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Posts Tagged ‘Julia Roberts’

Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges

“BEN IS BACK” My rating: B

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Before it goes belly up in the third act, Peter Hedges’ “Ben Is Back” presents itself as one of the more insightful films about drug addiction.

Like that other contemporary drug drama, “Beautiful Boy,” this one focuses on the relationship between a parent and an addicted child. But whereas “Beautiful Boy” was presented from the POV of an adult, “Ben…” focuses heavily on the young user.

Indeed, Lucas Hedges (the writer/director’s son) is both heartbreaking and terrifying as the title character, who pops up at his family’s suburban New York home on Christmas Eve when he was supposed to be in rehab.

His mom, Holly (Julia Roberts), finds herself welcoming her long-lost son even as she scurries about emptying the medicine cabinets. She wants to believe Ben when he tells her that his drug counselor okayed this Christmas visit, but after thousands spent on recovery programs and repeated relapses, she’s not getting her hopes up.

Her first outing with her newly returned son takes them to the local cemetery, where she bluntly asks Ben where he wants to be buried.  Or does he prefer cremation?

Ben’s teenage sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) is even more cynical. She as much as tells her brother that the family no longer needs his kind of trouble. (There are also a couple of very young step siblings, the result of Holly’s second marriage to Neal — played by Courtney B. Vance; his  deep pockets have financed Ben’s so-far-unsuccessful efforts to turn his life around.)

Still, Ben is so earnest and eager to please — playing with his stepbrother and stepsister, offering to do chores — that hearts melt a bit.

Hedges’ script is interesting in that it avoids actual drug use and the nuts and bolts of rehab, focusing instead on the human damage Ben has left behind.

Attending a local AA meeting, he meets a young woman to whom he used to sell drugs. She’s a wreck, and he feels at least partly responsible.

(more…)

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Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston

“MOTHER’S DAY”  My rating: C- 

118 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Like its predecessors — “Valentine’s Day,” “New Year’s Eve” and the inexplicably adored  “Love Actually”  — “Mother’s Day” is low-risk, high-profit drek.

From a film producer’s point of view it’s a no brainer.  Take a half dozen interlacing plots on a central theme, populate them with big names (none of whom have to work too hard, since each is on screen for only a few minutes), pave the way with lightweight comedy and wrap it all up with a saccharine coda.

Jason Sudiekis

Jason Sudeikis

Plus, it’s a lazy moviegoer’s dream come true. There’s no commitment required because the enterprise is pure dramatic shorthand. No character or narrative arc is sustained  long enough to be anything more than a blip, and the film delivers a sentimental rush without the viewer having to invest anything.

In other words, emotional porn.

The latest from director Garry Marshall and his team of writers (Tom Hines, Lily Hollander, Anya Kochoff, Matthew Walker) follows a group of Atlanta residents as they look forward to — what else? — Mother’s Day.

Divorcee Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is all abother because her ex (Timothy Olyphant) has wed a trophy gal half his age…and now this new stepmom is a favorite of Sandy’s two young boys.

Sisters Jesse (Kate Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke) live next door to each other and are happily estranged from their domineering and hopelessly prejudiced mother. Jesse has married an East Indian M.D. (Asaif Mandvi), while Gabi is in a same-sex relationship.

Wouldn’t you know it?  Their covers are blown when unsuspecting Mom (the great Margo Martindale) and Dad (Robert Pine) come swooping down in their RV to share Mother’s Day with the girls. (more…)

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Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts

“SECRET IN THEIR EYES” My rating: C

111 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Some stories cannot be transplanted from one culture to another without losing much in the process.

Such is the case with “Secret in Their Eyes,” an American remake of an Argentine release which in 2010 won the Oscar for best foreign language film.

The story arcs of the two films are pretty much interchangeable. Both feature a chase through a packed sports stadium, and each ends with a head-spinning last-act revelation capable of inducing a tummy full of dread.

And yet the particulars are different enough that what worked magnificently in one version sputters and dies in the other.

This film from writer/director Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass,” “Breach”) is presented as two interlocking stories taking place in two decades.

In the present former FBI agent (now he handles security for the New York Mets) Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) returns to his old haunts in Los Angeles to complete some unfinished business.

For 13 years Ray has been haunted by the murder of young Caroline Cobb, whose mother Jess (Julia Roberts) was a colleague and investigator for the L.A. District Attorney’s Office.

Ray and Jess were part of a task force looking for terrorist activity originating in a local mosque. The most likely murder suspect was a oddball young man and a member of that congregation.

But the D.A. (Alfred Molina) kept throwing roadblocks in front of the murder investigation. Eventually it was revealed that the suspect was a confidential informant reporting on activities at the mosque. Killer or not, the powers that be are kept him out of the legal system. Given the rampant paranoia after 9/11, they decided that preventing another terrorist attack trumps solving a young woman’s murder.

Despite lacking legal authorization or jurisdiction, Ray and Jess (Roberts has dowdied herself into near-unrecognizability) went after the suspect on their own. They were cautiously abetted by Claire (Nicole Kidman), a new prosecutor for whom Ray had (and continues to have) a raging case of unrequited love/lust.

But the suspect vanishes and the trail went cold.

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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.

(more…)

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