49th Chicago International Film Festival review: ‘August: Osage County’


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AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY– 5 STARS

Movies about dysfunctional families, no matter if they are little independent gems or classic favorites populated by Hollywood stars, are always prime landscapes for both drama and comedy. They are successful because they make us feel better about our own family we have at home. We either step back saying “Finally, there’s someone out there who has it as bad as I do” or “Gosh, I guess my family’s not that bad.” We either laugh AT their shenanigans as wildly different or WITH their shenanigans as kindred spirits and fellow gluttons for punishment. One can argue that every family is dysfunctional to some degree and that it’s just a matter of what your definitions are for dysfunctional, unique, crazy, and, most of all, normal. Besides, “That’s how we do it in this house.” always wins.

Five years ago, after getting its start at the famed Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Tracy Letts’ play August: Osage County, centering on the women of a particular rural Oklahoma dysfunctional family reacting to a moment of loss, went to Broadway and won five Tony Awards including Best Play, three Drama Desk awards, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as one of the most decorated theatrical productions of the past decade. When a play gets that kind of success, Hollywood was bound to take a stab at it at some point for the big screen. After all, movies, with their endless boundaries of space and location shooting, are supposed to be limitless stages. Successful TV show-runner John Wells (ER, The West Wing, Shameless) is the man who took that shot at August: Osage County and he brought a star-studded cast with him. It’s Chicago premiere occurred this week at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival before its wide theatrical release during the Christmas holiday weekend later in December.

Where movies based on plays commonly fail is when the cinematic expansion of scope and setting ends up stripping away the story and performance intimacy that made it special on the smaller stage. The good films based on plays don’t lose that closeness and connection while still giving us something deeper to see. In every way possible, the film adaptation of August: Osage County is one of those successes. It breathes vigorous life into the stage setting by fleshing out a real location filled with dynamic performances. At the same time, we have this year’s Silver Linings Playbook with a new silver screen dysfunctional family to relish in and size up to our own. August: Osage County, with its uncanny balance between uproarious comedy and striking family drama, is a crowd-pleasing gem and one of the finest ensemble movies you may ever see.

Three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the cantankerous truth-telling family matriarch addicted to the haze her multiple prescriptions drugs give her while dealing with mouth cancer. Violet is full of hateful sarcasm that drives her family crazy. The unfortunate and trapped man married to her is Beverly, a former published poet and steady alcoholic, played by Sam Shepard. They share three daughters and are lifelong residents of Pawhuska, the county seat of Osage County in northeastern Oklahoma, a place more known as a Native American center than anything else. The couple just hired a local Native American woman Johnna (Misty Upham of Frozen River) to cook and clean around the house when Bev runs off and goes missing one afternoon.

After his disappearance extends to several days, Violet’s loudmouth sister Mattie Fae (Justified Emmy winner Margo Martindale) and her calm and homely husband Charlie (Oscar winner Chris Cooper) alert nearby family to come and help with the situation. The first on the scene is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson of Kinsey), the middle daughter and the one that never left Oklahoma. Her guilty patience is what keeps her close by despite constantly being belittled by her mother for never settling down with a man. The other two daughters couldn’t wait to leave back in the day and haven’t come back to Pawhuska in years until now.

Barbara, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts, is the oldest daughter. She and her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) reside in Boulder, Colorado and are going through a painful separation that no one knows about while mutually struggling to control and understand their 14-year-old daughter Jean (Little Miss SunshineOscar nominee Abigail Breslin). Barbara absolutely loathes returning home and has constantly been at odds with her mother ever since she left many years ago. She holds little tolerance anymore for her mother’s drug addiction or antics. The youngest daughter completing the Weston family is the flighty Florida ditz Karen, played by professional flighty ditz and Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis. Her cluelessness comes blazing into town with her Ferrari-driving sleezeball fiance Steve (Dermot Mulroney).

When it turns out that Bev took his boat out on the lake and drowned himself, this momentary family summit turns into a difficult funeral gathering that is going to require a few days. The last to make the trip in for the occasion is Charlie and Mattie Fae’s clumsy and dimwitted son “Little” Charles, played by Mr. Everywhere Benedict Cumberbatch. All together for the first time in a long time and not for a very pleasant reason, the sometime hilarious and sometimes awful warts, flaws, secrets, and old arguments of the Weston clan come bubbling back to the surface, perpetuated and punctuated by Violet’s bombastic rule of the roost.

