Hank Palmer (Downey Jr) is a brilliant but slightly shady attorney who’s life is turning upside down. He came from small town Indiana and now has an ideal life in suburban Chicago, at least on the outside. He’s a brilliant attorney who’s exceptionally wealthy with the near ideal family. But he’s about to leave his wife (Sarah Lancastere), who cheated on him, and his mother just died. Returning to the small town he disappeared from so many years ago for her funeral, his father (Duvall) winds up being charged with the murder of someone he has a past with.
Staying around, and having to deal with his past, this is a film that feels like it could’ve been an exceptional mini series as this is a film trying to be an epic family film but without enough depth despite a two and a half hour running time.
The problem is that the film is trying to tackle too many storylines with some depth when the obvious one, of a man coming to grips with a poor relationship with his father, is the best route available. There’s so many good actors one can see why David Dobkin wanted to have as much of the film in it as possible. It’s hard to have someone like Vera Farmiga as the girlfriend and keep her in a thankless, throwaway role as his girlfriend from high school. But its that subplot, as well as a couple of others, that keep the film from having the sort of razor like focus it should have.
The film’s strength is of Downey and Duvall, who give solid but not brilliant performances. Downey rightfully was passed up for any award of note, but Duvall is an interesting case. He’s a certified legend of cinema who can only add to one of the greatest resumes in film history. But this isn’t something that’ll wind up as one of his great performance; it’s marginally good at best. His name is what got him the nomination, nothing more, as this is a solid performance but not a brilliant one. Duvall is capable of more, even at this point in his career, and this isn’t brilliance from him.
With a much more focused film their relationship would make or break the film as opposed to being something we wish we could’ve had more of. One imagines there’s enough material left on the floor between the two to make it something more interesting than the underwhelming main plot seemingly sacrificed at points to flesh out smaller subplots that dominate the film. One gets the feeling that there was a lot of material cut from the film that could’ve shed some more light on this, material that was cut to keep the film from being well over the three hour mark.
If this had been a six hour mini series, which is what the film feels like (a condensed version of a mini series, ala the film version vs. the British version of State of Play), one can see why there’d be as many subplots as this film has. An exploration of Hank’s departure from his hometown, and his poor relationship with his entire family, can be explored in much more depth when you’ve got the time. This film doesn’t, as it feels like a sleek 90 minute film hiding among an hour of extra material shoved in to qualify it for awards season, leaving it with a lot of great subplots for a mini series but too much material for too little time for a feature film.
The Judge remains trapped in a weird place for a film; it’s too long and bloated to be an epic family dramedy about returning home and yet not long enough to really encapsulate the whole of what it could be. It remains a misfire of sorts, capitalized with one of the more baffling Oscar nominations of the past five years.
A couple of EPK pieces, and some deleted scenes, are included.
Warner presents The Judge. Directed by David Dobkin. Written by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Vera Farmiga, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester. Run Time: 141 minutes Rated R. Released on DVD: 1.27.15
But David and Paige’s marriage crumbles when he starts a relationship with Cathy and Terry’s daughter Nina, who has suddenly returned after breaking up with her fiancé. Things become more awkward as they fall deeper in love, which also affects his daughter Vanessa (Shawkat), Nina’s childhood friend. Soon everyone is re-examining their lives…
The Disney machine is rather remarkable in how it turns young talent into multi-faceted entertainers. The most recent is Selena Gomez, who turned being a television comedian into a fairly successful career as a musical artist. Now comes her cinematic career which started with Ramona and Beezus and now yields Monte Carlo. And it’s a fairly solid, if albeit predictable, film that won’t do much to enhance her career but certainly doesn’t detract from it.
Grace (Gomez) is on holiday in Paris with her step-sister (Leighton Meester) and best friend (Katie Cassidy) when she gets mistaken for a British socialite. Instead of clearing it up, Grace decides to live it up and run with it as the three go on a “wacky” adventure through Paris (and Europe) which leads to the usual sorts of identity switch style of plot.
The film, which was based off the novel “Headhunters” by Jules Bass that imagined the scenario as women in their mid-40s, doesn’t do much new or original. This is a film that is easy to follow and easy to predict, taking the tried and true identity switch formula and running with it until its logical conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with that, as it’s a fairly enjoyable formula, but the film really doesn’t do all that much to make it interesting. It’s one thing to be predictable but it isn’t all that entertaining. That’s a must in a genre that’s almost entirely formula-driven.
