Category Archives: Film Review

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys (2014)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda and Christopher Walken

 

3 1-2 out of 5

 

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Let’s get these facts and opinions out of the way before we even get started; in my time I have seen more Broadway shows than the average person, I had a moderately successful career in musical theater during the first part of my life and, in recent years, Jersey Boys is one of the best shows I’ve seen on stage. It’s also important to note that I have always been of the opinion that properties originally created for the stage rarely transfer well. Plays often feel too claustrophobic and talky on screen and musicals tend to lose much of their real time magic when committed to celluloid. All that being said, as much as I enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys, the film version of the hit musical didn’t do anything to change my mind in this regard. 

On stage the musical dazzles as a seemingly impossible mix of kitchen-sink drama and Las Vegas glitz but, on screen, it all plays more like a standard bio-pic and, as a result, comes off a little long winded and flat. The monochromatic look of the film, both in the cinematography and lighting doesn’t help and, while I can certainly appreciate the nostalgic tone Eastwood was attempting to capture, the dullness and fog of this style distracts more than it compliments the story. If Eastwood was actually looking for a way to ground the musical in reality while still maintaining it’s theatricality, playing the first half in black and white before eventually transferring to color, ala The Wizard of Oz,  might have been a more interesting and effective choice. 

One of the most brilliant aspects of the Tony Award winning musical is how long the show’s authors make you wait before they give you any music that sounds vaguely familiar. On stage the first Four Seasons‘ hit you hear arrives late in the first act, approximately ten minutes before intermission. For a “jukebox musical” it’s a bold choice, one that I have admired from the very first time I saw the show. Thankfully Marshall Brickman, adapting his stage play for the screen, maintains this element and continues to build the anticipation nicely so that, when “Sherry” finally does arrive in the film, the moment is just as satisfying and smile-inducing as it is live and in person.

While the background stories of the boys from Jersey are interesting enough, the star of both the stage musical and the film is the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and, in that regard, the big screen adaptation more than lives up to it’s predecessor. It’s been noted that all the singing in the film was done live and, unlike last year’s problematic Les Miserable, this time around that concept actually works. Of course it helps that the majority of the actors in the film have more experience singing and playing their roles than is usually the case. John Lloyd Young, who won the 2006 Tony Award for his star turn as Frankie Valli, gets the opportunity to commit his award winning performance to film and rises to the occasion nicely. Young makes the required adjustment masterfully and never feels too big or theatrical in the film, though his young Frankie is still much more believable and comfortable than his older version of Valli, which, even on stage, always felt a bit more affected and forced.

Vincent Piazza does a fine job in the love him/hate him role of Four Seasons’ founding father Tommy Devito, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons’ primary songwriter, gives a solid performance that should earn the actor more screen time in the future, and Michael Lomenda as Four Season Nick Massi rounds out the quartet with equally impressive work. Christopher Walken, as mob boss Gyp DeCarlo, doesn’t show us anything new or groundbreaking from his palette but he’s the perfect, (and most obvious), choice for the role and there’s just no denying it’s always a lot more fun when Walken is in the mix, particularly when it comes to the big screen musicals. 

It should be noted: my mother accompanied me to the screening of Jersey Boys the other night, which was actually more than perfect given she was the one who took me to my very first concert in 1975, (which just so happened to be, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, front row, no less!) Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to take her to see the musical live on stage so this was a must see for us both, together. After the credits rolled, our verdicts were declared; I, who have had the pleasure of seeing the show on stage, liked it, while mom, who only had the movie to reference, loved it. In a nutshell, that’s probably all you need to know if you’re trying to decide whether you should be heading out to the multiplex for this one.

Mom mentioned near the end, it was all she could do to stay in her seat, she really wanted to dance and clap along during that rocking finale, I didn’t have the heart to tell her, in the live theater we do and we did. In the end, that’s probably the biggest difference and- make no mistake- it’s a BIG difference. It’s fine that Hollywood wants to capture some of that Broadway magic, (and money), on the silver screen but it’s probably time we all give up on the experiences being anywhere near the same, or even equal.

Scott Hopkins, popbitez.net

Best Films 2013

20. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Director- Francis Lawrence

Starring- Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.

Why is it the second film in a series is almost always better than the first? It may be the simple fact that the majority of the characters have already been introduced in the first film and therefor require very little set up time in the sequel, that’s our theory anyway and we’re sticking to it!

