August: Osage County
A drama about dysfunctional families do not get more star-studded than this. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts and starring a super A-list of veteran performers, August: Osage County manages the transition from stage to screen with skill and sophistication, creating a work that will likely appeal to fans of the play as much as people approaching the work for the first time. The film takes a look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in. Predictably, things start to get violent, mostly verbally, but with some plate smashing in the background, as the strongly opinionated women and their accompanying men folk go for each other’s throats. The scene is darkly comic, as the likes of Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch cross barbs, dredging up past and picking at current sources of contention. The result is explosive, if not exactly cheerful. A film that packs a solid dramatic punch.
Mr Peabody & Sherman
A 3D computer-animated adventure-comedy based on the characters from the “Peabody’s Improbable History” segments of the 1960s animated television series TheRocky and Bullwinkle Show. Mr Peabody & Sherman is a story that is bound to captivate young audiences. Directed by Rob Minkoff, who brought us the incomparable The Lion King, the film manages to preserve the kind of charm and innocence that is gradually disappearing from more sophisticated animated feature films with a firm eye on providing laughs and excitement for grownup audiences as well. The premise is that Mr Peabody, a talking dog and a super intelligent being adopts a child, Sherman, whose unconventional background brings him into conflict with other kids at school. Then he accidently-on purpose gets a little girl, Penny, sent back in time in Mr Peabody’s time machine, and dog and boy then have to embark on an adventure to bring back Penny and stop space and time from disintegrating. The likeability of the characters and the tight script hold together a film that is largely episodic in structure.
Following on from his Oscar-winning film A Separation, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has come out with yet another intense drama that looks at the themes of separation, loss and the difficulty, even impossibility, of people connecting with others once loved. The Past is a bravura performance by the director, showing off his skill at picking through the web of relationships, and some critics have suggested that in this new film he has taken the story past the verge of plausibility. As with much great tragedy, plausibility takes second place to the ability to tap into deep universal truths about people, and Farhadi has assuredly achieved this in The Past. The film is anchored by a mesmeric performance by Berenice Bejo as Marie Brisson, who has called her estranged husband from Iran back to Paris to participate in divorce proceedings and generally make an amicable departure from their children. The children are full of their own muddled emotions and the situation is made worse by the presence of Marie’s new partner. Bad decisions, good intentions and much else get dragged into a horrible tangle, and melodrama is never far off, but the clear eye of the director and fine supporting roles keep the film on track.