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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Brian De Palma's Domino is set to open in Italian theaters June 20, via Italian distributor Eagle Pictures. In an article posted earlier today at Cinematografo, Domino is listed among several other upcoming features that will be released theatrically in Italy, as part of a summer thrust of the "Moviement" project.

"For the first time in Italy," states the article, "the entire world of the film industry is united in a compact way to team up and relaunch cinema as a form of cultural entertainment throughout the year. Distribution companies will guarantee the programming of spectacular and quality cinema from January to December, without interruption, with theaters open twelve months a year. The institutions will make a contribution to supporting the initiative."

While Moviement began this past Christmas season (2018) and will run all through the year, the summer season offers a great marketing opportunity for the project. "The distributors, from the majors to the independents, all the exhibitors, from the art rooms to the multiplexes, the producers, the institutions and the talents, move together for the first time and are coordinated," the article states. "The first objective is to create the summer market starting in 2019 with a three-year plan that aligns Italy with the rest of the world with a cinema active 12 months a year."

While the article adds that the list of summer films included will be enhanced once the entire upcoming Cannes line-up is announced, it seems there may still be an opportunity for Domino to have its world premiere at Cannes, either in or out of competition... sounds crazy, perhaps, after all the speculation a year ago, but it remains, for the moment, a film unseen.

Posted by Geoff at 7:54 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2019 7:58 PM CDT
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Saturday, March 16, 2019
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/knifeheartposter.jpgLast October, Knife + Heart director Yann Gonzalez told Film Inquiry's Hazem Fahmy that he showed Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise to actor Jonathan Genet, in preparation for his role in the film. Now, Gonzalez tells Kyle Turner at Filmmaker Magazine that he gave star Vanessa Paradis a DVD of De Palma's Blow Out, among others, to give her an idea of the style of acting he was going for:
Filmmaker: Did you do any kind of preparation with Vanessa Paradis before shooting?

Gonalez: Not really. Vanessa needs to be on set to really feel her character. We met several times before though, often with Kate Moran and Nicolas Maury, but it was more like a way to get to know each other. The only thing I did is to offer her some DVDs in order to help her understanding the kind of acting I had in mind for Anne. Possession by Zulawski, Neige by Juliet Berto, Blow Out by Brian De Palma: very intense, sometimes over-the-top performances, more cinematic than realistic. The blonde hair, green raincoat and red boots did the rest!

Meanwhile, back at the time of the Cannes premiere of Knife + Heart, Gonzalez discussed De Palma in more detail to Sugarpulp:
In the galaxy of favorite influences that guide you and that you often quote (Werner Schroeter, Paul Vecchiali, R.W. Fassbinder…), this film brings to light a new figure: Brian De Palma.

My co-writer and I share a great passion for De Palma; this is a common thread that has clearly led us both. In terms of emotional thrillers, De Palma is the king, with films such as Carrie, Blow Out, and Dressed to Kill.

These are also the first films I showed my producer, Charles Gillibert, to demonstrate to him in what direction I wanted to take Knife+Heart, proportionally speaking, of course. De Palma has this unabashed, playful side, weaving constantly between fiction, reality, the cinema, fantasy, and voyeurism.

He also has an absolute love of the cinema. Knife+Heart starts with a 16mm editing table and finishes up on a sort of stellar “projection”… The love of the matter that makes up cinema itself is very much present. A cry of love and rage is etched into the actual film with a knife and is only visible once it’s been through the viewer… I really liked the idea that a woman’s desperate love situation could slip its way onto the film itself.

How did you profile the 70s treatment? The film never falls into the “period film” cliché, it’s much more subtle than that.

I was really worried about it looking like an academic reconstruction, and with my Director of Photography, Simon Beaufils, we very quickly got the idea of working using light to work on the period. Today, all Paris streets are lit using sodium lighting, which gives a horrible yellowy-orange light. So we strived to find the blue-green neon glow of French films from the late 70s / early 80s. Obviously there was a lot of very important and precise work on costumes and settings but, above all, I didn’t want a film that would look outdated. It also had to be able to talk about today’s world using faces and bodies from today. That’s why I called on iconic figures of present-day nightlife, such as Simon Thiébaut who plays Dominique, the head of the transgender gang; or the choreographer for the club scene, Ari de B, who came on set with all his dancers. There’s something very contemporary that shines out through our fantasy 1979 Paris.

