Review: August: Osage County

There are many films that can make you feel as if you’ve been assaulted by life, by pain, by damage and abuse, by hurt. August: Osage County is one of these. It peers into the way abuse and pain carries down, almost intact, from one generation to the next. In this particular story, the damage is inflicted by the women.

The drive to the funeral in August: Osage County
The drive to the funeral in August: Osage County

The story begins with a father’s death. Sam Shepard as the Oklahoma poet Beverly Weston dies. The family gathers. Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the not-exactly-grieving widow and mother to Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis.

Violet Weston has cancer of the mouth, both physically and metaphorically. She’s addicted to about 11 different prescription drugs, which she pops with malicious intensity. The drugs do not have pleasant effect on her behavior.

Julianne Nicholson as Ivy is the daughter who stayed in Oklahoma, near her parents. Julianne Nicholson’s performance in this part is quiet and nuanced and complete perfection, especially when contrasted with the overblown emotionalism of some of the other characters. Okay, not some of the other characters; Meryl Streep’s character. She seemed too big somehow, too much.

I’m sure Meryl Streep intended her to be too big and too much. The woman doesn’t make mistakes. Violet Weston was too big and too much on purpose, I’m guessing.

Eating on the porch
Eating on the porch

Julia Roberts drives in with her husband, played by Ewan McGregor, a buttoned down kind of man, and her 14 year old daughter, played by Abigail Breslin. Her marriage is breaking up. Julia Roberts is simply wonderful in this part. She’s the eldest daughter – strong and bitter and angry. She’s the wronged wife with a cheating husband. She’s the protective mother whose 14 year old daughter attracts the attentions of her sister’s smarmy fiancé, played by Dermot Mulroney. She’s a wounded lioness, just like her mother, with sharp teeth and powerful claws.

Juliette Lewis has her own coping mechanisms for dealing with her family. Get as far away as possible, pin all sorts of unrealistic hopes and wishful thinking on a man, and pretend the realities of her upbringing never happened.

Add to this menagerie of family Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae, played expertly by Margo Martindale. She’s married to Chris Cooper. Like Violet’s husband, Mattie Fae’s husband is a kind and tender man. How did these two sisters manage to find such good men to marry? They have a mother-whipped cowering mess of a son played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Bring all these characters together for a funeral, make them stay together for several days, and all hell breaks loose.

I want to give a particular mention to Misty Upham, who plays a Native American woman hired by Beverly to cook and clean just before he goes missing. (Perhaps you remember her from Frozen River, where she had a bigger part.) Misty Upham needs to be pulled out of the Native American niche and put into other roles. She’s terrific and should be given parts that aren’t so bound by ethnicity. Hey, Jinji Kohan, how about giving her a part in Orange is the New Black where actresses are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their characters?

This story is brilliant in its specificity. It’s filled with outstanding performances. Any awards that go to August: Osage County are deserved. Like a lot of movies that deal with harsh reality, it’s hard to watch at times, even though it has moments of redemption and beauty.

I recommend August: Osage County wholeheartedly. It’s not the kind of movie you want to watch more than once, but it is the kind of movie that should be watched.

Watch This: Trailer for August: Osage County

August: Osage County opens in wide distribution today. Are you going to be there? I can’t wait!

Review: What Maisie Knew

What Maisie Knew is based on the Henry James novel of 1897. It stars Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as Maisie’s horrifyingly bad parents. Maisie is played by Onata Aprile.

What Maisie Knew poster
What Maisie Knew poster

Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham are also in the film. After Maisie’s parents divorce, her father marries the former nanny (Joanna Vanderham). Her mother marries a convenient bartender (Alexander Skarsgård) and these two surrogate parents are left largely in charge of the neglected and forgotten Maisie.

Moore and Coogan do not sugar coat their performances as the unlikeable adults. They are as selfish and unfit as two people could possible be to fill their roles as parents.

Like the book, the film is told from Maisie’s point of view. Onata Aprile is remarkable as Maisie. She’s  natural and real, completely childlike rather than actory. It’s hard to remember she’s performing – saying lines, taking direction. She absolutely makes the film work. It breaks our hearts as we watch her trying to survive in her often awful situation.

Like all neglected children, Maisie loves her parents. But when she’s with Margo, daddy’s new wife, or Lincoln, mommie’s new husband, Maisie recognizes that this is the way it’s supposed to be. Lincoln bumbles his way into child care – he doesn’t even know that you should hold a child’s hand when you cross a Manhattan street. But he does naturally all the things her mother does not do. He listens to her, he plays with her, he makes sure she has something to eat.

If a film about something so depressing can be called beautiful, this is a beautiful film. The performances are outstanding, the way the camera follows Maisie and lives in her world is brilliant. The ending is emotionally satisfying even though it is unrealistic to expect Maisie’s situation to be wrapped up in a red bow for any length of time.

