Tag Archives: Tracy Letts

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #6 – AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #6 – AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)

Directed by: John Wells

Screenplay by: Tracy Letts

Based on: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

Produced by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler

Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham, etc.

Cinematography: Adriano Goldman

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Unsurprisingly, the play, August: Osage County, from the typewriter of Tracey Letts – the formidable playwright behind Killer Joe and Bug – about a family suffering loss of a “loved” one was not going to be a feelgood and uplifting affair. Instead, over the period of a month we are introduced to a whole host of characters with a variety of anger, addiction and attitude issues. Brought together by apparent grief, when patriarch, Beverley Weston (Sam Shepard) drowns, the extended Weston family fight and vent spleen at each over current and past dramas, with many a secret soon to be revealed.

Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008, Letts play was subsequently adapted into the dark, feel-bad and tragi-comedy film in 2013. Directed by John Wells, August: Osage County (2013), brought together an unbelievable ensemble cast of actors who did spectacular work with Letts acerbic and razor-sharp dialogue. Given that many of the personalities in the narrative are dominant matriarchal characters, the casting of Meryl Streep and Margo Martindale in the roles of Violet Weston and Mattie Fae respectively, is certain to create sparks on the screen. So, it proves.

Streep has delivered so many memorable characterisations over the years, but as Violet Weston I’m not sure she’s been so bilious and cancerous, both literally and symbolically. Her daughters, portrayed by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson, all have their own issues to deal with, but with such a vicious mother it’s a surprise they aren’t in a psychiatric ward. As harsh truths and bitter revelations unfold over the dinner and kitchen table conversations, Letts shows the complex nature of family existence; how it traps us with people we have nothing in common with. Women are seemingly in charge of the Weston family as the men, represented by Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shephard and Chris Cooper, appear more passive and bullied.

Altogether, August: Osage County (2013), is a difficult to watch as there’s not a lot of love shown in the Weston household. Nonetheless, as an acting and writing tour-de-force there are few films that can best it. I guess we all have family problems and many ups and downs to deal with in life. What we can learn from this play and film is that this is definitely NOT the way to behave to people you’re meant to love and care for.


LITTLE WOMEN (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

LITTLE WOMEN (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Screenplay and Direction by: Greta Gerwig

Based on: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Produced by: Amy Pascal, Denise Di Novi, Robin Swicord

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper etc.

Cinematography: Yorick Le Saux

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



It’s Boxing Day and you’re nursing a slight Christmas Day hangover, plus your brain is still trying to piece together the crazy jigsaw that was HBO’s Watchmen (2019). You now want a story that’s a bit more comforting; something that will make you warm and snug and feel safe. Step forward Greta Gerwig, Louisa May Alcott and an incredible cast of fine actors in the latest adaptation of the classic novel, Little Women (2019). It’s a perfect Christmas film full of romance, love, spirit, passion and just a little bit of pathos and heartache.

Set in Massachusetts at the time of the American Civil War, this splendid old chestnut of a story covers the lives of four teenage sisters — Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlan) and Amy March (Florence Pugh). They live with their Marmee (Laura Dern) and the story criss-crosses various years and narrative events as they search, find, lose and find again happiness, sadness and love. While the sisters prove to be very different personalities and clash often throughout the film, ultimately, it’s a film about solidarity, strength, sisterhood and family bonds.



It’s interesting Gerwig would choose something so safe for her next film project following the acclaim she correctly received for writing and directing Ladybird (2017). However, it’s not surprising either. While the title states these women are little, they are in fact anything but. Ronan as Jo and Pugh as Amy are especially energetic and larger than life. Both strive for artistic excellence and attempt to gain control over their personal and working lives in a traditionally patriarchal society. Jo’s desire to be a successful writer drives the story along impressively as Gerwig determines a meta-structure through her character. Indeed, Jo’s scenes with Tracy Letts’ publisher and editor are particularly amusing amdist some of the losses the March family suffer.

Amidst the familiarity of the text, Gerwig does attempt originality in her cutting between past and present events. While cross-cutting becomes slightly distracting from the emotions of the narrative, you can see how Gerwig wanted to stamp her own identity. The device also allows some wonderful juxtaposition of shots, emotions and camera movement. My one criticism would be that because the characters looked of a similar age in past and present, you did not always know what year you were in. Ultimately though, I really enjoyed this high-class film production. Greta Gerwig is an incredibly talented filmmaker and obtains exceptional performances from all the cast, especially Ronan and future stars, Florence Pugh and Timothee Chalamet. The film was so warm and safe, my Christmas Day hangover, like my heart, all but melted.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


LE MANS ’66 (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

LE MANS ’66 (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: James Mangold

Produced by: Peter Chermin, Jenno Topping, James Mangold

Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller

Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, John Bernthal, Catriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe etc.

Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Le Mans ’66 (2019) — AKA Ford versus Ferrari (2019) — is a historical sports biopic centred on the desire by Ford Motors to take on and beat Ferrari during the legendary Le Mans 24-hour race. Now, I’m not a massive fan of motor racing itself. I mean I admire the sports men and women who compete, but it’s not one of my favourite sports. Having said that, due to the speed, visuals, action and rivalry involved, car racing lends itself to tremendous cinematic possibilities. Films such as Senna (2010), Rush (2013) and the hilarious comedy, Talladega Nights (2006), are testament to that.

Arguably the best sports films, e.g. Rocky (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The Wrestler (2008), A League of Their Own (1992), Remember the Titans (2000), Field of Dreams (1992), Moneyball (2011) to name a few, are not just about the sport, but the heroes, flawed characters or underdogs seeking to achieve victory or overcome adversity. Le Mans ’66 (2019) follows a similar pattern, but here the cars and racing scenes are very much to the fore. This is where the film really hits the mark with incredible direction, cinematography, visuals and editing style on the road and racetrack. Moreover, the costumes, locations, cars and rendition of the 1960’s era are all perfectly captured.



Off the track, the characters and emotional aspects are pretty strong too. They are led by the tremendous casting of Christian Bale as the driver, Ken Miles, and Matt Damon as salesman and car designer, Carroll Shelby. Bale is one of my favourite actors, and here he eschews masks and flashy prosthetics from previous roles, to present a volatile eccentric who is also an incredible mechanic and driver. Further, the ever-reliable ‘everyman’ actor, Matt Damon, produces another likeable and energetic performance as Shelby. The double act repartee between the obsessive Brummie, Miles, and smooth-talking Shelby, allows the narrative to cruise along splendidly.

One of the films’ weakness is that arguably the stakes aren’t particularly high. Of course, racing drivers are at risk of crashing, burning and losing their lives, so there is drama there. But, in essence, the filmmakers are asking for us to root for a billion-dollar company in Ford, against another big company in Ferrari. The excellent script however, by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth cleverly positions Miles and Shelby as outsiders attempting to overcome the obstacles put in their way by Ford’s corporate suits. These money-men are ably represented by Josh Lucas, Tracy Letts and the more sympathetic, John Bernthal. Ultimately, Miles and Shelby are car purists and technicians interested in the drive for perfection, rather than marketing, image and profits.

Overall, the film could have been trimmed for pace, ironically, in terms of running time. However, Le Mans ’66 (2019) works as a fine tribute to both Miles and Shelby’s talents and as a cinematic extravaganza. Indeed, James Mangold and his production team have produced some of the best driving scenes I have ever seen on the screen. What the film lacks in deep emotional impact is more than made up for by the kinetic velocity throughout, putting the film firmly in the leading pack of sports films.


Mark: 8.5 out of 11