Men, Women & Children Review – Social Melodrama


Director: Jason Reitman

Writers: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Chad Kultgen (novel)

Stars: Rosmarie DeWitt, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer


Release date: October 1st, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 119 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: The heavy-handed message.

In the age of…whoa, whoa, whoa! There is no way, in the name of God and Mother Nature’s big, blue Earth, I can or should start a review of ‘indie’ dramedy Men, Women & Children with that cliché! Such clichés, used throughout most ‘perils of social media’ articles/news stories etc., sum up everything wrong with modern entertainment/journalism. News and entertainment media, from big-budget schlockers to the independent idea mills, should always be divorcing themselves from convention.

Rosemarie DeWitt & Adam Sandler.

Sadly, no one informed Men, Women & Children‘s cast and crew of this. Hoping we’ll look up its release date and/or wait anxiously for the next trailer’s release, the marketing campaign tries to lure us into its conventional worldview. Obsessed with the zeitgeist, this dramedy honestly believes it’s delivering the last word on the subject. It expects everyone – from top-tier critics to average film-goers – to sit up and listen. The movie – examining the dangers of social media, pop-culture, and sex – wants us to look in the mirror at judge ourselves for everything we’ve done wrong. Unaware of its flaws, the movie is a virus no contraceptive or firewall could ever hope to destroy. This blunt and irritable mess starts off with a symbol floating through another symbol whilst drifting past more symbols. In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 into the endless void of space. Blaring cheery greetings in 57 languages, smooth jazz sounds, and animal noises, astronomer Carl Sagan’s recording was designed to communicate with extraterrestrials. Explained via sprightly, useless narration (Emma Thompson), the movie falls back down to Earth. It then flicks through multiple story-lines. Inter-connecting through friendships, relationships, and coincidences, these stories craft a never-ending narrative about the digital age’s pros and cons.

Dean Norris & Judy Greer.

Dean Norris & Judy Greer.

Despite the amount of story-lines and characters, Men, Women & Children is about as lifeless and mechanical as The Cloud. The movie handles dating divorcees (Dean Norris and Judy Greer), first loves (Ansel Elgort and Kaitly Dever), promiscuous teenagers (Olivia Crocicchia), porn-obsessed youngsters (Travis Tope), paranoid parents (Jennifer Garner), and much more. Before I bin this dramedy and press ‘Empty Trash’, allow me to activate my newly devised ‘Angry Critic’ app and explain why I hate it. Here’s what you should know before seeing Men, Women & Children – the title is plural for a reason! Each story-line, featuring several flawed characters each, gets a significant amount of screen-time. One particular story-line – involving married couple Rachel and Don Truby (Rosemarie DeWitt and Adam Sandler)’s debaucherous, internet-fuelled indiscretions – should have been the central conceit. Unfortunately, this over-long and simplistic black comedy’s remaining story-lines needed more time to install, run, and update. The first third, designed specifically to introduce each plot-thread, is chock-a-block with meet cutes and dilemma-causing scenarios. Meanwhile, the last third lives to resolve said preposterous, cynical, and inconsequential strands. This leaves only middle third to solidify each thread’s existence. Flipping iPad style through each sub-plot, character arc, theme, issue, and conflict, not one story-line is successfully developed or treated with care. Several threads, including the Truby’s oldest son’s porn addiction and one cheerleader’s eating disorder conflict, are worth erasing.

“I think if I disappeared tomorrow, the universe wouldn’t really notice.” (Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), Men, Women & Children).

Ansel Elgort & Kaitlyn Dever.

Set primarily in suburbia and high school, the movie longs to examine ‘relatable’ and ‘ordinary’ people. However, writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) – adapting Chad Kultgen’s novel – talks down to the public throughout this unrealistic and overbearing cautionary tale. Stepping into Sam Mendes and Todd Solondz’ worlds, Reitman’s snark and smarts dropped in favour of a discomforting tone and laboured pacing. The thirty-something filmmaker – following up confused romantic-drama Labor Day – crafts shallow depictions of monogamy, bulimia, obsession, temptation, infidelity, existential crises, celebrity, familial issues, and (anti)social media. Fusing this mean-spirited narrative with this overt sentimentality, it’s a peculiar mix of Dazed and ConfusedCrash, and Parenthood. Highlighting the obvious metaphors, Reitman’s aggressive agenda infects his visual style. Throwing text messages, chat windows, and URL bars across the screen, this useless technique overcooks the convoluted story. Highlighting each character’s indiscretions, the director’s techniques send shivers down the spine. The performers – a mix of A-listers, character-actors, and up-and-comers – bolster the underdeveloped roles. Sandler, making a major career switch, elevates his introverted character. Garner, Greer, and Norris are worthwhile distractions in this debilitating after school special.