Another hurdle in transferring Broadway success to a film adaptation is casting. So many movies based on plays reach too high with big names that swoop in for the artistic street cred as “the one that landed the big juicy part,” but end up not being suitable to the large task that is a dialogue-driven ensemble or the richly created character they are supposed to inhabit. The producers of August: Osage County, which include George Clooney, aimed to conquer where others have failed. They went out and got the big names, but then squeezed absolutely incredible performances from just about every single one of them.

Meryl Streep continues to show why she’s the greatest living actress in the world. In her usual fashion which we constantly underestimate and disrespect as her “norm,” she adopts and creates such a compelling and electric character with every possible hue and nuance that an actor can provide. She’s the spark that ignites the best of this film’s comedic and dramatic elements. This role is better than all of her last four Best Actress Oscar nominations (The Iron Lady, Julia and Julia, Doubt, and The Devil Wears Prada). It would be a monumental upset if her name isn’t among the final five in 2014 at the 86th Academy Awards.

There is, however, one person standing in her way from a fourth Oscar win who had the unenviable task of going toe-to-toe with the best in the business. Believe it or not (and many won’t until this see the film), Julia Roberts more than holds her own with Meryl Streep. This is a mature and challenging part that involves none of her megawatt smile and America’s sweetheart charm. She sheds that image masterfully and gets as ugly with her words as Meryl does. If Meryl’s Violet is the spark to greatest hits of August: Osage County, Julia’s Barbara is the dry kindling that allows those moments to burn with fiery intensity. This is, without a doubt, the absolute best Julia Roberts has ever been. Erin Brockovich, her Oscar-winning performance, can’t compete with this. She’s going to give Meryl a major run for her money at the Oscars.

The mere presence of these two heavy-hitters raises everyone else’s game within the August: Osage County cast. Everyone gets their chance to have their loud family spat and flip-out moment and all nail their landings. Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper are perfectly paired oil-versus-water sages of differing tones. Key among the bountiful supporting roles are Julianne Nicholson as Ivy and Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles. Both play hopeless romantics who are deeper than their timid exteriors and key to many of the plot twists. Both give substantially solid performances alongside the bigger names. Only Ewan McGregor feels a tad underutilized, especially considering his usual presence and personality. Nevertheless, the end result is an acting fan’s feast from top to bottom.

The makers of August: Osage County succeeded in their goal to encapsulate what made the orginal play such a monster success. Original playwright Tracy Letts adapted his own three-and-a-half hour play into a streamlined two-hour film for director John Wells, in just his second feature directing gig after 2010’s The Company Men. While details and changes were bound to happen, fans of the play should be pleased by the overwhelmingly intact familial tone that has now received a real setting to work with.

Mega producer Harvey Weinstein bought an actual Pawhuska farm house instead of shooting on a L.A. soundstage. The idyllic property and Oklahoma plains become an extra character to join the human ensemble and successfully hold the closeness and intimacy that gets lost in a play’s translation to film. The signature family funeral dinner scene, shot in the house with everyone on scene, is exactly as paced and written for the film as it was for the play. Not a single line of dialogue was changed. On Broadway, that crucial scene ran twenty minutes and it runs the exact same twenty minutes in the film.

That is just one enormous example of this film’s efforts to retain what made August: Osage County a successful and intimate play. August: Osage County brings an outstanding story peppered with howling laughs and poignant family drama that blend tremendously better than expected. The film is fantastically acted to make this popular story very absorbing. This film is tailor-made as a holiday hit-to-be upon its upcoming December holiday weekend release and a sure-fire Oscar contender in many categories come next year. It is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2013 and will be among this website’s “10 Best” of the year.

LESSON #1: THE PECKING ORDER OF WHO LEANS ON WHO IN A DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY— Each of the three Weston daughters approach Violet, Beverly, and coming home in different ways. They were tight growing up, but have evolved and changed since then. Violet is bold enough to admit that any parent that says they don’t have favorites is lying. We see the varying degrees of each daughter’s favor. When support is needed both up and down the family hierarchy, each person involved gravitates to different places to find strength. There’s a constant shift as to who is leaning on who and who is holding other people up.

