August: Osage County Review – Part 3

8c0a941c-797f-4be9-b6ff-a9bb7d9dd131_augustosagecounty_redband_gsCriticism 2: Acting Style

The wounded cries of Violet echo throughout the Weston’s home moments her daughter wrestles her to the ground and snatches the ‘blue babies’ (pills) from her hand. Violet isn’t just wounded, she’s rabid. Verbally clobbering each and every member while puffing on cigarettes (‘You think you can shame me, Charlie? Blow it out of your ass!’ she barks, when her poor brother-in-law attempts to provide reassurance), the harridan attempts to get even with her daughters for spoiling themselves and turning out to be major disappointments in life.


Meryl’s performance has been compared to Faye Dunaway’s in Mommie Dearest, the greek monster Medusa, a monstrous pterodactyl, Tyler Perry’s Madea (!), a gorgon, etc. I think she sought inspiration from the character of Roy Cohn, performed by Al Pacino in Angels in America. She was the lead on that show, and witnessing the terrifying outbursts and the nasty barbs here, spoken with the most horrifying expression you’d imagine, I think Meryl really owes credit to Pacino rather than ‘Dunaway’ or ‘Madea’. Plus, she’s played a cancer patient in One True Thing, and the physical appearance when she sheds her wig takes us back to that film. When she opens about her past in a vulnerable moment with her daughters on the swing, I thought of my grandmother, who suffered a nasty and lonely dotage suffering from cancer, osteoporosis and paralysis. In her verbal lashings, she reminded me of… me when I was eighteen and (although my parents still think I’m kidding) suffering from melancholic depression (two years of meditation and intense introspection proved helpful). She’s also an abandoned King Lear in the film, ramping up her performance to the histrionics of a Shakespearean character when required.


It’s a nut-loose persona, and a second viewing is needed to catch the subtleties in her act. She delivers with a lifelike intensity, which to be honest, I don’t see in any other working actor today. Daniel Day Lewis flares up on screen, so does Brando or De Niro or Di Caprio, but they’re more reliant to the power of their voice to convey emotions. Meryl somewhat hides her emotion in her timbre, but if we’re observant, we hear the strains in her voice as she intones. The ‘lifelike’ quality is harder to notice, especially for people who haven’t been in such situations or who haven’t experienced such emotions, and that’s why she’s called ‘cold’ and ‘technical’ by a few. Right now, I can bet that anybody who’s been through her condition or who has seen someone undergo such a phase will say Meryl’s given the most realistic performance one can imagine.


But again, she makes Violet a shade too melancholic in an endeavor to get into the skin of the character. Julia Roberts is emotional too. As Jean, Abigail Breslin plainly has to look left and right during the dinner table battle, mutter some lines on being a vegetarian and loving Phantom of the Opera, and then shedding tears when she’s caught later. McGregor fares worse, looking like Tom Hanks from Captain Phillips (if you look really hard), and stalling on the periphery of the action.


Juliette Lewis

Who nails the tone of the play – a very dark ‘comedy’? Juliette Lewis, who looks like she’s landed from David O. Russell’s world of quirky, sad characters. She helps transit the play’s spirit to screen, and so does Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper who play Violet’s younger sister Mattie Fae and her husband Charles.


You know what, I watched Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother, a Spanish-French dramedy, a couple of hours after August: Osage County, and it was infinitely more funny, melodramatic, heartwarming, sad and touching. Roger Ebert perfectly described it as ‘a struggle between real and fake heartbreak–between tragedy and soap opera. They’re usually funny, too, which increases the tension. You don’t know where to position yourself while you’re watching a film like “All About My Mother,” and that’s part of the appeal: Do you take it seriously, like the characters do, or do you notice the bright colors and flashy art decoration, the cheerful homages to Tennessee Williams and “All About Eve” (1950) and see it as a parody?’. All this is missed in August: Osage County, which ends up working like a sappy, patchy melodrama. It isn’t stuck together properly.


August Osage County Review: Part 2

August Osage County movieHere’s my first criticism: ‘faithful adaptation’.

I had prepared myself for this one, having posed a question to playwright Tracy Letts during an audience Q&A round (the selected question, along with Letts’ response can be read here:


Pruning a three-hour tragicomedy into two for film also calls for adjustments to the resultant footage. In simple words, care should be taken to equalize the ‘just-noticeable difference’ due to reduction in material. Maybe it was Weinstein’s decision to shave off scenes that in his opinion added little value to the overall film. However, the cuts prick.


Let’s consider a scene in the play towards the finish in which the distraught Barbara, Violet’s eldest daughter, attempts to kiss Sheriff Gilbeau but ultimately withdraws; this happens two weeks after her ex-husband Bill leaves the house with their daughter Jean. The film slings out this sequence entirely and moves on to the ‘catfish’ catfight between her, Violet and Ivy. A turning point for Barbs, the scene also justified a previous conversation involving Gilbeau between Barbara and Jean. Maybe when Roberts and Breslin were performing the scene, they held the impression Gilbeau would appear later into the film. Roberts adds a weight to her words that is balanced by Gilbeau’s appearance. But since he’s missing, Roberts’ tone should’ve been slightly different, something that didn’t mislead us to believe he’d come.


Certain deletions impact character dynamics as well. The film hardly showcases Violet interacting with her granddaughter Jean, while the play teases Jean’s voluptuous boobs with jocular remarks from Violet (as well as Mattie Fae, which has been retained). The “Hollywoodish” ending (a shift of focus from Violet to Barbara) may have worked had the film been Julia’s journey from the beginning.