Men, Women & Children‘s poster sums up everything about the final product – it’s ugly, misjudged, and features recognisable people hidden by a bevy of smartphones and smart-asses. Despite the ambition, this suburban dramedy – from 1% completion to 100% – mistakes convolution for complexity. Reitman, fusing indie sensibilities with Hollywood prowess and minor studio interference, delivers his second consecutive foible. Despite the flaws, the performers admirable tackle the material. In particular, hearing Thompson say: “titty-f*cking cum queen” is almost worth it. LOL, smiley emoticon.

Verdict: Reitman’s second consecutive failure.

Article: The 2014/15 Oscar Season: Classics of Future Past


Article:

The 2014/15 Oscar Season: Classics of Future Past

12 Years a Slave Review – Definitive Docudrama


Director: Steve McQueen 

Writer: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (book)

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano


Release date: January 10th, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: McQueen’s direction.

Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.

Docudramas, popular during Oscar season, take exasperating true stories and transform them into celluloid masterpieces. From small-screen mini-series’ to big-screen historical epics, these docudramas strive to inspire, inform, and enlighten. This description may seem clichéd, but the information is necessary and appropriate for this review. Docudramas, despite the vast number of them released each Oscar season, provide interesting insights into shocking and influential events. Several holocaust, slave, and war dramas – 1977 TV special Roots, in particular – have re-shaped Hollywood conventions. Before heading into highly anticipated slave-drama 12 Years a Slave, filmgoers must understand just how inhuman and confronting this topic is.

Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Though this topic has been depicted before, this exasperating and meaningful docudrama is significantly more astonishing and enrapturing than this season’s other docudramas. 12 Years a Slave becomes a truly enthralling experience!Based on Solomon Northup’s influential 1853 memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slave chronicles Northup’s painful, revelatory, and transcendent journey against all odds. Despite the colossal preconceptions, viewers should drop their guards before absorbing this artistic endeavour. The story kicks off in in Saragota Springs, New York in 1841, with Northup embracing his enviable and likeable existence. Living a peaceful life with his wife and two children, his financial, spiritual, and moral wealth becomes irreplaceable. Hurriedly, he’s offered a fruitful gig with a travelling circus by two advantageous figures, Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam). After an infectious celebratory dinner, Northup is drugged, kidnapped, and sold to slave owners for a hefty profit. Tortured, abused, and re-named “Platt” by his captors, Northup must stick close to his fellow prisoners whilst avoiding his masters’ violent bursts. Shipped from Washington DC to Louisiana, Northup comes across malicious slave trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti). With Freeman’s despicable personality inflicting his ‘property’, slave owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) saves Northup from Freeman’s overwhelming grasp. Sharing bible passages and gracefully interacting with his workers, Ford becomes a kind-hearted and honourable plantation owner. However, the plantation’s other inhabitants aren’t impressed with Northup’s presence and skills. With the other slaves keeping to themselves, the white employees treat their black counterparts with disdain. Pushed to breaking point by disgraceful carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano), Northup, after beating Tibeats, seeks Ford’s council. Ford, believing Northup to be an honourable individual, trades him to fellow slave owners Edwin and Mary Epps (Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson). Coming across downtrodden slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) and carpenter Bass (Brad Pitt), Northup must defend himself and seek justice during his time under the Epps’ control.

Michael Fassbender.

