Friday, October 20, 2017

Top 50 Actresses, #41 - Ginger Rogers: "Kitty Foyle" (1940)

Movie Stats:
Released 1940 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Sam Wood
Stars - Ginger Rogers, Dennis Morgan, James Craig

Plot Summary:
Kitty Foyle (Rogers) is at a crossroads, trying to decide between two men: the love of her life, Wyn Strafford (Morgan), who can’t offer her marriage, and the man who wants to marry her, Mark Eisen (Craig).

Warnings:
None.

Bad Stuff:
The misogyny is both rampant and awful.

The storytelling isn’t great, and not just because of all the flashbacks. For example, it never explains how Kitty & Mark end up together after she initially tells him she can’t continue to see him.

[SPOILER-y]
I don’t really care for Kitty. She says she’s deeply in love with Wyn, but then she keeps deciding that they can’t be together because of their class differences without giving him a chance to prove that it can work. And the movie wants me to be against him because of this, but I’m like, “Give the guy a chance already.”
[SPOILER]

Good Stuff:
I felt that it more realistically portrays a “class difference” relationship in that he’s wealthy and she’s middle class, rather than going for the extreme of wealthy/abject poverty. Also, I was impressed to hear someone in a film from 1940 say that fairytales give women unrealistic expectations of relationships.

If I ignore the cringe-inducing “drunken Irishman” stereotyping, I really liked Kitty’s dad, Tom Foyle (Ernest Cossart). He’s a good father.

I appreciated how strong Kitty is.

About the Performance:
I never saw a single Rogers film before this. I’m so unfamiliar with her work that I honestly thought she only did musicals/dancing. Anyway, I’m glad to finally see one of her films. I can’t say that I was wowed by her acting skills, but I didn’t think she was bad either. I did find her compelling. I would like to see more of her work in order to get a better feel for her abilities.

Other performances of Rogers’s I’ve reviewed: none.

The Verdict:
It’s okay. The misogyny and stereotyping made me very uncomfortable. I know these things can be prominent in older films, but it seemed more prominent in this than other older movies I’ve seen recently. However, I did like that Kitty is a strong woman and I liked that it addresses lots of interesting issues, some of which rarely see the silver screen. Ultimately, I feel that it was pleasant enough to watch one time around, but that I’ll soon forget all about it.

I give it 3.25 stars.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Woodland Enchantress Cross Stitch, Progress Report 6

Time for the quarterly update on my cross stitch project!

Here's a reminder of what it will look like when I'm done:


Here's what it looked like during my last update in July 2017:


And here's what it looks like now:


This represents 23.75 hours of work spread out over 11 days, my most ever! I discovered, once I got to know the ropes better, that I could take my cross stitch into work when I had day shifts and get in a handful of good hours on it. Now, those hours are somewhat approximate because I do get interrupted often with phone calls. But I did the best I could with keeping track.

As you'll notice, on the left hand side & lower corner, I've reached the edge. That means I'm getting close to done with this quadrant of the pattern! I've been feeling pretty good about how much work I got done this quarter. Then I remember I've been working on it for over a year & still haven't finished even one section. Still a long ways to go!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Top 50 Actresses, #42 - Ava Gardner: "The Killers" (1946)

Movie Stats:
Released 1946 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Richard Siodmak
Stars - Edmond O’Brien, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner

Plot Summary:
After small town gas station attendant Ole “Swede” Anderson (Lancaster) is murdered by a pair of hired killers, insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O’Brien) is hired to determine if his policy should be paid out. In the process, he discovers that Anderson’s history is inextricably entwined with that of femme fatale Kitty Collins (Gardner).

Warnings:
Violence.

Bad Stuff:
I didn’t much care for the format, telling the key part of the story through flashbacks.

Do insurance investigators really get all up in people’s business like that? Basically acting like police officers? I doubt they do now or ever did. It was a bit of poetic license for which I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

I hated the characters of “the killers.” They were so weirdly aggressive and condescending, especially for a pair of hired thugs. Fortunately, their time in the film is brief.

Good Stuff:
I’m typically not impressed with the acting in film noir (I feel that good acting isn’t the focus of this genre; it’s more about the story) but I thought a lot of it was very good here, especially from secondary characters.

I liked the story. It’s a good mystery, intricate without being confusing and with a satisfying amount of twists & turns. Of course, the original author is Hemingway, so no surprise about that really.

I liked the score. It’s quintessential film noir.

