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Thursday, May 16, 2024

At RogerEbert.com, Scott Dummler writes about his visits to the Cannes Film Festival, with mention of Femme Fatale:
I was fortunate enough to meet Roger and Chaz Ebert in 2010 as they interviewed directors to pilot their upcoming public television review program. But as I mentioned to Roger, even though we were meeting for the first time, I felt like he had already been a mentor of mine for many years. I had read his writing in the Chicago Sun-Times and watched his reviews on television all the way back to the Sneak Previews days. His perspective was invaluable. At some point after film school, I picked up a copy of his book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun. I can’t quite recall, but I probably bought it in the early days of eBay. It still has a sticker with the Dewey Decimal number 791.43 and the pocket where a checkout card would go for the San Diego Public Library.

If anyone reading this has not read Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, I strongly encourage you to do so immediately. It’s a fascinating look at the world’s most prestigious film festival, the wide variety of characters that inhabit it each year, and Roger’s unique first-person relationship to all of the above. And unlike my old library copy, the latest version features a wonderful prologue from Martin Scorsese.

In 2011, while the new TV show was in production and May of that year approached, Roger was unfortunately not feeling up to making the journey and fighting the crowds in Cannes. Knowing how much the festival meant to him, I’m sure this was a tough decision but an understandable one. He asked Chaz to represent him at the festival, and Chaz tapped me to travel to Cannes with her to produce some segments for the television show and the Chicago Sun-Times. I was absolutely thrilled.

The show has been off the air for years now, but Chaz and I have continued to cover the festival along with my right-hand cameraman, Bob Long, ever since. And each year before we head to the South of France, I read Roger’s book to remind me of his perspective on the festival and the spirit in which we cover it. In reading the book this year, it struck me that Roger mentions he’s writing it during his 12th visit to Cannes. In counting up the years I’ve attended and a couple that I missed, I realized that this will be my 12th visit to Cannes. Of course, my experiences in Cannes are much different than Roger’s experiences. But by now, I do know my way around the festival well enough. So I thought it would be fun to take a look at what’s different and what’s remained the same at the Cannes Film Festival since Roger wrote his book in 1987.

One of the first things Roger describes is the great difficulty he has with sending dispatches of his writing back to the United States for publication. How quaint! But nearly 40 years later, this is still a problem! Well, perhaps not for the writers in Cannes. Modern-day internet in hotels, cafes, and festival locations is generally stable and speedy enough to send off written reports easily. But for those of us working with video and specifically much larger video files, our hotel internet continues to be a problem even in 2024. Sometimes, just trying to log on to reserve tickets for a film screening is impossible because the internet is overloaded or just plain down for the count. “Does the WiFi work for you?” is a frequent question overheard in the hotel breakfast room each year. I’ve even found myself standing on the street in front of a closed festival building at 3 am holding a laptop over my head in the hope it connects with the WiFi in the press lounge a floor above in order to get our latest report uploaded. In recent years, I’ve abandoned the attempt to upload large video files from our hotel altogether and now only do it in festival buildings during normal operating hours.

The aforementioned Palais is the central hub of the Cannes Film Festival. It was fairly new when Roger wrote about it, just three years old at the time. Its imposing structure was described as the Death Star back then due to its imposing size and design. Certainly, you’ve seen pictures of its red carpet and multiple terraces. Perhaps you’ll recall it in the opening of Brian De Palma’s movie “Femme Fatale” (2002), although I can confidently tell you that the bathrooms of the Palais are not nearly as large as they are depicted in that film. Today, the Palais remains the center of everything. It holds giant market and convention spaces, multiple theaters, lounges, offices, and, of course, the main press conference room where Chaz can be found front and center with a thoughtful question at the ready.

The Palais’ main theater, The Grand Lumiére, remains one of, if not the absolute best, places in the world to watch a film. The French take all aspects of the theatrical experience very seriously. And seeing a world premiere in that room, with 2300 other film lovers, is a magical experience. Perhaps a little less magical if you’re up in the corner of the very last row, but still memorable.

