RESERVOIR DOGS

By Marc S. Sanders

The first time I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, I was flabbergasted by the inventiveness of the twists present within the simplicity of its low budget filmmaking.  As a community theatre actor, I could see there were many moments that were executed as if they were stage performances.  Tarantino just happened to record it all live on camera. Amid the bloody gore, there were some surprises to the script that I never saw coming even if they were plain as day.  Much like The Usual Suspects or The Shawshank Redemption where the unexpected is offered, and it is seemingly obvious despite no signs of early detection, I was entertained.  However, thirty years later, my values have evolved since the release of Tarantino’s first film.  You gotta show me more than just circumstances and contrived set pieces.

As director and writer of the movie, Tarantino plays puppet master to a collection of criminals.  Six of them are dressed uniformly in black suits and ties and they only know one another by a moniker nickname of “Mister” followed by a color.  These are no ordinary criminals though.  Unlike other films, they don’t just talk about the stretch they had in prison or a heist they pulled off at one time.  These guys debate the artistic merits of Madonna’s Like A Virgin and if she went down hill following her True Blue album.  One of them, even has an opinion contrary to the others about tipping a waitress at a diner.  He doesn’t believe in it.  United, the others try to tell him how wrong he is, but he has higher standards for excellence in table service.  It’s deliberately ridiculous!  Clint Eastwood never talked about any of this.  Not even Newman or Redford.  Lee Marvin?  Charles Bronson?  Forget it!  (Jack Nicholson may be the exception in Five Easy Pieces, but that character wasn’t a criminal.) Quentin Tarantino, however, believes that even low-level hoods have a viewpoint on anything from pop culture to societal expectations.

These six guys have been assembled by a kingpin named Joe (Lawrence Tierney) and his husky, bruiser son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) to carry out a diamond robbery.  The film opens with these conversations over breakfast and then jumps to the aftermath where Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is bleeding to death in the back seat while Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is high tailing it away.  When they get to their rendezvous warehouse, eventually Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) arrive and the strangers among themselves contemplate if they were set up by one of their own since the police were already waiting for the robbery to take place.  Is one of them a cop or a rat?  Occasionally, Tarantino cuts away from this one warehouse setting to flashback to how some of these guys came to be recruited for the heist.

The scenario of Reservoir Dogs is creative.  It demonstrates that there is no honor among thieves.  Much like Tarantino’s films to come afterwards, his characters are thin and two dimensional.  That works in pictures like Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained.  Here, I didn’t embrace that aspect.  Reservoir Dogs seems to move in a direction of the Clue board game.  I know nothing about Professor Plum or Colonel Mustard’s history.  I just need to determine if one of them did it with the candlestick in the Billiard Room.  In Tarantino’s film, I just need to put a blindfold on and take a shot in the dark of who the rat among the gang is.  That’s all.  It’s just circumstantial. 

I appreciate how unique these criminals are with their mundane conversations and their cool swagger, but there’s nothing much beyond that.  Tarantino might have known that too.  He only has one question to answer before the end of the movie.  In between, to fatten up the length of the film, he incorporates a savage torture scene on a cop that Mr. Blonde takes hostage.  It’s memorable, but what does the scene really serve?  What do I take away from watching Michael Madsen’s cool, strutted character hacking off a man’s ear and dousing him in gasoline, while Stealer Wheel’s Stuck In The Middle With You plays on the radio?

