Archive for the ‘August: Osage County (2013)’ Category

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Distributor: Starz / Anchor Bay

Release Date: April 08, 2014

Region: Region A

Length: 121 min

Video: AVC (MPEG-4)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital
5.1 French Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 2.40:1

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD only version and a Blu-ray version. The disc reviewed is part of a Blu-ray and DVD combo-pack. It includes an Ultraviolet copy of the film.

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“I guess ultimately you hope that somebody with some taste and intelligence is making some good, final decisions about this… In the case of John [Wells], I think they are – which is not to say we don’t have fights about this. We do. I was calling him a (expletive) just yesterday. But he’s a generous collaborator and he’s always been willing to listen.” -Tracy Letts

The problems involved in translating a stage play to the screen are a topic that has been exhausted by this late date. There are obvious tonal changes that occur in the adaptation process that are evident no matter how faithful one is to the source material, and what is compelling on the stage might be slow and calculating on the screen. The cinema is a different art from the theatre. There are fundamental differences that usually cannot be overcome. If one opens a play up in an attempt to make it more cinematic, the structure and rhythm of the piece is thrown off completely. If one remains totally faithful to the piece and doesn’t open it up, then the film will never be cinematic.
A simple look at the set for one of the popular stage productions should illuminate the challenges of adapting August: Osage County into a film.

"August: Osage County" at Everyman Theatre. January 16 - February 17, 2013.

The changes necessary in altering the exchanges from a set such as this to the more realistic settings in the film are bound to change the tone and rhythm of the material presented. This seems to be the trouble with this production. It isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t cinema, nor is it good theatre (though it certainly works admirably on the stage). It is merely an entertaining diversion with a number of good performances. It is better than many recent movies that have been released upon an unsuspecting public, but I am not sure if this is saying very much.

Critical reviews ranged from polite (if reserved) recommendation to hostile diatribes against the film. One of the more positive reviews was written by David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter.

“…Arriving on the screen with mixed dividends from an all-star cast, the film doesn’t shed its inherent theatricality, stringing together speeches and showdowns peppered with nuggets of stagey dialogue that resist being played in naturalistic close-up. But it’s nonetheless an entertaining adaptation, delivering flavorful rewards in some sharp supporting turns that flank the central mother-daughter adversaries.

The Weinstein Co. release opens in the thick of awards-season contention on Christmas Day, and its cast should attract a sizeable audience drawn to intelligent adult material. However, the film’s muted emotional payoff and dark shadings may ultimately keep it from doing more than respectable business…

…[Streep] hits all her marks with brilliant technique yet brings no element of surprise. As good as Streep is, the chewy part actually might have benefited from a left-field casting choice.

Roberts gets stuck with some of the more theatrical dialogue, and her role has a less complete arc than in the play, where Barbara’s bitterness and disappointment were underscored by the creeping realization that she’s more like her mother than she cares to admit. Roberts’ characterization favors the hardened, brittle side, which is a little one-note at first. But the performance grows steadily in stature as she balks at Vi’s out-of-control behavior and takes charge of the crisis. It’s probably her grittiest role since Erin Brockovich…

…Not all the ensemble has a lot to do, but the weak point is McGregor. He seems unsure of how to play Bill and not remotely at home in the American heartland. When you have actors with the ease and authenticity of Shepard, Cooper and Martindale on hand, the imposters stand out…

…Wells directs the actors smoothly enough in individual scenes, but his work lacks the cohesiveness to really pull all the characters together and convey their shared past…” -David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter, September 10, 2013)

Variety’s Scott Foundas wrote a review that reads at first glance like a negative review, but turned out to be one of the film’s more flattering recommendations.

