Life Is A Highway

The search to find strong women in film can, for most, come to an abrupt yet refreshing end when the opening credits to Thelma and Louise first appear on the screen. This Ridley Scott ode to women, women’s lib, inner strength, and camaraderie, set against the backdrop of the ever-popular road trip genre, embodies the very definition of strong women in film.

First, there’s Thelma, who is a submissive housewife, burdened by an overbearing, absent husband, and who is afraid to stand up for herself in any, way, shape, or form; she cowers at the very thought of leaving the house for the weekend by herself. Second, there is Louise, who is hardened by life’s misfortunes, jaded to the world, shut off to outside influence, watching her life move past her from the hazy, smoky diner in which she finds herself waiting tables every day.

Louise, through some convincing, manages to pull Thelma from her non-peaceful home for a weekend of camping and fishing in the mountains. On the way, the two stop for some drinks and dancing, and find themselves in a dangerous situation that results in a high-speed exit for the two ladies who were just out for a good time. They ditch their plans for camping in the mountains to instead make for Mexico in an attempt to avoid being seen by any police.

And it is at this point at which their journey truly begins. Not a geographical journey, per se, but a spiritual one; an awakening, if you will.

Thelma and Louise, while on the road to salvation, find in each other an inner strength to cope with the world that neither knew the other had. Thelma, who only days before agreeing to go on the camping trip in the first place, begins to see all the world has to offer for her outside the confines of a dreary, drab house controlled by a chauvinistic pig of a human being. And Louise sees in Thelma the cloudy memories Louise has of the joys of living life to its fullest, and she starts to rise from her rock bottom, opening herself up again to the world to which she so many years ago shut herself out.

As the two women carry on, through more trials and tribulations than they can count, they learn something else about themselves: they don’t need to take any shit from anybody. By the film’s climax, they’ve decided collectively that anything coming in between them and their liberation, particularly anything that even remotely resembles facets of their former, caged, unfulfilling lives, well . . . it ain’t gonna stand in their way for very long.

And so, Thelma and her road trip with her best bud, Louise, compose on the big screen what many women the world over had been waiting to see: an anthem for strong, independent, willful women everywhere and anywhere who don’t yet know the strength waiting inside of them, just itching to get out and make a mark in the world. And this anthem reminds those women that sometimes that little push they are waiting for to get started actually comes from within. Or, from a pal who forces them to go on a vacation.

“Cheer up. The world’s gonna end in ten minutes anyway.”

When we decided to spend the month focusing our attentions on “women who kick ass”, I knew immediately what movie I wanted to write about. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and has been since I first saw it in 1995. But as discussion continued, I thought of more heroines that deserved attention (Leeloo in The Fifth Element, Lola in Run, Lola, Run, Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day). I was beginning to talk myself out of writing about one of my favorite movies. But I rewatched the movie, and while I find it problematic as a recommendation (I’ll get to that in a moment), I discovered a snippet of trivia that made it the pitch-perfect choice as a movie that features a kick-ass female protagonist.

The movie is directed by Kathryn Bigelow. You would know her for her memorable action films (including 1991’s Point Break). She did an impressive independent vampire film in 1987 called Near Dark. But in 2008, she did a movie called The Hurt Locker and won an Oscar for Best Direction for her efforts. This Oscar win was a milestone in that it made Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to ever win this particular award. Actually, she is the only woman in the history of the Academy Awards (almost 90 years!) to take home a statuette for Best Director.

How’s that for women who kick ass?

Image result for strange days

Strange Days was released in 1995.  I had never seen anything like it.

I still haven’t.

(Consider this your warning that this article will contain SPOILERS!)

The film takes place on the final day of 1999 as Los Angeles prepares for the possibility that “the millennium bug” or “Y2K” is going to ignite the end of the world by the end of the night. The hot drug on the streets is “Playback”, a cyber-drug that allows the user to get high on another person’s experiences with a retro-fitted CD Discman, a machine called a Super-conducting Quantum Interference Device (or SQUID). The SQUID allows a wearer to record experiences through their own eyes. The tapes of those experiences can be played back by another user. Do you want to have sex with a beautiful blonde? Do you want to feel the adrenalin rush of robbing a bank? Do you want to know what it feels like to die? If you want it, you can probably find it on “Playback.”