About the Performance:
I don’t think I picked the right film for Gardner. She wasn’t in this a whole lot. I largely felt lukewarm about her, mostly because I didn’t see enough of her. It wasn’t until the final scene that I felt like I got a good look at her acting chops, and then I really liked what I saw. If I ever forget the intricacies of this film, what I’ll remember are her final words and the way she said them. So I think that says something about her abilities. I’d like to see more of her work.

Other performances of Gardner’s I’ve reviewed: On the Beach.

The Verdict:
I’m not always big on film noir. Oftentimes, I feel that these films try too hard to be mysterious or that they have too many plot twists, so it turns into an endless parade of “dun dun DUN!!!” moments, to the detriment of the story. But this is a pretty good entry to the genre. It’s a satisfying mystery. There are a reasonable amount of plot twists. I never felt confused. Plus, it has a lot of interesting characters, most of whom are secondary. Maybe it wasn’t the best film for showcasing Gardner’s talents, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I give it 4 stars.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Top 50 Actresses, #43 - Grace Kelly: "The Country Girl" (1954)

Movie Stats:
Released 1954 (USA)
American, in English
Director - George Seaton
Stars - Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, William Holden

Plot Summary:
Director Bernie Dodd (Holden) hires alcoholic, over-the-hill actor Frank Elgin (Crosby) as the lead in his latest play, but quickly clashes with Frank’s wife, Georgie (Kelly), whom he believes is the source of Frank’s problems.

Warnings:
None.

Bad Stuff:
[SPOILER]
I really hate that the story went with the old “I now realize I was a total dick to you because I was secretly in love with you all along” trope between Bernie and Georgie. Barf.
[SPOILER]

I didn’t find the final conversation between Bernie, Frank, and Georgie even remotely believable.

I could’ve done without the casual misogyny and homophobia. (Don’t take my son to the hair salon with you, he’ll turn gay, hardy-har-har!)

Good Stuff:
The acting is out of this world. All three leads are fantastic. Holden made me hate Bernie for being such a self-righteous prick. Crosby made me fume at what a manipulative liar Frank is. And Kelly made me feel very, very sorry for Georgie.

I applaud it for being such an unflinching look at addiction & how poisonous it is to everyone who comes in contact with it.

I love the music/soundtrack. I was pleased that Crosby did so much singing. Partway through, my husband wandered in and opined, “You know, he was a good actor, they didn’t need to make him sing in every movie” and I was like, “Shut your mouth! I want to hear the man sing!”

About the Performance:
I like Grace Kelly. I was a little worried about the fact that she was supposed to be “plain” in this. Kelly was a very beautiful woman. I didn’t think they could truly dim her light, but the make-up and costuming departments got it right. It wasn’t about making her look “ugly,” it was about making her look like a beautiful woman who’s been beaten down by life. They achieved that. I expected good things from her in this. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, she exceeded my expectations. I thought she was magnetic.

Side note: Why were her male co-stars always so much older than her? In Rear Window, James Stewart was 21 years her senior. In this, Bing Crosby was 23 years older. And in High Noon, Gary Cooper was 28 years her senior. I checked a couple of her other films and this seems to have just been a trend in casting with her. Kind of weird.

Other performances of Kelly’s I’ve reviewed: Rear Window; High Noon.

The Verdict:
I liked this film a lot. It makes you uncomfortable in the best kind of way. For a large portion of the film, I seethed with hatred for both Bernie and Frank. Some of the vitriol that spews out of Bernie’s mouth will make you want to tear your hair out. It all serves a purpose, though. Bernie doesn’t quite get the comeuppance he so rightly deserves, but the unpleasantness gives way to an ending that’s satisfactory and makes sense. I really admired the film for tackling such a difficult subject in such a straightforward manner and for the excellent acting it showcased.

I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Up with Geography: Dominican Republic

Country Name:
Dominican Republic

Capital:
Santo Domingo

Continent:
None; it's an island

Maps:

Island of Hispaniola, featuring both Haiti &
Dominican Republic.

A close-up of Dominican Republic & its neighbor.

Neighbors:
It shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti; Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. Territory, is to the east.

Water Borders:
Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea

Total Area:
18,704 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, Santo Domingo Oeste, San Pedro de Macoris, La Romana

Famous Geographical Point:
Cordillera Central (“Central Mountain Range”)

Famous Person:
Jose Gabriel GarcĂ­a, writer, publisher, politician & co-founder of the Dominican Republic's first cultural society

Book Set In/About:
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

A fictionalized account of four sisters who were some of the leading opponents of General Rafael Trujillo, Dominican Republic's brutal dictator from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Movie Set In/About:
"La Lucha de Ana (Anna's Struggle)" (2012), directed by Bladimir Abud

When Anna's son is murdered, the humble flower seller fights against the system to get justice.

