Picks of the Week: Catherine the Great, Maleficent the Evil Mistress and Other Women to Watch On-Screen

Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood‘s newest resource. W&H writers are often asked for recommendations, so each week they’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that they’re most excited about. (Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at womenandhollywood.com to get each week’s picks delivered to your inbox!)


Miniseries of the Week: “Catherine the Great”

After spending our lives seeing mostly men in power positions, it is a welcome relief to watch “Catherine the Great,” starring Helen Mirren. It’s particularly nice that the lavish costume drama is on HBO, which has not always done right by its women characters.

Catherine, the Russian empress who came to power in a coup where her husband was killed by her henchmen, is just as ruthless as any man. She is surrounded by a court of hangers-on who are constantly plotting against her—she never knows whom she can trust.

The first two episodes of the four-part miniseries trace the beginning of Catherine’s relationship with Grigory Potemkin (Jason Clarke), a military advisor who becomes her lover and confidante. I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship develops over the final two episodes of the series. I’m also excited to keep watching a show that understands that women are just as complex as men, and just as capable of being vain and merciless. (Melissa Silverstein)

“Catherine the Great” premieres October 21 on HBO.


Disney Movie of the Week: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Written by Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, and Noah Harpster

There’s a lot of awesome woman power on-screen in this sequel to 2014’s Maleficent. Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer light up the screen in a tale of revenge and love and the usual Disney fare—but this one has a dark twist.

Pfeiffer portrays the vengeful, power-hungry Queen Ingrith. On the night her son becomes engaged to Fanning’s Aurora, she puts a spell on her husband, King John (Robert Lindsay), and gets everyone to blame Maleficent, which, as you can imagine, does not go over well.

Queen Ingrith has masterminded a plan to take over her kingdom, as well as Fanning’s Moors queendom, which is populated by fairies and all sorts of talking plants. Maleficent gets injured and is saved by Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a creature similar to herself. As she convalesces, she learns that there is a whole race of enchanted flying creatures who have been the targets of genocide and forced into hiding.

There are overt political messages of tolerance throughout Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Kids won’t get it, but the parents who accompany them hopefully will. (MS)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil hits theaters October 18.


Horror Movie of the Week: Greener Grass

Written and Directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe

This is the perfect horror movie if you, like me, find upper-middle-class passive-aggression and one-upmanship much more unsettling than ghosts or monsters.

With a visual aesthetic reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands, Greener Grass is a bizarre satire of the American Dream. Friends are so generous that they give their babies away. Kids go bad after watching 10 minutes of a violent TV show. Couples are so determined to rub their love lives in others’ faces that they accidentally make out with the wrong people.

Starring, written and directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, Greener Grass is as weird as it is entertaining. Its portrait of suburbia is exaggerated, but far from unrecognizable. If you’ve ever felt the need to keep up with the Joneses, or have been shamed for failing to do so, this film will resonate.

Greener Grass is more of a series of related vignettes than a plot-driven pic, but basically it’s the story of best friends experiencing a status shift in their quasi-idyllic community. Jill’s (DeBoer) star is slowly fading while Lisa’s (Luebbe) is rising. Going into specifics would ruin the film’s magic, but suffice to say, the women’s journeys are surreal AF.

Side note: They’ll also be super helpful if you’re out of Halloween costume ideas. (Rachel Montpelier)

Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe.

Greener Grass opens October 18 in New York and Los Angeles. It will also be available on VOD.


Documentaries of the Week: Chez Jolie Coiffure & The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman

Directed by Rosine Mbakam (Chez) and Written and Directed by Rosine Mbakam (Two Faces)

Filmmaker Rosine Mbakam takes an intimate look at migration, Cameroon culture and the power of female community in Chez Jolie Coiffure and The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman. The feature documentaries are set for a joint theatrical premiere this week.

Chez Jolie Coiffure centers on Sabine, an undocumented émigré who runs a salon in the African quarter of Brussels. Her request for asylum has been repeatedly rejected, and there are frequent immigration raids in her neighborhood, yet she’s unwaveringly cheerful and fun. It’s no wonder clients choose her to do their hair. Sabine also spends her time organizing a network to support fellow Cameroon émigrés by raising money, recruiting new members and helping people who need work and lodging.

The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman sees Mbakam coming home to Cameroon to visit her mother and participate in some of the traditional rites of passage she has missed since moving to Europe. For example, Mbakam, who has a toddler, gets a massage that new moms typically receive after giving birth. As Mbakam reconnects with her mother and her homeland, she also spotlights the female solidarity within her community. The women, including her mother, form a sort of co-op/council and pool their money to support one another, so everyone has access to food, schooling and other essentials. 

Mbakam has more of an on-screen role in Two Faces than Chez Jolie, but she’s very much a presence in both films—speaking directly to her subjects and providing the occasional comment or giggle. That just underlines how personal these projects are. She’s an émigré like Sabine, but she’s also her mother’s daughter, and has an intense connection to Cameroon.

This sense of intimacy inspires the audience to see the docs’ matriarch subjects as Mbakam sees them: as wise, willful leaders keeping the community together. (RM)

Chez Jolie Coiffure and The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman will open at NYC’s Anthology Film Archives October 16. Find screening info here.