Color is extremely present and particularly flashy. It has strong visual presence…

The film shows messed up, euphoric characters, and I wanted a visual portrayal of the inner quandaries they are struggling with. I didn’t want to shy away from going deep inside their minds and extracting images. I love this idea of embracing experimental practices and bringing them into slightly more mainstream cinema, even if I’m aware of the fact that I don’t make the most mainstream films in the world (laughs)! There’s a whole “fringe” that has nurtured my love of the cinema and I want to bring that into my universe, make it more visible. I’m thinking for example of Paul Sharits’ films that used strobing to give a flicker effect to images and I picked up on that to portray the killer’s negative image “memories”.

How did you go about working on the music with your brother, Anthony Gonzalez? What desires guided you in this particular project?

We wanted to recapture the Gialli ambiance of the 70s, to feel that sinister yet sentimental tone. But we also needed to distance ourselves from that in order to create something contemporary, and not find ourselves in a pastiche of the genre and its music. Faithful yet unfaithful at the same time… We are both poetical and even sentimental, in a certain way. We wanted to dive in headlong, particularly as melancholy and poetry are found in numerous 70s horror film sound tracks, from films by Lucio Fulci to those by Mario Bava – I’m thinking in particular of the harrowing sound tracks of Don’t Torture a Duckling or Twitch of the Death Nerve.

And here again, this principle of pleasure came rushing back: I got Anthony to listen some old sound tracks from straight and gay porn films. He quickly gathered the musical codes and finally, the most beautiful tracks in Knife + Heart the most pleasurable ones, are probably the ones he recreated for the film’s fake porn movies.

For this sound track, Anthony worked once again with Nicolas Fromageau, who he’d already worked with on the first two M83 albums and who’s a childhood friend. For the three of us, there’s something about Knife+Heart that’s strongly linked to our teenage years and the films that fostered our love of cinema.

The films I liked as a teenager were a little more “strange”. My brother is four years younger than me and he told me a few years after the fact that he and Nicolas used to sneak into my bedroom in Antibes to watch my videos by Jodorowsky, Richard Kern and Jean Rollin… And they were quite marked by that! The sound track to Knife+Heart was a way for Nicolas, Anthony and I to come back to our first loves, our first powerful images and sensations from the cinema.

How did you deal with shooting the porn scenes? They’re extremely suggestive, but you don’t actually see anything head-on.

I didn’t want the sexuality to veil Anne’s tragedy, her adventure, which for me is the film’s backbone. It’s first and foremost the portrait of a woman and it just so happens she produces porn films. We kept all the imagery and the substance and had great fun with that but without showing the coarsest of images because to top it off, that’s not what I retain from porn films of the period. I wanted to come back to a sort of innocence and naïveté that you saw in the first porn films. It was before AIDS came on the scene and there was an obvious enjoyment in playing together, and taking pleasure together and some films even mixed heterosexual and homosexual sex scenes. Nicolas Maury dealt really well with this playful aspect in the fantastic way he has of playing with genders, identities, and even his own femininity when he portrays a transgender version of Vanessa in several scenes.

It was important to make these scenes moments of comedy and to bring a certain joy into the sex. The aim was to make the viewer want to be a part of things. I think that a young heterosexual male could quite easily want to live within the film. For me it’s a much more important gesture, and much more political than showing sex scenes in order to shock the middle class… who aren’t actually shocked by much and haven’t been in a very long time!

In any case, your cinema contains more of an erotic element rather than veritable pornography.

For me, cinema is ontologically erotic. We mentioned De Palma a little earlier. We could also have mentioned Verhoeven, Argento, Fulci and dozen other great or lesser masters who aren’t so well known. I miss that subversion in today’s cinema. Sexuality cuts through feelings; it’s part of what forms a person, part of his or her story. Anne is tormented by her sexuality, through her work but also because of the way she loves. The use of voyeurism inherited from De Palma recurs throughout the story: Anne spies on her editor through a spyhole; two boys are spied on by one’s father as they have sex… It’s something that is repeated throughout the film. There’s a very erotic desire that isn’t mine, it belongs to the film itself, to its very essence. We’re in a time of regression and puritanism that I wanted to go against whilst recapturing the lifeblood of cinema.

Posted by Geoff at 1:32 PM CDT
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Monday, March 11, 2019
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/breteastonphantom.jpgBret Easton Ellis will be the special guest at a Deeper Into Movies screening at BFI Southbank in London on April 27th. "He's picked the amazing Brian De Palma movie Phantom of The Paradise (1974) to screen," reads a Deeper Into Movies Facebook post about the event. After the screening, Ellis will sign copies of his new book White.

