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Archive for the ‘Julia Roberts’ Category

The Normal Heart

24 Jan

The Normal Heart – directed by Ryan Murphy. Docudrama. 133 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: AIDS comes to the notice of a group of young men and a female physician, who gather together to do something about it.

~

The Normal Heart and Selma resemble one another in showing us the backstage drama of two adamant men who fought for equality in America. Larry Kramer fought for public recognition of the AIDS plague, which was sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. Martin Luther King Junior fought for voting rights for those whose right to it had been sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. See them both, why don’t you? You’ll get a bracing dose of contemporary history.

To cast the disagreeable, in-your-face screamer Larry Kramer one would have thought of a young George C. Scott or Al Pacino. One would not have thought of the panda Mark Ruffalo. He is so agreeable. So malleable. So soft. But there he is firing with all canons.

And Kramer’s methods alienate those near to him in the cause, both because he is obnoxious and because they believe his methodical throwing of vitriol in his adversaries’ faces will dampen the cause of recognition and action on the part of the government and the press. He is perhaps more incensed by the dismissal of homosexual humans than of sick humans, I’m not sure.

It’s a story whose tension hangs between, on the one hand, the character of his brother, who acknowledges the Kramer character as almost, but not quite human for his homosexuality and on the other hand the human loves dragged to an early and ignominious grave by a disease which was deemed unimportant because it was seen as exclusively and merely gay. The crossing over of this brother, beautifully and memorably played by Alfred Molina, to the love common to all is the resolution of all the barriers, public and private, which we see marked out before us, as AIDS is demonized, misunderstood, and dismissed, as it crawls to a place at the table.

Julia Roberts is excellent as the first clinician to take note of and treat the disease and to report its symptoms and recurrence. I particularly liked Jim Parsons as the office manager who makes the revolution practical. The nervous breakdown risked by all who did the work is beautifully performed by Stephen Spinella.

Larry Kramer’s was a voice crying in the wilderness of his own side. Martin Luther King Junior was the same. Proactive both, their methods were different, and neither cause would have prevailed using the other’s means. Their greatest enemies lay within their own camps. King orated, Kramer ranted. Kramer made a huge unpleasantness. He is one of the vile heroes, like Oedipus – people of extremely unpleasant character who nonetheless lay down their lives to move the human race forward one step, and do so. We – and by “we” I mean the world – are all in his debt.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, Gay, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo

 

Mirror, Mirror

23 Apr

Mirror, Mirror — directed by Tarsem Singh. Fractured Fairy Tale. 105 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

The Story: The Wicked Stepmother seizes the spotlight and Prince Charming as well.

~        

Of all the actresses ambitioned to play Scarlet in Gone With The Wind there were only two who would not have been ridiculous, Bette Davis and Vivien Leigh, and for the same reason: they both possessed the temperament of hellcats, and they alone had in their skill kits a sense of period.

Exactly what that is, is hard to declare, except its absence is notably present in the performance of Julia Roberts as the Wicked Queen, for she seems to have no sense of the genre in which she is performing, a costume drama at the least. She dismays by adopting the cracked ice of condescension, an amateur choice which wrecks the role at the outset by giving it no place to go.

Julia Roberts – no one can say they knew her after she was a pretty woman, because, now of a certain age, she is still one. But for years she coasted along on the white sailboat of her smile. To do that all she needed to do was be a gal. But that won’t wash any more, and she is now cast in character parts while having no actual skill at playing a character. All these years I waited for the genius of her brother, Eric Roberts, to break through – a mistake on my part to be sure. Now I want his sister to discover her craft.

Less harm can be done to the film by her, because the style of Mirror, Mirror begins in Fairyland Camp, and somewhere along the line shifts across into Bullwinkle Land. That is to say, it becomes dialogue-dependent rather than style-dependent, and the dialogue is vernacular. So, when the prince appears, one soon sees that the actor does not have a prince in him and does not have the pronunciation of one either: the word “adieu” is, by Princes, pronounced “adyou” not “a-do,” so the poor actor fails in his opening sequence. Fortunately the character he plays is a jerk, so it does not matter much, except that it too defies the necessary tone and doesn’t create one of its own.

