Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Small Towns

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our little community of bloggers by picking three movies that fit with the week's theme and writing a bit about them. It's fun and easy - and 2018's schedule has been posted so you can prepare!

I'm back, y'all!

Work has been kicking my butt the past couple of weeks. Ever since Thanksgiving it's been non-stop - many late nights and some super-stressful days. It's been all I can do to get out and see some of the great movies flooding the cinemas of NYC right now. And, as always, there have been some that I've missed that have made me very sad. (If you're not following me on Letterboxd, please do so - I do keep track of everything I watch there, and usually post mini reviews.)

I was especially sad to miss last week's Thursday Movie Picks, because the theme was one of the great tropes of cinema: The Ugly Duckling Who Turns Into A Beautiful Swan. There are of course a wealth of options to choose from. My favorites (I can do this because this isn't an official TMP list!) are: The supreme Bette Davis weepie Now, Voyager; George Bernard Shaw's witty Pygmalion and it's musical version, My Fair Lady;  Ingrid Bergman's second Oscar-winner, Anastasia; Baz Luhrmann's thrilling breakthrough Strictly Ballroom; '90s classic teen flick She's All That and its parody version, Not Another Teen Movie; the sweet Drew Barrymore comeback vehicle Never Been Kissed; Anne Hathaway's debut The Princess Diaries; the brilliant Neil LaBute stage play-turned-movie The Shape of Things; and the amazingly stupid-funny Anna Farris-starrer The House Bunny.

This week, we're looking at small towns. There ain't nothin' like a good old-fashioned small town, but the ones in these movies better watch out, because a change is a-comin'...

The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975) I feel obligated to include this one, as after college I moved back to my home state of CT and ended up living for a while in the town of Wilton, the inspiration for the novel by Ira Levin that inspired this iconic movie. I'm sure you all know the premise, but in case you don't, here goes: Photographer Joanna moves with her executive husband and two kids from New York City to the idyllic suburban town of Stepford, CT. Walter immediately joins the exclusive local Men's Association, but Joanna is spooked by the wives, who are all very submissive homemakers with few interests outside the home. She and her fellow new-in-town friend Bobbie investigate, and what they find... well, I'm certainly not going to spoil that if you don't already know! Just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. It's a fun one. I promise!

To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (Beeban Kidron, 1995) Snydersville is just a podunk, middle of nowhere town where nothing ever happens. But then, a car breaks down outside town stranding three drag queens there for a weekend. Naturally, the queens (played in hugely entertaining, go-for-broke star turns by Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo) are afraid to reveal themselves as men after their initial appearance, but they make the most of a bad situation and confront the prejudice they see anyway. No, this movie isn't very good, but it is a whole lot of fun, and it's still amazing that stars as big as these three would take on these roles, and perform them so well.

The Dressmaker (Jocelyn Moorhouse, 2016) Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage was driven out of her microscopic backwoods Australian town of Dungatar after an incident she barely remembers from her childhood that resulted in a young boy's death. Since then, she has become an internationally renowned dressmaker, and has returned to Dungatar to care for her ailing mother... and also for a spot of revenge. This super entertaining movie is just fabulous in the extreme. Kate Winslet vamps it up in some pretty amazing dresses as Tilly, Judy Davis is a hoot as her mother Molly, Liam Hemsworth is swoon-worthy as the love interest, and the entire ensemble (including Hugo Weaving and Sarah Snook) is game for anything... and they pretty much have to do everything. One of my favorite moviegoing experiences of last year, this could also fit in last week's category, which is why I had to pick it this week.


  1. I haven't seen any of your picks this week! I saw the Stepford Wives remake, which was pretty awful. lol

    1. lol yeah the Stepford Wives remake leaned so heavily into the camp that it came out just flat-out BAD. Although I did enjoy Bette Midler and Glenn Close's performances.

  2. Terrific picks!!

    I can't say I loved The Stepford Wives (though its a masterpiece compared to the POS remake) but I did like it and it's premise is both fun and unsettling. I've never been a tremendous Katharine Ross fan but she was well suited to lead in this and carried the film well.

    You're right about Wong Foo not being that great a film but the lead trio committed to their roles totally and you can't beat that supporting cast.

    I LOVED The Dressmaker up to a certain point of the movie and then a certain twist of the plot which I thought was completely unnecessary soured me on it somewhat. I ended up liking it but not as much as I hoped. Kate was, and looked, fabulous.

    So many to choose from! My first is an amiable comedy but my second is a Sirkian classic and the third an imperfect but good try at a piece of Americana.

    Doc Hollywood (1991)-Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox) is a hotshot young doctor as well as pompous jackass who has been offered a big opportunity with a plastic surgeon in L.A. Driving across country in his sports car he tries to avoid highway traffic but causes a minor accident on a back road in the small town of Grady. Sentenced to community service assisting the town’s long time cantankerous physician Dr. Hogue (Barnard Hughes) he struggles with the slower pace of the village. At first snappish and anxious to get out of there ASAP he gradually falls for both the colorful townspeople including the mayor (David Ogden Stiers) his randy but sweet daughter Nancy Lee (a scene stealing Bridget Fonda) and pretty ambulance driver Lou (Julie Warner) whose affections he has to compete for with the cocksure insurance man Hank (Woody Harrelson). Good natured comedy is a great showcase for Fox’s boyish charm.

