The Secret Garden

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I almost resent that this film is categorized as a “family movie” because it is so much more than that. This film is the definition of art. The score, the scenery, and the eeriness alone are masterful. Then throw in the incredible talent of the girl playing Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly) and the acting force that IS Maggie Smith, and it completely blows you away.   

If you don’t know the story (shame on you!), The Secret Garden is about a young girl named Mary who lives in India with her selfish, wealthy parents. When an earthquake leaves her orphaned, she is sent home to Britain to live at her estranged Uncle’s manor. Maggie Smith plays Mrs. Medlock, the head of the household and resident grouch-ass of the estate.

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Death rays.

Both Mary and Mrs. Medlock are ruthless humans. Mary never smiles and is constantly making malicious comments and throwing tantrums. Mrs. Medlock gives zero shits about Mary and makes sure to tell Mary how ugly, pathetic, and unlovable she is whenever she gets the chance. They have some ISSUES. In fact, I’d say about 95% of the characters in this movie are hateful, bitter, suicidal, or all of the above. But isn’t that the foundation of any classic family film?

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That’s some high-quality keymanship.

On her first day at the mansion, Mary goes exploring without permission and finds an abandoned wing of the house. It reminds me of the forbidden West Wing in Beauty and the Beast – a.k.a the place is a dump. She comes across her Aunt’s dressing table and opens a jewelry box.  Inside, she finds an exquisite skeleton key (aaand cue my 25 year obsession with skeleton keys), which she promptly puts back. The table also houses a picture of her Aunt and Mother, who apparently were identical twins, as they sit on a swing in a garden.

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As she continues to roam, she is drawn further into the house by the sound of a person crying and moaning. Before she can discover where the sound is coming from, Medlock is assaulting her and ushering her back to her prison/bedroom. When Mary tries to ask about the voice, Medlock tells her it’s the wind, which Mary reads as complete B.S.

Meanwhile, Mary befriends the only slightly normal person in the estate, Mrs. Medlock’s servant, Martha. Martha tells Mary about her Uncle’s solitude after the passing of his wife, and how he hardly ever comes home to his estate. When they finally let Mary out into the prison yard…I mean gardens, to play, she discovers a locked garden door that intrigues her. According to the old gardener working the land, no one’s gone in since the passing of her Aunt. Mary wants to know why. Eventually she remembers the key she found in her Aunt’s dressing table and uses it to enter the forbidden garden.

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Mary and Dickon, turning the pre-teen passion up to 11.

Mary isn’t sure if the garden is alive or dead, so she enlists the help of Martha’s vagabond younger brother (and underage HOTTIE), Dickon to help her. Dickon has the personality of a young Bob Ross — he’s gentle, friendly, and caretaker to all animals. Unfortunately though, he does not share Bob Ross’ out-of-control white man’s afro.

As the story progresses, Mary discovers the source of the moaning in the house: her bedridden cousin, Colin. Colin’s an entitled, translucent little child who spent his entire life in a bed being told he’s going to die soon. Uplifting.

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I’d be sour too if I was that pasty.

Mary’s outspoken voice teaches him to move past his hypochondria and explore the garden with his cousin. Soon the three children are playing in their new secret garden and planning how they’ll use magic to force Colin’s father to finally return.

But not everyone at the manor is happy with this change, most notably Mrs. Medlock. Medlock struggles with her new uselessness as Colin bosses her around and resists her care. She blames Mary for the changes and becomes increasingly hostile and defensive. Mary forces Medlock and every other character to face their realities and come to terms with their demons, and the revelations are hard to swallow. But Mary’s biggest hurdle is learning how to simply be a child – to be happy, and to know what it’s like to be loved.

The Secret Garden is an elegant story about the innocence and struggles of childhood. There’s a dark beauty in the suffering the characters must endure to come into the light, and it’s visual poetry watching it all unfold. Also, it has cute baby animals.

 

Moonstruck

Maybe it’s because this movie is about an Italian family. Maybe it’s because of my deep love for the moon. Maybe it’s because young Cher reminds me of my mother or because I find Nic Cage to be accidentally hilarious in every film he’s in. Regardless of what makes this movie meaningful for me, you must witness it with your own eyes to relate to my passion.