The screenplay, also penned by Letts, hangs in mid-air motionless, like it’s stuck in the plains, in the sense that its confused about what it should take in to maintain the flow, what it could leave out to avoid appearing stagey and what it can add to make it more cinematic. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, constructed in myriads of concurrent and converging storylines, threaded a satisfying storyline for each major character while tying it all to the major themes of the film. The only characters lucky enough to get a special treatment in August Osage County are Violet, Barbara, Mattie Fae and Charles, Ivy and Karen. The others, especially Barbara’s husband Bill, Karen’s fiancé Steve, Jean, Little Charles and Johnna, the native-American maid are slovenly handled. The issue of Native Americans driven out of their country by settlers could’ve been explored more deeply on film. But expect for scattered references and a simplistic symbolism on the wall, little effort has been taken to delve into that angle.


august-osage-county-elizabeth-taylor-2013-movie-scene-1024x576The biggest irritant is the camera sitting through wordy, rehearsed monologues adapted too faithfully to sparkle on film. When Meryl browbeats Ivy for not wearing make-up, the camera cuts back and forth between the two, selecting the same position every time. The rehearsed nature, devoid of the improvised spontaneity visible in Altman films, adds to the laggardness. The actors are a touch too sombre to possess a vibrant volatility demanded during the dinner sequence. The screenplay wants the best of both stage and cinema and succeeds in neither.


Criticism 2: Acting Style

(Contd in part 3)

August Osage County Review: Part 1



(This is the first part of the review of John Wells’ August Osage County, starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, Misty Upham, Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch and “catfish”. Part 2 to be uploaded soon)   

Rating: 60%


August: Osage County, ripe in contemporary kitchen-sink melodrama in the style and flavor of an out-and-out explosive Tennessee Williams work (all vintage movie lovers, I urge all you to catch Elia Kazan’s film A Streetcar Named Desire) deserved a David O Russell down-and-dirty hard-edged treatment bundled with Robert Altman’s spontaneity and Paul Thomas Anderson’s virtuosic vision. Instead fertilized by a less-known John Wells, primarily known for his role as an executive producer in television series ER, The West Wing and Shameless (he’s just got directorial credits for one film called The Company Men, scoring a decent 67% on Rotten Tomatoes), the cinematic adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-Prize Winning play (hence the film could boast of winning an ‘award’ already before it’d won one) lacks a language and voice to hold its own in a year resounding with masterful efforts like Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Russell’s The American Hustle, Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, Farhadi’s The Past, Cuaron’s Gravity, Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Jonze’s Her etc. Little films need to pogo big to register a spot in the massively crowded movie market, and I can think of at least three titles on the fly whose strengths haven’t been tasered by limited finance – Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Sean Durkin’s Martha May Marcy Marlene, and Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur. Osage County, unlike these films, puts on a less-than stellar show under Wells solemn, courtierly, risk-free treatment. With all the luminous and sometimes breathtaking display of acting from an assorted bunch of talents, how did this movie end up? Well, plain. Or, in Violet’s own words: Ehhhhh!



John Wells (left) and Meryl Streep (right)

Let’s analyze why this picture came to be. George Clooney and Harvey Weinstein are two of its producers; Clooney’s done The Descendants, which also dealt with aftermath of someone’s death (not technically death but coma and eventual demise) while Weinstein hoped for a winning prestige production. The latter’s deified trump card Meryl snagged another meaty role (rare for women, as she repeatedly asserts). Julia Roberts flushed in excitement on announcing she’s working with Streep. The rest, from McGregor (Amazing to watch Streep at work) to Breslin (I was just so like excited, and like, scared, and like…), were keen to work with these two premier ladies. Tracy Letts’ play was chosen for its popular and honored reputation. John Wells was chosen so he could be bossed around by Streep’s demand for acting liberties and Weinstein’s demand for cuts. Shooting took place over a short time span of three-four weeks, and subsequent test screenings led to much editing and revisions. And as the awards reveal, almost every single nomination is for the acting category, either for Streep or Roberts or the ensemble. In a few months, unless Newt Gingrich turns out right (he tweeted ‘August: Osage County is a brilliant film… you will never forget it), most audiences will talk about the good stuff like Hustle and Wall Street and ‘that Meryl Streep’ performance.


You hop into a wonderful film from scene one and are ferried around on a perfect, bump-free ride. An hour and fifteen minutes are taken for August: Osage County to finally let you in. The big ball of past chokes the film till that point, and you’re confounded as to what to anticipate until a major plot development turns up (at least for me) after a big reveal. That’s sorted in the remaining run-time, that is to say, less than half the runtime. The preceding events lack spontaneity, those involving the death of Beverley Weston, the defeated patriarch of the long-dispersed Weston family, and the dysfunctional family’s dreaded reunion that culminates in an fiery, uproarious dinner table ‘truth telling’ sequence i.e. Pandora’s box in the sentient form of Violet Weston, the matriarch lashing out at any unwilling target, especially her 40-plus daughters Barbara, Ivy and  Karen for their “ungratefulness and neglect ”. You detect invisible stage directions scribbled at the top corners of the screen which are manipulating the story instead of an organic flow. And I’d like to preempt any accusations of ignorance from readers who believe I’ve not read the play by saying that I read it the day I learnt it was to be adapted to film.


Here’s my first criticism: ‘faithful adaptation’.

My Question To Playwright Tracy Letts For August Osage County Live Q&A With Cast and Crew

weinsteinsponsoredlivex600.png.600x287_q1003-Time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, the Grande Dame of Acting,  is about to land again in theaters across US this December (and at award ceremonies next year wearing frumpy, wedgie-gifting dresses. Meryl’s hunch seems absolutely right – the people who select her wardrobe and hairstyle – including her longtime hairstylist  J Roy Helland – do their best to destroy her ‘naturally good looks’ )  with her latest film August Osage County, adapted from stage to screen by its Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts himself,  already turning heads at film festivals and screenings. The moment it debuted at Toronto, reviews by renowned publications hit the internet emphasizing two or three common observations/contentions: a) that it was going to be an All-Meryl-Some-Julia-Little-Others Show (ironic as the play only credits the Native American character of Johnna as ‘others’; I guess the film is even more discriminatory than the play!)  b) that the altered ‘less depressing’ ending was a weak, ‘sell out’ move by Harvey Weinstein and c) that Meryl was a lead character and not supporting (another sly move by Weinstein to snag Meryl another Oscar; this decision was quickly changed after award screenings and Meryl’s now in competing for Best Lead Actress).

Its almost two months since the Toronto film festival and as August Osage County is drawing closer to its theatrical release, the cast and crew are quickly turning up to promote the films at interactive Q&A sessions, press conferences and even online. There is a fifteen minute B-roll  footage of the crew filming some of the expository scenes outside the Weston family’s ‘House of Pain’. There are press junkets in the form of videos where each actor gives an insight into the characters they portrayed. The film’s director John Wells, known mainly for his work on television, shares about his experience filming the intense dining table scene and his experience with the entire cast. All these videos can be found here.