The bible, for a text so heavily lauded and practiced by people across the world, describes slavery as a natural condition. In fact, verse one, Peter 2:18 specifically states: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh”. Every so often, a Hollywood production comes along that illustrates cinema’s over-whelming power and potential. Breaking down cultural preconceptions and social barriers, 12 Years a Slave compromises between ambitious moviemaking and its heart-wrenching story. This docudrama, forming a unique, potent, and tangible identity, wholly detaches itself from the Hollywood system. Wholeheartedly, it deserves its already overwhelming critical and commercial success. This courageous docudrama explores controversial and sickening depths. This extraordinary and intelligent artistic achievement enhances cinema’s courageousness and tenacity. Escaping from cinema’s commercial, moral, and ethical confines, this experience violently buries itself under the skin and into the mind. Here, we are exposed to a disturbing and despicable period of human history. With Slave-dramas normally classed as Oscar bait, this narrative removes the genre’s manipulative and obvious trappings. Embracing its prestigious opportunities and glorious advantages, the movie paints an honest and distressing portrait of one of history’s bleakest periods. The story immediately states is discomfortingly direct intentions and startlingly solid viewpoints. With Northup’s journey being a profound, terrifying, and heartbreaking tale, the movie examines vital periods and facets of his fascinating existence. During his twelve-year ordeal on four plantations, Northup’s tale becomes a heartbreaking reminder of mankind’s most disgusting shades. The movie considerately and thoughtfully chronicles Northup’s inconsolable transition from respected upper-middle class citizen, to broken object, to deprived yet honourable slave. Northup, with his ideologies and identity traits destroyed during several violent beatings, becomes a blank slate for white upper-class men to contort, distort, and manipulate.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

Director Steve McQueen (HungerShame) is unafraid to inject his own ideologies, morals, and principles into this chilling narrative arc. Throughout this gritty slave-drama, McQueen defines history, religion, and entertainment as life’s more note-worthy aspects. Despite holding onto Steven Spielberg’s emotionally gripping story-telling ticks, McQueen turns this brutal slave-drama into a confronting, visceral, and philosophical masterpiece. Eclipsing Spielberg’s The Colour PurpleSchindler’s ListLincoln, and Amistad12 Years a Slave  exclaims that man was, is, and will always be Earth’s greatest and yet most deplorable creature. With humans controlling, harming, and tricking one another throughout time, the movie depicts and describes our worst tendencies without blaming the audience. Slave owners, whether they were good samaritans or psychopathic Neanderthal-like monsters, eternally condemned themselves through obvious malpractices. Modern cinema’s greatest Black directors, including McQueen, Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, and Ryan Coogler, create thought-provoking dramas heartily discussing race, gender, class, and the human condition. This ambitious and emotionally powerful slave-drama, living up to the true story’s emphatic potential, is bolstered by McQueen’s uncompromising direction. Directing with brains, braun, heart, and moral fibre, McQueen’s unquestionable talent and commendable intentions develop an original, heart-breaking, and revelatory slave-drama. Here, like with his previous films, McQueen, with screenwriter John Ridley’s assistance, illuminates the narrative’s most gruelling aspects without creating an overwrought and gratuitous Hollywood feature. Analysing and deconstructing slavery’s overwhelming negatives, he explores this issue’s many controversial, neglected, and dangerous shades. Embracing this story’s socio-political insight and emotionally affecting moments, McQueen and Ridley deliberate on this harrowing topic’s facts, intricacies, and perspectives. Despite the noticeably exasperating run-time, McQueen, refusing to inject fantastical elements or overwrought opinions into the narrative, presents an objective and engaging account of this potent true story.

“I will survive! I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!” (Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), 12 Years a Slave).

Brad Pitt.

Comparable to Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in There Will Be Blood, his style scours this story’s most promising aspects by crafting memorable sequences. Pushing the camera into each pressing situation, extended takes linger uncomfortably on unflinching images. These moments, complimented by raw silence, illuminate the characters’ degrading situations. McQueen pierces vital settings whilst conveying powerful messages and viewpoints. The noose sequence is comprised of several nail-biting shots. Wide angles establish the characters’ predicaments and the sequence’s relentlessness. Smash cutting and splicing contrasting images together, the poetic editing style links symbols to valuable story-threads. Outdoing himself at each twist and turn, McQueen alleviates this heartbreaking story with artistically conquering montages. These near-wordless vignettes, depicting this poignant journey’s most captivating moments, become enthralling and disconcerting flourishes. However, gruelling sound effects elevate McQueen’s sumptuous and edgy style. With each whip crack, hammer and nail, and buckling shackle, the movie’s intensity is drastically heightened – defining the movie’s most shocking moments. Hans Zimmer’s score also elevates certain sequences. The music cues’ percussive rumbles and beats throw vital sequences into overdrive. However, the actors also craft this confounding drama’s ingenious and cognitive aspects. Ejiofor delivers a powerful and awe-inspiring turn as the degraded lead character. Tenaciously devouring several enthralling sequences, he delivers the decade’s most valuable performance. Fassbender and Cumberbatch excel as slave owners with vastly different Methodologies. Paulson, Dano, and Giamatti steal scenes as despicable and polarising figures. However, newcomer Nyong’o provides an insatiable and unique performance as Epps’ favourite slave and Northup’s guiding light. Meanwhile, Pitt, Killam, McNairy, Garret Dillahunt, and Alfie Woodard succeed in one-or-two-scene roles.