The one thing that does stand out, almost like a sore thumb, is the star presence of Selena Gomez. While she’s followed in the footsteps of Miley Cyrus in being a television star, a musician and then into film-work there’s something unique about her on the screen. She has plenty of charisma and talent, albeit unrefined. Gomez has that elusive star quality that deserves a better vehicle than what’s given.
In time she’ll find a better role and grow as an actress, as right now being a teenager one can get away with roles and films like this, but there’s a short window between burgeoning child actress looking to transition into adult roles and turning into a failed Disney star who couldn’t transition away from the Mouse House. This is a good second role to take as a principal star, and the film is family-oriented so its box office grosses will easily cover the film’s low budget, but there’s only so many of these sorts of high profile roles she can take. She has that “it” factor that plenty of young actresses in similar spots don’t have, including Cyrus, but that will only take her so far.
Monte Carlo is a step in the right direction for Selena Gomez the actress but ultimately it won’t be roles in films like this that’ll turn her into something bigger than a musician who dabbles in acting.
Director: Tom Bezucha
Notable Cast: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy
Writer(s): Tom Bezucha, April Blair and Maria Maggenti based off the novel “Headhunters” by Jules Bass
The Roommate, at its heart, is very much a crowd-pleasing movie. That is if it’s a crowd full of morons who wouldn’t know what a good film was if it was staring them in the face. To everyone else this is shoddy piece of film-making masquerading as a psychosexual thriller.
Sara (Minka Kelly) is a college freshman at a school doubling for UCLA, fresh off the bus from Iowa, with dreams of being a fashion designer populating her life and her sketchbook. Things seem to be going extraordinarily well for her, too, as she has a brilliant professor (Billy Zane) with a personal interest in her and a brand new boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) who is the sort of sensitive, drum-playing frat boy that only exists in cinema. She has the world at her fingertips with only one exception: her roommate Rebecca (Leighton Meester) who has a hands-on approach to friendship. And by hands on, the implication is that she is obsessed with Sara in a most unhealthy way that culminates in what is intended to be a shocking manner. But it’s anything but that.
The Roommate has more problems with it than it does successes, mainly starting with its cast. In particular its two leads seem to be in two different films. Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester are both veterans of television, Friday Night Lights and Gossip Girl respectively, but they seem woefully miscast in their respective parts. Meester has excelled at playing both innocent as well as somewhat clueless, most recently in Country Strong, whereas Kelly seems a bit too wise in the ways of the world to be playing what’s essentially an innocent character. It’s not surprising that she was supposed to be in the role of Sara, eventually being shifted over to the role of Rebecca, and the film would be that much more interesting if she’d stayed in the original role. She doesn’t have the mannerisms or surety of character to play a mentally ill woman with any sort of conviction; she has plenty of talent as an actress but not in this particular manner. And that seems to be the recurring theme of this film: plenty of talent but little in execution.
There’s plenty of moments in the film when it could be interesting and good, or at least not painfully awful, but this is a film presented as a psycho-sexual thriller in the manner of Black Swan (which it aspires to be in a way) as opposed to being a low-rent version of Single White Female (which it is) that isn’t very thrilling nor is it very sexual. Given a PG-13 rating when the material would flourish with an R, the film tries to skirt around provocative material when it ought to be embracing it. This is a film full of cheeky melodrama that should be going way over the top with it but tries to subdue this element to maintain a serious façade. This is a film demanding to be over the top and ludicrous, with actresses going so completely over the top that they make the cast of Showgirls look tame in comparison, that tries to be serious. It gets to be almost comical in this regard, as if the film actually is a comedy but no one told the cast about it and this is the result.
With as much melodrama as this film has it doesn’t have much in terms of plot or story. This is a film that has a set path that it barrels down with remarkable ease, bypassing some plot paths that could’ve taken The Roommate into different territory than the familiar paths it chooses. There’s nothing new, unique or original to the film’s plot, story or characters. It’s as if they took the outline to the “crazy roommate” and used it as a script. With the academic setting there are plenty of different angles that could’ve been taken but they get bypassed all too often for the familiar. In different hands this could’ve been a serviceable thriller, perhaps even provocative given the right hands, but unfortunately the wrong hands are all over this.
