Director: Don Cheadle
Writers: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle
Stars: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, LaKeith Lee Stanfield
Release date: April 1st, 2016
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 100 minutes
Release date: December 27th, 2013
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Running time: 120 minutes
I believe it was the influential American author F. Scott Fitzgerald who famously said:”Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material”. If that’s the case, then both families in August: Osage County follow Fitzgerald’s words to the letter. With the Weston and Aiken families holding certain incidences and issues against one another, this moody yet insightful dramedy turns into a brash and unrelenting 2-hour thrill-ride. With its stellar cast, pitch-perfect dialogue, and alluring visual style, this movie surprises, frustrates, and shines when required. Just don’t tell anyone I talked about these people behind their backs. Yeesh!
Based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage Country is an honest, brutal, and claustrophobic adaption. With Letts taking control of his productions’ adaptations, his guiding hand proves useful, effecting, and practical. Here, like with previous adaptation Killer Joe, his characters are trapped in certain settings and situations. Trust me – his characters are unenviable, childish, and torturous! No one would ever want to spend a weekend away with these people! So, efficiently, Letts brings his characters straight to us. However, despite the flaws, August: Osage County‘s performers make this adaptation somewhat tolerable. This meandering dramedy begins with the Westons living in complete disarray. Hiring a Native American nurse/housekeeper, Johnna Monevata (Misty Upham), Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) relays personal stories to her about life, loss, regret, and literature. To his cancerous (in multiple ways) wife Violet(Meryl Streep)’s dismay, Johnna listens intently to Beverly’s every word. However, as Beverly’s sudden disappearance becomes a major hurdle, Johnna, despite Violet’s irritating attitude, must care for her. Soon enough, the Weston and Aiken clans show up to give Violet their best wishes. Violet’s three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis), follow one another back to their old home. With memories, tempers, and heat-waves flaring, the three sisters band together to overcome each other’s burgeoning problems. Barbara, separated from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), struggles to control their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Not to be outdone, Karen’s hotshot fiancée Steve Huberbrecht (Dermot Mulroney) breezes into town with his bright red Ferrari and interminable personality in tow.
If that wasn’t enough, Violet’s sister Mattie Fae Aiken (Margot Martindale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper), and their son ‘Little’ Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) throw themselves into this sprawling recipe for disaster. To continue on with this family reunion/meal theme, August Osage County is chock-a-block with characters willing, but unable, to stir the pot before its contents boil over. All family reunion movies have the potential to knock themselves for a loop. With multiple characters, story-lines, messages, and hurtful one-liners flying across comforting settings, The Big Chill is still seen as a meaningful fluke. Letts’ writing style, made famous by the play, places personalities and ideologies against one another. Director John Wells (The Company Men) ably adapts to the egos and auras floating through his ambitious projects. Handling impressive ensembles competently, Wells is undoubtedly an actor’s director. His attentive style elevates mediocre characters from the doldrums whilst shining spotlights in their eyes. Despite the previous comment’s darkness, Wells’ controlling direction and attention to detail elevates this otherwise frustrating affair. However, Wells can’t detach this project from its stage-based roots. Walking an uneasy line between stage and screen, the movie’s scope, subtext, and characterisations are pushed overboard. Unfortunately, Wells and Letts butt heads over this movie’s intentions. Showcasing Oaklahoma’s countryside at opportune moments, Wells seems intent on separating this narrative from the play’s restrictions. However, Letts sticks to his creation’s most claustrophobic aspects. Sadly, this confrontation throws this dramedy’s tone off balance. With Wells and Letts’ visions not reaching their true potential, this dramedy awkwardly mixes Secrets & Lies‘ dramatic beats with Death at a Funeral‘s farcical hijinks. Despite the narrative’s faults, August: Osage County hurriedly sweeps up its audience. Targeted at 40-something women, the movie, after its sombre epilogue, delves into modern romantic-drama’s typical and uninspired traits.
“Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” (Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts), August: Osage County).
With its familial dramatic moments, strong-willed women, and picturesque cast, the movie acknowledges its monstrous advantages compared to similar Oscar-starved fare. However, with Letts’ piercing dialogue steering his thought-provoking story, the movie becomes a cynical, cold, and visceral black comedy. Like most families, August: Osage County crackles whilst set around the dinner table. Two table sequences – elevated by smashed plates, cruel jokes, punishing insults, and physical violence – switch from elaborate set pieces to hysterical and identifiable shouting matches. Charlie’s woeful attempt to say grace is met with kooky ringtones, rolling eyeballs, and mean-spirited laughter. Like most family gatherings, startling revelations, broken relationships, detailed anecdotes, and shattered perspectives define this movie. Several harsh one-liners are burned into the consciousness. Beverly, accepting of his alcoholism-controlled sanity, is inexplicably told to: “F#cking f#ck a sow’s ass!”. Unfortunately, the symbolism goes overboard from the opening frame. Violet, stepping out from the shadows during her first appearance, is defined by obvious idiosyncrasies. Receiving pharmaceutical-based relief from mouth cancer, this matriarchal character is disgracefully over-the-top and unlikeable. Unfortunately, Streep’s overt impersonation of Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There spectacularly misfires. Thankfully, everyone else is top notch. Roberts provides her best performance since Erin Brockovich. As a stranded-in-denial character, Roberts’ intensity and verve elevate certain sequences. In addition, Martindale and Nicholson provide scintillating turns in valuable roles. Meanwhile, the male performers become witty, kooky, and insightful comic reliefs. Cooper and McGregor steal scenes as the resilient husband-and-father figures. Mulroney and Cumberbatch provide impressive performances in understated roles.
