Monday, March 22, 2021

Touché.





I'm officially out of the movie rambling request business -- or so I thought I was, until I remembered that I still had one request left, and it was from my friend Alec who asked if I would ramble about the 2002 Brian De Palma film Femme Fatale. I said "sure thing buddy", because it would be a good one to go out on, and it was a film I had already seen and watched, having seen it twice on opening weekend in the Fall of 2002.

And as luck would have have it, the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Los Angeles was about to have a 35mm screening of the film, and I thought "perfect, just in time for my ramblings about the film".

Except this was February 2020, and it was no longer Fear that was infectious, and what was Over There was now coming Over Here. Priorities changed fast, and I felt my time was better spent panic-stocking on food, water, and ammo, rather than jerking off about a movie for a friend. Wait, that didn't sound right, I don't mean I was literally jerking off for my friend, I mean -- you know what, let's just move on.

So, speaking from the relatively calmer waters of March 2021, I can say it's been one hell of a year, even for those who weren't personally affected by The Virus That Will Not Be Named, and while it's certainly not over yet, at least...um, at least we can....um...

Ah, I know. At least I won't have to shake anybody's hand anymore. I was never a fan of handshakes to begin with, partially because of my existing germophobia, and because I hate having to squeeze the other person's hand so hard, lest they think less of me. Silly me, I always thought you got to know somebody by how they treated people, and not by the strength of their grip.

Sometimes I'd get a person practically crushing my hand with their grip, and then I would have to respond by whipping out my dick to show him who's boss. Which nine times out of ten, would mean they were boss. So I'm done with handshakes forever. From now on, it's namaste & bowing and if you don't like it, you can take that bigger cock of yours and go fuck yourself.




The film opens with Billy Wilder's 1944 film noir classic Double Indemnity playing on the tee-vee, and I always felt that showing a classic film within your film is a move as dicey as Andrew Clay, and more often than not, the unintentional result is that the viewer is reminded that there are better films out there that he or she could be spending their time on, rather than the film on which they're currently wasting their time.

In the case of Femme Fatale, it works. Not that I feel they're equals, because I don't -- sorry Bri, but I gotta go Team Wilder on this one. But what De Palma is doing by showing you a scene from that film is making it very clear to the viewer that he knows damn well that he's not reinventing the wheel, but rather, doing his own spin on a genre. And by introducing the main character of his film watching that film, he's planting some seeds that will sprout big time by the end of Femme Fatale -- and based on the constant liquid motif that runs throughout this picture, De Palma is watering the hell out of those seeds. 

And who is this main character, anyway? Well, she's Laure Ash, played by Rebecca Romijn, who is credited as Rebecca Romijn-Stamos on account of her being married to John Stamos at the time. She has since divorced Stamos and is currently married to Jerry O'Connell, and so she now goes by the name Rebecca Romijn-Fat Kid-From-Stand By Me.

So Laure is introduced watching Double Indemnity in her hotel room, but is then interrupted by a dude who turns out to be her partner in a heist they are about to pull off at the Cannes Film Festival located conveniently across the street. What follows is a fifteen-minute sequence that I feel fits very comfortably among De Palma's best set pieces; it takes place during a movie premiere and involves Laure, her partners-in-crime Racine and Black Tie, and a model named Veronica who is wearing a gold and diamond number that, uh, I don't know if it qualifies as a top or is just a piece of jewelry, but whatever it is, it leaves very little to the imagination as far as tits go. It's like, I guess I'm left to imagine what her nipples look like? But aside from that, I can draw this chick from memory; it would be a stick figure with long hair...

(I never said I was Bazille.)

The movie being screened at this premiere is the 1999 film East/West, directed by Régis Wargnier and starring Sandrine Bonnaire, and I guess De Palma is a fan of this movie about Russian expats returning to Soviet Russia only to realize you really can't ever go home again. Whatever the case, both Bonnaire and Wargnier appear as themselves in the film, and I like to imagine De Palma telling Wargnier about his idea to include him in this movie where he's going to play a dude who is unknowingly cucked by a tall blonde.

See, Veronica is Wargnier's date at the premiere, and Laure's part in the plan involves seducing her away from the director, so they can have some We Time in the ladies room. And so, Wargnier's left in the screening room, watching his film play to a captivated audience -- but what's the point when you don't have a sexy broad sitting next to you to impress with such an experience? This poor man was depending on the thunderous applause to get this chick wet, thereby doing half of the work for him, and thereby making it easier to slip in the saucisse later that night.

Instead, he can only politely smile at his leading lady Bonnaire -- who he either already banged during the making of his movie, or he fucked it up and got friend-zoned somewhere along the way -- and he can only sit impatiently while both Veronica and Laure are in the restroom, dyking out harder than a couple of Tegan and Sara fans hopped up on Ecstasy. And while Veronica is caught up in the rapture of lady love, Laure slowly strips the diamond-encrusted coils away from the model, and drops them to the floor, while Black Tie waits in the next stall to swipe it all away.

It is all hypnotically shot by Luc Besson's regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, and it's lushly scored by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto -- who is doing a little bit of swiping of his own with a track that sounds very much like Ravel's Bolero. While there is dialogue spoken during this sequence, the visuals are strong enough that one could watch this with the sound off and understand it 100-percent, as with most of De Palma's best sequences. One would understand the various actions and reactions by the perpetrators and victims of this heist, and one would definitely understand that both Romijn and the actress playing Veronica (Rie Rasmussen) are absolute goddamn smoke shows here. 

By the way, let's get this straight: With the constant fetishistic lensing of women and their gyrating bodies and lovingly filmed lips against other female lips, this movie is male gaze as fuck. And as a pig with a penis, I have no problem with it whatsoever. But if you have a problem with it, well, there are plenty of places on the Internet to go pitch a fit and bitch about it -- as for me, I'm just gonna sit back and laugh and thank God I'm a part of the patriarchy because this is a maaaann's world! 

Suffice it to say, things don't go as planned, blood is spilled, and even worse, names are called. It ends with Laure skipping off with the diamonds, while a bleeding Black Tie informs his partner about this betrayal over the radio mic, telling him something in French that the subtitles translate as "The bitched double-crossed us". 

Now, that's not a typo on my part, that's how it's spelled in the subtitles: B-I-T-C-H-E-D. As in someone having complained in the past tense. 



I wondered if De Palma meant "bitch", B-I-T-C-H, but there was a mistake with the subtitle people. But then I thought, really? I mean, De Palma comes off as someone who'd be a bit of an exacting perfectionist in his work. Would he allow such an obvious error to slip by? Hell, it didn't so much "slip" as it fuckin' did a Michigan J. Frog "Hello My Baby!" dance across the stage. I've seen it spelled this way in the 35mm prints I've watched, it's spelled this way in the Region 1 DVD from Warner Brothers, and it's spelled this way on the version I watched last weekend on HBO Max.

No, it can't be a mistake, it must be intentional, I thought. And so I looked up other uses and definitions for "bitched", and here's what I found as the top definition on Urban Dictionary: 




Uh, so maybe it was a mistake. 

A lot of Femme Fatale's fun comes from not knowing where it's going, and tripping out when it gets there. Granted, this film came out in 2002 and that's enough for me to recite my standard sarcastic asshole routine about how I don't want to spoil a film that is now old enough to vote. But this certainly wasn't some blockbuster movie that took the world by storm that everybody quotes from, nor was it spoofed in one of the Scary Movies or one of those Seltzer/Friedberg pieces of shit -- this movie bombed and was pretty much forgotten except by film geeks and maybe Mr. Skin types. 

So I won't get into it in any further detail that could potentially spoil it. But the funny thing is, there is an alternate trailer for it that rather cleverly spoils the entire film if you pay super close attention; it plays nearly the entire film from beginning to end in very fast motion, occasionally stopping for a moment at regular speed, before speeding up again, and it goes all the way to the end credits. It's one of my favorite movie trailers and you can find it online

Anyway, skipping some plot developments here and there, we jump ahead seven years, and the men Laure double-crossed are back on the search for her, and more importantly, the diamonds. We are then introduced to a photographer played by Antonio Banderas; his name is Nicolas Bardo (no relation to Brick), and he's not so much out-of-work as he's just not really looking for it. After a phone call from his manager (voiced by an uncredited John Stamos), he takes a quick-cash gig where all he has to do is take a photo of an ambassador's wife. 

This leads to Bardo making the acquaintance of Laure Ash, who is trying to lay low in an airport hotel. Bardo, thinking himself quite the slickster, barges into her room, taking on the guise of a very effeminate man. Some may find this portrayal offensive, and these same people may also find themselves unable to comfortably sit down for the rest of their lives, on account of the excruciating pain emanating from their backsides. 

Wait, I'm afraid that didn't come out right. I was trying to say that these people are butt-hurt, but not like something caused them to have a sore ass, such as an uncomfortable chair or a leatherman's fist. And I'm certainly not making the connection that the kind of people that would have a literally hurt butt would be the ones to get offended. I mean I'm talking about overly sensitive types, that's what I -- oh my god, first I quoted the N-word, now I'm implying that the homos can't take a joke, oh geez -- PLEASE DON'T CANCEL ME. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Antonio Banderas worked with Pedro Almodóvar before Femme Fatale, and he's continued to work with him after Femme Fatale. So I'm sure it's all good. 

As Bardo, Banderas plays someone who has probably gone through life being crafty in both the literal and figurative sense: as a part-time paparazzo, he knows all the tricks in getting the perfect shot from those who'd rather not have their picture taken, and he also has this giant collage of photos on his apartment wall, forming one giant landscape of the view outside his window.

But soon Bardo finds himself in over his head, as it becomes increasingly clear that he is going up against someone craftier and who looks a lot better in a pair of panties. Or so I assume. For all I know, that sexy Spanish stallion might rock a French cut like nobody's business. But until I actually see that -- and god knows I've tried -- I will have to give the advantage to Laure. 

The second half of the film becomes a Parisian journey for Bardo in and out of sterile hotel rooms, standard police stations, and seedy night spots. I'm not kidding about those seedy night spots, by the way. I mean, one of the patrons at a scuzzy bar full of drunken, horned-up Frenchmen is none other than Le Tenia from Gaspar Noe's Irreversible -- so you know it's gotta be bad.  

Despite not being given any moments of what my friend Alec and I refer to as Pure Unadulterated Banderas (basically moments where he hams it up), Antonio Banderas is very well-cast and game for a role that requires no trace of ego, as his character finds himself increasingly humbled. A role like Bardo could be ruined by some actors who would try to maintain too much strength throughout, plus, going back to ego, there are more than a few scenes where it's very clear that Rebecca Romijn has a good three or four inches of height on the dude.

I love that; because more often than not, Hollywood does that thing where they always have to make the shorter male actor appear to be as tall as his female co-star, or worse, taller. Because I guess the average moviegoer isn't ready for that idea, that women can possibly be taller than men. So points to Banderas and De Palma for not giving a fuck about Romijn looking like she could easily cradle Banderas and rock him to sleep. And I say this as someone who pays women to rock him to sleep. Don't kink-shame me.

Of course, the tall woman/short man visual helps to further sell the idea that Banderas' character is outmatched compared to Laure Ash, but I feel that's more of an unintentional bonus that was realized after the leads were cast in these roles. 

Banderas is great as the schmuck, and Romijn is very good as the titular femme, doing a fine job with either being conniving or just simply not giving a fuck. Although to be honest with you, I actually thought she did a better job at playing hurt or fragile. And it left me wanting to give her a hug -- and not the kind of hug that I already want to give her, you know, a hug that allows me to perv out while feeling her body against mine while smelling her and all that, no. I mean, like a genuine hug of compassion and warmth. Or so I've been told about such hugs, if such hugs actually exist.

Not that it matters, because if I'm not doing handshakes, that means hugs are out the window as well. Because while you motherfuckers are trying to go back to normal, I'm prepped for the new normal: I'm talking Demolition Man for real, which I knew was coming. I didn't go around saying "be well" all this time for shits & giggles, you know.