The film was released on DVD in May 2013 and is available on most streaming services now.

Watch This: Theatrical Trailer for Veronica Mars

Although we’ve been getting all kinds of pre-release peeks at Veronica Mars, this is the first actual official trailer. It gives you a lot more insight into what’s going on in the movie’s plot.

Bring it!

Watch This: Sex After Kids Trailer

Saw a tweet from Zoie Palmer about this trailer and thought it was worth sharing. A lot of familiar faces in this comedy, plus it looks really funny.

The difficulty for those of us in the U.S. is that I don’t know where it’s playing. It’s been on the festival circuit in Canada, Australia and the U.S., but I’m not sure about release in theaters. According to the Sex After Kids website, it has shown in some U.S. theaters, but they don’t have a 2014 calendar update (or didn’t on the day I looked.)

Sex After Kids – Redband Trailer from Jeremy LaLonde on Vimeo.

Follow @SexAfterKids on Twitter for updates such as this one:

 

 

Review: Girl in Progress

Girl in Progress is a coming of age story about a girl who writes her own coming of age story based on research on the coming of age genre, then attempts to live it out according to plan.

Starring in this 2012 film are Eva Mendez as the mother, Cierra Ramirez as the girl in progress, Matthew Modine as the mother’s married boyfriend, and Patricia Arquette as the girl’s teacher.

Girl in Progress poster

Ansiedad, the girl in progress, is Cierra Ramirez; you may know her from The Fosters. She’s an extremely bright and creative teen who is captured by a remark her English teacher makes about coming of age tales. She has an interesting reltionship with her English teacher.

Lunch with the English teacher
Lunch with the English teacher – doesn’t everyone?

The mother of this wise but naive teen is often gone, either working or conducting inappropriate relationships with married men. In her absence, Ansiedad plots out a complete coming of age story for herself which includes stealing, hanging with the mean girls, dumping her best friend, losing her virginity and leaving home. She then proceeds to live this plan out so she can have the needed epiphany that will carry her into adulthood.

The movie is out on DVD and available from streaming services now. Take a look at the trailer for the film.

I have to admit I watched the film because my granddaughter recommended it to me. She’s in the throes of her own coming of age saga right now, which is why the movie appealed to her. I found it good as well, even at my advanced stage in life. On a scale of 10 stars, I would give it at least 7.

What a Year for Woman over 40 and the Golden Globes

The Golden Globe nominees for 2014 were announced last week. It’s worth mentioning the number of names in the female categories that are women over 40. There were at least 2 of the 5 nominees in each category who are over 40.

I have to confess that one of my favorites, Tatiana Maslany, is in the under 40 group. That said, I’m loving how many of the nominations went to women over 40 – some of them several decades over 40. I celebrate them all!

Look at the names of women over 40 who scored awards nominations this year.

Best Actress in a Mini-Series or TV Movie: Helena Bonham Carter, Jessica Lange and Helen Mirren

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama: Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Emma Thompson and Judi Dench

Best Actress In A Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy: Meryl Streep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Julie Delpy

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Amy Poehler and Edie Falco

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama: Julianna Margulies and Robin Wright

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Julia Roberts and June Squibb

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie: Jacqueline Bissett, Janet McTeer, Monica Potter and Sofia Vergara

Review: The Hot Flashes

The Hot Flashes was directed by Susan Seidelman and stars a slew of women, chief among them Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Virginia Madsen, Camryn Manheim and Wanda Sykes. That attracted me before I even had a clue what the film was about.

part of the hot flashes poster
Part of The Hot Flashes poster

It turns out The Hot Flashes is about the efforts of a group of Texas women who were once state high school champions in basketball to raise money to save a traveling mammogram truck. This was before Texas decided to close nearly all the clinics in the state where a woman could get a mammogram because they also offer birth control services. The mobile mammogram service was desperately needed even then.

The former champs are now a varied assortment of housewives, car salesmen, aspiring mayors, drug mavens, and oft married grocery store clerks. They’re old, out of shape, and have resentments remaining from years ago when they played together in high school.

Somehow Beth, the Brooke Shields character, manages to wrangle them into playing 3 games against the current high school women’s basketball team – which includes her daughter (played by Charlotte Graham) in an effort to raise $25,000 to save the traveling truck.

Mark Povinelli, a little person, is convinced to become the coach. The woman who works in the mammogram truck becomes the team manager. Eric Roberts is Brooke Shields husband – who is not a bit supportive of what she’s trying to do, by the way.

I’d give the film 3 out of 5 stars, meaning I liked it even if it isn’t Oscar material for best picture. It was fun to watch. It was inspiring. For a tale about overcoming all odds, it’s original and worthy of your time.

The Hot Flashes is available on DVD and from Netflix and Amazon. It was released in 2013.