‘August’ is powerful, ‘Her’ is heartbreaking and ‘Survivor’ is shocking

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Jan. 10 are a dysfunctional family drama starring Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, a romantic dramedy starring Joaquin Phoenix and an actioner starring Mark Wahlberg.

August: Osage County

A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. (R – 121 minutes)

You will not see a finer example of spectacular acting in all of 2013 than the performance delivered by any one of “August: Osage County’s” stars. Nor will you be able to recall a more accurate example than John Wells’ cinematic adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play of a story that works better on the stage than it does on the screen. Granted, the powerful performances – especially those of Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep – are worth the price of admission in and of themselves (not to mention more fun to watch than your own dysfunctional family’s vehemently violent verbal exchanges) but it all adds up to too much talk and not enough action. (Thumbs Up!)


Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely writer who develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system (Scarlett Johansson) that is designed to meet his every need. Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde and Rooney Mara also star. (R – 120 minutes)

“Her” is essentially a one-man show about a man who is living life like it is… well… a one-man show. Given only a very small handful of scenes in which he has got another human being to act opposite, star Joaquin Phoenix gives an emotional performance that is nothing short of outstanding – which is made even better by writer/director Spike Jonze’s constant close ups of the actor’s incredibly expressive face. Having said that, while Jonze’s romantic dramedy makes a remarkable point about our ever-decreasing willingness to make potentially risky, interpersonal connections and the individual and widespread consequences of that, 2002’s “S1m0ne” made a similar point with much more entertainment value. (Thumbs Up!)

Lone Survivor

Mark Wahlberg plays the lone surviving member in a team of Navy SEALS who are tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Other stars include Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana. (R – 120 minutes)

From its title alone, you know the outcome of “Lone Survivor.” What you do not know, though, is that this game of “10 Little Indians” plays out in excruciatingly drawn-out fashion as the Navy SEALS who risk – and, in this case, give – their lives for the safety of the citizens of the United States of America do not go down without a fight. Writer/director Peter Berg’s new movie mimics their relentlessness as the entertainment experience, in all of its graphic brutality, is undoubtedly unique while paying tribute to the men who will take a bullet to their head and break every bone in their body but remarkably keep moving forward. (Thumbs Up!)

The Truth About Emanuel

Kaya Scodelario plays a troubled young woman who becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor (Jessica Biel) who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her newborn, the young woman unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world of which she becomes the gatekeeper. (NR – 96 minutes)

The truth about “The Truth About Emanuel” is that while it features a very distinct mood and two terrific performances from leading ladies Kaya Scodelario and Jessica Biel, writer/director Francesca Gregorini’s new dramatic thriller’s thematic identity is far too unfocused. Should viewers be scared or merely intrigued? Should they feel sympathetic toward these characters or instead laugh at their often outlandish behavior? Granted, a good movie will deliver all of the above but this motion picture amalgamates it all into one confusing concoction that moves at a slightly too-measured pace and repeatedly goes off the deep-end with hallucinatory dream sequences. (Thumbs Down!)

White Reindeer

Anna Margaret Hollyman plays a woman who, after an unexpected tragedy, struggles to put her life back together during a sad, strange Christmastime in suburban Virginia. (NR – 82 minutes)

On the one hand, “White Reindeer” is a breath of fresh air, reflecting the fact that perfection is merely an illusion – even at Christmastime. After all, the juxtaposition of joy and melancholy always makes for an interesting concoction as exhibited by this past fall’s brilliant “All is Bright.” On the other hand, writer/director Zach Clark’s new dark dramedy does not go anywhere of specified significance, leading to an experience that is often amusing but rarely if ever moving. Star Anna Margaret Hollyman gives a great performance and the whole thing is uniquely depressing but also in dire need of a story arc. (Thumbs Down!)

Wrong Cops

Mark Burnham plays one of several bad cops who look to dispose of a body that one of them accidentally shot. (NR – 82 minutes)

Writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s first film produced by Realitism Films – “Rubber” – was a wacky work of genius. His second outing – “Wrong” – was amusing but ultimately unable to retain the viewer’s interest throughout. Dupieux’s downward spiral from greatness into awfulness not only continues but accelerates with his third effort – the lazily titled “Wrong Cops.” The new comedy is not only lacking a cohesive plot, coming across as a series of loosely connected skits, it is also lacking laughs. And without those, it nothing more than annoying nonsense. (Thumbs Down!)

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Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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