Native American actress Misty Upham wowed audiences and critics alike as a young mother thrust by financial despair into the dangerous world of illegal immigrant smuggling in "Frozen River" (2008). Th...
Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
I was really looking forward to August: Osage County. Really looking forward to it. The Pulitzer prize-winning, Tracy Letts-penned play was amazing on the stage, on the page – logic would dictate that it would be just as breathtaking on the big screen, especially with its all-star cast.
Performances that positively spewed hate were tempered by no sense of connection or love. In a family drama like this, love (no matter how masked or warped), is essential. Without this component, the film felt one-dimensional a good deal more of the time than it should have with its award-winning pedigree.
Even worse, the characters didn't even seem like they were inhabiting the same space; they didn't talk to each other; instead, they monologued their hearts out for the sake of the audience. Sounds oblique, but there was a certain sense of reality that was missing. Maybe everyone just had their shiny statuettes in their sights – it seemed like the focus was off.
Another key player that was almost completely non-existent? A sense of humor. Though the play is by no means light-hearted (with a suicide, infidelity, incest, cancer, pill-addictions, attempted statutory rape, and mother-daughter hate all-around, say hello to a little thing called black comedy), it was laugh-out-loud funny. The film? Not so much: in fact, it went so far in the other direction that it was pretty aggressively un-funny.
August: Osage County had "Oscar Bait" scrawled all over it in capital letters, and it's already garnering nominations like nobody's business, but does it deserve it? A few moments shine (the first scene in particular), but the film overall lacked the magic of the play.
Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
Forget the television commercials that try to reduce August: Osage County to either some madcap romp or some cheery family comedy. This film is dark. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, who adapted his script for this big screen version, the black humor of the play does not necessarily translate on screen. Instead, it feels like a bleak downward spiral of a family so full of bitterness and resentment, it’s on the verge of implosion.
As directed by John Wells, the film version of August: Osage County may not feel like a fun movie, but it’s a terrific study of a family on the brink. As he steers the drama to slow-burning heights, anger both repressed and unchecked coil around each other like two boa constrictors trying to consume the other. The lengthy conversations swell to epic confrontations that are a sight to behold.
The cast offer up sincere performances that take the story to another arena that’s more heartbreak than humorous. Violet (Meryl Streep) first appears on screen with short-cropped gray, scraggly hair, chain smoking while both cursing and sweet-talking her husband (Sam Shepard) in a drunken stupor as he attempts to hire service aide Johnna (Misty Upham). “Are you an injun?” Violet asks her.
Violet is an old time "casual racist." But she also has mouth cancer and a habit of abusing pain killers. She seems constantly on the edge of boiling over. She can’t seem to bear her proximity to the end while everyone else watches. Hell hath no fury like a narcissist on the edge of death.
Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
The target of much of her anger falls on, but is not limited to, her three daughters. She treats eldest Barbara (Julia Roberts) as a threatening equal (dad’s favorite), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) with passive-aggressive disdain and the youngest, Karen (Juliette Lewis), with mean, outright insignificance. It’s such a varied pallet of abuse that it would be decadent if it didn’t come off as so cruel. All actresses hold their own, feeding off Streep and the rich script, which offers up one skeleton after another in the family’s history of unresolved issues.
Streep’s work in August: Osage County could be among the best of her many great performances. She plays an unlikable, often cruel character, which is all the more reason to appreciate how she can turn the angry, abusive matriarch into a sympathetic woman. In the end, your heart will break for what she knows have been missteps in raising a family. Too egotistical a wretch to rise above her failures for a kind word, she seems to clash with her own zealous pride, which gradually unravels through the course of the film.
Wells, who comes to this film — his second feature — after directing several episodes for the Showtime dysfunctional family series Shameless, also seems inspired by the source material. He dresses up the mise-en-scene appropriately. The film’s washed out browns and yellows capture the rotting malaise of a family barreling toward disintegration. The music is moving in parts, if somewhat manipulative. This is an emotional roller-coaster of a film.
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Ultimately, as it’s based on a play, August: Osage County is about performances. Wells gives the actors plenty of room to tear into the material, even if it fails to rise to the play’s black comedy. But who cares if August: Osage County does not necessarily pull that off? It instead offers a rather twisted, morose family drama that features some of the year’s best acting turns.
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We thought all of the wow moments were over. We thought, "Django Unchained casting is going to start settling down now." Sure, there'd be a few additional players added to the list, but would we be really reveling over new actor announcements in regards to this movie anymore? Well, our cynicism be damned, because the latest individual to discuss joining Django might be the most gasp-inducing one yet: Sacha Baron Cohen.
Cohen is a fascinating figure in the Hollywood of today, and sort of a reversal of your standard "becoming a star" story. Cohen made a name for himself instantaneously with the creation of his own characters Ali G, Borat and Bruno, who gained popularity on his TV series Da Ali G Show, and then excelled in individual feature films, with Borat being the most culturally wowing. Ever since, Cohen has found his way into the films of some of the greatest directors around. He teamed up with Tim Burton in Sweeney Todd, with Martin Scorsese in the upcoming Hugo, and now, he's in serious talks to join the Quentin Tarantino team for Django Unchained.
