The Women (1939) starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, & Rosalind Russell

There are over 130 roles in this movie, all played by women. Several actresses, incl. Marjorie Main (the Reno housekeeper- Lucy), originated their roles in the play (written by Claire Boothe Luce), which opened in the Fall of 1937 and had over 600 performances on Broadway. This fun, witty, and fast-paced movie follows a group of NYC society women (20s-50s), most whom are married (and some have kids, too). The center of this story, Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), has her perfect marriage shattered by her husband’s infidelity w/ a beautiful/manipulative shop girl, Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). She has to break the news (as gently as she can) to her bright, sensitive daughter (Virginia Weidler- she appeared in The Philadelphia Story the following year). Mary makes the journey from marriage to divorce and back with dignity and intelligence.

You know, the first man that can think up a good explanation how he can be in love with his wife and another woman is gonna win that prize they’re always giving out in Sweden. -Maggie (the Haines’ family cook) explains to the maid

Mary’s cousin/frenemy, Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) steals the show and gets many of the best lines (as well as some of the wildest costumes). Director George Cukor told Russell to play Sylvia very broadly: “Sylvia’s breaking up a family, and there’s a child involved, and if you’re a heavy, audiences will hate you. Don’t play it like a heavy, just be ridiculous.” Russell is very fun to watch; she’s snobby, gossipy, gawky, yet very confident of her own marriage. There is also some physical comedy- Russell was noted for that in her early carer.

On the train to Reno, Mary meets Flora AKA The Countess De Lave (Mary Boland), a jovial divorcee in her ’50s who still believes in love (amour, as she says) after four marriages. Flora’s outfits and accessories are large and eccentric- much like herself. Miriam (Paulette Goddard, a gorgeous actress once married to Charlie Chaplin) plays a jaded/street-smart Brooklyn chorus girl who married (then divorced) for money. No doubles were used in the fight where Russell bites Goddard (after Sylvia learns that her husband has fallen in love w/ Miriam)- that bite was real! Peggy (a young Joan Fontaine- sister of Olivia de Havilland) is a naive new wife; she and her husband separated hastily. Her character is annoying to many viewers; she cries and complains a lot (b/c she doesn’t want a divorce).

All the characters are not wealthy; Crystal (as well as her fellow shopgirls and manicurists) must work for a living (esp. the ones who are single). A few of her peers sound jealous of Crystal and her supposed way w/ men; others looks down on her for acting flirtatious. Mary has a cook and a maid in her household; they are concerned re: their jobs, but still kind to their employer. We even see a young black maid (played by Butterfly McQueen from Gone With the Wind); sadly, she is the butt of a tasteless joke.

There’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society . . . outside a kennel. -Crystal declares to Mary and her friends (at the end of the movie)

As from the dialogue, the hats, hairdos, and costumes reveal much about each character. The costume designer (Adrian) dressed the leads and also created high-fashion gowns and outfits for the (Technicolor) fashion show. The scene which was inserted into the B&W film as a surprise for the audience of that day. A classic film fan on Twitter notes that the $225 nightgown Mary admires after that fashion show would cost $4000 in 2019. The enormous square-cut ring Mary wears is the most expensive piece of jewelry in the film ($175,000).

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Nocturnal Animals (2016) starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, & Michael Shannon

A (revenge) story inside a story follows LA-based 40-something art curator, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who receives a (soon to be published) book manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she left 20 years earlier. The second element follows the book itself (titled Nocturnal Animals) which revolves around a family man, Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), whose vacation turns violent after his car is run off a rural Texas road. Tony, his wife (Isla Fisher), and their teen daughter India (Ellie Bamber) come face to face w/ a trio of dangerous young men. As Susan reads Edward’s engrossing book, she finds herself recalling their marriage, her loss of idealism, and confronting some hard truths about herself.

The first thing you notice re: this stylish (yet not shallow) thriller (directed by famed American fashion designer Tom Ford) is its look- it’s beautiful! The cinematographer is Irishman Seamus McGarvey; he also worked on Atonement. The costumes, hair, makeup, set decoration, etc, add to the richness of the story; however, sometimes the symbolism is too obvious. The score was inspired in Philip Glass and Bernard Herrmann; there is something familiar, yet also mysterious about the music. This tale also has something to say re: the art world (which Ford is familiar w/ being among the wealthy).