8ba94bdf-36bf-4104-aed7-ee60fde5a8d4_august-osage-county-dinnerStreep may be the most honored actress of all time, but fellow cast member Chris Cooper, who’s worked with Streep before in the Oscar winning ‘Adaptation’, suggests ‘you have no idea just how talented she is… She’s the Master!’. Streep’s best known for improvisations during rehearsals, which is quite a feat considering the level of precision she achieves in defining her character both internally and externally. Cooper as well as the others were astonished by the ‘level of variety she brought take after take’; she’s ‘once playing a drugged version (of her character Violet), then a comical version, then another’, and her changes ‘rippled across the dining table’ and each actor ‘played his/her character slightly differently in each take’. This impressive observation was made by Dermot Mulroney, who gets to hear ungracious welcoming remarks like “Who are you?” and “That’s peculiar Karen to bring a date to your dad’s funeral’ (Mulroney’s character Steve is actually Violet’s youngest daughter Aug2ustOsageCounty-Stills-045Karen’s fiance) from Violet. English actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s praise was even more ecstatic: “Meryl was extraordinary. The hardest thing with her is to actually act. You just want to sit and watch her. You want to be in the audience”. I’m unsure, however, whether Meryl would find this remark complementary, as the actress once said that in retrospect, she found her performance in French Lieutenant Woman to be less satisfactory as she always felt her co-star Jeremy Irons was busy observing Meryl’s performance rather than focusing on the character. Some critics have accused her of ‘outshining the film itself even more with age’, and even I noted in one of my reviews that in some films, I found myself getting a twofer: a) the film itself and b) Meryl’s own film within the film. In case of great films, this becomes quite an experience to savor, but in case of mediocre ones, it feels like the film and Meryl are two distinct entities put together in a chaotic mess.

hqdefaultMeryl turned up along with Wells, Letts, producer Jean Doumanian and the cast including Cooper, Mulroney,  Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis (Roberts remained absent) for a live Q&A in New York on November 25. Twitter and Facebook users were given an opportunity to post their questions, a few of which would be chosen for the interview. I excitedly framed about five/six questions pertaining to the film (a lot many users asked silly questions like: Meryl, where are you coming to Italy? as if it has anything to do with the film). One of them, quite a simple one (and yet, its usually the simple ones that are picked for interviews to relax the interviewees), got selected; actually, the first part of the question got selected. This question was asked to Tracy Letts, and although the interviewer doesn’t reveal the user name, I’m pretty sure based on the wording that it’s my question.

The selected question: “In the process of adapting this play to cinema, did you find yourself looking at a particular character or scene (I used the word ‘situation’) in a new light? ” (The second part of the question wasn’t asked)

Mr Tracy Lett‘s Response: Well, they’re robots! (a peal of laughter from the audience; the robots thing is an extended joke from the interview) (the interviewer: We can’t wait to see your next movie!)… Dermot’s very good, yeah… in Magnificent Seven Robots (a cackle from Meryl)… um ah I.. I.. did I see any of them in a new light? No I did not, but I tell you what, I had an opportunity as a result of the ability of cinema not only to show the place in which it is set but the scene in which Barbara pursues Violet across the field.. uh allowed me to encapsulate in a.. in a.. few very short images and lines something thematic that I was trying to get at it at the heart of the piece, something about the.. the uh… even though you can see fifty miles to the horizon, there’s nowhere to go…a kind of claustrophobia that is felt in the Plains as it turns in a lot of other places as well. So I don’t know about an individual character I saw in a new light (Meryl nods looking towards him) but I certainly enjoyed uh… seeing them explore their boundaries, a little bit.

tumblr_mwvz3uRrCF1t23se4o1_500Towards the end of the 45 minute interactive question, an interesting question was asked to the entire cast: ‘What was your favorite line of Violet?’, which yielded funny answers such as ‘Why don’t you f-ck a f-cking sow’s ass?’ (Julianne Nicholson; this line is spoken by Violet to her husband Beverley when he introduces her to Johnna), ‘You look like a magician’s assistant’ (Margo Martindale; Violet’s remarks about her daughter Ivy’s appearance in a suit at her father’s funeral) ‘Hide-a-burrr…What?’ (Juliette Lewis; Violet is unable to pronounce Karen’s fiance’s German surname) and ‘It burns like ‘a’ bull-sh*t! ‘ (Margo again; spoken by Violet to Barbara while talking about her mouth-cancer). It was certainly a refreshing forty-five minute session with this cast, topped by Meryl’s infectious giggles and perky personality. Guess this girl just can’t help stealing the spotlight!

The entire interview can be found here.

Review of A Priairie Home Companion, Robert Altman’s Final Film Starring Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, John C Reilly, Lindsey Lohan

GRADE: B / 50%

Summary: A Prairie Home Companion stays only marginally memorable. The fate of its characters is supposed to be touching but it never touches you.

When something goes wrong on live radio, Prairie Home Companion, both the radio show performed in the film and the movie itself come alive. It’s like two men fishing placidly in the middle of a calm lake until one gets hold of a mighty rebellious fish and both men jump to instant action. One of the few and far between moments that jump Prairie Home Companion to activity include a duct-tape gag which Garrison Keillor, the voice of the popular variety show both in reality and in this film, and other performers improvise after Molly, the assistant stage manager, who’s usually the only one insisting on maintaining order and decorum, flubs the cue sheets. The three-to-four minute gag thoroughly entertains you as Garrison and the Johnson sisters (played by Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin) cook up wackiest uses for a duct-tape while the sound-effects guy (Tom Keith) gives complementary dog howls, helicopter noise etc until Molly (who’s played by SNL regular Maya Rudolph) finds the right sheet. It doesn’t just end there: Yolanda Johnson (Streep) also manages to convey her dejection towards Garrison’s failed romance with her during the gag.

