a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Indian’

” August:Osage..” What Went Right? What Went Wrong?

Now, with the announcement that Meryl Streep will be in the lead category and Julia Roberts is now in Supporting(over her dead body!) and that the ending may be changed as well for the former Oscar front-runner “August:Osage County” WHAT is going on over there, there being the Weinstein Co., with that movie?

Stage to page, difficult transition, for this Pulitzer-Prize winner that I adored so much I saw it three times onstage and was delighted that my stay in Toronto for TIFF was just long enough to cram this in. I was even there the first one on line for the Press and Industry screening, as I predicted I would be, dear readers, dear cineastes, but I wasn’t prepared for the mess I saw unspooling before me on the screen.

It starts off fine with Sam Shepherd doing a great turn as Beverly, the doomed patriarch of the Westin family, hiring the only surviving member of the original Bway cast Missie Upton, as the taciturn Indian girl Janaa, he is hiring as a housekeeper for his pill-crazed wife, Violet(Meryl Streep).

It’s a great, showy role, god knows, and Streep eats every piece of scenery in sight, and pretty much chokes on it, which is the problem. She seems not addicted to pills as she claims but to over-acting. I haven’t seen her show-boating a role like this since the remake of “Manchurian Candidate,” which all but ended director Jonathan Demme’s career.

Doing the Oklahoma accent so accurately, and playing an addicted person, pretty much guarantees her a nomination, but no win, in the Best Actress category, where she so rightly belongs.

But since it’s Streep, she doesn’t so much disappear into the character as much as she keeps popping out and waving a white flag, saying “It’s still me! It’s Meryl! I’m not really this evil witch of a character I’m playing! It’s only acting, folks! Don’t be scared.” But this is the problem, it’s also the problem I experienced when I saw Estelle Parsons take over from Deanna Dunagan as Violet Westin on Broadway. Estelle played her warm and cuddly, too, as Meryl does. When Dunagan was just a clear and simple horror. You hated her. You were afraid of her. You couldn’t believe she was doing and saying the things she was doing to all her assembled family. But Dunagan had the hidden plus of being an actress unknown to us. Meryl is hardly that. She’s still adorable, warm and cuddly Meryl under the bad wig and the age make-up.

So you never are really afraid of her. She’s not a dark force, but an amusing one. She doesn’t miss a laugh line. Her comic timing is impeccable. So yes, she will very likely get ANOTHER Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, making her the most nominated actress in Academy history.She’s not the MOM-FROM-HELL you want to escape from, but the wise-cracking fun-loving observant Mom you want to stay with.

But her likability robs the film of its’ dramatic fulcrum. There’s now no antagonist there. And also it reveals “August:Osage County” to have no plot.

And cutting it’s over three hour length onstage(there’s nearly an hour missing) really hurts it, too. Margo Martindale is fine as the plumb sister but her part is virtually gone. On Broadway, Rondi Reed, another Chicagoan actress like Deanna Dunagan, won a Tony as did Dunagan. The part has been so reduced here on film, I doubt that Martindale will get an Oscar nomination.

Violet’s sister is supposed to be the warm and cuddly one, not Violet, so again the play becomes unbalanced. So what, really is going on here? It’s simply a series of humiliation scenes as one by one Violet verbally attacks every single member of her family and alienates them, perhaps forever. But as Streep plays it, she seems to be giving each member of her clan the dose of truth-telling they so sorely need, and you think, yes, she’s right. Her children are all ungrateful, self-absorbed brats.And yes, the deserve a dressing down. At the very least.

And yes, one by one, they leave her. And we all see this coming a mile away in the movie. And the supporting roles of which there are almost too many to list her are all so cut down, it’s hard to feel anything for them, as Violet knocks off each and every one of them almost systemically. Too systemically for a supposed drug addict…

And totally missing to is the part of Janaa, the Indian girl, who in the play presides and oversees the goings on of the crazy white people below, from her attic room in the see-through skeleton of a house that was the brilliant setting of the play onstage. We were always mindful of Janaa watching, watching, watching…and as it turns out, waiting.

And in the climatic scene, which is now gone completely from the movie, we see Violet, pathetically abandoned and alone, crawling up the stairs of the three story house, screaming “Janaa! Janaa!” That is a shattering image I still can’t get out of my mind.

And much is made during the course of the play about the land that the house is on, in fact all of  Osage county, originally belonging to the Indians, and in the end, it is indeed the Indian girl Janaa who is left stoically standing as the whites below massacre, lacerate and abandon each other.

You totally understand why all of them want to get away from Violet. As did her suicided husband Beverly(Sam Shepherd) at the beginning of the play. They flee with reason.

The great, grand surprise of the movie is how good Julia Roberts is as the angry, reasonable daughter, who stands up to her mother. This is now the main conflict of the movie. Almost nothing of Roberts’ role has been cut out for the truncated screen version, and so she has a LOT to play and Roberts to her credit, gives the performance of her career as the daughter who stands up to her mother, but even she can’t take it in the end.

