Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Female Ensembles

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Come along and join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and saying a little something about them!

I'll get straight to the point. There is only one film with a female ensemble that matters, really. Every single one since is just a pale imitation. So let it be known that if you love movies at all, and especially if you love actresses, then you owe it to yourself to watch my first pick.

The rest are good, too, but they're not at all a patch on...

The Women (George Cukor, 1939) Yes, from Hollywood's annus mirabilis comes the greatest all-female ensemble ever assembled, getting to act one of its wittiest screenplays. When Norma Shearer's husband starts sleeping around with that hussy Joan Crawford, she goes out to a ranch in Reno so they can get a divorce.... and once that's done, she comes back to get revenge! The Women is an utter delight from start to finish. The only bad part is picking a favorite: Crawford, whose haughtiness makes it clear she's never anything but the lead in anything? Shearer, the all-too-human anchor who sends all her feelings straight through the screen directly to us? Paulette Goddard, the spitfire Shearer meets in Reno who could go toe-to-toe with any man? Mary Boland, delightful as the many-times divorced Countess who ALMOST puts over that she really does believe in "l'amour! l'amour"? Or the queen bee of fast-talkers, Rosalind Russell, whose gossipy gadfly may just be the true villain of the picture? I can't possibly choose. Can you?

8 Women (François Ozon, 2002) Only some of the greatest actresses in the world come from France, and somehow 90% of those are in this movie (the only biggie I can think of that's missing? Isabelle Adjani). Ozon's classic murder mystery setup (a man is murdered by someone he knows in his mansion in the middle of a snowstorm, everyone else tries to figure out which one of them did it) gets two twists: The first is that all the suspects are women. And what women! Deneuve! Ardant! Huppert! Béart! Darrieux! All cast perfectly to type and clearly having a blast with it. 8 Women is such a blast if only to get to watch these great actresses play off each other. What's that? The other twist? OH. It's a musical. Each of the titular eight women gets a character song to sing when the spotlight of the investigation falls on them. Not all of the ladies are good singers, but it doesn't matter; they know how to cover for their lesser abilities and perform the heck out of them anyway. It's stuff like that that make 8 Women such a joy.

Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007) BEFORE YOU START! Technically, this is NOT cheating. Yes, Death Proof was originally released as one-half of the Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaboration Grindhouse, but it also received a berth of its own at the Cannes Film Festival and was released on DVD as a solo feature (albeit both in a longer cut than in Grindhouse). And I'll be honest, the shorter Grindhouse cut is INFINITELY better than the longer "Director's Cut" version. But either way, Death Proof still has one of the greatest car chases ever committed to film, thanks to the brilliant casting of the great stuntwoman Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman's stuntwoman on Kill Bill) as one of a group of ladies who fall into the clutches of Kurt Russell's maniacal Stuntman Mike, who likes to crash his "death proof" stunt car into cars full of pretty ladies. Russell is at his magnetic best in the role, but it's really all about the two groups of women who fall victim to Mike (including the scorching hot Sidney Tamiia Poitier and Vanessa Ferlito) and who fight back (Bell, Tracie Thoms, and Rosario Dawson). The car chase that takes up almost an entire third of Death Proof is killer, but what's even better is what the ladies do once they catch up to the twisted Mike, the most cleverly edited scene of Tarantino's career, culminating in one of cinema's greatest finale freeze-frames.

14 comments:

  1. I've never seen The Woman but now I feel like I have too. lol I've only seen Death Proof of your picks. It wasn't my favorite, but it's not completely unwatchable The girls in it were good.

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    1. lol The Women is a stone cold classic for good reason!

      Death Proof is probably in the middle tier of Tarantino films for me (maybe even the bottom), but I REALLY fucking love that car chase.

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  2. Not one bit surprised to see The Women as your first choice. It was the first thing that came to mind for me too but I was certain it would be well represented so I moved on. It's such a terrifically entertaining movie and it is nigh on impossible to choose a favorite but if forced to I'd say Mary Boland and Paulette Goddard because with their limited screen time they still swoop in and leave a giant impression. I also want to throw a shout out to Virginia Grey whose scene as the shopgirl mocking Crawford over her shoulder as Joan coos lies into the telephone to Steven Haines is a gem and never gets mentioned.

    Haven't seen Death Proof but we have a match on 8 Women!! How delightful didn't expect to see it turn up. I just watched it this year and was enchanted. You'll have to read down a bit to find it though because I was so enamored with the theme I could only get down to six which I've split into classic Hollywood and more contemporary.

    Classic first, all three of which I could watch over and over and have:

    Cry “Havoc” (1943)-As WWII rages in the Philippines a group of women volunteer to help the army nurses in a hospital unit on Bataan. Set mostly in their protective bunker and the switchboard that brings increasingly more dire war news this focuses on the struggles and hardships endured by the women as the front moves ever closer. The cast is comprised almost exclusively of great actresses, Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell and Fay Bainter among them, with only very brief glimpses of men, including a young Robert Mitchum. A compelling heavy drama leavened by doses of gallows humor.

