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August: Osage County Blu-ray Review

August: Osage County (2013) movie poster August: Osage County

Theatrical Release: December 27, 2013 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Wells / Writer: Tracy Letts (play & screenplay)

Cast: Meryl Streep (Violet Weston), Julia Roberts (Barbara Weston), Ewan McGregor (Bill Fordham), Chris Cooper (Charlie Aiken), Abigail Breslin (Jean Fordham), Benedict Cumberbatch (Little Charles Aiken), Juliette Lewis (Karen Weston), Margo Martindale (Mattie Fae Aiken), Dermot Mulroney (Steve Huberbrecht), Julianne Nicholson (Ivy Weston), Sam Shepard (Beverly Weston), Misty Upham (Johnna Monevata), Will Coffey (Sheriff Deon Gilbeau), Newell Alexander (Dr. Burke)

Buy August: Osage County from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet • Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

Even if you entered blindly and missed the opening credits, you'd still know by the end of it that August: Osage County is based on a play. This dramedy gathers the Westons in the titular time and place
after the apparent suicide of the large family's patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard). It opts not to show the funeral and to only leave the dark, stuffy residence of eccentric, prescription drug-addled new widow Violet (Meryl Streep) to show relatives approaching or leaving.

Beverly's disappearance-turned-death is cause for reunion, a tense and somewhat terrifying prospect in this family carrying secrets and unspoken resentments. Barbara (Julia Roberts) and Bill (Ewan McGregor) are hiding their recent and painful separation. Her younger sister Karen (Juliette Lewis) is flaunting the latest in a long line of jerk boyfriends, Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Mousey Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) wants to reveal her new love interest, but he, her first cousin, "Little" Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), isn't sure that's the right approach. His parents (Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale) are already mad at him for missing the funeral.

A mother (Meryl Streep) and daughter (Julia Roberts) reunite tensely in "August: Osage County."

August is one of those award season contenders you see coming from a mile away. It had a Christmas Day opening staked out long in advance (later bumped to December 27th), a large and talented cast headed by the much-decorated Ms. Streep, Tracy Letts' Tony, Drama Desk, and Pulitzer Prize-winning play as its source, and Argo's George Clooney and Grant Heslov among its producers. It also had Oscar specialists The Weinstein Company as its distributor.

Initially, the film seemed likely to have the undivided campaigning efforts of Weinstein in a year when the studio had four narrative releases that appeared to be on the bubble of contention. Ultimately, Lee Daniels' The Butler and Fruitvale Station got entirely shut out of the Oscars and Golden Globes. Philomena surprised with four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. And August had to settle for acting nominations for its two most famous females, becoming the only non-Best Picture nominee to feature in any of the Oscars' actor categories.

Its stock dropping from the obvious contender status it held long before release, August ended up coming and going without too much fanfare. Despite having in Streep one of the biggest female movie stars of any age and expanding to a quite substantial 2,411-theater count, August grossed $38 million domestically and another $35 in foreign markets. Those numbers aren't so bad for a talkative, essentially single-location adult drama. It's not as if Roberts has carried her audience-drawing America's Sweetheart status into this millennium.

Steve (Dermot Mulroney) talks pot with his fiancιe's 14-year-old niece (Abigail Breslin). A solitary Barbara (Julia Roberts) gathers herself in the film's awkward, unclear final scene.

Adapting his own play for the screen (as he did on 2012's Killer Joe), Letts isn't too concerned with creating a cinematic experience. The film is all about gathering these kin in one sweltering place, where Violet's anti-air conditioning stance has proven too much for multiple tropical birds, and seeing what happens.
What happens, typical for non-musical theatre, is the characters talk. They reveal some secrets to some and hide others from others. There's a lot of catching up to do or not to do, for this is the rare occasion they're all together.

The material lends to big performances and none is as big as Meryl Streep's. Academy members may regret awarding Streep Best Actress for 2011's The Iron Lady. That honor followed twelve consecutive fruitless nominations, a record on to itself. Streep's performance here, as a bewigged, sharp-tongued, cancer-stricken matriarch, is a much stronger demonstration of her knack for characterization than her uncanny Margaret Thatcher impression. And, though far from outstanding, August is a superior film to that muddled prime minister biopic. As the Academy typically avoids repetition when picking winners (see Jennifer Lawrence's Supporting Actress loss this year), the recency of Streep's latest victory basically took her out of the running. Many were surprised she even got nominated, at the apparent expense of Saving Mr. Banks' Emma Thompson.

Roberts' Supporting Actress nomination was her first recognition in a while from anywhere but the celebrity-blinded Golden Globes. Her uncharacteristically foul-mouthed and unglamorous turn is good, though no renaissance or revival for the 46-year-old. She was no doubt aided by the fact that while so few female roles are substantial enough to even enter the conversation, her part is big enough to question the Supporting classification.

