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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Shepard’

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

“AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Jan. 10)

121 minutes | MPAA rating R

Some stories were meant to be performed on a stage.

For instance, the plays of Sam Shepard, which deliver moments of violence and affrontery you almost never see in live theater. A Shepard character might be required to beat a typewriter to death with a golf club, smash dozens of glass bottles just feet from the folks in the front row, or urinate on his little sister’s science project in full view of the paying customers.

If those things happened in a movie, you’d shrug. No big deal.  In a movie you can do anything.

But seeing those moments play out live, in the flesh, while you brace yourself to dodge flying glass shards or broken typewriter keys…well, that has a way of focusing your mind most wonderfully.

I thought of Shepard’s plays while watching John Wells’ screen version of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning black comedy about an Oklahoma clan assembled to bury its patriarch (played, ironically enough, by  Sam Shepard).  In the same way that Shepard’s  plays almost never make satisfying movies, “August: Osage County” makes an uncomfortable transition to the screen.

First, don’t buy into the TV ads that make it look like a rollicking comedy.  There are laughs here, yeah, but they’re the sort of laughs you can choke on. Dourness is the order of the day.

In adapting his play Letts has boiled a 3 1/2 hour production down to 2 hours. Stuff’s been left out — character development, carefully calibrated pauses — and while the essence of the play remains, it feels curiously underwhelming.

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sksksk N A  and Matthew McConaughey

Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland and Matthew McConaughey

“MUD” My rating: A- (Opens April 26 at the Leawood, Barrywoods 24, Studio 30, Cinemark Palace)

130 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Damn that Matthew McConaughey.

Just when you’re comfortable writing him off as a lazy, pretty-boy romcom hack, he decides to start really acting.

Over the last couple of years he’s blown off his easy-going leading-man ways and tackled edgy, multifaceted characters in films like “Bernie,” “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy” and “Magic Mike.” Even if you don’t like the movies, you’ve gotta love what McConaughey is accomplishing here.

That great run continues with “Mud,” the third feature from Arkansas filmmaker Jeff Nichols.

Nichols writes and directs superlative dramas about working-class folk. His first two efforts — “Shotgun Stories” (about a modern day feud between the brothers of two families) and “Take Shelter” (with Michael Shannon as a disaster-obsessed man who builds an elaborate tornado shelter in his yard) – achieved a sort of gritty poetry.

“Mud” is just as powerful. Maybe moreso.

Unfolding along the waterways of the Arkansas Delta, “Mud” centers on 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his best bud, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland).

Both kids survive on what their families can scratch out of the river. Ellis helps his father catch and sell crawdads, fish, and turtles. Neck, an orphan, lives in a seedy mobile home court with a slacker uncle (Michael Shannon) who harvests fresh-water oysters with a crude homemade diving helmet. (more…)

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