The Films of John Wells
The Company Men
August: Osage County (December 11/13)
Based on the stage play by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County details the emotional chaos that ensues after several family members reunite following the death of one of their own. There's little doubt that August: Osage County, for most of its first half, unfolds exactly as one might've anticipated, as filmmaker John Wells has infused the proceedings with a talky and almost stagy feel that's certainly reflective of the movie's theatrical origins - with the efforts of the film's impressive cast, which includes Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper, going a long way towards initially compensating for the talk-heavy atmosphere. And although it is, in the movie's early stages, difficult to work up any real interest in the various characters' relentless bickering, August: Osage County, once it passes a certain point, morphs into an unexpectedly engrossing effort rife with appreciatively over-the-top and downright trashy elements - with the film's turning point a spectacularly awkward dinner that eventually devolves into a full-on physical fight between participants. It's a captivating (and unapologetically broad) sequence that triggers a second half that's often far more entertaining and watchable than anticipated, with the remainder of the movie jam-packed with similarly larger-than-life moments and chunks of dialogue (eg "eat the fish, bitch!") that pave the way for a powerful, surprisingly moving final stretch - thus confirming, ultimately, August: Osage County's place as a better-than-average adaptation.
Burnt (November 17/15)
Burnt casts Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones, a hotshot chef who returns to the culinary world after a self-imposed three-year hiatus - with the movie following the character as he attempts to launch a trendy new restaurant from the ground up. There's little doubt that Burnt fares much better in its first half than in its second, as the movie opens with a fairly captivating stretch detailing the central character's efforts at assembling his kitchen staff - with the effectiveness of this portion of the proceedings heightened by an exceedingly affable supporting cast that includes Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, and Emma Thompson. It's clear, too, that the picture benefits from Cooper's unapologetically brusk turn as Jones, as the character, for the most part, comes off as a three-dimensional figure that feels much more authentic than one might've anticipated (ie Jones is often as petulant and obnoxious as he is personable). And while the movie boasts an effective assortment of intriguing behind-the-scenes tidbits, Burnt eventually reaches a point at which it starts to plateau in terms of forward momentum - with the film's midsection suffering from a blandness that's especially disappointing given the strength of everything that's come before (ie Steven Knight's script adopts a rote, by-the-numbers vibe that is, to put it mildly, problematic). By the time the lackluster final act rolls around, Burnt's confirmed its place as a missed opportunity that ultimately feels like two movies ungainly stitched together at the middle (ie it's both an engrossing cooking drama and all-too-slick character study).