Lacking Festen‘s dramatic weight and You’re Next‘s brutal murders, August: Osage County lacks subtlety and uniqueness. Despite the movie’s overt metaphors and broad characters, the emotionally resonant moments, cutting one-liners, and solid performances boost this intriguing and kinetic dramedy. Ironically, this movie is perfect for lazy days on the couch…at home…with the family.
Release date: January 11th, 2013
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, Summit Entertainment
Running time: 114 minutes
Whether it’s horror (Hostel), action (Taken) or drama (Babel), film seems to have a serious aversion to travel. Instead of depicting a fictitious conflict, like in the films previously mentioned, The Impossible focuses on one of the most horrific natural disasters in history. It’s a tense, moving and surreal film that discusses what we, as humans, should cherish most.
This English/Spanish collaboration follows the true story of a family caught up in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. We first meet them on a flight coming into Thailand. Bickering on the plane, Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) are a typical married couple. Keeping their kids, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), in line is their biggest priority. Exploring Thailand’s many attractions during Christmas time, their luxurious holiday seems to be going smoothly. However, Boxing Day morning will yield heartache. A sudden gust of wind is followed by birds hurriedly flying away and the ground shaking violently. The wave then wipes out the resort and its surroundings. In the Aftermath, Maria and Lucas are split from Henry, Thomas and Simon.
Both parties spend the rest of their nightmarish ordeal searching for one another. This film is a truly affecting experience. This event was catastrophic is more ways than can be imagined. The tsunami swept across multiple Asian countries whilst taking over 200, 000 lives (over 42, 000 are still believed to be missing). Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) directs with a delicate and profound love of this subject matter. He has poignantly turned this true story of survival into a gruelling cinematic experience. Sure, people connected to this tragedy will suggest that this film comes ‘too soon’ after the event. But it’s a story that needs to be told. Both The Impossible and United 93 stand as important reminders of how historical events can change society. This story is based on a Spanish family. However, instead of Spanish actors filling these roles, Bayona and co. have chosen an almost entirely Caucasian cast. There are serious ethical problems with this decision. Yes, big names like Watts and McGregor can attract Oscar nods (Watts recently received a Best Actress Oscar nomination) and a significant audience, but this decision distorts accuracy and points out clichés.
All of the white characters are depicted as saints. The foreign and Thai characters simply recall shocking stories of survival and loss, become extras or represent the high number of corpses. Films like Babel and Contagion provide a more in-depth study of serious political/environmental issues. Despite these complaints, the story itself is what propels this film. The film is tonally divided between several important parts. The first act combines the ‘before’ and ‘during’ stages of this disaster. It’s a tense examination of this ostensibly happy family. Complaints about the house alarm, junk food and work-lives back home may seem petty, but these conversations create an identifiable dynamic between all five family members. The Christmas Day scenes, including a haunting lantern ceremony, reveal a lot about this family. Despite constant reminders of the on-coming disaster, these scenes also concentrate on the ocean’s true power. This leads up to the disaster itself. It’s a climactic and truly brutal set piece. The ocean hits with a terrifying force as people struggle to survive its wrath. This intricate sequence may, however, hit too hard for people still affected by this disaster.
“Lucas, look at this place. They’re so busy in here. You get to go and do something. Go help people. You’re good at it.” (Maria (Naomi Watts), The Impossible).
Bayona has a keen-eye for both authenticity and cinematography. The aftermath is where waves of emotion hit hardest. The immense destruction becomes truly visceral and dangerous. Captured in a panoramic format, Maria and Lucas fight for survival amongst debris, bodies and infection. These sequences are aided by the stunning and horrific make-up effects. Bruises, cuts and grazes are emphasised as blood trickles across every character’s skin. The last two-thirds show how courageous acts were vital during this harrowing catastrophe. Despite The Impossible’s brave depiction of nightmarish events, its over-sentimentality stands out. This is partly due to the, at points, manipulative score. Meanwhile, some of the coincidences and directorial tricks become slightly tiresome. Despite this, the performances truly stand out here. Watts provides the greatest performance of her career. Portraying a weakened and scared individual, she becomes a powerful presence. McGregor is once again charismatic in an emotionally charged role. His character becomes a symbol of hope when all is lost. Meanwhile, Tom Holland proves, on his début, that he is a young actor to look out for.
At points all too sentimental, this story of hope and loss is an untimely reminder of how humanity should operate. Stellar performances and direction are the film’s greatest assets, providing a range and beauty rarely seen in a big-budget production.
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