Perhaps more famous than the Palais itself are the famous red-carpeted stairs that lead to the Grand Lumiere Theater. But the steps were not always red. In the first few years of the festival, the carpet was blue. And it wasn’t until the new Palais opened in 1984 that the red carpet welcomed guests every day and evening to the next prestigious screening. Roger mentions that a number of French celebrities would make appearances on the carpet every year without fail whether they had a film to support or not. That remains the case today, but it isn’t limited to just French stars. In fact, a number of international models attend annually and walk the red carpet just for the photo op, without even bothering to climb the steps or attend the film. And I can’t remember the last year when American actress Eva Longoria didn’t appear on the famous red carpet.

Posted by Geoff at 11:42 PM CDT
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Thursday, September 21, 2023

"Originally printed as a stapled zine," begins the film series description at Museum of the Moving Image, "distributed for free throughout New York, the independent film journal Reverse Shot began in 2003 as a labor-of-love endeavor among a small group of twenty-something cinephiles. Since 2014, it has been the house publication of criticism for Museum of the Moving Image, still edited by two of its co-founders, Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert. Reverse Shot has stayed committed to publishing serious, lively, and thoughtfully edited writing that wrestles with the past, present, and possible future of the cinematic medium. On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, MoMI and Reverse Shot team up to give audiences an opportunity to see some of its contributors’ favorite films from the 21st century on the Museum’s big screen."

While the film series opens Friday night (Sept. 22) with a screening of Olivier Assayas' Demonlover, this Saturday night's screening of Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale is paired with the Reverse Shot Anniversary Reception, which will take place in the lobby after the movie.

Here's the Museum's description of Femme Fatale:

De Palma’s silky, seductive, ridiculously entertaining meta-noir stars a delightful, committed Romijn-Stamos as a statuesque jewel thief on the run from her fellow criminals after absconding with a stash of diamonds. Yet that simple description could not prepare a first-time viewer (or, frankly, even a tenth-time viewer) for the ecstasy of De Palma’s endlessly looping, self-referential, too-pure-for-camp masterwork, a film that’s a dose of giddy pleasure from its intricate opening heist scene set during the Cannes Film Festival (!) to its mind-bending split-screen shenanigans to its wild alt-reality conclusion.

Here's an excerpt from Chris Wisniewski's 2006 Reverse Shot essay about Femme Fatale:
The entirety of the film hinges on the ability to make sense of visual information and to see things as they are, which is why it’s so brilliant that De Palma constantly puts us in the position of misrecognizing what we’re seeing, despite giving us the clues. Those are the diamonds; that is her conspirator; this is a dream. You just didn’t see it. Fittingly, Laure finally gets the better of the men who are hunting her thanks to literal blindness—a flash of sunlight, refracted through a piece of jewelry, blinds a truck driver who drives the men into the spikes of a metal grate, a most violent and lethal penetration. De Palma, like Hitchcock, is perpetually concerned with the idea of “the gaze”—the gaze of the camera, of the spectator, and of the straight male (all of which may be, in some sense, variations of the same thing)—and with disrupting the equation that to look is to see; to see is to know; and to know is to have power.

Shortly before she seduces Nicolas, Laure does a short striptease for a man in the basement of a bar, as Nicolas watches from the other side of the doorway. We see most of the striptease from Nicolas’s point-of-view, as though she’s dancing for his benefit and, by extension, for ours. It’s pure titillation, a softcore cinematic masculine fantasy. Then De Palma turns everything around. The other man loses control and lunges at her, and Nicolas, perhaps out of jealousy or some masculine impulse to protect Laure, jumps and attacks him. We watch her watching them, the fight visible only as a shadow play on the wall. They do their little masculine dance, and she spectates with delight, applauding as it reaches its climax. Perspectives shift—the looked-at does the looking; power dynamics are reconfigured. Fetish becomes critique in this deadly game of transmuting identities and shifting realities, a veritable cinematic hall of mirrors.