We liked the first flick, we loved this one. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the box office champion of 2013 and, for once, we understand why.

 19. The Book Thief

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Director- Brian Percival

Starring- Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Ben Schnetzer

While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.

We’ve finally got a new film set during World War II that offers a fresh perspective. The Book Thief is a sad, bittersweet tale, beautifully shot, expertly acted and definitely one of the more moving films we saw in 2013.

18. Nebraska

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Director- Alexander Payne

Starring- Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb

An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

With his career defining performance in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska Bruce Dern proves, when it comes to acting for the big screen, less isn’t only more, it can be an absolute revelation. Payne’s film is a beautiful, slow and contemplative piece that says just as much about family as August:Osage County, but in a substantially quieter and much more economical way.

17. The Way Way Back

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Director- Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Starring- Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Steve Carell

Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.

There never seems to be a lack of coming-of-ages indies in any given year and 2013 was no different, that being said, though the genre is very nearly exhausted these days, The Way Way Back still managed to break some new ground. The brilliance of this film lives in the fact that the growing and maturing isn’t limited solely to the young man at the center of the story, but actually extends to many of the adults around him as well. The performances, across the board, are excellent, from Sam Rockwell’s lovable loser to Steve Carrell’s ultimate prick, not to mention Toni Collette’s solid work as the single mother struggling and stumbling down the road to her own self discovery.

16. August: Osage County

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Director- John Wells

Starring- Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney

A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

Despite the fact that the film is nowhere near as emotionally satisfying as the stage play, based on the excellent performances of Streep, Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch we had to include this flick in our top 20. Though the brilliant writing of Tracy Letts‘ masterful stage play is a bit hacked and truncated, enough remains to still appreciate just how gifted the author is when it comes to his mastery of hilarious and bitting dialog.

15. Prisoners

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Director- Denis Villeneuve

Starring- Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal

When Keller Dover’s daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?

Hugh Jackman doesn’t sing a note in this flick, nor does he saw the air with titanium claws, but he does deliver a deeply affecting portrait of a man lost in total and complete desperation. Prisoners is definitely edge-of-your-seat stuff and it works, on multiple levels, all the way to that final frustrating fade out, (C’mon now, he heard that whistle! They will find him! Right?)

14. Sound City

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Director- Dave Grohl

Starring- Trent Reznor, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood

Rocker Dave Grohl steps into the director’s chair for this fascinating documentary about Sound City, the legendary Southern California recording studio where some of the most important rock albums in history were made. The walls can’t talk, but the rock and roll hall of famers can and do!

This is easily one of the best rock and roll docs we’ve seen in recent years, it’s as much about the studio as it is about the magical mixing board responsible for producing some of the biggest hits for Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Nine Inch Nails, Rick Springfield and Nirvana, to name but a few. To quote Nigel Tufnel, “this one goes to eleven…!

13. 12 Years a Slave

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Director- Steve McQueen

Starring- Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong’o

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

Why it took 160 years for the heartbreaking memoirs of Solomon Northup to make it to the big screen is the real mystery here. The story itself would be nearly impossible to believe if it wasn’t true. 

This certainly isn’t the first film to address the horrors of slavery in America and it isn’t necessarily the best, but McQueen’s unmerciful direction and the stellar performances from a cast of actors at the top of their game definitely qualifies it as one of the best films of 2013. No, it’s not an “easy watch”, but then many of the greatest films of all time aren’t either.

12. Mud

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Director- Jeff Nichols

Starring- Matthew McConaughey, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon

Two young boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.

This little known gem of a movie came and went fairly quickly at your neighborhood theaters, if it made it to those screens at all but, when you have a chance to catch this one on Netflix or cable you really should make a point of watching it, you’ll surely be thanking us for this recommendation. Matthew McConaughey has rarely been better and Reese Witherspoon is the best she’s been in a very long time, (so good in fact, when we first saw the film we had to double check IMDB to make sure it was actually her). This dark and haunting coming-of-age story was a refreshing surprise in 2013, hell, we didn’t know anyone still knew how to make movies like this, it really seems like it’s been awhile.

11. Rush

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Director- Ron Howard

Starring- Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara

The merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

You don’t have to be a racing fan to appreciate the fact that Rush is easily the best film Ron Howard has directed since Apollo 13, not only that, we’re willing to say this is the best film about auto racing we’ve ever seen, (and we’ve seen em all). 

