Sunday, December 1, 2019

Girl Week 2019: The Quick and Dirties


We've finally reached the last day of Girl Week 2019. To wrap it up, we're going quick & dirty and talking about a number of movies, with a little help from super-reader Joel. Here we go.

Hustlers
Directed by Lorene Scafaria
2019. Rated R, 110 minutes.
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo, Mercedes Ruehl, Wai Ching Ho, Trace Lysette
A group of strippers are raking in the dough until the economic crash of 2008. A few years later, they are no longer stripping, and struggling to make ends meet. Destiny (Wu) does go back into the clubs and has a chance reunion with Ramona (Lopez). The two come up with a way to swindle men out of as much money as their credit cards will allow. They recruit other girls to help. Things go fine, until their methods get increasingly more dangerous. This is based on inspired by a true story. The first thing I noticed is the lack of the male gaze, which makes sense given that this is directed by a woman. In a movie set largely in strip clubs, this has its advantages and disadvantages. Realism suffers a bit because nobody strips, at least among the principal class. They all escape the stage, and the movie, with their outfits full intact. Any nudity is reserved for extras in the background. I can accept that my issues here could just be the frustration my inner-perv speaking up, but it feels laughable since we get a full length routine from J-Lo, and a number of lap dance sequences featuring various cast members. This lack of realism extends to the presence of budding music superstar Lizzo. She represents a great bit of body positivity for the audience, but unless I'm mistaken, it just didn't exist in upscale strip joints in the mid-2000s. She's not hired in that club, at that time. On the other hand, all of this enhances the stylized world created by the film where the women eagerly seize control of their surroundings and their fate. So, in that sense, not having a constant parade of naked bodies is absolutely the right choice. Story-wise, the movie draws you in through Destiny's humanity. Constance Wu's performance elicits our empathy and keeps us vested in her fate. Unfortunately, she's alone in that department. All of the other characters are flat-drawn, and in some cases, barely in the movie. Only J-Lo gets enough screen time to bring anything to her role. She gives us her trademark charisma. However, whether or not that works depends on how you already feel about her. It works for me. However, the lack of an arc for her character means the emotional ending the movie goes for doesn't quite land. It's a very good, highly watchable movie, but never reaches greatness. - Dell


Three Secrets
Directed by Robert Wise.
1950. Not Rated, 98 minutes.
Cast: Eleanor Parker, Patricia Neal, Ruth Roman, Frank Lovejoy, Leif Erickson, Ted De Corsia, Edmon Ryan, Larry Keating, Katherine Warren
When a private plane crashes in the remote California Mountains the only survivor is a 5-year-old boy. The wreckage is in a tenuous location and as a rescue team attempts to make their way to extricate the child word spreads that he had been adopted at birth from a certain orphanage. As a media frenzy ensues the three possible mothers, housewife Susan Chase (Eleanor Parker), newspaper reporter Phyllis Horn (Patricia Neal) and ex-con Ann Lawrence (Ruth Roman), gather at the mountain base to discover the truth, drawing on their strength to endure the ordeal of wondering “Could that be my boy?” The audience spends approximately the next hour and a half via flashback weeding though the secrets, lies and circumstances that led the trio into giving up their babies. Solid drama with three excellent lead performances was directed by Robert Wise of West Side Story, The Sound of Music and many others fame. - Joel


The Kitchen
Directed by Andrea Berloff
2019. Rated R, 103 minutes.
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elizabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, Margo Martindale, James Badge Dale, Common, Bill Camp
After their husbands are arrested and sent to jail, three women are told by the crime family their men belonged to that they would be taken care of. When the money they are given is not enough to sustain their households, Kathy (McCarthy), Ruby (Haddish), and Claire (Moss) decide to form their own little family and take over the streets. I love the premise. Unfortunately, the execution of it is terrible. Everything happens way too easily for our heroines. Everything these women do happens quickly, with little to no resistance. When their takeover happens I literally said to my wife, "We're here, already?" It gives the main characters a sheen of invincibility that undermines the film. Only one of the three really seem to be dealing with real stakes. Things fall apart quickly. How things are achieved is haphazardly shoved in at the last minute. The conclusion is anticlimactic. There are way too many points in the film that need fleshing out. The cast gives it the old college try. McCarthy and Moss fare best and give us something to grab onto. Haddish scowls her way through the movie. It's not quite authentic because being a black woman married to an Irish mobster in 1970s New York makes her character more dependent on a sufficient backstory. The movie tries, but fails to give it to her. This is particularly damaging given how important Ruby is to the plot. The biggest disappointment of The Kitchen is that it really could be a great film. As it stands, it feels like the first draft of one. - Dell


Day 6 Entries

8 comments:

  1. I'm not the biggest J-Lo fan but I've heard some positive things about Hustlers so I'll get to it eventually. I've never even heard of The Kitchen which considering Melissa McCarthy is one of the leads is surprising. It must have really flown under the radar. You don't seem too enthusiastic about it but because of McCarthy I might give it a go anyway.