Examining one of history’s most distressing time-periods, movies like Django Unchained  and 12 Years a Slave become compelling Oscar-worthy treasures. Though its graphic violence and sickening darkness may prove too much for some, 12 Years a Slave‘s compelling story, enrapturing directorial flair, and fascinating performances classify it as one of the decade’s greatest cinematic accomplishments. With subject matter this valuable; McQueen’s blood-sweat-and-tears approach has crafted an appropriate and chilling portrait of America’s darkest era.

Verdict: A powerful, haunting, and rich slave-drama. 

Inside Llewyn Davis Review – Friendly Folk Flick


Director: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman


Release date: January 16th, 2014

Distributor: CBS Films

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The memorable soundtrack.

Worst part: The abrupt resolutions.

Movies about music, due to an artist, movement, or genre’s immense popularity, regularly take on lives of their own. Launching cult classics, trends, and modern re-inventions, these movies range from musicals (Dreamgirls), to dramas (Walk the Line, Ray), to comedies (Oh Brother Where Art Thou!). Despite aiding specific movies’ soundtracks, how exactly does music launch certain big-budget efforts into the cultural stratosphere? Tapping into pop-culture’s infatuation with nostalgia and popularity, Inside Llewyn Davis chronicles one genre’s immersion into the public’s line of sight. Folk music’s long-awaited return to the spotlight is illuminated in this hysterical, insightful, and charming dramedy. Kicked off by chart-topping groups like Of Monsters and Men, Mumford and Sons, and Passenger, folk music’s resurgence has boosted the once-neglected genre’s range, influence, and relevance.

Oscar Isaac & cat.

Despite being a polarising genre, folk brings ageless intricacies and nuances to this kinetic slice-of-life character study. Here, music, love, life, and regret interweave to form an eclectic and meaningful rhythm. Inside Llewyn Davis, bolstered by ingenious performances, poetic directorial flourishes, and, of course, a catchy soundtrack, becomes one of the past decade’s most distinctive dramedies. Touching upon music’s profound social and cultural impact, this movie speaks to the toe-tapping samaritan inside us all. This purposeful narrative chronicles insatiably irritating yet well-meaning simpleton, and former merchant seaman, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). After his musical partner’s catastrophic suicide, Davis struggles to make ends meet. Crashing on friends’ couches or random periods, job prospects run afoul of Davis’ abrasive personality. With downtown club ‘the Gaslight Cafe’ keeping him afloat, burgeoning crowds and unique musicians frustrate Davis. Davis finds a new partner after his friends’ cat escapes from their cluttered apartment. Davis and his feline companion scurry across New York looking for shelter and company. Keeping out of the cold, Davis soon finds sanctuary in his musician friends’ apartment. Briefly staying with Jim (Justin Timberlake), Jean (Carey Mulligan), and their other guest Troy Nelson (Stark Sands), Davis witnesses Jim and Jean become Peter, Paul & Mary-esque Gaslight celebrities. However, Davis, thanks to his irritable agent Mel (the late Jerry Grayson), sleazy Gaslight owner Pappi Corsicato (Max Casella), and friend Al Cody (Adam Driver), hatches an ambitious plan to travel to Chicago. Reaching for a ground-breaking opportunity in the windy city, Davis comes across Johnny Five (Garett Headlund) and crippled jazz extraordinaire Roland Turner (John Goodman).

Carey Mulligan.