10. American Hustle

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Director- David O. Russell

Starring- Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley, Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

David O. Russell continues his streak as one of the best American filmmakers working today, it’s his expert direction and the performances of Bale, Adams and Cooper that put this movie in our top 10, despite the fact that Jennifer Lawrence was grossly miscast in her role and reminded us of a 19 year old student trying to play Martha in a college production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?“, (and we’re big fans of Ms. Lawrence, she’s been in our top films of the year multiple times beginning with Winter’s Bone and you know we loved her in Hunger Games: Catching Fire as well this year.) 

9. Saving Mr. Banks

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Director- John Lee Hancock

Starring- Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti

Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.

If you’ve only seen the trailers for this film you’ll need to trust us when we tell you, you have been misled by a marketing team and a studio afraid to show you just how great this movie really is, as an example; did you even know Colin Farrell is in this movie and that his screen time rivals that of Tom Hanks? Nope, you didn’t. The truth is Farrell’s performance is one of the best things about Saving Mr. Banks, along with some great work from Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti and Mr. Hanks as the legendary Walt. Like the best of Disney movies, this film has one of those beautiful moments that sneaks up on you without warning and hits you hard, giving way to that lump in the throat and those misty eyes that seem to almost be a signature of the House of Mouse, and the best part is, it’s not obvious or manipulative in any way, which makes it all the more surprising when it seemingly comes out of nowhere.*sniff* Let’s go fly a kite!

8. Stories We Tell

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Director- Sarah Polley

Starring- Sarah Polley, Michael Polley

A film that excavates layers of myth and memory to find the elusive truth at the core of a family of storytellers.

While it’s true inside every family there is, at the very least, one great story, some families are just a lot more interesting than others. The story of Sarah Polley’s family is definitely one of the more fascinating we’ve come across in recent memory, no question about it, but it’s really the young actresses’ ability to tell the tale of the Polley clan that impresses here. With a running time of just under two hours, her story never fails to engage and entertain. If she were to completely walk away from the acting profession and dedicate herself to documentary filmmaking we wouldn’t be surprised, we’d be elated, (though she is a very fine actress). Stories We Tell is an amazing story, told by an amazing filmmaker about one amazing and fascinating family.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis

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Director- Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring- Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman

A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

The Big Lebowski had it’s rug, Barton Fink had it’s mysterious box, Miller’s Crossing had it’s hat, O Brother Where Art Thou had it’s pomade and Inside Llewyn Davis has it’s cat. God, how we love the Coen Brother’s MacGuffins!

Though the Coen’s are well known for their odd and dark humor, few of their previous films have been quite as dark or desolate as Inside Llewyn Davis. The film is set over the course of one week and it’s a really cold, cloudy and bitter week at that. Still, the filmmaker’s signature humor is ever present, as is their well established uneasy pacing, their love of great music and, of course, as always, an ending that requires a little dissection and consideration as the credits begin to roll. While it’s unlikely this film will register with film fans- or Coen fans for that matter- as their favorite from the brothers, it’s a worthy addition to their canon and definitely belongs on everyone’s list of the best of 2013.

6. Enough Said

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Director- Nicole  Holofcener

Starring- James Gandolfini, Julia Louis- Dreyfus, Catherine Keener

A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.

After careful consideration and reflection, we believe Enough Said would still rate as high as it does on our list this year even if it wasn’t James Gandolfini’s last film. That being said, if James had to go, this sweet and smart little flick was a nice one to go out on. It would seem after The Sopranos ended it’s run on HBO the suits in Hollywood, in their myopic stupidity and lack of imagination, could only really see Gandolfini as the dark thug, not realizing, of course, that it wasn’t really Tony Soprano’s darkness that made him such an unforgettable character in television history, it was his surprising sensitivities, with his dreams of ducks and the love for his family. The indie world however is famous for making films where actors are allowed and encouraged to play against their Hollywood imposed types. In the independent cinema Charlize Theron can play a serial killing lesbian (and win an Oscar in the process), John Travolta can be a hip hitman and James Gandolfini can be the nicest guy in the neighborhood.

Of course, the reason this film sits as high as it does on our list isn’t limited to Gandolfini’s performance, this romantic dramedy would not work nearly as well without the brilliant and, up until recently, undervalued Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The actress is a sitcom legend from her 9 seasons as Elaine Benes on Seinfeld and, these days, seems to be the most successful of the post-Seinfeld alumni, that’s no surprise really, as it’s becoming more and more clear, with films like Enough Said and her work on the HBO series Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the best actor on that series. Enough Said is a perfect example of what can happen when you take a chance on two television legends and allow them to explore the many other colors available on their immense palettes. 