And in a piece like this, tone is essential. Because without it you can’t really buy into the enchantment. Moreover, the written style and the acting style are in rash countermand to the visual style, which is glorious. The sets, the costumes, the wigs are lavish — imaginative and surprising and fun — as are the narrative conceits. Visually, it has the right tone.

As do the animation and the special effects, particularly that of The Beast – a terrific griffon. Snow White is right for the part, a lovely young actress, Lily Collins, and she is assisted by Nathan Lane as a pusillanimous courtier and by seven sexy dwarfs, all of whom are jolly good and all of whom survive the mishmash nicely.

Of course you want the Queen to be thwarted, and you want Snow White to save herself with her magic dagger. And you love Snow White floating through the snowy woods in a billowing May dress, and the Prince in his floor-length coat swashbuckling about is a treat that never palls. You root more for the visual effects than the characters, but you are let down that, despite the film’s stated promise, nothing new about that wicked queen has been revealed, either by one mirror or by two.

 
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Posted in FAIRY TALE, Fractured Fairy Tale, GOTHIC ROMANCE, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane

 

August: Osage County

19 Jan

August: Osage County – directed by John Wells. Family Drama. 121 minutes, Color, 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: A paterfamilias goes missing and the clan gathers, poisoned daggers out, lips drooling with vitriol.

Misty Upham, as the American Indian caregiver, is the only sane and decent woman within miles.

First, We have sister number one, Juliet Lewis, who in no movie is ever sane and who arrives in a condition of advanced delusion about honeymooning in Belize with her sleazy boyfriend, Dermot Mulroney. Then we have sister number two, Julia Roberts, who arrives in high, control-freak denunciation and a condition of covert separation from her husband played by Ewan McGregor. Then we have Margot Martindale, a battle-axe aunt castigating her feckless son and married for 38 years to Chris Cooper. And last but most, we have Sam Shepard’s wife, Meryl Streep as the Medusa of the family, dedicated to speaking the hideous truth, the whole hideous truth, and nothing but the hideous truth, and suffering from cancer of the mouth and extreme drug addiction, to boot.

To record all this here seeps mockery into one’s tone, since the dishes are piled with more food than one can swallow. The actors sink their jaws into it, though, and shake it all about. It is wonderful to see acting of this high order and imagination.

Indeed I sit back in wonder and amazement at the daring, skill, and inventiveness of the performers. Julia Roberts is filmed in close-ups that leave no leeway to age. And Meryl Streep is extraordinary as the Oklahoma materfamilias out to get every member at her dining table with the meanest mouth in the West. She plays a woman seared by age. She plays not an old woman. Rather, she plays a woman denounced by age, demoted by it, defeated by it, although her dying cries are ear shattering. The beastly mouth of old age indulges itself. The part is about already being old. She laughs it off; she lies. I have never seen Streep explore such a thing before.

The play itself is not about age but about the dubious proposition that if you had a terrible childhood passing it on makes you understandable and, indeed, excusable. You are awarded all this once an author writes you an exposition scene about how nasty your own mother was to you that time. No one breaks the chain, here. There is never a choice-point, every woman spits out the venom, as to the manner born, which they were, and perhaps the playwright does not have in his belief system that people can change. The venom is very well written venom. It is not venom in a Dixie cup. It is venom in a chalice.

The writer is less adept with those less verbally adept, the parts of McGregor’s and Robert’s daughter, and of the third sister and her boyfriend. These three are mute victim bystanders, the collaterally damaged. However, all three parts are weakly conceived and written. Moreover, Benedict Cumberbach misconstrues the boyfriend as somewhat simple-minded, which he is not. In any case, both characters would be better kept off-stage entirely. They would be more potent if they could not or would not appear on it at all. That writing error leads to a bad misplacement of dramatic energy in the Third Act.

