Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Tree of Life. (2011) Terrence Malick

A Break From June Lite.

Terrence Malick's metaphysical mind job is a film that won't be for everyone, but man, it floored me. It's the first film I've seen that will be in contention for a Top Ten spot when I put together my yearly list at the end of 2011.

I suspect that seeing The Tree of Life in the theater has a lot to do with my reaction. It's such a huge experience, made to order for the Big Screen. It's loaded with universal images, and by that I mean images of the universe; long segments are like a cosmic ode to the Creation story. Indeed, its first frame is even a quote pulled from the end of the Book of Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"

But it is also universal in the Christian sense, like a Christian Universalist. It's visually striking enough to relay a fascination with the cosmos and one family's struggle within it, but ambiguous enough to avoid the pat answers a Christian movie might adhere to.

It also suggests a maternal grace that wrestles with the paternal nature of the world, that the world in itself can be beautiful to our eyes, but it can be a dangerous, disastrous place as well - and that our actions and the actions of those around us can determine how we filter the beauty of grace and the strength of nature.

And Brad Pitt, for the record, is amazing.

I doubt I'll see a better film this year, but I'm sure I'll never see another film quite like it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blow Out. (1981) Brian De Palma

I'm an audio kinda guy. Always have been. From the time I was sixteen rocking metal for Mr. Jesus; to eighteen going solo with a four-track recorder (and likely a mirror, Narcissist Little Me); to a mid-twenties tormented artiste with Swedish buddies and copious amounts of two-inch tape; to my current love of digital surround sound and the iPod on which I groove, I marvel at the possibilities of Time and Sound in a captivated sensorial type of way.

I once wrote a fifteen page college paper, probably after reading way too much John Cage, on my theory of dimensional black holes lying in-between the notes we actually hear. Diagrams and dimensions and everything. Figure 1-A between G and G-sharp. The paper got an A, with one word from the prof on the cover of my report: "Brilliant!"

I guess I tricked good ol' Professor Brubaker. With that kind of ability, perhaps I should have stayed in school.

I wrote and toured my own songs but also worked in sound solely for others, and I remain fascinated by everything from the chord structures and rhythmic stylings of Radiohead and Blonde Redhead, to the vocalizations of Bon Iver and Iron & Wine, to the layered synth meanderings of Mates of State and The Knife, to the unzipped-pants-rawk of the somewhat spiritually downtrodden Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Starflyer 59.

I was destined to, at the very least, appreciate Blow Out, a film that is essentially about sound. It's about an audio guy with a political conspiracy on his hands and proof of the Reality on tape. (Those who visit here often enough also know I have a thing for Reality. Capital "R.")

I was destined to appreciate this film.


For a film about sound, it sure has some crappy sounds in it. There are some awfully dated moments when background filler sounds like early 80s Spirogyra, a schmaltz-like fusion with half-distorted guitar licks sprung out of 70's-era porn.

And, it's a lot to wade through to get to those final mesmerizing fifteen minutes of pure pop movie bliss. Sure, the ending is killer. But there's a lot of filler to get to the killer.

I don't really get why this is the De Palma film everyone seems to love. It's -- eeh, it's OK. As I've noted in all my De Palma adventures over the course of the past few weeks, the cinematographic style is in moments as self-aware as it is astounding; certain shots are a visual feast. One in particular that stands out spins our eyes around a room where John Travolta discovers all his tapes have been altered. He frantically tears through tape after tape that he's backed up from an original, only to find all of his tapes mysteriously erased. But we only see him poking in and out of frame in his maddening hunt. The camera continually spins in 360 showing us the room, the blanked-out evidence, with Travolta caught in the chaos of his loss and the sounds of all the tape machines, each having been erased with a different mechanical sound. Stylistically, the shot is a great choice, but it ends with a greater exclamation point. We cut to an edit from above, a God's Eye on Travolta, looking down on a defeated man exiting the room, the tapes still playing blanked-out white noise, tape and audio equipment all over the floor.