In July 2016, having just recently viewed Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's De Palma documentary, Ellis talked a bit about De Palma on his podcast:
De Palma’s self-aware voyeuristic relationship to not only his female characters, but the medium itself, like Hitchcock’s, was what gave his films a jolt, and made his films so endlessly fascinating, and complicated, as well as how technically facile and inventive De Palma dealt with the medium itself. De Palma’s perversity in staging violence was witty and very cinematic. I can’t think of a moment of realistic violence in a De Palma film… the stabbing in Sisters, the pig’s blood and the massacre at the prom in Carrie, Fiona Lewis spinning to her death, midair, and John Cassavetes exploding in The Fury, the elevator slashing in Dressed To Kill, the chainsaw sequence in Scarface. And all of this done on a grand scale that will never be replicated in movies again. Yes, this was the 1970s when De Palma started making a string of great films, with Carrie probably being his go-to masterpiece, and one of the key films of the New Hollywood. Though with each successive viewing of De Palma’s 1981 John Travolta conspiracy thriller, Blow Out, I’m not totally positive about that anymore. Though Blow Out is Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movie. My own personal faves from him remain Phantom Of The Paradise and Dressed To Kill, where the killer is a tormented, pre-op transexual. Oh my God, oh my God, I just heard the Teen Vogue staff self-immolating...

...There’s only one medium shot of Brian De Palma talking that we return to throughout the documentary, in the same room, in the same blue shirt, but the majority of the movie is a brilliant and seamless array of clips from De Palma’s movies, and it is a visually overwhelming experience. I had not seen some of these images on a big screen in decades, and I was in awe. Oh, my God, movies used to look like that. De Palma says at one point about him and Spielberg and George Lucas, and Coppola and Scorsese, the directors who led the New Hollywood revolution in the 1970s, that this kind of moment, this auteurist freedom played out within the studio system, with directors making films for adults, will never return. And it reminds us that it was over almost before it began. De Palma reminds us that it wasn’t Jaws or Star Wars that ended the New Hollywood (aesthetically, they are examples of it), it was actually (as John Carpenter pointed out a couple of weeks ago) the failure of one of the grandest auteur movies ever made by a studio, Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, that closed the door on an era. I don’t want to be a nostalgist, and neither does De Palma, but I feel a deep sense of loss comparing the movies then with the movies now.


The first annual Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival will include a "special celebration" (or "special presentation") of Phantom Of The Paradise. The fest runs October 10-13, 2019, in Sleepy Hollow, New York. With the event still months away, we'll keep an eye out for any updates on potential guests for this one.

In the meantime, here is a list of upcoming Phantom Of The Paradise events this year::

March 20, in Paris: Laurent Vachaud presents Phantom Of The Paradise, followed by a debate and a cocktail

March 23, in Chicago: Gerrit Graham to present 45th anniversary screening of Phantom Of The Paradise at Sci-Fi Spectacular

March 29, in Lyon: Brian De Palma Masterclass followed by screening of Phantom Of The Paradise at Lumière Institute

April 27, in London: Bret Easton Ellis introduces Phantom Of The Paradise, a film that inspired him, at BFI Southbank

May 3, in Winnipeg: “Phantom Rocks The Park” with 45th anniversary screening at the Park Theatre followed by a live soundtrack performance by Swanage

October 10-13, in Sleepy Hollow: The first annual Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival will include a special celebration of Phantom Of The Paradise.

Posted by Geoff at 11:18 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2019 8:05 AM CDT
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Sunday, March 10, 2019

This morning, critic Sheila O'Malley tweeted about catching The Wedding Party "streaming on Amazon," and posted a few screen captures, including the two seen here, above and below. O'Malley captioned her set of images with "The Wedding party. Jill Clayburgh. Robert De Niro. Brian De Palma." Ryan Swen then responded to her, "Sadly wasn’t a fan of this (or most early De Palma), but hey, young De Niro."

"Young Clayburgh too, don't forget," O'Malley responded back. "She's one of my favorite actresses. I think it's funny and ridiculous!" In three followup tweets, O'Malley added, "Ponderous pompous minister, taking bride and groom aside to give them advice on marriage, and ends up babbling about miniature golf, trying to extend the metaphor, and failing. I saw this a million years ago - then saw it was streaming on Amazon. Bizarre! What's most interesting is seeing De Niro before he knew who he was as an actor. Trying to be jovial/one of the guys - which is the character. It's just not right for him - already. He knows it now but he didn't then - but still, he tries, b/c that's the gig. It's very touching."

In another response, O'Malley's fellow RogerEbert.com critic Peter Sobczynski mentioned that The Wedding Party is included on Arrow's recent De Niro/De Palma box set.