The brilliant thing about Cohen is, while he has very much a style and character of his own, how willingly and capably he adapts to the style of the films, actors and directors with whom he is working. Whereas some famed comic actors try and add their own flavor to other people's films, Cohen seems more interesting in broadening his horizons and transforming very much into a product of his surroundings. And it is regularly to grand results.
So, three cheers for Cohen, Tarantino, and everyone else involved in Django: the film that just keeps getting better and better before we even see it.
Also starring in this masterfully cast film: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kurt Russell, Anthony LaPaglia, Don Johnson, Gerald McRaney, RZA, Misty Upham and like, forty-five other people (all AWESOME).
Rapper-actor RZA has been cast of Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, Variety reports. The former Wu-Tang Clan member will be playing a "violent slave" named Thaddeus in the Inglourious Basterds director's spaghetti Western, joining an ensemble that already includes the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kurt Russell, Jamie Foxx, and more. RZA previously worked with Tarantino on Kill Bill, providing the score for both chapters of the kung-fu flick.
Variety adds that Misty Upham has also joined the Django cast, playing the proprietor of a trading-post bar.
Click below for more images of Leonardo DiCaprio:
The Independent Spirit Awards kicked off the night with prizes going out to James Franco and Penelope Cruz for their supporting roles in Milk and Vicky Cristina Barcelona respectively.
Click Here: Watch Spirit Awards Live & Uncut
The night ended with The Wrestler and Mickey Rourke taking took top honors for best film and lead actor. Melissa Leo, who some may have seen as the under dog, rounded out the night winning best female lead for her performance in Frozen River.
The complete list of nominations & winners:
Rachel Getting Married
Wendy and Lucy
The Wrestler -- WINNER!
Ramin Bahrani, Chop Shop
Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married
Lance Hammer, Ballast
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River
Thomas McCarthy, The Visitor -- WINNER!
Best First Feature
Medicine for Melancholy
Sangre de Mi Sangre
Synecdoche, New York -- WINNER!
John Cassavetes Award
In Search of a Midnight Kiss -- WINNER!
Prince of Broadway
Turn the River
Best First Screenplay
Dustin Lance Black, Milk -- WINNER!
Lance Hammer, Ballast
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River
Jonathan Levine, The Wackness
Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married
Woody Allen, Vicky Christina Barcelona -- WINNER!
Anna Fleck and Ryan Boden, Sugar
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York
Howard A. Rodman, Savage Grace
Christopher Zalla, Sangre de Mi Sangre
Best Female Lead
Summer Bishil, Towelhead
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Melissa Leo, Frozen River -- WINNER!
Tarra Riggs, Ballast
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy
Best Male Lead
Javier Bardem, Vicky Christina Barcelona
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Sean Penn, Milk
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler -- WINNER!
Best Supporting Female
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona -- WINNER!
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
Rosie Perez, The Take
Misty Upham, Frozen River
Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married
Best Supporting Male
James Franco, Milk -- WINNER!
Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
Charlie McDermott, Frozen River
JimMyron Ross, Ballast
Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor
Maryse Alberti, The Wrestler -- WINNER!
Lol Crowley, Ballast
James Laxton, Medicine for Melancholy
Harris Savides, Milk
Michael Simmonds, Chop Shop
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
Encounters at the End of the World
Man on Wire -- WINNER!
The Order of Myths
Up the Yangtze
Best Foreign Film
The Class (France) -- WINNER!
Secret of the Grain (France)
Silent Light (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany)
Robert Altman Award: (Given to one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast)
Synecdoche, New York
Director: Charlie Kaufman Casting Director: Jeanne McCarthy
Ensemble Cast: Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams
Someone to Watch Award
Barry Jenkins, Medicine for Melancholy
Nina Paley, Sita Sings the Blues
Lynn Shelton, My Effortless Brilliance -- WINNER!
Truer Than Fiction Award
Margaret Brown, The Order of Myths -- The WINNER!
Sacha Gervasi, Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Darius Marder, Loot
Lars Knudsen and Joy Van Hoy, Tireless Mountain and I'll Come Running
Jason Orans, Goodbye Solo and Year of the Fish
Heather Rae, Frozen River and Ibid -- WINNER!