As the title suggests, Moonstruck’s premise has a lot to do with the power of the moon. The turning point of each character’s story happens under stunning moonlight on the same evening. It is a familiar moon; a moon that was seen once before:

I never seen anybody so in love like Cosmo back then! He’d stand outside the house all day and look in the windows. I never told you this cause it’s not really a story. But one time I woke up in the middle of the night cause this bright light was in my face. Like a flashlight. I couldn’t think a what it was. I looked out the window, and it was the moon! Big as a house! I never seen the moon so big before or since. I was almost scared, like it was gonna crush the house. And I looked down, and standing there in the street was Cosmo, looking up at the windows. This is the funny part. I got mad at you, Cosmo! I thought you brought this big moon over to my house cause you were so in love and woke me up with it. I was half asleep I guess.

Before I sum up the storyline, consider some of the major elements of this film:

  1. It stars Cher and Nicolas Cage.
    I should just stop now because what else do you need to know?
  2. The film is abundant in tiny, old men and dogs.
    Seriously, do I have to keep listing things?
  3. It takes place in New York in the late eighties, hair included. 
  4. MOON. Big, beautiful, seductive moon all over this movie.

The story is of Loretta Castorini (Cher), a 30-something widow who’s given up on love because she thinks she’s past her prime. So, she settles for Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), a 40-something Italian Mama’s Boy with an itchy scalp and a pinky ring. He’s a nice guy, but he’s basically just a blob of nervous man-flesh without any true substance. Loretta doesn’t love him, and she’s honest about it, but her desire for companionship makes her feel safe in settling. Unfortunately, after Johnny’s awkward marriage proposal to Loretta, he must leave immediately for Italy to take care of his dying mother. He promises they will be married when he returns, and he asks Loretta a favor in the meantime: Call his estranged brother, Ronny Cammareri (Nic Cage) and invite him to the wedding.

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Reality check, bro.

In order to understand the magic of what’s about to unfold between Loretta and Ronny, you must first understand a bit about their characters’ personalities. Loretta is a snappy, firecracker of a woman, always ready with a sarcastic quip and roll of her eyes. Ronny is the original Emo with a healthy dose of Stanley Kowalski (Stella!) torment. He is dead inside, and only his passion for the opera remains. Both characters have a romantic past riddled with bad luck and freak accidents, and they blame all of life’s subsequent disappointments on these tragic incidents.

Back to the story: Loretta calls Ronny, who promptly screams through the receiver like a man-beast and hangs up. Loretta, being the fiery Italian she is, isn’t satisfied with this encounter, so she decides to pay Ronny a visit at the bakery he owns.

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Drama queen over here.

After a signature Nic Cage tantrum that involves violent threats, aggressive bread chucking, and plenty of crazy eyes, Loretta calmly continues to engage the apparent psychopath. She asks Ronny if they can go somewhere and talk it out. Ronny, now exhausted from his absurd rant, invites her upstairs to his apartment.

As they sit in Ronny’s kitchen, Loretta and Ronny experience an immediate and unexpected intimacy. Each of them laments about the woes of their past loves, but instead of consoling one another, Ronny and Loretta respond to each other with a brutal honesty that one would only expect from a very close friend. The conversation is raw and visceral, and both characters are a little taken aback. In that moment, all the fear, the passion, the hate, and the vulnerability that was dormant inside of them is laid out as plainly as the rare steak on the table between them. Finally being real with themselves, Ronny and Loretta are unleashed and hungry for one another. The tension is tantalizing as Ronny whisks Loretta from the kitchen to make love to her.

While Loretta and Ronny experiment with the volatile mixture of pent up passion and loneliness, the rest of Loretta’s family deals with their own life struggles. Every character in this movie — from the lead roles played by big names like Cher, Nic Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, and John Mahoney, to smaller characters like Bobo the waiter and the gypsy woman at the airport — is an unmistakable gem. No small roles or small actors in sight! Whoever cast this film should get a Lifetime Achievement Award. Here’s a quick insight into some of these perfectly faulted characters:

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Cosmo Castorini (Vincent Gardenia) – Cosmo is Loretta’s father. Wealthy from his lucrative plumbing business, Cosmo is seemingly living the dream. However, his character remains stubborn and unsatisfied. Cosmo’s wife, Rose, suspects her husband is having an affair.

Rose Castorini (Olympia Dukakis) – Rose, like her daughter, is a hot-blooded Italian steamroller. She’s dry, she says what she thinks, and she’s the family matriarch. Rose is struggling to understand her husband’s recent distance from her by analyzing every male she comes in contact with.

Sound advice, Rose.

Rita and Raymond Cappomaggi – The signature Italian Aunt and Uncle, and signature adorable elderly couple, Rita and Raymond are light-hearted and can always be found at the Castorini dinner table. Their supporting characters give us insight into Cosmo and show us there’s always hope for true love and laughter with your soulmate.