But this is a cavil in a piece which we all must see, we who honor and love and enjoy acting for itself alone. On this level, August: Osage County can’t be beat. See it.

 

 

Mona Lisa Smile

31 Dec

Mona Lisa Smile – directed by Mike Newell. Chickflick. A new art instructor at Wellesely College for women finds herself up against unquestioned traditions. 117 minutes Color 2003.
★★★★★
Julia Roberts as an academician is beautifully miscast on the grounds that her popular consistency won’t know the difference. After all, how many of them went to Wellesely to begin with or have even heard of it? The marble-like conservative nature of the institution is sufficiently pigeoned-on to have closed it, and it is a wonder the filmers were not sued. Or maybe they were.

But our Julia prevails. She soldiers through a role for which she has not the slightest cultural depth. She reminds one of Joan Crawford with her broad mouth incapable of a subtlety and her big staring eyes. And inwardly you can see how much she enjoys being a star. Their instruments are quite different, however. Both are calculating performers. But Roberts is more at ease in her work; her assurance arises not out of her ego, but out of a sense of fun and of absurdity. She can play comedy at the drop of a hat, and Crawford could not play it at all. She is neither a masochist nor a sadist and Crawford was both. Roberts is an actress of seventeen smiles, Crawford of two. They are both wonderful. And they were both sometimes miscast.

But the script provides various resorts for Roberts, such as the fact that she expects perfection from everybody, or rather that she expects everybody to be an already finished work of art. She gets her come-uppance, thank goodness.

And in this she is helped by three typical students, Kirsten Dunst who plays a controlling marriage-aimed student, Julia Stiles who plays a young woman on the fence between marriage and a career, and Maggie Gyllenhaal who plays a free-loving girl, co-dependent to unavailable men.

The film has many nice touches and a real feeling of a small New England campus in the 1950s. It is interesting to revisit those times and consider how true or false the film is to them. It is a feminist screed on one level, which is just fine by me, since it is a blatant exposure of the small and very commercial expectations young women were steered toward in those days – and little did I know. I went to Columbia: Barnard was different.

And I wonder at the casting of the picture. It’s been ten years since it was made, and looking at the three leads, Dunst, Stiles, and Gyllenhaal, it is clear what their destinies as actors would be. The first two would go on; maybe they had some talent; Stiles certainly had a beautifully placed voice. But only Maggie Gyllenhaal would go on to be a star. For there she shines, with her sexiness, her intelligence, her deep humor, her wisdom, her flexibility, her charming happy face, and her big heart: the paramount soubrette. Talented as all get out. The first two I would not avoid seeing; they have not wronged me; the third I would make my way to see with relish. And I do.

John Slattery and Marcia Gay Harden and Marian Seldes and Juliet Stephenson are fine in supporting roles. And the picture is not pat. It wisely turns on itself in a way that is helpful to one once it is over.

 

Mirror Mirror

07 Apr

Mirror Mirror — directed by Tarsem Singh. Fractured Fairy Tale. The wicked stepmother seizes the spotlight and Prince Charming as well. 105 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