The seeds of Tarantino’s brand were definitely showing in his first film, an independent project that luckily Harvey Keitel had enough faith in to help finance its shoestring budget.  The black suits became usual for Tarantino’s films along with pop rock of the seventies for a soundtrack.  Action scenes of a Lethal Weapon flavor have never been the director’s choice.  Rather, quick shots of gunfire followed by cutaway edits to the next talking scenes are his narrative.   It all shows here.  It just wasn’t as well rounded as it came to be in his seminal film, Pulp Fiction

The best acting comes from Tim Roth as Mr. Orange.  The character is given a flashback moment for how he’s brought into the gang. It is intriguing enough to be a movie of its own.  I wanted more from this guy’s story, because of Roth’s performance.  As well, for most of the film he’s bleeding his guts out from a gunshot wound in the stomach.  His hysteria is contrary to most other bad guys who get shot in the movies.  Mr. Orange suddenly doesn’t look so tough.  He’s crying like a baby and begs his closest teammate, Mr. White, to drop him off at the hospital.  He even tells Mr. White “God bless you for what you’re doing for me.”  Lee Marvin or Jimmy Cagney would never say that.  For a tough guy low level hood, this is not a cliché gangster who laughs at the face of death.  It’s imagination that thinks outside the box.  Forgive the intended pun, but Mr. Orange may be one of Tarantino’s most colorful characters.  I just wanted more from the guy.

These guys may be intentionally corny in their conversations. They may be super cool with their sunglasses and curse word laced dialogue.  However, that only goes so far before it looks like an ad for the Gap in the 1990s.  Beyond what the film shows with the Mr. Orange character, there had to be more depth.  

What Reservoir Dogs lacks turns me towards a mixed review for the film.  Still, I saw the movie before Pulp Fiction ever came out and I recall way back then that this Quentin Tarantino fellow has got something special brewing.  I couldn’t wait to see what was coming next, and I wasn’t disappointed.

RED DRAGON

By Marc S. Sanders

So this may be director Brett Ratner’s best film, but that doesn’t make it a great film. Ratner directs Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lechter in this prequel film to The Silence of The Lambs.

Hopkins does his best with a script that lacks the wit of the original Lambs script. The puns are lacking this time as he plays mind games with Edward Norton’s FBI agent who is trying to apprehend “The Tooth Fairy,” a deranged killer of families played by a disturbing Ralph Fiennes.

Red Dragon boasts a who’s who of a great cast; Hopkins, Norton, Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Blunt, Mary Louise Parker and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Yet, every player is incredibly boring. It’s as if they memorized their lines and just recited them at the call of action. There are no nuances. No fear or fascination within their interactions, and thus what’s at stake seems awfully minimal. We get a LOT of Norton just talking to himself or a tape recorder. It’s all very flat.

Ratner’s art director should be commended for effectively duplicating Hannibal’s prison from Lambs. That’s where the eye-popping stops, however. Hannibal’s infamous muzzle mask also makes a return.

I remember loving this book by Thomas Harris. It was so imaginative and descriptive. Very fast reading. Ratner gets all the important scenes in his film as well as some additional fodder for Hopkins but it’s all color by numbers. Nothing is here to carry a swell of emotion. No close ups. No lighting technique.

The best that Ratner comes up with is to chain Hannibal to a steel cable like a wild animal. He lunges for Norton and the chain rattles. Meh. A cat jumping out of nowhere has given me worse nightmares. Ratner forgot to cast the cat, however.

MEAN STREETS

By Marc S. Sanders

I must not be that much of an intuitive movie watcher because I can not comprehend what is so fascinating about Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.

Robert DeNiro was hardly known at the time but he is certainly a scene stealer here as Johnny Boy. He’s the wild one with no concept of the danger he puts himself and his best friend in. Charlie is the much more respectable and well-dressed hoodlum. Charlie is played by a young strait-laced Harvey Keitel. Keitel & DeNiro are the strengths of the film.

Beyond the headline cast, the structure of Mean Streets is a very loose patchwork of random events that circulate around Little Italy, NYC. The soundtrack comes from side street buglers, transistor radios, and jukeboxes consisting of The Rolling Stones, The Sherrills, The Ronettes, and samplings of Italian opera. It lends to the setting as another character. For a Scorsese film, that’s all part of the plan. The setting talks back to you, or it’ll take your hand and lead you on. Martin Scorsese is a prophet of New York. He uses the grime and steam of the streets to his advantage (even if some of this film was actually shot in Los Angeles).

