Review: Sophie and the Rising Sun

Sophie and the Rising Sun is set in South Carolina at the start of WWII just before and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. A Japanese-American man, Grover Ohta (Takashi Yamaguchi) is dumped, beaten and bruised, on a bench at a bus stop. Continue reading “Review: Sophie and the Rising Sun”

Watch This: Trailer for Sophie and the Rising Sun

Sophie and the Rising Sun is a tale of interracial love during WW II. As you know, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered WW II, American discrimination against anyone of Japanese extraction grew to a fever pitch. Most Japanese Americans were hauled off to internment camps. Flash forward 70 years, and we’re talking about doing the same thing to Muslims. We seem doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Continue reading “Watch This: Trailer for Sophie and the Rising Sun”

Watch This: Previews for Season 3 of The Americans

The Americans will start season 3 on FX on January 28. I’ve been watching this drama about Soviet spies in the U.S. during the Cold War in the 1980s since the first season. As unlikely as it sounds to say that I like a show about Soviet spies, I am saying it here.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in The AMericanse
This married couple are not what they seem

Much of the reason this show is so good are the outstanding performances from Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. They are brilliant in their parts as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two KGB officers who pose as a married couple living near Washington, D.C. They have two children, played by Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati. Their neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich) is an FBI counter-intelligence agent who spends his days trying to catch people like them, and his evenings exchanging small talk with them over barbecue.

The spies have a “handler.” For a while their handler was played by Margo Martindale, an actress I simply love. This year Frank Langella is stepping into the role of handler. Richard Thomas is also a regular, playing another FBI agent.

There are recognizable events in the story, real characters and real happenings from the period, but ultimately – at least for me – the story is about Elizabeth and Philip: their relationship, their marriage, their family.

How about it? Are there any other fans of The Americans among readers?

Photos © Copyright FX Network

Brain Dump from a Teeming TV Filled Mind

Random thoughts and observations on this and that as seen on my teevee.

The Walking Dead

Did you see the episode of The Walking Dead called “The Grove?” Brighton Sharbino and Kyla Kenedy as the two young girls were fantastic. Brighton, in particular, was 100% convincing. Very impressed to see such outstanding acting from two young actors.

I’m loving what they’ve done with The Walking Dead this season: splitting everyone up and charting their journeys to find each other again. (Assuming that they will be reunited at Terminus.) It’s given them a way to let characters develop with full episodes devoted almost exclusively to just one or two characters.

Glee

Brittany and Santana kiss on Glee
Brittany and Santana kiss on Glee

What about this kiss in the episode “100” of Glee. Glee has never been about grown up sex. Yes, there have been relationships but they are immature high school kinds of things. Even the teachers have immature relationships on Glee.

But in the episode called “100” (as in the 100th episode) we see a grown up Brittany, (Heather Morris) dragged into adulthood by numbers and a failure of joy.

Brittany evolved. Who’d a thunk that?

Couple that with a sort-of-grown-up Santana (Naya Rivera). I say sort of grown up because Santana still has a mouth on her that needs to embrace tolerance and forgiveness – mature ideas she hasn’t mastered yet. Nevertheless, Brittany and Santana exchange a kiss that is the first grown up, adult looking kiss I’ve seen on Glee.

Person of Interest

A whole episode of Person of Interest was built around Root (Amy Acker). The episode was called “Root Path.” Most of the time, Root is only on the screen for a few seconds. Even then she’s the most interesting thing in the show – mysterious, powerful, illusive. You know what would make me really happy? An episode that featured only Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker together for a whole show.

Castle

Is Castle getting better this season? It seems like the writing has improved. The stories are flat out good. Last year Castle frequently put me to sleep, but there is none of that this year.

The Fosters

The crazy adjustable bed that Stef’s mom gave Stef and Lena as a wedding gift on The Fosters is keeping them apart. I say we start a Kickstarter campaign to get Stef and Lena a new bed. A nice flat one. Or, as they put it on OITNB,

The Americans

This show gets more fascinating each week with all kinds of complicated loyalty questions and emotional issues. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys impress me in a new way in every episode. Keri Russell’s character slamming that guy’s arm over and over again with a trunk lid was really intense and surely will make her face the fact that she’s cracking. Plus Margo Martindale was back this week, which is guaranteed to make me happy.

