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.
The Indie release, The Little Hours, coming out on June 30, takes place in a medieval convent where a young, runaway, servant (Dave Franco) takes refuge. The early buzz on the film has been good and it will be joining a cinematic tradition of nuns and convent life on screen.
The Bells of Saint Mary’s (1945) Directed by Leo Carey (The Awful Truth, An Affair to Remember), starring screen legends Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman as respectively a priest and nun who despite a good-hearted rivalry work together to save an inner city school. It was a massive commercial success grossing over $8 million on its initial run making it the highest grossing movie of 1945 and the most profitable film in the history of RKO. It also won the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording and was nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director.
Agnes of God (1985) Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Moonstruck) directed this mystery drama based on the stage play of the same name. Young novice Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly) is found directly after giving birth with a dead infant she insists was the result of a virgin conception. Psychiatrist Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda) is assigned to assess Agnes’s state of mind and she quickly comes to clash with Mother Superior Miriam (Anne Bancroft). Tilly won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category as well.
Sister Act (1992) Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing) directed this American musical comedy. Whoopi Goldberg stars as Deloris a Reno lounge singer who sees her married mobster lover shoot a guy. The local police decide the safest place for her is to hide her in a convent in San Francisco under the alias of Sister Mary Clarence. ‘Sister Mary’ soon becomes choir director and begins turning things upside down in the parish as her ex-flame seeks high and low to find her. It was a huge box office smash grossing over $200 million worldwide on a $30 million budget and generally well received by critics.
Dead Man Walking (1995) Tim Robbins directed and adapted the screenplay for this movie from the non-fiction book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean who has worked as a spiritual counselor to death row prisoners. Susan Sarandon stars as Sister Helen in a role that won her an Oscar and Sean Penn gives an astonishing performance as unrepentant killer Matthew Poncelot. The movie holds a current fresh rating of 95% from Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Song.
The Madgalene Sisters (2002) Peter Mullan wrote and directed this heart-breaking and infuriating Irish-British drama about three teenage girls sent to the Magdalene Asylums (otherwise known as Magdalene laundries) for ‘fallen women.’ The cast includes Anne-Marie Duff (The Virgin Queen, Suffragette) as young heroine Margaret and five time Olivier Award nominee Geraldine McEwan as the evil Sister Bridget. The characters themselves are composites, but their stories horrifically are quite real. It was one of the biggest commercial successes in Ireland that year, won the Golden Lion at Venice, and holds a 90% fresh rating on the Tomatometer.
With Dr. Strange coming out Friday, (the buzz says that it’s the trippiest Marvel movie yet), inevitably the mind turns to other magicians, wizards, witches, and sorcerers supreme who’ve dazzled us on screen. As the following examples show mastering the Dark Arts is a veritable cinematic tradition.
The Wizard of Oz(1939) This technicolor, musical-comedy-drama-fantasy, based on the beloved Frank L. Baum masterpiece, represents the best of Golden Age Hollywood with Judy Garland in the performance that made her an icon. While (spoiler alert) the titular wizard is a fraud, the powers of Elphalba the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good Witch are very real and propel much of the events of the plot. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture but lost to Gone With the Wind. Initially something of a box office disappointment, it would later go on to become one of the best known films in American history and a cultural landmark.
Excalibur(1981) Directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman (Deliverance and The Tailor of Panama) Excalibur retells the classic legend of King Arthur primarily from the viewpoint of Merlin played with grandeur by Nicol Williamson (Hamlet, Inadmissible Evidence). From the days of Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne in the role that launched his career) to Arthur’s final showdown with Mordred, Merlin steals the show. And this is among a truly great cast including Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana Le Fay, Nicholas Clay as Sir Lancelot, Cherie Lunghi as Gwenevere, a young Patrick Stewart as King Leondegrance, Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain, and Corin Redgrave as the Duke of Cornwall. It was all filmed in Ireland, and holds up as one of the best Arthurian adaptions of all time.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987) Directed by George Miller of Mad Max fame and based on the John Updike novel of the same name. Alexandra (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), are three women all living in Eastwick, Rhode Island who share two things in common. One, they’re all single having lost their husbands. Secondly, unbeknownst to them, they are all witches, and wittingly they start a coven and start practicing spells. Soon the mysterious Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) comes to town and that’s when things start to get freaky. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and holds an over 70% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Directed by Chris Columbus. No such list would be complete without including the movie based on the best-selling book series that kicked off one of THE most successful film franchises in history. It helped that to do justice to Rowling’s vision they put together an all-star cast as well including Maggie Smith, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane, and the dearly departed Alan Rickman. Billions of dollars later, Hogwarts has become a cultural landscape that all children secretly dream of being invited to attend, Dumbledore and Snape are now household names, and it launched Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe’s careers into the stratosphere.