Still, I just don’t get this picture. It moves slow at times. Random meet ups occur and I found myself asking if we have met this character and that character already.

I give Scorsese credit, in one respect. He testifies that although the film is fiction, it is a direct representation of what he experienced during his own upbringing. I believe all of that. Again though, why couldn’t it all be pieced together a little more tightly? Had it been, I’d probably have taken more of an interest in the setting and the dangerous exploits of Charlie & Johnny Boy.

It’s okay though. I’m glad I watched it, nonetheless. I had seen it many years ago and I was excessively bored then as much as I am right now. Scorsese was destined for better things. MUCH BETTER THINGS.

ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE

By Marc S. Sanders

Martin Scorsese was destined to be a great director. No doubt about it. Look at 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Not only does it offer an Oscar winning performance from Ellen Burstyn as Alice, but this early career film contains skilled tracking shots.

Scorsese uses his camera like a musical instrument. He times it to move on a certain cue. Near the end when Alice needs to pick up her 12 year old son Tommy (Alfred Lutter, well played here) from a police station, Scorsese is clearly on foot positioned behind the police counter. When the time is right, he walks it behind the cop and extras in a crescent step by step over to behind Alice. We are in the scene. It didn’t take much imagination, but Scorsese is economical for an engaging payoff. The camera continues to follow a young Jodie Foster as Tommy’s rebellious pal, Audrey and then after she’s quickly escorted out by her mother, it peers into the room where Tommy is waiting. It’s an unbroken steady cam moment that predates his classic tracking shot of the Copacabana in Goodfellas, or the bloody overhead outcome from Taxi Driver.

The story is decent, though nothing big. Alice is forced to flee following one set back after another with the men she encounters in her life. First she’s unexpectedly widowed from her unappreciative and cruel husband, next she encounters a charmingly young Harvey Keitel who sheds his first impression quickly. Then she comes across Kris Kristofferson but is he right for her?

The second half of the film inspired the basis for the classic TV show Alice, featuring Linda Lavin and Vic Tayback who plays Mel the cook in the film as well. Scorsese uses the diner sequences for some good laughs of confusion and slapstick with side characters Flo (scene stealer Diane Ladd) and Vera (Valerie Curtain, another scene stealer).

These are good characters here. You want Burstyn’s Alice to be happy and succeed as a mother to Tommy and become the singer she dreams about. She’s adoring. She tries, and she always works hard. Burstyn has some great moments of various range whether she’s feeling like a pestered mom driving the long highways, having anguish and fear with the men who cross her path, or when she’s singing Gershwin’s “I’ve Got A Crush On You” at the piano of a seedy bar. I loved her in the role.

This is not really a special movie. Yet, it’s an important one in cinematic history. See this film to see the master director when he was merely a pupil, exceeding what was likely minimally ever expected of him to accomplish.

Martin Scorsese is just a great director.

TAXI DRIVER

By Marc S. Sanders

A number of years back I was watching Robert DeNiro interviewed by James Lipton on Inside The Actor’s Studio.  DeNiro recalled considering doing a modern day follow up on one of his most memorable characters, Travis Bickle, with director Martin Scorsese.  Lipton thought it would be a marvelous idea.  So do I.  However, I don’t think it’d be a comfortable film to watch.  Taxi Driver certainly isn’t a comfortable film to watch.  It might seem a little dated now, but its themes of loneliness, isolation, depression and violent obsession remain entirely unsettling.

Travis claims to be an honorably discharged Marine in his mid-20s, when he applies to be a New York City cab driver during the present period of the film, 1976.  He recounts every thought that runs through his head, and when you are alone, behind the wheel of a taxi cab, traveling through the arteries and veins of an ugly, crime ridden, seedy part of town, a lot of ideas run through your sub conscious.  Travis recognizes so much wrong with what he sees through his windshield that he prophesizes one day when a good, solid rain will wash away all of this scum and filth.  Maybe Travis will be the bearer of that inevitable storm.