Travolta as sound man Jack Terry is actually pretty good, and in moments, his sidekick Sally (Nancy Allen with a voice like a feminine abrasive) brings a nice chemistry to their scenes together. They met when he saved her, nearly drowned after the car she was in had a tire blown out and was thrown from a bridge; we learn as we go that a presidential candidate was also in the car with Sally. The tire was no accident, there are tapes with a shot ringing out. The candidate is dead. Sally and Jack could be next.

But are these real characters, like Roger Ebert wrote in his four-star 1981 review? Or are they, to borrow a phrase from a recent article in cineaction, animated simulacra, characters which seem real but serve the simpler purpose of advancing a film's trajectory?

In terms of story, the trajectory feels to me kind of like a dot. Once the blow out takes place, probably around twenty minutes in, it's mostly the same story from there to the end of the film. Little surprise happens. No big reveals. The conspiracy theory at the heart of the story is fun, but by today's conspiracy theory standards, it's actually a little bit tame.

What may save a good portion of the film in my mind is that I love the idea of conspiracy in and of itself. I'm inclined to believe that the media is its own message, and the message is often false. I thoroughly enjoy the stuff of juicy unknowns: the Zapruder tape, the 9/11 documentaries, secret societies and the X-Files. I am certain there's always more going on behind the scenes than we know, and at its best, Blow Out shows exactly how a political cover-up might take place in real time. In that aspect the film is golden.

But once again, even though Travolta is decent in this role, I find myself watching a De Palma film where characters are suffering from under-exposure. Not that we don't see them enough, but they're used so much in advancing the plot that we never know them enough to care about their lives. De Palma, ever masterful on the visual level, injects an incredible amount of style into the film - just not enough to trick me into believing that his style is his substance.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dressed To Kill. (1980) Brian De Palma

Essentially, this is the story about a woman in a one-day affair, along with a hooker, a transvestite, a psychologist, a cop, and a nerdy teenage brainiac. These people would never meet at a party, they'd never share a drink at a bar. In fact, nerdy teenager is too young for a drink anyway. Stuffing such a vast blend into one cuu-razy story (and all of the characters' juvenile plasticity) makes the film only worth a look if you're doing a Brian De Palma month like I am. But at this point, I am starting to wish I'd just dedicated the month to Hitchcock.

It's not a very good film at all, but if you'd like to see the best parts of it watch the very first murder scene, and then fast forward to about fifty-eight minutes, the moment when De Palma's signature split screen shows up, and man, does it ever. The use of a TV in two separate rooms combined with excellent design and placement of the shot brings another magical De Palma moment.

Sadly, as in The Fury, the magic is only momentary. A Scooby Doo wrap-up and a chiller thriller finale (ripped straight from the end of Carrie -- hey! That worked, let's do it again) finally pushes Dressed To Kill into the bowels of complete nauseousness.

. . .

As one travels through De Palma's back catalog, you see things that suggest a fascination with the dark side, in particular, the vile nature of exploitative sex.

BFI's review of De Palma's second film but first theatrical release, Murder à la Mod (1968), a film I have yet to see, "Finds various young women... being auditioned by their boyfriend (the offscreen voice is De Palma's own) for a skin flick he's got to make to pay for his divorce." How interesting even in the early part of his career that De Palma's actual voice is being heard; one could say that his "voice" is heard through many of the rest of his films as well. The themes which captivated him early on are scattered throughout his work, never suggestively. Manipulation and bartering through sex, often leading to murder, began early in his oeuvre and continue through much of his career:

In Sisters it was a brutal murder by butcher knife the morning after a one night stand; Obsession leaves us with the idea that incest might be more biologically natural than we'd once thought; Blow Out, blogged here tomorrow, tells of a politician's affair resulting in death; in Scarface (blu-ray coming out this September), most of the sex is gift wrapped like an exchange, quid pro quo; Femme Fatale creates the kind of sex that is so enrapturing one can actually thieve off another's body in the process; Body Double and The Black Dahlia both lens prostitution and pornography in a "cool," glorifying manner, while dealing out a sad end for those who participate in such activities. (These two films want their cake and eat it, too.)

Sex isn't respected or honored in the context of these stories. It's always, "You got it, I want it, I've got this to give if I can get it."