LESSON #2: WHAT UNEARTHED FAMILY SECRETS SHOULD HAVE STAYED SECRET OVER OTHERS THAT NEEDED TO BE KNOWN— Beverly, the father of the family, had always been the calming factor and filter for Violet’s vitriolic behavior. He kept the family direction positive and dusted conflicts under the rug. With him passed on, the defensive shield is gone and the filter is off. The cross-hairs are out. Old mistakes and hurtful secrets reemerge in multiple directions threatening the already frayed family fabric. Everyone has scissors, but few bring the fixing needle and thread.

LESSON #3: WHEN THE LIMITS OF TELLING THE TRUTH ARE EXCEEDED— Violet sees very few of her overwhelming flaws. She was yelled at and berated as a child and has been at peace with doing the very same with her chance as a parent. Her sister does the same with Little Charles with her endless harping. Both piss and moan about how hard their lives are compared to their offspring. Violet feels that she’s just “truth-telling” and saying what no one else has the gumption to say. She lacks the care of what should or shouldn’t be said for decency’s sake. Everyone, particularly Barbara as the oldest, has their limits of how much “truth-telling” they can swallow before they react, cross the line of parental respect, and fight back with equally hateful words. There’s love in the Weston family, but it’s thickly coated in disdain and disappointment.

Source

AFI Fest – Special screening of August: Osage County Premiere – November 8, 2013


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Los Angeles, CA, October 17, 2013 – The American Film Institute (AFI) today announced additional Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings – comprised of a world premiere, award season contenders and highly anticipated independent and international films of the fall – for AFI FEST 2013 presented by Audi.

There will be a red carpet Gala each night of the festival.  The additional Centerpiece Galas are AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (DIR John Wells) on Friday, November 8; THE LAST EMPEROR 3D (DIR Bernardo Bertolucci) on Sunday, November 10; and the World Premiere of LONE SURVIVOR (DIR Peter Berg) on Tuesday, November 12. All Galas will be presented in the historic TCL Chinese Theatre.

Centerpiece Galas

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY – In this dramatic comedy with an all-star cast, a crisis reunites the women of an Oklahoma family and reignites their dysfunction. DIR John Wells. SCR Tracy Letts. CAST Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard. USA.

Friday, November 8, 2013.

AFI

Disney’s ‘INTO THE WOODS’ ventures into production featuring award-winning cast & production team


Film to Feature Songs from the Award-Winning Stage Show, Plus Brand-New Song by Stephen Sondheim

Disney’s “Into the Woods” kicked off production last week, featuring an award-winning production team and all-star ensemble cast. Rob Marshall, the talented filmmaker behind the Academy Award®-winning musical “Chicago” and Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” helms the film, which is based on the Tony®-winning original musical by James Lapine, who also penned the screenplay, and legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, who provides the music and lyrics—including an all-new song for the big-screen adaptation. “Into the Woods” is produced by Marshall, John DeLuca, “Wicked” producer Marc Platt and Callum McDougall. Shooting in studio and on location throughout England, the film is slated for a December 25, 2014, holiday release. “Into the Woods” is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel—all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them. The all-star ensemble cast includes:

  • Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “August: Osage County”) portrays the Witch who wishes to reverse a curse so that her beauty may be restored.
  • Emily Blunt (“Looper,” “The Young Victoria,” “The Devil Wears Prada”) is the Baker’s Wife, a childless woman who longs to be a mother.
  • James Corden (Broadway’s “One Man, Two Guvnors,” “The Three Musketeers,” “Gavin & Stacey”) plays the role of the Baker, a hard-working man who desperately wants to start a family.
  • Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect,” “Up in the Air”) fills the shoes of Cinderella, who finds herself on a journey of self-discovery.
  • Chris Pine (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Jack Ryan”) portrays Cinderella’s Prince, charming and impossibly handsome, who is on an endless quest to find his bride.
  • Johnny Depp (“Pirates of the Caribbean” films, “The Lone Ranger,” “Sweeney Todd”) steps in as the Wolf, who sets his sights on Little Red Riding Hood.
  • Lilla Crawford (Broadway’s “Annie”) makes her feature-film debut as Little Red Riding Hood, a smart and spunky girl who journeys into the woods, finding unexpected adventures along the way.
  • Daniel Huttlestone (“Les Misérables”) lands the role of Jack, an absentminded and adventurous boy who trades his treasured cow for five magic beans.
  • Tracey Ullman joins the cast as Jack’s Mother, a poor and exasperated mom who is overwhelmed, yet fiercely protective of her son.
  • Christine Baranski (“Mamma Mia!,” “Chicago” “The Good Wife”) takes on the infamous Stepmother who wishes for riches and grandeur; she’ll do anything to marry off one of her daughters to a prince.
  • MacKenzie Mauzy (“Brother’s Keeper,” Broadway’s “Next to Normal”) plays Rapunzel, a sheltered young woman who experiences the world beyond her tower for the first time.
  • Billy Magnussen (Broadway’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The East”) is the dashing and eager Prince who courts Rapunzel.

