When I’m not writing fiction, I like to indulge in film reviews. Cinema is one of my many obsessions, and film critics (in particular, Roger Ebert) have contributed immensely to my understanding of modern day cinematic projects and/or undertakings. However, my attempt here is not to recreate the magic of the Eberts or Kazmis (of the TOI fame), but to evaluate films in a way we all do – complete with a before and after paradigm. Our film viewing journeys begin the moment we hear about the film, beginning with the name of the production house, the cast ensemble, and the directorial hand in the production process. I live in a country where the masses tend to prefer ‘masala’ movies (of course, this is a highly debatable issue), and even before the film is released, fans are locked in a wager as to which big star is going to steal the box office collections. In the spirit of Bollywood masala and Hollywood eccentricity, Alternative Film Reviews is my attempt to provide an extra layer to the exercise of film reviews. The first part of the review will deal primarily with the response the theatrical trailer of the film elicits in my conscience, no holds barred. I wish to keep the source simple, and hence would not be going too much into the publicity campaigns of films because most people don’t follow these strongly enough anyway. It will be a review of the film based on what we know, and what we don’t. Most importantly, it will be a review of what we as film lovers want a film to be. I encourage feedback and criticism on this, as well as ways in which I can make the analysis better. Regarding film selection, it may or may not be a film I have already seen before, however for the first month I shall only focus on films that have been stored in my hard drive for the past gazillion years, patiently waiting on me.
For the first edition, I am reviewing August: Osage Country. The film was released on December 27, 2013 in the United States. It is directed by John Wells, and is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name by Tracy Letts. The IMDb link for the film is: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1322269/. Here is the theatrical trailer for the film, you’re free to watch it or go straight ahead and read Part I of the review:
So I’m just going to put this out there. My most favorite bit from the trailer is undoubtedly – “Look at your boobs. Last time I saw you, you looked like a little boy.”
What strikes the viewer almost immediately is obviously Benedict Cumberbatch’s delicious accent, but more importantly the fantastic cast ensemble that the film has. In fact, given that each individual cast member of consequence has an introduction in the trailer, it’s safe to conclude at the outset that the film heavily relies on the amount of influence names can have on first impressions.
Jane Austen should have stuck to that title.
First things first, in terms of storyline, the context is well-established and communicated to the audience with an adequate infusion of dark humor. A daughter returns to her mother’s home, with her own daughter and ex-husband. Uncle Bev is dead, and the dysfunctional family is reuniting in remembrance. I don’t know what it is with Hollywood and brilliant background score; this trailer gets a straight A for music. In terms of conceptualization and editing, the trailer scores. (I should point out, although there are two trailers for this film, Trailer #2 is the one officially included in the IMDb catalogue. I shall be using elements from Trailer #1 as well, however as a rule of thumb, the reviews would be looking at final cuts only.)
But here’s the thing. A single watch communicates a little bit about story which is a dark comedy, and gives a sneak peak into the dialogue writing along with a visual presentation of the titular time and location. However, the over-emphasis on the cast proves to be a detrimental in terms of the amount of focus the audience pays on the underlying plot. It is not out of spite or prejudice towards the ensemble either, because it is in fact, of extremely respectable cinematic stature. The problem lies in the over-bearing influence the cast seems to have on the essence of the story itself. A strong cast means strong acting, yet the sheer power of a frame containing both Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts overwhelms the eyes, and the mind.
The characters, especially that of Meryl Streep, are presented in an extraordinary fashion. The trailer’s merit lies not in individual performances, but in what the individual actors can bring to the whole – for instance, the comedic drama of the moments shared by the family at the dinner table. It leaves you begging for more, and while the heart wishes to declare it an instant hit, the mind wishes to proceed with a little more caution. Nevertheless, the film promises keeps the fans of both Streep and Roberts, perhaps even Cumberbatch, in a happy place. The film’s screenplay has been written by Tracy Letts herself – this bit of trivia is definitely encouraging. It is produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov among others, distributed by The Weinstein Company, and the music is by Gustav Santaolalla. If you haven’t watched the trailer, my advice to you is: do it now. Part II coming up in a bit!
This is my first post on this blog, and I’d be delighted to receive feedback. Just drop in a comment below! Since I have not seen the film yet in its entirety, resist posting any spoilers. For those of you who have seen the film, I hope that the review could provide a fresh insight on what you already knew, and that you will be looking forward to Part II. :)