Perry (John Mahoney) – John Mahoney’s character can’t seem to make it through a scene in this movie without getting some sort of beverage thrown in his face. He’s a handsome professor trying to relive his youth by chasing women, particularly his students, and continuously failing miserably to relate. He meets Rose at Bobo’s restaurant and becomes an important piece of her internal struggle.

Old Man – “Old Man” is the actual name they gave the character (hilarious!), although he is supposed to be Loretta’s grandfather. He lives with Loretta and her parents in their gigantic New York house, along with his dogs. This character is mostly defined by his facial expressions and gestures, as he tends to embody the quiet, ancient grandpa blending into the drapes. But in typical grandpa style, the few comments he does choose to make are some of the simplest and wisest of the film.

As Ronny and Loretta realize the mistake of their passions, Loretta is determined to make things right. She must never see Ronny again. Ronny is willing to make the sacrifice as long as Loretta spends just one more evening with him at the opera. Although Johnny’s unexpected return looms over Loretta, she agrees to the night out. All the characters’ storylines converge and take shape at this turning point, so I’ll leave the rest of the story a mystery for you to uncover when you watch it.

My cup runneth over with memorable scenes and dialogue from this movie. The two best monologues are performed by the brilliance that is Nic Cage – first with his rant in the bakery, and second with his desperately romantic (and kind of depressing) plea to Loretta, part of which includes this intriguing observation:

We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and love the wrong people and die!

Moonstruck is raw, charming, and relatable for everyone. If you watch this film and still don’t understand why it’s so extraordinary, you have no soul.

 

 

The Harvey Girls

Strap on your cowboy boots and brimmed hat, we’re taking a musical ride to the old West. The Harvey Girls is one of my favorite musicals ever. It has something for everyone: The classic charms of Judy Garland, the ambiance of an old Western, young Angela Lansbury slutting-it-up in a corset, a pissed off snake in a closet, an all-female bar fight, historical fiction, a sensual mustached man, FIRE, steaks, and horrifically oversized head bows. While the storyline has “romance”, I like that the romance isn’t the ENTIRE focus. As those who know me well will attest, I’d rather absorb the rays of a 1985 microwave than watch a RomCom. The plot never makes sense, the female is always doing something annoying and stupid, and all I feel the entire time is anxiety. No, thanks.

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Angela Lansbury rocking some fish nets after murdering 1,000 flamingos to make her boa

The Harvey Girls story has some romance, and some comedy, but the other aspects of the movie still have room to breathe. The basic plot is that a young, extremely naïve (but badass) farm girl meets a group of women on the train as she is traveling to marry a guy she’s never met. The women she meets are on their way to open a Harvey House restaurant – a real chain of restaurants in the 1800’s set up at railway stations across the country to feed hungry travelers. Fun fact: It was the first restaurant chain in the United States. So anyway, her hubby-to-be is a man she’s been writing letters to after she answered his ad for a mail order bride. Did I mention she’s also desperate and apparently not afraid of murder?

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Judy Garland giving Sensual Mustache the what-for!

Well, as plot twists would have it, when she arrives in the town she finds out she’s been duped. The guy sending her the letters is a greasy looking fellow with the IQ of a piece of bread. He’s had the sensually mustached saloon owner writin’ dem perdy things to her. Naturally — as any woman who just travelled 1,000 miles to a desert in the middle of summer on a train with no air conditioning would be — Judy Garland is PISSED. But, now she thinks, “Well, I’m poor AF, so I guess I’ll just stay here and open this restaurant with these broads I met on the train.” Seems reasonable. Before she rolls up her sleeves though, she makes sure to give Sensual Mustache the what-for. Now it’s a battle between the white-aproned Harvey Girls representing decency and conservatism and the free-ballin’ rouge-smeared saloon girls trying to defend their turf. The whole town is forced into the tug-of-war as Sensual Mustache’s friends try to drive the Harvey Girls out of their town.

One of the defining aspects of this movie is that, while it reeks of 1946 sexism in many ways, the representation of women overall is pretty gangster. The women aren’t the side piece, they’re the story.

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Judy Garland has had enough of your shit.

They struggle, they brawl, they even go H.A.M. on some blacksmithing. These are independent and strong females. Angela Lansbury kills it as the sassy leader of the saloon girls. No man owns her, except maybe *Spoiler Alert* Sensual Mustache, who she’s desperately in love with — because who wouldn’t be?

Judy Garland and her Harvey Girls posse share the estrogen empowerment as they go to work with their female bosses slinging steaks and whacking weeds, all while pointing guns at anyone who gets in their way. Their resilience makes you root for them, even as they do ballet on a rickety balcony and sing about how old and sad they’ll be some day.

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