Headline of the Day:
"Dominican Republic Deports Thousands of Haitians in September" on telesurtv.net.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Top 50 Actresses, #44 - Marilyn Monroe: "The Misfits" (1961)

Movie Stats:
Released 1961 (USA)
American, in English
Director - John Huston
Stars - Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Eli Wallach, Montgomery Clift

Plot Summary:
After getting a divorce, beautiful but troubled Roslyn Taber (Monroe) falls in with aging cowboy Gay Langland (Gable) and his friends Guido (Wallach) & Perce Howland (Clift).

Warnings:
Violence; minor gore.

Bad Stuff:
There’s something about the relationship between Roslyn and Gay that’s just kind of icky to me, and it’s not the age difference. I feel like he takes advantage of her (not sexually) when she’s emotionally vulnerable. It makes it difficult to root for them as a couple.

It’s not exactly thrilling.

Petty complaint: Roslyn is living in an unfinished house without electricity in the middle of the desert and yet her eye make-up is perfect at all times. Super distracting.

Good Stuff:
I absolutely loved Thelma Ritter (as Roslyn’s friend Isabelle Steers). I wish she was in the movie more.

I rather enjoyed that all of the main characters are really messed up people. It was refreshing. It wasn’t about one person’s issues, it was about how everyone comes with their own baggage, no matter how they appear on the surface.

The cinematography is breathtaking.

About the Performance:
I’m not a big fan of Marilyn Monroe as an actress. I think she was beautiful, but I’ve always felt that she was one-note and I absolutely loathe her wide-eyed innocent act & breathy little girl voice. I certainly wouldn’t put her on my own Top 50 list. However, I do think what she presented here was more nuanced than her usual performances. She definitely grew in my estimation. I thought she did a great job, even though I didn’t always understand her character’s motivations.

Other performances of Monroe’s I’ve reviewed: Some Like It Hot; All About Eve.

The Verdict:
I think there’s a lot that’s good in this film. It’s beautiful to look at, and the acting is excellent from everyone. I liked that, on the surface, it’s a western, but that underneath there’s a lot more to it. It’s an interesting exploration of how each of us has our own demons that we deal with (or not). Its biggest failing is in character development. Most of the time, I simply didn’t understand why any of them was doing anything that they did. Also, I found it a bit on the boring side. Overall, I thought it was just okay.

I give it 3 stars.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Top 50 Actresses, #45 - Sally Field: "Norma Rae" (1979)

Movie Stats:
Released 1979 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Martin Ritt
Stars - Sally Field, Ron Leibman, Beau Bridges

Plot Summary:
Based on a true story. When labor organizer Reuben (Leibman) shows up to unionize the textile factory in which Norma Rae (Field) works, she eventually decides to take up the cause. Bridges co-stars as Sonny, Norma Rae’s love interest.

Warnings:
Minor blue language; minor violence; very minor gore; heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
Boring.

It takes too long to get going. You know that Norma Rae is going to get involved in unionizing but the film is practically halfway over before that happens.

I know it was part of the point, but I hated the numerous scenes in the factory where I had to listen to characters shout at each other over the noise of the machines.

Good Stuff:
I really liked the character of Sonny. He was interesting and complex and this may sound strange, but I enjoyed his speech pattern.

[SPOILER-y]
I’m glad that the relationship between Norma Rae and Sonny didn’t “go there,” even though they had chemistry. It’s always good to see a male-female friendship and it’s nice when movies avoid falling into cliches.
[SPOILER]

Another strong female role where the romantic relationship is secondary! I approve.

About the Performance:
Sally Field was very good, very believable. I liked that her character was tough, so used to men telling her what she should or shouldn’t do as a woman that she did whatever she wanted without giving their opinions a second thought. At the same time, you could see the cracks in her facade when she faced situations with which she was unfamiliar. Field portrayed that quite well. I think her Oscar win was deserved.

Other performances of Field’s I’ve reviewed: Forrest Gump.

The Verdict:
Mostly, I thought it was dull. It does a good job of showing the situation at the factory, explaining both why many would want to organize and also why they would be afraid to. It’s also good at showcasing the nasty tactics that some employers go to in order to prevent unionizing. Additionally, it did well at portraying the low-key sexism that many women face on an all-too-frequent basis. I enjoyed the characters of Norma Rae and Sonny and their interactions with each other. But I was bored. There’s something about the way they filmed movies in the 1970s that just doesn’t connect with me. I think it’s a pacing issue. They’re often so slow in the beginning that by time they get to the point, I’m already checked out.

I give it 3 stars.