If one is to appreciate anything about this adaptation of Tracey Letts Pulitzer Prize winning play, the immensely staggering performances carried out by the entire ensemble would be a great place to start. Thankfully however, this gloomy comedic-drama directed by John Wells has decidedly more to offer than the undeniable talents of its star-studded cast. Much like its source material, this take of “August: Osage County” is teeming with family turmoil, sly humour, and plenty of heart. That being said, this cinematic adaption isn’t without its own, personal charms. Besides, there’s something you get with film that just blows live theatre out of the water. Say, for example, the stunning, not to mention real, panoramic scenery displayed, or the intended demeanour of a well-thought-out, perfectly captured shot…but that’s just my opinion. Nonetheless, Wells’ “August: Osage County” pays great reverence to its source while effectively differentiating itself from it.
In Oklahoma, in August, Beverly (Shepard), a poet with a drinking problem, lives with his wife Violet (Streep), who suffers from oral cancer and is addicted to prescription drugs. They have three daughters, Barbara (Roberts), Karen (Juliette), and Ivy (Nicholson). Soon after hiring help to assist with the care of Violet, Beverly disappears. This brings the entire family, their significant others, and close relatives to the house. What ensues when this group is brought together is a chaotic melee, and none are exempt.
Wells faithful adaptation of “August: Osage County” officially launched its Oscar campaign this year at TIFF. And for the most part it was received with praise from its audiences. Granted, the tale’s natural combination of halfhearted self-loathing and perplexing family drama will come off as attention clamouring, even pathetic to some. Especially when the reward isn’t as grand or alluring. Ultimately, those not familiar with the play or those not affected by such issues will feel alienated. Therefore, the film won’t earn many new followers, but that was to be expected. What the film lacks in luring capability via story, reaction, and structure, it more than makes up for with a high-profile cast. And if the cast and their performances don’t drag you in, the tranquil, wondrous landscape alongside a hauntingly atmospheric score is sure to do the trick. However, all of “August: Osage County’s” endearing, upsetting, enthralling attributes aren’t enough to trump the immaculacy of the ensembles performances.
In a sense, “August: Osage County” is exactly what I’d expected and nothing more: darkly hilarious, melancholic, and impeccably performed. However in the same breath, sadly and ironically, my realized expectations still provided a bit of a letdown. Considering that when you’re collaborating a collection of illustrious, Oscar caliber actors, a director who certainly is no stranger to creating and capturing obscure family drama (Wells is the writer and director of possibly my favourite television program “Shameless”), and a story that’s highly relatable and has been proven to be a winner time and time again. The end result should be nothing short of scintillating. And although it surely shines blindingly on occasion, “August: Osage County” is more of a pulsating brightness. But do keep in mind that my preconceived notions about this film were still pretty steep. So even though it doesn’t knock you of your feet, it’ll definitely leave you teetering and stumbling around.
As eye-catching and captivating as “August: Osage County” is to all the cinematic senses. The cast and their performances is the film’s only true, unarguable strongpoint. Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, and Julianne Nicholson. Wells’ A-list crowd definitely has the chops to tackle this emotional vast and mentally straining adventure. Ewan McGregor perfectly encapsulates the subtle strength of his character and intentionally falls to the backdrop. Dermot Mulroney does much of the same, except his portrayal deals a lot with frustrating and seducing the audience. Still, he can’t help but disappear alongside these acting heavyweights. Breslin is her usual quiet self. I don’t think I’ve seen a performance of her’s in which she utters more than 50 words. That being said, she does a great job absorbing the inward-dwelling habits of her character.
Without question, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep steal the show. Although I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Meryl Streep’s track record, for the majority at least. I don’t deny her talent and I feel she deserves the recognition she’s garnered thus far in her career, for the most part. In all honesty however, her performance in “August Osage County” is only the second time I’ve been blown away by one of her portrayals, the first being her performance in “Adaptation”. Somehow, Streep completely dissolves into her character, both mentally and physically. She pulls off the accent, appearance, cold-blooded personality, and inevitable vulnerability incredibly. As for Roberts, she valiantly struts alongside Streep’s masterful performance with confidence and control. She might not disappear into the role as physically well as Streep does, but she does offer up more of a visceral performance. She portrays a stoic, ticking time-bomb astoundingly. I have high expectations that both will earn an Oscar nomination come award season.
The very moment “August: Osage County” begins, you’re hit with the raspy, calming voice of Sam Shepard. Being the fictional husband to Streep’s character is no easy task, but Shepard does a phenomenal job exuding the patience, understanding, and heart. Benedict Cumberbatch, despite being sparsely used, amazingly bursts with such love, earnestness, and truth. The scene in which Cumberbatch’s character plays an original composition on a small, run-down keyboard to Julianne Nicholson’s character is heart-achingly effective and undeniably enchanting. Speaking of Nicholson, she does a fantastic job with Juliette Lewis and the aforementioned Julia Roberts completing this trio of sisters who have to deal with their mean-spirited, yet oddly nurturing mother. Chris Cooper continues to astound me with his kind, compassionate performance here. I found myself wishing he was my biological Father again and again.
Disheartening, elemental, and decidedly truthful. “August: Osage County” is directed with a firm, honest hand and performed with the utmost talent and accuracy. If anything, the cast alone is worth the price of admission.
August: Osage County: 8.5 out of 10.
With a little over a month until the Toronto International Film Festival officially kicks off its 38th edition. The first batch of attending films were ceremoniously announced around 10am this morning in what is shaping up to be one of the most prolific, star-studded years in festival history!
