Amazon Prime’s new original Zoe comes with decent star power but a story that never seems to catch fire. It’s about the relationships between humans and synthetic intelligences. Continue reading “Review: Zoe”
When I was a kid I went to the movies every week. So many of those movies were Westerns. That was in the days of John Wayne and Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Men on horses with six shooters.
As soon as I discovered there were options that went beyond the Western, I was happy to move on.
Now and then since those ancient decades, there have been Westerns starring women. The latest are Jane Got a Gun with Natalie Portman and The Keeping Room with Brit Marling.
Jane Got a Gun
Jane Got a Gun is more the traditional Western with a twist. In this story a woman asks her ex-lover for help in order to save her outlaw husband from a gang out to kill him. The film has male writers, a male director (Gavin O’Connor), and a majority male cast.
Starring with Portman are Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro, Joel Edgerton, and Noah Emmerich. The film went through all kinds problems before and after shooting – cast changes and problems with distribution. But it’s finally ready to go.
The film is releasing in France before the US (US release date is February 2016). The only trailer at this point has French subtitles. Have a look.
The Keeping Room
With Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, and Sam Worthington in the lead, The Keeping Room is a more female point-of-view tale. The film was written by Julia Hart and directed by Daniel Barber. It released to theaters back in September 2015. You might have to wait for the streaming services to carry it before you can watch it, or catch it in a second run venue.
The plot synopsis is “Left without men in the dying days of the American Civil War, three Southern women – two sisters and one African-American slave – must fight to defend their home and themselves from two rogue soldiers who have broken off from the fast-approaching Union Army.”
Here’s the trailer.
If you caught The Keeping Room when it was first released, please share what you thought of it.
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 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.
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 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.
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.