Though writer/producer/director maestros Joel and Ethan Coen need no introduction, I’m going to give them one anyway. The Coens, ever since Blood Simple shocked film-lovers across the world, have drenched themselves in blood, sweat, laughs, existential angst, and Middle America’s most unique musical movements. The dynamic duo’s range, richness, and tenacity are evident in every project. The Coens, leaping from westerns (No Country for Old MenTrue Grit), to hardened gangster flicks (Millers Crossing), to sickeningly dark comedies (Burn After ReadingThe Big Lebowski), to frenetic dramedies (A Serious ManFargo), place their hearts, souls, and perspectives into each narrative. Their polarising yet compelling efforts, despite the cloying moments, launch horrifying sequences and ambiguous characterisations into the consciousness. Fusing classic and modern Hollywood cinema conventions, their honest direction and ambitious writing tropes shine throughout Inside Llewyn Davis. Giving bluegrass roots a heaving kick-start with Oh Brother Where Art Thou!, the Coens apply their talents and wisdom to the opportunistic folk scene. Fortunately, despite the dour marketing campaign, this slice-of-life drama, from go to woe, is a winning, thought-provoking, and modest examination of the human condition. Pitting man against the cold weather, lacklustre employment prospects, fate, and the future’s ever-looming uncertainty, the Coens inject heart into this comedically callous journey. With slapstick humour and shocking expletives highlighting the first-half’s kinetic formula, the movie kicks off with style, panache, and grace. Moving from one underwhelming destination to another, Davis’ journey is one of heartache, self-discovery, and determination. However, the second half becomes a philosophically powerful yet sombre road-trip-based adventure. Meeting peculiar characters and bizarre revelations, the final third slowly sheds the first two thirds’ malevolent wit and optimistic aura. Ultimately, the Coen’s latest effort discusses our infatuation with varying entertainment mediums. Genres and movements are ably presented as impressive creations crafted by inspiring artists. Here, Davis and co. craft life-changing works out of impulse, burgeoning motivations, and extraordinary ideas.

“If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.” (Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis).

John Goodman & Garrett Headlund.

Refusing to answer its thesis by the half-way mark, Inside Llewyn Davis hurriedly delves into pop-culture’s fascination with nostalgia. Davis and co’s mental, spiritual, and emotional angst paints a haunting picture of the past, present, and future. Nostalgia may bring back fond memories, but won’t play a show-stopping track or put a coat around Davis’ shoulders. The Coen’s statements are illuminated by the movie’s awe-inspiring and memorable musical interludes. Describing key moments of this all-encompassing narrative, the soundtrack is crafted out of love, admiration, and care for this immaculate genre. Conceived by the Coens, Isaac, T-Bone Burnett, and Marcus Mumford, Inside Llewyn Davis becomes a quirky and enlightening musical minus the genre’s insufferable tropes. From the opening frame, music plays a vital part in emphasising and re-shaping 1960s-America’s social, political, economical, and cultural landscapes. The first track, ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’, is a distinctive, impactful, and poetic gut-punch. With Isaac’s haunting vocals carving into the soul, the track potently and engagingly examines Davis’ existential and emotional conflicts. Fortunately, the seceding musical numbers elevate the moody and eclectic material. Yet another Coen Brothers classic is humanised by its characters. Davis, though prickly and distinctively sarcastic, is a strangely likeable presence. Slimily weaving into friends’ lives, this irritable and harmful musician follows a dingy path. Isaac, placing egotism and aura aside, is revelatory in this complex role. Mulligan provides another touching and multi-layered performance as the dismissive friend. Throwing expletives and criticisms at our bewildered antihero, Jean is an exasperating and unconscionable character. Suitably, David and Jean deliver twists, turns, and haunting lyrics. Meanwhile, Timberlake builds charisma and range as the blissful nice-guy. Timberlake, Isaac, and Driver deliver the movie’s most enlightening musical number. ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’, featuring stirling vocals and electrifying lyrics, provides refreshing relief from this heart-wrenching tale. Once again, Goodman electrifies a small yet significant role. Throwing hysterical insults at Davis, his character revels in life’s most intriguing pursuits and absurdities. His comedic lines (“Folk songs? I thought you said you were a musician?”) relieve this dark road-trip story.

With the Coens up for Oscar contention yet again, Inside Llewyn Davis, like its lead character, deserves some much-needed love and care. As a concentrated dose of Coen-Brothers-moviemaking tropes, Coen fans, film buffs, folk aficionados, and average filmgoers will absorb this visceral and confronting dramedy. Laugh-out-loud moments, attention to detail, and tenderness transform this slice-of-life drama into an infectious and award-worthy artistic endeavour. Like the best folk songs, Inside Llewyn Davis‘ poeticism, narrative, and inherent charm will put a song in everyone’s hearts.

Verdict: An intelligent, hysterical, and enlightening drama. 

August: Osage County Review – Family Firestorm!


Director: John Wells

Writer: Tracy Letts (screenplay & play)

Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper


Release date: December 27th, 2013

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The biting dialogue.

Worst part: Streep’s hammy turn.

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!

Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts.

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.

Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, and Abigail Breslin.