After watching too much De Palma, you sometimes feel you need a cold shower. And just hope that nothing like the picture above gets you while you're in there.

Resembling Carrie, the opening scene of Dressed to Kill is that of a naked woman in the shower. But in comparing the two films, you can actually feel the more shameless way Dressed to Kill is shot. Whereas the opening shower scene in Carrie set the viewer up for an introduction to the innocence and confusion of its lead, a similar scene in Dressed to Kill is hyper-sexualized, focusing blatantly on Angie Dickinson's breasts - she's looking turned on by the bar of soap. The tone is utterly gratuitous, so over the top that it's ridiculous to watch, like an even worse Nine 1/2 Weeks, spiced up with murder so double your fun.

But, Reality Check: This film, and many from the director, are not supposed to be a reflection of reality.

So what are we watching? And why?

I guess we are fascinated by stories about people who do that sinful or immoral thing we're not supposed to. Sleep around. Commit murder. Make love in the shower with your bar of soap.

I am personally fascinated by the lens itself, the way it relays image to our eyes and, from there, straight into the soul. I am not persuaded that all stories are really good for us unless we're willing to challenge them, to pick them apart and take them on.

Dressed to Kill, in that sense, feels like voyeurism and a waste of time. Hardcore De Palma fans will find plenty to absorb in the way the camera draws us in, the split screens at the middle, the intrigue over sex, despair and murder.

That we're fascinated by some sort of code that's broken, some sort of gate we're not supposed to go through, makes the watching feel like a lonely fellow addicted to pornography. It's the thing that he can't have that he obsesses over. He's engulfed in it, addicted to it, willing to give his eyes to that thing that escapes him.

We are a strange bird, us humans. We've built the greatest means for entertainment. We can bask in a million different stories at which we'll marvel. But for some of us it always comes back to those things we just can't have: an affair, a cover-up, a murder.

Seems kinda boring when you think about it like that.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Fury. (1978) Brian De Palma

This film is a disaster, a far cry from the other horror/paranormal film De Palma directed only two years before, Carrie. The Fury is overstuffed with people, plots and scenes that only exist to get to other scenes, you know, the ones with the action. It's a frustrating viewing experience because it borrows from everywhere and can't settle into any groove or decide what it actually wants to be. Is it a spy film? Is it a film about ESP? Is it a comedy? Is it horror, a drama or a farce? A very rare film can be all of these at once; The Fury is not that film. I wanted to stand up and shout at it, "For crying out loud, pick a side! Any side."

Flashes of De Palma's brilliance are found in pieces lying in the wreckage. One brilliant flash in particular has main character Gillian (Amy Irving, luminous as always as she switches gears from a witness to the paranormal in Carrie to the one who is the paranormal here), tripping on the stairs - her mentor grabs her by the hand to steady her and she instantly has a premonition, gripping his hand which begins to bleed, her thoughts racing to other events that she can see due to him touching her. We see her thoughts as though she stands against a black and white screen behind her. Brilliant "premonition technique" in scenes like this and an engaging-as-always score create masterful moments in this otherwise mess of a film.

Kirk Douglas, who I raved about a few weeks ago when I saw Paths of Glory, is the spy that lost his son, but he looks lost, and he's miserable to watch in a script that goes all over the place and loses itself in its maze. It was interesting to see him at the age he was here, though, and compare him to his son these days. In my head, I kept thinking I was seeing Michael.

It was nice to see Chicago in the seventies, though, and there was at least one very funny line: "I told you we should have moved to Melrose Park."

But really. What an awful mess of a film. All the depth I found in Carrie is not found here. And whereas Carrie had a bombastic, gut-wrenching ending, I had a hard time making it to the end of this cluttered wreck.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Carrie. (1976) Brian De Palma

A standard in horror - 70s b-grade type, but still riffed on three decades later - Carrie probes the rich themes you'll find in any great film, regardless of genre. To limit Carrie to "horror talk" oversimplifies it; the film is loaded with deep, storybook emotion, which makes its terrifying grand finale more memorable. Many films have tried to borrow from Carrie over the years, usually with less appeal, due to the fact that they aim for the style of it without focusing on much of the very substance.

