Film Review : August Osage County (2013)

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IMDB Score – 7.4
Rotten Tomato Score – 64%
Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress – Meryl Streep
Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress – Julia Roberts

Directed By – John Wells
Starring – Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Julliane Nicholson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewish, Dermot Mulroney, Misty Upham, and Sam Shepard

A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

I remember seeing the trailer for this, the one above, in theaters during the fall and thinking that it was going to be a drama fest filled with amazing actors doing fine work. Well, that’s exactly what I got. However, I ended up liking the film, mostly due to the fact that the “fine” work by the actors actually turned out to be outstanding work done by the actors.

Adapted from the successful Broadway play of the same name, the film takes place at the home of the Westons, a husband and wife with three middle aged daughters, played by Roberts, Nicholson, and Lewis. Each of them have their own unique qualities but what I find in common with all three is that they have had to put up with the same mother, played wonderfully (duh) by Meryl Streep. You know, when I saw that Streep was nominated again this year I kind of sighed and said to myself…again? Really? It’s not because I think she doesn’t deserve it. She does. Every time. She’s the greatest living actress and is definitely in the top five of all time. She’s incredible at what she does and carries this burden by being one of the most modest and caring people in the business. It’s just getting boring seeing her name on the ballots every year. By the time she hangs up her career she’ll probably have two or three more awards to her name. I’m actually starting to feel okay with that. She was pretty awesome in this but I think the Academy got it wrong when they gave her a nomination in the leading role. This isn’t really her film. This is Julia Roberts film, who gave the performance of her career. The fire coming off both of these two for the entire duration of the film was really fun to watch. It was like actual daggers were being hurled through the air with every sentence spoken. They were the highlight of the film that was chock full of acting highlights. It was like a musical for acting. There were these little five to ten minute intervals in between these songs of incredible acting from every single member of the cast besides Breslin and Mulroney, who just didn’t have big enough roles. It’s a film reminiscent of something like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” except we have more people involved. It just may be the best acting as a whole I’ve seen all year.

The film itself was okay. There was so much drama that it became overwhelming at some times. There must have been at least seven or eight SERIOUS events that would normally cripple a family for a while all occurring within the course of a few days. It was a rapid fire machine gun of melodrama that frankly came off a bit overachieving but it certainly didn’t detract from the film. It wasn’t a distraction, more of an annoyance. There were some messages embedded inside that were nice touches but most of it are things we see, albeit carried out a bit worse, in every single episode of Law and Order or TV family drama. Had the film been four hours long I could have had more time to process the events and seen where they led but things happened and then disappeared when the next disaster or fight took place. It left me feeling a bit empty towards the end.

The direction was nice though. Wells had some beautiful shots in the soaked sunlight of the midwest while also using the darkness of the house to his advantage. Any scene involving Streep with her wig off were gorgeous and powerful. There were also clever shots using reflections to show the eventual progression of a character into somebody else. I’d like to see what he does next.

Overall I enjoyed the film. The acting in it is just A+. There really isn’t any way around it. The awards and nominations were deserved even though I feel Roberts should have been given more recognition as a leading role. It’s exhausting and funny, but a film worth watching if you’re into that kind of thing.


Suggested Viewing – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Savages, A Separation

Film Review : Haunter (2013)

IMDB Score – 5.8
Rotten Tomato Score – 52%
Netflix Watch Instant

Directed By – Vincenzo Natali
Starring – Abigail Breslin, Stephen McHattie, Peter DaCunha, Peter Outerbridge, Michelle Nolden, and Eleanor Zichy

The ghost of a teenager who died years ago reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate.

There’s about two feet of snow on the ground right now and more is to follow. What does this mean? Beer and Netflix. “Haunter” hasn’t actually finished yet but I am totally finished with the film. I always finish movies whether I like them or not, and I’m still half paying attention, but I’m not missing much. I’ve seen all I needed to see. I remember when this hit on demand and being curious due to the fact that I have liked Vincenzo Natalis work in the past. “Cube” is one of those movies that I can watch at any time because of how much I appreciated the ambition and creativity. With a bigger budget, that film could have been amazing. Yet, it falls into the guilty pleasures section of my DVD collection. This wasn’t by lack of trying of course. The film just didn’t have the money to accomplish everything it wanted to. Natali was also responsible for one of 2009’s most interesting films, “Splice”, which was flawed and disturbing but goddamn was it entertaining. The fact that Stephen McHattie is in this film was the clincher that I’d check it out someday and BEHOLD…Netflix added it to its library today just in time for my snow storm. Now let’s try to figure out why this film sucks…

This film is too complex for it’s own good. What started out as a simple ghost mystery soon turned into a weave of confusion and plot twists that drained any life out of the original idea. This is the problem with trying to be too smart. People think that all the ideas have been done before so they’re going to have to compensate for this by throwing in twist after twist after twist. You know what this does? This takes the viewer out of the story completely, or at least it takes me out. Sometimes, the most simple of stories is what generates the most genuine reaction. Ti West is a good example. His two films “House of the Devil” and “The Gatekeepers” were slow burns that only featured one twist. They upped the suspense by keeping it grounded. Both are among my favorite horror films of the last decade. They didn’t try to blow the viewers mind but rather played to the strengths of ghost stories. They capitalized on the fears of being in a house/building that is creepy and let the imagination do the work. “Haunter force fed me discoveries. It didn’t let me figure out what was happening or give me time to try to guess what was going on. Every five minutes the path in which we were travelling to was pointed out and thus took all suspense away from the film. I don’t understand how people don’t understand this and keep making films that refuse the viewer the right to use their imagination. This is the key to horror films.

The acting was also pretty bad. Abigail Breslin can be a good actress. Obviously she was great in “Little Miss Sunshine” but we haven’t seen that kind of performance from her since. I haven’t seen “August: Osage County” yet but perhaps the stellar cast aound her brought something out because she was flat out awful in this. I don’t expect great acting in horror films but it’s the one thing that could make a bad film somewhat watchable. Look was “The Conjuring” did recently. The story was something that has been done twenty times a year but the acting, and the direction of course, was top notch, hence giving a pleasant experience. This wasn’t pleasant. This was stupid. Stephen McHattie, who is one of my favorite supporting actors, tried his best but the corniness of his character just didn’t work with his creepy way of delivering lines.

I was disappointed by how much I hated the film. I know that I haven’t loved any of Vincenzo Natalis films but I expected something enjoyable at least. Yet another horror/ghost story suffers the fate of being unoriginal and poorly executed. One day somebody is going to figure it out. Until then I’ll just have to keep waiting for Ti West to release his masterpiece and out horror films back in the spotlight.