Search Results for: august county

MOVIE REVIEW | August: Osage County (2013)

The later part of the year always means the release of prestige, Oscar worthy movies.  Which means Oscar bait.  Usually, Oscar bait is over earnest, over sentimental, over the top syrup.  Bur every now and again, there’s Oscar bait that subverts all that stuff and uses its prestige cast, hoity toity theatre origins and Oscar trappings to make something really affecting that hits pretty hard, like August: Osage County.

Sam Shepard is Beverly Weston, patriarch of the Weston family.  Breaking the fourth wall, he opens the movie letting us know that he’s an alcoholic and that his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) is a pill head, using cancer to justify her addiction.  Beverly hires a live in nurse to help look after his wife, then disappears.  Violet calls her sister and brother in law (Margo Martindale and Chris Copper) for support, as well has her eldest daughter, Julia Roberts’ Barbara.

Not long after, Beverly is found dead on his boat from an apparent suicide and the rest of the Westons converge on Violet’s house for the funeral and a volatile reunion in the midst of an Oklahoma heat wave.  The three Weston daughters are rounded out by introverted old made Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Juliette Lewis as the youngest and flightiest, Karen.

Add to that Ewan McGregor as Barbara’s estranged husband, Abigail Breslin as their daughter, Dermot Mulroney as Karen’s three times divorced, Ferrari driving fiancé and Benedict Cumberbatch as their shy, put down cousin, Little Charles.  This is a massive ensemble of A-list stars, all at the absolute top of their game.

Two hours of horrible people being horribly horrible to each other might not sound like a great way to spend your time, but somehow August: Osage County makes it work.  And while everyone does an amazing job, Streep and Roberts are the standouts.  It was a little jarring at first to see them play such hostile, low class women, but the more they sink their teeth into it, the more entertaining they become.

August: Osage County also does an amazing job of making you feel the stifling heat.  The oven like feeling of Violet’s house, the searingly blurred horizon of the endless Oklahoma plains.  The sweat almost soaks through the screen.  It also helped that   Melbourne was going through it’s own heatwave, meaning it was 40°C (104°F) in my lounge room while I watched this movie.  So I could literally feel what they were going through weather wise.  It’s the kind of heat that almost justifies every act of assholery committed by every character.  And these people are all absolute assholes.

This movie is rough going.  It’s really well made, the performances are top notch all round and the story is compelling, but t’s not a feel good movie that will leave you with a smile on your face.  It’s brutal and doesn’t hold back on letting these characters indulge in all of their worst tendencies.  I felt sorry for a couple of them, but I didn’t like a single one.  August: Osage County is the kind of movie I’ll definitely recommend to others, but I never want to see it again.  Ever.

August: Osage County
Directed By – John Wells
Written By – Tracy Letts

MOVIE REVIEW | ***CLOSING DOWN WEEK*** The Way of the Gun (2000)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s trying so hard to be gritty and shocking and jarring.”

Gun 1
Recently, in my neighbourhood, I saw something that’s all too common these days. A video shop that was closing down. They had a big sign out the front, “4 movies for $10”. I looked in my wallet, saw $30 and decided I wasn’t leaving that shop until I found 12 movies I thought were worth having on my DVD shelf. Some were movies I’d seen before. Some were movies I had a vague idea about and thought would be worth the $2.50 gamble. Some were oddities I’d never even heard of, but they looked interesting enough. So, thank you, Network Video Brunswick West. I never rented anything from you or even had a membership, but I did find some cool, interesting and mysterious things on your almost empty shelves.

“I promise you a day of reckoning that you won’t live long enough to never forget.”

I saw The Way of the Gun back when it was first released on video. I remember thinking it was pretty shitty. A cheap Tarantino knock off that wanted so bad to be cool. In the years since, I’ve seen it slowly sneak its way onto pop culture websites and into general movie nerd conversation as a bit of a cult classic for a certain generation. Maybe I was too young to get it back then, but being in my early 20s when it was released makes me think I was the exact target demographic for its uber machismo bull shit. I can’t imagine I ever would have sort it out again, but that growing cult respect, and the fact that it only cost $2.50, made me think that the universe was telling me I needed to give The Way of the Gun another chance.

Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) are two drifters, surviving on the road by selling their various bodily fluids. One day at a sperm bank, they overhear a conversation about a surrogate mother and $1million. They decide that said surrogate would make for a pretty impressive ransom, so they decide to kidnap her. In a move that might set a pre-Shoot ‘Em Up record for how quickly a movie delivers its first gunfight, they manage to take the pregnant woman (Juliette Lewis as Robin) from her heavily armed body guards (Nicky Katt and Taye Diggs as Obecks and Jeffers). (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Paris, je táime (2006)

“By acting like a man in love, he became a man in love again.”

Movies are often called a love letter to the city in which they’re set.  But usually, that geographical admiration is underneath a more standard narrative.  Characters go through the motions of a romantic comedy with the backdrop of a city constantly there, trying everything together.  Paris, je táime takes the concept a little more literally.  Translated as Paris, I Love, this collection of 20 odd short films by an impressive roster of A-list directors and actors never lets a story stick around long enough to get in the way of that city’s love letter.

Of all of the directors given the reigns to a part of this anthology, the contributions by the  Coen Brothers and Alexander Payne were the two I was looking forward to the most.  And they both deliver.  But the fact that the both tell stories about being American outsiders in the City of Lights makes me worry that my own cinematic tastes are a little too pedestrian and mainstream American. The Coen’s entry is them at their quirky, silly, slight best, as silent tourist Steve Buscemi reads his guide book a little too slowly to avoid a confrontation on a metro platform. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Velvet Goldmine (1998)


“He was elegance walking arm in arm with a lie.”

I’m generally not a big fan of anything ‘based’ on a true story, or something that’s a fictionalised story, heavily influenced by real events and real people.  I guess I think that if a true story is worth telling, it probably also deserves to be told truthfully.  Make the effort to research the real deal, make the effort to get the guts of what really happened.  ‘Based on’ or ‘influenced by’ just sounds like a lazy place to start to me.

I’m aware that could sound a little close mined.  I’m also aware that it’s highly likely that I’ve liked plenty of movies in this category before and just can’t think of them now.  And yes, Citizen Cane, arguably the greatest movie of all time is exactly that.  With Charles Foster Cane a thinly disguised version of William Randolph Hearst.  But I’m pretty sure that’s a rare exception to the rule.  So what happens when this approach to storytelling is combined with a subject matter that I’m pretty quick to dismiss, like 70s glam rock?  Velvet Goldmine happens, that’s what. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***REMAKE WEEK*** The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

The_Manchurian_Candidate (2004)

“I started with nightmares. Rumors and conjecture? That’s a giant leap forward.”

When the original version of The Manchurian Candidate was made in the 60s, it was built on espionage and intrigue and undercover spy games, but in a quaint, Cold War way, it was a lot more out in the open.  Sure, everyone was trying to be covert, but it was a time, and a movie, where the sides were very easily identifiable.  And even while their actions and tactics may have been top secret, their goals were right there in the open.  So when someone (for no apparent that reason I can see) decided to remake The Manchurian Candidate, they needed to replace the Cold War with something a little more relevant to the new millennium.  And it’s those attempts at modernisation that lead to the best and worst parts of the 2004 retelling.

After single handedly saving his unit from an ambush attack in Iraq, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) is given a Congressional Medal of Honor.  Welcomed home a hero, his overbearing Senator mother (Meryl Streep as Eleanor) pulls stings to make him a vice presidential candidate.  At the same time, Shaw’s commanding officer from the Iraq incident, Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) starts to have a recurring dream.  A dream in which him and his platoon are being brain washed and hypnotised, a dream in which Shaw kills an officer who has since been remembered as a casualty of the ambush. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #87. 12 Angry Men (1957)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.


“It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don’t really know what the truth is. I don’t suppose anybody will ever really know.”

Movies adapted from stage plays often face the same criticism, that they feel like stage plays. Out of necessity, plays tend to take place on a limited number of sets, and tend to be all about dialogue. While I like August Osage County a lot, one of the main bones of contention with its knockers was the long scene at the dinner table where almost every character got a monologue. On stage, that’s great, on screen, it can seem a little static and bland.

