Oscar Film Review#2: August: Osage County

August Osage County

Based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, the film adaptation of “August: Osage County” plays like a play; the location and set pieces are laid solely to create a stage-like environment for some of Hollywood’s finest actors to put on their best showings in hopes of garnering some attention come awards season.

And it did; Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts received Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.  They were never expected to win, but the nods by the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild (for the aforementioned acting roles as well as Outstanding Cast performance) are signs that these were very strong performances, headlining a large ensemble cast that also features Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard, and others.

It was a good show, but a show, nonetheless, as the film didn’t really feel like a cinematic experience.

The notion of following the film’s plot pretty much goes out the window after half an hour, as the majority of the characters aren’t particularly relatable.  What followed was essentially a series of dialogues where good actors do good acting, while the audience continues to be awed by how dysfunctional one family can be.

The film was slightly darker and more melodramatic than I expected, and that’s okay, as long as there is a good payoff at the end.  The one thing that bothered me most, however, is the serious flaws possessed by one of the characters, whose demeanor.  actions, and reactions reached a jaw-dropping level of absurdity.

I do want to highlight Julia Roberts’ fantastic performance, playing an enigmatic matriarch whose world was crumbling around her.  The film could have reached a whole other level if it centered around her character rather than Streep’s.

“August: Osage County” is worth a watch if you’re the type of audience that enjoys solid acting performances.  There were also a few much needed laugh-out-loud comedic moments.  But save for one brilliant plot point, it breaks no ground, and you might leave the theatre feeling like you’ve just had a huge fight with your own family.

Oscar Film Review Series Intro & #1: Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

So, the Oscars are over and this is a little late, but that doesn’t mean these pictures aren’t worth seeing.  Many of these are still showing in theatres (some yet to be released, here in Hong Kong).

Having seen many of this year’s Academy Awards nominees, including 7 out of the 9 Best Picture nominees, I’m going to review them and provide my preferred choices to have won the awards for the various categories.

Lets start with one of my favorites.

Matthew McConaughey rightly deserves his win for best actor (sorry, Leo fans) as Ron Woodroof, playing an AIDS-stricken Texan with such emotional gravitas that had me glued to the screen from start to finish.  The performance was both tragic and uplifting.

Jared Leto also gives a mesmerizing performance, playing Rayon, a transgender man with AIDS who crosses paths with Woodroof.  With a performance like that, the Oscar was his to lose.

It was, however, a snub for Jennifer Garner, who wasn’t even nominated for best supporting actress for her role as a doctor who finds herself in the middle of a struggle between the pharmaceutical empire’s rush to get drugs out into the public and the concern for her patients’ safety.  It was a quietly powerful performance that elevated McConaughey’s to the brilliance that it was.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about movies that are “based on true events”, or “inspired by a true story.”  The topic gained prominence again after “Argo”, a film that was based on true events but was highly dramatized and fictionalized in some bits, won best picture last year.  It was no exception this year, as films such as “Captain Phillips” and “Philomena” are also based on true events.  Some of these have the feel of being bogged down by the fact that it was based on true events, as moviegoers would find themselves thinking “there is no way that actually happened!”  which takes them right out of the movie.  Such was not an issue for “Dallas Buyers Club”, which immerses the audience into film’s world.  There was no sense of whether such and such was real or not; the story was driving force behind the true events, not the true events.

Finally, the film perfectly treads on the thin line whereby, if fallen into the wrong hands, could have easily been a tear-jerking sad fest.  It rings the heart strings of the audience, but doesn’t use the abuse the film’s sensitive, tragic topic.

It’s definitely one of the year’s best, and definitely worth seeing.

Quick Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Smaug

Even though this sequel to “An Unexpected Journey” was hyped and billed as the must-see movie of the winter, a part of me resisted because of how the first film dragged on for almost three hours without much resolve.

With that in mind, I’m ecstatic to say that “The Desolation of Smaug” leaves “An Unexpected Journey” in the dust in terms of pace and excitement.  The exhilarating action sequences brought life into a franchise that caused many to question the filmmakers’ decision to shoot the book in three films.

I saw “Smaug” in IMAX 3D High Frame Rate.  The ticket cost quite a bit, and, for now at least, I am still not sold on the 48 Frame technology.  Certain closeups of sets looked ‘too’ real, which pulled me out of the fantasy world of Middle Earth and onto a movie set.  There are scenes, particularly the ones involving Smaug the dragon (voiced with menace by Benedict Cumberbatch), which make the pricey ticket worth it.  I would not really recommend watching this film in HFR though, unless you are really eager.

Notice I didn’t really get into the story itself.  There’s really not too much to say: it’s vintage Peter Jackson; it’s solid acting in a fantasy action epic, and as such, it’s an acquired taste.