“There are no surprises — just lots of good, old-fashioned scenery chewing — in August: Osage County, director John Wells’ splendid film version of playwright Tracy Letts’ acid-tongued Broadway triumph about three generations in a large and highly dysfunctional Oklahoma family. Arriving onscreen shorn of some girth (the stage version ran more than three hours, with two intermissions) but keeping most of its scalding intensity, this two-ton prestige pic won’t win the hearts of highbrow critics or those averse to door-slamming, plate-smashing, top-of-the-lungs histrionics, but as a faithful filmed record of Letts’ play, one could have scarcely hoped for better. With deserved awards heat and a heavy marketing blitz from the Weinstein Co., this Christmas release should click with upscale adult ‘auds’ who will have just survived their own heated holiday family gatherings…

…Wells, who is best known for having produced such small-screen phenoms as ER and The West Wing, does an impressive job shooting and cutting among 10 major characters, all of whom get their chance to engage Vi in verbal tango. He isn’t a natural film director per se (his lone previous feature, 2010’s The Company Men, was the earnest, corporate-downsizing also-ran to Up in the Air), but he understands what ‘August’ needs in order to work onscreen, how to preserve its inherent claustrophobia without rendering it completely stage bound, and the result is far more successful than any more stylized “cinematic” treatment probably would have been…

…Shooting in widescreen — a practical necessity with this many characters to squeeze into a frame — Adriano Goldman (Jane Eyre, The Company You Keep) beautifully captures the hazy half-light of a house whose permanently drawn window shades are mentioned in the dialogue. Indeed, it is a place where we can never be sure whether we are traveling a long day’s journey into night, or a long night’s journey into day.” –Scott Foundas (Variety, September 10, 2013)

Even many of the more positive reviews tended to criticize Meryl Streep’s Oscar nominated performance. One example is Richard Corliss’ review for Time magazine.

“…[Streep] tends to go way too big, diverting the audience’s focus from the character to the performer…

…Writing August: Osage County, Letts had his own big agenda: he turned some of the landmark family dramas of 20th century theater — Long Day’s Journey, A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — into bitter, biting hilarity. He also detonated nearly as many unexpected deaths and sexual surprises as you’d see in a Mexican telenovela; the story has everything but evil twins and amnesia. Osage County, which richly earned a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Play in 2008, is superb theater but not a cathartic tragedy. The play scalds but does not purge; it’s just a monstrously entertaining spectacle.

So maybe the movie adaptation is a suitable showcase for Streep’s meticulous overplaying. What’s telling, though, is that most of the other actors — Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis — manage to nail their roles, to draw all the wit and pain out of their characters, without showboating…

…In her Oscar-winning performance as Erin Brockovich, Roberts was a little too strutting, too sure of her superiority to her adversaries (as the film was). Her Barbara is a victim who uncomfortably returns to the scene of the crime — Vi being the perpetrator — and tries not to acknowledge how much she may have in common with her hated mother. It’s Roberts’ deepest, strongest, liveliest film work, which may well put her in the Best Actress competition against Streep. On Oscar night, mother and daughter could fight it out yet again…” –Richard Corliss (Time, September 11, 2013)

In a mostly positive review of the film, Rex Reed found fault with the film’s director, John Wells.

“Like a general loaded with medals in a ticker tape parade, the Broadway play August: Osage County arrives on the screen with credentials convincing enough to impress even the most jaded skeptic: a Pulitzer Prize, a script adapted from his own play by the celebrated Tracy Letts and a high-octane cast of award-winning actors most filmmakers only dream about. The mixed result; I am sorry to report, is a gumbo from the kitchen, half-prepared—a case of too many eyes on the oven timer…

…The movie begs for stronger direction than TV producer John Wells (The West Wing) can capably deliver. He seems to be so overwhelmed by the assembled talent that sometimes he surrenders control completely, and his use of cutaways and close-ups compromises the essence of the collaborative process. August: Osage County is supposed to be an ensemble piece, but let it be said—with great reluctance—that Meryl Streep throws the film off-balance. With her at the head of the dinner table, it’s hard to focus on anyone else. No question she knows all about acting, but in this film, she does too much of it. Trying vainly to keep up with her, the other actors come off like they’re overacting, too…

…The brilliant screenplay by Mr. Letts sets up the narrative story of the Weston clan in a carefully constructed series of episodes in which the family history is finally revealed. There’s great acting in every frame, but by the end of the ordeal, the viewer may be too exhausted to care.” –Rex Reed (New York Observer, December 17, 2013)

Wells would earn criticism from many other reviewers as well. One of the more obvious examples of the criticism Wells would receive can be read in Mick LaSalle’s review for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“…But what happens if the director is relatively inexperienced at directing features? And what happens if the actress destroying the movie is rightly recognized as one of the greatest in the world? Then you have the formula for disaster – for August: Osage County, a thoroughly botched, distorted and unrealized rendering of a brilliant American play.

