Sunday, February 21, 2010

Waters Watch - Day 4: One Single Tear

Finding that using past decades as back drops for his stories had worked well before in films such as Hairspray and Polyester, John Waters decided to travel back in time yet again for his opus to the 1950s, Cry Baby.  Similar in style to Hairspray, Cry Baby immerses itself in 1950s lore and showing the war between the 'Squares' and the 'Drapes' in Baltimore through classic tunes of the time.  Its not incredibly inventive, but it does effectively skewer the 'teen pictures' and songs from the 50s.  One has to wonder if the working title for the film was "The Leader of the Pack" because the story holds and strong resemblance to that song.

The story begins in a Baltimore high school in the 50s while the students are getting their polio shots.  It seems like a typical day with the 'squares', or good kids, and the 'drapes', who are the hoods and trouble makers.  The two groups tease and make fun of each other just like usual...but something changes when good-girl Allison (Amy Locane) lays eyes of Cry-Baby (Johnny Depp), the leader of the drapes who is so-named because of the single tear that he sheds when ever he is emotional.  It is love at first sight and Allison and Cry-Baby are soon trying to find time to be alone together, despite the fact that their respective groups are trying to forbid the union.  Soon war breaks out between the two groups and only love can conquer the oppressive powers at work before everything ends tragically in a fury of drag racing and rock and roll.

Cry Baby is one of Waters' most simple tales and I think it suffers from that.  Its not that the film is bad, its just not as fun and strange as his other work.  It almost seems like Universal, the studio that made the film, tried to recreate Hairspray but used the 50s and Depp as a heartthrob in order to sell tickets.  What is missing, however, is the strong message that resides in Waters' other mainstream pictures.  Sure, the idea and message that love is stronger than social expectations is nice, but its not as fun as his deflation of discrimination in Hairspray or his look behind the scenes at suburbia in Polyester and Serial Mom.  As I said, it almost seems like Waters is phoning in this one.  What sets this one apart is the fact that it is indeed a musical.  The actors don't do their own singing, but it is a musical nonetheless, using 50s rock and roll hits and certain numbers that were written for the film.  It is this contribution to the plot structure that really makes the film work, since the other aspects are so overly familiar.  Seeing Johnny Depp dance and lipsync with a bunch of prisoners in a jail laundry to "Doin' Time for Bein' Young" is intensely satisfying, as is watching Amy Locane lipsync to "Please Mister Jailer" in order to plea for Cry-Baby's freedom from jail.  It should also be noted that the supporting characters in this, which are made up of typical Waters weirdos, are more interesting than the attractive leads.  Perhaps this is because Waters feels more at home writing for freaks than he does for 'pretty people'.  Particularly interesting is Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire), a curvy platinum blonde with a face that could shatter a mirror.  Also on the sidelines is Waters regular Rikki Lake as Cry-Baby's sister Pepper and Traci Lords as the lusty Wanda.  This film is probably even more mainstream than Hairspray, so its easy for me to recommend it as a film for the casual viewer.  For someone who's a John Waters fan?  Well, sure why not?  But remember, its not nearly as strange or witty as we're accustomed to him being.  This will conclude my examination of John Waters....mainly because I need to find more of his films to watch so I can review them.  Hopefully in the future, I'll be able to look at more of the one's I haven't seen like Pecker and Cecil B. Demented.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Waters Watch - Day 3: The Only Cereal I Know About is Rice Krispies

I remember the first John Waters movie I saw, which based on its rating and violent content I should never have been allowed to see at my the age of 10.  However, my mother was always more concerned with what she thought I could handle rather than ratings.  For example, my sister and I were allowed to see Pretty Woman very young in our lives...which a lot of parents would have objected to due to the sexual content...but Miss J and I had no idea what the sexual innuendo meant at the time so it was ok.  We never repeated it, that's for sure.  Anyway, mom thought this movie looked funny and she also liked Kathleen Turner...so she figured what the hell.  Of course, it turned out to be something we all enjoyed as a family despite the fact that it was a horror comedy with bad language and gore.  But like I said, Mom knew we could handle it.  That movie was Serial Mom and to date it remains one of my all time favorites from John Waters.  I often wonder if the reason mom liked it so much was because mom herself wanted to off a few of the annoying people in her life.  But I digress...on to the movie.

Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is just your average, suburban Baltimore mom.  She is white, pretty, and perky and would give Donna Reed a run for her money.  However, behind that sweet and wholesome smile lurks a crazed killer waiting to be unleashed.  It seems that, whenever someone is rude to Beverly or her family she feels the need to take revenge on them.  The first victim is Dottie Hinkle (Mink Stole) who begins receiving threatening letters and phone calls from Beverly when she steals Beverly's space at the shopping market.  Then she runs down a math teacher at her son's school when he gives a bad report on him.  Soon bodies are piling up right and left and soon her husband Eugine (Sam Waterston), son Chip (Matthew Lillard), and daughter Misty (Ricki Lake) are all suspecting that Beverly is off her hinge and everyone is fearing for their lives.

Serial Mom, like Polyester, is another satirical look at the abnormalities that manifest themselves within the American middle-class family.  However, where Polyester was spoofing 'women's pictures' in order to push its message, Serial Mom is using the foundation of the slasher film in order to subvert clean-cut Americana.  Beverly is an obvious Donna Reed clone and shows that even that image can be used to hide malice.  However it is not just Beverly who is disreputable.  The so-called lawabiding citizens who live around Beverly are all despicable in their own ways.  Dottie Henkle is not only a parking space stealer (I HATE when people do that) but also has a foul mouth even though she claims not to.  Rosemary Ackermann (Mary Jo Catlett) doesn't recycle, gossips about her neighbors, enters houses without knocking, and switches price tags on items in stores in order to cheat the retailers.  One of the detectives who is investigating the case even subscribes to a magazine called "Chicks with Dicks".  Beverly realizes this and uses it to her advantage to discredit the witnesses of her case and thus free herself at the end of the film.  Its a rather clever way to ask the question...what crimes are the worst ones?  Also, it does away with despicable characters rather than completely innocent ones...playing on our own secret desires of violence against those who annoy us.  Of course, people rarely act on those impulses...but it does give us an interesting 'what if?' picture.  What if someone did lash out against rude individuals?  Its doubtful that they would get out of the charges like Beverly does in the end, but they still might get cheered on by the nation the way she does.  Serial Mom has a few fun messages, but mostly it is just funny.  There are excellent lines and performances, and a villain that you can really love.  Give it a watch and see if its for you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Waters Watch - Day 2: She's a HAIR-HOPPER! That's what SHE is!

Long before Harvey Firestein was Big, Blonde, and Beautiful and Nikki Blonsky made her debut performance in film, John Waters made an unintentional family comedy in Hairspray.  Hairspray was never intended to be a mainstream hit, nor was it supposed to hugely popular, and it certainly wasn't intended to become one of the most popular musicals of all time.  Waters mainly wanted to write about segregation and discrimination, and wanted to do it in a less obvious way than most films had done by 1988.  He also wanted to write an homage to Baltimore's "Buddy Dean Show" which was the local answer to "American Bandstand" and which he loved as much as the rest of Baltimore's teens.  However, he couldn't help noticing how there were rarely any black dancers on the show and this seemed to him a wonderful backdrop for a story about segregation.  However, he needed a better in that some clean-cut white, attractive white person to notice the injustice and set out to change it (like in the past).  So he asked himself, who is just as discriminated against as a black person?  Certainly not gays, the film world wasn't ready for them yet.  Who else was there?  Of course...a FAT GIRL!  And Waters' biggest hit was born.

Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) is a pleasently plump girl living in 1963 Baltimore, Maryland who watched the local dance show "The Corny Collins Show" so much that she feels she should try out for it.  The thin, pretty girls who are on the show are incensed that she would even consider doing such a thing...but her huge dance talents land her a space on the show.  She becomes hugely popular, as many home viewers can identify with her image problems.  However, once she gets on the show she finds the injustice of Negro Day completely intolerable and sets about to integrate the show.  Along for the ride is her friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) who falls for the black Seaweed Stubbs (Clayton Prince) who is the sun of Negro Day host Motormouth Maybelle (Ruth Brown).  Also featured are Tracy's progressive parents Edna (Divine) and Wilbur (Jerry Stiller) who start out afraid of their daughter's outspokenness but soon jump on her dancy bandwagon, and the Von Tussles (Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono) who want to keep the show segregated and make sure their daughter Amber (Colleen Fitzpatrick) wins Miss Auto Show.

Its a simple and quirky story that has just enough of Waters' weirdness to identify it as his own work, but also it features a warmth and heart that has been absent from his earlier work.  Before this, none of his films had ever earned a PG rating, but this one wasn't just less crude than his past work it was also considered family appropriate.  It had a wonderful message and showed that Waters had fully moved past his midnight movie beginnings and was heading to more mainstream (yet still refreshingly quirky) things.  He would dip back into exploitation territory with A Dirty Shame later on, but for this point on Waters was high profile.  He managed to get Johnny Depp in Cry Baby and Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom, if that tells you anything.  I love this film and it is always fun to watch if you don't feel like watching the longer musical version.  Frankly, I feel that the musical improved on this version in every way...but to ignore the original is to ignore the genius of Waters.  Besides, both versions are so different from each other that there really is no reason to try to compare them.  If you've only seen the musical version, you really should pick this up.  There's no singing by the stars, but it'll definitely leave you with a spring in your step.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Waters Watch - Day 1: The Tale of Francine Fishpaw

John Waters, you say that name in a crowd and some people giggle with secret pleasure and some people shiver with uncomfortable disgust (and others still shrug their shoulders and ask "who?").  However, you mention Hairspray and everyone yells "I love that musical!!"...some of them don't know that it started out as a non-musical film directed by Waters...and it was his first 'tame' picture. He began his filmmaking life making trash-sploitation pictures such as Desperate Living, Female Trouble, Multiple Maniacs, and the infamous Pink Flamingos which all featured the drag queen Divine as some kind of female reprobate involved in violent or disgusting acts.  However, with every filmmaker there comes a transition period.  Waters was metamorphosing out of his midnight movie phase and into becoming a more mainstream picture, but he needed someplace to start.  Polyester was that start.  For the first time, Divine was not playing a psychopath but rather, he was playing an unhappy housewife and Waters was not directing strange sexual or violent acts (such as Divine's violation by Lobstora or the infamous 'rosary job') but rather he was spoofing the self-destruction of the suburban family.  Polyester showed that Waters was ready to start becoming a more serious filmmaker, even if its not as fleshed out as his later work.

The film centers on the character of Francine Fishpaw (Divine) whose ideal quiet suburban life is being torn apart by her own family.  Her husband runs an X-Rated movie theater which is being protested by the community and is also having an affair with his secretary, her mother steals money from her and ridicules her weight, her daughter is running around with nasty boys and gets pregnant, and her son is the Baltimore Foot Stomper!  Francine also has a very sensitive sense of smell, which drives her a little insane when she smells unpleasant things.  Everything put together causes poor Francine to dive into drinking and finally a mental breakdown.  The only friend she has is Cuddles (Edith Massey), her retarded ex-maid who is now rich from an inheritance and even that is little consolation, as Cuddles prefers to naively look at the bright side of things.  Everything finally turns around when Francine meets Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) who sweeps her off her feet and appears to save her from herself...but not all is as it seems.

The film really does a fine job at dissecting the problems and secrets we hide in our own supposedly normal homes.  It also gleefully skewers the lengths to which parents will go in order to deny what is wrong with their spouses and children, Francine refuses to acknowledge that her daughter is a slut or that her son is a sociopath.  In fact, she treats them as if they are still five years old...which is a contributing factor in their downward spiral.  The kids are rotten, sure, but they're rotten because their parents refuse to fix the problem.  Francine coddles and Mr. Fishpaw ignores and yells.  Waters loves showing Ameicans what is wrong with their so-called 'perfect lives' and Polyester is no exception.  There is a lot of humor in the film, both subtle and not, but it's easy to be put off by it due to its overly melodramatic nature and the meanspiritedness of several of the characters toward Francine.  But if one looks at it as a social satire, then its much easier to enjoy what the film is trying to present.  However, in some places it still feels like a bunch of unconnected ideas strung together...like Waters' earlier work.  But it does show that Waters is growing as a filmmaker and it certainly paves the way for his true mainstream entry...Hairspray.  Give this one a try if you like, but I warn you...its not for everyone.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Worst and Yet Best Valentine's Day Ever...But Not For the Reason You Think

This weekend was supposed to be simple and fun.  I was going to come down to my old college haunt, close out my bank account and transfer everything into my new account, see Dad and wish him well, and hangout with some friends that I hadn't seen in much too long.  Everything was pretty perfect...in fact it was the perfect day yesterday and only one thing went wrong as I was leaving the bar we were all at.  Unfortunately, it was a pretty big WRONG.  I'll start with the bad news so that I can really focus on what was good about yesterday...someone either accidentally or purposefully took my coat from the bar last night, and that coat had the misfortune of carrying my house and car keys.  So I had to call my Dad to drive me home last night, file a police report, and now I'm puzzling how one gets a replacement key for a car and an apartment on a Sunday.  Until we figure this out, I'm stuck here...which is unfortunate because I have to work on Tuesday.  Now that the bad news is out there, I can focus on the good.

On the plus side, there's nothing wrong with my money.  I managed to deposit checks and all just fine and yes, Virginia, I still have my wallet (people who know me, know that my wallet was stolen back in 2008 and it was one of the worst experiences of my young life) so that's ok.  I met up with an old friend, Ben, for dinner and we got caught up, he's doing well and is 5 weeks away from completing his student teaching (to which I applaud him).  He's also gearing up to start seeing a particular guy again, which makes me excited for him but also a little nervous.  Last time he did this there was a reason it didn't work out, but I don't remember what it is.  I just hope he's being smart.  Later we went back to his apartment where several of his friends and I drank a lot of gin and played Taboo, which is actually much easier when you're tipsy.  I was seriously surprised at how sharp we all were.  At around 11ish, we ran up to a local bar we all call Casa to dance the night away.  It was the monthly Open Doors dance night (which literally translates as the gay dance night) and all my favorite fruits were there.  There was MammaBear, the LGBT organizer and all-around mother hen who looks after all the students while they're there.  There was Ben Part II, a rather crazy and fun person who's flaky and totally unpredictable/reliable.  There was also Paul, someone I used to have a crush on and who was actually quite subdued last night (he used to sometimes be a hot mess at these dances).  And then, there was the inevitable Ex sighting, but neither of which was a bad one.  First was Mike, a guy I dated very briefly in the Winter months of one of my undergrad years and with whom I have stayed pretty good friends.  He looks GOOD now too, really good.  I hope someone snatches him up otherwise he's gonna go to waste.  The other Ex was somewhat of a surprise. Jeremy, a real blast from the past.  I should share the story of Jeremy before I go much further.

