Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
Forget the television commercials that try to reduce August: Osage County to either some madcap romp or some cheery family comedy. This film is dark. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, who adapted his script for this big screen version, the black humor of the play does not necessarily translate on screen. Instead, it feels like a bleak downward spiral of a family so full of bitterness and resentment, it’s on the verge of implosion.
As directed by John Wells, the film version of August: Osage County may not feel like a fun movie, but it’s a terrific study of a family on the brink. As he steers the drama to slow-burning heights, anger both repressed and unchecked coil around each other like two boa constrictors trying to consume the other. The lengthy conversations swell to epic confrontations that are a sight to behold.
The cast offer up sincere performances that take the story to another arena that’s more heartbreak than humorous. Violet (Meryl Streep) first appears on screen with short-cropped gray, scraggly hair, chain smoking while both cursing and sweet-talking her husband (Sam Shepard) in a drunken stupor as he attempts to hire service aide Johnna (Misty Upham). “Are you an injun?” Violet asks her.
Violet is an old time "casual racist." But she also has mouth cancer and a habit of abusing pain killers. She seems constantly on the edge of boiling over. She can’t seem to bear her proximity to the end while everyone else watches. Hell hath no fury like a narcissist on the edge of death.
Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
The target of much of her anger falls on, but is not limited to, her three daughters. She treats eldest Barbara (Julia Roberts) as a threatening equal (dad’s favorite), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) with passive-aggressive disdain and the youngest, Karen (Juliette Lewis), with mean, outright insignificance. It’s such a varied pallet of abuse that it would be decadent if it didn’t come off as so cruel. All actresses hold their own, feeding off Streep and the rich script, which offers up one skeleton after another in the family’s history of unresolved issues.
Streep’s work in August: Osage County could be among the best of her many great performances. She plays an unlikable, often cruel character, which is all the more reason to appreciate how she can turn the angry, abusive matriarch into a sympathetic woman. In the end, your heart will break for what she knows have been missteps in raising a family. Too egotistical a wretch to rise above her failures for a kind word, she seems to clash with her own zealous pride, which gradually unravels through the course of the film.
Wells, who comes to this film — his second feature — after directing several episodes for the Showtime dysfunctional family series Shameless, also seems inspired by the source material. He dresses up the mise-en-scene appropriately. The film’s washed out browns and yellows capture the rotting malaise of a family barreling toward disintegration. The music is moving in parts, if somewhat manipulative. This is an emotional roller-coaster of a film.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
Ultimately, as it’s based on a play, August: Osage County is about performances. Wells gives the actors plenty of room to tear into the material, even if it fails to rise to the play’s black comedy. But who cares if August: Osage County does not necessarily pull that off? It instead offers a rather twisted, morose family drama that features some of the year’s best acting turns.
Follow @HansMorgenstern | Follow @Hollywood_com
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
The uber-anticipated sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen picks up shortly after the events of the blockbuster first film. With evil Megatron’s carcass buried at the bottom of the ocean Optimus Prime and his Autobot comrades working together with an elite group of human soldiers are now focused on hunting the remaining Decepticons scattered across the globe. Sam Witwicky hero of the 2007 movie is busy preparing for his first year at college while his unlikely girlfriend Mikaela Barnes stays behind to tend to her father’s auto-repair shop. Little do they know however that back on Cybertron a Decepticon elder known as “The Fallen” is hatching a scheme to invade Earth where hidden somewhere on the planet is the last known source of energon the life-blood of all Transformers. If he succeeds the devastation left in his wake will no doubt spell the end of the human race. With the fate of Earth hanging in the balance Sam and Mikaela must once again have to team up with Optimus and the Autobots to defeat this powerful new foe.
WHO’S IN IT?
All the major human players from the first Transformers film are back for the sequel including Shia LaBeouf Megan Fox Tyrese Gibson Josh Duhamel and John Turturro. Newcomers include Ramon Rodriguez who plays Sam’s conspiracy-obsessed college roommate Leo and The Office’s Rainn Wilson who enjoys a notable cameo as a pompous physics professor.
