Big Parts For Actresses In This Season's Movies

Dec 11, 2013
Originally published on December 17, 2013 9:51 am

Ty Burr, film critic for the Boston Globe, gives Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti a rundown of the latest releases.

He says the recent movies released feature meaty and varied parts for actresses, and some great performances.

Movies Mentioned In This Segment


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Well, the weather outside is frightful in much of the country. So what better time for a delightful movie? Joining us in the studio to talk about some of this season's films is Ty Burr, film critic for The Boston Globe. Welcome, Ty. It is great to see you.

TY BURR: Thanks, Meghna.

CHAKRABARTI: So, first of all, let's just talk briefly about "Saving Mr. Banks." Now, this one stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

BURR: I know.


CHAKRABARTI: And Emma Thompson - he's even got the little mustache.

BURR: He's got the mustache, yup.

CHAKRABARTI: And Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, author of the original "Mary Poppins" books. And it's about Disney's efforts to make the "Mary Poppins" movie. But for much of the movie, Emma Thompson's character of Travers is resistant to the whole idea.

Let's listen to a scene. This is Emma Thompson and Bradley Whitford, who plays the scriptwriter.


BRADLEY WHITFORD: (As Don DaGradi) Good morning, Pamela.

EMMA THOMPSON: (As P.L. Travers) It is so discomforting to hear a perfect stranger use my first name. Mrs. Travers, please.

WHITFORD: (As Don DaGradi) I do apologize, Mrs. Travers. I'm Don DaGradi, the scriptwriter.

THOMPSON: (As P.L. Travers) Co-scriptwriter. I should certainly be having my say, Mr. DaGradi.

WHITFORD: (As Don DaGradi) Right. Wonderful. I welcome your input.

THOMPSON: (As P.L. Travers) If, indeed, we ever sign off on the script.

CHAKRABARTI: So Ty, other than the sheer awesomeness of hearing Emma Thompson put people in line, what did you think of the movie?

BURR: You know what? That's almost enough to pay your $10 for.


BURR: Emma Thompson is, far and away, the best part of this movie. It's a very enjoyable movie. It's a very calculated movie. It's interesting. It's a Disney movie that plays the anti-Disney card only to further shore up the Disney wonderfulness. We are meant to agree with Emma Thompson's P.L. Travers as she resists the Disneyfication(ph) of her beloved character. And there's this long flashback, parallel story about her youth in Australia with a beloved but troubled father, played by Colin Farrell in a very good performance, which is supposed to explain her.

Eventually, she is supposed to overcome her resistance and go along with the Disney way. And Thompson almost makes it believable. And she's so wonderful in this film, and I hope she gets a nomination or something because she's just a pleasure. I didn't quite buy Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, but I buy him as Tom Hanks; and that's enough.


BURR: It's a really enjoyable movie that'll make some people very happy. Others, it will sort of make them feel manipulated. Basically, what it is, it's about the most entertaining two hours of corporate branding you're ever going to see.


CHAKRABARTI: Interesting to hear that Disney is being subversive in a self-serving way, though.

BURR: Within its goals and aims and world view, yes.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, let's move on to a movie that's maybe genuinely subversive, or at least tougher - "American Hustle." It's got some very big stars in it: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence. And Bale plays a con man, Irving Rosenfeld, and it's very loosely based on the FBI's 1970s Abscam public corruption investigation, which lead to the conviction of a senator and a passel of representatives. So let's listen to Bale, who's talking to Bradley Cooper's character, FBI agent Richie DiMaso.


CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Irving Rosenfeld) Is it because you want to be a big shot, get a promotion?

BRADLEY COOPER: (As Richie DiMaso) No. I'm thinking big. All right. This is going to be fantastic. We're doing video surveillance. I'm doing this from the feet up.

BALE: (As Irving Rosenfeld) You will never do it properly because you got too much government attitude to be small and slick. I like to be a con man, all right? I'm in, and I'm out. I was there the whole time. You don't know it, all right? That's an art, becoming somebody who people can pin their beliefs and their dreams on.

CHAKRABARTI: So Ty, scandals always make for great drama. How closely does this movie stick to the Abscam scandal?

BURR: Not closely at all, as far as I understand it. And it really is more of a comedy and a human comedy. Here's what you need to understand about "American Hustle." David O. Russell, the director, basically took his cast from "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," invited them all over and said, let's make a movie. We'll set it in the '70s. We'll give you really crazy hairstyles, and it'll be something to do with Abscam. I don't know what.