Jeremy was a very good time I had once back in the periods between November 2004 and January 2005.  He worked at the ice cream store when I started there and was probably one of the most outgoing and sexual dates I ever went after.  In addition to his duties at the store, he also was a stripper in Columbus on the weekends...which didn't bother me on a morals standpoint because it really wasn't much different from what I did when I was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Both of us were playing really sexual characters and dancing around on stage with very little on, and when the show stopped we got dressed and went back to the people we really were.  The things I really liked about him were his goofy and unflappable nature and his capacity for tenderness.  He was serious when he had to be, and not serious the rest of the time and he knew how to make anything fun.  He also enjoyed movies the way I did, and was good in bed (I won't lie, it was an important plus) due to being a Scorpio.  The relationship ended...as most things do with Jeremy...when he got bored with it basically.  He ended up dating someone else from the store for several months until that fell apart.  He and I didn't become friends again until much later, mainly because I was pissed about him going right into the new relationship and doing it right in front of me (which honestly, I really can't hold against him...he wasn't trying to hurt me).  We reconciled and whenever we see each other again, its always fun and pleasent.

So back to the story...Jeremy and I were both a little tipsy when we ran into each other after midnight and when we saw each other there was the usual amount of Big Surprise (complete with screaming and hand motions) and then we danced.  It was just like old times, I go out onto the dance floor being cautious and reserved and then Jeremy comes along and suddenly I'm transformed.  It was intimate, I won't lie, and felt comfortable.  No, I didn't fall in love with him again last night, but I did feel desirable...and I haven't felt desirable in a long, long time.  We kissed and held each other, and it wasn't awkward.  It just felt like the right thing to do.  I knew that it wouldn't last, that I was never going to date him again (he'd get bored again, I know him too well), and that it was probably the booze and the lust talking.  But he really made my night last night by giving me some much needed attention.  My friends love me and all, and they care what happens to me...but that's not the same as someone making you feel wanted and attractive.  Shortly after that, reality intervened in the guise of a missing coat and I had to turn back into Cinderella.  I lost track of him after that (which is probably a good thing because I was going to ask him to come home with me), but after calling Dad to come and get me and having to stand in the cold waiting for him...Jeremy did something unexpected.  He found me and came to talk to me and keep me company until Dad arrived.  He didn't have to, but like I said...he has an amazing capacity for tenderness.  He wanted to be sure I got home ok, he even offered me a ride when we saw no sign of Dad (I declined gracefully, as I knew Dad would get there eventually) and he hugged me.  In that moment I realized how long it had been since I felt that from someone who wasn't just a friend.  It was the complete opposite from the lustful collision of bodies we had been inside...it was real caring.  And no, I'm still not falling for him again, I was merely touched.  It was probably the best Valentine's Day present I ever received.

Friday, February 12, 2010

So Long...and Thanks for All the Fish

Well friends, its been a helluva week here in town.  We had two snow days this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, and this was following a three day weekend where we had a snow day last Friday...so we've had a lot of time off recently in our district.  In fact, Tuesday and Wednesday were like having a second weekend right after Monday.  It was nice, I'll admit...but at the same time I got really bored as Wednesday waned into evening and I was concerned about pretty much being now a week behind in my lessons (Monday we didn't get to quiz what they'd read since last Thursday because it was a guidance counselor visit day).  I guess I can't complain much, it just means that its one less week to plan in the long run.  However, I know understand why my mother used to get so bored on snow days when I was a kid (she was a teacher and a principal).  Things were downright dull.  I got out of the house on Tuesday for a bit to go to the store, took about an hour I'd say, and then Weds. I just sat around not moving.  Jacques Pierre was also off school those days so we got to talk a bit...I found out that he's got a pseudo-date with Bond this Sunday.  I'm excited for them and I kinda hope that it blossoms into something, that way I don't lose friends to some stranger that they're dating.  Of course, if it turns into something and fizzles, then I've got a new issue to deal with.  Oh well, take it as it comes I guess.  BTW, if JP or Bond reads this and wants it removed...I will do so.

So, while some of you may have read today's title and started silently giggling to yourself others of you may have no Earthly idea what that title means and are scratching your heads.  Well, in honor of finally starting the book that spawned said line above, I decided to rematch the film version of it that was made last decade much to the anticipation (and then utter dismay) of loyal fans of Douglas Adams.  Yes, I refer to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...one of the best selling and most well known pieces of British comedy ever known.  Even if you haven't read the books, seen the original TV series, or heard the original radio show, you've probably heard the title as it is often thrown around in reverence when referring to comedy genius...much like the name Monty Python.  Hitchhiker is much less crude than Monty however, and weird with a point rather than being weird for the sake of doing so which I believe makes it more accessible.  But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself...some of you still have no idea what I'm talking about.  So let me enlighten you with the plot.

Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is an average British man who awakes one morning to find that there are bulldozers at his doorstep preparing to demolish his house.  They say that it must be knocked down to make way for a new expressway that cuts right through his property (the also say that the plans for the demolition have been on display for months in the planning offices and he should have lodged a complaint months ago...even though no one informed him).  To add further complications to his day, Arthur learns that his best-friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) isn't really from Earth but rather from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and who is on assignment writing to the bestselling book "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".  And it is Ford who tells Arthur that the planet must be evacuated because a Vogon destructor fleet is coming to blow it up to make route for a new hyperspace bypass.  And all of this is just the beginning to Arthur's bad day as he is suddenly whisked away on an adventure with Ford, Trillian or Tricia MacMillian (Zooey Deschanel) a girl he once met at a party, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) the President of the Galaxy, and Marvin (voiced by Alan Rickman) a manically-depressed robot.  Oh, and if all that sounds very strange 'Don't Panic'...as the guide says...it only gets weirder.

I loved this film upon first viewing...it was madcap and witty and featured wonderful non-sequitors that interrupted the plot and gave you a real glimpse into what made the book so popular as a comic work.  I had never read the books at this point and was getting a fresh look, so I was surprised when there was such a backlash toward the film.  Many compared it to what was called the 'superior' adaptation, the TV miniseries in 1981, and the novel itself.  They said that changes were made that were not canon and that the characterizations of the actors couldn't have been more wrong.  I heartily disagree having now finished the first book and viewing the TV series (which I thought was absolute dreck).  While the film does change around the order of some things in the story and it adds things that were never seen before in the books, it still presents everything that is present in the novel...and in some ways I think it actually does it better.  I can hear Hitchhikers everywhere calling foul, but seriously...the central plot isn't really revealed until the last pages of the book (and part of that is due to the brilliance of Adams of course, he liked to not make sense).  But in a film, you have to know what everyone is working towards otherwise its just people mucking about in space with no point.  Also, the additions to the story where done by Adams himself before he died, so one cannot really say that he didn't wish it to be there.  As for canon, the story has changed in every incarnation that it has taken on from radio, to book, to tv, and now to film.  There is no canon, except that which the fans make up in their own minds.  So, if you stayed away from this film the first time around because of mixed reviews or because it bombed...you really ought to try it out now that its on video.  Its a hilarious movie and is great for a cold winter day.  Oh...and just so you know: the film and book explain that humans are only the 3rd most intelligent beings on Earth, the second being dolphins.  The dolphins tried to warn the humans that destruction was coming, but all their warnings were misinterpreted as elaborate Sea World-like tricks.  The last message they tried to convey, while interpreted as a spectacular stunt, really meant "So long, and thanks for all the fish."  So now you know.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to Hide $250,000 in Plain Sight or Why Charade is one of the Best Classic Thrillers

So last night Bond came over and I shared some of my favorite action/mystery/thrillers with him. First was Mission Impossible and he enjoyed that...and was impressed when I told him that it was also directed by Brian De Palma...oh don't worry friends, I'm not gonna go off on that tangent again. But I did get Bond liking De Palma by having him watch Blow Out a few weeks ago, so knowing that he know has seen and respects two of his films makes me very pleased. The real star of the evening, and the film we enjoyed watching the most, was Stanley Donen's 60s thriller/comedy Charade. I can hear minor fans of the film already, saying "Wait! I thought Hitchcock directed Charade?!"...and that is a commonly held misconception...though not baseless. The film, while being substantially more 60s saturated than Hitch ever was in his films, is still a tour-de-force of dark comedy and big twists. Cary Grant changes identities so many times in the film that by the end, if you haven't figured out that its a running gag, you're at least going cross-eyed. Oh, and the film has a great MacGuffin in the center of the story...the hidden $250,000 that everyone seems to be after but no one can find. But wait, I'm getting ahead of those of you who haven't seen the movie.

The story begins, as all great thrillers do, with a body...this one being Charles Lampert (and ever so classically mudered...he is thrown from a train). Charles was the husband of Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn), who before hearing of his death was planning to divorce him while on holiday at a ski chalet. However, upon returning home, Reggie (Regina) discovers that her apartment has been completely cleaned out and that her would-be ex husband has been killed. According to the police, Charles sold the entire contents at auction for a sum of $250,000 and yet no money is to be found. All that remains of his possessions is a Lufthansa bag, a can of tooth powder, a letter addressed to Reggie, a comb, a key to their old apartment, and an empty wallet. This is confusing enough to Reggie, but she is soon besieged by three of Charles's old war buddies (George Kennedy, James Coburn, and Ned Glass) who claim that the money that has gone missing belongs to them (they apparently stole it fair and square during the war), a CIA agent named Bartholemew (Walter Matthau), and a suave stranger named Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), who has a few secrets of his own. As Reggie and Peter try to find the money before the three crooks do, bodies begin to pile up around them...suggesting that the murderer is after the money as well.