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2019 12:04 AM CDT
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Saturday, March 9, 2019
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/usposter.jpg"I want to do what Hitchcock did, what Spielberg did, what Brian De Palma did — dark tales," Jordan Peele told an interviewer on the red carpet at last year's Academy Awards. His second feature as writer/director, Us, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival yesterday in Austin, Texas, and early reviews popping up are mentioning Brian De Palma and other filmmakers. Yet each review also stresses that while Peele might wear those references on his sleeve, the bold vision behind the film is uniquely his own. A couple of the reviews mention De Palma in specific relation to a standout split-diopter shot Peele uses in Us. However, Peele is surely familiar with Steven Spielberg's use of split-diopters in Jaws, as well-- one of these reviews mentions that the boy in Peele's film wears a Jaws T-shirt. Here are some excerpts:

Britt Hayes, Birth. Movies. Death.
On its outermost surface, Us is an effective survival horror thriller in the vein of The Strangers, featuring phenomenal performances from all involved. Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss make a decadent meal out of their supporting parts as friends of Gabe and Adelaide, but Nyong'o's performance rules them all with a transcendent duality that demands repeat viewings.

As with Get Out, Peele recontextualizes his influences into strong aesthetic choices; the opening credits sequence – a slow zoom out from the eye of a caged rabbit, revealing it as but one of many – evokes the cerebral horror of Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg. In particular, the influence of the former's Sisters and the latter's preoccupation with the body/self as foreign object are apparent throughout. Us is so layered in meaning it may as well be an immersive experience; a metatextual funhouse mirror akin to the one young Adelaide encounters in her early flashback. It's a film about mental illness and a film about trauma and PTSD. It's a film about imposter syndrome and never quite feeling as though you've earned the things you have or the people who love you. It's a film about our country, as Adelaide sharply observes that these "others" are Americans – and we are our own worst enemy, just lying in wait for the moment when we can easily topple our own lives and all we've built around them.

It's a film about the part of ourselves that we hate the most; the weak, needy part that's all unseemly desire and craven id; the part that we refuse to acknowledge because it is the absolute worst of us, or so we think. What if you ignored that part of yourself and refused to nourish it, but it found a way to grow in the shadows? What if it found a way to feed itself, and learned to approximate your movements and sounds? What if it got out? Imagine being confronted by this existential concept made feral reality; imagine the reckoning.

Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
If the opening scenes are deliberate, once Us gets going, it goes; the efficiency of the turn is striking, as is the confidence with which Peele sets his scenes, moves his camera, and freaks us out. In scene after scene he creates a mood of offhand, everyday spookiness, and then turns the screw with genuinely disturbing imagery. The visual strategies foreshadow the identity of the invaders, each of whom seems a bizarro replica of a member of the family; Peele is constantly framing his characters in mirrors, glass reflection, and even, late in the film, a thematically appropriate De Palma-style split diopter shot. The cinematographer is Mike Gioulakis (his credits also include Glass and It Follows), and he spends much of the film, which is set mostly over one long night, playing with light and dark and dark skin, in backgrounds and shadows.

The editing is sharp – there’s a suite of cross-cut one-on-one confrontations, once each of our protagonists meets their doppelganger, that’s sort of staggering – but Peele is always careful to give his actors their moments. (Elisabeth Moss has one, carefully applying lipstick in a mirror, that is absolutely chilling.) Every performance lands, thought Nyong’o has the movie star role, and plays it as such; her payoff moments deliver, but she’s unnervingly creepy when playing her character’s villainous half.

And yet, with all those virtues noted, Us can’t quite match Peele’s debut. Part of that is just a question of timing; Get Out is a terrific thriller that also arrived at precisely the right moment, in the morning-after hangover of a stupefying presidential election, and seemed a timely reminder of the evil that our smiling friends and neighbors are capable of.

But if Get Out was accidental Trump commentary, Us is decidedly deliberate, particularly in its third-act explanations and revelations, and when Peele preceded the SXSW screening by announcing, “the movie is about a lot of things,” he tipped his hand a bit – particularly in the opening stretches, there’s a fair amount of seemingly random setup and sheer oddity, bunnies under opening credits and vague on-screen text about underground tunnels and a lot of details about the 1986 Hands Across America project. Some of it pays off, but in a way that makes those elements feel like side scrawlings in a director’s notebook, plot points created to accommodate stuff he thought would be cool to throw into the movie, rather than growing organically from the material.

Get Out was the latter, and as a result, it was tight as a drum. Us is not that, which isn’t entirely a criticism. Such ambition – a sophomore filmmaker grasping to make a big statement, and fumbling a bit in the process – is not only forgivable, but admirable. Ultimately, he’s hoping to provoke thought, self-examination, even anger.

“My favorite thing is the idea that people will leave ready to have a conversation with whoever they’re with,” Peele explained in the post-screening Q&A. “I have a very clear meaning and commentary I’m trying to strike with this film, but I also wanted to design a film that’s very personal for every individual.