Seeing a crime on the street brings less emotion than seeing a loved one involved in the same crime. Seeing a kid get hurt in a high school football game is harsh, of course! - but seeing your kid hurt in that same game will send you into a state of sheer panic. Human nature suggests we are driven by something deeper, something that resonates inside - not just what we see on a day to day basis. The more our emotions are involved in the life of another, the more seeing that person's suffering will hit us where it actually hurts.

It's the same way in the movies.

Stories have grounded us in each other's lives since oral tradition around the caveman's fire. We bond to one another through the stories of our lives, and the meaningful stories we make up, too. Sharing stories is to our emotional well-being what eating, drinking, and breathing is to us physically. It's a part of the fabric of our being that has extended through thousands of years; it's how humans relate, how we care.

It's for this reason that much of what horror peddles, we simply don't care about. The genre creates a lot of schlock with very little heart. I've often said that I'm a fan of the idea of horror more than a fan of most of the films themselves. Monsters, killing sprees, butcher knives and masks often feel like a glossy item on sale in a window, but when you walk inside you find out there's no store. I have always liked to refer to films like these as "empty scented boxes."

After going back to Carrie, a film which has become one of my favorites from repeated viewings, I noticed a few things that stand out, things which bring deeper meaning, getting us involved long before the carnage that later stamps the film as horror:

Competition. Folks often remember the first scene of Carrie as the locker-room scene, but this is misremembering. The locker-room scene is actually the second scene in the film, which the credits and music play over and which ends with Carrie's first terrifying exposure to her period. The very first scene in the film is on an outdoor volleyball court, one high school team of girls pitted against another in gym, with Carrie unable to help and eventually losing the game for her team when the ball is intentionally hit hard in her direction. The girls exit, her team having lost, one of them swatting Carrie with her baseball cap, another telling her she eats shit.

It's a perfect representation of the pissing contests of girly high school histrionics. Remember the teen girls in your high school hallway that used to scratch at each other like cats in the alleyway? The high school girl in De Palma's film represents puffed up pride from the outside in, the idea that image is better, that beauty is all that matters and that it really is only skin deep. (Think: Mean Girls, but less cute.)

It is no mistake that the very first scene in Carrie is that of cat fighting high school girls caught up in stuck up contests of the exterior. The film seems to suggest that the tragedy at the end could have been stopped from the beginning if it weren't for the need some feel to be seen as better than others, and not just be seen as better, but to constantly expose how others are worse (whether it is actually true or not) - through humiliation, verbal abuse and insults. It's the lie that says we're better than someone else because we can find "fault" in them, instead of looking at ourselves. It's a leap in logic which is a strong historically in the nature of man. It goes back to Cain and Abel, who, rather than celebrating and embracing their differences, chose instead to out-do each other for God's supposed approval.

My point about the competitive nature that sets the events of Carrie in motion sets the framework for much of the following:

Cruelty. It's certainly fair to say that in Carrie, personal competition in the introductory scene also leads to the following scene of utter cruelty. Witness scene number two, the aforementioned naked and half-dressed locker-room scene, where innocence and eroticism, symbolized in the nature of the room itself (any room of naked females eroticizes a scene to the mind of a man), melds as one in Carrie's own body, where, in the words of her own mom, she becomes a woman by receiving her first period.

But the cruelty comes from every angle: Carrie's mom has been cruel enough to not explain the nature of the changes in her body; Carrie lives with constant cruel taunts from the popular crowd; and when she notices the blood between her legs while in the shower, she freaks out, berserk with a gripping fear that something in her body is terribly wrong. It is also cruel that she should even have to see it this way, when in fact the blood is evidence that something is right in her body, perfectly normal. Having no clue of what's happening to her, she screams and shrieks and begs the girls for help. The mob backs her into the shower, throwing tampons and chanting for her to, "Plug it up!" She has no idea what this even means.

The cruel nature of everyone surrounding Carrie's life creates an internal tension, isolating her at first. But when put to the boiling point in Carrie it will bring out a torrential wave of wrath.

Isolation. Carrie is symbolic of the kind of person that has nowhere to go but inward. She has been burnt, used for laughs, and is obviously neglected by her mom. She is cut off from help from anyone outside of herself. She turns to books about science and miracles to try to figure out her uncanny and uncomfortable telekinesis, which seems to be growing stronger in puberty.

The Absence of Men. There is only one man present in the film, and he is a wimp - the principal, a pushover, a blundering rolypoly leader. When Carrie needs a man to simply speak her name, he isn't even up to this simple task. Other males in the film are either ignorant, immature, or horny teenagers with no knowledge of what it takes to be a man. De Palma's high school world portrays the need for a strong man to bring balance to all the chaos and cruelty.

Tommy Ross, the boy who takes her to prom, seems decent enough for a big headed jock, but even he, in his eventual kindness, is too little, too late to the task of saving this world. He's as close to a man as the film is going to get, but he's caught up in the moment too much like a boy to be able to make a man's kind of difference.

One has to wonder where all the real men are.

Spiritual Abuse. Carrie's mom uses Biblical-type language, most of which isn't contextually Biblical and a good portion just thrown in from left field. "The raven was loosed by Eve, and the raven was sin and the first sin was intercourse"?

She makes Carrie repeat this mantra while smacking her in the face with some sort of guide to the "Good Book." It's hard to say exactly what her religious point is, ever, but most of the time she's a power hungry accuser, ensnaring everyone in guilt, heaping her own brand of legalism on top. Whatever she is, whether some kind of Christian or not (pictures of the Last Supper and crucifixes are all over the house, so one is led to believe this is some kind of Christian cult mentality), the word and deed reeks of nothing but abuse. She's a feminine prototype foreshadowing of David Koresh, and will usher in the same Waco-like destruction.

Looking at the description I just wrote, one has to wonder whether she is for Satan and not God.

Justice, wrath or revenge? What happens when Carrie finally does blow her lid, using her powers to wreak havoc on the students and faculty at Prom? Was it premeditated? It doesn't seem so. It looks nothing like the coolly malevolent kids of Gus Van Sant's Elephant, who have planned out the Columbine-like deaths of their peers at school. Carrie, in that awful onslaught, has the look of a zombie, half-crazed or from another world, as if possession has taken over. But we know it's still her.

The vindictive thought has to have crossed her mind already - with her incredible skills in telekinesis she could wipe out her people problems in one fell swoop. The thought of total annihilation has to have already entered her mind. Does this incredibly wrong act seem somehow justified? If she would have lived and been brought to court, would she have been declared temporarily insane or given the death chair?

The viewer knows her story before we see her cruel act, which changes everything about the nature of what we see. We identify with the need for justice, but we end up involved in her revenge. If we celebrate the revenge, we're implicated along with her whether we understand her background or not. The scene of wrath is so effective (aside from the greatest De Palma use of a split screen on record) because we've already traveled some hard road with Carrie. We've seen through her eyes, we've rooted for her both at home and at school. Other horror stories might come up with similar scenarios for the killing scene itself, but it is rare that an audience cares. Carrie is rooted in traditional deep story structure, and Story keeps us involved.

Guilt Complex. In post-traumatic stress, Sue, in her dreams, is scarred forever. Her mother, who believes in nothing more than the hope and the power of human will, is of little help to her battle tattered psyche. Sue was a part of the second-scene locker-room romp, and after Carrie and her boyfriend Tommy has probably grown the most in the film. By the end, she is one of the good guys and not one of the bad. But she will be scarred by layers of guilt forever. This is what happens when a good person gets lost in competitive back biting, cruelty, isolationism and the lot, regardless of her early role in it and her attempt to create something better.

. . .

The wonderful (now retro) creepy background musical stylings, and sound effects ripped straight from the shower scene in Psycho (Aii! Aii!), aid the split screen use at the film's tragic end; these brush strokes combined with Sissy Spacek herself all play a role in how the film throttles the eye with relentless imagery, using sound and creative acting technique to charge ahead hard. It is the imagery one is left with.

But none of that would reach us more than any other horror film out there were it not for the deep delving of the initial horror story.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Obsession. (1976) Brian De Palma

I'm surprised to say that I really, really enjoyed this, even watching it on YouTube on my chest*. If it were shown on as retro-fun in the big city (I'll bet it's been featured in more than a few midnight screenings over the years), I'd be interested in checking it out the way it was meant to be seen - on film.

I saw two basic things when watching Obsession: De Palma honing his craft, fine tuning his skills, and switching from Rear Window and Psycho to Notorious and Vertigo in the way he created tension through lensing, long silences, and the use of a beautifully overwrought score.

It's basically the story of a wealthy land developer, Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson), happily married, whose wife and daughter are kidnapped and held for ransom -- but in a botched police sting the two are involved in an accident, their bodies never recovered. Years later in Florence, Courtland runs into his wife's doppelganger (or -- ?), in the church where he originally met his wife. He instantly falls in love. He can't take his eyes off her, gazing at how closely she resembles his wife, looking as vibrant and young as over a decade ago. It's as if the same woman somehow made her way to Italy, and she hasn't aged a bit in all these years. He follows her everywhere, in the beginning very close to a silent stalking (think: Vertigo). Eventually he gets a dinner date, and puts his plans in motion to bring her back to the states and marry her.

De Palma seems to have a thing for actresses who plays two characters in the same film. French Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold, as Courtland's wife and then the Italian doppelganger, was in her early thirties when Obsession was released, and she has an overwhelming beauty, a mysterious kind of attractiveness that would give any man butterflies in the gut. As a guy, I could continue to talk about that, but I won't say too much more. There's a fine line between being captivated and being a pig, and there are threads on the IMDB message boards that already dig into what certain men think about Geneviève. I find this kind of talk worthless, but acknowledge how much easier it is to watch any film - ever - which has a woman whose beauty transcends time.

Obsession didn't have the same second-half nosedive that I noted in De Palma's earlier film, Sisters. The nosedive here was only in the final fifteen or twenty minutes. But the more I think about how outlandish Obsession became, the more it reminded me of exactly why I liked the first half hour of Sisters. In his review, Ebert referred the film's "overwrought excess," which he relished as its own reward in Obsession. I tend to agree with him, and after Obsession I'm understanding even more the early De Palma comparisons to a contemporary film maverick, Quentin Tarantino. Excessive, overloaded, always over-indulgent but coolly slick, and eye-popping to look at, these kinds of films are hypnotic to watch. Image for image's sake.

I've been wading through the De Palma oeuvre and I've spoken excitedly about returning to Carrie very soon. It's interesting that I consider the entire second half of Sisters to be a nosedive, and the final twenty minutes of Obsession to be, well, not exactly a nosedive, but definitely koo koo, a trip to la-la land -- but I can't wait to see the ending of Carrie again for the first time in many years. It's as if in that film, everything came together for De Palma, from his crazed need for parallel story telling made to suit different perspectives in split screen edits, to a splash or two of the gore he seems to love to gross out his audience with, to his need to finally (Finally!) bring about the most bombastic and traumatic ending one can see. Once De Palma started firing on all cylinders, he made a film like Carrie and also several amazing movies that followed.

It's a joy to watch these films in order as De Palma progresses in his craft.

* This is the first time I remember watching an entire film this way. While it obviously isn't the preferred method for viewing Obsession (or much else), I made it work, and here's how: turn every light out completely, lie down on your back in total darkness - maybe with a blanket, maybe in bed (but don't fall asleep) - put the laptop on a pillow on your chest and use the Earbuds from your iPod for sound. The sound is phenomenal, and the Wifi streaming to a point these days where it works just fine. On my chest, that close to my face, even my small Dell Notebook made me feel like I was in a theater (although you can easily tell the difference between digital on the Net and film), but I can't stress highly enough how great the sound is, and with Obsession, the sound is huge to the feel of the film. YouTube was the only way I could track down Obsession, which isn't available through Netflix. I normally only use my iPod or a laptop for documentaries, and even then it's rare (like on the four-hour train between Grand Rapids and Chicago), but I bent my movie-watching rules to make it work for this film, and honestly, it worked great!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sisters. (1973) Brian De Palma

With persistent references to Read Window and Psycho and an over-indulgent soundtrack which accentuates dread-fueled moments of shock, Sisters was to the 1970s what Final Analysis might have later been to the 90s, or a worse version of Shutter Island might have been to last year. They are films which either rip off or pay homage to Hitch; they borrow and steal with a wink and a nod. But if you're going to steal, why not steal from the best?

