Friday, April 24, 2009

"Grey Gardens"

With the current state of the economy, losing one’s wealth is a relatable topic. People are now becoming increasingly familiar with living one day as the cream of the crop and living the next without access to riches. When the story of the Bouvier-Beales was first presented in the 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens,” the public became fascinated by the story of a mother and daughter related to Jackie Kennedy who were discovered to be living in squalor in the East Hamptons. Despite living in the lap of luxury throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the duo (Big and Little Edie) ultimately became a cautionary tale of money management and codependency. When a documentary crew interviewed them for a film about the Bouviers, the two were discovered in utter filth, without electricity or running water with diseased cats and raccoons roaming throughout the house. Through actual footage, the unhealthy relationship between the mother and daughter was revealed.

HBO’s interpretation of the documentary premiered last Saturday, showcasing incredible storytelling and mesmerizing performances by the two lead actresses. Jessica Lange impressively portrays Big Edie as a gregarious broad, eager to sing at local Hamptons parties and determined to marry her daughter off to a suitable beau. Lange has graciously endured hours of makeup to appear as Big Edie later in life—she genuinely looks like a woman in her 80s, down to the ragged teeth and saggy arms. Lange gives a tour-de-force performance as a woman who refuses to be a wallflower, and is so set on living life to the fullest that she barely notices when her own life has become unmanageable.

While two-time Oscar winner Lange is impressive, it is Drew Barrymore, as Little Edie, who truly steals the movie. There were industry concerns over the casting of Barrymore. She has previously been in romantic comedies, starring and producing movies like “Never Been Kissed” and “Fever Pitch.” However, the actress dove into the role and completely became the character for this project. She plays Little Edie with reverence and sympathy, displaying her highs and lows with equal respect. Barrymore even successfully conquered the accent, while forgetting her usual side-mouthed speech patterns (the actress has admitted that she took over a year of classes with a diction coach to sound like Little Edie.)

Although only in a few scenes, Jeanne Tripplehorn is amazingly subtle as Jackie Kennedy Onassis (she is already married to Ari in the scene in which she appears in.) Tripplehorn has been doing a remarkable job as Barb Henrickson on HBO’s other show “Big Love,” and she adds a quiet glamour to the other more boisterous characters in this movie.

The film is excellently written and directed by Michal Sucsy, and the dialogue contains enough saucy quips and witticisms from the two Edies to make up for the otherwise sobering account of the women. But the costuming in the film is by far the most impressive part of the production. Catherine Marie Thomas has blended together a slew of glamorous gowns from the 30s and the eccentric turbans and capes that Little Edie grows to love later in her life.

This movie is airing repeatedly over the next month on HBO—be sure to catch it for a glimpse into the lives of these captivating women.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pacific Asia Museum

In the Hindi religion, many different gods are celebrated and revered. The Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena houses some of the most inspiring artworks and eclectic exhibits in the Los Angeles vicinity, which honor this tradition along with other Asian customs. The museum is located at 46 North Los Robles Avenue, and a trip to check out the art can easily be squeezed in between shopping on Colorado Boulevard and dinner at El Paseo. Additionally, the museum is fairly inexpensive—tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for students and seniors, with free admission on the fourth Friday of every month. There are also many events offered by the museum, including lectures, yoga classes, and free family concerts.

Currently, “Discovering Ganesha: Remover of Obstacles,” will run until Sept. 20. Although the collection is very small (it fits into one small room,) there are amazing photographs depicting the Ganesha festivals in Mumbai, India. The room that houses the collection is brightly painted to go along with the colorful photographs, and there is a 30 minute movie displayed that discusses the different rituals surrounding the Ganesha festivals.
The Ganesha is an elephant figure that is a much-revered god in the Hindu religion. Annually (usually around August or September,) there is a 10-day festival honoring Ganesha called Ganesh Chaturthi. Homes in India are decorated with bright flowers, and the festival culminates in a trip to the sea where representations of the Ganesha (usually made of clay) are submerged in the water. This act is symbolic in the hopes that Ganesha will visit the following year, bringing good luck again.