“In the broader strokes of things, this movie is about this country. And when I decided to write this movie, I was stricken by the fact that we are in a time where we fear the other. Whether it is the mysterious invader that we think is gonna come kill us and take our jobs, or the faction that we don’t live near that voted a different way than us… we’re all about pointing the finger. And I wanted to suggest that maybe the monster we really need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us.”

Monica Castillo, RogerEbert.com
As he did with “Get Out,” Peele pays significant tribute to the films that have influenced him in “Us.” Though this time, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus, as I spoke with others who saw the movie, we focused on different titles that stood out to us. For me, “The Shining” looked to be the film that received the most nods in “Us,” including an overhead shot of the Wilson family driving through hilly forests to their vacation home, much like the Torrance family does on the way to the Overlook Hotel. There’s also a reference to “The Shining” twins, a few architectural and cinematography similarities and in one shot, Nyong’o charges the camera with a weapon much like Jack Nicholson menacingly drags along an ax in a chase. However, “Us” is not just a love letter to one horror movie. Peele also pays tribute to Brian De Palma with a split diopter shot that places both Adelaide and her doppelgänger in equal focus for the first time in the movie. There’s also a tip of the hat to Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” in terms of dueling balletic styles and a gorgeously choreographed fight scene that looks like a combative pas de deux.

Posted by Geoff at 10:17 PM CST
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Friday, March 8, 2019

Laurent Vachaud, co-author (with Samuel Blumenfeld) of Conversations with Brian De Palma, will present a screening of Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise March 20th at Christine 21 in Paris. The screening will be followed by a debate with Vachaud and a cocktail to end the evening.

One week later, on March 27th, Blumenfeld will himself be at the Lumière Institute in Lyon, France, to present a De Palma double feature as part of a running De Palma retrospective: Blow Out and Body Double. And then two nights later, on March 29th, De Palma will be at Lumière to present a Masterclass, which will be followed by another screening of Phantom Of The Paradise.

More to come-- Phantom is all over the place for its 45th anniversary this year...

Posted by Geoff at 7:19 AM CST
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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

In 2016, Lara Parker spoke a little bit about working on Hi, Mom! to Den Of Geek's Tony Sokol. Yet somehow, until now, I missed this Collinsport Historical Society article from three years earlier, in 2013. In this interview, Parker had talked about a bathtub scene that De Palma asked her to improvise. Parker was used to having lines to read and wasn't really into it, and the scene ended up being cut from the film. Here's the bit from the Collinsport article:
(Director Brian De Palma) ended up not liking me. I was very naive and not very courageous. There was a scene in a bathtub, which was cut out of the movie, where he wanted me to be nude. I didn’t want to do it. It was all improvised. He wanted me to improvise sexual fantasies ... in a bathtub … with bubbles … in the nude. It seems strange today, because actresses will do anything to get successful. But I was way too shy and way too inexperienced to come up to his standards. I couldn’t do it.

He was a brand new director. He was treading water, too. He asked us to improvise these scenes, ‘You guys just talk,’ which is hard to do when you’ve been learning lines for however long I’d been acting. I didn’t know how to do it.

In the 2016 Den of Geek interview, Parker mentions that her own children appear in Hi, Mom! Just before delving into the De Palma film, Sokol asks Parker whether she sees her character on the TV series Dark Shadows as a kind of historic symbol of Women's Lib:
I've been asked that so many times because the women's movement had begun. Looking back historically, Angelique was one of the earliest strong women characters portrayed on television. She was really the first “Bitch Witch” that became so popular later. But at the time I wasn't aware of being any kind of social figure. I just felt that I had a good part and I was happy to have a job and go to work and be an actress. It's a gift. But I certainly didn't see myself in the larger sense of being any kind of a social influence.

I think it's rare to pick up on that in the moment. I think only looking back I see that I was actually fortunate to be, in a small sense, one of the movers and shakers in the women's movement.

I see you as more than that. I happen to be a big Brian De Palma fan and you were also part of the New York City independent film revolution. At the time, were you aware of how different Hi Mom! was from the Hollywood machine?

Well again, no. Brian De Palma cast me and they actually put in my two children. He was doing improvised theater. We were improvising on film, without lines, without a character to play. It was a whole different thing and I actually was not very good at it. But, yeah, I was aware that there was an experimental film movement, very much so, yes. It was actually very politically focused.

Hi Mom! has some kind of show [in] it called Be Black Baby where the people were all dressed up in black face. I was very young and I wasn't really very aware of what Brian De Palma was trying to do. He was young too. He was experimenting but he went on to do some wonderful films.

Posted by Geoff at 7:20 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2019 7:24 AM CST
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Monday, March 4, 2019
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/beeffist.jpgGerrit Graham will be a special guest at Sci-Fi Spectacular in Chicago to present a 45th anniversary screening of Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise on March 23rd. The 14-hour event will take place at the Davis Theater, with tickets being sold for $30 plus service fees. Other films announced for the Sci-Fi Spectacular so far include Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, Paul Michael Glaser's The Running Man, Stephen Herek's Critters, and Boris Sagal's The Omega Man.

Posted by Geoff at 12:03 AM CST
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Saturday, March 2, 2019

"Look-alikes, doubles, or doppelgangers are a common trope in horror," Beatrice Loayza writes in an article posted yesterday at Bloody Disgusting. "There’s the Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy, that pits an evil side against a good one, and there’s the appearance of an imposter that threatens to replace by force. In any case, a double implies a tension, and therefore a struggle between two forces that must either find a way to live in harmony or recede, while one side reigns dominant. Decades of excellent horror films have kept the tool fresh, reinventing and adjusting the eerie encounter of the duplicate to resonate with the times — suffice it to say, we’re really excited about what Jordan Peele has up his sleeve.

"To celebrate the upcoming release of Peele’s Us," Loayza continues, "we thought it’d be timely to look back at some of the most iconic uses of doubles in horror, and how the visual and narrative tool is used to convey psychological distress, societal tension, generational anxiety, and the ol’ crippling fear of death."

Along with films such as David Lynch's Lost Highway, Bryan ForbesThe Stepford Wives, David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, Brian De Palma's Sisters is included:

If the patent on doppelgangers could go to only one filmmaker, Brian DePalma might very well have the strongest claim. With a filmography bursting with body doubles, the iconic director has proven he has quite the obsession with dueling manifestations of replicated bodies (see what I did there?). But if I had to pick one representative, the sash would go to DePalma’s phantasmagorical riff on Hitchcock– Sisters. Starring Margot Kidder as both halves of a pair of formerly conjoined twins, this tightly executed slasher has Danielle, the normal or “good” twin, wrestling with the deranged demands of “evil” twin, Dominique — all captured with the disorienting pizzaz of DePalma’s split-screen compositions. A voyeuristic glean activates this 1973 classic with erotic energy and a touch of humor, a tension that moves us forward as we get to the bottom of just how interdependent and fucked up these sisters really are.

Posted by Geoff at 11:29 PM CST
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Thursday, February 28, 2019

We've heard Brian De Palma sing the praises of Neil Jordan in the past, and now critics of Jordan's new film, Greta, are seeing what they perceive as homages to De Palma. Here are some review links and excerpts:

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press:

Imagine you're a 20-something living in New York City and you spot a particularly nice and structured green leather handbag on the subway. Do you report it to the MTA? Ignore it and move on? Claim it and its contents for yourself? Return to the owner?

For Chloe Grace Moretz's Frances, a wide-eyed transplant to the big city, it's obvious: You go alone to hand-deliver the bag to Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), who, according to the identification card you find, is a tiny, nice-looking woman in her 60s. This is the first of many mistakes Frances makes in writer and director Neil Jordan's ("The Crying Game," ''Michael Collins") stylish and knowingly over-the-top "Greta," a dark, Brian De Palma-esque fairy tale about the dangers of trusting a lonely soul. She might just turn out to be a wolf, right?

Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
The psychological thriller Greta gets off to a promising start: As a camera discreetly follows Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz through a New York City subway, Julie London sings a silky version of “Where Are You?” and director Neil Jordan’s name appears on screen. Viewers familiar with Jordan’s previous work — from his script for Mona Lisa to the game-changing The Crying Game — will understandably feel prepared to encounter the kind of twisty but sophisticated puzzlers he’s best known for.

Er, not so fast.

As an exercise in style, Greta turns out to be a maddeningly mixed bag. Its New York setting (which should be another character in this tale of modern urban manners) is continually undercut by obviously foreign filming locations — Dublin and Toronto did the honors here — and its themes of vulnerability, obsession and ritualized violence are no less drearily familiar for being given a pseudo-feminist patina. An intriguing two-hander bursting with potential instead becomes something we’ve seen before — up to and including bizarre pivots into sadism and body horror.

Moretz plays Frances, a recent Smith College graduate who has moved to Tribeca with her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe), a wealthy fellow Smithie with no discernible job other than practicing yoga and tossing off cynical bon mots about crystal meth, colonics and how the Big (rotten) Apple is going to eat Frances alive. When the quiet, polite Frances finds an abandoned purse on the subway, she takes pains to find the owner, who turns out to be a French woman named Greta (Huppert), an eccentric but kind piano teacher who invites Frances for tea and conversation. Their relationship blooms, in part because Frances recognizes a nurturing figure she’s been missing since her own mother died, and soon the two are spending more and more time together, to the increasing consternation of the possessive Erica.