75 films were announced Tuesday in what should become roughly 290 total, at least equalling last years output. Expect the entire Midnight Madness lineup to be released July 30, with the remaining films formally presented throughout the coming weeks. Check out the Galas here and the Special Presentations here.
The most notable from the first batch are as follows:
August: Osage County John Wells, USA, World Premiere:
August: Osage County tells the dark, hilarious and deeply touching story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose lives have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Midwest house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. Based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize– and Tony Award–winning 2007 play of the same name. Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Sam Shepard and Chris Cooper.
The Fifth Estate Bill Condon, USA, World Premiere:
Triggering an age of high-stakes secrecy, explosive news leaks and the trafficking of classified information, WikiLeaks forever changed the game. This dramatic thriller based on real events reveals the quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organization. The story begins as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) team up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. On a shoestring, they create a platform that allows whistleblowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light on the dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes. Soon, they are breaking more hard news than the world’s most legendary media organizations combined. But when Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history, they battle each other and a defining question of modern time: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society — and what are the costs of exposing them? The film also stars David Thewlis, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and Dan Stevens.
Kill Your Darlings John Krokidas, USA, International Premiere:
Kill Your Darlings is the true story of friendship and murder that led to the birth of an entire generation. This is the previously untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that would lead to their Beat Revolution. Also stars Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, Kyra Sedgwick and John Cullum.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Justin Chadwick, South Africa, World Premiere:
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is based on South African President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education, and 27 years in prison before working to rebuild his country’s once-segregated society. Starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela.
Rush Ron Howard, United Kingdom/Germany, International Premiere:
Two-time Academy Award winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) teams up once again with two-time Academy Award–nominated writer Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) on Rush — a spectacular big-screen re-creation of the merciless 1970s rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Also features Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara and Pierfrancesco Favino.
12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, USA, World Premiere:
12 Years a Slave tells the incredible true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 and finally freed in 1853. The story is a triumphant tale of one man’s courage and perseverance to reunite with his family that serves as an important historical and cultural marker in American history. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams and Alfre Woodard.
Blue Is The Warmest Color Abdellatif Kechiche, France, North American Premiere:
At 15, Adèle doesn’t question it: girls go out with boys. Her life is changed forever when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. In front of others, Adèle grows, seeks herself, loses herself, and finds herself. Starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her Ned Benson, USA
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her is a two-part love story seen through the eyes of a New York couple trying to understand each other as they cope with personal hardship. The different perspectives of “Him” and “Her” result in two films with a unique look into one couple’s attempt to reclaim the life and love they once had. Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Nina Arianda, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, and Jess Weixler.
Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt, USA, Canadian Premiere:
Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a strong, handsome, good old fashioned guy. His buddies call him Don Jon due to his ability to “pull” a different woman every weekend, but even the finest fling doesn’t compare to the bliss he finds alone in front of the computer watching pornography. Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) is a bright, beautiful, good old fashioned girl. Raised on romantic Hollywood movies, she’s determined to find her Prince Charming and ride off into the sunset. Wrestling with good old fashioned expectations of the opposite sex, Jon and Barbara struggle against a media culture full of false fantasies to try and find true intimacy in this unexpected comedy.
Gravity Alfonso Cuarón, USA/United Kingdom, North American Premiere:
Gravity is a heart-pounding thriller that pulls its audience into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer accompanied on her first shuttle mission by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). On a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone — tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth… and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But their only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.
To say that I am excited for TIFF 2013 would be a massive understatement! Can’t wait to see what other films will be joining this first wave.
Beginners is a rather bleak look at relationships, the destructive effect of terminal illnesses, and sexual indecision, but its somber approach is captivatingly efficient. Watching Beginners you feel as if you’ve been in at least one similar situation at some point which makes the film translucent and rewarding to connect with. Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent, Beginners two leads, seem easily and inexplicably drawn to one another and empathize on similar wavelengths making their performance as a couple utterly realistic. Directed by Mike Mills and also featuring brilliant Canadian Christopher Plummer as well as Goran Visnjic who is exceptional, Beginners is both heartbreaking and affirming, sturdy yet flexible, overall a breath of fresh air into a genre that is over saturated and lacking.
In the year 2003, Oliver (McGregor), a graphic artist has just become aware that his father George (Plummer) has cancer. In addition, George reveals that he is gay despite the fact he was married to his mother, Georgia until her passing. George has found a partner in Andy (Visnjic) although he is uncomfortable with the fact that the relationship is an open one. Oliver later attends a party with his friends where he meets Anna (Laurent). Anna is a french actress who lives a rapid life and soon becomes taken with Oliver. As his father condition worsens, Andy becomes distant and Oliver and Anna’s relationship begins to turn sour.
It’s as if every weekend there is a new romance or rom-com released and it’s up to the viewer to filter the good from the weak and monotonous. Beginners is definitely one of the good ones. Rarely do we witness a romantic film that shatters your heart then persists in breaking the shards into dust. There is no miraculous intervention or quick fix, it simply takes its time in reassembling the pieces as real recovery would. Ewan McGregor adapts to his characters reluctancy and silent optimism, eventually willing to emerge from his cave of depression with his trusty dog as his sidekick, who is also quite the chick magnet. I don’t think I’ve even been more persuaded into believing the honesty in a performance. Melanie Laurent and Christopher Plummer are spiritual and outgoing in their own ways, regardless of whether that’s the way they’ve always been or just realizing their existence. Beginners may be daunting and dispiriting, but its simple and raw script and approach is appealing and hopeful.
Beginners: 8 out of 10.