5. Frozen

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Director- Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring- Kristen Bell, Josh Gadd, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff 

Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

Put three Broadway veterans, Josh Gadd, (Book of Mormon), Idina Menzel, (Rent/Wicked) and Jonathan Groff, (Spring Awakening) together with Kristen Bell, more than holding her own in the world of belting Disney Princesses, and what have you got? The best animated film of 2013. Big Kudos also go to Disney for taking a chance on Robert Lopez, the Broadway composer best known for Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, along with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez as lyricist, who are proving to be the best songwriting family since the Sherman Brothers. They should be clearing off a place on their mantle next to those Tony Awards, because Oscar’s coming home one day soon. 

4. The Place Beyond the Pines

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Director- Derek Cianfrance

Starring- Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta

A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.

Everyone is talking about Bradley Cooper in American Hustle this year but this is the performance that really sets him apart from the rest of his contemporaries in 2013. Ryan Gosling also delivers in a major way and continues to prove himself as one of the best actors of his generation. Eva Mendes surprises with some of the best work of her career and Ray Liotta reminds us of why he is still such a well respected actor.

This taunt, exceptional and unpredictable drama, like a few of the other indie films on our list this year, wasn’t really seen by nearly enough people. Sadly, the devil is in the distribution and marketing budget. When this film finally makes the rounds on cable and instant streaming, everyone’s going to be talking about it, guaranteed. 

3. Gravity

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Director- Alfonso Cuarón

Starring- Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

Everyone has seen it, everyone we know has loved it and, as far as films in space are concerned, this is probably the most accessible and entertaining we’ve seen to date, (settle down Kubrick fans, he broke some ground but we’re way, way, way past that now.)

While the critics seem to be championing Cate Blanchett for her work in Blue Jasmine, we believe it really should be Sandra Bullock’s year. In fairness, Blanchett, while excellent in that film, is playing yet another variation of the hyper-neurotic woman Woody Allen has been writing for decades, (need we remind you of the characters written for Diane Keaton, Judy Davis and Mia Farrow?), while Bullock nearly carries a one woman show in outer space for 2 hours, (it’s important to note, this involved Bullock hanging from wires in front of a freaking green screen for a majority of her work on the film!) Honestly, who had the harder gig, and in turn the best performance, this year? 

2. Before Midnight

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Director- Richard Linklater

Starring- Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna.

Quick, can you name a trilogy where all three films are of total and equal excellence?! You’re wrong if you guessed anything other than Richard Linklater’sBefore..” series, (get over it space junkies, we love Star Wars, but those 3 films ain’t equal, due in large part to those freaking dancing teddy bears in Return…).

There simply wasn’t another film this year as smart and honestly romantic as Before Midnight, it’s a perfect ending(?) to a perfect series. The span of time covered in the making of the three films is also of major significance in the history of film. Delpy, Hawke and Linklater have a lot to be proud of, though we can’t say we wouldn’t mind revisiting Jesse and Celine in their golden years, just sayin’.

1. Lone Survivor

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Director- Peter Berg

Starring- Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch

Based on the failed June 28, 2005 mission “Operation Red Wings”. Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd.

We usually cringe when any film is described as “important”, and yet we feel compelled to apply that adjective when it comes to Lone Survivor, along with heartbreaking, intelligent, honest, entertaining, haunting, ground breaking and moving, essentially all the expected declarations for a film we consider the best of 2013. 

This is Director Peter Berg’s best film of his career as well as the best war film we’ve seen in decades. Lone Survivor is not an exercise in jingoism, it is no more a recruitment film than it is an attempt to deter anyone from enlisting, it is however an unforgiving look at what our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and neighbors have been experiencing, in many cases daily, for over a decade now.  As important as it is for us to document and celebrate our best days in these conflicts, it’s equally important, and perhaps more illuminating, to take a long hard look at our worst. 

No, it is not an “easy” watch but, like we said earlier, the best films often aren’t, but then, in the end, this is what separates the good from the truly great. 

Lone Survivor is truly great and the Pop Bitez pick for Best Film of 2013.

 

Review: August: Osage County

August:Osage County

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★ ★ ★ out of a possible 5

There’s a lot to like about August: Osage County, unfortunately there’s a fair amount not to like as well.

