(1991, Ridley Scott)
“You’ve always been crazy, this is just the first chance you’ve had to express yourself”
Feminism in film is often a thorny topic, one that centres on representation of women in cinema. Far too often, movies put men front and centre, leaving women to be side characters or leads in fluffy romantic movies only. It’s rare for women to be put front and centre in more demanding roles, and that’s before we even see some of the struggles women face and are still trying to deal with via feminism. But in 1991, Ridley Scott had a go at tackling the subject with Thelma & Louise.
In Arkansas, Thelma (Geena Davis) lives with an overbearing husband, causing her to be passive and withdrawn. Her best friend, Louise (Susan Sarandon), is much tougher and self-assured. Louise suggests a weekend away, and Thelma escapes and goes along. However, before their weekend can truly begin, Thelma is almost raped by a man at a bar. Louise saves her by shooting and killing him, leading the duo to go on the run to escape the consequences of this action.
Thelma & Louise is a sometimes-difficult movie to watch, from the uncomfortable rape scene to the realisation that Thelma’s naivety gets the duo into more trouble than it should. The rape scene does need to be mentioned, especially because of how unpleasant it is. I personally find rape one of the most reprehensible things a person can do, so I was not having a good time with that scene. Which I suppose means it did its job. But beneath all this difficulty is a very strong movie about friendship.
And what a friendship. Thelma and Louise are two very different characters that manage to bounce off each other incredibly well. Despite their vast differences, these two are believable as friends. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, but they do have excellent on-screen chemistry and it’s easy to see why Louise still sticks by her buddy despite the worst things that happen to them.
Both characters are also hugely sympathetic. Thelma is alarmingly ditzy at times, but her naivety has a degree of innocence to it, almost as if being with her controlling husband has reduced her to this state, especially with her increasingly coming out of her shell as the movie progresses. Louise is harder and sterner, but there’s a genuine affection for her friend, and the permanent sense that she’s been hardened through trauma. Both women are excellent characters played perfectly, and that was the main thing this movie needed to get right.
Performances are also excellent from the supporting cast. Brad Pitt is charming and sleazy in equal measure, Harvey Kietel is surprisingly sympathetic in his role as a “villain” and it’s hard to not feel sorry for Michael Madsen’s character for getting wrapped up in something he doesn’t know all the details of, but supporting Louise all the same.
The movie has had accusations of being “man-hating” and “anti-men”, and while certainly Thelma’s would-be rapist, Thelma’s husband and Brad Pitt (basically all men Thelma directly has to deal with, funnily enough) are all absolute shits, Kietel and Madsen are played sympathetically, which is especially odd with both of them famously playing amoral jewel thieves only a year later in Reservoir Dogs. There’s a balance between awful men and reasonably OK men. It’s just that everyone in this movie is a deeply flawed character, so it probably just seems that all the men are portrayed in a bad light. The heroines don’t get off much easier, after all. And in a world where everyone’s an asshole, isn’t that true equality?
The movie isn’t perfect. Some of the plot points are a tad melodramatic, and the increasingly extreme problems the duo face can get a little silly. In addition, Thelma’s naivety can get a little grating, even going as far as deciding that being on the run is the perfect time to get some sexin’ from a random man who openly admits to being a thief. This section of the movie also slows the pace a little too much in the context of everything else. But oddly, everything holds together well on the characterisation alone.
So, basically, the flaws are pretty minor. Thelma & Louise is ultimately an excellent movie about friendship, feminism and felonies, and I highly recommend it.
Starring Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon
Written by Callie Khouri
Produced by Mimi Polk Gitlin & Ridley Scott
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle
Edited by Thom Noble
Favourite Scene: Thelma pointing a gun at a police officer was pretty damn badass, it has to be said
Scene That Bugged Me: Seriously, now is not the best time to have sex with Brad Pitt!
Watch it if: You like road movies, revenge movies or movies about genuine female friendship
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a happy ending
(1951, Alfred Hitchcock)
“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”
Hello I am a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies and this is often considered one of his best. Therefore today I am going to replace my normal review with a single sentence that says “it’s a Hitchcock movie, so yes”.
That’s a copout? Dammit. Fine, I’ll write a proper review. But only if you murder someone for me.
No, not really. But that is the plot of Strangers On A Train. Tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is looking to divorce his cheating wife Miriam (Laura Elliot) so that he can marry the more elegant Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). On a train journey, he meets a man named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), and the two get talking. In the process, Bruno suggests the perfect murder – Bruno murders Miriam, Guy murders Bruno’s father, and neither will ever be suspected. Guy is naturally reluctant, but Bruno goes ahead and executes his part of the “deal”, and now expects Guy to uphold his end of the bargain.