Celebrated actors from the stage and screen fill the supporting roles, including Tammy Blanchard (“Blue Jasmine,” “The Good Shepherd”) and Lucy Punch (“Bad Teacher,” “Dinner for Schmucks”) as Cinderella’s spoiled stepsisters, Florinda and Lucinda.
Richard Glover (“Sightseers,” “St. Trinian’s”) is the Princes’ royal steward, Frances de la Tour (“Hugo,” “Alice In Wonderland”) portrays the giant, and Simon Russell Beale (“The Deep Blue Sea”) is the Baker’s father. Actress Joanna Riding (“My Fair Lady,” “Carousel”) portrays Cinderella’s late mother, and Little Red Riding Hood’s beloved granny is played by Annette Crosbie (“Calendar Girls,” “The Slipper and the Rose”).

The big-screen adaptation welcomes songs from the stage musical, including “Children Will Listen,” “Giants in the Sky,” “On the Steps of the Palace,” “No One Is Alone” and “Agony,” among others. Additionally, Sondheim has penned an all-new song for the story’s theatrical debut. The award-winning production team includes Dion Beebe (“Collateral,” “Chicago,” “Nine”), Oscar® winner for the Marshall-helmed “Memoirs of a Geisha,” as director of photography. Dennis Gassner (“Skyfall,” “Quantum of Solace”), who won his own Oscar for “Bugsy,” serves as production designer, and three-time Oscar winner Colleen Atwood (“Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Chicago,” “Alice In Wonderland”) is costume designer. “Into the Woods” premiered on Broadway on Nov. 5, 1987, at the Martin Beck Theatre. The production, which ran for 764 performances, won Tony® Awards for best score, best book and best actress in a musical. Among other awards, the musical received five Drama Desk awards, including best musical. “Into the Woods” has been produced around the world, including a 1988 U.S. tour, a 1990 West End production, Broadway and London revivals, in addition to a television production, DVD recording and a 10-year-anniversary concert.

WaltDisney Studios

Oscars flip-flop: Meryl Streep returns to lead, Julia Roberts drops to supporting; ‘August: Osage County’ premieres at Toronto Film Festival – Reviews


Yesterday ‘August: Osage County‘ premiered at the Toronto Film Fest. Unfortunately, Meryl Streep couldn’t attend the event due to illness. [ Tweet] Below you can check the official reviews. Also here you can go through the tweets reviewing the movie once the screening was over.

It’s official: The Weinstein Co. has switched the Oscar strategy of the top stars in “August: Osage County“. Meryl Streep will remain in the lead race, according to one of the studio’s Oscar campaigners. But here’s the shockeroo: Julia Roberts will drop to supporting,

Back in early August, the rep told Gold Derby that Streep would compete in the supporting race, but Roberts would go lead. Then last week, the rep warned me that Streep could go back up to lead based upon reactions to early screenings of a new, final cut of the film. But the rep didn’t suggest that Roberts might be shuffled too.

Now it turns out that Roberts will compete against “August: Osage County” costar Margo Martindale, who portrays an award-winning role. The star who performed her character on the Broadway stage (Rondi Reed) won Best Featured (or Supporting) Actress in a Play at the 2008 Tony Awards.

The stars who held the original stage roles played by Streep (Deanna Dunagan) and Roberts (Amy Morton) were nominated by Tony voters in the lead race. Dunagan won.

Now Streep has been advanced by Weinstein Co. as the sole “August” actress competing in the lead race at the Oscars for this reason, according to the rep, “We have to look at the Best Actress race this way: Who’s strong enough to beat Cate Blanchett? It’s Meryl.”