    All That Heaven Allows (1955)-Douglas Sirk’s masterpiece of color and skewering of class structure looks at the May/December romance of wealthy widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman), lonely but hidebound by small town mores to a country club life full of wolfish men, disapproving children and stifling conventions, and her younger gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) a successful nurseryman with a rustic, down to earth attitude who doesn’t give a damn what others think. They are happy for a brief period but Cary, saddled with two of the most odious children (both of college age) in filmdom is pressured by them to break off the affair at which point having ruined her life they promptly forget about her. There’s plenty more drama ahead for the pair though. This heavily influenced Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven.

    Our Town (1940)-The everyday life of small town Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire from the turn of the last century until about the time the film was made is recalled by the residents young and old. Idyllic version of life in the early 20th century where no one locks their doors and all is mostly harmonious focuses on young lovers George Gibbs (William Holden) and Emily Webb (Martha Scott) through their trials and triumphs. Thornton Wilder’s play on which this is based won the Pulitzer Prize.

    1. I TOTALLY understand where you're coming from on THAT thing that happens in The Dressmaker. I thought it was rather a cruel twist, but we wouldn't have gotten that beyond-fabulous third act without it, so I'm okay with it.

      I don't think Katharine Ross was ever better than in The Stepford Wives, actually.

      I've not seen Doc Hollywood, but the words "a scene stealing Bridget Fonda" is all I needed to hear to sell me on it. I ADORE All That Heaven Allows, despite Cary's kids being the most awful, ungrateful little things this side of Ann Blyth's Veda Pierce.

      Our Town is one of my all-time favorite plays (I wrote my college honors thesis on Thornton Wilder), and it's a wonder that it was translated to the screen so well (and more than once!). It is perhaps a little precious in the early going, but that third act remains a punch in the gut no matter how many times I see it.

  3. By the way love all your would have been picks for last week two of which were mine plus one that proved to be popular.

    Now, Voyager (1942)-Old maid Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is a member of an extremely wealthy Boston family whose spirit has been crushed by her gorgon of a mother (a truly hateful Gladys Cooper) until during a visit to their home by kindly psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) Charlotte suffers a nervous breakdown and he whisks her away to his retreat for rich nutcases “Cascade”. While there she begins to rebuild her long suppressed confidence and emerges a beautiful swan on a cruise to South America. On the trip she meets the dashing but lonely Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) who is trapped in a bad marriage and falls for him. But there’s plenty of bumpy road ahead for this pair and those in their sphere all executed in top flight fashion in amazing clothes set to a swooningly romantic soundtrack. A gigantic hit in its day this was the most profitable picture of Davis’s career. The ne plus ultra of Ugly Duckling movies!

    Miss Congeniality (2000)-To put it mildly FBI agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is rough around the edges, she eats with her hands, chews with her mouth open and her idea of fashion is what’s clean that day, but having just blown a big case she finds she can’t refuse when she is recruited to go undercover as a contestant in the Miss United States beauty pageant when a threat is received. Despite many people’s doubt including pageant show runner Kathy Morningside (Candice Bergen) and the coach hired to smooth her feathers Victor Melling (Michael Caine) as well as her own obstinacy Gracie is pulled, pummeled and plucked into a beauty. While working the case she even learns to lighten up and appreciate a different outlook. Breezy comedy is a perfect fit for Sandra Bullock.

    Pygmalion (1938)-First filming of the George Bernard Shaw play where a snobbish linguist bets a crony that he can transform a common flower peddler into a great lady by teaching her proper speech. Not as grandiloquent as My Fair Lady but both Leslie Howard as Professor Henry Higgins and Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle create memorable characters. Wendy is actually more successful with her Eliza than Audrey Hepburn would later be since despite her innate dignity she makes a believable guttersnipe in the initial segment of the movie.

    1. Oh lord, Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager really is just unbelievably hateful. When they say "they just don't make 'em like that anymore," this is one of the movies I'm usually talking about.

      I agree that Hiller is better at playing Eliza pre-speech lessons than Hepburn, although I think my dear Audrey gets a lot of unfair hate for that performance simply because the studio didn't cast Julie Andrews. Which is ridiculous, because if they had, we wouldn't have gotten Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, and Audrey acquits herself VERY well in the film (although her de-glam in the beginning is ridiculous). I almost can't believe I didn't think of Miss Congeniality at all for this, especially given how much I love it and how iconic Sandy is in it (let alone Candice Bergen and William Shatner). I quote this movie ALL THE TIME.

  4. I've only seen To Wong Foo, and I had a good time watching it. Still need to see The Stepford Wives.

    1. I think you'd quite like The Stepford Wives, in a 70s B-movie way.