This film is so deliciously simple in its set-up and yet so complex in its payoff that it becomes increasingly rewarding to watch the film to its conclusion. You never know what will happen next (though years of watching films with similar plots may tip you off about a few things) and no one I've ever watched this film with has ever figured out where the money is hiding before the film wants them too, even though its in plain view the entire time (Bond did have some interesting suggestions though). The film also features a great score by Henry Mancini (the man responsible for The Pink Panther Theme) and it rides the rails between thrills, romance, and comedy rather well. Sometimes people are put off by Charade's sense of humor, it has moments of clear slapstick and witty comic dialogue that seem alien to a picture of this type.  However, it was the intent of the filmmakers to make a movie that was thrilling and exciting, but also spoofed these kinds of thrillers that populated the cinemas at that time.  Bond loved it, and chuckled at nearly all the jokes, and he was also rather surprised at the final twists and turns.  I'd say it was one of my most successful showings with him...now I need to decide what I want to watch next with him.  Its a strange toss up between Grindhouse, Scream, and Thoroughly Modern Millie.  Black and white I know, but all are good in their own ways.  Anyway, if you guys who are reading this haven't yet seen Charade, I simply cannot recommend it enough.  Get it, now!

Friday, February 5, 2010

De Palma A la Mode - Part Seven: De Palma for the New Millinium

By 2002, De Palma fans were thirsty...he hadn't made a bona-fide thriller since 1998's Snake Eyes and his turn of the century sci-fi film Mission to Mars left much to be desired (and was more like his big Hollywood fare like Mission: Impossible and The Untouchables, meaning they were good but had little of the master's personal style).  It was almost as though he had given up on writing and directing his own films...perhaps due to the fact that he never seemed to get any appreciation for it.  But in 2002 he came back with a limited-release film that was not only another auteur project but was about as far away from his Hitchcock-homaging as he could get.  It was also the last great 'written and directed by' fiction film for the man, as since then he has only made the confusing The Black Dahlia and his reactionary documentary Redacted since then.  One can only hope that he's cooking up a good one in that brain of his, and that we will get to see it soon.  So it is on this slightly somber note that I begin my review of my last De Palma A la Mode entry on Femme Fatale.

Like all of De Palma's films, Fatale has several great set pieces in it...not the least of which is the outstanding opening sequence.  For this film, De Palma decided to stage a brilliant heist and the Cannes Film Festival.  The target?  The amazing gold and diamond encrusted brassiere worn by a glamorous model, Veronica (Rie Rasmussen), attending the show.  How to get it?  It seems the model has a thing for the ladies...and so the bait is equally glamorous and mysterious Laure (Rebecca Romijn).  Laure infiltrates the ceremonies disguised as a photographer and lures the unsuspecting Veronica to the ladies room where she proceeds to seduce her.  Everything seems to be going well when, of course, everything goes wrong.  Laure pockets the diamonds for herself and goes on the run, leaving her companions behind to go to prison.  While trying to escape, she is photographed by Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) and then tracked down by one of the crooks who tries to kill her by throwing her off a balcony.  She survives by landing on a soft pile of tubing for construction and is there mistaken for the daughter of a French couple.  Laure then has the unfortunate honor of being the only witness to the daughter's suicide, and there being no one else around, she decides to steal the woman's identity in order to escape her captors.  She ends up marrying the American Ambassador to France and is again photographed by Bardo years later...giving away her existence to her old heist partners who are now free from prison. 

Does this plot sound a little convoluted?  Well, it is...but it also ends up making complete sense when you watch it all the way through...and even more sense when you watch it a second time.  De Palma weaves a very tight story with this one that is certain to surprise anyone who views it, mainly because you really don't understand what's going on until the end.  However, you do get an inkling that everything happening in it after Laure is tossed off the balcony is unusually familiar with certain areas and people resurfacing to become significant yet again, and those moments are all clues to what De Palma is working towards in the story.  Just what that revelation is, you know I won't say, but I will say that I sure wasn't expecting it.  Just like in Body Double, when I thought I was watching one thing...I was really watching something else.  There are many people who once again pounce on its flaws...in that much of it is completely improbable...but then I think that is part of the point that resides in knowing the finale (and yes, I know that none of you who haven't seen the film will know what I mean).  There are also complaints on the acting, and that it is forced and fake.  But I honestly seen nothing here that differs in any way from the performances in the films prior...and they were raves.  In fact, Romijn acts circles around Cliff Robertson in Obsession in my opinion and is much better than I ever expected her to be.  Banderas on the other hand does have a little difficulty becoming a character you can relate to till the end of the film, but in his defense...he is given the smaller of the two roles and isn't given as much chance to grow as a character.  That he is able to rally our sympathy at the end of the picture should be a real testament to his skills as an actor, given that the character is rather flat.  And really, how can you down an actor who is this hot?  Usually I don't make that excuse for anyone...but I can't help it.  The man is HOT in this...and he doesn't even get naked or anything.  Gregg Henry, a De Palma standby, also appears in this...so if you've been following along you should look for him.  I also want to take time to notice the score in this film.  De Palma would eventually end his long time collaboration with Pino Donaggio and the composer he found for this, Ryuichi Sakamoto, seems like an amazing fit.  He has a sound like Donaggio and Herrmann, but also manages to weave original themes of his own, like the Heist theme which seems inspired by Bolero (fittingly called Bolarish).  It fits the tone of the film like a glove (where as Donaggio would sometimes stick out in places) and one wishes that De Palma had found him earlier in his career (though he may be so young that that wouldn't have been possible...I don't really know).  Oh, and so as to not sound like a broken record, I will just say that the camera work for this is amazing as always.  So if you're anxious to see how De Palma has evolved as a filmmaker over time, watch this and Sisters as a double feature some night.  You'll be fascinated at the very least.