The problem with Robert Altman’s ‘Prairie home Companion’ is that it stays only marginally memorable; everyone in the film is too comfortable and laid-back, listlessly chattering and bantering with each other  and the audience is expected to be all ears for these strangers’ plain talk. Until the duct-tape moment, you begin to grow impatient for there is nothing much to keep you really interested. We learn in the beginning that Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), the radio show’s security director who takes his work too seriously, is in search of a mysterious woman in white (Virginia Madsen) who’s been lurking in the theater. It’s the final day for the esteemed radio show and its regulars which include Johnson sisters and two singing cowboys (played by Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) perform for one last time before the theater is demolished to build a parking lot. The mysterious woman in white is revealed to be Asphodel, an angel who visits the show to comfort its people and escort one to afterlife. Another visitor includes a businessman called ‘The Axeman’ (played by Tommy Lee Jones) who’s the one responsible for pulling the plug on the show.

The fate of these people is touching but it never touches you, for these people turn out as nothing more than broad caricatures whose lives are hardly used or explored in the plot. Streep’s Yolanda is a chirpy, twittery, humble, good-natured and caring woman who can sing really well and Streep shows us such a woman during the film but there’s nothing else she can do. Her character has little more to do than to define how such a character talks, moves, acts and sings and watching Streep do so much for a role with minimal character development makes us a little exhausted with her Yolanda. Her sister Rhonda (Tomlin) is less girly and bubbly and while Tomlin doesn’t overdo her performance like Streep, she doesn’t stay memorable both onstage and backstage. Yolanda’s daughter Lola is played by perennially-suffering Lindsey Lohan, whose character likes penning depressing suicide poems but is very much delicate at heart and empathetic towards everybody. Lindsey isn’t distracting until the last scene where she tries (badly) playing a busy workaholic with plenty of things on her mind.

English: Mr. Garrison Keillor

The two cowboys played by Woody Harrelson and John Reilly are the humorously irreverent sidekicks who bring in the laughs with their risqué humor and bad jokes (rather jokes in poor taste), another high point in the film. But again these aren’t two cowboys we’ve been following through the years and so they’re like new-kids-on-the-block for us when they appear in the film. The lack of exposition in Prairie Home Companion makes every character and every situation seem superficial and wispy. Either the film is for fans only (yet many of the characters except Garrison and Guy Noir weren’t part of the radio show either) or the film lacks vitality. Was Asphodel the angel really needed in the film? Or did Altman see her as a greater symbol not just for the film but also for himself? One thing we know is that Altman got all the comfort from her soon after filming. Bad joke, huh?

The Complete Review of 2003 TV Movie ‘Angels In America’ The Golden Globe And Emmy Award Winning Mike Nichols Magnum Opus Starring Oscar Winners Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep

Angels in America (TV miniseries)

Angels in America (TV miniseries) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Grade: A


Summary: Angels In America Was Perhaps Written at a Time When Kushner Himself Was Discovering His Identity In The United States of America. His Play Is Both Worthy Of Acclaim and Wordy to Take It All In At Once. But The Pill Here Is Mike Nichols and an Extraordinary Cast, who Make The Film Well Worth Your Time


There is much multiplicity in Angels in America, all of which may be difficult to decipher in the worthiness and wordiness of Tony Kushner‘s Pulitzer winning script. There are political, theological and cultural allusions that are expressed in lengthy dialogues, sermons, monologues etc that you may find hard to allocate to the purpose of the play. What is simpler to understand is the questions about morality, musings about death, isolation and betrayal, problems of identity crisis and the universal feelings of love, compassion, empathy, responsibility, unity and impermanence. You constantly witness characters questioning their beliefs, breaking down, losing their sanity, finding a revelation and then living with hope that they find their true place and purpose in the ever-evolving life. And Kushner’s play is hardly didactic in tone, and neither does he express it in clean, profanity-free words: characters curse and abuse, resort to racial and profane epithets, vituperate the angels, ghosts and even God (of course, much of the exchanges are quite humorous) to obtain answers to complex existential issues that haunt humans, and that especially became important during the 80s when the AIDS broke out like plague in the US but had no form of treatment available to most patients.


Under Ronald Reagan’s presidency, a majorly Conservative rule prevailed  in United States of America in the 80s which many people recognise as the ‘Reagan era’. While I have little knowledge of those times, I can easily understand what those years must’ve been for homosexuals because we still find Conservatives to be the only guys who oppose any liberty given to them towards free and equal citizen status. Angels in America shows that AIDS then was given little attention because of the observation that most patients suffering from it were homosexuals or people indulging in sexual activities with others of same sex. The respite (not cure) from the disease was only given to people of important status while the rest ‘silently faded away’ as they ‘mattered little’ or they ‘brought it upon themselves’.


Prior Walter is an openly gay man who’s the first in the film to be inflicted by the disease. His Jewish gay partner Louis, who already has a track record of abnegating responsibility, slowly distances himself from his lover despite loving him dearly. Prior accuses Louis of not believing truly in what he preaches, and finds support in his best friend and ex-lover Belize and the hospital nurse. He also begins to experience seemingly realistic hallucinations where he encounters unknown people, ghosts and angels, who proclaim that he is a Prophet who can cure the world’s miseries if he wishes. Another man Joe, a Conservative Mormon lawyer begins discovering his second skin when he realizes that his coldness towards his wife stems from his repressed homosexuality, which he had always ignored as it went against his religious beliefs. His wife Harper, as a result of emotional isolation and fears, lives in comfort and friendship of imaginary friends who, akin Prior’s hallucinatory encounters, give answers to the questions that remain vague or unanswered in reality. Joe’s mother,aptly referred to as ‘Mother Pitt’ is an ordinary Mormon wife who, although is upset by her son’s revelation, finds that her womanhood innately shows the qualities of empathy and compassion to be more flexible towards changes around her.

Tony Kushner and Angels in America's 20th Anni...

The Brilliant Tony Kushner -First Angels In America, Now Lincoln (Photo credit:

Joe’s mentor is Roy Cohn, the famous Conservative Jewish lawyer who strongly shows anti-communist and racist attitudes and ignores moral and ethical issues in doing what he believes is right for US. The contemptible, churlish, unconscionable brute is another victim of AIDS, which he contracted through sexual relations with men; yet Roy does not believe he is a homosexual, terming the tag only for those ‘whom nobody knows and who know nobody’. His confrontation with his past sins materializes in the form of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, a Jewish woman whom Roy had convicted using undue power for espionage.