Awards are of obvious interest to this film, the second feature directed by John Wells, the longtime executive producer whose TV credits include "ER" and "The West Wing." August improves upon his debut, heavy-handed The Company Men, but that seems due to the fact that he isn't relying on a clumsy screenplay he himself wrote. August features uniformly good work from the cast, but the material seems more responsible than Wells' understated direction.

When the film hits its stride during a dinner scene where everyone's character emerges, it is electric. Unfortunately, it is more often simply a fine, dialogue-driven family drama, each relative neatly assigned a problem and asked to combat it while in the presence of the unwell, judgmental, larger-than-life host. Streep towers over her castmates in screen presence, an effect that appears to be by design, and heightens the drama, as she confesses awareness of these dark secrets others have been trying to hide from her.

A month ahead of Mother's Day, a holiday you could easily have seen it being timed to, August hit home video this week from Weinstein and Anchor Bay Entertainment in single-disc DVD and Blu-ray editions, plus a two-disc combo pack with digital copy. We review the standalone Blu-ray here.

August: Osage County Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish),
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available as DVD ($29.98 SRP), Blu-ray + DVD +
Digital HD UltraViolet
($39.99 SRP), and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though it remains inside a dark, stuffy house much of the time, August: Osage County has a nice and deliberate look, with the yellow-orange glow of the hot late-summer sun peeking through the taped-up drapes. The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 transfer is without issue, staying sharp and boasting good detail. It features light grain and soft blacks. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also good, though not very remarkable. It does a great job of distributing the dialogue that drives the film and also proves capable at handling the infrequent score and the obnoxious pop songs blared in passing by Steve's red sports car (and the "Sanford and Son" theme song he uses as ringtone).

Meryl Streep, Margo Martindale, and Abigail Breslin share a laugh in "The Making of 'August: Osage County.'" In the deleted scene that will have the Internet abuzz, Benedict Cumberbatch rides a bus in silence.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with an audio commentary by director John Wells and cinematographer Adriano Goldman. They focus largely on the technical, as they discuss shooting on film, using minimal lighting tactics, and filming in the real Osage County. Characterization and inspirations take a secondary presence on this fairly unremarkable track,

though some of the more interesting remarks involve the cast's approach to their roles and the parallels their relationships took.

Kicking off the all-HD video side, "The Making of August: Osage County" (19:45) includes cast and Wells remarks from Q & A panels and press conferences in addition to the usual mix of clips, behind-the-scenes, and on-set talking heads. It's a good all-purpose featurette, which also devotes a bit more than a minute to a look at Kings of Leon's soundtrack contribution.

Five deleted scenes (10:47) are presented with optional commentary by Wells and Goldman explaining the rationale behind their deletions. They give us Barbara and Bill fighting in the night, a couple of isolated conversations, Little Charles' bus ride into town, and an alternate, extended version of the sisters' revealing chat set in rodeo bleachers.

Finally, "On Writing with Tracy Letts" (7:39) lets the playwright/screenwriter speak about the story and its autobiographical elements. There are also a lot of clips in addition to remarks of admiration from the film's cast and crew.

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for One Chance, Lee Daniels' The Butler, and Philomena. These aren't accessible by menu and August's trailer isn't available at all.

The routine menu plays a short loop of clips and score. Typical for a Weinstein Blu-ray, your viewing is hindered by inabilities to resume playback and set bookmarks.

No inserts are found within the standard blue keepcase. For that, you'll need to opt for the Blu-ray combo pack instead.

The longest and best scene of "August: Osage County" puts the Westons around a dinner table presided upon by the sharp-tongued Violet (Meryl Streep).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

August: Osage County didn't end up being the big awards powerhouse expected, but it's a film of enough substance to appreciate thoroughly. More a showcase for strong acting and Tracy Letts' dialogue than a fully-realized or fully satisfying picture, this droll ensemble piece does enough right and realistically to engage and resonate.

Blu-ray treats the film to top-notch picture and sound plus a decent assembly of extras. If you, like me, consider the movie worthy of a spot in your collection, you'd be better served by the combo pack that's currently giving you two additional formats (DVD and Digital HD UltraViolet) for several dollars less (right now at Amazon, anyway), which raises the question of why the studio even bothered with this standalone Blu-ray edition, apart from the obvious wastefulness of now-commonplace combo packs.

Buy August: Osage County from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet / Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Meryl Streep: Marvin's Room • Doubt • Julie & Julia • The Iron Lady • Fantastic Mr. Fox | Directed by John Wells: The Company Men
Julia Roberts: Eat Pray Love • Mirror Mirror | Ewan McGregor: The Impossible • The Men Who Stare at Goats
Margo Martindale: Beautiful Creatures • Win Win | Chris Cooper: The Muppets | Juliette Lewis: The Switch • Due Date
Benedict Cumberbatch: The Fifth Estate • Star Trek Into Darkness • The Other Boleyn Girl
Academy Awards Competition: Nebraska • Blue Jasmine • American Hustle • Gravity • Philomena
New: The Wolf of Wall Street • Saving Mr. Banks • The Past • Inside Llewyn Davis • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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Reviewed April 10, 2014.



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and 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment, The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.