When I first heard about the movie, the concept seemed incredibly implausible – who in their right mind would agree to commit murder with a random person on a train? But once I started watching, it made sense. One man is crazy and openly admitting to psychopathic tendencies and the other is reluctant and doesn’t know what to do about him, getting himself unwittingly involved in a murder without knowing.
The concept even manages to address its single plot hole – why doesn’t Guy just go to the police after some random man starts talking to him about murder? Granger’s performance makes it pretty clear that Guy is the kind of man who’d simply prefer to pretend it never happened, and that he was too awkward to approach the police. The fact this can be picked up rather subtly is a testament to the performances here.
Aside from Granger, who is an excellent everyman and hugely sympathetic for the bizarre situation he’s found himself in, Walker is also utterly terrifying as Bruno. He’s alarmingly polite and charming with an unmistakeable sinister edge, and he’s creepy as hell.
There are times, however, when he’s a little too over-the-top. There’s a scene at a party that Guy is attending and Bruno decides to crash where the latter skulks about being noticeably odd (which is commented on by other attendees) and even attempts to strangle a woman, but still escapes scot-free. It’s bizarre.
Then again, the conversation with the women that led to the strangling was hugely weird anyway. Casually discussing murder as if it’s some jolly romp and then allowing a random man to demonstrate strangling techniques on you is some strange form of ignorance that could only possibly exist in an alien civilisation that has no concept of murder or, I don’t know, the issues of letting a stranger put his hands on your neck!
Oddly enough, though, that scene was my only complaint. As is typical with Hitchcock movies, Strangers On A Train is tense and mysterious, drawing suspense not from a whodunit, but from wondering exactly what will happen to Guy if he doesn’t hold his end of the supposed deal. Will he do it? Will he try and escape? Where will this dangerous game lead?
And it all builds up to an incredibly dramatic climax involving a thrilling fight on an out-of-control carousel. It’s a little silly, but Hitchcock made it work within the film’s universe. The ending was also immensely satisfying and the final scene was another fine example of Hitchcock’s dark humour, and I loved it.
That said, it wasn’t as good as The Birds, Psycho, Rear Window or even Frenzy, but it certainly felt more tightly-woven together than Vertigo or Spellbound. It’s definitely somewhere in the middle, and it’s another example of why Hitchcock was one of the greatest directors of all time.
Starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman & Robert Walker
Written by Patricia Highsmith (novel) and Whitfield Cooke, Czenzi Ormonde & Raymond Chandler
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Dimitri Tomikin
Cinematography by Robert Burks
Edited by William H. Ziegler
Favourite Scene: When Guy appears to agree to hold up his end of the “bargain”, the movie is just dripping in tension and gluing me to the screen.
Scene That Bugged Me: That damn strangling scene! No, not the actual murder, the other scene!
Watch it if: You like Hitchcock, obviously
Avoid it if: You, for some reason, don’t like murder thrillers (what’s wrong with you?)
(1991, Oliver Stone)
“Telling the truth can be a scary thing sometimes”
Let’s talk conspiracy theories. Did you know we’re all secretly ruled by lizard men who staged 9/11 using holograms and faked the moon landing so that Buzz Aldrin could have a toy named after him 30 years later? Don’t you know that we’re all the pawns of an ongoing war between the Templars and the Assassins and that Obama has a gun that shoots tornadoes because…profit? God, sheeple, open your eyes!
No, not really, unless you believe some of the crackpots in certain corners of the Internet. But while many of those conspiracy theories are pretty nutty, one conspiracy continues to fascinate and baffle many, 50 years on – the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President Of The United States.
JFK is a movie that presents the conspiracy as being true. Following Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), a district attorney who is suspicious of the official story that Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) killed JFK (John F. Kennedy, archive footage) and sets out to discover what really happened. In the process, he uncovers a conspiracy involving the CIA and the mob and various other organisations who wanted Kennedy dead, putting him in the line of fire and putting strain on Garrison’s marriage.
(1981, Wolfgang Petersen)
“You have to have good men”
This won’t be the first time I’ve mentioned this, but I have a special disdain for World War II movies. There are so many of them on the Movies You Must See list, more of them continue to be made to this day, and more of them continue to be praised despite them all being largely the same. There’s only so much that can be said about that conflict, and yet everyone feels the need to say something about it in film-making for some reason.
But hey, this is from the German perspective, and is set entirely on a U-Boat in the midst of the conflict. This one at least does try to do something different, so maybe it won’t be that bad?
Das Boot tells the story of U-96, a submarine in the German army during WWII. Its captain (Jürgen Prochnow) is a world-weary, cynical man who clashes with his mostly young and rowdy crew. U-96 travels around Europe attempting to take out British forces and faces hardships along the way.