The film is an adaptation of Tracy LettsPulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, which began it’s life at Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theater in 2007 before moving on to play 648 performances on Broadway and winning five Tony Awards in 2008, including Best Play. On stage August: Osage County had an average running time of over 3 hours, the film comes in just under 2, and this, to the surprise of no one, is where the real problems begin. The screenplay for the film, which Letts adapted from his play, is essentially a truncated version of his award winning theatrical triumph and, as a result, feels more than a little thin. Those who are familiar with the play will be surprised by the film’s lack of depth, while those who have no point of reference will have a nagging feeling something is missing and, make no mistake, it most definitely is. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during those screenplay debates between Letts, Wells and the producing team, it couldn’t have been pretty.

Sisters Barbara, Karen, and Ivy Weston (Julia RobertsJuliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson) are called back home when their father, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), goes missing. They have kept their distance from their mother Violet (Meryl Streep) because she has become addicted to pills and loaded up on prescriptions after getting mouth cancer. The entire family gather for an awkward reunion, led by the high and brutally honest Violet who claims she is just “truth telling“. Eventually, we learn of the sisters’ back-stories: Barbara and her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) are going through a divorce, Karen barely keeps in contact with the others and devotes most of her time to a fantasy future with her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney) , and Ivy falls in love with her cousin, “Little” Charles Aiken (Benedict Cumberbatch), which becomes even more controversial when buried secrets finally come to light. Yes, it is a tangled web the Weston’s have woven for themselves and, at times, downright hilarious thanks to Tracy Letts’ brilliant and twisted mind.

Given the all-star pedigree of the cast and the award winning success of the source material, the film’s failures fall squarely on the shoulders of director John Wells, who has a much longer history as a producer than he does a director. Wells has only one other feature film to his credit, (2010’s The Company Men, yet another film that misses as much as it hits), and a minimal track record in episodic television. Which begs the question; how does someone with such a seemingly thin resume- as a film director- get the chance to helm a big screen adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize winning play starring Hollywood’s biggest actresses? As is often the case, the clues live in the credits. The lead producer of August: Osage County is actor/director/producer George Clooney, (who incidentally took home an Oscar last year for producing the Best Picture winner, Argo), Wells’ biggest credit to date is that of executive producer on all 329 episodes of the television drama ER, which, of course, put Clooney on the map. So, payback, friendship, showbiz nepotism? At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that in the hands of a more capable director, such as James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News), Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Closer) or even Jason Reitman, who directed Clooney to great acclaim with Up in the Air in 2009, the film wouldn’t just be good, it would be great and, without question, a much better bet for Oscar contention. 

The film definitely has it’s highlights; Chris Cooper, as Violet’s brother in law, a reasonable man trapped in an unreasonable world is a stand out. In Cooper’s hands, Charlie Aiken is the most patient, kind and intelligent guy in the room, until his patience finally gives way to the suppressed emotions he’s been holding back for decades. It’s the best work Cooper has done on film since American Beauty in 1999 and, if any performance in this film is worthy of the Academy’s attention, it’s his.

At times the film seems to be a bit of a competition between two Oscar winning actresses, both considered the best of their generation. It’s a team-up I suppose many film fans have been waiting for but, in the case of this movie, the match up is distracting at best. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts take turns, from scene to scene, seemingly trying to top each other performances. I don’t believe this was really either of their intentions but, nevertheless, that’s how it all comes off. When you combine the roles as written with the sheer star power of both actresses it’s clear a better director would have been required to keep that unsavory element out of the mix. This battle of the thespians is most obvious at the end of the film, when it’s clear the final moment before the credits roll really should belong to Streep’s Violet but a quiet epilog is tacked on to remind us all that Roberts is a movie star. That moment adds nothing to the story and actually weakens the final breath in the sad and funny tale of the Weston clan. Did Letts actually come to write that final moment out of pressure he received from Roberts, her agent, manager or producers or, did the director simply make an executive decision himself and throw it in there? We’ll never know and, again, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the moment feels contrived and forced by the heavy hand of either a studio or movie star and carries the stench of commerce trumping art.

I’m recommending you see the film albeit with tentative reservations and, if you do, please remember, should the opportunity ever arise where you actually have a chance to see the play August: Osage County on stage, don’t shrug your shoulders and say, “I’ve already seen that one, with Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts…” because you really haven’t. At the end of the day, all you will have seen is a Cliff’s Notes version of one of the greatest American plays to be written in the last several decades.  

Scott Hopkins, popbitez.net