The failure of this film is an occasion for more than perfunctory lamentation, because it represents something beyond a missed opportunity. Movies can be shown everywhere and movies are forever, which means that this film is bound to serve as an ongoing bad-will ambassador for a great work of art, not only around the world but also down through time. Already, intelligent people who never saw the play are speculating that perhaps the film revealed weaknesses in Tracy Letts’ writing – but no, that is not the case. Not at all.

The problem was that director John Wells did not understand the play, or at the very least, he did not make his actors understand the play, even at its most basic level. Here’s one little example: The actors onscreen are under the impression that they’re in a straight drama, and they’re not. They’re in a very dark comedy…

… Throughout, Wells seems lost. The blocking of the actors and the cutting are arbitrary, with no psychological or dramatic purpose. In one example, Chris Cooper, as the genial uncle, delivers a blistering take-down of his abusive wife and storms off. But Wells undercuts the impact of his exit by having the camera float outside, to show Charlie, in a long shot, just standing around doing nothing.

August: Osage County was a three-hour play that felt like two hours. It has been made into a two-hour movie that feels like a month.” – Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 2014)

I tend to agree that much of what is wrong with the film version of August: Osage County can be traced to the film’s direction. I have a very difficult time faulting Tracy Letts for remaining reasonably faithful to his play. After all, the stage production of the play was an astronomical success (both critically and commercially). However, many of the film’s reviewers seemed to fault the writing and the subject matter. A good example is A.O. Scott’s review.

“…You’ve seen it before, in plays and indie movies and holiday episodes of your favorite televisions shows. An extended clan descends on the old home place to bicker, reminisce, air long-hidden secrets and smash a few dinner plates. Tears are shed, lessons learned, award nominations eagerly solicited.

In addition to the pills and booze already noted, the menu at this particular feast of dysfunction includes adultery, divorce and incest. But the story of the Weston family — Beverly and Violet’s three daughters and their various menfolk, as well as Violet’s sister and brother-in-law — is secondary to the spectacle the actors make of themselves. Really, “acting” is an inadequate word for what the cast of this movie is doing. Maybe, in honor of one of the leading industries in the Sooner State, we should call it ‘fracting.’ The application of enormous pressure is involved, a great quantity of subterranean gas is forced to the surface, and the environmental consequences are likely to be controversial.

Another way to think of August: Osage County, which was directed by John Wells and adapted by Tracy Letts from his own play, is as a thespian cage match. Within a circumscribed space, a bunch of unquestionably talented performers is assembled with no instructions other than to top one another. One twitchy confession must be excelled by another. The same with smoldering, sarcastic speeches, explosions of tears, wistful jags of nostalgia and imperious gazes of disgust…

August: Osage County falls into an uncanny valley between melodrama and camp, failing to achieve either heights of operatic feeling or flights of knowing parody. The jokes are too labored, too serious. The serious moments tilt toward the preposterous, above all a climactic revelation that seems, on sober examination, to be more of a technical detail than a seismic explosion.
I never saw Mr. Letts’s play onstage, so I will defer to the judgment of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize jury and my theatergoing brethren in the critical profession. It is possible that Mr. Wells has simply mishandled the material, riding roughshod over subtleties and muffling bravura moments. But it also may be that the awkward transition from stage to screen has exposed weak spots in Mr. Letts’s dramatic architecture and bald spots in his writing…” –A.O. Scott (New York Times, December 26, 2013)

Rafer Guzman was another reviewer who seemed to fault Letts for his strong dislike of the film.