Posted by Geoff at 11:27 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 13, 2023

In an essay titled "Femme Fatale And The Joy of Castration," Everything Is Horrible's Noah Berlatsky concludes: "When the movie first came out, many critics were put off by the combination of gratuitous eroticism and deliberate narrative incoherence. The truck goes off its path just like the movie keeps going off of its trajectory—the protagonist switches lives, jumps into the future seven years, goes back in time, conflates dream and reality.

"But the sex and the silly serendipity are inextricable. De Palma turns visual pleasure—the luxurious vision of water pouring out of the bathtub; split screen shots showing the same scene from multiple angles so it becomes a cubist abstraction; the camera swooping up to look down into an interrogation room; the extreme close up of Laure’s eyes; multiple explicit sex scenes—into isolated fragments of anti-plot, which direct your gaze to a here that goes both everywhere and nowhere. Instead of trying to master visual pleasure with narrative, Femme Fatale revels in the way the femme fatale releases the film from sequence, logic, and ultimately even from misogyny. De Palma, that most faithful of Hitchcock disciples, tosses away narrative mastery, and with it the master's paranoia. What he's left with is a pleasure that, despite all the sex, feels so innocent you almost have to call it joy."

Here's a portion from the beginning of Berlatsky's essay:

Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale (2002) is a kind of inverse body double of his earlier film Body Double (1984). Both movies are obsessed with undermining, or castrating, the male gaze. Where Body Double frames the male viewer as impotent and frozen outside the narrative, though, Femme Fatale instead constructs a female viewer whose usurpation of the male position causes the film narrative to fragment into an eroticized stasis of fantasy and dream.

The movie is ostensibly a noir in the tradition of Double Indemnity, which our seductress Laure (Rebecca Romijn) is watching (nude, her image superimposed on the screen within a screen) in the first scene. Laure is point person for a heist in which she is supposed to steal diamonds worn (or mostly not worn) by model Veronica (Rie Rasmussen) at a Cannes premiere. However, Laure double crosses her partners. Then things get odd.

Femme fatales in Hollywood cinema traditionally challenge the male dominance of look and plot. In her classic essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Laura Mulvey argues that Hollywood films link male viewer and male protagonist as masterful gazers, whose look drives and orders the story arc. Women, in contrast, connote "to-be-looked-at-ness" they are "displayed as sexual object" and "erotic spectacle." The gaze possesses woman, which allows the (male) gazer in the theater the illusion of mastery. At the same time, though the spectacle of woman tends "to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation." Woman is thus the prize of narrative mastery and a sensuous ice pick (or prick) in the eye of that same mastery. She is the prize that empowers narrative thrust and the twinkling treasure that leads the gaze (and other bits) off course.

Classic Hollywood films like Double Indemnity use the femme fatale to take advantage of this doubled gaze to heighten both impotence and empowerment. The erotic spectacle of Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) hijacks the male gaze and the male driven plot so that good guy Walter (Fred MacMurray) is diverted from the straight and narrow. Instead of his gaze driving the plot, her gazed-at-ness takes the wheel, steering him towards perversion, iniquity, and ultimately death. The film becomes a battle between the erotic distraction of the femme fatale and the righteous vision of the male. When Walter shakes off the glamour and does the right thing (by killing Phyllis) he reasserts his potency—though at the cost of his own life. That's the price of getting bogged down in the venus of spectacle.

Femme Fatale sort of reiterates this narrative tension, sort of parodies it, and sort of blows it up. Laure is an erotic spectacle which seizes control of the plot in numerous ways—first of all by literally seducing Veronica and ravishing her in the bathroom, pulling off her diamonds so her accomplice can slip substitutes under the stall. It's a flamboyantly queer literalization of the way that the femme fatale queers cinematic narratives.

Read the rest at Everything Is Horrible.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Roger Ebert passed away ten years ago today - here's an excerpt from Ebert's 4-star review of Femme Fatale from November of 2002:
Sly as a snake, Brian De Palma's "Femme Fatale" is a sexy thriller that coils back on itself in seductive deception. This is pure filmmaking, elegant and slippery. I haven't had as much fun second-guessing a movie since "Mulholland Drive." Consider such clues as the overflowing aquarium, the shirt still stained with blood after many days, the subtitles for dialogue that is not spoken, the story that begins in 2001 and then boldly announces: "seven years later." The movie opens with a $10 million diamond theft, with a difference: The diamonds adorn the body of a supermodel attending a premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival, and they are stolen with erotic audacity as the model is seduced in a restroom of the Palais du Cinema by the tall, brazen Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Her team includes the usual crew of heist-movie types, and we get the usual details, like the guy in the wet suit, the laser-cutter and the TV spycam that attracts the attention of an inquisitive cat. But the movie announces its originality when none of these characters perform as they expect to, and Laure Ash steals the diamonds not only from the model but also from her fellow criminals.

No, I have not given away too much. The fact is, I have given away less than nothing, as you will fully appreciate after seeing the film. The long opening sequences, about 40 minutes by my clock, are done almost entirely without dialogue, and as De Palma's camera regards these characters in their devious movements, we begin to get the idea: This is a movie about watching and being watched, about seeing and not knowing what you see.

Romijn-Stamos plays Laure Ash as a supremely self-confident woman with a well-developed sense of life's ironies. Chance plays a huge role in her fate. Consider that not long after the theft, while trying to avoid being spotted in Paris, she is mistaken for a grieving widow, taken home from a funeral, and finds herself in possession of an airplane ticket to New York and a passport with a photo that looks exactly like her. And then ...

But no. I cannot tell any more. I will, however, describe her relationship with Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas), a paparazzo who photographs her in 2001 on that day she is mistaken for the widow, and photographs her again seven years later (!) when she returns to Paris as the wife of the American ambassador (Peter Coyote). She wants that film: "I have a past here." And then ...

Well, the movie's story, written by De Palma, is a series of incidents that would not be out of place in an ordinary thriller, but here achieve a kind of transcendence, since they are what they seem, and more than they seem, and less than they seem. The movie tricks us, but not unfairly, and for the attentive viewer there are markers along the way to suggest what De Palma is up to.

Above all, he is up to an exercise in superb style and craftsmanship. The movie is very light on dialogue, and many of the words that are spoken come across as if the characters are imitating movie actors (the film opens with Laure watching "Double Indemnity"--for pointers in how to be a vixen, no doubt). I've seen the movie twice; it's one of those films like "Memento" that plays differently the second time. Only on the second viewing did I spot the sly moment when the subtitles supply standard thriller dialogue--but the lips of the actors are not moving. This is a movie joke worthy of Luis Bunuel.

Posted by Geoff at 11:47 PM CDT
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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Tyler Foster, an "occasional @DVDTalkcom critic," tweeted the following message tonight:
No idea what will happen, but apparently Warner's distribution agreement for Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale has ended. It's been pulled from digital retailers (excluding those who already bought it), and if you want Shout! Factory's recent Blu-ray of it, might be wise to act fast.

Posted by Geoff at 11:18 PM CST
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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

At National Review, critic Armond White brings up Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale in his review of Park Chan-wook's Decision To Leave:
American reviewers who praise Decision to Leave apparently welcome its cynicism and exoticism as something missing from U.S. movies (the same reason Spike Lee did an inferior remake of Park’s masochistic underworld thriller Oldboy). Those reviewers who prefer Decision to Leave over Brian De Palma’s wonderfully complex Femme Fatale (2002) — a film that moved from social transgression to sexual maneuvering to spiritual redemption — show a taste for Millennial decadence. Decision to Leave’s glossy aesthetics are corrupt and sinister.

Posted by Geoff at 9:16 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 28, 2022 9:18 PM CST
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Thursday, December 1, 2022

The August 2022 issue of Total Film features an interview with Antonio Banderas, conducted by James Mottram:
You've always tried to work with American auteurs too, like Brian De Palma on Femme Fatale. Melanie Griffith had worked with him twice before. Is that what drew you to him?

When Brian called me, Melanie was very pushy! She said: 'You should read his script!' I read it and I said to her, 'Melanie, there is no beef here.' These characters are very lean and I didn't know if I should do it. I talked to Brian and asked him if we could talk about it. He said, 'Of course, write whatever you want.' So I started composing the character... and put it together in a completely different way. We went for dinner in Paris, and I brought up my papers and read for an hour. At the end, he said "This is very good. You did a good job but it's not my movie! If you want to be in my movie, you have to do what's written. And I appreciate what you did - for another type of movie it would be great. But I have very specific ideas of what these characters will be. You decide.' I took a couple of days and said 'Yes'. For me, even if the character was not a main character, it was an opportunity to work with a person who I consider a master. He has a very strong personality on screen, and I just jumped into the part, I didn't regret it for one second.

What about your times with Steven Soderbergh? You worked twice with him on Haywire and The Laundromat...

Woah! That was a different world. Fast. Furious. No lights. I got to set on my first day in Barcelona [on Haywire], a conversation in a coffee shop at the start of the movie. And two cameras, digital. You go there, you sit, no practical indications, action! Boom boom boom boom boom. Two cameras. Action! Boom boom boom boom boom. Moving on. To the airport. No lighting. Nothing. Just the natural light. I remember shooting in Mexico, with Michael Douglas and with Ewan McGregor, and we did six sequences in one day. It's a totally different method, a totally different shoot.

You've twice directed features, Crazy In Alabama and Summer Rain. Having worked with so many great directors, how was it stepping into the chair?

To direct a movie is such a crazy thing. It's very complex. You have to become an answering machine and carry so many things at the same time. I thought at the beginning, when I directed Crazy In Alabama, that my strong point would be working with the actors. I loved doing that, and I did it on Summer Rain too- getting a bunch of kids together who had never been in front of a camera before. But I discovered in Crazy In Alabama, I had a tremendous [love of] framing and the meaning of that. I love that aspect of making movies, how you tell the story like that. Sometimes I have been working with directors just for that purpose.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Sunday, November 6, 2022



Posted by Geoff at 5:30 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, November 6, 2022 5:33 PM CDT
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Friday, November 4, 2022

At The Telegraph, film critic Robbie Collin responds to a Variety article about the Russo brothers ("We're futurists") from earlier this week:
Seven years ago in a caravan in west Berlin, Joe and Anthony Russo were waxing lyrical to me about Francois Truffaut. I was visiting the set of Captain America: Civil War, and the brothers – two sitcom-circuit veterans who’d been hand-picked to direct the previous Captain America film by Marvel boss Kevin Feige – were keen to stress their cinephile credentials.

Their current venture, Joe stressed, was “very influenced by a lot of European cinema. Truffaut is our favourite director. Shoot the Piano Player is probably our favourite movie.”

“We love absurdism, but especially when it’s married to a sense of realism and drama,” added Anthony, adding that they’d also been guided by their admiration for William Friedkin and Brian De Palma, while The Godfather was a Christmas staple at their house. A few years later while doing press for Avengers: Endgame, they were hymning Michelangelo Antonioni, telling Indiewire that the psychological charge of that film’s backdrops had been influenced by the Italian’s 1964 existential masterpiece Red Desert.

How much Truffaut and Antonioni are actually detectable in All-Star Smashy Bang Boom 4 is up for discussion, but even so, it’s hard not to love this sort of interview gambit. At the very least, it’s humanising – it proves the subjects aren’t automatons or cynics, and that their ideas started life in a special place.

There’s quite some distance between these sunny exchanges and the blood-freezing horror of the brothers’ conversation with Variety published earlier this week. Here we learned that cinema in its current form is in terminal decline, the future of screen performance is AI-powered deepfakes, and the Hollywood musical de nos jours is Guy Ritchie riffing on TikTok.