Director: Christian E. Christiansen
Notable Cast: Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Danneel Harris, Cam Gigandet, Billy Zane
Writer(s): Sonny Mallhi
Following on the heels of Crazy Heart, Country Strong attempts to portray the same crash-and-burn lifestyle of a country musician, but revolving around a woman instead of a man. Though if you place your trust in advertising then Country Strong involves an aging country superstar that has to contend with a young upstart. Those expecting this storyline might be surprised that the superstar is a recovering alcoholic.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a six-time Grammy Award country starlet who, because of putting down the guitar and picking up the bottle, finds herself in a rehab facility for alcohol and drug dependency. Such a downward spiral stemmed from a Dallas performance that saw her performing while five months pregnant (mistake) and drunk at the time (bigger mistake). She would fall off the stage and suffer a miscarriage.
By this description you would expect that Kelly Canter would be the heart of the story, with her fall and subsequent rise, like a phoenix from the ashes. You would be wrong. The real focus is Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), an aspiring singer who has become bedfellows with Kelly at the rehab facility where he works. Kelly may be a superstar that has as many platinum albums as she has Grammys, but Beau desires no riches or acclaim. He’s what you’d call a purist; someone who is content on writing lyrics while enjoying a beer and performing in small bars for smaller crowds. Performing in stadiums in front of thousands is not his dream, unlike Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a former beauty queen who has the voice but has a tendency to freeze when performing in a room of people.
Beau and Chiles become a package deal for James Canter (Tim McGraw), Kelly’s manager husband, who is looking for opening acts for her comeback tour. Beau would act as Kelly’s sponsor, making sure she doesn’t relapse during the tour’s three-city trial run. Chiles, on the other hand, is being groomed to be the next Carrie Underwood. Along the way there are romantic complications by Beau and Chiles as well as Kelly’s instability to make it through an entire set.
Country Strong gets off to a promising start with Kelly and Beau at the clinic, but begins to go to Predictibleville (with the Road Most Traveled as its main street) once manager James makes his appearance as the domineering husband pulling his entertainer wife out of the facility prior to her rehab is up and get her on the comeback trail. The problem is that writer-director Shana Feste (The Greatest) respects her characters too much to make an engrossing drama. So she takes shortcuts in telling her story. Kelly’s alcoholism is more of a means to drive the plot than is an actual disease. And her miscarriage, which is only subtly revealed, should be integral to the story, leaving Kelly more emotionally stunted. It’s either clever acting on Paltrow’s part or Feste relying on archetype, sensing that alcoholism isn’t debilitating enough.
Feste does do one thing to curry favor with. The interweaving of Kelly’s story and Beau’s story balances tragedy with something uplifting. Considering the advertisements make this a showcase role for Gwyneth Paltrow, most will see Country Strong as a tragedy. But someone who avoided trailers or TV spots may walk away feeling moved by Beau and his willingness make a life for himself free from outside influences.
When we last heard Paltrow singing on screen she was accompanied by Huey Lewis in Duets. That was a decade ago. In Country Strong she proves adequate belting out a country tune, but some may be more impressed with Garrett Hedlund. The actor who jumped into the role right after finishing Tron: Legacy looks like he could have a second career if there ever comes a day when his agent won’t return his phone calls.
Country Strong aspires to be mentioned in the same breath as Coal Miner’s Daughter, Tender Mercies and the most recent Crazy Heart, but because writer-director Shana Feste favored convenience above all else, the film doesn’t quite reach those same heights. Had it not been mismarketed from the get-go the film may have had greater reach outside of country music circles. As it is, Country Strong remains a lower-rung country music drama with some nice tunes and good performances by Paltrow and Hedlund.
Director: Shana Feste
Notable Cast:Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester, Tim McGraw
Writer(s): Shana Feste
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She will be focusing on movies as she shoots indie film “The Oranges” in April. The film also stars Hugh Laurie and revolves around a man’s relationship with the daughter of a family friend.
The TV star and aspiring pop singer’s second single “Your Love’s A Drug” has leaked onto the internet.
To listen to it and for more info, CLICK HERE.