“August: Osage County”– Family Secrets and Lies

 “August: Osage County”, the Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, has been released as an Academy-Award nominated movie starring the incomparable Meryl Streep and an affecting Julia Roberts, together with a stunning supporting cast.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTYThe story is a disquieting look at the dysfunctionality of an American family with secrets and lies that keep coming and coming, when the viewer least expects them.

“August” opens in Osage County, Oklahoma, with an alcoholic academic, Beverly (the superb Sam Shephard), who likes to quote TS Eliot, interviewing a young Native American woman as a caregiver for Violet, his drug-addicted wife, who has  cancer of the mouth.  The cancer is most likely symbolic of Violet’s combative nature and the demons who are devouring her from within.

On a blistering hot day in August, Beverly sets out on his small boat and mysteriously goes missing. Beverly’s three adult daughters return to their family home, along with their husbands or lovers and their children, together with Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister, and her husband Charlie with their son Little Charlie (a grown man.)  Secrets and lies surround Beverly’s disappearance, the major plot in “August: Osage County.”

The family’s dark past is painfully brought into the light, not only as it centers on the dying matriarch but also on the three daughters who have tried, and failed, to find loving relationships.  Mattie Fae is as complicated as Violet.  Revelations do not heal but simply damage further.  Each character chooses to hold on to their own lies rather than face reality and all its consequences. The viewer is the silent witness to the family wars.

As in other roles in which Streep inhabits an unsympathetic character (think:  “Kramer vs. Kramer,”  “The Devil Wears Prada,” and “The Iron Lady)” her understanding of each role makes you understand how each of these characters became damaged as well as draconian.  None of them are one-note stereotypes but layered, subtle, and original portrayals. Some critics disagree, but for me, I couldn’t take my eyes off of what I consider a shattering, unforgettable performance by Meryl Streep as a mother from hell. Please share whether you thought Streep overacted or got it just right.

“Her”—A Techno Romance

Her

“Her”, a wistful meditation on where we are and where we might be going in the not-too-distant future, is an inspired film by Spike Jonze who questions how technology will connect or disconnect us.

A lonely recently divorced man, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), develops an emotional connection  with his newly purchased operating system —OS Samantha (the dulcet, sexy voice of Scarlett Johansson).  While Twombly doesn’t understand why his ex-wife (Rooney Mara) fell out of love with him—she accuses him of being emotionally distant— OS Samantha seems to have been engineered to meet his every need.  Siri she is not.

Theodore Twombly who suggests “Your past is just a story you tell yourself”, tells himself a fantastical one about his computer. Set in a near-future Los Angeles, Twombly has developed a skill: writing eloquent imaginative letters for strangers — birthday wishes, love notes — but ill-equipped  to communicate with real people or even make eye contact (with the exception of one neighbor played by Amy Adams).  The strengths and failings of  relationships depend on the ability to talk about feelings and for Twombly the only safe environment appears to be with his computer.  He soon finds he is not alone in thinking that.  While she seems to fulfill his fantasy of a perfect relationship,  the more complicated she becomes, the more Twombly pulls away.  In this respect, the movie “Her” is like “Ruby Sparks”(see my review, November 11, 2013)—raising the question: If you could have your dream  of the perfect partner come true, would that bring you happiness?

One of the most provocative and original movies of 2013, “Her” plays with the future and the interface between humans and their machines as well as the problems and pitfalls of communicating feelings in any relationship. “Her” is part romantic comedy, part sci-fi with the brain teaser that falling in love in a cyber-relationship is not as far-fetched as it would have seemed even five years ago. Enjoy, laugh, and then think about how technology can both alleviate and increase a sense of loneliness!

“Year of the Horse” — A New Year Gallops On

2014-year-of-the-horse

The Chinese New Year doesn’t start until Jan. 31, 2014. but many people start thinking of the animal sign on the first of the New Year.  The spirit of the horse is recognized in the Chinese zodiac as energetic, elegant, warm-hearted, intelligent and able, but also capricious  with a  skittish and anxious nature as well.

The year of the Wooden Horse is supposed to be a temperamental one, so if you feel like horsing around during the upcoming festivities, that may be particularly fitting this year. Just be careful with the fireworks! Since 2014 is meant to be a tempestuous year, prepare for a thrill ride ahead. Green, blue and yellow are all supposed to be lucky colors to wear, and lucky foods include fish and caviar.

The Wood Horse year is a time of victory, unexpected adventure, and an excellent year for travel, and the more far away and off the beaten path the better. But you have to know when to act fast in a Horse year.  Energy is high and production is rewarded. Decisive action, not procrastination, brings victory.  However,  events move so quickly in a Horse year that you don’t want to gallop off in the wrong direction.

In Chinese astrology, a Horse year is considered a fortunate year.  Horses were believed to be magical, to fly (like Pegasus), but with the Chinese Bodhisattva Guan Yin as its rider.  Her white Horse flies through the heavens, bringing peace and blessings.chinese horse year by Cahooodesign

 

So, take a leap and fly. If it’s right, then don’t overthink it.  The Year of the  Wood Sheep (2015) will be one in which you can enjoy the comfort of the arts.  Therefore, make the best of 2014—a year for freedom, adventure, good times.    But impulse control not to overdo it or to overspend is the only boundary for the optimist who thinks everything  will work out.   Enjoy the Year of the Horse!