replaced with a silly, overly dramatic one. At over two hours, The Town runs out of steam and by the time the out-of-place ending arrives you’ll find yourself slightly disappointed.

That, however, is not an indication of its overall quality. It’s not one of the best movies of the year as many will hope, but it’s still solid, anchored by a stellar cast and fluid writing. While the pacing is a bit off, awkwardly transitioning from heavy laden scenes of dialogue to slam bang action scenes, it’s that dialogue that keeps it afloat. The authentic exchanges between the characters coupled with spot on Boston dialects from the actors makes for an engaging experience. The dialogue is well written and believable and is hampered only by a few too many long, overwrought speeches on the characters’ seemingly irrelevant histories.

In fact, only one of those history speeches ever plays a major part in the movie, and even then its inclusion can be argued. A scene partway through shows Doug as he goes to visit his father Stephen (Chris Cooper), who is serving a life sentence for executing two people. Some may relate this scene to the opening text that explains how the business of felons is passed down through generations, but it felt like filler to me. It’s an emotional scene where you sense that Doug is disappointed in his father, as if Doug is a perfect example of an upstanding citizen.

And that may be the film’s biggest problem. These are bad men. There have been movies that depict bad men while still giving the viewer something to latch onto, but The Town isn't among them. There’s no reason to care for them or fear for their plight. They are established almost as antiheroes, but they don’t do enough good to warrant that label. Still, even with all of that taken into consideration, The Town is a worthy movie, even if it does fail to realize its own potential.

The Town receives 3.5/5