The acting is also quite good, starting w/ (Oscar nominee) Michael Shannon, who portrays a gruff Texas deputy- Bobby Andes- who’s not afraid to bend the rules to catch the bad guys. He’s a magnetic screen presence (bringing to my mind Gene Hackman). Gyllenhaal does a great job (as usual) in both his roles, esp. as Tony- the more interesting character. Laura Linney is only in once scene- she’s fabulous! Armie Hammer plays Susan’s second husband- Hutton- who is cold, distant, and worried re: the failing art gallery. Critics also loved to hate the villain- Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, husband of director Sam Taylor-Johnson); I hadn’t seen him before. As for Adams, pay attention to the quiet moments (she spends a lot of time reading).

Always Be My Maybe (2019) starring Ali Wong, Randall Park, Keanu Reeves, & Daniel Dae Kim

Real-life pals, Ali Wong (check out her Netflix comedy specials: Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife) and Randall Park (Fresh off the Boat) wanted to make a modern-day, Asian-American version of When Harry Met Sally, the iconic 1989 rom com that paired a sweet funnyman (Billy Crystal) w/ a beautiful, yet also eccentric, girl-next-door (Meg Ryan). Wong (who is a 37 y.o. actress/writer of Chinese and Vietnamese heritage) plays ambitious celeb chef, Sasha Tran, who is on the verge of opening more restaurants, incl. in NYC, LA, and her hometown (San Francisco). She is engaged to Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim from Lost), a very handsome, successful, and somewhat older real estate developer. Before they settle down, Brandon wants to travel the world for a year and live like a single man (much to Sasha’s dismay). Her assistant/best friend, Veronica (comedian Michelle Buteau), says this is crazy, but Sasha agrees to Brandon’s terms.

A few months before the San Fran restaurant is set to open, Sasha and Veronica fly to the city and set up shop (and a very nice house for Sasha). Without telling Sasha, Veronica hires Kim & Son to set up the A/C system; when they arrive, Sasha is shocked and Marcus Kim (Park) acts very awkward. Mr. Kim (veteran character actor Jamies Saito) is happy to see Veronica and Sasha; they haven’t been around since high school. It turns out that Sasha’s immigrant family lived next door to the Kims (who are second gen Korean-American) and she and Marcus were best friends all through their childhood! Mr. Kim always thought they would end up together.

There is no one way to be Asian, but you would’t know that from consuming mainstream TV shows, movies, or most media. Here we have two individuals coming from unique families: the Wongs (who speak w/ accents) worked long hours at their store to save for their future and Sasha (though she resented it); meanwhile, the Kims (who have no accents) welcomed Sasha into their home after-school and she developed her interest in cooking from Marcus’ mom, Judy (Susan Park). There are certain touches that add texture to what could’ve been a typical rom com story: kids removing their shoes when entering a home; cooking traditional dishes at home; Asians of various backgrounds as neighbors, friends and romantic partners; a New Age type of Asian woman who works w/ at-risk youth; Asians rapping about their unique experiences, and (perhaps most striking) an Asian male as a romantic lead. Oh, and fans of Keanu Reeves are in for a treat, as are his haters. This is must-see, b/c I feel that different viewers will relate to it on different levels! I recommend it to foodies, immigrants (or those who are second gen in US), rom com fans, and even those who avoid the rom com genre. My favorite thing about Always Be My Maybe was the fact that this was a love rooted in friendship (which is one of the reasons that When Harry Met Sally was so popular).

Alice Adams (1935) starring Katharine Hepburn

[1] …it’s a low-key, genteel film about the problems of small-town people who are moving up in the social world and the one family that gets left behind.

[2] If you’ve ever felt (at a job, a party, a family gathering) that there was nothing you could do – no matter how hard you tried – to fit in – yet it was important that you did, you’ll feel so much for this charming girl.

I love how the movie does not show a saintly Alice… Yet her warmth toward her family – her essential sweetness, her strong frustrated yearning – are completely captivating.