Image result for ralph fiennes strange days

The movie stars Ralph Fiennes as Lenny Nero. Lenny used to be a Los Angeles police officer. Now, he’s a street hustler, dealing in “Playback” tapes. I don’t think Ralph Fiennes has ever played a character as pathetic as Lenny Nero. Unkempt and sweaty, Lenny is addicted to his own product, specifically to tapes from his personal collection, recordings of his time with Faith (played by Juliette Lewis), an up-and-coming rock singer that has left him, a direct result of Nero’s increasing paranoia.

The film is co-written by James Cameron, so I don’t think I have to tell you that the film continually winds back in on itself as the plot gets progressively more and more complicated. And it does get complicated. What starts out as Lenny receiving a secret “playback” clip that shows a woman being raped and murdered turns into Lenny receiving a “playback” clip that shows Los Angeles police executing a well-known African-American hip hop artist and revolutionary. This, naturally, turns into Lenny needing constant protection as he is hunted down by the two offending officers (played by Vincent D’Onofrio and William Fichtner).

Protection for Lenny comes in the form of Mace. She’s a limo driver, and Lenny’s best friend and bodyguard. Played by Angela Bassett, she is, for me, the heart and soul of this film.

We don’t get a lot of back story on Mace, but we see in flashbacks that her ex-husband was a loser and that Lenny was the police officer that read stories to her child while the other officers arrested him. She is protective of Lenny and very obviously loves him.

Bassett’s performance is very nuanced. Is Mace protecting  Lenny because she has to, or because she needs to? Is protecting Lenny her job, or her mission?  Consider this exchange:

LENNY: Have you ever been in love with someone who didn’t return that love?
MACE: Yeah, Lenny, I have.
LENNY: It didn’t stop you from loving them, right? Or being able to understand them or forgive them?
MACE: I guess.

I think there’s a little bit of both. Suffice it to say that, by the end of this film, Mace will have saved Lenny in every way imaginable. She fights bad guys for him. She almost drowns for him. She reminds him that friendship is “more than one person constantly doing favors for another.” She helps him love himself.

This entire movie is worth the watch for Angela Bassett alone.

Image result for juliette lewis strange daysWith that said, since I am recommending that this film get a second look so highly, I feel obligated to mention that the film is problematic in more than one regard. For one thing, the film is incredibly dated. Since we all know that the world didn’t end on December 3, 1999, the movie loses some of its impact. But that isn’t nearly as problematic as the film’s treatment of women. Despite a female director, despite how effectively drawn and nuanced the character of Mace is, the rest of the film has a pretty uncomfortable outlook on women. There are two other (admittedly, strong) female characters in this film. The first, Iris, is brutally murdered and raped before the film is halfway finished, and the second, Faith (played by Juliette Lewis) spends a good portion of the film nude. It should be said, though, that Juliette Lewis’s performance in this film is very strong. And there are two sequences of Faith in concert, where all the vocals and musicianship are recreated by Lewis herself. If I have a crush on Juliette Lewis (and I do), it’s because of this performance in this film. 

The film itself is also very frenetic, though. It’s almost a sadistic onslaught to your senses. The music is loud. The violence is brutal. The shots are edited in quick succession. And the long point-of-view sequences that depict “playback” are jumpy and may require dramamine. In direct defense of the latter, though, the camera equipment used to film these sequences was invented for use in this film and required more than a year’s worth of work before filming could even begin. That’s one more thing about this film that has been criminally overlooked.

Strange Days is nothing if it isn’t flawed. But there is a great irony in a movie that deals so effectively with memory being so difficult to forget. If you’ve seen this movie, let’s discuss it. If you haven’t, I promise you’ll want to discuss it if you do.


“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”

Today is March 7, 2019. This means that we here at Three Nerds and A Movie only have to wait one more day before we can head to the theater and see Captain Marvel (unless we’re Karen, who got her tickets for tonight months ago).
captain marvel
We’re all pretty excited about this one. And not only because it’s the next installment in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (a franchise that we’re all three pretty fond of). But because it isn’t very often that we get to see quality action-packed films that have a female as the lead protagonist.

Is it a coincidence that Captain Marvel is being released on International Women’s Day? We don’t think so.

