A twisted family reunion in ‘August: Osage County’

New Releases
Julianne Nicholson, left, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County.”
(The Weinstein Company)

August: Osage County

Starz/Anchor Bay, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99

Available on VOD beginning April 8

Tracy Letts has now had three of his plays adapted into films. Director William Friedkin made the bizarre “Bug” and “Killer Joe” into something as gritty and exciting as a stage show, but John Wells unkinks Letts’ Pulitzer-winning twisted black comedy. The Oscar-nominated Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts have a blast chewing the scenery as a cantankerous mother and daughter who spend an impromptu family reunion snapping at each other and their kin; and the rest of the cast (including Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale) is strong enough to keep up. But Wells’ version loses a lot of the edge of the play, turning it into more of a slapstick “Steel Magnolias” — entertaining but less artful. Wells provides a commentary track for the DVD and Blu-ray, which also have deleted scenes and featurettes.


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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Warner Bros., $28.98; Blu-ray, $35.99/$44.95

Available on VOD beginning April 8


In keeping with the long tradition of the middle parts of trilogies being the strongest, this improves greatly on the exhausting “An Unexpected Journey.” With all the introduction (and introduction and introduction) of the first film out of the way, “The Desolation of Smaug” is free to get to the meat of J.R.R. Tolkien’s story, as Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins and his traveling party of dwarves get beset by Orcs, giant spiders and the titular dragon (performed by Benedict Cumberbatch). Peter Jackson’s film is still too long, with drawn-out fight scenes and digressions, but it feels more like a story with a point, showing how Bilbo and company’s adventuring creates more problems than it solves. The DVD and Blu-ray come with featurettes.

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Grudge Match

Warner Bros., $28.98; Blu-ray, $35.99

Available on VOD beginning April 8

There were a lot of directions this could’ve gone, pairing the stars of “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” for a new boxing movie, but the film ultimately chose the “Grumpy Old Men” route, forcing the ever-mumbly Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro to try to get laughs as aging rivals reentering the ring. The movie isn’t terrible; it’s just predictable and wastes two great stars in a story awash in “getting old” jokes and unearned sentimentality. The DVD and Blu-ray add deleted scenes and featurettes.

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A Field In England


Cinedigm/Drafthouse, $27.95; Blu-ray, $29.95

Available on VOD beginning April 8

British cult thriller director Ben Wheatley takes a slight detour from his earlier films with this medieval head trip: a sort of mix between Samuel Beckett and 1960s acid-trip movies, shot in black and white and set during the English Civil War. Amy Jump’s script follows four 17th century Englishmen from different social stations as they have a quasi-mystical experience while digging for treasure a few miles from a nearby battle. The films starts out like an absurdist play — and a funny one at that — but when the visions begin, “A Field In England” gets freaky in a hurry. It’s all of a piece in a way with Wheatley’s other films, which are all about the ancient weirdness underpinning Great Britain.

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Justin Bieber’s Believe

Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98

Available on VOD beginning April 8



Lionsgate, $19.98; Blu-ray, $24.99

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Paramount, 29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99

Available on VOD beginning April 8

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