But Roberts may not like too much the idea of being dropped to supporting where she must compete against Oprah Winfrey (“The Butler”), who – let’s face it – probably has that Oscar in the bag already.

Goldderby

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Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep star in ‘August Osage County,’ a December movie which got an early premiere in Toronto — and some early Oscar buzz (THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY)
 

“August Osage Country” had its premiere at Toronto tonight. The movie isn’t scheduled to open until Christmas, and this version was so new the sound mix still wasn’t quite done; as it was projected, the formidable Harvey Weinstein literally hovered off to one side of the theater, like a father proudly watching his baby take its first steps.

And then baby broke into a run.

“August Osage County” is a big drama, and some of its theatrics are as overheated as the Oklahoma summer it’s set in. There’s a death in the family, an uncomfortable reunion and a lot of screaming viciousness disguised as “truth-telling”; mom is a pill addict, her three daughters have their own serious problems, and few of the men in their lives seem to be able to stand up for themselves, let alone anyone else.

So basically it’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” crossed with a little “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” But with some comedy, too.

It’s all very effective, although not particularly flashy or visually innovative. That, of course, is how Weinstein prefers it. Apart from Quentin Tarantino, edgy directors have never really appealed to him; Weinstein’s filmmakers of choice are conventional, dependably tasteful and solely determined to get a whole bunch of Oscar-worthy performances on screen and in focus. (For the record, the director here is John Wells.)

Almost everyone is great, but the best of the best is Meryl Streep, as the foul-mouthed, acid-tongued patriarch. And being Streep, she makes the part even harder on herself by doing much of it behind big dark glasses, hiding an actress’ greatest tool — her eyes. It’s like Serena Williams playing a match with one hand tied behind her back, just for fun — and still acing it.

Excellent, too, is Chris Cooper as perhaps the one truly decent fellow in the whole family, Streep’s brother-in-law. And the often underestimated Juliette Lewis is a delight as the flakiest of the three sisters, still trying so desperately — and vainly — to win her mother’s affection.

As the strongest sister — the only one to really go toe-to-toe with Mom — Julia Roberts is fine. But she’s not wonderful and it’s annoying — and obvious — how the film has been tweaked to accommodate the size of her stardom. She gets long, careful closeups; worse, there’s a completely unnecessary coda which detracts from what should be (and was, in the play) the final scene, just so the film can end with her onscreen.

Of course, to be cynical, the superfluous footage does more than that: By ending on Roberts, you announce that this is her film, and this is her best-actress race. (In fact, there have been reports — albeit constantly changing and contradictory ones — that the studio may push Roberts alone for a best-actress Oscar, knocking Streep down to the supporting category.)

I hope that’s not true, not because of who has the better chance in which race — unlike studio heads, I truly don’t care — but because of what’s fair. Cooper has a supporting role, and should be nominated for such. Lewis has a supporting role, and could be nominated in that category as well (she’s been an excellent, and under-the-radar actress for years).

But this is Streep’s movie. It is about her, and she owns it from beginning to end. And no matter what category she is eventually put forward for — and which, if any, Academy members choose to select her for — she is already a winner. And an undisputed champion.

TIFF 2013: ‘August: Osage County’ becomes an early Oscar fave

It’s undeniable that, at least on paper, “August: Osage County” looks like a can’t-miss proposition. PairingTracey Letts’ Pulitizer Prize and Tony Award-winning play with an outstanding ensemble cast ranging from awards-nominated veterans to rising young stars—Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham—it’s hard to fathom the material not working. And while the choice of helmer John Wells (“The Company Men”) might not seem like the most inspired decision, all he theoretically has to do is put the camera on a tripod and let the actors do their thing. And he does. And yet, ‘Osage County’ still turns out be an exhausting, screechy drama, in which a lot of very good actors work very hard, and yet produce so little as a result.

Following the death of family patriarch and celebrated poet Beverly Weston (Shepard, in an appearance that’s just slightly more than a cameo), the entire brood returns to the titular home to rally around their mother Violet (Streep), a cancer-battling, pill-popping woman. Arriving from near and far are Violet’s daughters Barbara, Karen and Ivy (Roberts, Lewis and Nicholson); her sister Mattie Fae (Martindale), her husband Charles (Cooper) and their son “Little” Charles (Cumberbatch); as well as Barbara’s estranged husband Bill (McGregor) and their daughter Jean (Breslin) and Karen’s new fiancé Steve (Mulroney). And as major family events like births, marriages and funerals tend to unveil, there’s a lot history to discuss, catch up with and reconcile, and over the next few weeks it will all come out in mostly painful and harsh showdowns.