Travis lives alone in a one room apartment with junk food, an old television set, and his unending thoughts that he writes in his journal.  When he’s motivated, he occupies himself with chin ups and pushups.  He also becomes enamored with perhaps the only pure and innocent occupant of this ugly city-a young, Presidential campaign worker named Becky (Cybil Shepherd).  Travis approaches her innocently enough under the guise of wanting to volunteer for the campaign and invite Becky out on a date.  He’s cordial enough, albeit awkward too.  Yet, he can not understand how twisted it is to escort Becky to a dirty, X rated film.  She’s sickened by the film and Travis is at a loss of what he did wrong.  Travis has become infected by the city he circumvents each day, and he’s blinded of gentlemanly courtesy he could be providing for a woman he’s interested in.

The well-known script for Taxi Driver was written by Paul Schrader.  He quickly conceived its disturbing ideas during an isolation binge he found himself trapped in. Schrader couldn’t make sense of his mindset at times.  One week he was gorging on sleeplessness, junk food, and endless television watching.  The next week, he was motivated to get in shape with exercise and healthy eating.  There was a lack of consistency in his behaviors.  Travis goes through the same experiences, but he also finds motive to respond to the offenses that he sees. 

Scorsese captures scenes of some of the passengers that enter Travis’ cab.  One scene includes the director himself in the back seat as a character obsessing over a woman in an apartment above.  It’s a cameo of an unhinged man that Travis never had any interest in knowing, yet this person insists on sharing his frustrated anguish.  Later, Travis happens upon the Presidential candidate in his back seat.  The candidate seems noble enough inquiring on what issues are most important to Travis as an American citizen.  What I gathered from the scene is that the candidate has his own ways of fighting for a better future dressed in a suit on a campaign trail, while Travis has a more disturbing outlook on what should be done. 

Midway through the film, Travis is purchasing guns from an underground seller and practicing how to quickly unleash his arsenal for when the fight crosses paths with him.  He builds a quick draw sling to hide a gun under a sleeve.  He practices how to whip out the switchblade he keeps strapped to his boot.  One of the most famous scenes in film history occurs when Travis is talking to his mirror image asking repeatedly, “You talkin’ to me?”.  Supposedly, this moment never existed in Schrader’s script, and Scorsese was fortunate to capture DeNiro getting into character.  Whatever the origin of the scene, it sends a chilling summation of where Travis prioritizes his mental focus.  It’s not on love or affection for a fellow human being.  Once he blew it with Becky, other ideas remained with Travis.  Now, he’s solely obsessed with the war that he’ll fight for, all by himself.

Schrader and Scorsese go even a step further with the character as he comes upon a twelve-year-old hooker, named Iris, (Jodie Foster) and her street pimp, named Sport (Harvey Keitel).  He takes Iris for breakfast encouraging her to go home to her family and get away from this life.  Iris cannot see the need for that.  This encounter almost seems to justify Travis’ will for violence.  He now has a cause to rescue this child from the danger she’s immersed in.  I won’t spoil the outcome of this relationship.  Yet, Schrader and Scorsese keep the ending unexpected.  Have we been watching a dangerous villain for the last two hours, or were we watching a hero? Does the bloody and excessive violence that wraps up the picture lean towards heroics or vigilante crime?  These are good questions to ask but they are also consistent with the contradictions of Travis’ mindset.  When all you have to occupy yourself with are the endless, mounting thoughts running through your head, you are doing nothing but debating with your subconscious, and it’s likely you’ll have no other person to assure you that whatever actions and choices you make are the right ones.  One day you wonder if it’s all worth it.  The next day, you feel chosen for a crusade.

