Mothers and daughters; Fathers and sons

Whip it, whip it good!

Bliss Cavendar lives in small town Bodeen, Texas, where all she has to look forward to are beauty pageants her mother insists she partake in, working at the town diner The Oink Joint, where the biggest thrill is whoever eats a Squealer, a very large sandwich, in 3 minutes gets it for free and getting out of high school alive.
In Drew Barrymore’s impressive directorial debut, “Whip It,” Oscar nominated Ellen Page plays Bliss Cavendar, a 17-year-old who doesn’t seem to fit in to the Blue Bonnet Beauty Pageants her mother forces her to be in; she has no boyfriend and is a class misfit.
But one day her mother decides to treat her to a day of shopping in Austin. While she is there buying a pair of shoes a group of female roller derby skaters come in and drop of flyers for their next match and that’s all it take. Bliss finds her calling, or so she thinks she does. From convincing her best friend, Pash, played by Alia Shawkat, to drive her to her first match, to taking a Bingo bus filled with blue hairs to her tryout and eventual practices, Bliss is hooked.
Bliss finds her strength among the tattooed, tough talking women who make up the roller derby league. She learns to fight back, she gets a spine, and turns out to be a really good skater.
She does all of this behind her parents’ backs, played by Oscar Winner Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern. She juggles school, work, and trips to Austin for team practice and the team ends up better for it. She becomes team star Babe Ruthless on the rink much to the dismay of rival roller Iron Maven, played by Juliette Lewis, who looks strangely enough like Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.
All goes along smoothly until Bliss realizes that the one big pageant her mother is expecting her to do falls on the same day as the championship her team, the Hurl Scouts, are competing in. This realization starts a downward spiral that, as hard as Bliss tries, she can’t hold together until it spins out of control, and she is pretty much left with nothing.
Ellen Page, fresh from her amazing turn in Juno last year, is fantastic as the class misfit who turns in her pageant pumps for roller derby skates. The actress seems to be on a roll (no pun intended). There is something incredibly real and heartbreaking in her performance that most actors take a lifetime to achieve. Tom Cruise still hasn’t figured it out. But 22-year-old Page seems to have it down pat.
Marcia Gay Harden, Oscar winner for her performance in Ed Harris’ Pollock, is at once reserved and put together as Bliss’ pageant loving mother, then appropriately dowdy and working class when she resumes her day job as a mail carrier. She handles both of these very different sides of herself with ease and never gets cartoony.
The supporting cast is strong and very enjoyable, from Jimmy Fallon’s derby announcer to Juliette Lewis’ turn as aforementioned Iron Maven. Life seems to have taken a toll on the actress, but her Maven hip checks and clotheslines in the rink, and off, as if she has been skating her whole life.
However it’s Kristin Wiig, of Saturday Night Live, who stretches her acting chops being a tough derby chick and a caring mother as well.
Barrymore has been in the movie business long enough that she should be directing by now, and has a nice style and keeps the film well paced.
Whip It may be seen as a “chick flick”, but it is also a sports film and a coming of age dramedy that is sure to please both men and women. See it on the big screen. The derby footage, Page and shots of Austin are worth the price alone.
8 out of 10 stars

‘The Boys are Back’ and are going to be just fine

Sportswriter Simon Carr wrote “The Boys are Back in Town,” a memoir about a father’s journey through death, parenting and ultimately self-discovery and is now the film “The Boys Are Back” starring Clive Owen.
Owen plays Australian sportswriter Joe Warr, who spends very little time at home with his second wife, Laura and son, Artie and who spends even less time with his eldest son, Harry, from his first marriage, who lives in England.
He travels and works and comes home to find dinner parties, birthdays and, well, life, all taken care of by Laura. She tends to Artie and keeps the house in order. Fresh cut flowers adorn every room, and the house looks something like a magazine spread.
All of that comes to a crashing halt when Laura dies unexpectedly, leaving him with the house, his son, her parents, and his grief, which comes and goes and lashes out when he least expects it.
He is faced with taking care of everything, and most importantly, taking care his young son Artie who he has only been seeing on weekends. His mother-in-law, Barbara, played by Julia Blake, is certain that she should take care of Artie because she feels there is no way Joe will be able to deal with his own pain, his work and his young sons loss. Blake’s Barbara is performed with just enough underlying passive aggressiveness that you can understand Joe’s frustration with her and her trying to deal with the loss of her only daughter.
Just as Joe thinks he is getting a handle on helping Artie with his loss, his eldest son, Harry, who he left at age six, comes to spend the summer with them. Suddenly Joe is now faced with not only the loss of his wife, but also his sons’ loss of the father he never had.
The fact that this is a true story means many people will already know the outcome if these conflicts, but to tell the rest of it here, wouldn’t do the film justice.
Owen turns in a performance that will have you tearing up within the first 15 minutes of the film. He never gets too dramatic, and keeps his emotions in check, just enough that you feel every ounce of pain, loss, uncertainty and frustration in him. He is the film, but we never feel like he is.
His sons, played by George MacKay and Nicholas McAnulty, run the gamut of emotions but never overdo it. Their pain is real and we feel it.
The direction, by Scott Hicks who is responsible for the Oscar winning Shine, deftly moves his actors through the beautiful backdrop of Southern Australia and gets amazing performances out of all of them.
The sting of deaths repercussions will always be felt, but it is how we choose to move on from those experiences, or not move on, that will shape our lives from that point on. The Boys Are Back is a wonderful, sad, and moving family drama that should end up on most Top Ten lists at the end of the year, if not at least take home a few 2009 Oscars.
9 out of 10 stars

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Mothers and daughters; Fathers and sons