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Entries in Julia Roberts (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

Friday
Aug132010

Eat Pray Love

There’s no debating it, summer is the best season for movies. We may not get many Oscar contenders, but we get Hollywood’s best attempts at delivering action, humor and fun. Being the last major movie week of the summer, we’re closing out with a bang. The Expendables and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World are tearing up screens with all types of awesome, so what better movie to pit against those juggernauts than Eat Pray Love? Working as counter programming to the manliest and geekiest movies of the summer, Julia Roberts’ latest star vehicle is, as expected, a girly movie through and through.

Based on the best selling book by author Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love tells the story of Liz (Roberts) as she works her way through a divorce and across the globe in an attempt to find what her life has been missing. Right off the bat, there’s a problem. You see, the divorce is her idea and she springs the idea suddenly on her husband Stephen (Billy Crudup), who loves her more than anything in the world. During the divorce settlement, Stephen asks Liz why she is leaving. Why couldn’t she just come talk to him? She replies with a quick tongue, arguing that she tried. He just wouldn’t listen. But we never see her try. We’re simply supposed to take her word for it. But Stephen brings up a good point. She’s so concerned with herself that she never even attempts to make the marriage work. While I’m not suggesting she should stay in a relationship she is unhappy with, her sudden decision to end the marriage without even first discussing it with her husband comes off as selfish and mean.

So off she goes around the world to discover herself. Along the way, she befriends a number of people in similar situations, including Richard (wonderfully played by Richard Jenkins) and a kind sage who accurately predicts her coming trials. But once she arrives at her first destination, Rome, Italy, she seems to do little more than wallow in self pity about being alone. She has an Italian to English dictionary and looks up words like “lonely.” When she sees a pretty dress and a friend tells her to buy it, she replies, “For whom?” The perplexity of the situation is that she broke off her marriage with a man who loved her unconditionally so she could be alone and then gets depressed that she has nobody to spend her time with. Her problem is self inflicted and I had no pity for her.

The biggest problem with Eat Pray Love, worse than its unlikable protagonist, is its awkward pacing and sluggishness. While some portions of the story, like the beginning, are rushed through, hence giving no reason to care, others are drawn out to an unbearable extent. Pushing nearly two hours and fifteen minutes, the film is far too long.

However, there is beauty seeping out of every pore of Eat Pray Love. The people, the food, the locales, all are great to look at, though that I’d chalk that up more to the natural presentation of those things than the direction. Any schmo can point a camera at Italy and make it look beautiful.

Still, Eat Pray Love is light, fluffy entertainment. It’s hard to hate, but it bores with ease. The monotony of the script and the dullness of the messages dilute any type of impact it may have had otherwise. Watching it was a chore and writing this review was the same. It’s tough to drag out “it was boring” to six paragraphs, but here it is. It was a hard fought battle and in the end I survived, but I pity those men who bravely walk into this movie ready to endure it for their loved ones. Their dedication is noble, but I’m afraid their integrity may suffer.

Eat Pray Love receives 2/5

Friday
Feb122010

Valentine's Day

There are few days of the year that make me feel as miserable as I do on Valentine's Day. It's one of those days where the single become non-existent, where swooning couples become the center of attention. As far as this day is concerned, if you aren't in a relationship, you mean nothing. My cynicism for the day goes far beyond what I've typed here, so imagine my dismay at the thought of sitting through a movie that bears its title. But my job is not to judge based on my preconceived thoughts on the actual day, but rather on the film itself and in doing so I found that Valentine's Day actually isn't half bad.

Much like Love Actually, Valentine's Day features an ensemble cast with dozens of notable actors including Julia Roberts, Bradley Coooper, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx, Patrick Dempsey, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Taylor Lautner and even Taylor Swift. However, this is more like a second rate Love Actually rather than a direct comparison. While that film is an absolute delight and explores love in more authentic ways, Valentine's Day is hit and miss with more than its fair share of poorly drawn out romances that feel forced from the page. There isn't a single normal relationship in the entire movie. Even the 51 year old relationship between veteran actors Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine that is meant to show the everlasting endurance of true love proves to be less perfect than expected, with an unnecessary affair popping up in conversation halfway through the movie.

Now, I've purposely skipped over the plot description of the film because there are a large number of storylines, with each character sporting their own, and they are juggled relatively well. Most of them get equal screen time, though a few are left at the wayside and never fully come to a conclusion.

Keeping in mind the actors above, it's easy to see how inconsistent this movie can be. With great talent from Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway comes the less so Taylor Lautner, Jessica Alba and Ashton Kutcher. Actually, the first two characters introduced in the entire movie were Kutcher and Alba with a scene that ends in their engagement. Kutcher and Alba? That's a recipe for disaster.

Surprisingly, Kutcher's storyline ended up being the best part of the movie. He's the guy that I suspect most men in the audience will relate to the most. He's euphoric with the thought of love after his engagement, but even when he later realizes love isn't as joyous as he originally imagined, he thinks of others. He finds his friends and tries to prevent them from making the same mistakes and feeling the pain that he does. He's a wholly likable guy, most notably when a young boy walks in his flower shop and orders a dozen roses for his elementary school crush. He hands over 11 dollars, far short of what a dozen roses costs and Kutcher simply smiles and asks what the lucky girl's name is. His character is written well and he downplays his usual insufferable comedic antics to fit the role. It still feels weird saying it, but Ashton Kutcher was the shining light in an otherwise mediocre film.

Of course, his storyline was still fairly predictable, as were nearly all of the others. I knew exactly what was going to happen to Garner, Biel, and even Roberts, whose storyline was nonetheless very sweet. The only one that caught me by surprise was Bradley Cooper's. The movie smartly set his storyline up in a manner that makes you believe you know where it is heading, but then turns it 180 degrees and goes somewhere else. It was this surprise that ultimately pushed me to the side of a recommendation.

Lucky for it because most of this thing simply lacked the charm or wit of its far superior spiritual brethren Love Actually. Not to mention that Taylor Swift is simply atrocious and needs to stay as far away from movie cameras as she possibly can. Of course, expecting it to match Love Actually is lofty, so as long as you don't focus on how much worse it is, you might be surprised at how much better your perception will be.

Valentine's Day receives 2.5/5