There’s a movie for just about everyone debuting this week in theatres. Julia Roberts stars in the romantic travel drama, Eat Pray Love; Sylvester Stallone and a cast of action heroes fight it out in The Expendables; and Michael Cera plays a would-be teenage hero in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Eat Pray Love
Starring: Julia Roberts, James Franco, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis
Director: Ryan Murphy
Julia Roberts is the go-to girl for playing emotionally charged women with big stories to tell. From her fictional roles to playing Erin Brockovich, Roberts has established her place in Hollywood, and you could hardly find a better fit for her than in author Elizabeth Gilbert’s real-life tale of rediscovery, Eat Pray Love.
The film starts as Elizabeth begins to question her marriage to a man who loves her, but maybe wasn’t the soul mate she hoped. Divorcing him and moving out, Elizabeth ends up starting a whirlwind romance with a young actor named David, played by James Franco, before she realizes what she really needs is a chance to rediscover herself.
Miserable and unsteady, Elizabeth makes plans to travel for an entire year, spending one part of her time in Italy to earn back her love of food, one portion in India to reconnect with her spirituality, and the final part of the trip in Indonesia to open her heart again.
As Elizabeth travels she meets people with all sorts of quirks, motivations, and lessons to pass on to her, including a troubled man in India, played brilliantly by Richard Jenkins, who helps her understand personal forgiveness.
It’s one, big post card from some of the more interesting parts of the world, and director Ryan Murphy brings real heart to much of the story.
However, the film does feel a bit long winded. The early parts of the film which establish Elizabeth’s tale are interesting, and they do contribute to the story’s overall arc, but they are unquestionably what makes this film feel far too long.
Screenwriters Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt, and Murphy, make charming use of the film’s co-stars and side characters, but the other big problem with Eat Pray Love, aside from the meandering length of the tale, is that these characters steal the film out from under Roberts.
Roberts is a vivid personality, but in this film it’s often hard to feel like she’s truly acting at all. Next to the likes of Richard Jenkins, Roberts is a mere shadow, and I’d even go so far as to suggest that Jenkins deserves an Oscar nomination for his role as the wayward Texan who wishes he could change his past.
Jenkins is not the only actor who upstages Roberts though — it happens time and again, from Billy Crudup in the early scenes, to Viola Davis, Christine Hakim, and especially the sweet, sensitive character of Felipe, played by Javier Bardem. Elizabeth was clearly written to be someone who learns from the people around her, but as played by Roberts she seems lost among these vivid, bright individuals.
Eat Pray Love impressed me because it was not schmaltzy, overly derivative, or light headed, but it is not an astounding film either. Murphy directs the cast and story well, and there are moments where the film invariably sucks you into its emotional waters, but it’s also a story that feels like a rich girls dream, and not much more.
As Elizabeth searches for herself you can’t help but think about the people who are able to find themselves right in their own back yards. Not many people can afford to fly the world for a year and then write a book about how they got back in touch with themselves, and as told here, it seems smug, self-absorbed, and little more than a girl fantasy.
That said, if guys can have their big-screen action adventures, there’s nothing wrong with women getting a world adventure like Eat Pray Love, even if it comes off feeling ultimately unfulfilling for some of us who expected a bit more soul to the overall rediscovery.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Charisma Carpenter, Eric Roberts
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Let’s just get this out of the way: it honestly amazes me how much I hated The Expendables. I’m not going to try to sugar-coat it either. I went into this movie with low expectations of general amusement and I was still disappointed. At this point I would rather watch every other bad movie that came out this year — twice — than sit through the first 30-minutes of The Expendables again.
If I had to point my finger at one thing that ruined the film for me, it would have to be Sylvester Stallone himself, but there are no less than four issues I had with him: Stallone not only stars in the film, he’s also the film’s writer, director and producer.
Let’s back-track a little though. The Expendables is a straight-up action movie teleported directly from the 80s and starring a cavalcade of action stars and wrestlers, including Stallone, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Steve Austin.
Stallone stars as Barney, the leader of a group of mercenaries who take on impossible jobs that require the use of big guns, knives, and explosives. When Barney and his friend Lee Christmas, played by Statham, take on a CIA job to exterminate an evil dictator, who coincidentally is being controlled by an ex-CIA agent played by Eric Roberts, they stumble on a damsel in distress. From that point on, Barney vows to help the woman, played by Giselle Itié, or die trying.
Going into the film I didn’t know much of the plot, and I knew the story really didn’t matter — it’s one of those action films that you just accept will have a terrible plot and just needs the right excuses to let the heroes go in, kick butt, and pile up the corpses behind them.
The problem is that when you have a cast like this, you expect the characters to leap off the screen. The movie plot is almost unimportant — fans are going to turn out to see the stars, and bask in their bloody glory — but The Expendables just drops the guys on screen, and only Statham and Crews seem to get much opportunity to kick serious butt with real attitude.
That reason alone made me realize that Stallone never should have been allowed to direct this movie. Most of these guys are acceptable action stars, but they’re normally directed by people with actual directing abilities. Stallone directs himself and most of the action well enough, and his stunt coordinator obviously knew what they were doing, but Stallone fails to inspire his cast, and the script he co-wrote never gives them a chance to be all that clever. Li and Rourke get a few opportunities, I suppose, but none that really blew me away.
Even if you can ignore the mind-numbing dialogue and the recycled plot from the 80s, it’s hard to ignore that these guys are utter stiffs on screen. Without a strong director it’s like expecting bronze statues to emote if you film them long enough.
Add to that the problem that, while Stallone does look pretty good for his age, he also looks like a sausage that’s been squeezed too hard. He literally looks like if he hit a sharp corner he might burst out of his skin.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to like The Expendables, and I love a good, old-fashioned, mindless action movie, but Stallone and his friends look like a bunch of has-beens in this badly produced, poorly written mess of a movie, and the only redeeming quality is seeing them joke a bit, chat with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger for five minutes, and watch as they kick, punch, and shoot everything that moves.
That wasn’t enough for me to enjoy The Expendables, so my vote is to skip it, and if you’re really feeling generous you can try it on DVD in a few months and fast forward through all the brain dead dialogue and get right to the mediocre action.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh
Director: Edgar Wright
Easily this week’s best reviewed film comes from director Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead fame, who helps transform Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels into a big-screen action-adventure.
Michael Cera stars as the ubiquitous slacker and nerd, Scott Pilgrim, who falls for the very pretty Ramona Flowers, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but has to defeat her seven evil exes before he can truly win her heart.
Set in Toronto, the film is essentially a postcard of the cooler side of the city, and it’s already earned impressive reviews from loads of critics.
“The film may baffle regular citizens (and migraine sufferers),” Peter Howell wrote in his review for the Toronto Star, “but it welcomes geeks of all ages and obsessions to its circus tent.”
And Robert Wilonsky of the Village Voice wrote, “Wright immerses his heroes in pop culture’s detritus and diversions, but doesn’t drown them in it. You don’t have to be dazzled or tickled by the movie, or get every joke, to be touched by it, too.”