[3] The awkwardness of the social situations are exploited–and the high point has to be the warm dinner served on a hot evening, complete with maid service (by Hattie McDaniel) in one of the movie’s most amusing, if uncomfortable, scenes.

[4] Although Hepburn and Fred MacMurray are the stars of this romance-comedy, Fred Stone almost steals the show. Playing Hepburn’s dad in the film, he was both hilarious at times and very sad….and always interesting.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Katharine Hepburn (28 y.o. in this film) who plays the title character, Alice Adams, credited director George Stevens for changing her public image. He helped her portray more warmth and vulnerability than she had ever shown previously onscreen. Alice comes from a working class background (her father is a clerk at a factory), yet she desperately wants to fit in w/ the upper class. Alice’s mother blames her husband (who has fallen ill) for their low social standing, despite his working hard for nearly 30 yrs. However, Alice doesn’t blaming him for anything; she’s a “Daddy’s Girl.”

Alice tries to put on the appearances of wealth and social standing, despite everyone in town knowing who she is, and so mostly ignoring her. At a party at the Palmer house, Alice surprisingly catches the eye of young businessman Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray). He is rumored to be engaged to Mildred Palmer; even Alice’s unconcerned brother (Walter) says so. After some disappointing moments, Arthur asks Alice to dance, and she is (suddenly) quiet. He is tall, confident, and good dancer- she can’t believe that he could be interested in her!

There was a disagreement among Hepburn and Stevens about the post-party scene. The script called for Alice to fall onto the bed and break into sobs after coming back from the Palmer’s party, but Stevens wanted her to walk to the window and cry, w/ rain falling outside. Hepburn couldn’t cry, so she asked Stevens if she could do the scene as scripted. The director yelled at her and the scene was filmed his way (and Alice’s tears were real).

It turns out that Arthur is interested in courting Alice. He wants to come to her house and meet the family after a few dates. This causes Alice great anxiety- she doesn’t think her home or family will measure up. Also, she wonders if Arthur really likes her for herself (unlike the other men she went out with before). It’s rare to see Hepburn as an insecure woman; many viewers on #TCMParty commented on this (while we were live-tweeting the movie). Check out this movie if you can- it’s quite a treat!

JxJ Film Festival: Abe (starring Noah Schnapp)

Abe (Noah Schnapp who plays Will Byers on the popular Netflix show, Stranger Things) is a quiet, sensitive, 12-year-old half-Israeli and half- Palestinian kid living in Brooklyn who loves cooking. He has a food blog, IG account, and many (online) friends who follow his progress in the kitchen. One side of the family prefers to call him “Avraham” (in Hebrew), the other side “Ibrahim” (in Arabic), while his atheist parents call him “Abraham.” But he prefers Abe. A few boys in school are turning 13 y.o. and planning big bashes for their bar mitzvah; Abe admits that he’s curious about the Jewish religion. This is music to his (maternal) grandfather’s (Mark Margolis) ears. Abe also wants to know more re: Islam; he tries fasting for a day (like his paternal grandparents).

Abe’s parents, Rebecca (Dagmara Dominczyk, wife of Patrick Wilson and 1st gen Polish-American) and Amir (Arian Moayed, a Tony nominee of Palestinian heritage) want him to make more (real-life) friends, so suggest he go to a summer cooking camp. It’s too easy for Abe, so he decides to bail w/o consulting his parents. He seeks out an experienced Afro-Brazilian chef, Chico, who specializes in fusion food at local pop ups. At first, Chico is reluctant to let a kid work in his kitchen, but then he sees the passion and potential in Abe. He rides the subway on his own, starts working at Chico’s kitchen, and eventually creates some recipes of his own (combining the ingredients used by both sides of his conflicted family).

This is such a well-made, timely, and unique film; I hope it comes out on a streaming service soon (so can get a wider audience)! Abe is just one representative of the many kids in modern society w/ families from different races, cultures, religions, etc. He’s not sure if he wants to be atheist, like his parents, b/c the traditions of his grandparents appeal to him. His maternal grandmother left a box of family recipes; his mom gives these to Abe. He does some research and discovers that Jews and Palestinians, who have a contentious past, use many of the same ingredients in cooking.