My question is ~ who in the film version would ever leave cuddly, jocular, joke-filled Mamma Mia Meryl Streep? The hour that is lost makes the children now seem like ingrates and Meryl’s Violet is the unjustly abandoned one.

Which is not right. And NOT why I saw this play three times and why it won deservedly the Pulitzer Prize.

Oscar Nominee Ang Li “Life of Pi” gets in touch with us!

 

From Ang Lee himself, getting in touch about his gratitude for his being nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for “Life of Pi.” It got many techical nominations, too! ELEVEN Nominations total! ONE behind leader “Lincoln’s TWELVE!And lest we not forget I have to mention that this film OPENED the New York Film Festival 2012! GO NYFF!

“I am deeply honored and frankly a little overwhelmed by all of the nominations that ‘Life of Pi’ has received this morning. So many talented people gave everything they had to this film, both in front of and behind the camera, and to see all of them receive this kind of recognition is something I am incredibly grateful for.”

 

Some fun facts about LIFE OF PI:

 

  • Film is approaching $400 million worldwide gross
  • Film is approaching $100 million domestic gross and Ang Lee’s highest-grossing film to date
  • LIFE OF PI is Ang’s most Oscar nominated film of his career
  • Ang Lee is the only director in the race this year to receive nominations from the Academy Awards, BAFTA, Golden Globes, DGA and the Broadcast Film Critics.
  • While many have assumed that the film can’t win because it has no well-known actors, including an experienced lead actor, the film has made a sweep of key factions including DGA, PGA, WGA, BAFTA, ASC, VES, AFI, ADG, HFPA
  • Previous films including BRAVEHEART, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING And believe it or not NONE of these films had acting nominations!No, reallY!

– LIFE OF PI fits with the precedent of films that win Best Picture with no acting noms for the following reasons:

  • Large technical achievement (BRAVEHEART and LOTR: ROTK)
  • No big star in the cast (SLUMDOG)
  • Predominantly cast featuring people of color (SLUMDOG)
  • Considered a great directorial achievement (All of them)
  • Non-American stories (All of them)
  • Ang is being recognized for his achievement with this film by VES (Visionary Award), MPSE (Filmmaker of the Year), and the International 3D Society (Harold Lloyd Award). He was also recognized this year as VARIETY’s “International Filmmaker of the Year” at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and he received a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres insignia.
  • Film is not a story specific to one country or region – it’s a world wide story
  • Film based on best-selling book that is now back near the top of the NEW YORK TIMES Best-Seller list
  • Film is Ang’s first foray into the world of 3D
  • Famous quote from W.C. Fields about never working with animals or children, but LIFE OF PI has both animals, a young lead actor, and water – and the film successfully uses all three
  • Film crew was comprised of over 3,000 members from all over the world, including members for 21countries worldwide.

 

“Liv Og Ingmar” Moving New Doc at Festival Des Film Du Monde in Montreal! And soon to be at NYFF, too!

“LIV  & INGMAR” Moving, New Doc Dominates Montreal!