I hope you have all enjoyed this excursion through my favorites of De Palma and I hope that some of you have added one or two of these to your Netflix queue.  Bond has already watched Blow Out (cause I made him) and really enjoyed it...so its not just me who likes this stuff.  Oh, and my mom told me that Body Double was one of her favorites (which proves that its not too steamy for the squeamish) so please do discover this artist for yourselves, like I did so many years ago...and I think some of you may come to enjoy his work as much as I have.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

De Palma A la Mode - Part Six: The One that Rips-Off Everything....

Ok, so you guys already know how big of a De Palma fan I am now...I mean I've done five posts in a row on films that he's written and directed and in a few of them I even did a bit of film school essay analysis.  However, even I have to admit that there are films of his that are indeed what the critics say they are...namely, ripoffs.  Now when I say that, I don't mean that he has totally cribbed an entire plot-line for a movie, though in places it comes very close to several Hitchcock films and even his own previous films.  However, if you think that will stop my blog from commenting on it, you're dead wrong.  So hold on to your hats folks, because tonight I'm reviewing Raising Cain!

Carter Nix (John Lithgow) is a child psychologist who is obsessed with the development of his young daughter Amy...so obsessed is he that he even begins kidnapping other children so that he can observe them and their development of identity.  To help him with this is his brother Cain and his father, Dr. Nix (also Lithgow)...who may or may not be just manifestations of Carter's own mind.  Meanwhile, Carter's wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) is beginning an illicit affair with a man from her past...which sets off the jealous killer in Carter.  That's about all you can really say about the plot without giving away any of the big surprises and thrills...but you can bet there will be some cooky murders, a whacky camera shot or two, and a big suspense set piece when its all through.

You may wonder why, if I've written so much on the other films, I've chosen to write less about this one?  Well, the truth is that there isn't much to say.  Raising Cain, for all its complications, is a very simple film that isn't trying to do much besides provide a few thrills and showcase the versatile talent of John Lithgow...who has been a three-time De Palma creeper now.  Lithgow plays the multiple roles so well that it almost makes you forget that there isn't much story crammed into this hour and a half thriller.  Lithgow plays five roles in this (and no, I'm not telling you who the two mystery guests are) and each one is different from the other.  However, there are the flaws to look at.  Time jumps about so much in the middle that its hard to figure out what's really going on...also there are so many similarities to Psycho that even I, as an avid De Palma fan can't ignore them.  The scene where Carter dumps a car in a lake/swamp is one of the main culprets...but he isn't just ripping off Hitchcock this time...he's also ripping off himself.  The affair plot is cribbed from Dressed to Kill and all the camera moves are reuses from other films.  Even the slow-mo finale is a repeat of the train sequence from The Untouchables.  Why did a director, who had made such original films in the past that were unfairly called rip-offs, decided to go and make a rip-off for his big early 90s thriller?  Well, the answer lies in the reasons for making Body Double....he meant to.  Tired of everyone calling his work unoriginal and a rip-off, he decided to actually make a film that was cobbled together from familiar pieces of other films to show them what a rip-off really looks like.  Once again, no one got the joke, and they went on calling him a cinematic charlatan...and this time they even had proof.  Does this mean I like the film?  Of course!  Nothing is more fun to me, than watching one of my favorite artists have the time of his life making a movie just for the fun of it.  Is it a good film?  That depends on the person watching, but for me its just a real hoot and a half.  The last shot of Lithgow alone is worth the time spent watching the whole movie.  So give the trailer a peek and see if this movie is for you.  I'm willing to let this one go without a full recommendation.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's GROUNDHOG DAY!!!

Yes friends, I said I'd be back and here I am...ready to share with you my annual Groundhog Day tradition.  As lame as it may sound, my father and I for the past 7 years have watched Bill Murray in Groundhog Day...a film as dedicated to the special day as it is about the weight of time.  I remember seeing this movie on an airplane when I was a kid and finding it mildly amusing...I found the time warp that Murray's character Phil Conners finds himself in very interesting.  I mean, what would it be like if you found yourself trapped in your worst day and couldn't escape it until you turned it into your best day?  It really challenged my young mind.  Later in life, I found myself drawn to the romance story and how Phil goes from trying to manipulate Andie MacDowell's Rita to really appreciating her...and also discovering that the best way to get her is to not try so hard.