Of course the actors merely serve as background filler for the real stars of the show: those titular talking-alien robots. And director Michael Bay fills up the screen with enough mechanical eye candy to dazzle even the most skeptical gearhead. Returning characters include Optimus Prime Bumblebee Ratchet Ironhide Barricade Jazz (don’t act surprised) Starscream Frenzy and Megatron (again don’t act surprised).
Several new Autobots are introduced to the mix: Mudflap and Skids a pair of jive-talking ceaselessly annoying hatchbacks; Jolt a Chevy Volt; Sideswipe a silver Corvette; and Jetfire an elderly Decepticon turncoat who walks with a cane speaks with an English accent and transforms into an SR-71 Blackbird. Additions to Decepticon side include: The Fallen who we learn is the Decepticons’ real head honcho (consider him the Emperor Palpatine to Megatron’s Darth Vader); Soundwave a communications specialist who sinks his tentacles into a satellite and spies on us from above; Ravage a panther-like creature; Wheelie a radio-controlled truck who talks like Joe Pesci; “the Doctor ” a sort of mad scientist who speaks with a German accent (naturally); and the Constructicons a group of construction vehicles that fuse together to form a massive four-legged beast.
No director does over-the-top explosion-laded action better than Michael Bay and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen features several staggering set pieces. The CGI work on this film makes the last one look like it was designed on a Commodore 64.
Any scene in which people talk — and several of the ones in which robots talk too. Just as the action and visual effects are beefed up for the sequel the bad jokes and cringe-worthy dialogue are as well. Highlights include two dogs humping John Turturro in a thong a robot humping Megan Fox’s leg a sequence involving Sam’s stoned mom and a glimpse of a very large pair of testicles on one very large Decepticon. The latter will likely go down as the “nipples-on-the-Batsuit” moment for the Transformers franchise.
The show-stopping climax set in the Egyptian desert is one extended riotous battle royale packed with so much robot-on-robot action you’ll feel overwhelmed at times.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
This big-budget spectacle begs to be seen at the multiplex — IMAX if possible. Just bring a pair of earplugs for the dialogue sequences. You might want to bring some Dramamine as well as Mr. Bay went a little overboard with his trademark circling-camera sequences this time around.
Gus Van Sant, the eclectic director of such films as To Die For and Finding Forrester, will reteam with his Good Will Hunting stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck (yes, Ben's little brother) for a new film, Jerry. According to the buzz at Cannes, the film is being kept closely under wraps, so there's not much known on the subject matter. Could be about a mouse or a TV evangelist or maybe a raunchy TV talk show host. What is known is that the project is being put together by the William Morris Agency Independent department, with co-heads Cassian Elwes and Rena Ronson negotiating the deal.
Big brother Ben
Casey's big bro Ben Affleck, after battling the Japanese in the upcoming Pearl Harbor, is set to star in director Martin Brest's Gigli. Brest, who has taken a three-year hiatus since his last film, Meet Joe Black, will direct from his own script about a down-and-out hit man (Affleck) who kidnaps the mentally challenged brother of a powerful district attorney. While waiting for ransom demands, he hooks up with a free-spirited female partner, whom he assumes is a hit woman. You can't say it doesn't sound original. This marks the first time Brest has directed from his own script in 20 years, the last being 1979's Going in Style starring George Burns. And let's hope this one is more memorable.
Bakula will explore new worlds
Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula is taking another strange journey into the unknown as he has signed on to play Capt. Jonathan Archer (in company with other great names such as James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard) on Enterprise, the fifth Star Trek series. Paramount Network Television described the character of Archer to The Associated Press as a "physical and intensely curious captain" who maintains a sense of duty. He also is "a bit of a renegade and is not afraid to question orders or even disobey them if he feels in his gut that he is right." Ah, just the kind of starship captain we need.
