Films for an Alternative February 14th

Welcome to an extra-special bonus anti/alternative Valentines edition of At The Flix.

I'm an incurable romantic. I can get soppy and teary like the next man (I'm not alone, am I?) but frankly I'm also romantic about cinema itself, and why force romance into a commercial sap fest like Valentine’s Day? So, Richard Curtis and Nora Ephron, please stand aside! I want to revel in the romance of cinema (and my girlfriend) 365 days a year. 

Here's a Valentines selection of five films which focus on a selection of somewhat crazed women, determined either to exact their revenge, destroy the men who wronged them or get even with, men who were unfortunate, sexually deviant or silly enough to get involved with the women in the first place. I am not sure what the editor will think of this selection!

A few films can be considered classics, others a bit trashier and one distinctly B-movie-ish. 

1. Body Heat (1981) Lawrence Kasdan's knowing and deliberately derivative take on the 1940s film noir, Double Indemnity, is a veritable kitchen sink of a film - a film about manipulation, money, power and heat (in every meaning of the word!). 

Kasdan brought out such scintillating performances from  William Hurt as Ned Racine, a Florida lawyer who is smitten by Matty Walker, a brilliant Kathleen Turner, a rich housewife with a husband (Richard Crenna) she hates, and wanting to break free. Before you know it, the husband is dead, he's in jail and she's on holiday. It's the sheer devilish and erotic energy in which it all unravels. Kathleen Turner is a truly great femme fatale. This film is also notable for great support casting including unknowns at the time like Ted Danson and a young Mickey Rourke and a big nod also to John Barry's most brilliantly effective score too with his trademark power string session pushing the film in narrative terms.

2. Fatal Attraction (1987) I think this film personifies the notion that cheating lead to graphic violence - and for me, it has always been to the movie's detriment that the last 20-25 minutes of this film has been remembered most and parodied with its bunny boiling and slasher movie credentials. The film's main premise up to that was that of an 'un'romance, a film all about dissatisfaction and guilt. At the heart of this is Dan (Michael Dougles) cheating on a one night stand/affair with Alex (Glenn Close) which comes back to haunt him. I've always liked to have seen more of the film from Alex's perspective, as she's the most interesting character. Instead we see most of it from Dan's perspective and for those reasons, the ultimate reveal as a deranged psychopath she becomes by the end, set something of a blueprint for slasher style violent denouements. See below.

3. Dangerous Liaisons (1988) Still in the 80s universe, albeit a costume drama set in Ancien Regime France, Stephen Frears' brilliant film is a lesson in how love worked in cruelest ways in the French aristocracy - much passion and tragedy. Glenn Close (on form again!) plays amoral Marquis de Mertueil who treats her Vicomte de Valmonte (John Malkovich) as her personal toy by pulling a highly Macchiavellian stunt involving the honour of the virginal Cecile (played by Uma Thurman). It ends in death, but the film delves right into the heart of a bored aristocratic playing French court politics, and of which romancing plays a large part, in the form of blackmail, betrayal and bribery. 

Glenn Close's character is one we can actually have a little sympathy with, especially in which large parts of the French court portray her - and which in part leads her to do what she does. The film's multi-faceted characters are one of the joys of its repeated viewing. Check out the film's very effective modern twist remake, Cruel Intentions (1999) too - I know a number of people who prefer it.

4. Single White Female (1992) The plot says everything - a young woman (Bridget Fonda) places an ad for a new roommate but becomes concerned when the applicant she chooses (Jennifer Jason Leigh) begins to emulate her to an excessive degree. I don't think its a particularly amazing film as it follows quite a bit of convention, but it does a very effective job of increasing the stakes and the sense of madness as the film rolls.  Suspend your disbelief and the slightly predictable way it pans out, and revel in Jennifer Jason Leigh who is frighteningly convincing in this film. Director Barbet Schroeder knows how to keep it over the top. The denouement is a bit of a slasher replay of the Fatal Attraction kind, but it does make you think twice about who your room mate might be! 

5. Basic Instinct (1992) Here's the film which made great license of ice picks, dubious lesbian killer subtexts and a blink or miss it crotch shot masquerading as female aggression. Despite the film's many indulgences and questionable subtexts, director Paul Verhoeven plays the film for kicks and if you go with its ridiculousness, much enjoyment can be derived. At the heart of the film is Sharon Stone's scene stealing performance as Catherine Trammell whose cat and mouse promiscuity with Michael Douglas's cop-meets-sexual deviant is at its film's heart.  The film's technical specs including Jan De Bont's great cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith's score only add to its glossy and seedy madness. The film's iconic interrogation scene is up there in the DeBont pantheon. The film is summed up from the line, "he got off when he got offed!", in reference to a climax one victim was not expecting.

What do you think? Any glaring omissions?

As always, drop me a tweet @timmy666 with your thoughts.

In the meantime, have a great Valentines Day, however you wish to spend it!