    Westward the Women (1951)-Unvarnished look at the hard road faced by a group of women settlers on a wagon train to California. Robert Taylor, weathered and hard is the rough but fair wagon master and has the only significant male role. Hope Emerson stands out as a plain speaking, no nonsense traveler but all the performances are very good. The cost of the trip is honestly depicted as heavy with human lives. Written by Frank Capra and directed with an unflinching eye by Wild Bill Wellman, an involving, unusual picture.

    The Doughgirls (1944)-Frenzied comedy with a dated situation, the housing shortage in DC during WWII, and an amazing cast of brilliant actresses. Ann Sheridan, skillful with a quip or a withering look, Jane Wyman, sweet and endearing but a borderline idiot, and an ultra-glamorous Alexis Smith. They’re former chorus girls who all camp out in one of the few available rooms when they find their recent marriages called into question as many colorful characters pass through. They’re delightful but don't stand a chance when Eve Arden swoops in as a Russian commando stealing scenes with undisguised glee tearing into her character with abandon and wiping everybody out of the picture.

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    1. OMG YES on Virginia Grey! She's brilliant in that bit part. My heart is also with Mary Boland who just steals the Reno scenes of the film for me, along with Marjorie Main, who, let's face it, is Marjorie Main and ALWAYS a delight!

      So I have sadly seen NONE of your classic picks, but some friends of mine were in a production of the play of Cry Havoc and I thought it was an excellent piece, so that one has been on my list for a while. Also looking forward to seeing Westward the Women, which sounds good.

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  3. And the three from the more recent past:

    8 Women (2002)-As a wealthy French family, comprised it seems entirely of women, gathers for the holiday the patriarch is murdered off stage and they are trapped by a snowstorm to figure out which of the eight has committed the crime, occasionally bursting into song along the way. Unique, wacky and bizarre semi-musical comic murder mystery set during Christmas is jam packed with great French actresses including Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Fanny Ardant and Isabelle Huppert. They make the often preposterous goings on plausible.

    Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)-In a dusty Texas town near the location the movie Giant was filmed a devoted group of female James Dean fans reunite 20 years after the film wrapped at the Five & Dime that is was the center of their world. They laugh, argue and reminisce while wondering whether their sole male club member will return. Ultimately long buried secrets are revealed. Highly eclectic cast, Cher, Sandy Dennis, Karen Black and a just starting out Kathy Bates all give excellent idiosyncratic performances. Robert Altman’s filmization of the play he directed on Broadway with the entire cast returning is entertaining and unique.

    Tea with Mussolini (1999)-In 30’s Florence young Luca, motherless and ignored by his father due to his illegitimacy, is taken under the wing of the father’s secretary (Joan Plowright), her group of women friends, somewhat affectionately known as The Scorpioni (including Maggie Smith and Judi Dench), as well as old friends of his mother, Georgie and Elsa (Lily Tomlin and Cher). As Mussolini moves the country progressively towards Hitler’s ideology all their lives are affected but the strength of their spirit and devotion to each other never waver.

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    1. You are right of course that 8 Women is just enchanting, and also that it's the great actresses that make the whole thing plausible.

      I've read and seen the play of Come Back to the Five and Dime, but it's nearly impossible to find the movie anywhere, which is sad because that cast is just to die for and the play is so SO good.

      I've heard very mixed things on Tea With Mussolini, but I will very likely see it one day because of that tremendous cast.

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  4. I love Death Proof!! It doesn't get nearly enough credit. And I am one who actually likes the first half better. That dialogue in the bar scene, the way that whole sequence is shot. Some of the best Tarantino has to offer. I too like the short Grindhouse version, but that lap dance scene tho!!!

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    1. FUCK YEAH! I am totally with you on that bar scene in the first half. The dialogue is pretty great throughout that first half, but the car chase steals the show. Fucking incredible.

      And yeah, that lap dance scene. Almost turned me straight right then and there LOL.

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  5. We match with The Women which I had to place on my list because it's that great. I love the opening when they are each assigned an animal counterpart. I love Paulette Goddard and Mary Boland. I love the technicolor fashion spot but the one thing I hate is that eye dress that Russell wears...it's ugly:) I have marked down 8 women to see as this sounds great. Death proof is a fun film and so wicked in its style of films like Pussycat, Kill, Kill. That guy picked on the wrong trio to try to kill.

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    1. LOL that dress! The technicolor fashion spot is so strange to me, it just comes out of nowhere, but the fashions are so wacky that it almost makes it worth it! LOVE the animal bit, too.

      OOOOOOH thanks for reminding me to see Faster Pussycat Kill Kill!!

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  6. YASSS!!! The Women and 8 Women are GREAT ensembles!

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    1. hehehe YAAAAASSSS, GURL!! LOVE those women in those movies!

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  7. Woohoo I picked Death Proof too! I always get excited when it plays on TV and I agree with the amazing freeze frame!

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