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.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Directed by: Lasse Hallström Written by: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Paul Torday (novel) Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked and Kristin Scott Thomas
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is as interesting as a movie about fishing could possibly be, which is a back-handed compliment but also a true one. It is the story of the wealthy Sheik Muhammad (Amr Waked) and his desire to bring salmon to his native part of Yemen. This is absurd to the scientist Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who is approached by the sheik’s consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt) as well as pressured by the British government, to make this vision come true.
There are many technical and ecological obstacles that stand in the way of the sheik’s plan, none of which are made very hazardous or interesting. This is because the main point of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is not that there are two likeable people trying to overcome outrageous odds, but rather that they and the sheik must meet in the ideological and cultural middle to do so. Alfred is obviously very logic based, though he’s stuck doing a task for a man who is relying heavily on faith and destiny. Since that man has substantial funds, Harriet is happy to play the middlewoman between them.
Haywire Directed by: Steven Soderbergh Written by: Lem Dobbs (screenplay) Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas
Like a virus that won’t go away, Mallory (Gina Carano) jumps around the globe, slowing down or killing anything that gets in her path. That is largely where the narrative similarities between her story and the one from director Steven Soderbergh’s last film, Contagion, end though.
Haywire is curious when placed with the rest of his catalog in that it focuses on a single individual but also contains a large ensemble cast. Usually his films are one (Erin Brockovich) or the other (Traffic). At the center of this semi-departure is MMA fighter Gina Carano, who Soderbergh saw fighting on TV and decided to build a movie around. Carano’s ferociously physical performance as Mallory is by far the movie’s greatest asset. Soderbergh films most of the action sequences in confined areas, letting her utilize the environment in astonishing and brutal ways.
The Ghost Writer Directed by: Roman Polanski Written by: Robert Harris and Roman Polanski Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall
It is wise advice to be told as a storyteller to separate personal affairs and creative work if you are looking to tell a good story. But if you are looking to tell a great story, then making your work personal is exactly what you want to do. Roman Polanski, a nearly 80 year old filmmaker publicly known for currently being placed under house arrest for a sex scandal that happened back in the 70’s with a 13 year old girl, does something like that.
The Ghost Writer is film is by no means Polanski’s personal film, nothing in the likes of Woody Allen’s Whatever Works which in a way is his firm defense on being charged with molesting his 7 year old adopted daughter and later marrying wife’s biological daughter. In no ways does Polanski involve himself in the politics of the film, nor does he allow that sort of thing to distract from the story, but politics and controversy are nonetheless haunting this somber political thriller much like Polanski’s ghastly past must haunt him. His familiarity with scandal may be the reason this film is done so authentically. Continue reading →