But when a play is built entirely on the claustrophobia of one restricting set, and the characters are there to argue with each other, all of a sudden limited sets and speechifying monologues make everything that more intense. Which is why 12 Angry Men might be one of the greatest ever stage to screen adaptations. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | The Imitation Game (2014)


“I know it’s not ordinary. But whoever loved ordinary?”

Of this year’s eight nominees for the Best Picture Academy Award, half are biopics, or at least, based on real events. While Selma takes Martin Luther King’s life and distills it to one crucial chapter, The Theory of Everything gives us decades of the life of Stephen Hawking. And American Sniper is all about one aspect of one man’s life. But The Imitation Game stands out from these in the way it gives a bit of everything. It’s the story of a man’s life, it’s the story of a world changing event, it’s several chapters that can be seen to represent a whole. It is The Imitation Game.

Cutting back and forth between three periods of the man’s life, this is the story of Alan Truing (Benedict Cumberbatch). The main story covers Turing’s involvement in breaking the code of the Nazi’s infamous Enigma machine. Breaking Enigma means intercepting and decoding every important Nazi military communique. It also means winning the war. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #91. Sophie’s Choice (1982)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.


“When I could finally see again, I saw the first rays of daylight reflected in the murky river. This was not judgment day. Only morning; morning, excellent and fair.”

The term ‘Oscar Bait’ gets thrown around a lot, always as a negative, and almost always deservedly so. But sometimes, something that reeks of Oscar bait can tick all of the required boxes, but instead of coming off as pandering, it comes off as prestigious Oscar bait in all the right ways. Overly melodramatic, big showcase performances, heart string pulling manipulation, and of course, the Holocaust. You get all of that that in Sophie’s Choice, and you also get a pretty amazing movie.

It’s post WWII Brooklyn, and Peter MacNicol’s Stingo moves into a boarding house where he hopes to write the great American novel. Through his ceiling, he hears the alternating sounds of banging and brawling from the couple who lives upstairs. A couple who he soon meets, made up of Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor, Meryl Streep as Sophie, and cocky, brash research scientist Nathan, played by Kevin Kline. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)


“You started this, you will forgive me if I finish it!”

So here it is, what I assumed would be a bloated end to a bloated series that I still kind of enjoyed. I just would have enjoyed it more, if there was less. Ever since it was announced that The Hobbit would be two movies, Peter Jackson copped a lot of criticism that there was no way such a slight book needed so much screen time. Then, it was announced that The Hobbit would be three movies, and Jackson really started copping it.

When I got to the end of the previous entry in the series, The Desolation of Smaug, I remembered the book and realised there was only one small section of it left, and it’s that one small section the supplies the subtitle of this third, and final entry, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. (more…)


bug 2
A formerly A-list director…  A formerly A-list leading lady…  A soon to be A-list actor…  A soon to be sought after screenwriter…  I can see why this movie was under seen at the time.  The biggest names could have been easily written off as well past their prime.  And no one could have predicted the two unknowns would both be a big deal just a few years later.  But these random ingredients all went together to make an amazingly interesting and original movie like nothing you’ve ever seen before, Bug.

Ashley Judd is Agnes, a waitress in a trashy bar who lives in a trashy motel.  One night, she and workmate RC (Lynn Collins) bring Michael Shannon’s Peter back to Agnes’ room for a night of booze and cocaine.  Peter stays the night, sleeping on the floor and making no advances.  The next morning, Peter and Agnes are interrupted by a surprise visit from Jerry (Harry Conick Jr), Agens’ ex-husband who has just been released after two years in jail.

Not long after, Peter and Agnes realise each might just be the kind of support they need to help them through their lives. Both depressed and paranoid in different ways and to different degrees.  The more reliant they become on each other, the more dangerous, and possibly delusional, that reliance seems to become for both.

Bug was made at in an interesting time in the careers of all the major players.  Director William Friedkin was considered a genius film maker in the 70s with movies like The Exorcist and The French Connection.  But the major bomb Sorcerer in 1977 had him on the ropes pretty much ever since.  The only thing that stops Sorcerer reaching Heaven’s Gate levels of flop notoriety is the fact that we already have the actual Heaven’s Gate to fill that space.

Ashley Judd was a solid decade past her headlining days in second rate, yet box office smashing, crime thrillers like A Time to Kill and Kiss the Girls. Harry Conick Jr is a guy who has delivered plenty of consistent work over the years, but has never been able to quite break away from being seen as a singer who acts sometimes.  And Michael Shannon was still half a decade away from his small screen breakthrough in Boardwalk Empire and big screen attention getter, Take Shelter.