Alert readers will see the words “Huppert” and “piano teacher” in the same sentence and immediately sense impending doom. While Greta has none of the torturous rigor of Michael Haneke’s 2001 film The Piano Teacher, Jordan and co-screenwriter Ray Wright borrow heavily from other movies, especially classics from the paranoid canon of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

With a nod to Fatal Attraction here and one toward Single White Female there — not to mention brief homages to Brian De Palma all the way through — Greta feels as time-warped as its title character’s cozy but slightly confining apartment. Despite some clever work with cellphones and text messages, the story and atmosphere feel impossibly forced, shoehorned into a milieu that never feels authentic enough to elicit real dread.

The artificiality isn’t helped by an intrusive and cliched score, which prods the audience toward jump scares and creepy reveals with the uninvited pushiness of a musical mansplainer, and which returns time and again to a tiresome motif from Liszt’s maudlin “Liebestraum.” When Greta and Frances adopt a sweetly decrepit mutt named Morton, the foreshadowing couldn’t be clearer, and his fate hangs over the proceedings like a soulful, sad-eyed threat.

As those proceedings ratchet up, logic and intelligence give way to plot mechanics and pulp thrills. On behalf of Smithies everywhere, this one is here to tell you they’re brave but not this stupid.

Greta might pretend to turn the tables by presenting the sexualized predation of a young woman at the hands of a female malefactor instead of a male one. But the fetishistic leer is just as troubling and offensive. Disturbance eventually gives way to derangement in a story that grows exponentially more irritating the more preposterous it gets.

As Morton might say: When it rains, it pours.

Sean Burns, WBUR
The films of Irish writer-director Neil Jordan are all fairy tales at heart, though usually on the grimmer side of Grimm. Perhaps best known in this country for “The Crying Game” and “Interview with the Vampire,” Jordan can always be counted on for a tricky mix of literary sophistication and vulgar delights, brought off with a thick atmosphere of sinister enchantment and the showman’s flair of a wily Irishman spinning a yarn that’s half-malarkey and twice as enjoyable for it.

Greta” — his first film in eight years — has more malarkey than most. Built out from the bones of a Friday night slasher pic, the screenplay (credited to Jordan and Ray Wright, from a story by Wright) infuses its generic stalker plot with all sorts of wild and wooly weirdness, fashioning it into a high-camp showcase for international art-house treasure Isabelle Huppert.

She gives a gloriously nutzoid performance here, punctuating her placid demeanor with delicious flashes of mania. The movie is what the kids used to call a hoot.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Frances, a timid Boston gal fresh out of school who’s just moved to big, scary New York City. She’s currently crashing with her ridiculously wealthy college roommate Erica (a very funny Maika Monroe) whose parents bought her a comically oversized SoHo loft for graduation. (In a visual gag designed to torment anyone who has ever endured Manhattan real estate woes, Frances rides her 10-speed bike around inside the apartment.)

One day Frances finds a forgotten handbag on the subway, and like a Good Samaritan looks inside for ID and sets about returning the purse to its rightful owner. (“This is New York,” Erica scolds. “You should have called the bomb squad.”) The bag belongs to Huppert’s Greta, a lonely widow living in a cluttered apartment lined with overgrown ivy.

This highfalutin’ French version of Eleanor Rigby has been longing for a friend like Frances, and the two take to one another almost instantly — though attentive viewers might already be wondering about that muffled pounding coming from the wall behind Greta’s piano. “Construction,” she claims.

It’s not exactly a surprise where all of this is headed, so credit “Greta” for getting down to business right away and dropping a big reveal most movies would save for the end of the second act somewhere around the 30-minute mark. It feels like Jordan wants to get all the pesky plot stuff squared away as quickly as possible, so he can concentrate on having Huppert terrorize young Moretz in increasingly baroque fashion as the movie jumps the genre rails into bonkersville.

Jordan and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey conjure a collection of gorgeously evocative images. Moretz has the face of a cherub in a church painting, and maybe the most startlingly beautiful shot finds her crying at the movies with her eyes hidden behind 3D glasses, a vision of sorrowful kitsch.

As “Greta” gets kookier the visuals become more vividly expressionistic — Huppert’s shadow stretching long across the length of the living room floor like the wicked queen in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” while Moretz dons a little red riding hoodie.