Distance, death, desertion and isolation are recurring themes in Angels in America. The opening monologue of the rabbi itself is an example of distance: we see Louis and Prior sitting together a few rows behind the other members of their family as the rabbi is sermonizing at Louis’ grandmother’s funeral about the brave woman’s voyage to America. The two gay men are separated from the rest for their homosexuality while the Rabbi expresses his conservative view on religion. There is a haunting image about death some scenes later when Louis broaches the subject of desertion to the rabbi: after the conversation, we see an extremely long shot/view of the almost unending graveyard, with numberless black gravestones. Mike Nichols, the TV movie‘s director makes his camera float into and away from the subjects, and poetically captures the magic realism of the story. The colors in the film also capture the character’s emotion or essence, and sometimes you may see the whole image going startlingly red or brilliantly blue or find a major color dominating the background, like a dull yellow background around Mother Pitt when she arrives home and gets a call about her daughter–law or shades of green on Mother Pitt and Prior during their conversation at the hospital. There is, in short, a lot we get to see, and I haven’t come to burning ghosts of Prior’s ancestors and his shared dream with Harper yet!


Despite the complexities and the multitudinous implications in the play, you are always connected to the humanness of the characters. Yes, you may not believe that some of the characters can speak the dialogues that Kushner has given them to say, as they sound too big and important to come from common minds, yet you cannot ignore how deeply he explores universal topics to tell us who our real angels on earth are how we humans can make the world a better place.

Al Pacino as Roy Cohn in Angels in America

Al Pacino as Roy Cohn in Angels in America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pacino is at his strongest and is the strongest of the cast here, making us feel a little sympathetic towards his character Roy’s horrible suffering while loathing almost every shameless ideology of the jerk. You’d think ‘What kind of enlightenment will this bastard gain from his suffering? Just die already!’, and indeed he’s just as repellent in hospital as he was outside and we never expect the man to change completely, but we see a sort of relation grow between him and people whom he usually wouldn’t even look at, people like Belize (a black homosexual, that’s two things to piss Roy off already). Do expect to hear plenty of racial slurs in their scenes together.


While Pacino has only one character to handle, Streep has three (if you include the Angel of Australia, four) characters to handle; one is the Rabbi, the second is Mother Pitt and the third is Ethel Rosenberg. Meryl’s rabbi has been given a complex characterization, and you are barely aware of ‘her’ presence in the rabbi and I’m saying this because when you know someone’s playing a particular character, you start hunting for the actor in the character and this never happens here. And her voice is perfect for a rabbi (plus,she’s part Jewish) who like priests, gurus and spiritual leader have a dulcet, persuasive tone that can make any person stop, listen and sometimes even fall for a belief that may be untrue or anachronistic. Her ‘Mother Pitt’ is the best of the characters, and her scenes with Prior (watch out the part when she tells that it isn’t good to make assumptions about somebody) are brilliant and touching. Meryl has her funny moments too in the scene with the homeless man as Mother Pitt and probably all her scenes with Roy as the ghost of Ethel. Emma Thompson is really smart here because she doesn’t give the archetypal version of an angel, and that gives her scenes the ambiguity that very-real looking dreams have: you never know whether it really happened or not!

English: Patrick Wilson at the film premiere o...

Patrick Wilson – Our Conflicted Joe(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apart from three acting Tysons, we see plenty of other talented and young (though one close up of Emma Thomson as the angel and you have a pretty pointy sandcastle in your pants… Seriously, how did she look so young and hot in the scene?) actors not just filling up but taking full control of their scenes (ironically playing out-of-control characters). Justin Kirk as Prior is sick as hell, he’s funny as hell, he’s funny as sick and quite a queen indeed! Ben Shenkman plays his partner Louis, and unlike stereotypical gay men who are shown to have an unending passion for fancy clothes and gossip, Shenkman’s Louis is more like Mitchell from Modern family; he wears average joe clothes, can’t tell the difference between purple and mauve (as his friend Belize points out), loves (and I mean ‘loves’) talking politics and bashing conservatives (common hatred among gays though) and yes, Louis’ peculiarity, loves abandoning people: first his grandmother whom he hadn’t seen in ten years, then Prior and then… We’ll keep that in the closet for now. Shenkman has to act like a jerk but not be a jerk and he succeeds at doing that. Patrick Wilson’s Joe has in some ways the most difficult role of playing a thoroughly conflicted Republican Mormon married attorney who is a repressed homosexual and he doesn’t really get the most charming resolution, and Patrick is really good. Both Mary Louise and especially Jeffrey Wright have acted well, the latter having to show different traits and shades (in his scenes with his pals and those with Roy) so as to remain engaging.

Angels in America runs for six hours, but I have no problem seeing it again. There are things I know I’ve missed, meanings still not fully understood, questions still running in my mind, characters whose brilliance I haven’t fully relished. It’s really a play written which seems to have be written when the playwright himself was exploring USA, and all his ideas explode into Angels in America. It’s well worth your time.

Review of Peter Jackson’s ‘Heavenly Creatures’ Starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lyndskey

Cover of "Heavenly Creatures"

Cover of Heavenly Creatures

Summary: Peter Jackson Presents in Cinematic Form A ‘Mental Music’ of The Minds of The Two Murderesses Which Allows Us to Experience The Killers’ Psyche First-Hand

Pauline Parker is a misguided adolescent. She is blinded by the belief that her best buddy Juliet Hulme‘s family is the ideal one where she belongs. Her foolish ignorance of the love, care and affection given by her own middle-class parents can be especially found when she does not consider the fact that it is her mother who always takes notice of her feeling and tries talking to her, like when Pauline is sad about Juliet contacting tuberculosis or when she is sitting in one corner away from the rest of her family. Pauline’s vivid imagination also innocently made Dr. Henry Hulme (Juliet’s dad) a hero, when in reality he was a major cause for the separation of the two girls. She may have a wider knowledge and a greater imagination than her mother, but she also was bafflingly stupid and ungrateful for believing her mother was the main enemy in the film.