Violet in particular seems to have an unending reserve of bitter, acidic observations and opinions to rain down on everyone she knows, and she doesn’t waste much time in getting down to business. At a family dinner after Beverly’s funeral is when the gloves first come off, in an extended scene where nearly everyone has a sharp spear of insult or indignation hurled straight at them. The Westons are hardly the Waltons, and it soon becomes clear that is just the tip of an iceberg of meanness and cruelty. The dinner is just the first layer of an onion of secrets, regrets, revelations and accusations that are yet to come, and while we have no doubt Letts’ original material won awards and critical acclaim for good reason, the translation to the big screen leaves much to be desired.

While seeing this on stage in a series of clearly defined acts likely gives the the story a different shape, presented similarly as a film, it leaves the pacing feeling particularly slack. Letts’ work contains frequent verbal bouts, and showdowns between various characters, but the staginess of the movie—particular in scenes that get stuck in one room for minutes upon minutes on end with different people shouting at each other—can be tiring, and certainly visually lifeless. Granted, we’re not watching ‘Osage’ for camera movements and slick sequences, and though the screenplay by Letts’ himself does open things up slightly, it doesn’t do enough inside the Weston home to knock down some walls have give both these characters and the audience room to breathe.

And sure, one could justify that choice as a metaphorical one, emphasizing the claustrophobia of the entire situation, but this a film that requires performances to carry what the isn’t in the (endless) scenes of dense dialogue. But sadly, for most of the cast, yelling every line loudly is confused with conveying emotion, sarcasm and/or depth, with several zingers completely missing the mark because any shaping of the lines is erased by sheer volume. “August: Osage County” is a film of big, wild gestures, plate smashing, screaming and tears, but not nuance, and it all has the effect of leaving one deadened, not moved. None of these characters are sympathetic, nor should they be, but we aren’t given a reason to personally invest, relate or even understand the depth of betrayals and bad behavior that has stacked up over the years. These are clearly people who don’t like being together, but yet the movie doesn’t give the audience a reason to want to be with them either.

But there are some saving grace notes throughout. Streep is at her Streep-iest, given a wig to wear, and allowed to look ugly, and she takes to sneering, emotionally volatile Violet with ease. She commands the screen and many scenes like she should, but has a great foil in Roberts playing Barbara. As the eldest daughter, who has to come to grips with her family history, as well as take the unwanted role of Weston matriarch, Roberts hasn’t been this good in a while, and that’s likely due to a role that gives her a lot of substance to play with. And a special nod of recognition has to go to Cooper as Charles, who delivers one of the film’s few genuine moments, with a wonderful, poignant rebuke of his wife Mattie that lays bare the ugliness at the core of the Westons.

As directed by Wells, he seems to have been almost too hands-off when it comes to his heavyweight cast. There is little in the way of craftmanship here—even the usually-reliable composer Gustavo Santalallaprovides a rather workmanlike score—and the film could’ve used a stronger hand in guiding the transition of the play to the big screen. There is a powerful cinematic experience somewhere in “August: Osage County” waiting to get out in the sprawling two hour plus runtime, but in seemingly staying too faithful to Letts’ work, the end product winds up playing almost like a supercut of Important Acting In Big Scenes, instead of a cohesive work of dramatic weight and thematic thoughtfulness. 

Review

It’s tough to decide if August: Osage County is foremost an insightful work about the dark, twisted, occasionally humorous nature of family, or if it’s good platform to showcase big performances.  Either way, it’s an engaging picture that features memorable turns from its stellar cast, especially (and unsurprisingly) Meryl Streep, and also throws together a complicated, abrasive portrait of a shattered family that can’t put the pieces back together.  They can only break into smaller pieces, and the only thing stopping the audience from breaking down is the black comedy permeating the family affair.

Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), the patriarch of the Weston family, has died, and his funeral has brought together his estranged family.  The pill-popping matriarch Violet (Streep) is joined by her daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis), and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson); sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), her husband Chris (Chris Cooper), and their son Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Also along for the demented ride are Barbara’s daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin), separated husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), and Karen’s fiancée Steve (Dermot Mulroney).  The only non-related person on the premises of the Weston house in Oklahoma’s Osage County is the new maid Johnna (Misty Upham) who is presumably relieved that she’s not related to this gang of lunatics.  Over the next several days, grievances are aired, secrets are revealed, and the strained relationships become even more complicated.

The Weston clan could be referred to as a powder keg, but a powder keg can only explode once.  The reunion is predicated on death and it doesn’t get much better from there when it comes to the prevailing attitude hanging over the characters.  Violet is by far the most damaged as she’s not only lost her husband, with whom she already had a tenuous relationship, but she’s a drug addict, cancer-stricken, and is mean down to her bones.  Her children have hardly any love for her, her sister berates Charles, Chris tries to play peacemaker, and on it goes.  There are, at most, two healthy relationships in August: Osage County.  The rest are predicated on grudges, deceit, and manipulation.  Separately, each of these groups had their problems, but bringing them together only highlights their issues and then exacerbates them.

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Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay),August: Osage County edges dangerously close to a melodrama with how far it takes the characters’ lives from bad to worse.  Some reveals are absolutely unnecessary, and only exist to further show how family relations could be construed as inherently and inescapably damaging.  The Westons aren’t meant to represent all families but instead provide an amalgam of issues that some families could face.  At the very least, they provide an utterly captivating freak show.

The deeply flawed characters are an actor’s paradise, and the cast runs absolutely wild with Streep at the forefront.  The only way Streep could truly surprise audiences at this point is if she gave a bad performance.  Violet is despicable, but Streep taps into the wry, funny, sad, venomous, manipulative facets of the character.  We can see how Violet’s ugliness could drive people away and yet her perceived weakness can guilt her children into staying close.  Streep doesn’t have anything to prove, but August: Osage County is further evidence that she’s one of the greatest screen actors of all-time.

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The rest of the cast does an admirable job of keeping up and finding their place in the script even though Violet is the juiciest role.  Barbara is a co-lead, but doesn’t really get to carve out a role until the second-half of the movie.  Once there, Roberts’ performance really takes off as we see a woman who is against her mother but also disturbingly similar to her.  However, until this point, Roberts’ performance consists mostly of giving Violet plenty of hardened glares.  At least when Barbara is finally unleashed, her wrath is worth the wait.  All of the other actors get their moments, but the main event is Violet vs. Barbara.

The large performances and outsized conflict is tempered by the dark comedy laced throughout the story.  Without the humor, August: Osage County would still feature interesting characters and worthwhile subtext, but the ugliness would be too much to bear.  The jokes are where the audience can come up for air, and Letts’ script deftly weaves laughs into even the darkest, most serious scenes.  A typical scene can feature hilarious, quotable one-liners and an absolutely devastating reveal.

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This emphasis on giving the movie over to the actors isn’t just by virtue of having a great cast, but is also the natural extension of having a stage play as the source material.  Director John Wellsmakes sure the movie never feels stagey even though its stage origins are always on display.  Most of the film is comprised of long scenes that take place in a single location.  The trick for Wells is managing the details like how long to hold a shot on an actor, if he should keep the camera on the speaker or go for a reaction shot, and where to place the camera.  This sounds relatively simple, but trying to move around multiple characters in a single location is incredibly complex, especially when it comes to the film’s centerpiece—a dinner scene following Beverly’s funeral.  The direction may not be flashy, but it’s pragmatic and lets the characters and themes come through.

The difficulties the Weston clan faces shows how family trauma is like a virus that spreads not only across generations but across all family ties.  At one point, Ivy questions the very nature of family, and how we’re forced together with these people not by choice but by birth, and that they’re allowed to have so much of an impact on our lives.  Of course, with the cavalcade of difficulties permeating the Weston family, that impact is greatly amplified to an overwhelming degree.

August: Osage County is a big movie filled with big emotions from big characters played with big performances.  Subtlety is not the film’s strong suit, but the performances make the characters come alive in such a way that you feel some sympathy for each of the Weston family members even if the character has far more than their fair share of personal shortcomings.  And while difficult emotions bubble beneath the surface of the story, and later explode into chaos, we can leave the movie with a smile on our faces not only because of the dark comedy, but because as dysfunctional as our families might be, at least we’re not as bad as these nutjobs.