I am not as well-versed in Rebecca Romijn's roles as an actor; most of what I've seen her in is from the late 90s and early 00s. I know her as Mystique from the X-Men movies, and I know her as The Bearded Lady from Dirty Work, and I know her from that Rollerball remake and the audio commentary she did on said Rollerball remake. But this rewatch reminded me to search out any other movies where she shows a more vulnerable side, because I think that's what she does best. 

Something staring me in the face this whole time that I'm just noticing now is that Romijn's current husband Jerry O'Connell was in De Palma's previous film to this one, Mission to Mars. And at the time, Banderas was married to Melanie Griffith, who had worked with De Palma in both Body Double and The Bonfire of the Vanities. I don't know what my point is other than some random trivia with which to pad out these ramblings. But I'm sure they all at some time or another have compared Working With Brian De Palma stories at some time or another, I'm sure.  

Anyway, this is all just a long way to say that I've always really liked the film. It never tops its opening set-piece, but that's because it's really the only set-piece, and it's kind of a ballsy move by De Palma, as if he were saying "OK, normally this is what a movie leads to, but I'm just gonna go ahead and start with it, and then you're still gonna stick around to see what happens next because I'm gonna rock your world in a different kind of way"; and he does.

That opening heist precedes a fun, sexy, and twisty joint, complete with the usual audacious De Palma touches here and there -- both in the screenplay and in the way he presents these scenes. There's split screen, slow motion, hypnotic camera movements, giddy splashes of blood, tits, and ass, Gregg Henry, and just the general overall feeling that De Palma is gleefully fucking with you -- the viewer -- the entire time. And you either go with it and enjoy the ride, or you feel strongly negative about the experience.

In other words, it's 100 percent pure Brian De Palma, in the same way that films like Blow Out and Raising Cain are 100 percent pure De Palma. Movies like The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible, as awesome as they are, are more like 70-80 percent pure De Palma. 

Femme Fatale is also probably the last solid film -- pure or otherwise -- that De Palma has made, as of this Foul Year of Our Lord 2021. I remember liking his following film The Black Dahlia in 2006, but I also remember making a lot of excuses for it. Then came his 2007 found footage Iraq War movie Redacted, which wasn't my cup of tea. Then I saw his 2019 film, Domino, which felt less like a real movie and more like the pilot for an internationally produced television series, the kind that plays in syndication on weekend afternoons. I've yet to see his 2012 film, Passion, and so I hope that when I finally get around to that one, it will feel more like the De Palma I know and love. If not, well, you can't have everything, right? 

Well, I don't have anything else to say, so instead I'd like to close out by catching up on some comments and e-mail from my fans. I mean, I haven't posted a real rambling since December 2019, I'm sure I have some people out there who have wanted to stay in touch.

So here's the first comment: It's regarding my post on the film Righteous Kill, starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Oh man, I posted that one back in 2009! Anyway, this comment was left on my Wordpress site, which is the same as the Blogger site, it's just a backup. Anyway, it's from someone named "George" and he says: 




OK, cool. He's clearly referencing the skater character in the film played by Rob Dyrdek, and he certainly was a moron, but I think he's a few years too old to be considered a millennial. But I get where you're coming from, George, and I appreciate the comment!

Next, I have a comment left on my Instagram, where I leave much shorter ramblings on movies, and you can find me there at "efcontentment". And this comment is regarding my post on the Paul Thomas Anderson film Punch Drunk Love, starring Adam Sandler, and which came out the same year as Femme Fatale. 2002 was a good year for movies! Anyway, he says the following: 



Well, I don't think Anderson was doing a review on Adam Sandler's character, but more of a study, and I felt this was a very interesting study on an emotionally fragile human being who was able find a meaningful connection with a lady who was able to understand him. And what you call "personal life crap", I call the intriguing drama that comes from Sandler's day-to-day interactions with others as he tries not to get emotionally overwhelmed. Anyway, thanks for the comment, oh and I almost forgot, in regards to your opening question, the WTF podcast with Marc Maron has nothing to do with this blog -- but I sure wish it did! 

And finally I have an e-mail sent to me by a "Jonathan Baker" and it's titled "amyadamsismywaifu" and it says: 



And so I won't. Anyway, thanks for reading -- now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the bank!