The unfortunate incident of the mother’s murder would not have happened at all had Juliet not entered Pauline’s life and poisoned it with deluded thoughts about the Fourth World. If Pauline is misguided, Juliet is the main cause for leading her buddy astray. I really don’t know how to take the fact that this same Juliet is a best-selling author now, because the movie unflatteringly portrays her as a cankerous albeit intelligent mind who thinks ‘scars are romantic’. Pauline meanwhile leads a reclusive life at a school, ashamed of her dark and twisted past and seeking redemption possibly by nurturing school children to be unlike what she had been.

The sensational murder case of Honora Parker by her own daughter Pauline and her best friend (and lover probably) Juliet Hulme is brought to screen in a fascinating and unorthodox fashion by auteur director- scriptwriter Peter Jackson. Though not as talked about as cases like Black Dahlia or the Moors Murders, the 1954 murder case is still a very intriguing one for the plain reason that it was hard to fathom that two very intelligent girls could turn into cold-blooded murderers of one’s own mother. Also to be considered is the relationship between the two girls who are seemingly lesbians yet it cannot be entirely confirmed as they do not show much attraction towards other girls. The diaries written by Pauline refer to the girls’ communion with ‘saints’ in the Fourth world who are mostly made of actors like Orson Welles, and thus act as a major source material for the film and another reason for raising curiosity about the case.

Peter Jackson is not one to keep it straight; much like David Lynch he has his directorial mark etched all over the film. Heavenly Angels does not start with court proceedings, and neither does it show the arrest of the two girls. It lets us enter and experience the ‘mental music’ of the girls themselves rather than presenting its events informally through banal court sessions. Jackson’s transition from Braindead to Heavenly Children and following transition to Lord of the Rings is clearly visible in Heavenly Children, which seems to possess both the stylistic characteristics of the preceding and succeeding films. Not only do the characters give slightly mannered performances that recalls the over- the-top acting in Braindead (such as a scene in the first quarter where Pauline’s father holds a fish in his hands and pretends to sing while the record of Mario Lanza plays on), but certain characters also give us impressions of characters from Braindead (especially the timid boarders at Pauline’s home who are quite similar to Braindead’s male protagonist). On the other hand, Juliet dressed as a princess chasing Pauline, with white horses in the background may recall magical sequences from LOTR series; I may be wrong in saying this since I have not seen the Lord of the Ring series.

There are a number of brilliantly choreographed sequences, especially the montage showing Pauline’s and Juliet’s happy days together, lightened with Mario Lanza’s arresting music. Some involve lighthearted humor that nevertheless act as a presage for the girls’ worsening behavior, such as the hilarious scene at the hospital where Juliet is approached by a middle-aged man who rambles about Christ and placing faith in Christianity and is ultimately beheaded albeit in Juliet’s mind by one of the saints. The most unnerving part is reserved for the end where the characters the camera movements slow down and silence becomes more pronounced, with only a background score playing solemnly as we brace ourselves to watch that dreadful part.

Kate Winslet is consistently brilliant in each and every scene; apart from one scene involving the girls discussing about each others’ scars where she sounds too crazy, she successfully makes Juliet a highly mentally fragile female whose attachment to her fantasy life and Fourth World acts as a catalyst for the disruption of the lives of the two families. She also excellently plays the brutal murder scene, rightly giving the ‘should-we-really-do-this’ look to Juliet. But Melanie is the true star here, doing a great job performing the difficult role of Pauline. Not only do her expressions, her lack of eye contact and her defensive sitting posture accurately portray the role she is playing of a socially awkward teenager, but Lyndskey also gives her character Pauline a unique manner of smiling where her nose crinkles up as she smiles. And both actresses play their characters with damn seriousness even during the hallucination sequences, which is a tough job for such a young pair of ladies. Also, Sarah Peirse is terrific in her slightly straightforward role as the mother who is the only one taking an effort to understand what’s wrong with her daughter.

I unfortunately do not have the unrated version of the movie which is slightly longer but would have nevertheless remained useful because I’ve read it contains scenes involving Juliet’s mother’s affair with one of the patients. ‘Heavenly’ Recommended.

Review: ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ The Oscar Nominated Film By David Frankel (This Review Was Written About An Year Ago)

(May Contain Spoilers)

Cover of "The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]...

Cover of The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]

Summary: “A Million Girls would Kill for It” yet no one is hurt, bruised or well, killed

“A million girls would kill for this job” is iterated with awe by Emily Charlton, Christian Thompson, Nigel and Doug when referring to the position of Miranda Priestley’s assistant. It is indeed a prestige value to do work for Miranda, to answer her calls, to get her lunch, to deliver ‘The Book’ to her residence, to arrange for dresses, to … walk her dogs, to eh…. steal a copy of the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript so that her precious daughters get to know whether Harry survives or not, to …. do anything and everything SHE wishes, because YOU have become the ‘coveted’ assistant of Miranda Priestley, even though she may rechristen you to suit her memory. You also have to endure all her petty whims and her acidic tongue, otherwise you won’t get all those precious goodies like a Chanel (or whatever the brand name is) purse, lip gloss, eye roller etc. And what happens after the initial bullying, insults and browbeating? You are still treated like dirt. Still YOU are Miranda Priestley’s assistant – she can make or mostly break you.
The Devil Wears Prada had the potential of becoming a dark, twisted comedy drama or even a thriller had it utilized the ‘million girls would kill…’ line literally. Emily Charleston certainly seemed envious of Andy Sachs becoming the apple of Miranda’s beady eyes. She was so keen to go to Paris and meet those models, designers and writers – if only Sachs did not get appointed. She may have selected the previous assistants purposely so that they disappoint Miranda and get fired; EMILY would get to be her assistant alone, had Sachs not arrived.

Instead Devil Wears Prada chooses a safer, predictable approach of Sachs involvement in fashion and her subsequent understanding about herself and her true aims. Even this would’ve hit the mark had Miranda been a lot tamer or a lot more autocratic. When Sachs has diligently worked for Miranda, even at the cost of her close ones, and endured Miranda’s irrational behavior for so long, it seems insincere of her to suddenly empathize with her boss just because her boss has her own personal problems. To me, that moment was cinematic manipulation at its worst.