So as DeNiro and Scorsese considered a follow up to Travis Bickle in a modern time of the internet, where the world has only gotten smaller and more intimate with itself, I’d be nervous to see what becomes of him.  Travis would likely still be alone, driving his cab twelve hours a day, and listening to the thoughts running through his head.  Only this time, he’d likely be getting responses to journal inputs, that he’d put on blogs and in chat rooms, from unknown keyboard warriors justifying his will for violent cleansings.  Travis would no longer be limited to just his own inner thoughts.  Now, he’d have the influence of others willing to share their own internal ideas of how to clean up the streets.  They might feel helpful and recognize themselves as saviors, but would they be able to decipher what needs saving, what needs improving, and what is the best, healthiest and most ideal way of following through with those missions?  Violence might be their answer. 

You know what.  Perhaps, I’m not being fair.  Maybe I should be more optimistic.  Some of these keyboard warriors who hide behind their computer monitors may attempt to convince Travis that the world is fine as it is and does not need the cleansings that he had always considered.  I don’t know. Sometimes, like Paul Schrader or Travis Bickle, even I go back and forth on what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s the best thing to do.

PULP FICTION

By Marc S. Sanders

No one can deny that Quentin Tarantino’s classic film, 1994’s Pulp Fiction is one of the greatest screen accomplishments of the latter half of the 20th century. It’s strange, lurid, scary, unforgivingly funny and altogether different from practically anything that came before it. How did the Weinstein brothers with Miramax films prophesize the energy it would surge in mainstream audiences?

When I first saw the film I was apprehensively going with two college friends who insisted I see what they experienced from a prior viewing. Suddenly, I realized that alternate surf 70s rock, black suits, and a kinetic visit to the restaurant known as Jack Rabbit Slims could entertain and make me look further than just a facial close up.

Tarantino entertains the lens of his camera by making his audience the camera. A drug dealer scrambles to find a medical book to awaken a boss’ wife who is dying from a potent heroin overdose, and the camera stands in place only frantically swinging left and right. The camera doesn’t move while everyone in the scene remains in a panic, frightened of administering an adrenaline shot. The camera stands still to allow the audience to stand in the room as well. It’s very unusually funny, but unnerving and suddenly we are amid the clutter of crime and drugs frightened of a terrible fate.

Another scene follows two gangsters down the hall as they debate whether a foot massage equates to fellatio on a woman. They look serious as they earlier regretted bringing shotguns to their destination but here they are having a debate likely reserved for men’s locker room talk. Is a foot massage really worthy of dropping a guy out of a four story window into a glass enclosed garden below? I mean, apparently the poor guy developed a speech impediment.

Tarantino used Pulp Fiction as an excuse to show how criminals inadvertently lead their lives to the unexpected, beyond a cliché cop bust. Two guys might be settling a personal vendetta, but somehow get interrupted by a redneck gang rapist and his chained up “gimp.” Two other guys might be trying to deliver a briefcase and yet somebody’s brains splatter all over the inside of a car. Another guy might have left behind a family heirloom gold watch as he and his girlfriend run for their lives, or they might suddenly acknowledge a moment of clarity when death seemingly walks out of a bathroom door.

Some might not agree but I always consider Tarantino’s colorful film characters to be rather two dimensional. What you see is all you see. There are no hints at an underlying motivation or a background to anyone you meet in Pulp Fiction, or any of his other films. Normally, that’s a negative in my book but with Quentin Tarantino it is what’s expected. He’s a masterful script writer of the situation. A well known fan of kung fu and lurid crime movies of the B variety, gangsters like Vincent Vega, Jules Whitfield, Marsellius Wallace, Butch Coolidge and Winston Wolf (even the names are entertaining) get caught up in just a random moment in time. Beyond the incident nothing else matters, and just to make it fun Tarantino uses his favorite editor, Sally Menke, to scramble everything out of order. I like to think the script was assembled this way to demonstrate that what happens in one instance doesn’t reflect what happens in another. Every brief moment is bookended. Again, two dimensional characters who don’t reach an intended karma. It doesn’t matter what’s been done before or what will be done next. It only matters in the moment.

The cast is great. Likely, you know who all the players are by now. The best compliment is that they obviously listened closely to the director’s vision. They spoke his language which had yet to be very mainstream before this film’s release. They are a pioneering cast of great talent and many owe quite a bit to Tarantino for jump starting and reviving their careers.