To celebrate the release of Captain Marvel, not only are the three of us going to be putting a spotlight on our favorite movies that feature a woman who kicks ass, but we’ve selected a Movie of the Month that also features a strong female protagonist. It’s a science-fiction film. It’s a terrifying horror film. It’s the genesis of a pretty major film franchise all on its own.

It’s also one of the greatest movies ever made.

alienThree Nerds’ selection, March 2019: Alien
Who Directed It: Ridley Scott
Who Wrote It: Dan O’Bannon
Who’s In It: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto
What does everyone else say about it: Rotten Tomatoes score: 97% (critics), 94% (audience), IMDB user rating: 8.5 (out of 10)
Where you can see it: DVD/Blu-Ray and four streaming services (Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, and Prime Video).

The Nerds Weigh In
Aaron: In seventh grade, some friends and I became obsessed with Aliens, James Cameron’s 1986 sequel to Alien. We had a VHS of the film dubbed off of HBO that got passed around and watched repeatedly. By myself, I might have watched the movie thirty times, and that doesn’t include the partial viewings or the times it was viewed with other people. My circle of friends really, really, really loved this movie, but were, admittedly, somewhat oblivious to the fact that it was a sequel. I finally saw the original in high school (mostly because I had become enamored of the work of Ridley Scott). It gave me nightmares. I’m not kidding. Alien scared the everloving hell out of me. Now, two decades later, there are things about Cameron’s sequel that I much prefer to the original. I think the special effects are better. I think the characters are more endearing. I think the seeds planted for the over-arching franchise plot are incredibly intriguing. But none of the subsequent films have frightened me. For that reason, the original gets the edge.

Karen: I didn’t watch Alien until I was older – later in high school, I think. At this point, my kinship with sci-fi was firmly rooted and I was voraciously reading and watching as much as I could. But I was never really jazzed about watching Alien. There was a cardboard cutout at the local video store for years (the upstairs part) and I always walked past it with mutual feelings of both indifference and unease. When I finally got around to watching it, I thought I knew what was coming. Like with most things to which humans assign expectations, I was wrong. I anticipated action and gore, which it obviously has in spades. But that really isn’t the point of Alien. Like all good sci-fi, it presents the viewer with insight about current reality through imagined fantasy, and it does it impactfully. I didn’t fully comprehend that on the scope that I do now, but I got a sense of it then and look back on it now with admiration and sincere respect for Scott’s masterpiece.

Greg: Alien was played on HBO and was rented on VHS in our house once or twice when I was a kid; maybe not so much when I was a small, shorter-than-I-am-now boy, but certainly when its sequel, Aliens, was introduced to audiences somewhere around the time when I was not the tallest person in my classroom, but somewhere, in height, between the otherwise tallest kid and the teachers. When Aliens came out, I do remember the film being the rave. And, since those I knew doing the raving were my older siblings who, at the time Aliens‘ predecessor, Alien, was released, were either too young to have seen the first in this series, or were unaware that a first in this series existed. Anyway, ’twas the mid-80’s when Alien was making its rounds around my family, and every time I tried to force my way into the room to join the crowd, I was always greeted with the “you’re too young to watch this” response. So, I did what any determined “too-young” movie lover would have done: I watched it anyway. Let me say simply this: “grown-ups know better.” At first, I was bored out of my mind. To a kid waiting for something exciting to happen, nothing does. And then it does . . . and then it does some more . . . and then you can’t un-see what you’ve seen . . . and then the swirling yellow alarm lights, and the fog, and then the alien-that-doesn’t-really-look-like-a-guy-in-a-suit-but-kinda-looks-like-a-guy-in-a-suit haunts dreams for a long time to come. Anyway, as I eventually grew into my teen years, I appreciated the film for its nuanced genre-mashing send up of a helluva great story. And those first minutes when nothing happens and I was bored out of my mind? Heck, I ending up loving those moments the best because they taught me the value of suspense before I ever learned to appreciate the word “Hitchcock.” And then, as I grew even older, I came to respect Sigourney Weaver not just as a dog-possessed, Pete-Venkman-loving/hating, Marshmallow-Man-soaked, gate-keeping resident of Central Park West, but also as a bad ass, alien-killing, controlling, dominant force of nature to be reckoned with. In Alien she is, at all times, even when she is scared, strong, confident, domineering, a pain in the ass, un-flinching, and indefatigable hero of all heroes. I was excited that this is our theme movie of the month. I am looking forward to a few weeks from now when I get to talk about not one, but two strong women movie characters who, when ya’ get down to it, take us all for a ride down a spiritual highway of growth and strength. And were it not for the strong woman in Alien (and the film’s director, who consequently also directed the film serving as my entry for this month) we would not have had, well, my entry for the month. Personal question: do you guys, when you reach the end of my posts say to yourself, “Jesus, that was a long post,” the same way I do when I proof it real quick after writing it?