The Witch (2015) Newcomer Robert Eggers wrote and directed this historical period supernatural horror tale that came seemingly out of nowhere to become an indie hit that grossed $40 million on a $3 million dollar budget. A puritan family is banished from their old settlement and builds a new farm by the woods. But beginning with the disappearance of their youngest child infant Samuel it soon becomes clear they are being terrorized by a powerful witch. It has an over 90% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Stephen King said the movie “scared the hell out of me.”
The Meddler is less a tale of meddling and more a tale of motherhood. It spotlights Susan Sarandon in a role that speaks to audiences. Outside of motherhood, there are themes of loneliness, moving on, and essentially trying to find purpose in a life that has lost its compass. “Anyway,” Sarandon’s Marnie says at the beginning of the film, proceeding to regale us with what she’s been up to, ending in a reassurance that she’s doing just fine. Writer and director Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) keeps the theatrics to a minimum and by keeping it down-to-earth, The Meddler is endearing, heartfelt, and might just make you want to call your mother afterward.
Picking up what’s left of her life after the death of her husband, Marnie (Sarandon) moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), who’s stressed over a new pilot she’s writing and can’t seem to move on from her last boyfriend (Jason Ritter). The introduction makes it look like the plot will revolve heavily on Marnie (who listens to a lot of Beyoncé’s “I Was Here”) and Lori’s relationship and equally give time to the both of them. However, while there’s a lot of tension in their relationship, once Marnie heads off to New York for a few weeks, the narrative shifts entirely to Marnie.
Left with money to spend and lots of time on her hands, Marnie spends it hovering over her daughter, calling her several times a day. She attends baby showers, volunteers thousands of dollars in order for Lori’s friend Jillian (Cecily Strong) to have a proper wedding, and drives the local iPhone sales guy, Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), to night school. This is all to avoid facing the fact that she’s a widow and doesn’t quite know what to do with herself anymore. Believing that helping others will prove useful, she comes to the realization that she also has to move on and think about her own happiness after meeting a security employee named Zipper (J.K. Simmons) on a movie set.
The Meddler has the distinct ability to bring out the best in its lead character by allowing Sarandon to take front and center, letting her steer the plot instead of the other way around. It does help that the plot isn’t very heavy, either. Disregarding the fact that Sarandon doesn’t have to worry about her financial stability, she’s a relatable character in every other aspect. At any age, people can feel adrift and wander throughout life without being able to move on. And this is essentially the definition of the film’s beauty. It’s in its simplicity and human relatability which endears it to us. Marnie tries to find purpose by doing several things, all of which are helpful and good deeds, but none that truly mean anything to her on a deeper level. The bridges she must cross to get back to her daughter and to open up her heart again are her true journeys.
Not everything works. There’s Marnie’s almost-suitor, played by Michael McKean, but he shows up twice and is forgettable in the bigger scheme of things. There is also a drug episode, where Marnie swallows an entire bag of pot, but other than wandering through Los Angeles in a haze and a lot of pretty shots of fountains, there isn’t much that this adds to the film. There could have also been more of Byrne’s character. Her interactions with Sarandon are fantastic and it would have been enjoyable to have more of her journey documented as well. Regardless, The Meddler is one of those films that has a lot of heart, some humor, and a character’s journey that drives the story. And if you feel the need to call your mother afterward, then the film has accomplished its goal.
Photos by Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics