Published at: Nov. 9, 2002, 4:38 a.m. CST by headgeek
What is it to be a movie geek?
Well, in my estimation, it is to look at the releases this weekend. Ignore all the hype around 8 MILE with the en vogue director of the day, Curtis Hanson. The startling media saturation of Eminem. Oh, and the every 3 minutes - commercials on every channel.
Being a film geek this weekend there is one film in release above all others. FEMME FATALE.
Brian De Palma.
I’ve been in the chat room for the past several days watching in disgust as so-called film geeks beat up on Brian De Palma while singing the praises of Curtis Hanson. Now, I like Curtis Hanson, and I fully intend to see 8 MILE next week when the crowds get reasonable. What makes De Palma worthy of the love, devotion and adulation of the true film geek?
Well… This is the man behind SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, OBSESSION, CARRIE, DRESSED TO KILL, BLOW OUT, SCARFACE, THE UNTOUCHABLES, CASUALTIES OF WAR, and CARLITO’S WAY. For my money, that list of movies forces… demands and commands my attention. Even when he fucks up and has a bad movie like WISE GUYS, BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, SNAKE EYES or MISSION TO MARS… well the films are arresting, just not satisfying. They are eminently watchable bad films. If SNAKE EYES comes on TV, I might watch it. I won’t watch ALWAYS again.
De Palma picked up the torch from Hitchcock and decided to continue to explore that style of filmmaking with thoroughly modern spins on sexuality, sensuality and violence. He’s the one that has not only done that, but has thrived doing it. Personally, I prefer DRESSED TO KILL to PSYCHO (though PSYCHO has the better score.) I’m more likely to watch OBSESSION than VERTIGO, and while I would love to spend my life with Grace Kelly, I have to admit that I wanted endless mad sex with Melanie Griffith’s Holly in BODY DOUBLE. Brian isn’t interested in remaking Hitchcock’s films, but rather exploring his own particular themes in the genre Hitchcock made famous.
He continues to explore and to experiment and he’s made films with intense nerve and love.
For reasons beyond my control, I couldn’t see FEMME FATALE in advance of its Wednesday release, however, today I grabbed Papa San and ran to the theater to see the film. The audience was unfortunately not packed as every De Palma film should on opening weekend. I don’t care how awful a movie he makes, I’ll be there opening weekend. I owe him that.
Upon leaving the film high as a kite in love with this pure unadulterated embracing and rolling in the joys of the genre of film noir and cinema in general, I saw the line waiting to get into 8 MILE. Around 500 people long. It’s going to do good, and it deserves to, I hear it’s a good film. However, I’ve talked to many people that have seen 8 MILE. Film lovers I know and trust, and I asked them, “How does 8 MILE stand up in Hanson’s career?” “It’s on par with WONDERBOYS, but about a mile behind L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.”
Well, I remember when L.A. CONFIDENTIAL came out AICN was screaming its praises, working our asses off to make sure that filmlovers like yourself got out there and saw the film. We belittled Warner Brothers for selling the film short. Demonized Chris Pula for spending 5-10 times the advertising dollars on BATMAN & ROBIN while letting L.A. CONFIDENTIAL die. Eventually they re-released it in Oscar season and it did respectfully.
WARNERS is doing it again. Here they have an absolutely perfect adult piece of entertainment that Brian De Palma knocks out of the in-door stadium. It kills me. It kills me that here’s another fantastic film that may not even get into the top ten box office for the weekend. That Brian De Palma has made his best film in at least 18 years, possibly 22 years, and nobody is going to see it.
What is FEMME FATALE?
FEMME FATALE is a thoroughly modern film noir. Specifically it is one of those film noirs where there is something else afoot. Something is off in the world. It has suspense film elements (as all great film noirs are supposed to) as well as dashes of the supernatural. At the basics, it's an old fashioned robbery double-cross type of thing, but nothing is really basic in this film.
This isn’t a film about a gumshoe though. Not a “Dick” flick, nor is it a “moll” noir. No, the title pretty much says it all… FEMME FATALE.
First for you genre handicapped types. What is a “Femme Fatale”?
Femme Fatales tend to be enigmatic, duplicitous, double-dealing, gorgeous, back-stabbing, unloving, bipolar-ly hot & cold, predatory, mean-sweet, unreliable, recklessly dangerous, manipulative and desperate scheming women. Usually they seek out hard-boiled eggs of men that they crack up and make go sappy.
So, does Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’ Laure Ash fit the bill? Oh yeah. OOOOOoooh yeah. She’s a criminal that not only steals, but steals from her fellow criminals. She’s a bad girl. She isn’t drawn that way, she just is. “You don’t have to lick my ass, just fuck me.” “Wipe it off and let’s go get it!” And many other lines just scream classic bad girlisms. She wears garters and hose… white, when she's a innocent lamb, black, when she's a cock starved temptress… She has no qualms with taking her clothes off and picking your pockets while frenching ya and rubbing your bulge. She’ll play poor little helpless, till it’s time to hit ya with a bottle of champagne. She’ll frame you, blackmail you and kill you. She’s a femme fatale and she’s very good at what she does.
Back around 1992 – Joe Eszterhas decided to hijack De Palma’s genre with BASIC INSTINCT, but the class of the genre was missing. It was all sleaze. The genre became all about the fucking and the sex and the drugs and the killing, and not about getting rich, for in the world of film noir, we’re faced with losers that can never get ahead, then upon realizing that, plotting to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Joe made it a genre about the super rich that play these games. It worked with audiences on that film, but at no point in any of the Eszterhas noirs and psycho-sexual flicks did he make a great film. Not BASIC INSTINCT nor SLIVER or JADE. In SHOWGIRLS he was aspiring to make the ultimate Bad Girl flick, but it just became trashy fun excess, without ever really and truly becoming a great great film. It was fun though.
FEMME FATALE is perfection though. It is adult without feeling fake. Rebecca’s Laure Ash uses her charms, wits and gets what she wants done. The road is never clear and everybody is watching and out to fuck everybody else over. There’s so much double-crossing, that it begins resembling cross-hatching, a shading technique that makes things... darker.
Also in FEMME FATALE is Antonio Banderas, and this is easily my favorite American film he’s made. The transformation he makes as he enters Laure’s Airport hotel room was absolutely classic. Just an absolute delight. An artist forced into the paparazzi business to pay the bills. He’s basically a good guy, meaning he’s a regular egg, all sappy and brittle… easy to handle, scramble and cook.
He gets used like a Kleenex. It’s great. She knows everything about how to wrap him around her pinky toe. It is never her getting sappy for him, she’s using him, and she’s gonna tell him that. He’s a patsy and she’ll tell him that too. She’ll treat him like Kotex, he’s security, something to keep her clean, but in the end, he’ll be bloody. Ya just know it.
Laure Ash treats all men the same, it matters not their character. Rich men, good men and bad men – they are all there to do one thing and one thing alone. SERVE HER WILL. They won’t know that till it is too late. Her insincerity and her way of making it sincere is just fantastic.
The dialogue in this film is just priceless, the filmmaking exquisite, the use of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s very Ravel’s BOLERO-like score was simple bliss. Just a perfect marriage of music and film. As great as they come. De Palma’s continued use of split screen has still not grown tired for me, the need to show various perspectives are wonderful.
This is one of my absolute favorite films I’ve seen this year. I love it, but then I’m an unabashed lover of the genre. From the age of 14 to present, I make it my business to discover as many Noirs as possible. And I’m not talking about the modern ones, I’m talking the classics.
