Jean's Take

A blog about words, women, & whimsy

Category: reviews

How to Make an American Quilt, 1995, 117 mins. . . .

STARS Winona Ryder as Finn, a graduate student at Berkeley attempting to finish her thesis.  She’s changed the topic four times and has the same trouble committing to her live-in boyfriend, Dermot Mulroney.  Finn decides to spend a month with her grandmother, Ellen Burstyn, who lives with her sister, Anne Bancroft, in a big old house by an orange orchard. Finn arrives into a Quilting Bee which includes five other women, Jean Simmons, Lois Smith, Kate Nelligan, Maya Angelou, and Alfre Woodard. As they stitch squares for a quilt themed ‘where love resides’ they attempt to help Finn with stories (shown in flashbacks) of their own marriages.
Favorite moment: The women tell her the quilt is for her.
Fun Fact: taken from a novel by Whitney Otto that started out as her Master’s thesis.
Screenplay written by Jane Anderson; directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse 
 
Critic Corner: Caryn James of the New York Times wrote ‘we are not watching movie women but real women with shaky judgment and lifetimes of reasons to resent and forgive one another as well as all the men in their lives.’

  

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Enchanted April, 1991, 101 mins.

The only way to have a Women’s Film Club is to show strong women’s films.  Enchanted April  is one of my favorites.  It’s a 1922 book by Elizabeth von Arnim that became a Play that became a Musical that became an idyllic Woman’s Film.  To start with, it’s very pretty and we like pretty.  It’s focus is four women at crossroads—two are in drowsy marriages, one is a lonely widow tired of just living on memories, and one, a glamorous heiress bored with the artificiality in her life.  Can a man enjoy it?  Sure, but it’s only fully understood by a woman.  For example, can a man fully understand that anyone, for that matter, might like to spend a month with three women she just met, in a villa in Italy basking in the warm Mediterranean sun? Well, when I put it that way . . . maybe, but still not with the same sensitivities.

So when Lottie in rainy London sees an ad for a villa for rent in sunny Italy she knows she has to go.  She invites Rose who goes to the same women’s club and they advertise and get Caroline, an elegant upper-class beauty and Mrs. Fisher, a bossy aging widow.  By the end of the month, the husbands of Lottie and Rose have arrived, Caroline is enchanted by the villa owner and Mrs. Fisher has new friends.

Favorite Moment:  As they leave, Mrs. Fisher sticks her wooden cane down in the dirt and moves forward—not looking back–and we are left to watch the cane burst forth with colorful flora symbolic of new beginnings for all.  In other words, it has a ‘happy ever after’ ending that is quite satisfying.

Director:  Mike Newell.  Cast includes Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence, Joan Plowright, Alfred Molina, Michael Kitchen and Jim Broadbent.

Froth:  Dame Joan Plowright is also Baroness Olivier, the widow of Sir|Baron Laurence Olivier and is a distinguished English actress in her own right.   She retired not long after making this film when she lost her sight from macular degeneration.

Thought to ponder:  Why do you think the women invited their husbands on their holiday?

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Two Months in but Still Hoping . . .

Emily Dickinson wrote—Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul—and sings the tune without the words—and never stops—at all.

I hope—all those reading this and all whom I hold dear—will have a Healthy, Prosperous and Happy—New Year . . .
I hope—this world will be a kinder and gentler place—with peace and goodwill for all—and that Mother Nature will give a break—no floods, no fires, no storms—that would be good for everyone’s sake . . .
I hope—that I find some dress shoes that won’t hurt my feet—and that our President will think to tweak before he Tweets.
I hope—my novel Backstage at the White House will find the audience it deserves—and President Forbes and Stacey Lee’s story will finally be heard . . .
I hope that you will add your hope—however, don’t forget to rhyme—after all—Emily did it all the thyme.

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Start a Film Club for Women in your Community, your Neighborhood, or just with a few Friends. I did!

About ten years ago, my husband and I moved to a ’55 and older’ community—we had satisfied that requirement some years earlier. Everything was new from our house to the clubhouse; in fact, the community was less than half built and the sounds of construction were all around us, but we were more than ready for a new home on one floor in a gated community, sitting on a hill overlooking New York City.  Sounds nice?  It is.

