Sunday, September 23, 2012

'Raising Cain' After Dark

Jack (Steven Bauer) and Jenny (Lolita Davidovitch) in bed in Raising Cain
I fell in love with Brian De Palma's Raising Cain (1992) in a fractured way earlier this month. It was on television on Encore and 25 minutes had passed, but I wanted to see it then, so I watched it despite missing a half hour of it. The frame I saw in Cain was Jenny talking in the park to her girlfriend and then seeing tall glass of water Jack (Steven Bauer) appear because he needed to get his car keys from Jenny. I later found out how they came about meeting at the park. The two walk through the park launching into a soft porn-on-Cinemax scenario. They make love in a leafy ditch and it all turns out to be a dream...or is it?

Ever since Dressed to Kill, the erotic scenes in De Palma films have reminded me of those softcore movies that used to air on Cinemax after dark when I was 12 and 13 from 1998 to 2000. It was the reason I sometimes watched "Sex and the City" because I knew it featured nudity and sex. The Cinemax series like "Passion Cove" always featured everyday scenarios and the sex scenes were as explicit as in any R-rated movie, but they were also comedic like De Palma's films. The scenery was always beautiful on "Passion Cove" and more importantly the show was dreamy. The images had a fuzz to them just as De Palma's films do, or as Pauline Kael described it, "the gliding, glazed-fruit cinematography is intoxicating." Maybe that's how I feel in a nutshell: I wanted to eat the images in Raising Cain.

One thing those Cinemax shows couldn't do was bring tears to my eyes, but De Palma's films could. Pino Donaggio's operatic score helped to get that reaction from me. The scene, which was a flashback, of doctor Jenny in the hospital room of the comatose wife of the man she never got over, Jack. It's one of De Palma's moment in time sequences where the characters move in slow motion in a moment of happiness that you know is short-lived that will be abruptly interrupted by something terrible. It's funny because Jack's wearing a nice suit and Jenny wears her hair in a fancy bun, dangling earrings and a white coat: they look like they're going to a party or a dinner date, but then I realize the white coat is Jenny's doctor coat. I think this was De Palma's intention to make Jenny look like she was Jack's date, especially since the New Years Eve ball dropped on the hospital room's television. Those slow motion moments in De Palma films are what happiness looks and feels like: it feels like glazed fruit.

Throughout the rest of the film I wondered if what I thought were just dreams were really flashbacks within dreams, since most dreams contain elements of reality. The fact that the beautiful Jenny was married to the homely Carter (John Lithgow), a child psychologist, brought to mind the mildly handsome Jake Scully in Body Double who also was dating a hot blonde out of his league. Body Double turned out to be all a dream, and that's how Cain seems: like Carter is imagining life with his dream wife. Even the California location and arched doorways recall Double. It's a world I wanted to live in, despite the murders because De Palma thrillers aren't never about the murders, but instead about the beauty that surrounds the murders. I wanted to live in the New York City of Dressed to Kill and the sunny Los Angeles of Body Double.

After dvr'ing Raising Cain at a later date, I saw what I had missed in the first 30 minutes. I had finished a movie that was like the many dreams I have every night that reminded me of my early erotic feelings and a simpler time. Thank you Brian De Palma.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Spiral Effect of Britney 2.0

Heather Morris reenacting Britney's doomed VMA performance.

Sitting behind the judges table on "X Factor" with her legs crossed and stiletto'd foot twirling, she was the fidgety off-stage Britney Spears the world has loved/hated for the last decade. I saw this Britney with her little black dress, fresh blond dye job and Sally Field face and thought 'this is the perfect segueway into Glee's Britney 2.0 episode" airing after "X Factor."

The episode "Britney 2.0" makes the 2010 "Glee" episode "Britney/Brittany" look like amateur hour. While that one was a forced dentist-themed episode with its own charms, Britney 2.0 is seamless. Ryan Murphy and his team finally use Britney's iconography to tell the story of loneliness, sexiness and comebacks. The "Glee" character Brittany identifies with Britney the most and acts out Britney's fall from grace. When Brittany is cut from the cheerleading squad for poor grades, she's sees this as her chance to fall into a downward spiral of unkempt blond hair, cheetos, cigarettes and jumbo-sized Starbucks coffees. It's what I call the Britney fetish.

Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist) is the bad boy of the school and when he starts dating the mean girl cheerleader Kitty (Becca Tobin), it's clear that Jake is living Puck's old life and destined to make the same mistakes. There's something eerie about how life repeats itself all the time. I remember when the blond goddess of 11th grade stopped in the hall to talk to her freshman self, a taller blonde. The torch was past down. Once people graduate from high school there will always be people to carry on the tradition. It's a spiral effect and clever of Ryan Murphy to use the cycle of life as the theme of "Britney 2.0" all the way down to the title. It implys a revised version of the past. Brittany acts out the life that Britney Spears already lived and thankfully learns from Britney's mistakes. It's funny, Jake reminds me of a guy I worked with on a temp assignment with who had the same button brown eyes and close haircut as Jake, but was white. He also was a bad boy with a bad relationship with the law. The past always floats it's way into the present and the future.

 I found myself singing along with joy when the Glee characters performed Britney's songs and when doing this I thought back to the Britney in a little black dress on "X Factor" and thought she really will always be a star because her catalog is so big and memorable. The girl she shares the judges table with, Demi Lovato, tries to be Britney 2.0 with her pop songs, bottle-blond hair and public breakdowns, but Britney made her magic in another time, in almost what seems another life, and that magic will never die.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

De Palma's 'Passion' is the Smell of Success

Christine (Rachel McAdams) comes closer to Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) in Passion.

As I started to type this a big thud jolted me to attention. I didn't know what it was, so I got up to investigate and it turned out to be a stack of shoeboxes that had fallen inside my closet. I had just been watching the one-minute trailer for Brian De Palma's Passion a few times and it's full of stomach-jumping surprises just like my real-life one.

Passion is an "erotic thriller" about two successful businesswomen Christine and Isabelle who are attracted to each other's ambition, which of course leads to murder. The TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) released this trailer five months ago, so I'm late on writing about it because Passion has since screened at TIFF. Who cares? This blog couldn't have been more in the moment, and the fall of those shoeboxes was perfect. So when the trailer begins with a graphic of the TIFF logo and footage of onlookers at a festival snapping pictures and recording on their camera phones what they see coming down the red carpet, I instantly expect to see Femme Fatale's Laure Ash as one of the paparazzi snapping pictures. This scene is just like the beginning of Fatale set at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The sound of a door creaks open as blood splatters the screen. Then, what do you know, a door opens.

Everything to do with this movie has been lusty from the moment stills and promotional photos for the film were released last spring. And there's something about this trailer that moves like a heart racing when aroused, then the body stands at attention and slows down after the climax. Just peep the way senior ad exec Christine (Rachel McAdams) steps out of her chauffeured car and walks fast towards the office building. This is followed by the clink of a glass as Christine sits next to her subordinate Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) on the sofa, swaying into Isabelle as if for a kiss. They move towards each other, but then move slightly away from each other. In and Out. Their movement is a tug of war.

The trailer keeps me off balance, but not necessarily jumpy until the end of the trailer. I feel what Isabelle feels in the trailer, even walking through Christine's house. As Dirk (Paul Anderson) says, Christine likes surprises and the payoff of the trailer is an ultimate surprise. We see from presumably Isabelle's point of view, but then we see Christine's. It's someone wearing the mask molded from Christine's face. The way the image jumps out at me that makes my stomach jump every time, no matter how many times, even when played on mute. The scream that sounds like it came from a demon in hell right on the moment of surprise really makes the scare effective.   

When you hear the clink of a glass it could be someone celebrating a job promotion over drinks, or it could be something that scares you or startles you. One of the best images in the trailer is when Christine, dressed in a light blue shirt and pants and a Tippi Hedren bun, makes the sofa cushion rock towards Isabelle. With glass full of liquor in hand, the big diamond ring on Christine's finger stands out and gives the impression that she's married. The truly scary and sexy thing about this scene is the way Christine's nose is upturned and mouth slightly downturned suggesting cruelty. She looks like she's smelling the stench of fear or the stench of ambition. Regardless, both stenches wreak like someone wearing way too much perfume.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Blondes Have it Rough

L-R: Alison Lohman & Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander

White Oleander began as a late-night affair on a thursday night. I had DVR'd the 2002 movie from earlier that evening and the movie started with a bang, but I was tired. I had work the next day. The following night at like 8 pm I watched it and was lilted into this quick-moving repetition of situations that seduced me with its closeups of Michelle Pfeiffer's contained beauty and Alison Lohman's sad brown eyes.

