Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Weekend Lover





The telephone rang twice before the machine answered. Lydia paused, fingers over keypad to hear who was calling before answering.

“Garry?”

“Hello. How are you?”

“I’m sooo happy to hear from you,” Lydia said, meaning every word of it. Garry had been her lover through three years of college and one year of graduate school thirty years ago. He lived 60 miles away and drove in on weekends, and usually midweek, as well.

“I left a message on your voice mail about a month ago,” she said.

“Oh, really.” He was flattered by her exuberance.

Lydia had dropped all pretense when she turned fifty. She never toned down her enthusiasm. People either basked in it, or thought she was faking.

“My home or cell?”

“You told me to call your cell,” she said.

He was married to his fifth wife. They'd met a year after his divorce from his first wife. During the weekend years, Lydia had thought she might become Mrs. Garry number two. They discussed it, but their timing was off. She went to graduate school out-of-state and they opted for an "open" relationship.

“Damn, I’ve been having trouble with my cell. Why did you call?”

“Check up on you, of course.”

They laughed. Garry was twenty years her senior. When he hadn’t returned her call, she’d worried that he might be dead, but she didn't say that.

“Probably something to do with politics,” she said instead. Garry and Lydia had always found it easy to talk with each other. Their weekends had been filled with lively political debates which added an unexpected sensuality to their lovemaking.

Their conversation now flowed from the presidential candidates to the economy to the environment to family, mainly the children: his and now, hers. They took care to avoid discussing their spouses. Garry’s wife was notoriously jealous. Lydia’s workaholic husband veered in the opposite direction.

Garry launched into a description of his latest entrepreneurial venture, something high tech. He was very creative, and extremely wealthy. He'd made investments in every state she'd moved to in order to write off his travel. While he spoke, Lydia imagined his head, now partially covered with silken white hair, bobbing up-and-down between her legs.

“So I just need to raise another million,” Garry said.

“Well, at least you have some,” she said, meaning hair on his head, not money.

“Yes,” he said, “but not enough.”

“But you’re sooo amazing with what you do have,” Lydia said, sounding like a love-struck nineteen-year-old.

Across the miles and years, they laughed again.


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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

A Latina By Any Other Name

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Post-Truth Heroine: Miss Sloane



Oxford Dictionaries just declared “post-truth” as its 2016 international 
word of the year. The heart of the definition is how public opinion is
shaped less by objective facts and more by emotional appeals.

Which brings me to the movie, Miss Sloane, directed by John Madden
and starring Jessica Chastain. Billed as a political thriller, I prefer to call 
it a drama filled with plenty of edgy twists and turns, and, yes politics 
are involved. On its surface, the game is about the gun lobby and its 
opposition. The real story is about Power—its pursuit, the avid hunger 
for it, and who can play the game best. The movie is also a character 
study.

Enter Elizabeth Sloane, the Machiavellian heroine/villain of the movie. 
She’s a successful special-interest lobbyist on Capitol Hill, who is driven
to win and appears to give no empathy to the various causes she 
represents, or to the people she uses to achieve her goals. She 
manipulates not only the truth, but the emotions of the people
involved.

People in business cultivate a placid demeanor that reveals nothing
of what they might be plotting, I mean, thinking. Women generally 
have to work harder at this since we’re encouraged from childhood 
to be open, amenable, and cooperative. Miss Sloane didn’t get that 
memo. Jessica Chastain not only plays a brilliant, unscrupulous character,
but she manages to conceal all emotion while she’s scheming. Her private 
time is another matter.

I like my heroes and heroines to be a mixed bag of angel and devil: 
Miss Sloane epitomizes this, but it takes a while for the cracks to show.
She’s an insomniac who pops prescription uppers to keep going. So she’s
got a bit of ADHD. Who doesn’t?

She hires a male escort to meet her in bed—sex and no emotional 
exchanges, please. This humanized her for me. Don’t count on erotic 
scenes here, Miss Sloane is on a schedule and while she’s squeezed t
his interlude into her calendar, her orgasm only requires his cooperation.

She’s successful, but what will her next challenge be? For some 
inconceivable reason, she resigns from the most powerful lobbying 
organization in Washington. Her employer accepts the gun lobby’s 
appeal to get the female vote against a bill requiring background checks
for firearm purchases. She leaves to go work for the other side fighting to 
pass the bill, taking her crew with her, all except for Jane Molloy 
(Allison Pill). She remains behind and asks for a raise.

