August

on July 11, 2008 by Alex Albanese
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In its own decorous, art-housy way, Goldwyn's "August" is banking on sheer, unbridled star power to pack the house. Not only does this film feature beloved thesp Anthony Hopkins, but it's also based on a play, "Uncle Vayna," by rep-house heavy Anton Chekhov, and it marks Sir Anthony's directorial debut to boot. Transporting the actionn from Russian to Welsh countryside, and full of Victorian vista, costume and decor, the project reeks of prestige cinema--but, when you get right down to it, "August" is a pretty lousy movie.
This might be more Anton's fault than Anthony's. In Chekhov's play, unhappines and ennui, like humidity, are pervasive and all-encompassing. Like the weather, everyone natters on endlessly about the subject, but no one ever really does anything about it. The thea-tah set holds that great works are immortal, but if so "Uncle Vayna" might not be up to its alleged snuff. In its day, perhaps, the play offered potent and novel insight to the general foolishness and uselessness of the upper classes, but the late 20th Century has swallowed and digested that sentiment, and a houseful of bickering, romantically challenged bourgeoisie fascinates few beyond Woody Allen. Besides, we have the House of Windsor for potent contemporary object lessons.
Cinematically, Hopkins searches for Merchant/Ivory territory but never reaches their realm of graceful yet loaded imaging. Hopkins' use of the camera is utterly conventional and his results, never more than simply pretty, are often less. A sometime theatre director, he gets generally good work out of his actors, although the inherent artificiality of stage dialogue isn't overcome in the adaptation or, in many instances, in performance. Hopkins' own efforts have a showy "look Ma, I'm acting" aspect. Hopkins has been better when reigned in by a more objective director. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Leslie Phillips, kate Burton and Gavin Granger. Directed by Anthony Hopkins. Written by Julian Mitchell. produced by June Wyndham and Pippa Cross. A Goldwyn release. Drama. Rated PG for bloody images of a mining accident, thematic elements and some language. Running time: 106 min
Tags: Anthony Hopkins, Leslie Phillips, Kate Burton, Gavin Granger, miner, adaptation, Anton Chekhov, Wales, Uncle Vanya, discontent
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