“One of the first things you’ll hear in August: Osage County, the star-studded film version of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning play, is an unhappily married writer, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), talking about life, loss and T.S. Eliot. But his foul-mouthed wife, Violet (Meryl Streep), interrupts with a suggestion. It includes three vulgarities and a farm animal.

Well, so much for subtext. Everything is spoken, and in the crudest possible way, in August: Osage County, directed by John Wells (The Company Men) from Letts’ screenplay…

…Letts seems to be trying to one-up Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill, but his method consists of placing the emotional climax at the beginning, then trying to maintain the intensity by adding obscenities. In real life, issues tend to simmer between people, but here they scream like a boiling kettle from the start and never stop. The resulting dialogue and characters feel so false that not even a master like Streep can make us care…” –Rafer Guzman (Newsday, December 24, 2013)

Dana Stevens seemed to follow in this pattern. She does not claim that Letts is at fault, but it is evident that the subject matter crawls under her skin.

“…August: Osage County is a mess, an overcooked movie-star stew that never quite coheres into a movie.

I never saw August: Osage County onstage during its multiple-Tony-winning Broadway run (sorry about all the prize mentions that keep accumulating here—‘tis the season). But by all accounts it made for a cathartic, darkly hilarious evening at the theater… So why is August: Osage County the movie so lurching, so emotionally un-engaging, so peculiarly bad? …

…[Streep’s] performance as the narcotics-popping, bile-spewing Violet Weston would be too broad as seen from the back row of Yankee Stadium. And most of the cast try to keep up by frantically stuffing into their maws whatever crumbs of scenery Streep leaves un-chewed. But I think August’s root problems lie deeper than the level of individual performances: There’s something miscalculated about the whole scale of this enterprise. An hour was cut from the stage play, and while I’m grateful not to have had to sit through an extra 60 minutes of histrionics, the absence of those minutes does nothing to make August: Osage County feel economical or swift…

…Despite an inappropriately saccharine score by Gustavo Santaolalla, this isn’t one of those uplifting dysfunctional-family-reunion dramas that bring generations together in the theater at holiday time. But it should at least have the salutary effect that, by the time the movie ends, you’ll be eager to get away from the Weston family and back to your own.” –Dana Stevens (Slate, December 26, 2013)

Kenneth Turan’s review was cast from this same mold.

“‘I’m just truth telling,’ says Meryl Streep’s Violet, the gorgon mother at the center of August: Osage County, and in that same spirit I have to confess that (a) I never saw this Pulitzer Prize-winning vehicle by Tracy Letts when it was on stage and (b) nothing about this film version makes me regret that choice.

Despite a pedigree that includes five Tonys in addition to that Pulitzer and a cast of gifted actors that is a full dozen deep, August: Osage County does nothing but disappoint, with all the talent involved simply underlining how uninvolving this material is…

…Set in August 2007 in tiny Pawhuska, Okla., and actually shot in the real Osage County, this film reveals one of its flaws almost from the start. As directed by John Wells from a script by Letts, ‘August’ plays like the play it was, with dialogue and situations displaying the kind of artificiality that does not work well on the screen…

…Each of the film’s dozen actors has his or her moment in ‘August,’ but these virtuoso performances do not move us. Despite the story’s melodramatic contrivances the creation of characters we actually care about is beyond this film’s capabilities. Individuals on the screen certainly get worked up about secrets hidden and revealed, but those trapped in the audience will wonder why they should be bothered.” -Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2013)

Michael Phillips defended Letts in his negative review of the film.

“Over and over, the negative reviews of August: Osage County have pulled variations on a sad theme, with various New York- and LA-based critics wrestling with the film without having seen, or read, the Tracy Letts play that came before it. Paraphrased, the theme goes like this: ‘Well, at least now I don’t have to see the play. The movie doesn’t work for me. Why would I ever take time to see the original?’

And this is why weak, misdirected film versions of worthy stage projects cause more harm than the average so-so film.