Still ahead this week are Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Must dump brain before then!

What is burning in your brain from this week’s TV?

Random Thoughts from a Teeming TV Filled Brain

The TV is brewing a brain full of random ideas in me this week. It’s a mish-mash.

  • The Americans season 2 started last night on FX and it’s extra good. Don’t ask me why I care so much about Russian spies, but Kari Russell and Matthew Rhys make me care. The stakes are so high in this show, the situations so tense, and the drama so tight. I can’t tell from the first episode if Margo Martindale will be back in season 2, but they were talking about her as if she won’t. She’s off on another show now, and I’ll miss her here.
  • With so many shows, I have to record a bunch of them. When I play them back I fast forward through the ads. I really appreciate the shows that have a second or two of something recognizable before each new segment starts. That brief cue lets me stop in time to get the beginning of the action. For example, Person of Interest often shows cityscapes and camera locations just before the action starts. Could all shows please do something like this? Thank you.
  • Why do actresses decide to have a baby while they are on a hit show? Jennifer Beals and Lauren Holloman both did it on The L Word. Anna Silk did it on Lost Girl. Kerry Washington is having a baby soon with Scandal in the middle of astronomical popularity. There has to be some logic to this, but what is it?
  • Wow! Did Naya Rivera ever knock “Don’t Rain on My Parade” out off the ballpark on Glee this week! The Barbara Streisand franchise on Glee up to now belonged to Lea Michelle – as well it should, she’s got it locked – but Naya can belt, too. Indeed.
  • Can you tell Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) two suitors apart on Downton Abbey? Me either.

Image Credit: Still from The Americans by Craig Blankenhorn via IMDB

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.

August: Osage County is Full of Promise (Updated)

August: Osage County is the most promising movie, story, cast, whatever, to come along in a very long time. It’s a family drama with many strong women called together by a family crisis at their childhood home in Oklahoma. It’s based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tracy Letts. Letts also wrote the screen play for the film, which debuted this week at TIFF, although it isn’t scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters until December 2013.

Take a look at the trailer.

What a cast! Meryl Streep is the family matriarch, Violet, who suffers from mouth cancer. Sam Shepard plays her husband – an Oklahoma poet who quotes T.S. Eliot. This couple have three daughters played by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson. Roberts is married to Ewan McGregor. They have a daughter played by Abigail Breslin. The sister played by Juliette Lewis arrives with a man in tow, played by Dermot Mulroney. The Julianne Nicholson character lives near her mother, something that probably makes her an expert on the family dysfunction in a way the two other daughters haven’t experienced. Other characters include Violet’s sister (Margo Martindale), her husband (Chris Cooper) and their son (Benedict Cumberbatch).

If that list of names isn’t enough to get your attention, the producer is George Clooney.

august: osage country poster

Early reviews coming out of TIFF are favorable. Julia Roberts in particular is attracting attention for her performance. It must be an intimidating proposition to try to stand out in a cast like this one, but Julia Roberts has apparently achieved that.

Abigail Breslin – if my math is right – is about 17 now. We’ve been watching her grow since Signs in 2002. She’s been in Raising Helen, Little Miss Sunshine, My Sister’s Keeper and much more. In every part she’s had, she’s demonstrated brilliant talent. Now she’s nearly “all growed up” and will be playing adult parts in the future. This may be the last time we see her as a teen or as someone’s daughter still under the parental wing.

August: Osage County is obviously complete or it couldn’t be playing in Toronto at a film festival. Yet we have to wait until December to see it. This means it will be released with prime Oscar nomination timing. The last thing we see in a year always has a better chance of getting the Oscar votes than something that comes out early in the year. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Julia Roberts get an Oscar nomination out of this one? Or how about a movie by a female writer and full of fabulous female characters getting a nomination as best picture? Now, that would be pretty damn wonderful.

UPDATE: A second trailer for the film is out now.