Miranda is a highly ambitious, career-oriented woman who does not run Runway but rather rules Runway. She is the female Caligula in the field of fashion, and her own employees scurry to their respective places whenever she arrives. She does not accept anything that is less than perfect, and then she does not even give some encouragement to her designers. How can Andy Sachs, who experiences Miranda’s abuse of power every day, have a change of heart after one fleeting moment of vulnerability from Miranda? She does not want Miranda to be replaced, saying that Runway is Miranda’s life and baby; well, if this is how Miranda treats her baby, then isn’t it better if there is a change of leadership?

Another factor that mars Miranda’s softer side is that this is a film and not a television series, unlike the hugely popular Ugly Betty, where the villainous Vanessa Williams cools down gradually as the show comes to a close. It would take more than a single scene to convince me that Miranda is really a suitable leader of Runway. Another alternative ending that would have suited the title was to have Andy resume her work with Miranda and becoming as dominating and hard-hearted as her (something similar to All about Eve).

The lightweight happy ending in Devil Wears Prada robs the edginess that it could’ve had. Also, Andy Sachs should’ve left her inconsiderate boyfriend and stayed with the writer, who to me actually had some chemistry with her. All this is compromised to make the movie (and the book) more suited for young love-story-and-happy-ending loving girls. And based on the gross sales of the movie and the book, it did work for the intended audience. I found the story to be (a favorite word used by some reviewers on IMDb) smarmy, lightweight and pandering.

Meryl Streep seemed more like a supporting ‘Miranda watches over us’ figure rather than the main actress. She speaks laconically, incisively and cuttingly in a cynical low tone that does make her appear like a monster, yes, but her character did not really require Streep to say, work her butt off, like in Sophie’s Choice or Out of Africa. Neither did her character have to undergo a sea of contradictory emotions that required great prowess. I am not speaking against Streep, she was Miranda, but she had a supporting influence on the main actress, Anne Hathaway. Crowing her with best actress nominations instead of supporting actress will only make DWP seem like another Meryl vehicle. Anne Hathaway makes this movie look more like her fairytale, where she meets all these people and discovers herself – shimmerier on the surface than within. Emily Blunt is given a terrible and reductive role; the writer could have done wonders with a character like her, instead she just played a sidekick. Stanley Tucci‘s subtle and restrained performance is also underutilized. In short, everyone, including many of the supporting parts, played their characters well, but their characters were written without much thought.

Putting Madonna’s numbers like Vogue and Jump were awkward – I only thought they would have it in the trailer and not in the middle of the film. Speaking about Madonna, there is a slick number of hers in Confessions on a Dance Floor called ‘Like it or not’ which is like a middle finger to her haters. ‘This is who I am, You can like it or not, You may love me or leave me, But I’m never going to stop, oh no!’ she sings. Had Andy continued her alliance with Miranda and left her former, bubbly self, Devil Wears Prada would have been a sinful delight.

Review of Meryl Streep And Tommy Jones Starrer ‘Hope Springs’ By David Frankel, also the director of The Devil Wears Prada

English: Meryl Streep on the 56th Internationa...

3 Time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep  Plays Kay In Hope Springs(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary: Hope Springs rewards you the time you’ve spent watching the therapy sessions between the couple with a near-brilliant third act spectacularly played by Streep and Jones

The Indian version of Big Brother reality show has a divorced couple under the same roof as two competing contestants. Although I rarely watch the show, I did manage to catch one episode where the couple fought a heated argument involving their past. The husband was extremely defensive and tried to overrule his wife’s allegations by shouting back whenever she tried to put across her point while the wife on the other hand was overly submissive, holding back her voice and nodding as if accepting that everything is her own fault. These two contestants are extremely similar in their personalities to Arnold and Kay, except they seem like they are in their forties…. and they are no longer together.

On the other hand, Kay and Arnold remain a couple for 31 years but seem to have lost the passion and spirit to keep their marriage alive, and therefore, on Kay’s insistence, seek the help of a counselor named Dr. Feld. During their week-long sessions, they are probed about their marriage and sexual fantasies and are instructed to do tasks that shall try to resolve the ‘deviated septum’/the lacunae in their marriage. This gamble has chances of putting their marriage at risk by exposing their weaknesses, but it also has gains that are worth the efforts – a glimmer of hope.

Hope Springs succeeds at bringing joy and hope in not just its protagonists’ lives but also in the audiences’ own satisfaction with the film with its near-brilliant last twenty five minutes that is so well acted by both Streep and Jones that you as the audience member feel completely compensated for the time you have spent listening to the long counseling sessions with the couple. It keeps its plot complexity to the bare minimum by focusing majorly on Kay and Arnold; even Dr. Feld is simply there as a stimulus to change the couple’s lives and so we know nothing much about him. Well, if you really think about it, would you being a patient really want to know about your counselor’s personal life when you are too concerned about yourself? This limited perspective was necessary for us to realize how important the therapy was for the two, especially Kay.

Kay is the faithful wife who is too old-fashioned/submissive to play the role of a seductress or a dominatrix. She is not able to give sex but is more comfortable receiving it, and so fails when she tries giving her husband pleasure in the theater on the recommendation of Dr. Feld (to whom Arnold mentions about having fantasies of banging Kay in public). Arnold finds it hard to assume charge, and neither does he allow his wife to try to fulfill his fantasies. Dr. Feld issues homework not based on predetermined theories but through permutations and combinations of whatever information the couple has given him, for example, Kay hates Arnold’s lack of effort and parsimony, so Dr. Feld instructs him to take his wife on a date at an expensive hotel. The main challenge is to confront the problem in the real world, once the couple has left the holiday spot. After much winnowing and polishing, we just have to see whether the before-after effect works or not.