Is there some personal history that would explain Miss Sloane’s decision? 
The story turns on our lack of backstory. No flashbacks, folks. No gun
violence revealed in her childhood. But that doesn’t mean her crew might not
have experienced such barbarity. Miss Sloane is not only willing to use such
a personal history but she’s ready. She leaves no stone unturned, no file 
unread, no internet device unhacked. The most remarkable aspect of the film
is how viewers don’t question this pristine—no doubt Ivy League educated—
female’s access to back alley nerds, the techno-henchman of the 21st century.
The back alley scenes are dark, wet and dirty. No secret knocks, but Chastain
does look over her shoulder before entering.

She appears to be winning public opinion in the gun control battle and her
former firm calls for an “inquisition” into her tactics. Miss Sloane anticipated
this. The pressure mounts. A few more cracks appear in her façade: she throws
some stuff around in the privacy of her office. Still, Chastain makes it a 
momentous desk-clearing. A few exhausted tears, and more pills slide down
her throat while she plans her next move. Make sure you surprise them is her
motto.

Miss Sloane is in control of her future. She’s all about choices. Prepare for the
post-truth ride. You’ll be surprised.

Opens: Nov. 25 (EuropaCorp. USA)

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alisson Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, David Wilson Barnes, Dylan Baker, Raoul Bhaneja, Chuck Shamata, Christine Baranski

Director: John MaddenScreenwriter: Jonathan Perera

Follow Sandra Ramos O’Briant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sramosobriant

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Love, Sex and Class: The Con Women in The Handmaiden



         Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, The Handmaiden, directed by Park Chan-Wook, provides a delicious mash up of culture, class and cons. Add to this a generous dollop of romance and drizzle throughout with lesbian sex, and you have 144 minutes of a twisting adventure.
            A young Korean pickpocket, Sook-hee, is hired by a master con artist who calls himself The Count to work as a handmaiden to Lady Hideko, a wealthy Japanese heiress. The Count is Korean but has successfully passed himself off as Japanese. His plan is to seduce and marry the solitary Lady Hideko and then have her confined to a mental institution where she will be murdered, and he will inherit her wealth. He needs the handmaiden to help win her trust.
            Told in three parts with a changing point-of-view, we see Sook-hee’s softer side as she empathizes with Hideko’s loneliness. Still, she made an agreement with The Count.
            Chapter 1: Lady Hideko is isolated from the world, practically incarcerated by her uncle, with only his vast library for escape. She and Sook-hee bond. Hideko appears to trust her handmaiden and considers the Count’s proposal, but she is unsure about the details of the marriage bed and asks Sook-hee to show her how to kiss. This leads to fondling and more. Sook-hee is an avid and engaged teacher.    
            Chapter 2: Hideko reveals her hardened side, learned as part of her survival under her Uncle’s control. From early childhood, he forced her to read erotica out loud to his club of avid listeners, all male. She took over this job from her depressed aunt who hung herself from a cherry tree in order to escape this singular literary enslavement. The Count reveals to Hideko his original plan to seduce and abandon her, but says he can still help her escape her uncle. But a few sacrifices will have to be made.
            Who is conning whom?
            Chapter 3. People suffer and die, but love persists.
            The connecting scenes between the chapters are the growing love and affection between the two women intermixed with graphic sex scenes straight out of the western pornographer’s handbook. A hilarious shot of Sook-hee peering at her lover’s vagina appears to be shot from the pov of the vagina. The director loved it so much he repeated the shot twice. Even so, the most sensual and tender scene between the two women involves a thimble and a tooth. This is when they first fall in love.
            We’ve been offered an upstairs-downstairs view of class distinction in British plays, television and movies for decades. Indeed, The Handmaiden is based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, set in Victorian England. By transporting the basic plot to Korea, Park Chan-Wook has made the story more interesting, while still providing plenty of twists and surprises.
            What about the sex? For me, the lesbian sex was geared to a male audience. There were lots of full-body shots of the women in various postures, all overlain with the sound of smacking lips. The most pornographic aspect of the story was Hideko reading to her uncle’s literary porn club of adult males. While they were mesmerized and turned on, the stories reminded me of The Pearl, a collection of Victorian erotica I bought in the student bookstore my freshman year in college. The purchase was a waste of my hard-earned work-study money as the plots invariably had to do with female subjugation at the hands of mature males who called it seduction.
            In The Handmaiden, the women prevail. The setting, the acting, and the plot twists make the film a must see. The official release date is October 21.                       



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