Pulp Fiction is a rousing expedition in sin and surf music symphony with endless quotable and un-PC dialogue that revolutionized filmmaking and brought about risk taking movie makers. It’s just exciting and fun and wild and it especially became a favorite upon seeing one of my favorite kinds of scenes-a dance sequence. If you incorporate dancing into a non musical film, you’ll likely win me over.

Spoiler alert: Vincent & Mia win the dance contest, and right they should. Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” became that other popular film song once Pulp Fiction hit the scene.

Thank you Quentin Tarantino.

THELMA & LOUISE

By Marc S. Sanders

The strength of a good solid picture often depends on a strong cast from the top billing, above the title actors, to the bit supporting players who only have a few minutes of screen time.  Thelma & Louise, directed by Ridley Scott, is that film.  The opening credits of the movie come up in black and white over an out west landscape with an endless dirt road in the center of the screen.  Hans Zimmer’s harmonica and banjo, country sounds build on Scott’s camera work here.  The names of each actor are brought up: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Christopher MacDonald, Michael Madsen, Stephen Tobolowsky, and someone named Brad Pitt. The scene goes to color and then it blacks out and comes up on Louise’s (Sarandon) crowded diner where she waitresses.  Nothing is unfamiliar here.  Yet, it seems a little haunting in a way.  We are about to uncover a history to some common folk who live on the southern bend of America, and we will start in the state of Arkansas.

Louise has made arrangements with her best friend Thelma (Davis) to do a weekend cross country road trip to a cabin in the woods.  This is the southern odd couple.  Louise is always put together, clean and organized.  She’ll check herself in the mirror.  In a crowded ladies room, she’ll check her makeup and tidy her hair while intoxicated patrons are pushing around behind her.  Thelma is scatterbrained.  She’ll bite off a piece of a candy bar, put it back in the freezer and make three more stops back at the freezer for a couple of more bites.  She also will dump a dresser drawer of clothes into a suitcase, taking no time to sort through what she’s packing.

Both women have been treated unfairly by the men in their lives.  Thelma’s husband, Daryl (MacDonald) is a proud white trash carpet sales manager who treats his wife with absolute control, complete disregard and thoughtless disdain.  Louise just can’t even get a hold of her boyfriend Jimmy (Madsen), a musician who can’t commit to anything.  On the first night of their trip, the two ladies hit the road in an iconic 1966 green Ford Thunderbird convertible (one of the greatest, most memorable vehicles in film screen history), they’ll realize there may be worse men than the ones they’ve encountered.  Following an attempted rape, a shooting occurs and the ladies are hitting the road, hoping to make it to Mexico.

Thelma & Louise is at least Ridley Scott’s most sensitive film.  It was not the first or last time he used women as leads in his pictures.  Yet, the film moves symbolically along the stretches of highway and dirt roads as a means to reveal the strength and confidence a woman can have when she escapes the controlling shadow of a man.  At least that’s what I think.  The beginning of Scott’s film, with an Academy Award winning script from Callie Khouri, displays the title characters as weighed down by their past and current lives.  It is only when the two break free (with little options following an unforeseen dilemma) they understand they can be stronger than any man who’s ever dominated them before.  As the road trip moves on, they will encounter more hang ups and they will make mistakes, but by the time the third act comes along Thelma and Louise will sever any restraints that have held them back before.  It is such a gratifying story.

