The best news about the film adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer-Prize-winning drama, "August: Osage County," occurs very early. The opening monologue has been trimmed to a mere sliver. Indeed, 40 minutes have been sliced out of the play; the cuts are hardly detectable -- and that's good.
"Out of the Furnace" wants to be a blue collar, gritty film, and it succeeds. Set in Braddock, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) in 2008, the future for the steel mill workers looks about as bleak as the sky and the town. Two brothers pursue different paths: Russell still employed at the mill, younger Rodney floundering, heading off to Iraq.
Teeming with archetypes brought to vivid life, the film "Mud" particularizes a crisis in 14-year-old Ellis' progress toward maturity. Ellis sneaks away from his family's Arkansas houseboat to meet up with his pal Neckbone. Ellis wants to show him a boat stranded in a tree on a Mississippi River island where they also find the fugitive Mud hiding out.
Sam Shepard shocked the sensibilities of American theater when his literary voice first was raised in the 1960s and '70s. At first specializing in absurdist works, his style evolved into an alternate realism, a landscape where emotions and thoughts are as exaggerated as the mythic value of the American West. Such is the setting of Curse of the Starving Class, the first of Shepard's trio of works about the destructive dynamics of a family dysfunctional with a capital 'D.' He followed that foray into family foibles with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child and the Gothic tale, True West.