“We’re futurists,” Anthony told the magazine, while Joe detailed a filmmaking philosophy that involved “stretch[ing] the limits of IP” – that is, intellectual property, which means pre-existing characters and franchises. In terms of one of their forthcoming projects – Guy Ritchie’s live-action remake of Disney’s Hercules, which the Russos are producing – that means taking a creative cue from TikTok dances, as opposed to the 1930s screwball romances which influenced the original 1997 animation, by John Musker and Ron Clements.

Will this have the crowds jigging in the aisles? Who cares? Generation Z “don’t have the same emotional connection to watching things in a theatre,” they went on, suggesting the theatrical business peaked with their Avengers films: “It will never happen again,” Joe predicted, before describing an apparently desirable scenario in which audiences at home can interrupt actors mid-flow – or rather their digitally conscious CG doppelgängers – to ask them for behind-the-scenes tidbits.

I’m not suggesting the Avengers: Endgame directors’ prophecies won’t come to pass, but they’re infinitely more depressing than anything Thanos ever did. Bizarrely heedless, too. You might imagine that two of the men behind the second and fifth most commercially successful films of all time might recognise the enduring value of the communal film-watching experience. But no. Apparently that’s on the way out, with the art-house scene bound for extinction first (presumably the same art-house scene on which Everything Everywhere All At Once, produced by Messrs J and A Russo, just made $100 million worldwide).

Clearly in Hollywood such talk sounds desperately innovative, since every studio with money to burn is currently setting light to wheelbarrows of the stuff at the Russos’ feet. In addition to Hercules for Disney, they’re working on a sequel to The Gray Man and a sci-fi blockbuster called The Electric State for Netflix; and for Amazon, a multi-strand spy serial called Citadel with spin-off seasons made in Italy and India, as well as a series-length reboot of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

But to these ears, it just sounds like jadedness – perhaps tinged with guilt over the way their Avengers films made the theatrical side of the business so much more homogenised and risk-averse. It’s also hard to square with the reality of the Russos’ own post-Marvel work to date. Were Cherry and The Gray Man bold steps into the cinematic unknown? Because they looked respectively more like an unpersuasive Oscar grab and an off-brand Mission: Impossible, both built primarily to plug gaps in streaming services’ slates.

It’s worth contrasting the Russos’ take on the cinema of tomorrow with that of James Cameron, whose visionary status is beyond dispute. In the latest round of interviews for his forthcoming Avatar sequel, the 68-year-old director was asked to explain the rationale behind shooting its many subaquatic sequences in an old-fashioned water tank, when the scenes could have easily been mocked up on dry land.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe that it looks good?” he snorted. “Come on! You want it to look like the people are underwater, so they need to be underwater. It’s not some gigantic leap — if you were making a western, you’d be out learning how to ride a horse.”

For Cameron, the future of film still strongly resembles its past, albeit in pin-sharp, VFX-draped 3D. What the Russos are describing, on the other hand, sounds like the movie equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse: a sideshow that’s mistaken itself for a replacement. I mean, who knows? Perhaps there really is a sizeable market for a Tom Cruise hologram you can badger from your sofa. But it won’t be anyone’s new version of seeing Top Gun: Maverick in IMAX.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Neon Dreams presents a 20th anniversary screening of Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale at Revue Cinema in Toronto, this Friday, September 23rd, at 9:30 PM. Here's the event description of the film:
A sly reimagining of classic noir cinema, Femme Fatale finds De Palma at his most playful and seductive. Opening with one of the all time great set pieces—taking place at the Cannes Film Festival—the film spins a twisty, lurid yarn about a thief (Rebeca Romijn) who double crosses her partners after a successful diamond heist and goes on the run. From there it's anything goes as De Palma dives deep into dream logic and eroticism to set an otherworldly tone that falls somewhere between Double Indemnity and Mulholland Drive.

With a spectacular lead performance, stunning European locations, and boundary-pushing sexuality, Femme Fatale is equal parts classy and trashy. And you better believe it knows it. Come see the maestro's late-career masterpiece the way it demands to be experienced—on the big screen! - BRENDAN ROSS

Posted by Geoff at 11:50 PM CDT
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