August Osage County (2014)

Genre: Drama

Director: John Wells

Writer: Tracy Letts

Starring: Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts

Rating: ★★★½

August Osage County is a strange film, but that’s not a criticism of Tracy Letts’ creation.  A more than fair attempt to display the “dysfunctional family” stereotype that’s rarely mastered in films is achieved and is boosted by some dark humour but more importantly an amazing set of performances. August Osage County isn’t exactly the most heart-warming release, far from if I’m honest, but it has some creditable aspects that make for an enjoyable and entertaining two hours of watching.

The film surrounds the more than dysfunctional Weston family and more importantly the struggling, pain-filled women within. When Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) the pill-addicted tongue-lashing mother awakes to find her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) has up and left, she calls for the help of the family and her three daughters to return to their Oklahoma home. With all the family under one roof it only leads to a slaughter of arguments and insults as every member clashes and locks horns, revealing secrets, shameful truths and causing extreme upset.  All three daughters have relationship problems of their own and their problematic mother only seems to worsen the mess. Julia Roberts plays Barbara Weston the oldest out of the sisters, the one that stands up against her mother’s crazed antics.  It is between Violet and Barbara that the conflict mainly arises, which soon leads to sisters Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) being more than involved. As the arguments never stop, under extreme anger and tension a few secrets and events unfold which could cause the Weston family to be completely ruined at a time they need each other most.

It is a story that is attempted many times, the typical problematic family however August Osage County seems to work. Its success mainly relies on the performances and characters played by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts who retrospectively have been credited with Oscar Nominations for Best Supporting and Lead Actress. The pair together have many battles which result in the occasional laugh and speechless reaction not only from the other family members but the audience. Although the two leads provide great performances so do the rest of the supporting cast. The actors playing the neglected controlled husbands amongst the family provide good humour and keep the film entertaining at times, Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles alongside Ewan Mcgregor as Bill Fordham and Dermot Mulroney as Steve Huberbrecht give solid performances.  However it is fair to say at times without the performances and all-star cast August Osage County would fail.

The film although at times comedic is meant to be very serious in many aspects, dealing with very serious and sensitive topics. It wasn’t going to be a feel-good film when the story follows an alcoholic leaving a pill-addicted women starting with the lines “Life is very long”. However it captures some element of realism in how every family have their disagreements and secrets albeit in this occasion they are very extreme. Despite the strong cast and a more than intriguing story Osage County does have it criticisms, at times it was frustrating to not follow a certain perspective and look on events, with the many storylines switching and crossing on a number of occasion it does come across overwhelming. The ending too I felt was very weak, with at least an extra half hour of story to follow up on which could have been shown if previous unnecessary scenes were cut.  Nevertheless there was enough for it to be classed entertaining and worth-while.

Although maybe not a “must-see” August Osage County is certainly a good film, with highlights coming from two fantastic performances from both Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. It is a film that relies strongly on its cast although at times director John Wells’ craft was very well executed. It’s sure to entertain, earn a few laughs but most importantly it is sure to be an enjoyable viewing.

 

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12 Years a Slave (2014)

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Steve McQueen

Writers: John Ridley, Solomon Northup (book)

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender

Rating: ★★★★★

One of the most anticipated and recently talked about films 12 Years a Slave has been grabbing the headlines for various nominations and wins that has earned credentials labelling it as one of the best films ever made. With all the buzz and speculation surrounding Steve McQueen’s newest phenomenon the expectations were set very high before viewing, but I can firmly say they were matched and exceeded. 12 Years a Slave captures such intense horror, pain and emotion in truly amazing style resulting in a flawless film from script, cast, crew and score. I can easily say that it will be a film to scoop not only many nominations but many Oscars in February’s prestigious ceremony.

12 Years a Slave is a beautifully crafted portrayal of the harsh and brutal experience of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a freeman who was captured, tortured and then sold into slavery. We follow Solomon’s story starting in Upstate New York, Saratoga, where he’s a respected member of the community, having a family consisting of a wife and two kids in which he provides for by working as a violinist. However his happy and joyous life is soon taken away as he finds himself chained and imprisoned in a basement deep in Washington where he is then beaten and sold into slavery.

Solomon’s day-to-day routine soon consists of brutal beatings and unhuman labour as he is passed around from slave owner to slave owner until he eventually settles down on the plantation of cruel Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). He soon finds himself a target due to his dignified actions and gets caught up in an act of jealously between plantation owner Epps and a young slave girl. After many attempts and ideas of escape failing, Solomon finds hope when meeting a Canadian abolitionist named Bass (Brad Pitt) in his twelve year.

12 Years a Slave portrays such a tragic and horrific story with such art and realism you can’t find a single fault. Each painful and brutal beating and whipping is shown with such horror and precision it’s truly powerful. Steve McQueen captured such emotion with his film forcing you to get so wrapped up and involved in the story, you feel the need to help Solomon out constantly creating a great amount of sympathy.

The performances captured and displayed by all the cast are brilliant and I personally feel it’s one of the best displays I’ve seen in recent years with so many standouts. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the obvious highlight as he plays the traumatised Solomon Northup throughout but his performance is far from glamorous and showy but real and painful. With such a display there will be no surprise that he’ll be up to his neck in best actor nominations. Michael Fassbender too should be applauded for a great performance and one that is surely the highlight of his career. The brilliant ensemble was then further added too by low key but perfectly executed displays from both Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch.

It is obvious that it was the acting and performances that made 12 Years a Slave shine but Steve McQueen’s also added his respectable brilliance that again should be rewarded with a fistful of best picture nominations. Many awe-inspiring bright scenery and life-like shots featured throughout breaking up and juxtaposing the brutality of the other scenes with its admirable beauty. 12 Years a Slave although only a month into the New Year is firmly staking its place as the highlight release from 2014.

Not only does 12 Years a Slave achieve such powerful and impacting results due to the technical and acting quality but the real-life biographic element truly finishes this film of. Adapted from the book from Solomon Northup – Twelve Years a Slave writer John Ridley has worked wonders. When the words “these events actually happened” lay place upon the screen it is then the pain truly seems to hit in along with the heart-ache.

There are no questions about it that 12 Years a Slave will be the one to beat come the Oscars and there’s no competition when it comes to comparing Steve McQueen’s biographic drama to other films reflecting the horrific slave-era. 12 Years a Slave is a must-see release that will be referred to for a long time to come, emotional, powerful and truly impacting 12 Years a Slave is faultless.