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

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Mud (2013)

MudTwo teenage boys encounter a fugitive living in a boat in the trees on an island. They form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.

Release Date: May 10, 2013

Director: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland

Runtime: 130 min

If you take anything from this movie; it should be that Southern gals named Juniper are bad news.

Mud is a modern-day fairy tale, a crisp chase thriller, and a coming-of-age drama all in one. It’s a gritty fairy tale because Mud is waiting for his love on an island; and there are themes of happily ever after, true love; but it’s less “Repunzel, Repunzel, lay down your hair!” and more like “Mud, Mud, let down that boat!” It’s a chase movie because Mud is a fugitive on the run, attempting to evade some lethal bounty hunters. As for the coming-of-age tale, that mostly lies with Ellis (Tye Sheridan).

He’s at the delicate age of fourteen, the age where one begins to choose role models. His parents are on the brink of divorce, and they really aren’t there to offer much advice; so the role model he chooses is Mud. Ellis must make his way through adult lies and learn his own way through hardships of love. Neckbone doesn’t latch onto Mud the way Ellis does, mostly because he finds a solid role model within his Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon). Mud is a superstitious character, but he’s also a serial liar. He tells great story after great story, and as the film progresses, the audience learns he is appropriately named, because he really is full of shit. The character contrasts are fascinating; Mud wants things to be done, but Ellis (and Neckbone) are the two to do them. Ellis seems to have a lot more backbone than Mud ever would. The lady loves of the story, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), Mud’s love, and May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), is the gal that Ellis has his eyes set on; some of their character traits have striking similarities, and the way Jeff Nichols makes them mirror each other is truly stunning and creative.

Jeff Nichols writes in a lot of themes, and while they may suffocate the story at times, they’re still very beautiful. Nichols suggests that the water current could really make one’s hardships more difficult, because Ellis lives on a makeshift boat on the banks of an Arkansas river, and his parents are struggling with their relationship. Nichols seems to have a true handle on some natural elements. The symbols of snakes and Mud’s wool shirt are thought-provoking and, often enough, poignant. Nichols’ third feature film states that he just didn’t become lucky with a few winners, this states that he is an artist; and most will love the story Nichols has to tell.

The story has a comfortable pace and it knows where it wants to go. It’s slow, but engaging. There are some scenes that might feel redundant at the time, but they don’t interrupt the flow of the film. The cinematography has a crisp feel to it, and it’s stunning when the camera is looking out into the hopeful horizon. The characters will keep you engaged. The relationship that blossoms between Mud and Ellis is about as beautiful as a relationship between a thirty-something sandy-haired fugitive and a fourteen-year old boy can get. Juniper and Mud want to be together; and even if we do not feel we can always trust Mud, he’s always very intriguing and has a lot of depth.

Matthew McConaughey delivers a tour de force performance, and seeing what he does here, it’ll make you much more excited for the upcoming Dallas Buyers Club. Tye Sheridan portrays Ellis very well; he’s capable of being tough, sweet, confused and vulnerable. The performances are superb all across the board. Jacob Lofland gets outshined by Sheridan, but he’s a great comic relief, and a nice presence. His name also reminds us that this is truly a Southern film. Some of the actors have characters that just don’t do much.

Reese Witherspoon portrays Mud’s love, Juniper. She has about ten minutes of screen time. Witherspoon does well with what she has, but if she gets an Oscar nomination for what little she does; it will only be a smaller farce than Jacki Weaver’s nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. Though, Witherspoon being under-utilized is not Nichols’ biggest crime. Michael Shannon has a criminally low amount of screen-time. He portrays Neckbone’s uncle, Galen, where he works as a role model for Neckbone and he wears this huge, comical scuba diving gear – and that’s about it. Shannon is a go-to guy of Nichols, as he is been in his two prior films, as the lead in Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories. It’s great to see Shannon in anything, but if you’re not going to use a guy of Shannon’s talent extremely well, don’t use him at all. This is Nichols’ biggest mistake, and if he does show a preference to use him, he should have cast him as Carver (Paul Sparks), the main bounty hunter adversary of Mud. He would rock that role!

The cast is an excellent ensemble, also including Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Sam Shepard. The story is impressively engaging, even if it has little wiggle room because of its many themes. Jeff Nichols writes a story that has enough power to strike you down like a mighty current, and raw emotion that will maul at your tear ducts. One thing is for certain, you will never believe a movie with such a dirty title could become such a beautiful work of art.

86/100

Safe House (2012)

Safe House

Release Date: February 10, 2012

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Stars: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga

Runtime: 115 min

Tagline: No one is safe.

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a young CIA agent whose mission is to go to this safe house and look after a fugitive, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington). Frost used to be a great CIA agent, until he turned rogue. It turns out others want Frost dead, too. After the safe house is attacked, Weston must protect Frost at all costs.

The action sequences are pretty great at the time, but they aren’t very memorable at all. There’s also quite a few boring scenes.  The plot also isn’t all that memorable either, and it can get a little complicated at times – when you’d think a film with such a seemingly simple plot wouldn’t involve any thinking power at all.

The performances are decent, Washington is the best in his role, though. This movie stars Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick and Joel Kinnaman.

What you get is an action film I could live without, but I enjoyed quite a few aspects of it. Nothing I regret seeing but it just left a feeling of “that could have been so much better,” by the end of the running time. It isn’t a total waste of time as some of it’s interesting, see it if the opportunity comes along; as some of it has some good action and isn’t a complete fail of a film.

I was generally disappointed by this really decent action flick that could have been greater, considering it has seemingly such a simple plot and a great cast, but ended up being unfortunately between average and pretty good.

63/100