Monthly Archives: December 2015

August: Osage County by John Wells

Let me start by quoting Cam from Modern Family, who astutely observed the following: “Excuse me, Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.” And I agree.

I watched this during a movie night with my mom. She was working on her art, and I was knitting, and we made the mistake of watching it after Terms of Endearment, which is perfection and nothing else can be said about it.

image from amazon.com

Netflix then suggested we watch August: Osage County directed by John Wells. This film has good acting all over the place. Each member of the stunning ensemble cast absolutely shines–as you would expect. Except there are so many other problems with the film that I started to marvel that the actors could pull off these impossible scenes.

So, first: melodrama. This film is melodrama. Midway through the film, Meryl Streep is running wildly through a hay field, chased by her reticent daughter (Julia Roberts), and the audience is just sort of embarrassed, and tired, and no longer buying in (even though we wanted to! even though we love Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts!). The scene where they’re running through the field and the very long, après funeral dinner scene are so over the top that there’s no recovering. The melodrama might go over better on stage.

That said, the film does deal with compelling emotional content and succeeds at pairing emotional content to characters, but struggles with putting those emotions to plot and story. The film deals with powerful stuff: struggles with addiction, unhealthy boundaries, and loving and withholding. With more subtlety, this film could have been spectacular.

 

Trumbo by Jay Roach

At this point I’ll watch Bryan Cranston do anything, which is why I went when I had a chance to see him in Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach. Diane Lane is always exquisite, and Louis CK’s in it too!

image from imdb.com

This film felt long. It’s about two hours and fifteen minutes. It took me awhile to warm up to the characters. I’m a big Louis CK fan, but it took me awhile to buy him in a dramatic role. (He gets there, don’t worry.) Though the whole film felt somewhat rigid at first, it does warm up and pick up so that it is not dragging at the end. While I left the film feeling satisfied, I still think it could’ve been edited more aggressively.

Politically, the “red scare,” and McCarthyism is a fascinating and disturbing (and ongoing?) part of US history. It doesn’t take much to engage me on the topic. Yet, I had a hard time getting into this film. That said, it is worth watching. Because it picks up. Because it’s beautiful. Because it rises to something interesting and important.

Now, let me break it down. First, the smoke. These people are smoking constantly, and the cinematographer is having some fun with it. There are these glorious shots of white smoke swirly slowly and intricately around people’s faces. There’s a smoke shot toward the end that is absolutely over the top. Thick white smoke swirls through each grain of thick, gray mustache hair, and it’s both repulsive and lovely and artful.

And on that note, I’ll also talk about Bryan Cranston’s physicality—something I think he’s understood for his entire acting career. (I first noticed it in his Malcolm in the Middle days). He, more than anyone, knows the power of an ordinary middle-aged man wearing tighty whiteys, and he’s not afraid to use it.

Finally, the design. This was L.A. in the 1940s and 1950s. Every couch, every glass of water, and every earring is on point. I was busy watching the design elements while I waited for characters to develop and the plot to pick up, and that was more than enough to keep me satisfied.

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

I subscribe to Vogue, and I do so for the fabric and the writing. I’ve read a few great books based on their recommendations. Unfortunately, Single, Carefree, Mellow is not one of their great recommendations, and it serves as a reminder that, while Vogue has some great writers on their staff, the book mentions in Vogue probably have less to do with their keen eye, and more to do with commercial demands.

image from amazon.com

I sympathize though because Single, Carefree, Mellow is probably what would happened if I set out to write a popular, commercial, plot-driven novel about single women. In fact, I’m sure it’s much better than anything I could muster. Still, it’s bad.

First, the writing: much of the description does nothing to move the plot forward or deepen meaning or character. It seems to only serve the purpose of “my writing teacher said good writing has lots of description so I’ll add some here.”

Next, the themes: these characters are weirdly detached and casual about cheating, destroying marriages, and are either morally corrupt *in uninteresting ways* or disconnected from their real wants and desires *in uninteresting ways*.

To be fair, lately I have been really sensitive to moral corruption. The last few years have been so tumultuous for me that I have craved security, stability, and people who are who they say they are–people who are straightforward about their motives. As a result, my tolerance for books and shows that delve into vapid characters, driven by quick and easy gratification, is at it’s lowest.

The Orgy by Muriel Rukeyser

It took me months to finish The Orgy: An Irish Journey of Passion and Transformation by Muriel Rukeyser, and I have to start by saying this: for a book with “orgy” in the title, there is actually very little sex. If you read the book, you’ll think that was funny because this is not a sexy book. This is capital “L” Literature. You know–a thinking piece.

image from books.google.com

A well-respected friend recommended it to me, and I tried and tried, and it never really took off, and that’s because it’s not a book that “takes off.” It’s poetry. I mean, it’s prose, but it’s basically poetry in terms of accessibility, sound, rhythm, and so forth. (Rukeyser explains here.)

For several months, both The Orgy and Thich Nhất Hanh’s How to Love* lie prone in my living room . I’d forget about them, and visitors would come over and raise their eyebrows at the display. Now I find it amusing, but at the time, I remember feeling embarrassed. The titles convey two really different messages. And, in hindsight, not entirely unrelated to my summer. (There were no orgies! Sheesh!)

As for Rukeyser, the book was meaningful in the sentences, but not so much the big picture. The book is about the author’s (semi-autobiographical) journey to the Puck Fair for one of the last pagan festivals of it’s kind. That kind of premise holds so much intrigue for me. I was hopeful for deep description and weird plot points and characters. But nope. It’s not really that kind of book.

Instead, we are gifted with subtle sentence level gems and an overall sense, but nothing concrete, as is the way of good capital “L” Literature, and that’s fine. It’s fine. IT’S JUST THAT I THINK WE WERE ALL EXPECTING A BIT MORE IN THE ORGY DEPARTMENT.

Here are a few lines for continued consideration:

On walking through shit: “I thought, joy and release is it! and put my foot down slowly, gained an inch, and slipped” (69).

“[T]he book compared peace with monogamy” (91).

On the infant cry: “It is the most profound and powerful force in nature” (102).

“Though they may kill, killing is not their aim…” (103).

“verbal arabesques” (114).

“Nicholas began to relax; it was as if he remembered his whole life, and unwound” (115).

I’ll just end by saying that it really gives there toward the end. Stay with it, if only for the poem entitled “The Balls of the Goat.”

*Thich Nhất Hanh’s critically acclaimed, and I really liked his Be Free Where You Are, and wrote about it here, but he’s phoning it in on How to Love, so there will be no blog post on that one.