Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Late October marks not only the advent of Halloween, but also National Frankenstein Friday on October 28, celebrating the birth of Frankenstein and his creator Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. To honor this most iconic of monsters consider watching one of the following films.
Frankenstein (1931) The original that spawned it all. Directed by the late great James Whale (Hell’s Angels, The Invisible Man) and starring the legendary Boris Karloff in the title role, it was spectacularly successful at the box office as was its sequel Bride of Frankenstein. It was ranked 27 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, and the Chicago Films Critics Association has called it the 14th Scariest Movie Ever Made. The American Film Institute would also name it the #87 greatest movie of all time. Not just greatest scary movie but greatest movie period.
Young Frankenstein (1974) Directed by Mel Brooks and starring the recently deceased, and much mourned Gene Wilder as the title character; a descendant of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, and Cloris Leachman all helped round out the cast as well. To help evoke the atmosphere of the early 30’s films, Brooks made the bold move of shooting the movie entirely in black and white. It generally heads the lists of all-time great comedies and on its 40th anniversary, Brooks named it his finest (though not funniest) film.
Monster Squad (1987) In this 80’s horror comedy written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker a group of kids seek to thwart the plans of the evil Count Dracula who leads a troupe of legendary monsters including the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and of course “Frankie.” The twist here is that Frankie becomes BFF’s with a little girl, before joining the good guys in the battle against Dracula. While not especially successful when it first opened, Monster Squad has since become an acknowledged cult classic among horror buffs of all ages.
May(2002) This psychological horror film, inspired by Mary Shelley’s concept, concerns a troubled young woman named May (Angela Bettis of Girl Interrupted) whose sole ‘friend’ is a doll named Suzy. Struggling to connect with people around her, May remembers her mother’s advice – “If you can’t find a friend, make one.” Of course to do that she’ll need parts. Lots and LOTS of parts. Bettis won the Award for Best Actress at the Catalonian International Film Festival and the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film. Moreover Bloody Disgusting ranked May #17 in their list of “The Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade.”
Frankenweenie (2012) This Black and White, 3-D stop motion, animated fantasy horror comedy film directed by Tim Burton was a remake of Burton’s 1984 short by the same name. Both a parody and homage to Mary Shelley’s classic, it’s voiced by Burton veterans Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, and Martin Landau. It was critically acclaimed as a welcome return to form for Burton with an 87% fresh rating on the Tomatometer, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
On August 29 the world became just a little less funny with the news that legendary comedian Gene Wilder had passed away at the age of 83. Gene Wilder performed in several Broadway productions including Mother Courage and Her Children and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest before getting his first film role in the 1967 picture Bonnie and Clyde working alongside Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. But he didn’t really hit it big until The Producers (1968) written and directed by Mel Brooks where as Leo Bloom, Wilder played the straight man to Zero Mostel. Wilder was in a word magical; the scene where Mostel’s Max gets Leo dancing around in a fountain is one for the ages as is seeing the Jewish Leo having to wear a swastika banner on his arm. Wilder was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Mel Brooks (And America!) had found a new Funnyman.
Gene Wilder’s iconic performance in the titular role of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor-Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. No offense to Johnny Depp, but no one, no one could play a peculiar, sad-eyed dreamer like Wilder could with those large haunting, melancholy peepers of his. In 1972, Wilder was featured in Woody Allen’s classic Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid To Ask. In 1974, Wilder starred in two movies for Brooks; Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein both of which are now universally agreed on as not only Brooks best work, not only two of the best comedies of all time, but as two of the best movies of all time. Period. (To this day my father has memorized the whole song and dance routine for Young Frankenstein’s musical number “Putting on the Ritz.”)
Then came the Richard Pryor years following the 1976 hit Silver Streak when Hollywood learned that Pryor and Wilder were a dynamite pairing. The two would go on to make three more films Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1990). The last was the last major film either one of them ever starred in. Pryor became increasingly debilitated due to MS and died in 2005, while Wilder became more retiring in the wake of the death of his third wife Gilda Radner at the age of 42, from ovarian cancer in 1989. He only had a few smaller television gigs, including the role of Mock Turtle in a live action version of Alice in Wonderland, and then retreated to private life completely. But oh what a run he had while it lasted!
Goodbye Gene, and I hope you’re riding off into the sunset now somewhere with Gilda, Richard, Zero, and Cleavon Little.
On Thursday, July 14th a terrorist drove a monster truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France. More than 80 people died. The holiday celebrates the storming of the Bastille which is commonly considered to have kicked off the French Revolution. (Even if only seven prisoners were actually released.) In honor of this historic event, and remembering those who died during what should have been a joyous celebration, consider watching one of the following films. We stand with France.
A Tale of Two Cities(1935) Eighty years later, director Jack Conway’s (Northwest Passage, A Star is Born) adaption of the Charles Dickens masterpiece is generally regarded as the best cinematic version of the classic saga. Ronald Colman plays the famous dissipated misanthrope Sydney Carton, Donald Woods the gallant Frenchman Charles Darnay, Elizabeth Allen in the ingénue role of Lucy Manet, and the late great Basil Rathbone as the villainous aristocrat Marquis St. Evremonde.
Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) Directed by Bud Yorkin (Divorce American Style, Inspector Clouseau) this screwball comedy stars Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland as two sets of identical twins switched at birth. One set is haughty and aristocratic while the other are poor and dim-witted and they find themselves involved in palace intrigue and wacky hijinks right on the eve of the French Revolution. Also starring Hugh Griffith (Ben-Hur, Tom Jones) as King Louis and Orson Welles serving as Narrator.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) Based on the classic swashbuckler of the same name by Baroness Orczy and directed by Clive Donner (What’s New Pussycat? Vampira) In 1792, during the reign of terror, the Scarlet Pimpernel saves French aristocrats from the guillotine while posing as foppish dandy Sir Perceval Blakeney (Anthony Andrews). Percy marries the stunning French actress Marguerite St. Just (Jane Seymour) but her past relationship with Robespierre’s agent Paul Chauvelin (Ian McKellan!) endangers his plans to save the young Dauphin, eldest son of the late King of France. Also starring James Villiers, Eleanor David, and Richard Morant.
Ridicule (1996) Directed by Patrick Leconte (The Hairdresser’s Husband, Girl on a Bridge) and set in Versailles in the late 18th century, and shown primarily through the eyes of minor aristocrat and engineer Ponceludon (Charles Berling), Ridicule shows a corrupt and decadent French court, where social status can rise and fall based on the ability to dole out witty (and cruel) insults while avoiding being the object of ridicule oneself. In one extreme example a nobleman is forced to leave court for the loss of a single shoe and is so distraught he hangs himself. The film won four Cesar Awards including best director and best film.
Farewell My Queen (2012) Directed by Benoit Jacquot (The Wings of the Dove), we see the routines of palace life at Versailles through the eyes of Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux of Blue is the Warmest Color and Spectre) maid to Queen Antoinette (Diane Kruger of Inglorious Bastards and National Treasure). Taking place over three days from the storming of the Bastille to the Royal Family’s (failed) attempt to flee Versailles for Switzerland. It won three Cesar Awards including best cinematography and was nominated for seven more including best actress, best director, and best film.
Top photo: Paris France Palace of Justice, Palais de Justice, is the center of the French legal system. Bigstock photo.
Thursday July 7th is Chocolate Day! In honor of such a tantalizing holiday consider watching one of the following tributes to one of life’s most decadent pleasures; the flower of the cocoa bean. Warning-watching these may bring on sudden cravings.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) This musical fantasy directed by Mel Stuart (Four Days in November, One is a Lonely Number) with a legendary performance by dreamy eyed Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka about how Charlie Bucket receives a Golden Ticket to tour Wonka’s Chocolate Factory along with four other children is one of the most beloved children’s films of all time especially for the iconic scene when the children reach the main room of Wonka’s factory with the edible forest and chocolate water fountain. Adapted from the Roald Dahl classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory there’s also the 2005 film version as well directed by Tim Burton starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.
Consuming Passions (1988) This black comedy based on the 1973 radio play Secrets, tells the tale of a chocolate factory preparing to launch a new product. Unfortunately a worker falls into the vat during production and the horrified owners fail to recall the chocolates. When the newest chocolates become a surprise hit, the factory owners realize they have inadvertently stumbled on a new key secret ingredient for candy production. Starring Sammi Davis, Vanesssa Redgrave, and Johnathon Pryce.
Like Water for Chocolate (1992) Adapted from the novel and directed by Alfonso Arauby the same name by Laura Esquivel. As the youngest daughter Tita De La Garza (Lumi Cavazos) is forbidden to marry and instead charged with caring for her mother until the day she dies. Pedro (Marco Leonardi) is in love with Tita but marries her sister Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi) instead to be close to her. Tita a chef, begins to sublimate her passions into her work and thus we get some of the sexiest cooking scenes ever recorded on camera. It earned all eleven Ariel awards from the Mexico Academy of Motion Pictures including Best Picture and became the highest grossing Spanish language film ever released in the U.S. at the time.
Chocolat (2000) This film adaption of the Joanne Harris novel of the same name stars Juliette Binoche as Vianne Rocher a expert chocolatier who travels to a sleepy French town in 1959 with her daughter Anouk to open a chocolate shop at the beginning of Lent-much to the displeasure of the town mayor the Comte de Reynaud (Al Molina). The all-star cast also includes, Johnny Depp, Carrie Anne Moss, Judi Dench, Lena Olin and Peter Stormare, it was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Picture.
The Dark Side of Chocolate(2010) In this 46 minute long documentary available online, journalists Miki Mistrati (The Massive Killer) and Robin Romano (Stolen Childhoods)investigate how the worldwide chocolate industry is fueled by child trafficking in the Ivory Coast.