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Posts Tagged ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

“AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Jan. 10)

121 minutes | MPAA rating R

Some stories were meant to be performed on a stage.

For instance, the plays of Sam Shepard, which deliver moments of violence and affrontery you almost never see in live theater. A Shepard character might be required to beat a typewriter to death with a golf club, smash dozens of glass bottles just feet from the folks in the front row, or urinate on his little sister’s science project in full view of the paying customers.

If those things happened in a movie, you’d shrug. No big deal.  In a movie you can do anything.

But seeing those moments play out live, in the flesh, while you brace yourself to dodge flying glass shards or broken typewriter keys…well, that has a way of focusing your mind most wonderfully.

I thought of Shepard’s plays while watching John Wells’ screen version of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning black comedy about an Oklahoma clan assembled to bury its patriarch (played, ironically enough, by  Sam Shepard).  In the same way that Shepard’s  plays almost never make satisfying movies, “August: Osage County” makes an uncomfortable transition to the screen.

First, don’t buy into the TV ads that make it look like a rollicking comedy.  There are laughs here, yeah, but they’re the sort of laughs you can choke on. Dourness is the order of the day.

In adapting his play Letts has boiled a 3 1/2 hour production down to 2 hours. Stuff’s been left out — character development, carefully calibrated pauses — and while the essence of the play remains, it feels curiously underwhelming.

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star-trek-movie“STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on May 17)

132 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Well made and amusingly acted, there’s really nothing you can say against “Star Trek Into Darkness,” except that in the end it really doesn’t matter.

As is usually the case with franchise movies, the pleasure comes in being reunited with old friends. As for actually learning anything, for taking away an emotion or a thought or an idea…well, that’s the purview of other, less busy movies.

J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot three years ago was a hugely clever prequel that introduced us to those iconic characters as young people. Much of the fun came in seeing Kirk, Bones, Spock and the others as Starfleet cadets feeling their way toward maturity.

But to tell the truth, I cannot remember the plots of any of the many “Star Trek” movies I’ve seen over the decades. One had whales, I know, and another had the Borg. Spock died in one of them and came back in another.

But were there messages in any of them? If there were they quickly evaporated. These were momentary diversions — a few laughs, a whole lot of special effects. Nothing to stick to the ribs or the brain.

And so it  is with “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

Though no Trekker, I recognize that Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof) are having fun mucking about with the mythology of the series. Indeed, the entire movie may be viewed as a prequel to “The Wrath of Khan.”

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Gary Oldman as George Smiley

“TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY” My rating: B+ (Opening January 6 at the Glenwood Arts)

127 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Gary Oldman is often described as an actor’s actor…which in his case apparently means an incurable ham.

Oldman’s career is heavily weighted toward over-the-top, push-too-far performances. Sometimes this is forgivable, particularly when he’s in a bad movie and his fierce scenery gnawing is the only remotely entertaining thing in sight.

Too often over the years, though, I’ve found him to be a jarring pothole in a movie’s narrative highway.

Now I can happily report that in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” Oldman gives a marvelously restrained, subtle and carefully modulated performance.

He plays British spymaster George Smiley, the owlish Cold War protagonis of several John LeCarre novels — a role essayed by Alec Guinness in the 1979  PBS adaptation of “TTSS.” And he is quietly wonderful.

The movie’s not too shabby, either. (more…)

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