Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is a social outcast due to her crippling shyness, awkward nature and plain, dowdy appearance, all a product of her intensely overbearing religious mother (Piper Laurie). Carrie’s pariah status comes to a head when, after a particularly bad gym class, she experiences her first period in the communal shower at school and, not understanding what is happening, she believes she is bleeding to death and pleads with the others for assistance, who only provide mocking and humiliation. Her mother believes the blood to be a curse from Satan and locks Carrie in a closet, but it seems all this mental and physical torment is causing the traumatised girl to develop telekinetic powers. Continue reading →
On November 22nd, 1963, President John F Kennedy was killed, supposedly by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald, who himself was killed by a man named Jack Ruby before the case could go to trial. Despite several other theories, the case was dropped for three years, until Jim Garrison, the District Attorney of New Orleans, picked it up again after noticing some discrepancies within the Warren Report, written to document the details of the assassination. Garrison and his team re-launch the investigation, certain that there is more to it than simply one man and his gun. Continue reading →
Based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, The Help follows Emma Stone’s aspiring writer Skeeter as she returns home from college to Jackson, Mississippi (the opportunity to play some Johnny Cash is thankfully not missed). Whilst home, the free-thinking journalist discovers the maids that helped raise her, and the rest of their upper middle class society, are treated despicably – paid less than minimum wage with no social security, forced to use separate bathrooms and generally treated as sub-humans without the blink of an eye, so Skeeter sets out to tell their story to the world, helpfully with their assistance.
As recently seen with Glory, it seems the only way Hollywood can show a story about black people is through the eyes of the white person who helped them on their way, without whom they’d be powerless and stuck as they were, and the popularity of the film, not to mention it’s numerous nominations at the Oscars, has been struck by a case of white guilt, as though not a bad picture, there isn’t really anything new here. The ground has been trod many times before, but few have used such a great multi-generational ensemble cast without a weak link amongst them. Stone is good in her first dramatic lead, showing potential but retaining her well-honed comic chops, but she is shadowed by the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard’s bitchy queen bee, Octavia Spencer’s outspoken piemaker Minny and Viola Davis’ cautious yet catalytic maid Aibileen. Spencer is good, but her Oscar should have gone to Jessica Chastain for her unrecognisably bubbly portrayal of ditzy Celia Foote, giving a performance that could so easily have been paper thin, but ends up stealing the show. Davis too didn’t deserve the Oscar everyone was so sure she’d receive, but the nomination is well placed. Allison Janney, Sissy Spacey and Mary Steenburgen help round out the cast, and all give natural, layered performances from even the most cliché characters.
Whilst often resorting to shameless pulling of the heartstrings and occasionally implementing a chopped narrative that adds nothing to the overall result, this is elevated by the great cast offering tremendous performances.
If Badlands is anything to go by, then Terrence Malick is one of the most overrated directors in cinema, having completed only five pictures, but with critical and cineaste acclaim deserved only of the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg and Hitchcock. Though I haven’t yet seen Days of Heaven, the New World or the Tree of Life (though Days is on the list, and I live in a great deal of hope that I am proved incorrect), from what I have seen of Badlands and the Thin Red Line, I’m guessing they are mostly comprised of a philosophical narration, ruminating on the nature of life, set over a thrown together, meandering plot shot almost entirely at sunset. Whilst I appreciate Line in spite of these things, it was more for the ensemble cast, wartime setting and stunning cinematography that I am willing to endure its occasional pontificating on the ways of the world. Badlands, however, has little to offer save excellent early performances from Sissy Spacek and the legendary Martin Sheen, playing characters based on 1950s killers Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate, themselves inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. Sheen is Kit Carruthers, a garbage man with dreams of being a James Dean-lookalike outlaw. He meets Spacek’s Holly and, when her father shoots her dog when she lies to him, Kit kills him and hides him in the basement, which to be honest Holly takes rather well. This begins a killing spree as the pair run from the pursuing authorities and try to set up a life on their own, away from the world. Holly’s narration is infuriatingly sparse, as instead of detailing why they are doing what they are, we are simply told “The reasons are obvious, I don’t have time to go into them right now.” Much of the film is symbolic in a way that doesn’t hold up when you think about it – a man ringing a bell to call his deaf maid, a suicide message left on a record player next to a house fire that will undoubtedly engulf it – and I really cannot fathom why this film has garnered such a reputation as being more than a film, but a work of art. I’m not ashamed to admit that I much prefer Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stone’s take on a similar story with the same influence (also on the list), as that at least has identifiable characters, justified (if not condoned) actions and innovative style. Badlands seems just about a deluded man running away with a teenage girl, killing everyone they meet just so he can become famous and be shot down with a girl by his side to scream out his name.