My father encouraged me to go see this movie with him.  It was 1991.  I was graduating high school.  I’d seen trailers for this picture and it was loaded with high energy country music.  I don’t like country music, typically.  In fact, I only can like country music when it is incorporated into a film.  Thelma & Louise is the best example of that feeling.  I hated the title.  Still kind of do.  It doesn’t have the ring of say Starskey & Hutch or Batman & Robin.  However, those are guy pairings.  Thelma & Louise are about two women, and I was never going to forget that.  Once I saw the film, I could not stop thinking about it.  I grew so accustomed to Ridley Scott’s direction and use of cinematography with Adrian Biddle.  The sun on the screen felt hot.  The dirt on the character’s faces and the Thurderbird felt gritty.  The sunburns on Sarandon and Davis felt sore and dry.  The glow of the car’s dashboard light felt bright in my vision. The settings spoke to me.  There’s a great moment where Louise seems to shed her feminine and dainty skin so to speak.  She hands over her jewelry to an old timer sitting on the side of road at an abandoned truck stop.  No words are shared between them.  This guy was born on this spot.  He’s never moved from this spot and Louise will leave her history behind with him.  Later, as the stakes grow, with the FBI and law enforcement closing in on the fugitives, there’s a moment where Thelma tells Louise, that she feels awake; like really awake and alert.  I knew what she was talking about.  I’ve already been on this hike for two hours with these characters, along with the crimes and entanglements they’ve gotten into and the movie has my full attention.  All these years later with repeated viewings, and I still feel that way.  I feel absolutely awake the moment the movie begins.

Khouri supplies her script with a variety of men.  Some are sensitive like the detective played by Keitel who knows that a murder didn’t just happen maliciously.  There’s more to the circumstances at play, and he’s hoping for the best for the ladies.  Some are just procedural like Tobolosky, who doesn’t recognize them as women, only as fugitives. Some are enlightening, yet deceptive like Brad Pitt’s hitch hiking handsome and charming loner that the ladies pick up, and some are simply cruel and vicious, like the rapist or Thelma’s husband, Daryl (MacDonald).  Maybe a trucker along the way is like that as well.  How will Thelma and Louise respond to each of these guys?  As the story contains a gamut of what all these men are, I never regard the picture as a middle finger protest to the male population.  Not at all.  There are men who will give women a chance and will treat them with respect and at least equality, within their surroundings.  Khouri’s script allows time for that.  Sadly though, thirty years later there are still men who will treat women like punching bags with no value and esteem.  It’s wrong.  It’s why the “Me Too” movement had to eventually come into play, long after the release of this picture. 

At the risk of sounding political with potential for debate and preach, watching Thelma & Louise last week, I could not help but think of recent current events that have occurred in mid year 2021.  Bill Cosby was set free from his prison sentence following a technicality that justified his release, but never exonerated him of his crimes of rape.  A former kid actor named Drake Bell was sentenced to three years’ probation for sending sexually explicit materials and texts to an underage girl.  More physical details have been implied on that relationship but Bell was never charged with anything on that topic.  Hence, no jail time.  A Disney channel actor has a warrant out for his arrest following missing a court date with similar charges as Bell.  Following the early rape scene in this film, the attacker is shot and killed in a parking lot.  The ladies consider going to the police and explaining what exactly happened, but they choose to run.  Why?  Because, they know that the police would never believe them.  They were witnessed minutes earlier drinking and partying with this guy in a bar.  Why would anyone believe he would try to rape one of them?  Reader, I know what they mean.  I understand.  Each time I watch the movie, I truly understand.  I know what Thelma and Louise are talking about.  It’s sad.  It’s wrong.  It infuriates me because it’s so unfair.

Callie Khouri and Ridley Scott created an outstanding adventure picture with suspense, and lots of natural humor by means of the outlaw way like Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.  A surprising robbery midway through the picture is hilarious and serves as a legit character change for Thelma.  Davis is great here.  She has scenes of drama and fear throughout the movie, but she also has time for laugh out loud moments.  Alternatively, the Louise character that Sarandon portrays seems to hinge on the dramatic element.  I love a hanging thread that Khouri weaves into the script of an unknown traumatic occurrence that happened in Louise’s past.  I am certain that Sarandon knows what it is even if the audience doesn’t entirely know.  Later in the film, the humor that Louise encounters comes through as Thelma transitions over to a new kind of personality.  These women don’t change individually.  They change together.  It’s a great couple dynamic for sure.