It seems like a reasonable question. But if you steal from the best, your work will be remembered for not being the best, but rather a copycat, a reflection or a recurrence. You're the student who wishes he could be as good as the master while he eyes the master's every move.

Such is the fate of the first half hour of Sisters, by Brian De Palma, the director who would make a decades-long career out of tipping his hat to Hitchcock.

The rest of the film is such a nosedive that it wouldn't be fair to even remotely compare it to Hitch. But it is a spectacular nosedive to observe, teetering on the brink between utter stupidity and that phrase that b-movie house managers love, that loathsome phrase, "admirable flop."

The story starts out with some usual Hitch-like moral probings - in this case, situational ethics on a "Peeping Tom" television game show and the more-highly-debated-37-years-ago topic of interracial relationships, seen when a normal black man beds a white woman, a model. This could have been fertile ground in which to dig, except that the man, the only black in the film, is killed off rather quickly from the start. (Bad De Palma!)

At the point of said death the film completely switches gears. We know that if the possibility for rich topics were there for digging before, we're certainly not going to be digging now. We're jolted instead into split screen viewing, murder, and movie sibling psychoanalysis. Things turn somewhat predictable in nature, and when events aren't predictable, they're still predictably dumb. Margot Kidder (later Christopher Reeves' Lois Lane), who plays twin sisters Danielle and Dominique and is the only interesting person in the film, gets traded in for a poorly acted newspaper reporter and an out of nowhere Private Eye, of which the film quarter-bakes the former and nearly forgets about the latter. They should have called this The Descent rather than Sisters - it would have perfectly summed up the script, the acting, the trajectory, and audience interest.

There were, however, a couple of Bests:

Best use of a hideaway bed, ever. Best birthday cake surprise ("Whoops!"). Best fake fake blood I've seen in quite a while. Best non-authentic looking archival asylum footage.

The first viewing in my "June Lite" month has only reinforced my initial bias towards De Palma. There is little doubt this is going to be a fun month, as long as I remember the eye candy I'm in for. There's little protein in this diet, lots of sweet stuff involved, but I'm certain there will be unforgettable moments as I continue forward on the timeline of these films. (I personally can't wait to return to Carrie, Scarface and The Untouchables again.)

But like the split screens De Palma is known for - a technique I actually kinda dig - Sisters can be divided exactly in half. Most of the first half is interesting, retro-chic, suspenseful and creepy. The unraveling of the second half turns the whole of the film into a laughable, ludicrous mess of a wreck, as predictable as a train on tracks headed over a cliff.

June Lite. (2011)

I hate to pick on Brian De Palma. I really do. I like his films, the ones I've seen anyway, so I feel kinda bad taking a month to chronologically focus on his output while I refer to the ordeal as "June Lite."

I guess there are two reasons why I chose to use June like this:

1. I'm currently taking on other artistic endeavors and don't have time for much in-depth writing in my reactions to film. I'm taking this month off to simply go "lite."

2. De Palma's films perfectly cater to my need to be "lite" for a little while. While fun in terms of style and form, the films give me little to actually chew over, nothing much to think about in depth. I don't find much "spiritual significance" or nourishment in De Palma films, but I know several of the movies are stylistic showpieces, great for eye candy, and that's fine for me right now. They are exactly what I need at this point in time - I can watch as many as I want, and not feel the need to think or write too much.

So my concentration on De Palma this month will give me a reprieve from thinking! - while not losing ground with those all important two words: Film and Fun. There are sixteen De Palma films I'd like to get to. We'll see whether that goal can be achieved.