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).

Meryl Streep, Margot Martindale, and Julianne Nicholson.

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.

Verdict: A frustrating yet entertaining dramedy.

 

Amour Review – Romantic Regressions


Director: Michael Haneke

Writer: Michael Haneke

Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, William Shimell


Release date: October 24th, 2012

Distributors: Artificial Eye, Sony Pictures Classics

Country: France

Running time: 127 minutes


3/5

Best part: Powerful performances by Trintignant and Riva.

Worst part: The film’s monotonous pace.

Events such as death and taxes are inevitable. But when they hit it’s hard to control their wrath. The negative aspects of life are important to Austrian director Michael Haneke. His latest, Amour, depicts a story about how even the most fulfilled people can strenuously suffer in the end. Amour is a poignant drama that, unfortunately, takes too long to reach its inevitable conclusion.

Emmanuelle Riva.

Former music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) live a quaint existence. They spend their retirement in a small apartment overlooking Paris. They still love the arts and frequently spend time out on the town. That is until Anne’s health starts to cause them problems. One morning, she sits down to eat breakfast with her husband. During their conversation she spaces out and falls into a catatonic state. She eventually succumbs to multiple strokes and partial paralysis. Confined to her bed, Anne is taken care of by Georges. Georges must ease Anne’s pain before her life reaches its painful end. Films about the elderly are either up-beat or dour. Amour definitely fits into the latter category. Haneke’s body of work is filled with movies that both amaze and anger. With his cult-hit Funny Games, he depicted a home invasion whilst pointing the finger at the reality-TV-loving viewer. Cache(Hidden), on the other hand, explored both stalking and domesticity. The pacing and thematic issues of his other films are also in Amour.

Riva & JeanLouis Trintignant.

Riva & JeanLouis Trintignant.

Amour has good intentions. There is no denying that this love story is both personal and affecting on many levels. This is a realistic situation that is hard to discuss. However, it also discusses an issue that doesn’t have enough energy or tension to be presented on the big screen. Without any cinematic depth or investment, it becomes a very tedious and, at points, confusing film. It’s baffling that this film has garnered so much acclaim. The fact that it won the Palme d’Or (best film) at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, let alone that it’s nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, is a real eye opener. It fits the stereotype that a lot of ‘popular’ foreign films fall into. A Beautiful Mind discusses both mental illness and relationships in a much more enthralling manner. Haneke’s style is this film’s hindrance. Haneke loves breaking the fourth wall. Not in a glaring way, but in a much more subtle and profound fashion. His camera becomes a fly on the wall. His contemplative and discomforting direction may seem like an optimum choice. But it slows this film down to a crawl. Many scenes are overly long. For some reason, he loves both the intricacies of reality and life’s slow pace. Despite his issues, it’s rare that a well-known director can be anywhere near this subtle. The camera stays still throughout the film’s excessive 2 hour and 7 minute run time. In some scenes, his cinematography is atmospheric and beautiful. Only one or two shots are used for every scene. It’s a touching choice that allows the viewer to objectively view this story.

“Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.” (Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), Amour).

Trintignant & Isabelle Huppert.

Trintignant & Isabelle Huppert.

Despite the lack of tension or thrills, it’s still an immensely rewarding experience. Unlike a lot of films made today, Amour never falls off balance in any way. It’s witty when it needs to be whilst building to its inevitably depressing finale. It’s a dialogue heavy yet profound narrative. Georges and Anne manage to charmingly reflect on their lives. George’s description of a friend’s funeral service, for example, is both hilarious and identifiable.  The film, however, never goes into great detail about relationships. Their relationship is never given any back story. Haneke’s slice-of-life direction only paints a detailed yet narrow portrait of their current situation. What works about this film, above all else, is the characterisation. Haneke and the actors have created a heartening character study. Georges is man blinded by determination and obsession. His moral and ethical codes lead him to make seemingly immoral decisions. Marriage is the only positive part of his life. In this situation, it’s understandable that he would irritate everyone around him. At one point, he slaps his bed-ridden wife. Not to be unlike-able or abusive, but because he is angry about her debilitating condition. Interactions between him, Anne’s nurses, and his daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) become frighteningly realistic. The only part of Amour worthy of an Oscar nomination is Riva’s breath-taking performance. Embodying every stage of Anne’s condition would’ve been a monumental task. Riva’s charming personality shines through every alienating and claustrophobic scene.

