August: Osage County

If you think your family is screwed up, go see August: Osage County. The Weston family from Oklahoma is among the most dysfunctional you will ever witness. The main source of the trouble is the family matriarch, Violet (Meryl Streep), a pill and booze addicted woman who is filled with resentment.

Violet’s daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) all have their own issues, some of which have come straight from mother. Just as Violet has had a tempestuous relationship with her husband (Sam Shepard), so has Barbara with her man Bill (Ewan McGregor).

August: Osage County should win the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Ensemble. Without listing the entire family tree, here are some of the other talented actors in the film: Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin and Durmot Mulroney.

Director John Wells and writer Tracey Letts have done an excellent job of taking a stage play to film. Only a handful of scenes have a stagey feel.

August: Osage County has been described by some as a comedy. Chris Cooper’s long-winded blessing is a classic scene and quite funny. And there are several more laughs in the movie. But, make no mistake, August: Osage County is more tragedy than comedy. The Westons are not a happy family.

Originally set for a Christmas Day 2013 release, A: OC did get the necessary runs in NYC and LA to qualify for awards season. (Expect Meryl Streep to grab an Oscar nom for Best Actress when they’re announced next week.) Don’t skip it just because it was pushed back to the movie wasteland of January. See it to witness an all-star cast delivering the goods—especially Meryl.

Advertisements

Killing Them Softly

Brutality, gore and obscene language combine to deliver the year’s grittiest crime drama. Setting the film against the backdrop of the 2008 pre-election financial crisis could have been a genius move, but ultimately is just an amusing juxtaposition.

“Killing Them Softly” is not a classic but has several memorable characters and some funny dark humor.

The story: two novice hoods are sent to rob a card game that’s run by the mob. They’re nervous, but they pull it off. Brad Pitt plays a mid-level mobster whose mission is to avenge the robbery. Pitt tells a mob lawyer, played by Richard Jenkins in one of their many conversations, that he doesn’t like to get into his target’s faces, he prefers to kill them “softly, from a distance.”

He imports a gunman played by James Gandolfini to help with the killing. This subcontracted hitman has addictions, mainly booze and hookers, which render him basically useless. Also in the cast are Ray Liotta and Sam Shepard.

Cinematic highlights include one particularly violent shooting, presented in slow motion a la “Bonnie and Clyde.” Also effective is the movie’s opening whose audio switches sharply back and forth between hard rock music and Barrack Obama campaign speech soundbites.

Throughout the film we see and hear TV clips of George W. Bush making his case to congress for bailout money and references to the ’08 election. The message, apparently, is that the meltdown affected mob finances just as much as it did the rest of America.

To borrow a line from another president, let me make one thing perfectly clear: this is one of the more violent movies you’ll ever see. If that’s your thing, enjoy. If not, stay away.