Folks… don’t be like regular folks renting only the movies that came out the year you’re renting them. Too many movie fans just stick to the familiar. They stay treading water without ever exploring the deep rich history of film. Right now, my nephew KublaKhan loves watching IRON GIANT, SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, SUPERMAN, VERSUS, MONSTERS INC and BARBARELLA over and over and over and over… ad infinitum… Trying to introduce new things to him is very difficult, because he “knows” what he wants to see, because he’s already seen it. Well, we all know that as we mature, we naturally become more adventurous. Or we should. However, too often movie fans stay with the 100 to 200 films they know. Other than those, that hit the current theaters and over time continue adding those that they like. FOLKS… Essentially, this is still baby behavior. It’s playing it safe. Staying with the directors you know, the actors you know, the writers you know. DISCOVER NEW THINGS! Open your minds!
Choose a month and just dive into a genre like Film Noir. I’ll help ya. Here’s your FILM NOIR month of film. Write these down, go get em. I guarantee you’ll love me for it.
THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), THE GLASS KEY (1942), THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946) – Rent those three all at once. Then rent THE THIRD MAN (1949), THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948) and TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). Next go get SCARLET STREET (1945) and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944). Watch DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) which kicks off De Palma’s FEMME FATALE, then follow with Fritz Lang’s 1937 classic YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. Watch THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) with THE SEA WOLF (1941)! Go get OUT OF THE PAST (1947) followed by ANGEL FACE (1953) and end that night with THE KILLERS (1946). Then tackle THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1949) with DEAD RECKONING (1947). Check out Siodmak’s CRY OF THE CITY and CRISS CROSS both from 1948, you’ll kiss my feet after catching those! For a double dose of nuclear noir, check out KISS ME DEADLY (1955) psst, that’s one of Robert Rodriguez’s favorite all time movies… but pair it up with the seldom seen or heard of SPLIT SECOND directed by Dick Powell. It’s amazing. And while it has no nuclear ties, I’d start that final night off with DETOUR (1945) cuz it just plays so fucking well with KISS ME DEADLY!
Folks, that’ll give you a good introductory course on the genre, but after you’re done… you’ll be hungry for more… just look up the actors, writers, directors and cinematographers of each of those films, then explore on IMDB the other works they made around that same time. You might even discover some titles I haven’t heard of… though not likely.
You don’t need this to enjoy FEMME FATALE, you need these films to just be able to be a better person on this planet. Use your Netflicks account for something more that just the latest things. DIG! You love film, love all film.
If it weren’t for the above movies, FEMME FATALE wouldn’t be here. And that would be a damn damn shame. I’ll be watching FEMME FATALE at least 4 more times in theaters. For me, it is oxygen, something that I ignite while watching.
De Palma is basic film geek 101. He’s one of the first Film Geek directors. Before Quentin started stealing from cool seventies flicks and Asian films. Before Spielberg was raiding SECRET OF THE INCAS or Lucas taking from BUCK ROGERS. Before any of the modern guys, De Palma was taking his influences from Hitchcock and adding tons himself. He loves the genre in a way that makes it live all over again.
When a master returns to form, it is something to celebrate. This is literally one of the best Brian De Palma films, period. It is sexy and hot, smart and intriguing. It takes in most of the devices and conventions of the genre and plays with them and experiments with them as only a master would. It is a very rare thing when Moriarty, Mr Beaks, Me and Roger Ebert all agree. It either means Warners was on time with their check, or Brian De Palma kicked our collective asses.
My ass is bruised. I think it was Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’ stiletto high heels that did it too.
OH… I almost forgot… Brian De Palma completely gets how to turn a guy on fiercely. His women are awesome throughout time. I mean, Nancy Allen was so hot that she even gave Pauline Kael chest erasers. Genevieve Bujold was astonishing in OBSESSION. Angie Dickinson and her body double made me a hetero when I saw DRESSED TO KILL at the age of 8. Folks… you will never see Rebecca Romijn-Stamos hotter in any film. I feel secure in saying that. She’s welcome to prove me wrong. Hurry up dear, please!