Booked on the love "Boat"
Sometimes it pays to take your clothes off. Former Playboy playmate of the year Victoria Silvstedt and actress Vivica A. Fox (Kingdom Come) are joining the cast of the indie feature Boat Trip, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz. Story centers on two men (Gooding and Sanz) who set out on a Caribbean cruise to find love and romance only to realize they are on a gay cruise. Oh no! Fox will play Gooding's fiancée and Silvstedt plays Inga, the head of a Swedish swim team. Who magically appears on the gay cruise to the Caribbean? Production starts at the end of the month in Germany.
Director Terrence Malick is back once again. He will produce a new adaptation of author Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock. The original 1947 film, directed by John Boulting, starred Richard Attenborough as a small-time gangster in the English seaside town of Brighton who self-destructs after murdering a rival. The strange and elusive Malick will not direct, even though he is officially out of seclusion after directing the 1998 war film The Thin Red Line. Before that, his last film was the 1978 Days of Heaven with Richard Gere and Sam Shepard. Rock is slated for a summer 2002 start date in the United Kingdom.
Cameron and Cousteau team up
Director-producer James Cameron must have a thing for undersea exploration. Remember all that footage of the doomed Titanic in his Oscar-winning film? Now he is teaming up with ocean explorer-environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, to produce a series of undersea exploration specials for ABC. Ironically, the first installment will be about the remains of Titanic - which is easy enough. The series seeks to use the latest technology in oceanic photography to view areas of the deep blue sea never seen or explored before. So, now we can finally see all the weird prehistoric creatures that dwell on the ocean floor.
Kasdan, Goldman do King's "Dreamcatcher"
Director Lawrence Kasdan and writer William Goldman have teamed up with Castle Rock Productions to bring Stephen King's latest novel The Dreamcatcher to life. The story revolves around four childhood friends who share a secret bond after they perform a heroic act. Years later, as they have drifted apart, they must reunite to save the Earth from a mysterious force. Sounds a little like a conglomeration of several King stories, including Stand By Me and It. But with the talent of Kasdan and Goldman, plus the Castle Rock contingency, who've produced probably the best King adaptations such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and Misery, this film has every chance to be another winner. Now, let's see whom they cast.
Kudrow looking for "Scouts"
Friends funny lady Lisa Kudrow will produce and star in the dark comedy indie Intense Girl Scouts, about a woman who leads an unofficial Girl Scout troop into doing out-of-the-norm good deeds. Yet, when some of those deeds go awry, she is ostracized and ends up becoming involved in questionable activities with her creepy neighbor-ultimately leading to murder. If anyone could pull this off, it'd be Kudrow, who showed some excellent acting chops in another independent gem The Opposite of Sex. Unfortunately, her bigger features, such as Hanging Up and Lucky Numbers, didn't fare as well. Might be the wisest for her to stick to the little guys.
P.Diddy: "I can act!"
Sure he can. Why not? Mr. bad-boy rapper Sean "P.Diddy or Puffy" Combs has done just about everything else. Having narrowly escaped prison life for real, Combs has decided to play a prisoner in the independent feature Monster's Ball, costarring with Billy Bob Thornton, Heath Ledger, Halle Berry and Peter Boyle. The story is about a father and son (Thornton and Ledger) who work at a prison's electric chair facility. Combs will play a death row inmate who is put to death on the electric chair. Thornton's character, a racist, later falls in love with the widow, played by Berry. Combs also will appear in Jon Favreau's movie Made, out this July.
Bell calls "Who Goes There?"
Jamie Bell, of Billy Elliot, is set to star in a World War II drama Who Goes There?, based on the true story of a German U-boat that landed its crew in a Welsh village. Bell will play a boy who befriends a German soldier only to find out his friend is not really such a nice guy. Well, that's a surprise. It will be interesting to see whether the young lad is as good as he was in Billy Elliot. But no pressure, Jamie.