And that's kind of how the movie plays. It is truly entertaining. There are scenes that are absolutely hilarious, even as it kind of feels the movie is falling apart around with the actors. There are certain actors that are miscast. Christiane Bale's a sleazy con man with the worst comb-over in movie history.



BURR: Amy Adams, who I adore and who's in a lot of movies this year, actually gets her teeth into the role of Christian Bale's partner. But the movie is fun. The movie is not a great movie. But sometimes, you just want to go have fun watching talented actors hack around.

CHAKRABARTI: Is that enough for you? - because you'd think that with the mix of talented actors, if you actually had a good story, it'd be something amazing.

BURR: It's a good enough story. And sometimes you get Jennifer Lawrence, who just takes her role as Bale's wife and runs with it; and just has a high old time, almost doesn't matter what she's doing. She's just that enjoyable to watch. And that seems to be a hallmark, really, of this movie season. The performances are just out of this world.

CHAKRABARTI: Too bad she doesn't whip out the bow and arrow in the middle of the film.


CHAKRABARTI: OK. Let's move on to another film. This is "August: Osage County," based on the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It's coming out on Christmas. It's definitely not a wintry movie, nor a picture of family happiness. Meryl Streep stars in the film as Violet Weston. And let's listen.


MERYL STREEP: (As Violet Weston) You're a pretty girl. Why don't you wear makeup?

JULIA ROBERTS: (As Barbara Weston) Do I need makeup?

STREEP: (As Violet Weston) Every woman needs makeup. Don't let anybody tell you different. The only woman pretty enough to go without makeup was Elizabeth Taylor. And she wore a ton.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Ty, Meryl Streep is just a pleasure even to listen to in a little cut there. Did you like the film?

BURR: You know, it's a great play. And essentially, you have a bunch of very, very talented actors doing the play, and that's enough. And with Meryl Streep, there's small Meryl Streep performances and there are huge Meryl Streep performances. This is one of the big ones. She plays this cancer-ridden dragon mama who makes life miserable for everybody in her family. And it's very interesting to see Meryl Streep give one of her great actress performances next to Julia Roberts, who gives a very effective star performance. It's very interesting to see those two in the same room, sharing the same oxygen.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, there's one more film I want to talk about with you, Ty. This one, it might actually - even though it's a drama or fiction, it might actually ring true for a lot of people. It's called "Her," and it stars Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara. And before we explain what the movie's about, let's just listen to this clip.


ROONEY MARA: (As Catherine) You're dating a computer?

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: (As Theodore) She's not just a computer.

MARA: (As Catherine) You always wanted to have a wife without the challenges of actually dealing with anything real. I'm glad that you found someone.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. So the computer in this case happens to be - what, Joaquin Phoenix's cellphone?

BURR: No. It's his operating system.


BURR: Yeah, OS. And now you have, I think, to understand about this movie "Her" is that it's set - it's never really stated - 15, 20 years in the future. The operating system that controls your computer and your PDA - oh, it's more than a phone, certainly - at this point in time is - has artificial intelligence. That character played by Joaquin Phoenix has one who is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. And he falls in love with her. And she falls in love with him. It is actually feels like a realistic person. And you do have that scene with that character's ex-wife, played by Rooney Mara, saying: Wait a minute, what's going on here?

But the movie, directed by Spike Jonze and written by him, does give you this very affecting, sad, sadly comic and true-seeming portrait of a society where everybody is so intrinsically involved with their electronic devices that they're losing touch with the actual people in their lives. To my mind, it's actually one of the best films of the year.

CHAKRABARTI: You know, Ty, hearing you describe this movie, it actually reminds me a little bit about something that you said regarding "Saving Mr. Banks," that these are films that are taking moviegoers in sort of unexpected directions; that they're more than what they might seem to be on the surface.

BURR: I completely agree with that. And I actually think it's one of the reasons that 2013 has been actually a tremendous year for movies and movie-going because you've got these films that present stories that are challenging, yet entertaining, that are mass appeal yet take that mass audience in directions they didn't expect to be taken.

CHAKRABARTI: So challenging movies even coming out of the big studios.

BURR: Yes. It's been an unusual year in that the scripts are there, the performances are there, the directing is there. I hope next year is as good.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Ty Burr is film critic for The Boston Globe. And happy holiday film-going to you, Ty.

BURR: Thank you very much. You, too.


CHAKRABARTI: A little Duke Ellington's version of "Spoonful of Sugar." I should also mention that Ty Burr is author of "Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame."

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.