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Set against the world of illegal immigrants regularly smuggled across the frozen river bordering a Mohawk Indian reservation between Canada and the United States Frozen River focuses on the pre-Christmas plight of a New York trailer mom. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) finds the only way to survive financially is to get involved in the dangerous world of border smuggling after her no-good husband takes off with their savings and she is left with no means to bring up the kids T. J. (Charlie McDermott) and Ricky (James Reilly). Teaming up with a younger Mohawk Indian Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) the two start making numerous trips across frozen St. Lawrence River hiding illegal Chinese and Pakistani immigrants in Ray’s car trunk. Racial tension builds between the two but the alliance goes forward as Lila is determined to make enough money to get back the baby boy she feels her mother-in-law stole from her--that is until a final fateful run affects the lives of everyone involved. A longtime character actress best know for her role as Detective Kay Howard on Homicide: Life on the Streets Melissa Leo finally gets a leading film role worthy of her talents as she immerses herself in a startling portrait of a single mom whose sense of desperation leads her into illegal activity. Right from the film’s first shot as the camera pans Leo’s haggard cigarette-smoking Ray Eddy we feel we know this woman--that we’ve passed her by many times on the street and just kept walking. What easily could have been the usual stereotype of so-called “trailer trash” is turned by the gifted Leo into a three-dimensional portrait of a mother just trying to hang on. Upham also eschews stereotypical casting with her determined interpretation of the reluctant smuggler who places her goal of getting her baby back against any antipathy toward her partner or the dangers of her quick fix money-making enterprise. Considering she was brought up in Seattle and is not Mohawk herself Upham’s work here is uncommonly authentic. The rest of the cast including Michael O'Keefe as a State Trooper and Dylan Carusona as the Mohawk dealer have relatively little to do but McDermottt stands out as the 15 year-old son who must learn to be a man quickly. Frozen River is a remarkably assured feature film debut for writer/director Courtney Hunt who has worked many years to bring her vision to the screen. Her self-confidence behind a camera comes through in every frame and the film actually ends up playing more like a suspense thriller with heightened tension played out in every run these women make across the perilous river. Shooting many scenes in the cramped confines of Ray’s Dodge Spirit in sub-zero location temperatures Hunt’s clever non-static camera movements and command of the story constantly keeps us engrossed in the plight of these two very disparate women. Perhaps the fact she first made Frozen River as a short with the same two leads made it easier to slip in control of a full-length feature version. Whatever the reason this is a writing/directing talent to watch--and Frozen River is a movie not to be missed.
Featured in the adaptation of Tony Hillerman’s mystery novel "Skinwalkers"
Nominated for the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female ("Frozen River")
First portrayed Lila in Courtney Hunt’s short film, "Frozen River"
Reprised the role of Lila, a young Mohawk mother in Courtney Hunt’s feature-length version of "Frozen River"
Appeared in the ABC TV movie, "DreamKeeper"
Performed with the Native American theater group, Red Eagle Soaring
Cast as a member of a Native American high school basketball team in the Showtime movie, "Edge of America"
First spotted while performing at the Nippon Kan Theater in Seattle
Made her feature debut in Chris Eyre’s Native American drama, "Skins"
Native American actress Misty Upham wowed audiences and critics alike as a young mother thrust by financial despair into the dangerous world of illegal immigrant smuggling in "Frozen River" (2008). The tense independent drama was the high point of her relatively brief career, which up until that point was largely comprised of supporting roles in Native American-themed television movies like "Skinwalkers" (PBS, 2002) and the occasional independent feature by director Chris Eyre. But her nuanced performance in "Frozen River" helped to thrust her into the spotlight and paved the way for what appeared to be a promising career in features.<p>Born Misty Anne Upham in Kalispell, MT on Feb. 8, 1982, she was one of five children born to her father, a music teacher, and mother, who were both of Blackfoot heritage. When Upham was eight, she moved with her family to Seattle, WA, where she attended school in a number of different communities. Acting became the one consistent element in her childhood - she began her training with the Native American theater group, Red Eagle Soaring, as well as the Young Shakespeare Workshop and Freehold Theater. By the time Upham was 14, she was performing and writing plays and skits in local theater, as well as touring the Northwest with various groups.<p>Shortly after graduating high school, she landed her first break while performing at the Nippon Kan Theater in Seattle. A member of the audience videotaped the show, which Upham had also written and directed, and sent it to a casting agent in Los Angeles. She soon received a request for a portfolio; within a month's time, she was signed to an agency and making her screen debut as a domestic abuse victim in Chris Eyre's Native American drama, "Skins" (2002). Television provided her next few roles; she was featured in such Native American-themed projects as Eyre's adaptation of Tony Hillerman's mystery novel "Skinwalkers" and "Edge of America" (Showtime, 2003), which cast her as a member of a Native American high school basketball team whose new coach (James McDaniel) is African-American. Upham also appeared in the Emmy-winning ABC TV movie, "DreamKeeper" (2003).<p>In 2004, Upham and actress Melissa Leo appeared in a short film by director Courtney Hunt that would eventually provide the inspiration for "Frozen River." The path from this short to completed feature took three years, during which she appeared in the Seattle-lensed comedy "Expiration Date" (2006) and penned several articles for the Native American magazine, <i>Native Vue</i>. In 2007, Hunt raised the funds to launch the project which required Upham to add 40 pounds to her frame and cut off her long signature locks to play Lila, a young Mohawk mother whose desperate need to feed her family forces her to join with Leo in smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into the United States. The picture received near-universal praise from critics and festival juries, including the Sundance Film Festival, which awarded it the Grand Jury prize. Upham herself was singled out for much of the kudos, and found herself among the 2009 nominees for Best Supporting Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Penned several articles for the Native American magazine, Native Vue