Greta” is a feast to look at and pretty much a riot to watch, taking fiendish delight in the story’s inherent predictability by piling one fake-out on top of one another. There’s a dream within a dream sequence here that employs the same audience-taunting tactics as Brian De Palma’s “Raising Cain,” and it became unfortunately clear during the screening I attended that not everyone in the crowd was in on the joke.

The director got into a bit of trouble and seemed to be banished for a little while after the calamitous reception of his last Hollywood picture, 2007’s “The Brave One” — a fascinatingly misguided attempt to remake “Death Wish” with Jodie Foster as an NPR talk show host in the Charles Bronson role. It’s a deeply weird movie that felt mostly like a semiotic exorcism for its star’s complicated history of portraying victimized women, while also trying to work as a trashy fantasy for the four people in the world who wanted to watch Terry Gross gun down rapists.

I’m relieved to report that “Greta” does not take itself nearly as seriously, while still carrying over Jordan’s knack for making New York City look like a forest primeval. (Everyone in his movies always seem to be on their way to grandma’s house.)

The nutty pleasures of the film’s final act come primarily courtesy of Huppert’s wackadoo flourishes — considering the internet’s affection for the actress, this will probably be the most meme-d movie of 2019 — and an extra level of irony for anyone who was traumatized by her career-defining performance in Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher.”

Yet some of these scares still carry a Freudian kick, like a child’s toy chest re-purposed as an instrument of torture or the sinister properties of stuffed animals. Meanwhile, baking gingerbread cookies hasn’t been so perilous since the days of Hansel and Gretel. “Greta” is Jordan’s most gonzo fairy tale since 1999’s unfairly derided “In Dreams,” and in Huppert he’s found his ideal Big Bad Wolf.

Glenn Heath Jr., San Diego City Beat
A renowned Irish auteur whose diverse filmography jumps between genres, Jordan twists and contorts conventional thriller tropes to maximize Greta’s unshakeable neediness. The unpredictability of her actions eventually seeps into the aesthetics—a riveting and lucid sequence midway through the film pivots between dream and reality with effortless precision.

Blurred lines are Greta’s specialty. The gaps between companionship and obsession, kindness and guile, trust and doubt are much thinner than most like to admit. Frances experiences the slippery slope firsthand; most interestingly, though, Greta’s tactics merge digital stalking (texting and photography used with malicious glee) with old school confrontation.

Relying heavily on Huppert’s singular presence to keep its maniacal momentum alive, Jordan’s film uses her visage to successfully balance the tone between campy and creep out. This pushes Moretz into permanent victim status without much to do aside from screaming and clawing for life, the scared-straight woman to Greta’s big bad wolf.

Unlike Jordan’s previous film Byzantium, which tweaked the vampire construct with an impressionistic style, Greta (opening Friday, March 1) falls more in line with the neo-stalker narratives perfected by Brian De Palma. But it’s a film less concerned with voyeurism or sex than the idea of ultimate control manifesting itself in two ways: emotional and physical. When Greta is denied the former, she transitions to the latter. Huppert’s performance consistently lives between these two competing elements, giving her character volatility that is also rooted in desperation.

But what is the core of Greta’s particularly nutty frenzy? Jordan refuses to psychoanalyze and only infers answers. The film positions her as an omniscient and unstoppable force that is nostalgic for a time when domesticity could mask the destructive power dynamics between abusive parents and their children. Fables have a way of revealing the nightmarish implications of utopian façades, and Greta does exactly that.

Dann Gire, Chicago Daily Herald
Sometimes, a greasy cheeseburger hits the spot. Nothing high quality. Nothing particularly good for you. Nothing fancy. Just a cheeseburger.

Neil Jordan's "Greta" qualifies as the cheeseburgeriest thriller I've seen since 2018's "The Strangers: Prey at Night."

It won't win Oscars, unless the Academy approves categories for "Best Performance of a Dim Detective" or "Best Screenplay With More Holes Than a Machine Gun Target."

This long-fused thriller sneaks up on you. Just when you think it can't get slower or more boring, it attacks!

A sudden burst of playful suspense awkwardly inverts genre cliches, carefully avoiding the butcher knives, cheap jump-scares and heroes-resorting-to-savagery expectations in R-rated stalker films.

Instead, "Greta" (written by Jordan with Ray Wright) tries to out-DePalma Brian DePalma, especially with a daring twist on the obligatory dream sequence.

Even if these reworked devices don't quite work, thriller fans should appreciate the persistent attempts.

Courageously accomplished French actress Isabelle Huppert, never one to shy away from odd or challenging characters, plays Greta with full-throttle relish, fitting for a cheeseburgery performance where she emotionally simmers for a long, long time before flipping out.

Posted by Geoff at 7:56 AM CST
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