Lil Bit O Trivia – Alien
1. The script for Alien  went through many revisions before it became the script that would eventually be shot. In the original script the characters names were all different and Ash did not exist. The script had a clause included stating that all characters were unisex and that it did not matter if they were cast as male or female. Over the years, there have been many rumors circulating about elements of the script that were written and never filmed, including a sex scene between Ripley and Dallas, a lesbian relationship between Lambert and Ripley, and a much darker ending. Reportedly, Ridley Scott had conceived of an ending where the Alien stows itself on an escape shuttle, eventually bites off Ripley’s head, and then mimics her voice to make a final log entry for her superiors.

bolaji2. Ridley Scott originally wanted to use animatronics to portray the Alien, but special effects at the time were not sophisticated enough for what Scott had in mind. This was a dilemma that could have potentially killed the film, but the casting director stumbled upon a Nigerian graphic designer named Bolaji Badejo in a pub. Badejo stood over seven feet tall and was incredibly thin. Believing that Badejo had the potential to make the Alien look more insect-like than humanoid, Ridley Scott consented to his casting. Never having acted before, Badejo was provided with Tai Chi classes and mime training to slow down his movements.  But he was also forbidden by Scott to fraternize with his co-stars, as Scott wanted them to be naturally terrified of him. Badejo spent fourteen very lonely weeks on the set of Alien. In a costume that was so cumbersome that a specially-constructed hoist had to be used since the tail of the Alien suit prevented him from sitting in a chair. Alien is the only film Badejo ever appeared in.

john hurt3. According to Sir John Hurt in a DVD commentary, he was considered to play Kane from the very beginning, but was forced to decline as he was already committed to a movie that was being filmed in South Africa. Jon Finch was given the role of Kane instead. Two separate incidents occurred, though, that eventually got Hurt the role. First: the government of South Africa banned Hurt from entering the country as they mistook him for an actor named John Heard, who was a very vocal opponent of apartheid. By this point, Finch was forced to drop out of Alien because he became seriously ill from diabetes on the first day of shooting. Ridley Scott immediately contacted Hurt, pitched him the script over a weekend, and Sir John Hurt arrived on set the following Monday morning.

4.  Dan O’Bannon’s idea for the screenplay was inspired by work on two previous projects. He had worked as a writer and special effects supervisor on Dark Star, a 1974 science-fiction comedy directed by John Carpenter. Dan O’Bannon decided halfway through filming that his initial premise worked better as a horror film so he began work on a script entitled Star Beast. Dark Star was a major failure commercially, but it had been seen by Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who had recently acquired the rights to Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction novel Dune. Jodorowsky hired O’Bannon to help him with the book’s adaptation, causing Dan O’Bannon to sell all of his belongings so that he could move to France. While working on this ill-fated film, Dan O’Bannon met and worked with a series of influential artists, including H. R. Giger, the artist who designed the look of the Alien. When Dune eventually halted production due to lack of funding, Dan O’Bannon took the creative team to work on Star Beast, which was now titled Alien, using many of the designs that had already been created for Dune.

5. Over time, Alien would become one of the biggest franchises in science-fiction, spawning three sequels, two prequels, several comic book series, more than a dozen original novels, a digital web series, toys, and numerous games (video, roleplaying, and tabletop). The Alien franchise has also crossed over to the Predator franchise. This crossover has spawned comic books, video games, two films, and several original novels. Ridley Scott, in a recent interview, confirmed that not only do both franchises exist in the same created universe, but that his own classic Blade Runner (1982) also exists in that shared universe. Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense to us, either.

Well, that’s enough for this month, friends. Be sure to check back next week. Aaron wants to tell you about a science-fiction film that definitely deserves more love.