The film is sexy and at times sweet as well.  Yet, it’s also very terrifying, with very real drama.  Thelma & Louise is an important picture to see.  I plan to show it to my teenage daughter when she is a little older.  The rape scene holds me back right now as I find it hard to watch and requires a mature eye.  Nonetheless, I want her to be aware of what is out there.  I want her to know how people, men in particular, respond and treat women.   I want her to be alert and strong when faced with any kind of adversity, deserved or not; justified or not.  I find that some movies offer the best lessons of life about the cruelty and kindness of the world.  Most especially when they are filmed with sensitivity and authenticity, like Schindler’s List or The Shawshank Redemption.  Countless viewings later with thirty years behind it, and I still learn from Thelma & Louise.  It’s another one of my favorite movies.

FALLING IN LOVE

By Marc S. Sanders

It goes back to what I’ve always said. If you don’t have a good script, you got nothing. I don’t care if you have powerhouse actors like Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep in the lead roles, as well as Harvey Keitel and Dianne Weist for support. Without a script without even just a crumb of intelligence, a film will be terrible. In fact, these magnificent actors actually did a romantic film together in 1984 called Falling In Love, and yes it’s got the talent and nothing to say.

This might as well have been a Ferrari with no oil and no gas. DeNiro and Streep are Frank and Molly who meet cute during a hectic Christmas Eve shopping spree in New York City. Director Ulu Grosbard sets up moments through the opening credits and a good long 20 minutes of the players actually crossing paths on the train and then various streets and stores in the city, unaware of each other, before they finally collide their shopping bags with one another in Rizzoli’s Book Store. Wouldn’t you know it? After they’ve collected their things, they realize on Christmas morning that they took each other’s gift for their respective spouses. So Frank’s wife Annie (Jane Kaczmarek) got the book about sailing, and Molly’s husband Brian (David Clennon) got the book about gardening.

Since Frank and Molly ritually take the same train into the city, naturally they will circle back with each other. Frank is an architect working at a construction site, while Molly goes to visit her sick father in the hospital. They sit with one another, exchange phone numbers and have lunch together. A chance at kindling a romance arrives, but can they violate their marriages?

None of this is new. We’ve seen this a million times before. That’s not a reason to give it another try for a story like this. Only don’t make it so dull, and man o’ man is Falling In Love dull. REALLY DULL! Lifetime TV trash is more exhilarating than this.

The script from Michael Christofer has absolutely nothing to say. There’s no life to any of the dialogue. There’s no monologue offered for DeNiro or Streep to recite, that maybe would explore the conflicts they are having within themselves. There’s no time devoted to their connections with Kascmarek and Clennon, respectively.

Falling In Love is nothing more than a series of moments spliced together for Streep and DeNiro to just physically sit with one another. They go to Chinatown. So what? They don’t share any character dimension with themselves. They sneak away to Frank’s friend’s (Keitel) apartment to make love. The scene lacks any kind of passion or yearning. They sit on the train or god forbid fall in despair that they missed each other at the station. Falling In Love is only an empty void of a film.

I can’t compliment DeNiro or Streep because they are not given any tools to work with to bring those bravado performances we are so accustomed to. Christofer’s script gives them friends to talk to. Keitel goes with DeNiro. Wiest goes with Streep. Nothing is shared with these confidants. Keitel’s character is getting a divorce. So? It has no influence on DeNiro’s character. Wiest’s character is a wall to talk to. Nothing more. I know absolutely nothing about her.

What a let down this picture is. This could have been a Fatal Attraction or a When Harry Met Sally… for these two magnificent actors. There could have been, and should have been, something exciting here. It could have had humor, suspense, fear and heck…let’s just say it…love! Nothing is said of any significance. No moment is shown that grabs the viewer. There’s no big scenes to gear up for, and the ending is simply vague in its delivery. Falling In Love is like chewing on cardboard with no seasoning. It’s tasteless, boring, and I’ll remind you once again, it’s really, really, really dull.