August: Osage County (2013)

August Osage CountyReleased: January 10, 2014 (wide release). Directed by: John Wells. Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor. Runtime: 121 min.

When a film starts out with the line “Life is very long,” that’s the first hint that the drama you’re about to watch isn’t going to be the feel-good film of the year. “August: Osage County” is a bleak feature with a prominent theme of the hollow emptiness of modern mid-western life. And hollow it is! The film follows the strong-willed women of the Weston family, who return to their family home in Oklahoma because of a family crisis. This means they have to face the devil woman that raised them.

The synopsis states that there’s a family crisis, and usually, one knows that it’s likely that it’ll either be a funeral or a life-threatening disease; and since Violet (Meryl Streep) already has mouth cancer, it looks like people are going to be dressing in black and are going to pretty upset throughout. The film’s trailer isn’t so subtle about who dies, either. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, I’ll try not to spoil it. This is a film about how family tests you and how it lifts you up but can kick you down, as well. And if you have a mother like Meryl Streep’s character, it’s going to kick you down a lot.

I like films with a focus on characters, and most of these are pretty good – but since there are so many, there’s a limited amount of layers for all of them. But the performances are pretty spectacular, and one of my favourite aspects of the film. Meryl Streep is great as a devil woman named Violet with emotional issues because of all the pills she takes. She’s one of those people who criticizes everything and blames people for things that happen, and make your insecurities known which makes one feel crappy. Because she’s so domineering, and since Streep is such a powerhouse dramatic actress, I think that’s why some people consider her a Leading Actress here, even though I’m nearly convinced she has about the same screen time as Roberts. I’m thankful she’s absent for about 25 minutes of the film because the character’s personality is very irritating. Since her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) is a similar personality, one can tell their mother screwed them up pretty harshly. 

Though, while Violet is critical of everyone, Fae is mostly critical of her son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Violet has three daughters, the main one Barbara is portrayed by Julia Roberts. She’s just great as a character who’s more likeable than her mother, but a bit similar – showing the influence of parental figures. Barbara is trying hard to keep the relationship with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) intact. Violet’s other daughter is Karen (Juliette Lewis) who is a bit of a ditz, but not much smarter than her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s most likeable daughter is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who was the only daughter to stay close to home, which creates tension between the three daughters. Ivy is criticized greatly by her mother because she hasn’t found a man yet. The only characters who actually rarely have rude things to say to each other are Ivy, Little Charles and Mattie Fae’s husband Charles (Chris Cooper).

Everybody’s just fighting constantly and it doesn’t make the experience enjoyable. There are bursts of comedy here and there that keeps the film from being completely boring, so that’s a good aspect. It seems to me that when one thinks family drama, it’s reasonable to expect people smiling and being nice to each other, isn’t it? But that so rarely happens in this slowly-moving picture. The only scenes some might find theirselves enjoying the film is when Julia Roberts launches herself at Meryl Streep because it’s freaking awesome, and there’s a sweet song that Cumberbatch sings at one point. Along with the little bursts of comedy, that’s the only time I really liked this. Its ending is unrewarding and the film is generally depressing. It’s one of those films where you walk out of the theatre and say, “Hey, could you say something kind to me? I’ve hardly heard a nice thing for two hours.” To have that depressed feeling for these two hours is an emotionally exhausting experience.

Score50/100

The Impossible (2012)

The Impossible (Lo Imposible)

Release Date: December 21, 2012

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Stars: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland

Runtime: 114 min

Tagline: Nothing is more powerful than the human spirit.

Did you know? The real family that the main characters are based on are in fact Spanish but living in Japan at the time of the Tsunami.

On Sunday, December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake forever changed the lives of many people, and took the lives of over 230, 000 in fourteen countries. The earthquake trigged a series of ravaging tsunamis along the coasts bordering the Indian Ocean. Coastal communities were struck with waves up to 30 meters high. All these factors make it one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand were the countries most devastated by the tsunamis. The Impossible tells the true story of one of the families caught in the middle of one of the worst natural catastrophes of our time.

Maria Bennett (Naomi Watts), her husband, Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three sons, from eldest to youngest, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), are on an airplane on their way to a beach resort in Thailand, where they will be spending the Christmas holidays. They’re a very regular family, they get scared, and they open presents just like everyone else on a beautiful Christmas morning. On Boxing Day, they spend the morning at the beach, just like many other tourists. However, their normal day turns awry when they hear a distant noise becoming a roar. A tsunami strikes the resort, Maria and Lucas go one way, and Henry and the two youngest, the other. Will they be able to survive and overcome the unlikely odds of finding each other?

This definitely could just be another average, inspiring story. However, it has a lot more going for it. This manages to stand out in memory as a strong, emotional, inspirational feature that is one of the most truly moving films of 2012.

The dramatic screenplay sets a canvas for great performances from the whole cast. Naomi Watts is the strongest of the bunch, but is not the only one who deserves recognition for her efforts. Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland are also fantastic. McGregor must show fear and many other emotions in the hope of finding his family. In one scene, he breaks down emotionally calling a family member back home (it might be his brother) that deems difficult for the audience member not to be moved by. For this scene alone, he really should have received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Holland also shows that his character is strong-willed because he goes off to help other families, leading to a fantastic scene that strikes like an emotional bulldozer. Holland also proves capable of carrying a film when he is called on to.

McGregor and Holland express very real emotions of desperation and despair that we’d all be feeling in this situation. The two little kids also deliver strong performances, albeit not as memorable as everyone else. They still leave an impression, and they are great enough to not be just another child actor destined for a forgettable dead-end career on the Disney channel.

These characters are strong-willed and would do anything to survive and find each other. This film is a true testament of the human spirit, much like Les Misérables. However, the obstacle those characters had to face was the French Revolution, and not 30-meters high waves. The audience can really relate to the characters, because this could really happen to anyone in any place or time. They are so real that it’s difficult not to root for them. After watching this, you’ll probably want to run home and hug your loved ones all day long.

The film is usually very realistic, even if there are some tedious scenes that rely on suspense a bit more than drama, as there are some scenes where the audience member is in their seat dying for the family members to find each other. These aspects make it not only a drama, but at times a thriller. There are intense scenes like when they are trying to find each other, when the devastating tsunami strikes the resort and Maria and Lucas are fighting to hold onto each other, and in a few dream-like sequences. These aspects keep it from turning into a melodramatic mess. Some suspenseful scenes audience members might just wish would end, because they might just be a little too emotionally draining. It all gets back on track, though, when those few times come about. One other unrealistic aspect, however, is the fact that the two younger sons seem to be well-groomed. What, did they find a hair stylist merely floating about?

Naomi Watts gets a leg that’s disgustingly prone to infections, poor Holland has a spine that looks like it was dragged across a dirt road, and McGregor gets red rings around his pupils that will spark a nasty case of pink eye. These two little guys get a few scratches. What’s up with that? Other than that little misstep, the make-up is really quite marvelous, making us think that the actors really may have been in this tsunami.

This feature is really, really quite must-see. It is endlessly inspiring and emotionally strong, even if I feel four or five minutes could have been edited out. It even has some truly amazing cinematography, and the film is simply beautiful. I feel, however, that I must give you a few warnings about this feature. 1) There are some seriously nasty injury images, specifically Watts’ leg injury, that make this a feature not for the faint of heart. At all. 2) This is not a good date movie. Well, unless your angle is to let your date see you cry deeply, then go right for it!

One more thing: If you are not emotionally moved by this feature on some level, I highly recommend seeing a psychiatrist – you might be a sociopath. Seriously.

87/100