The first thing that struck me was how I had never seen Pfeiffer look more beautiful, as monstrous as her character Ingrid was. Her long blond hair was straight and uncomplicated and her eyes like steely pools of blue. I can see why Lohman's character Astrid regarded her as some kind of mythical creature, maybe even a goddess. Beautiful. Dangerous. Blond hair is a major part of White Oleander, even a character in itself. Some might get the impression that the film is saying "beautiful white blond women have it rough too," but that's surface-deep. When Lohman gets beat up by some tough Latinas at a youth facility, she cuts her long blond locks short and assumes a more butch persona. It transcends race and brings up the fact that race doesn't matter when a person is without a family and a home. The Latinas and Lohman are both victims of circumstance.

The film is based on a book of the same name and it's a testament to the direction and the actors' performances that the film is the visual equivalent to a page-turner. The scenes moved in a perfect rhythm: mother and daughter get along until a man screws it up. Daughter lives with foster family and that gets screwed because of a man. Interspersed is Lohman visiting her mother in prison periodically. Despite the subject matter, the film is never harrowing and hard-to-watch. In fact, it's a hopeful movie that shows a young woman's resilience. It also hit personal spots for me reminding me of my own dad who left my family for another woman. Abandonment sucks. It's Pfeiffer's admission of abandonment (given and received) that cracks open her cold, calculating shell to reveal an actual human being.

The revelation at the end involving the father put a lump in my throat making it hard to swallow and a bit hard to breathe. That's what White Oleander does, it makes you think about your family whether good or bad, past or present. The movie left me feeling grateful and still taken with Pfeiffer's simple, goddess beauty. Or even, her clean beauty. The movie also reminded me that there were still things I needed to find out about my own family.

Venetian Blinds and The New Normal

L-R: Andrew Rannells & Justin Bartha on "The New Normal"

On a saturday afternoon in mid September and sun shining through my Venetian blinds, I didn't feel like watching the second episode of the new tv show "The New Normal." I had DVR'd it, but I felt like edging closer to the end of the novel I was reading called Admission instead. I turned the tv off.

15 minutes later, lying on my side on the floor, legs outstretched I turned the tv back on and I started watching "The New Normal" and to my surprise for those 20 minutes I was enraptured. Mind you, I had seen the show's pilot, but the pilot was weak and had zero rhythm. The characters seemed more like flat images than real people, existing only to spout snarky one-liners. The second episode brought to mind something I had read about tv pilots (in a review of another NBC show "Smash"): they're meant to set up the characters and then focus on the nuances in the episodes that followed.

Nuanced is what the second episode of "The New Normal" was. It was full of surprises that triggered me to smile each time. Even though I had noticed this in the pilot, I was still surprised at how much Justin Bartha (stars as one half of the show's gay couple) looks like tennis champion Novak Djokovic. There's a Slavic, Baltic look to both men. So what is better than to imagine the always charismatic Djokovic as one-half of a gay couple?

The next surprise was the little girl Shania dressed as Little Edie from the Grey Gardens documentary replete with Little Edie's black head scarf. She even spoke like her. The fantastic thing that show-creator Ryan Murphy does is develop the effortless bond between Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and Shania (Bebe Wood). They relate to each other and they seem the most like Murphy. All the show gets to breath in its second episode and Bryan proves a more intricate character while being one-note in the pilot. When I look at Andrew Rannells as Bryan, I can't help but think of Ryan Reynolds, but Bryan is someone who I can relate to who's a brother and a friend. The best part is that Bryan treats Shania like the star that she is (with the name of a country music diva) and is excited about her impersonating Little Edie. Having a little girl dress and act like Little Edie as a coping device is not completely out of left field for Ryan Murphy, but yet I didn't expect it. I was surprised at how clever and perfect it was.

L-R: Bebe Wood & Georgia King on "The New Normal."

Ellen Barkin is the show's Cruella de Vil, but I have this feeling she's going to turn from the dark side, but of course that won't be easy. She's where most of the show's political commentary comes from, and is what Laura Ingraham will look and act like in 10 years. I've always found Ingraham hilarious, so that's a plus for me.

I clicked off from DVR and I felt like I had escaped into the warmest world. "The New Normal" is a family show and I think open-minded families will love this show. There are a lot of kids who are different, but not gay (Shania a case in point), and that's why a lot of people will share my reaction to the show. As the sun still shined through the Venetian blinds I felt even warmer than when I started the show.