There are things to enjoy in August: Osage County, mainly around the edges. But there’s a serious case of miscasting at the center…

… The miscasting, rather, is all about director John Wells, a competent but style-free veteran of TV’s ER and Shameless and the feature film The Company Men.
Onstage, in the rip-roaring but meticulously controlled Steppenwolf Theatre Company premiere staged by Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County reminded audiences of the satisfaction to be found in a sprawling, three-act family drama loaded with secrets and vitriol. And really the drama was more of a comedy: Letts’ withering wit spread the pain around in freely democratic fashion…

… Letts’ screen adaptation of August: Osage County shaves about 45 minutes of material. The main change is the foregrounding of the Roberts character, whose marriage to her husband (a bland Ewan McGregor) is over, and whose teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) spells jailbait for the latest sleazoid boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney) of Aunt Karen’s (Lewis).

The script does a pretty shrewd job of retaining the peaks and valleys of the play within an inevitably overstuffed two-hour time frame and a mess of characters to accommodate.

But the movie never really gets going. Wells treats every conversation, each new encounter, as a separate, dutifully filmed scene unto itself, and after a while you start thinking impossible thoughts about directors long gone… Between Wells’ earnest, stilted technique and a terrible, naggingly optimistic musical score by Gustavo Santaolalla, August: Osage County never really had a chance at success — only at occasional diversions within a starry yet ill-starred project…

… See the play sometime. It cooks; the movie’s more of a microwave reheat.” – Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune, January 9, 2014)

August: Osage County isn’t a great film, but it is a decent diversion with some good performances. It is certainly worth watching.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Starss

The disc is held in the standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork. I prefer the theatrical poster to the artwork included here, but this is usually the case. The animated menu features footage from the film and is easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The discs transfer exhibits a clean transfer that is reasonably free of any heavy grain. This is obviously a movie that was shot on film, and the transfer represents its source nicely. There are no discernable anomalies (such as dirt, scratches and digital artifacts) to distract an audience, and the overall picture is sharp with impressive contrast. Colors aren’t vibrant, but this is the filmmaker’s intention and is not the result of a faulty transfer. (This is actually quite appropriate.) This is really a lovely transfer.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 lossless soundtrack included on the disc is more dynamic than one might expect from what is essentially a stagey, dialogue driven film. The music is strong and widely spaced, without ever becoming overly obnoxious, and dialogue is given the right amount of priority and is always clearly represented. While this remains a relatively straightforward track, it represents the film almost perfectly.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary with Director (John Wells) & Cinematographer (Adriano Goldman)

Wells and Goldman share ‘behind the scenes’ anecdotes and discuss various technical aspects of the production. Fans of the film should be thrilled with the track.

Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary from Director John Wells and Cinematographer Adriano Goldman) – (HD) –

[Bill and Barbara Fight (2:27), Violet Nags Ivy (1:38), “I’m Really Happy” (1:00), Little Charles on the Bus (0:23), and Sisters Reunited (Alternate) (5:17)]

Deleted Scenes are always welcome additions to a Blu-ray disc and fans of the film should find these to be quite illuminating.

The Making of August: Osage County – (HD) – (19:45) –
This footage is compiled mostly from various press-conferences, and never touches on anything that one wouldn’t expect to see in the standard EPK promotional reel. Short clips from interviews and press conferences are padded with a healthy portion of footage from the film. While this is a welcome addition to the disc, it certainly isn’t a comprehensive “behind the scenes” glimpse at the making of the film.

On Writing with Tracy Letts – (HD) – (7:39) –

Tracy Letts discusses his play and the screenplay, touching on his inspiration for writing August: Osage County. The information here is certainly interesting, but is not terribly comprehensive. It is a welcome, if somewhat anemic addition to the disc.

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Final Words:

One can probably tell from the various marketing materials whether they will enjoy August: Osage County. It isn’t for everyone, but many will certainly find the movie entertaining and it is worth checking out. The disc features wonderful image and sound transfers and some interesting special features.

 Review by: Devon Powell