Of all the actresses who desired to play Scarlet in Gone With The Wind there were only two who would not have been ridiculous in the part, Bette Davis and Vivien Leigh, and for the same reason: they were not alone in possessing the temperament of hellcats, but they were alone in having the skill in their kit to bring to the part a sense of period. Exactly what that is, is hard to declare, except in its absence. Its absence is notably present in the performance of Julia Roberts as the Wicked Queen. She seems to have no sense of the genre in which she is performing, a costume drama at the least. She also astonishes and dismays one by adopting at once the cracked ice of condescension, an obvious and amateur choice which wrecks the role at the outset by giving it no place to go. Julia Roberts – no one can say they knew her after she was a pretty woman, because, now of a certain age, she is still one. But for years she coasted along on the white sailboat of her smile.  To do that all she needed to do was be a gal. But that won’t wash any more, and she is now cast in character parts while having perhaps no actual skill at playing a character. All those years I waited for the genius of her brother, Eric Roberts, to break through, a mistake on my part to be sure. Now I want her to discover her craft. Less harm is done to the film by her here, because the style of it begins in fairyland camp and shifts to Bullwinkle somewhere along the line. That is to say it becomes dialogue dependent rather than style dependent, and the dialogue is vernacular. So, when the prince appears, one soon sees that the actor does not have a prince in him and does not have the pronunciation of one either: the word “adieu” is pronounced “adyou” not “ado”; the poor actor fails with his opening sequence. Fortunately the character he plays is a jerk, so it does not matter much, except that it defies the necessary tone. And in a piece like this, it is the tone that must engage. Without it you can’t really buy into the enchantment; moreover, the script and these performances are in rash countermand to the visual style of the picture, which is glorious. The costumes are the last masterpiece of  the late Eiki Ishioka and must be seen at once. The sets, the wigs are lavish to a degree, imaginative and surprising and fun, as are the narrative conceits. As is the animation when it occurs and the special effects, particularly that of The Beast which the crew has made into a terrific griffon. Snow White is quite right for the part, a lovely young actress Lily Collins, and she is assisted by Nathan Lane as a pusillanimous courtier and by seven very sexy dwarfs, all of whom are jolly good and all of whom survive the mishmash nicely. Of course you want the Queen to be thwarted and you want Snow White to save herself with her magic dagger. And you love Snow White floating through the snowy woods in a billowing May dress, and the Prince in his floor length coat swashbuckling about is a treat that never palls. That is, you root more for the visual effects than the characters, and you wonder that, despite the film’s stated promise, nothing new about that wicked queen has been revealed either by one mirror or by two.

 

Larry Crowne

09 Jul

Larry Crowne – Directed and written (also written by Nia Vardalos) by Tom Hanks. Romantic Comedy. A middle-aged man has to go to college and meets a beautiful mean teacher. 98 minutes Color 2011

* * * * *

Julie Roberts is married to a half-baked couch potato. Tom Hanks is married to his job, but looses it because he does not have a college degree. So he signs up for junior college and, taking a class in private speaking, meets Julia Roberts. Now Miss Roberts seems to have grown into a woman in the past few years, which now puts her in mind of the great stars of the 30s and 40s, all of whom were women. The female stars of Miss Roberts’ era were never women; they were gals, every one of them. And some of the best light comediennes among them have disappeared, Meg Ryan and that national treasure Goldie Hawn. But Julia Roberts has soldiered on, and with this part she occupies a new field of artistic enterprise. She reminds one of Joan Crawford in that her face is incapable of a subtlety, due to her broad features, but unlike Joan Crawford she can play comedy. She, like Crawford, can also play grim, and that is what we get a thought too much of in her performance in the beginning of this entertainment. But when things loosen up between Mr. Hanks and her, we are in the realm of master comedy actors at play at the top of their present game. Until that time the comedy is handled by Bryan Cranston in an Oscar-due performance as the potato and Gugu mBatha-Raw, playing a classmate of great talent, charm, and sex appeal who plays Hanks flirtatious make-over Svengali, and Rita Wilson who is excruciatingly on the money as a bank mortgage manager. Tom Hanks back on his funny bone again, has grown, as he should, into an actor who can absorb the comic possibilities of a situation without demonstrating about it all over the place. Watch his bemusement and reserve as he plays the gentleman on Julia Robert doorstep, when she is looped. He was always good, now he’s better. Larry Crowne is a good grown-up comedy for grown-ups, and it pleases, beguiles, and satisfies just that old natural appetite.

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