Review

Johnny Depp And Meryl Streep “Deals Almost Wrapped” For ‘Into The Woods’ Movie


Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep filming together and singing. Who can resist? Not Disney any longer. It’s taken 16months to get off the ground — ever since January 2012, when the studio sent out a press release announcing Rob Marshall (ChicagoNine) would be directing Stephen Sondheim’s iconic 1987 Broadway musical “Into The Woods” as a feature film for Disney. A table read was held in NYC this past October featuring Donna Murphy, Megan Hilty, Christine Baranski, Allison Janney and quite a few other Broadway stars.

Buzz of Streep’s interest first surfaced last summer and this past week Marshall confirmed in an interview to Playbill that she was “in” to the play the witch. TodayVariety reported Depp’s interest. Now I’ve confirmed that Johnny and Meryl “almost have their deals wrapped up for the film,” according to sources. Marshall directed 2011’s Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 (which might have been more palatable as a musical because it stunk as the franchise’s fourquel) so he’s already Mouse friendly. The original musical with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by James Lapine is about a childless baker and his wife who attempt to lift a family curse by journeying into the woods to confront the witch that put the spell on them. Along the way, they encounter classic fairy tale characters. Depp previously starred in the DreamWorks film version of Sondheim’s dark musical Sweeney Todd which was also the last time he sang on camera.

Streep in films had a nice turn warbling country Western in the final scenes of Postcards From The Edge until the longtime Abba fan became the singing and dancing queen of Mamma Mia!. For Into The Woods, Marshall frequent collaborators John DeLuca will produce while David Krane will arrange the music. Lapine penned the screenplay.

Deadline

As BroadwayWorld.com previously reported, Meryl Streep will play the witch in the upcoming big screen adaptation of INTO THE WOODS. Now according to Variety, Johnny Depp is currently in talks to join the cast for the film by Warner Bros/Disney film, which is set to be directed by Rob Marshall.

UPDATE:Variety now reports that Depp is in talks to play ‘The Baker,’ while The Hollywood Reporter claims that he will play “a hungry and sexy variation of the fairy tale wolf character.” At the very least, Depp is all but confirmed for the film. Deadline announced that sources revealed Depp’s deal is “almost” done.

Click here to read the original Variety article, for Deadline’s confirmation, click here.

James Lapine, the original book writer of INTO THE WOODS, is reworking the script for the screenplay, while Sondheim is expected to contribute some new songs.

Into the Woods is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. It debuted in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre in 1986, and premiered on Broadway in 1987. Into the Woods won several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason), in a year dominated by The Phantom of the Opera.

 

The Homesman to film in New Mexico – Press release


Apparently Hillary Swank is going to play ‘Cuddy’. So Meryl Streep’s going to be one of the crazy women in the movie. (PDF press release) They also mentions Sonja Richter as a new member of the cast. 

New Mexico Film Office director Nick Maniatis announced today the Tommy Lee Jones directed
feature “The Homesman” to film in New Mexico. Starring Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank and Meryl
Streep (The Iron Lady, Hope Springs, Sophie’s Choice) along with Grace Gummer (Margin Call, Larry
Crowne), Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter and Tim Blake Nelson. Principal photography is scheduled
for the end of March through mid-May at various locations in the Las Vegas and Santa Fe areas.

The production will employ over 100 New Mexico crew members and over 200 New Mexico principal and
background talent.

Produced by Michael Fitzgerald, Tommy Lee Jones and Peter Brant.

The Homesman” is based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout with a script written by Tommy Lee Jones,
Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver. This Western follows the journey of a claim jumper (Tommy Lee Jones)
and an independent pioneer woman (Hilary Swank) who team up to escort three women driven mad by the
Nebraska frontier back to Iowa.

Venice 2012: Zac Efron goes Indie with “At Any Price”


New article from today, published by Indiewire about a press conference

At Any Price” director Ramin Bahrani compared his young stars to Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep in the Venice press conference today. Speaking of Zac Efron – who plays rebellious farmer’s son Dean in the film – he praised his ability to embrace different roles and predicted he would, “Follow in the footsteps of great actors like Johnny Depp or Tom Cruise, who started one way and pushed themselves to another.” Meanwhile, he claimed newcomer Maika Monroe, who was cast after sending in “the most sincere tape I’d seen,” could have the “trajectory of Meryl Streep.

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