As mentioned in the third paragraph, the last twenty five minutes of Hope Springs is worth the long (at least in terms of pace and tempo of the movie) wait. Meryl Streep evokes an emotional response in the realest sense from the audience and this isn’t the first time she has done this. Watching her performance is similar to reading Leo Tolstoy‘s War and Peace – both are exquisitely detailed and both make everything right at the crucial moment. In War and Peace, when Natasha has a change of heart and tries to escape with Anatole, you as the reader are completely into her state of mind – you literally experience what she is experiencing. In Hope Springs, the moment came right after Arnold opens his eyes while trying to penetrate Kay and stops sex midway and the camera shows a profile view of Arnold on top of Kay – Kay realizes what has happened and covers her mouth with her hand for a second and then sits on the floor. The way Meryl reacts as Kay had me crying, but I didn’t realize for a few moments that I was in tears and had a lump in my throat. Meryl makes you feel certain sensations that can be only felt when you watch something real –in Out of Africa, towards the end, when Meryl fell to her knees to beg I could actually feel my heart sink into my stomach.

Arnold is very obdurate in his thinking and personality and has his defenses ready in the form of nagging, arguing and browbeating. But with every argument against him gaining strength, his whole body sinks and the only easy solution for him is to leave or neglect the problem itself. This trait is visible in almost every man since men have big egos and a will to prove they are in the right. Tommy Lee Jones channels this down to a T, and substantially assists Meryl in well, driving her character to the point of a nervous breakdown. But Tommy also shows Arnold’s positive side – his sense of humor, his comforting smile and faithfulness. The performance has been overlooked by Golden Globes who have done him a favor by nominating him for ‘Best Actor in Supporting Role’, but it would’ve been a worthy contender had it been nominated.

Last words about the music: Let’s Stay Together complement’s Arnold’s tastes (most men in 50s love such music) but not ‘Why?’ and the one playing while Kay is shopping (non-diegetic music that should’ve been cut out).

Review of Mike Nichols’ 1983 film Silkwood, Starring 3-time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep

Cover of "Silkwood"

Cover of Silkwood

Summary: Silkwood Was A Martryr Who Died For A Greater Cause. The Film Is Less Bothered About The Cause Though, Highlighting More About Everything Karen Lost. There’s Little To Cheer.

Silkwood is one of those movies that you simply should not watch at midnight. Unfortunately, my cable television placed the movie at the 12:30 am slot and on top of it kept no intermissions, not even one during the movie. So I had to stay awake late at night and watch this in the living area, dimming the lights around me and lowering the T.V.’s audibility so that my family would not get disturbed by the warning alarm sounds heard often in the film. Without any intermissions, I was a little lost during the movie because keeping an intermission during films does indeed have a powerful impact if placed at the right point – it increases the audience’s anticipation and also gives them a break to take in all the details.

Silkwood kept chugging on and on in scenes with little dramatic weight (its documentary approach is quite like the lead actress Meryl Streep‘s other film A Cry in The Dark) or any significant narrative development to hold us in. I quite felt like the movie chose the wrong person to tell its story, and it could’ve been told better had Karen Silkwood been a supporting character in a film that rather emphasized on the investigation of Kerr-McGee plant and the lawsuit in the aftermath of Silkwood’s untimely demise. Unlike Erin Brockovich, Silkwood was not able to directly resolve the issue of health and safety of workers, and though she did play a major role in initiating the whole move, her accident martyrs her for a greater cause. The movie isn’t able to deliver her enough justice for her efforts and death, with its epilogue only mentioning that the ‘plant closed down a year later’ – too grim and defeated to inspire.

Karen Silkwood was a courageous small-town gal who took on the Oklahoma nuclear plant where she worked after finding out that it conducted unethical practices without considering workers’ safety. From being one of the bubbliest and most beloved persons among her colleagues and supervisors, Karen eventually lost almost everyone’s support after helping the union in digging out such malpractices happening at the workplace. Her private life too faced its share of difficulties on top of the mess she was already in even before the incident – apart from losing custody of her three kids, Silkwood’s relationship with her boyfriend Drew also suffered when he cautioned her of ‘going too far’ with the case. She didn’t just have to win her colleagues’ support but also prove to the union that she was a smart woman with a sharp mind.

In one of the film’s best acted scenes, Meryl as Karen is discussing recommendations and proposals for the nuclear plant with the senior union members. At first, her suggestions are trivial and her seniors condescendingly put down her ideas and hurriedly begin to leave. It is then that Karen leaves the room and catches them in the corridor where she whispers what she had witnessed at the plant. It is only then that the union takes her seriously. Streep’s excellence is evident during close-ups or mid-shots in this movie’s case (the film rarely has close- ups), but her screen charisma tends to disappear in her attempt to replicate human-like performances. And this becomes a problem whenever the camera goes away from her, especially here in Silkwood where the cinematography is quite conventional like those old films where the cameras moved less and the actors went back and forth. She’s managed to rectify this problem though especially in her recent ventures where her charisma makes for half the performance. Here we manage to catch less than half of whatever she is doing because of the distance the camera maintains.

It’s not just Streep but also actors Cher, Kurt and director Mike Nichols who act and direct respectively in a similar manner. Now I get it they wanted to depict a dull small-town in Oklahoma with as much truism as possible. Cher (playing Karen’s lesbian friend Dolly) wears the most unimposing crumpled and faded jerseys and pants while Russell (playing Karen’s boyfriend Drew) is equally untidy and moves around the house shirtless and in cheap blue jeans (though their performances are great). They do everything in their own lazy pace and Cher’s Dolly is found half the time either in bed or on the couch. On top of this Nichols makes it even more evident that nothing much happens in ‘small town Okie’ by placing his camera at a distance. Only a few times do we get shot/reverse shots between the actors and once or twice we see the camera do an effect other than cutting (a few dissolves and an expected fadeout after the crucial scene). Even the upbeat background music at the beginning slowly turns into bleak mournful tunes as the film progresses. It is only the sound of the warning alarm bells that occasionally appear to raise some momentum.

There is neither enough follow-up of Silkwood’s investigation itself, except for some extended scenes of Karen surreptitiously (hence very slowly) hunting for some ‘confidential information’. I could get up in between, bring some chocolates from the fridge in the kitchen and find myself watching her do the same action. The movie ‘Silkwood’ therefore becomes ‘ambitionless’ and although I do understand it has deliberately downplayed its ‘own cinematic ambition’ just to honor the woman’s life, the movie as a result also becomes ‘one of those inspirational films that come, snag some awards and are soon forgotten’. Or in this film’s case, used as a failed ‘boob-gag’ in Seth MacFarlane‘s unimpressive Oscar show.