Shanna Dressler captured some of the most impressive art featured in the exhibit. She was inspired by the Indian people’s dedication to Ganesha, and the faith placed in his ability to make lives better. Dressler writes in her artist statement, “Regardless of religious or cultural background, universal questions will present themselves: ‘What obstacles would you like removed from your life? What would your life look like if you removed all of the everyday obstacles related to money, relationships, career, and health? What would it be like if everyone in your community was connected to something beyond the material world that gave deep meaning and purpose to their lives?’” Most of Dressler’s prints are untitled pieces, but they all embrace the color of the festival and demonstrate the devotion and hope displayed by the people celebrating.

Another interesting exhibit is “The Samurai Re-Imagined: From Ukiyo-e to Anime” in one of the main galleries. The exhibit, which will run until Aug. 9, shows how the definition and depiction of samurais has changed and evolved over centuries. To demonstrate how the samurai has been incorporated into American culture, there are posters of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies, in which samurai violence is glorified and celebrated. The art of anime is represented by various animation cells and comic books that are extremely popular in Japan.

For more information on the museum, visit

Friday, April 3, 2009

"Frozen River"

In the film, “Frozen River,” the audience is treated to a tour-de-force performance by Academy Award-nominated actress Melissa Leo. She plays a down on her luck minimum wage worker, Ray Eddy, who struggles to cope with paying the bills. The woman will do anything to keep her two young sons from knowing how bad off they truly are. The only food in their ill equipped trailer consists of Tang and popcorn, and their dream is the hope of obtaining a doublewide—however, Ray just can’t seem to make the payments.

The opening scene of the movie shows Ray sitting outside in a disheveled robe, smoking a cigarette. Set in upstate New York, there is snow covering the lawn, and her breath comes out in puffs. Tears stream down her cheeks, and the audience learns that Ray’s husband has run off and her job at the local dollar store is hardly helping to make ends meet. The audience can fully appreciate why Ray makes tough choices throughout the film—she will do anything to keep her children safe and cared for.

While pursuing her wayward husband, who has a gambling problem, Ray crosses paths with a woman who lives on the Mohawk reservation, between New York state and Quebec. The woman, Lila Littlewolf, works as a smuggler, driving illegal immigrants across the border. Because of the money (more than Ray makes in months,) they form an unlikely crime duo. Although visually, the two women couldn’t be more different, their goals are the same—to provide for their families.

Leo’s acting in the film is superb. Her emotions are raw, and the director, Courtney Hunt, makes a wise choice to center many scenes on Leo’s expressive face. Leo’s acting is incomparable to most actresses of today (with possibly the exception of Kate Winslet who beat Leo for the Best Actress award at this year’s Oscars.) Despite Leo’s impressive acting, Misty Upham, as Lila, more than holds her own. As a woman desperately trying to pull her life together, Lila is a sympathetic character that the audience instinctively finds themselves rooting for.

The scenery is hauntingly beautiful in “Frozen River.” White snow covers everything, and the filmmaker often includes scenes of eerie quiet. The silence plays nicely with the building tension present in the movie. The two women face increasingly dangerous situations when they get more involved in the smuggling world. The audience feels as though something bad is going to happen, and the foreshadowing continues throughout much of the film. Although the movie runs about 97 minutes (relatively short by most filmmaking standards,) the audience experiences a festering feeling that the movie won’t end well for the main characters. The movie ends realistically, which helps to explain why it is so well crafted.

Hunt, who was also the screenwriter, should be commended for her incredibly moving script—she was also nominated for an Oscar for this project. Even though the movie is a tale of two downtrodden women, there is an evident feeling of triumph throughout the movie. Lila and Ray are portrayed as strong female characters who do what is necessary to protect their families. The sense of reality brought to the film by the two actresses allows for an impressive demonstration of the lengths people will go to in order to overcome adversity.