One day, early on, relaxing at the Clubhouse with that view and the leisure director, I sighed and suggested that maybe it would be nice to start a Koffee Klatch for women and watch a film about women and discuss it.  “I”, I said, had collected a few women’s films, or—as men like to say, ‘Chick Flicks’—that were really good and worthy of such an endeavor.

While I endeavored to tell her why I had collected some worthy women’s films she flitted off, and by the time I got home, I had an e-mail that had gone out to all residents announcing the beginning of a Film Club for Women. It was after Christmas because I remember that I took some left-over Christmas cookies to have with coffee to that first film.  At our second film and more left-over cookies, another women’s film fan said to me, “Don’t worry about next month, Jean. I’m picking up bagels!”

And that’s how it all began!

We had 8 to 10 women show up for that first film. Ten years later, we have over 150 members and have seen over 100 films focused on women and women issues.  We meet at 9am on the 1st Wednesday of every month and begin with a Coffee and . . . which is now more like a Continental Breakfast with fruit, bagel and pastry.  The chatter and laughter over coffee make life good, and I even feel a bit guilty when I have to break it up to watch the film, but only a bit because I know that they enjoy the discussion after the film as much as they do the chatter before.

SO, if you’re part of a community, believe me, ‘if you start it, they will come’ or if you like to get together with your friends and don’t have time to read a book every month, DO FILMS, GOOD WOMEN’S FILMS.  Write me if you have questions or stop by for film ideas and discussion questions.  And remember–HAVE FUN!!! 

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Things I didn’t do and did in 2016

  • I didn’t write on my Blog.  Yep, and I have  a feeling like a big heavy ball-and-chain is holding me back from writing in the new until I say farewell to the old.   So here’s some of my ‘didn’ts and dids’ for last year . . .
  • I didn’t go to Europe but I went to California where my grandson is an animator with Disney and we got a personal tour.  How many grandmothers do you know have a grandchild that works in a building with Mickey Mouse’s top hat on top?
  • I didn’t go to the opera but I did go to a few simulcasts at my local theater and experienced Tannhauser–4 hours of magnificent Wagner.  I did go to Lincoln Center last fall for a NYBT performance.  I have a daughter who loves dance, especially ballet, so it’s my treat every year for her birthday and she buys dinner.  Last year was the best–in three acts, the first was classical ballet, tutu and toe, performed to a Mozart Divertimento; the second was modern dressed in tight black and white–I liked this one best, but the third and longest act was a series of beautiful waltzes with gorgeous flowing dresses and tuxedoes.  So Elegant and full of grace.
  • I didn’t see ‘Hamilton’ but I saw ‘Cagney’ and left singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”.
  • I did go to the Brooklyn Museum to focus on Judy Chicago’s ‘The Dinner Party’.  It’s the seminal work of the feminist movement of the 70’s.  39 porcelain place settings quietly await their famous guests while 999 more names of great women in history are scrolled over the porcelain tiled floor.  It’s powerful and brought tears to my eyes.
  • Finally, I ended the year with all my family around me.  This was the first time we’ve all been together in several years–22 of us and growing–and wow! can they eat!!!
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HOMESMAN: Surrealism on the Barren Plain.

cowboy-brown-horseshoe-hiI like Westerns; I like Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones.  They are good at what they do, so I settled back with a smile to spend the evening with them in the Wild West.  It didn’t take long to realize that something was wrong–the land was too barren, the town too small and the settlers too few.  Swank plays, Mary Bee Cuddy, a strong, stalwart, spinster tilling her own land and wanting more than anything a man, for various reasons.  Jones plays, George Briggs, a good-for-nothing drifter whom Cuddy finds hanging from a tree (the only tree I believe within a hundred miles) getting ready to offer up his last breath.  (I know what you’re thinking, but forget it.) As the story proceeds, Cuddy has volunteered–for want of a valiant ‘Townsman’ to do so–to take three immigrant women who had become quite mad, across the barren plain to get help.   Briggs comes along—not because he feels any debt to Cuddy for saving his life but because she agrees to pay him.