Being at the wonderful Festival des Films du Monde, now for my 14th consecutive year, is like being encased in a delightful, glamorous bubble of film, where all the languages of the world are swirling around you, but mainly French, mais oui, bien sur! Montreal always had that certain je sais quoi, and still does, I’m happy to report. It’s intoxicating atmosphere is something that you never want to end.
This year found the 36th Montreal World Film Festival, which wrapped last night, more multi-cultural than ever, if that’s possible.Over 400 films from over 80 countries!
So many films from all over the world, and so many of them that you won’t ever get to see in America,it’s staggering. And it’s sad that we have such a limited, narrow view of world cinema, with foreign film distribution, being what it is in the States. But wonderful films from all over are all here and all being celebrated, which continues to be a miraculous thing for cineastes in Montreal and cinephiles everywhere.
I thought nothing would top seeing “The Artist” here for the first time last year, with a packed Montrealais audience, who had fought to get tickets to the sold-out screenings. But this year something unexpectedly did!
It was a doc, no less, from Norway, named “Liv Og Ingmar,” about the tumultous love life and relationship of Ingmar Bergman, the late legendary Swedish filmmaker, and Liv Ullman, his great Norwegian actress, who  he starred in a dozen of his films and who had a child by him. They were together for five years,mostly on his isolated island of Faro, and were friends and working partners and collaborators for most of their lives, a 42 year relationship of star-crossed lovers and artists, which is heart-breaking in the extreme. It’s unexpected force and poignancy reduced me to tears.
Dheeraj Akolar, a 20-something Indian director, is making his feature film debut in spectacular fashion with “Liv Og Ingmar.” He was allowed unprecedented access to not only Bergman’s and Ullman’s great films, but also excerpts from his private love letters to her, which are heard here for the first time. The film also quotes extensively from Ullman’s moving memoir “Changing,” which Ullman reads herself.  Ullman more or less narrates the film. It is entirely from her point of view, which is enlightening and refreshing, and not only that, she was here in Montreal to talk about it herself!
According to Akolar, she had no editorial say in the film final, but its utterly unique and persuasive perspective is undeniably hers. In person, Liv Ullman is the loveliest of women, now in her 70s but still absolutely lovely and vital, always verging on the poetic in every question she was asked at the press conference.
Down to earth, practical, a woman of infinite good Norwegian horse sense, she still finds it astonishing that she was involved with and the beloved of the genius Swedish auteur, who seems the direct polar opposite to her in every way imaginable. Nothing about this relationship was easy or politically correct. It was painful in the extreme as the film amply shows. But it was love. And that is what makes the film so universal and so incredibly moving.
When asked if Max Von Sydow and Erland Josephsson knew that they were playing stand-ins for Bergman himself, Ullman exclaimed, “The person who was always playing Ingmar was ME!” and she thumped her chest.
Ulmman also kept emphasizing that she continues to act and direct plays and films herself in Norway and Sweden, and that she has had and continues to have a very healthy and productive creative life away from the late Bergman, including a career in Hollywood that landed her on the covers of Time magazine and Newsweek and garnered her two Oscar nominations.
Though she’s never won one herself, “Liv Og Ingmar” is such an astouding, moving experience for a doc, that it could very well be nominated, and even win in that category, as the forgetful Academy might well wish to finally honor her in this way, while she is still very much with us. And we all now how the Academy likes movies that make them cry, and this film  sure will.
Another film that I found exciting was “B.A.Pass” ANOTHER debut feature by ANOTHER Indian filmmaker making his feature film debut, Ajay Bahl. Before this gripping film, Bahl was a full-time working director of photography in India, where they make over 2,000 films a year, Bahl estimated. He read a short story named “The Railway Auntie” by Mohan Sikka in “The Delhi Noir” collection and decided to make this film himself, also financing it completely.
“B.A. Pass’ is about Mukesh, a 19-year-old boy who loses both his parents in a car crash at the beginning of the film. He has two young sisters that he has to take care of, and is sent to Delhi to live with relatives. “B.A. Pass” is the lowest form of degree one can get in an Indian college, like a liberal arts degree and it qualifies him for nothing, leaving Mukesh to drift aimlessly into the arms of a genuine femme fatale, Sarika. As played by the Bollywood star Shilpa Shukla, she dazzles him, and us, as she seduces him into a life of male prostitution, sharing him with all her rich, female friends.
All the taboos one usually associates with Indian filmmaking are blown out of the water here by director Bahl, as the lovers do more than just look at each other intensely, as is usual in Bollywood. There is no dancing or musical numbers here to lift Mukesh out of the desperate circumstances he begins to slide into. “B.A.Pass” reminded me a lot of “Midnight Cowboy’ as he becomes a gigolo, eventually going with men, as well as women. Newcomer Rajesh Sharma plays Mukesh marvelously in his first leading screen role.
Another film that stunned and surprised me was the Finnish World War II film “Hiljaisuus” or “The Silence.” Masterfully directed by veteran filmmaker Sakari Kirjavainen, it depicts the heroic, heartbreaking Finnish custom of retrieving its’ dead soldiers’ bodies from the battlefields and preparing their remains by thawing, tidying and dressing them for return to their families. A poetic, grim ritual,unique to Finland, that is a morbid and well as a dangerous custom, as soldiers have to retrieve dead bodies that have been sometimes lying in a no-man’s land between Finland and Russia for weeks if not months, most frozen solid by the harsh Finnish winter.
Set in an evacuation camp, “The Silence” compels as it repels, and Joonas Saartamo is riveting and yes, even sometimes funny, as the young soldier Eino, who has to do these difficult heart-renching rescues, even at his own peril.
“Buzhashi Boys”, a cours metrage, or short film, from Afghanistan, also was shockingly indelible. Made by one of the few Americans to actually call Kabul home, director Sam French compellingly told the tale of two very young street kids, one a blacksmith’s son, one a beggar, who are friends and hope one day to become the titular Buzkashi horsemen of title, which is a sport that I will skip describing, except to say that it is played with great gusto and ferocity on horseback. The Kabul that we see is so abjectly poor, with bullet-holes in every ruined building that the two boys innocently play in, that “Buzhashi Boys”  in its’ brevity and toughness, lets us see a glimpse of another ghastly, but human world that we would probably never get to see except at a film festival like Montreal.
Post-script “Liv Og Ingmar” is going to be screening soon in the upcoming New York Film Festival, with Liv Ullman herself in attendance! Not to be missed!

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