Amour is a confusing, dull yet profound film. Its interesting premise is let down by the execution. Haneke’s signature and controversial style has already enraptured critics. But the film’s lack of dramatic intensity most definitely won’t be for everyone. Sadly, the narrative isn’t interesting enough to be placed on the big screen.

Verdict: A potent yet tedious love story/character study.

Argo Review – Affleck’s Artwork


Director: Ben Affleck 

Writers: Chris Terrio (Screenplay), Antonio J. Mendez (book), Joshuah Bearman (article) 

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin 


Release date: October 12th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Affleck’s work as director and actor.

Worst part: The uneven tone.

Throughout the last decade, Ben Affleck was seen as nothing more than an acting and tabloid-media joke. Since 2007, however, he has carried out one of the biggest comebacks in modern Hollywood history. After his astonishing directing début with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s thrilling crime-drama The Town, his new film goes in a completely different direction. Argo is a tense and authentic docu-drama, based on one of the most emotionally powerful and influential events from the past 50 years.

Ben Affleck.

In 1979, Iranian protesters took over the US Embassy in Tehran and held 63 Americans hostage. During the start of the conflict, six US consulate officials escaped the embassy and took shelter in the Canadian ambassador’s house for over ten weeks. CIA hostage specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) creates an absurd yet clever idea for freeing the six escapees. He will create a fake Hollywood film production, alert the press and help the victims to escape as members of a film crew currently location scouting in Iran. With the help of CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez enlists the aid of Oscar winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and revered producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Mendez must pull off his plan however before the Iranian Militia finds the six hostages trying to escape the country.

Affleck & Bryan Cranston.

Affleck has now proven his worth in multiple elements of filmmaking, showing the sceptics that his Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting was no fluke. Affleck creates a nail-biting and affecting docu-drama in the vein of Munich and Good Night and Good Luck. Despite faltering under the direction of others, Affleck delivers a subdued yet charismatic performance, showing his determination in getting these prisoners out by any means necessary. The snappy dialogue, delivered by the plethora of underrated character actors here, is a rarity in modern cinema. Argo places the viewer in each heated and engaging dialogue sequence while showcasing Affleck’s talent for obtaining powerful performances. Bryan Cranston, finally proving his dramatic and comedic talents outside of AMC series Breaking Bad, is memorable in his small role as the embittered middle man between Mendez and the Jimmy Carter administration. John Goodman is dynamic as the sarcastic Hollywood heavyweight. While Alan Arkin impresses as the egomaniacal and foul mouthed producer unaware that his best days in the industry may be behind him. This story, known as ‘The Canadian Caper’, is still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. With the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq being major events in the past decade, the film provides an honest and relevant account of our ongoing political strife with the Middle East. Based on information declassified by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and a Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, Argo provides an objective yet enrapturing look at this harrowing true story.

“Argo F*ck yourself!” (Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Argo).

John Goodman & Alan Arkin.

John Goodman & Alan Arkin.

Constantly on the lookout for danger, climactic scenes between the six hostages effectively create an intense and claustrophobic feel. As illustrated in his first two films, Affleck knows how to create tension in many of the film’s most terrifying sequences (similarly to the underrated thriller Spy Game). This is a situation where being seen means being killed, and the Iranian people’s anger towards american superiority provides a substantial threat for everyone involved. Affleck subtly increases the tension with each suspicious figure and militant roaming the streets. Meanwhile, the anticipation builds to an edge-of-your-seat final third. The film, however, loses the grit and danger of its opening kidnapping sequences, shifting focus to the absurdities of the major Hollywood system and its broad yet profound similarities with the US Government. Despite many humorous and satirical moments, the bold look of the 70’s era studio takes the urgency away from the situation on the other side of the globe. Affleck does, however, create an inventive and pulpy visual style in these sequences, in the vein of the 2007 political dramedy Charlie Wilson’s War. Constant references to classic film and TV icons such as Star Wars, James Bond, Star Trek and Planet of The Apes, along with the salty bite taken out of mainstream studio practices, are entertaining yet diffuse the importance of this particular situation. The film walks a fine line between patronising and complimentary. The film manages to succinctly touch upon various Hollywood and government systems.

This story is about globalisation saving people’s lives whilst, at the same time, condemning them to be targets of the Iranian people. Argo, thanks to Affleck’s momentous will to succeed, pulls its audience in, shakes the viewer around, and sends them packing!

Verdict: An intelligent and nail-biting political thriller.