(1946, Howard Hawks)
“I don’t know yet what I’m going to tell them. It’ll be pretty close to the truth”
Humphrey Bogart was pretty much the star of film noir during the forties. Best known for his roles in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca (which will be appearing on here at a later date), he also famously played acclaimed mystery writer Raymond Chandler’s detective Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. I like me a good mystery thriller, so I should like this, right?
The Big Sleep sees Marlowe, a private investigator, being called to the offices of retired general General Sternwood (Charles Waldron). Someone is blackmailing his daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers), and he wants Marlowe to find out who, and find a way to resolve those debts. Meanwhile, Sternwood’s older daughter, Vivian (Lauren Bacall), informs Marlowe that her father’s real motive for contacting him is to find a missing friend of his. What follows is a twisted tale of twists and mysterious motives.
(1960, Michael Powell)
“Do you know what the most frightening thing in the world is? It’s fear”
We’ve talked about The Archers before. A British production duo consisting of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with Powell doing the directing and Pressburger doing the production, and the two of them sharing writing duties. Their films were typically very stuffy British movies about things like ballet and nuns.
That was until Powell decided to go solo and make Peeping Tom, a movie about a serial killer. So a detective movie then? A Hitchcock-style thriller of mistaken identity? Well, not exactly. The serial killer is the protagonist, and this controversial choice caused the end of Powell’s directing career as a result of the backlash the movie received. Interesting. Let’s take a look.
Peeping Tom follows Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), an amateur filmmaker in the process of making his secret masterpiece, a film about death that captures the expressions of women about to be murdered in gruesome detail. And how does he achieve these shots? Why, he goes out and kills women using a sharpened tripod, of course! Meanwhile, his neighbour Helen (Anna Massey) takes an interest in him and attempts to befriend him, unaware of his psychotic nature.
(1946, David Lean)
“I’ve fallen in love…I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.”
Bonus review this week! Yes, because today is Valentine’s Day, I’m doing a special romantic-themed review. Last year I went with an 80s romantic comedy, and this year I decided to go a little further back in time and review old British classic Brief Encounter, a romance about two people who have a…well, brief encounter and fall in love. Awwwww.
Problem is, both Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) are already married, and not to each other, which kind of throws a spanner in the works a little. Cue a turbulent affair and a tornado of feelings and emotions. So, not exactly the happiest romance movie ever then.
(1983, Robert Bresson)
“You have me on your conscience. You have to answer for that now.”
A little while ago, I reviewed a little-known movie called A Man Escaped from French director Robert Bresson. I surprisingly enjoyed it, expecting a drab musing on the Second World War and instead getting a suspenseful prison break movie where every scene was so dripping with tension I needed a towel afterwards.
As such, I was a little more interested in L’Argent (aka Money) than I initially would have been. This time I was expecting another tense thriller. Did Bresson still have it twenty years on, or was this all a big disappointment?
The plot covers a lot of ground. Two boys forge a 500-franc note, spend it at a shop, and then the shop owners try and pass it off onto a poor, unsuspecting maintenance man named Yvon. Yvon gets arrested, the shop’s assistant tries to rob his employers and the boys try and avoid being found out by parents and their school.
(1995, Todd Haynes)
“I know it’s not normal but I can’t help it”
I love movies about quirky subject matter, especially when the subject matter has a sense of mystery about it. I love movies that make me wonder what the hell is going on, that make me feel uneasy but I still love every minute of them. Safe is one of those movies.
Safe is about a housewife named Carol White (Julianne Moore), who one day starts to get mysteriously ill, suffering random nosebleeds and coughing fits. When her doctors find her strangely healthy despite this, she discovers that she may have a strange illness known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which is seemingly set off by chemicals in everyday life.
(1982, Barry Levinson)
“Do you ever get the feeling that there’s something going on that we don’t know about?”
Remember those hazy days of June last year, when I reviewed American Graffiti? Remember when I watched the film in two sections because I found it so terminally dull to sit through in one sitting? Remember when I couldn’t figure out the menu for the Blu-Ray and how angry I felt at the film for being a self-indulgent exercise, simply existing so the director could relive his childhood?
You don’t remember any of that? Oh that’s right, you weren’t there outside of my review, so me merely regurgitating my experience and expecting you identify with it doesn’t really work, does it? Well, that was the problem with American Graffiti, and unfortunately it turns out that it wasn’t the only movie to suffer this problem. Enter Diner, Barry Levinson’s love letter to the late fifties.
Set in the last weeks of 1959 in Baltimore, Diner follows a group of friends in their early twenties as they hang out in a diner waiting for the wedding of Steve Guttenberg’s character. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke does things, Daniel Stern has issues with his own wife and Kevin Bacon mopes around.