For those of you who don't know, Groundhog Day tells the story of weatherman Phil Conners (Murray) and how he is making his umpteenth trip to Punxatawney, PA to cover the Groundhog Day festival (that really happens there) which is centered around Punxatawney Phil, the groundhog who every year predicts the end of winter.  Phil finds this to be very boring and condescending work, beneath him, and only does it because he is required to by the station.  He makes it through the day, doing his best with the newscast and having a generally poor day...he even gets trapped in town when a blizzard hits, closing the roads.  However, when he wakes the next day...he finds that it is not the next day, but rather a repeat of February 2nd.  Every day becomes the same day and Phil goes through many stages, including but not limited to...crime, womanizing, gluttony, and even suicide.  But after finally hitting rock bottom and spending days and days of feeling sorry for himself, he finally decides to look at eternity not as a trap...but as a road to self-improvement and inner discovery.  Its very deep for a romantic comedy, but not so much so that it dilutes the entertainment value.  A special nod goes out to Murray and MacDowell, our two leads, but special mention should all be made to the town-full of supporting characters that we all slowly get to know over the course of the film.  People like Doris who works at the restaurant, or Nancy who fill makes his first one-night stand with no consequences.  I like to assume that everyone has seen this movie...but if you haven't, or if its been a long time, you really need to pick it up and watch it.  Its a great film and really shows Murray's potential as a serious actor, which would later be capitalized on in films like Lost in Translation.

A Break From De Palma...

The last two De Palma A'la Modes were supposed to be up this past weekend, but I had a busy weekend and not much downtime last week in order to watch two more movies...oh don't worry, I watched movies...just not those two.  Life intervened again in my blogging, and rather than get upset about it and gripe about how busy I was...I'm doing what any sensible write would do in this situation...I'm writing about it.

To tell the truth, there isn't all that much that happened last week or weekend that was terribly interesting.  I went to work everyday, convinced my students to read a novel ("Night" by Elie Wiesel, a truly wonderful and heartbreaking memoir) and got on my feet with my new Theater and Speech classes for the semester.  The Theater kids are the same for the most part (minus a few) and the Speech kids are all new and seem good.  I did run into a little drama over the casting of our senior class play..."Twelve Angry Men" (well...more like Twelve Angry Jurors since there's a mix of the sexes) however.  I ran auditions for two days and put the cast list up on Friday, hoping that those cast would be pleased and those who weren't would get over it.  Oh how wrong I was.  It seems that, in casting some underclassmen who were great over some seniors who were good, I broke some big taboo.  There were cries of 'foul' all day to fellow teachers and superiors...none of those cries ever reaching my ears.  I instead heard of it second hand from colleagues and from our principal who (in his very unsubtle way) informed me that I should change my mind on the casting.  I was incensed, mainly because I felt that I was being pushed to make huge cast changes just because some seniors threw a temper tantrum because its supposed to be THEIR PLAY.  Under the advise of one of my peers...I called a last minute meeting of all who tried out (and amazingly they all pretty much showed) and told them how the whole thing made me feel and what a difficult position it had put me in (basically no matter what I did, I was going to be the bad guy).  They understood where I was coming from and stated their case calmly and rationally and, after several underclassmen conceded to give up their parts in order to further the unity of the senior class, I agreed to change the cast list.  It worked out well, as I had 15 parts and 14 seniors, and I got to keep my underclassman who was the most crushed about the idea of losing her part.  I also think I earned some respect.  If I needed proof of that, I only had to be at our first read through last night where everyone was having a good time and seemed delighted to be there.

You can understand how, after all that drama, I would have wanted to disappear on Friday night...and I had a Friday the 13th marathon and pizza in order to comfort myself.  I think very few people knew where I was that evening, it had been a very stressful and busy week.  Then on Saturday I chose to go out dancing with Jacques Pablo and his friend Mini Me (I call him that because, not only does he share the same name as me, he also is a lot like me).  I discovered upon meeting Mini Me that he and I had actually talked before online, years ago.  How's that for odd coincidences?  It was a fun time...Jacques and I flirted with our waiter Ty Ty at Otani, an excellent sushi restaurant, and then went to a bar called Tradewinds which was a little scummy, but was wonderful for people watching.  As Jacques was dancing his heart out, Mini Me and I spent the evening giving names to the various people on the dance floor.  There were celebrity lookalikes (Ed Bagley Jr.and Crispin Glover were our favorites), cartoon characters come to life (The Comic Book Guy from "The Simpsons") and the truly original (a 50 year old gay man with a beer gut and too tight t-shirt who liked to try to dance like a 20 year old...who we simply called Fancy).  It was great.  I woke up much too groggy for a Sunday the next day and had a million things left to do, but it was worth it.  This coming weekend I think I'd like a quieter and more at home weekend...though Bond is coming over at some point.

So that's me catching up with you after days and days of MIA.  I hope this pleases my 3 followers and the other mystery guests that I have who keep my weekly view count at about 56.  Check back later this evening when I write about my yearly February 2nd tradition!