From this point on, ‘Homesman’ makes no sense and don’t wait for it to do so.  Cuddy picks up these immigrant women, who couldn’t hack it on the barren plain, in a wood-enclosed wagon with no windows and a lock on the door.  They are handcuffed inside in their flimsy nightgowns, and at least one has no shoes.  There is no baggage and even few supplies for this barren plain adventure—I’m beginning to worry.

Along the way, they get hungry and BEHOLD! on this barren plain, with absolutely nothing around but barrenness, sits a Victorian Hotel that looks very much like a gingerbread house.  Inside is the innkeeper, James Spader, with a full staff preparing a feast and acting much like that rabbit who was always late in ‘Alice in Wonderland’.  Next, the little party arrives at a thriving Western town and Briggs delivers his looney cargo to Meryl Streep, the minister’s wife.   “Aha,” I say aloud, a smirk on my face, “You can’t fool me.  You may think you look like Meryl Streep in that bouffant black dress and pretty little black bonnet but I know you are really the Queen of Spades!”

I wait for Tommy Lee Jones, who directed the film, to put everything aright as he has so many times, but no, the movie ends as he dances a macabre jig and a wooden grave marker floats down the river.

 

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An Evening with Bette Midler

Bette Midler or Sue Mengers?

Bette Midler or Sue Mengers?

In June, I spent an evening with Bette Midler.

Technically, she was on the stage and I was in the orchestra but the Booth Theatre is small and intimate, and I definitely felt a connection.  Now Bette– I feel we’re on a first name basis now–is the true definition of a ‘Broad’ and most of us gals like to think we have a little of whatever that is; besides, she’s packed with talent and, well, what’s there not to like?

When the curtain opened, she was sprawled on a sofa for a standing ovation.  It was obvious that this happened every time that curtain opened, because she threw us a pat wisecrack, “You might as well sit down; I’m not gettin’ up.”  And she didn’t the whole intermissionless performance.

It was a limited engagement of a new play called I’ll Eat You Last: a Chat with Sue Mengers written by John Logan and directed by Joe Mantello. For those of us not insiders, Sue Mengers was, at one time, a powerful talent agent who handled some of the biggest names in the business.  Her language was colorful and merciless; in fact, she was a perfect definition of that other ‘B’ word.

There were some good lines here and plenty of chuckles but, if it shows up again, unless you knew Sue Mengers or if it doesn’t star Bette Midler, I suggest you go for pizza.

 

 

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Would Margaret Thatcher have liked ‘The Iron Lady’?

I’m surprised that women have not questioned the substance of the film, The Iron LadyAll we’ve done is gush and goo over how well Meryl Streep plays an old woman with Alzheimers, how good the make-up is and how much Meryl Streep looks and acts like Margaret Thatcher.  Yes, ladies, Margaret Thatcher, one of the most prominent ‘one of us’ in the 20th Century.

The Margaret Thatcher I knew was a gutsy lady who took on one of the biggest and surely the oldest ‘old boys’ clubs, the British Parliament, to become the first female Prime Minister and then serve in that post for over eleven years.  She never backed down to the IRA who tried to assasinate her or even on the Falkland Islands whom many thought were hardly worth the effort.  She was a good friend of Ronald Reagan and the USA during the Cold War, and earned the title, The Iron Lady, because of her fortitude and uncompromising attitude.

But that woman isn’t in this film.  In her rare flashes of lucidity, she seems to question her earlier decisions–the IRA, the Falklands–is she really doing that?  How do they know?   Makes you wonder if IRA sympathizers wrote this, thinking they can get even because now she’s old and sick and can’t fight back . . . .

On top of all this, her dead husband is walking around reminding her that she was an MIA wife and mother, and her son won’t talk to her and her daughter is angry.  I’m angry too, we should all be angry that women are judged, even now, in the 21st century because we didn’t stay home with the kids.

I’m concerned too.  I’m concerned that no one has tried to set the record straight.  That the film has not caused an unprecedented amount of writing about the real Margaret Thatcher.  Perhaps we should be mindful of Thatcher’s own words . . . .

In February 2007, when she was already ill, she was honoured with a statue in the Houses of Parliament.   In a brief speech she said, “I might have preferred iron – but bronze will do … It won’t rust.”

 

 

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