    I LOVE my choice of course since it stars three of my favorite actress (a list that runs into the triple digits! though all three of these ladies are in my top 25 and Ruth Roman in my top 10) and is another example of how versatile Robert Wise was. He started as a sound effects editor on Astaire/Rogers movies in the mid-thirties working his way up to the director's chair, garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Editing for Citizen Kane along the way, by the mid-forties starting with Curse of the Cat People of all things! From there he took the helm of films in just about every genre (he was coming off the great noir The Set-Up when he directed this film) and turning out many classics (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Born to Kill, The Haunting and I Want to Live! among many) besides West Side Story and Sound of Music, where he worked again with Eleanor Parker who played The Baroness in the film.

    Anyway as always I really enjoyed the week and reading about new films to discover or a different take on those I've seen. Thanks for letting me join in!

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    1. Hustlers is worth a look. The Kitchen has a ton of potential it just didn't fulfill. It's one of those movies that really should have been better. Surprised you hadn't at least heard of it because there was a fair amount of hype surrounding it before its release as the three leads were all over the place in front of every camera they could find. That died shortly after opening weekend. In short, it's made about $16 mil at the box office against a $38 mil budget.

      I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not at all familiar with Ruth Roman. I do know Robert Wise and have seen a handful of his films.

      Thank you for contributing such wonderful writing. You have become such an integral part of Girl Week I can't imagine it without you.

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    2. Well being unfamiliar with Ruth Roman isn't like having no clue who Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford would be but you're missing out on a very fine actress.

      Her most famous role without question was in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Hitch hadn't wanted her-an olive skinned brunette she wasn't his signature blonde and he thought her personality bristling so he made her life hell while shooting the picture. She's good in the film but it's hardly her best showcase, if you haven't seen it however its one of his essential movies and Robert Walker is brilliant in his next to last role as the deeply nuts Bruno.

      Her feature film career wasn't as strong as it should have been, a very forceful performer she came along at somewhat of the wrong time when the prototype was a more subdued perfect wife or delicate Audrey Hepburn sprite like creature. She would have done better in the gritter 30's.

      Be that as it may she's worth discovering and here are five of the roles that show her off to her best advantage along with this film and Strangers on a Train:

      Five Steps to Danger-A conspiracy thriller on the run.

      The Bottom of the Bottle-A sibling rivalry drama set in the West (and an amazing Frank Lloyd Wright designed ranch house) with Ruth caught in the middle.

      Lightning Strikes Twice-Ruth is recovering from an illness in the dry desert air and ends up embroiled in high drama and murder.

      Down Three Dark Streets-Crime drama with an FBI man (Broderick Crawford) hot on the trail of felons.

      Joe Macbeth-Shakespeare tragedy moved to gangland New York with Ruth and Paul Douglas as the murderous couple.

      There are also some rather unique facts about her:

      Her birth name-Norma Roman-is an anagram.

      She and her son were survivors of the Andrea Doria sinking. He was sleeping at the time of the collision being looked after by his nanny but Ruth was in one of the salons and felt the impact. Even though the ship began to list immediately she managed to get back to their cabin and they made their way to the lifeboats but after getting the boy and his nanny in the boat there was some confusion and it launched without Ruth. She was able to leave on the next lifeboat but hers was picked up by a different rescue ship than his. Arriving in New York she had to wait almost a full day before his came in. The combination of the sinking and with her being a major star at the time the coverage was akin to a circus. I'm sure it's on YouTube.

      There's also the oddity of the dates of her birth 12/22/22 and death 9/9/99.

      Hope you get a chance to explore some of her career!

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    3. "There's also the oddity of the dates of her birth 12/22/22 and death 9/9/99."

      And this is when the Twilight Zone theme song started playing in my head.

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  2. I'm still iffy about Hustlers as I want to give it a chance. I heard about how disappointing The Kitchen was as it had all of this hype to be something prestigious and it wasn't very good.

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    1. Hustlers is fun. I think you'll enjoy it. Yeah, The Kitchen is a big disappointment. It should have been sooooooo much better.

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  3. The only one of these I've seen is Hustlers, which was just fine. Congrats on another successful Girl Week!

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    1. Thanks. You were a big reason for its success!

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