August: Osage County Directed by: John Wells Written by: Tracy Letts (screenplay & play) Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper and Ewan McGregor
There’s more capital ‘A’ Acting per minute in August: Osage County than in any movie I’ve seen in recent years. It’s as if instead of holding the Oscars this year, they’ve decided to lock a bunch of award-hungry famous people in a house and let them fight to the melodramatic death for the trophies. That isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when the script (adapted by Tracy Letts from his Pulitzer-winning play) is a more vulgar version of nearly every hateful, generic family drama ever created. Bruised souls, past wrongs, marital turmoil, generational gap humor and a handful of “gasp!” revelations don’t form a story as much as scattered scenes meant to highlight the various thespians.
In that regard Meryl Streep practically swallows the movie whole as Violet Weston, the pill-addicted, “truth-tellin'” matriarch of this emotionally volatile clan. Director John Wells lavishes so much attention on her darting eyes and fading-but-indignant pride that the actress takes center stage even when it’s not her turn. Watching any Streep movie in the past few years this isn’t really a surprise. The Iron Lady was practically a one-woman show, and the very capable Amy Adams got engulfed in both Julie and Julia and Doubt. The only one to really hold their own against her in recent years is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the embattled priest in the latter.
The Call Directed by: Brad Wilson Written by: Richard D’Ovidio (screenplay), Richard D’Ovidio, Nicole D’Ovidio & Jon Bokenkamp (story) Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut and Michael Eklund
Right before The Call takes a dive into its third act abyss, the main character, a 911 phone operator, is told by her supervisor to go home. She was just disconnected from a kidnapped teenager (Abigail Breslin), but her job does not allow her to have resolution. That’s for the officers that respond, and she just gets to see how it unfolds on the news.
Many reviews of this taut, often exceptional thriller have condemned the take-no-prisoners absurdity of the last 20 or so minutes. Instead of the safe if chaotic confines of the 911 call center, Jordan Turner (Halle Berry and her hair) becomes a sort of vigilante and takes it upon herself to stop the serial killer who she creepily encounters on the other end of the line twice before being disconnected. The ending is implausible, to be sure, but it turns the movie into a feminist parable, one where neither woman becomes a victim and show no signs of sainthood when they finally do incapacitate the killer (Michael Eklund).
Rango Directed by: Gore Verbinski Written by: John Logan (screenplay) Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, and Bill Nighy
Go ahead, label Rango an animated vehicle for Johnny Depp driven by his Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski. You wouldn’t be wrong, but you would be guilty of oversimplifying one of the most outlandish and downright weird animated movies to cross mainstream audiences in a long time.
It seems almost mandatory at this point to acknowledge that Rango is indeed not a product of Pixar. However, it doesn’t come from Dreamworks either, but rather Nickelodeon. To this end, the bizarre twists and somewhat more mature material seem more at home. So too does Depp, voicing The Chameleon With No Name who later assumes the identity Rango when he stumbles into an Old West Town.