Even screenwriter Tracy Lets, who had already found plenty of playwriting success, was having his first crack at being a screenwriter.  Only a few years later, he’d also have screen credits for Killer Joe (also directed by Friedkin and the real start of Matthew McConaughey’s huge comeback of the last few years) and August: Osage County to his name.

Yet in 2009, these five people, all at amazingly different places in their careers, somehow came together to make this pretty amazing movie.  Judd gives the kind of ego free, almost ugly performance that I can’t imagine she would have even considered in her marquee days of solving crazy crimes with Morgan Freeman.  And as gripping as Michael Shannon was for me watching Bug in 2014, I can only imagine how intense it would have been eight years ago, if I was seeing him for the first time.

Like Judd and Shannon’s performances, Bug is ugly and intense.  I can’t remember a movie making me squirm as much as this for a long time.  It’s one of those movies that makes you uncomfortable and nervous, but you can’t look away.  I can’t imagine wanting to watch Bug again anytime soon, but I do know I’ll be recommending it to anyone who hasn’t seen it before.

Directed By – William Friedkin
Written By – Tracy Letts

MOVIE REVIEW | Lone Star (1996)

I had no idea what Lone Star was about before watching it.  I didn’t know who was in it, who made it or even what genre at fell into.  I assumed it was a Western.  Even after the opening scene, when a skeleton is found in a shallow grave in present day 1996, I still expected it to flash back a century or so, instead, the majority of Lone Star sticks to the mid 90s modern day, with the odd flash back to the 50s.

Two army officers, inspecting a disused rifle range, stumble across a skeleton in a shallow grave.  First on the scene is Sherriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), son of the small Texas town’s legendary former Sherriff, Buddy Deeds.  In a flash back, we see how Buddy (Matthew McConaughey) made name for himself by running the last corrupt Sherriff (Kris Kristofferson) out of town in the 50s. The same former corrupt Sherriff who is now, more than likely, the current skeletal remains from the rifle range.

As Sam investigates the not so mysterious identity of the remains, Lone Star tells the story of this small border town, built on favours, secrets, back room deals and an oft bragged about code of honour and unspoken rules.  Parallel to Sam’s story, is that of Del, a recently returned Colonel, assigned to running the nearby army base in its last days before closure.  Returning to town means an inevitable meeting with his estranged father, Otis, who also has his own connections to the former Sherriff Buddy Deeds.

For a lot of the movie, the story involving Otis and Del seemed a little tacked on and mostly ignored, but by the end, I realised it was another version  of what we see with Sam and his own relationship with Buddy.  It’s all about the burden that a father’s success (or notoriety) puts on their sons.  And their struggle for those sons to get out from under their father’s shadows.  Both Sam and Del are focused so much on competing with the reputations of their fathers and trying not to become them, they end up  playing the part of who they think they should be, not who they actually are.

While watching Lone Star, I kept thinking it had wasted a great McConaughey performance.  He really only has two or three short scenes, but he nails them all.  Then I realised, that was probably a very intentional decision by writer / director, John Sayles.  Lone Star isn’t about the reality of Sherriff Buddy Deeds, it’s about the legend of Sherriff Buddy Deeds.  A legend that has only grown within this small town in the years since his death.  By keeping the real thing at arm’s length, his legend remains intimidating for the audience too.

The only problem I had with Lone Star wasn’t even Lone Star’s fault.  There’s a plot point almost identical to one I’ve seen recently in August: Osage County and Jane Campion’s TV mini series, Top of the Lake.  I know Lone Star did it’s version of this story almost 20 years before them, but it really did take the wind out of the sails when I was hit with this late movie revelation, that I had coincidentally seen twice already recently.

Like I Said, I had no idea what to expect going in with this movie.  Had I known, I’m sure I would have really liked it.  Not knowing, I absolutely loved it.  I never really knew where the story was going.  I had a good idea where the plot was headed, but even when it got there, Lone Star had become about so much more, that the actual plot mechanics were kind of secondary by the end.

Lone Star
Directed By – John Sayles
Written By – John Sayles