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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Romain Desbiens has been doing some outstanding work at The Virtuoso of the 7th Art-- check out his phenomenal new welcome page for starters. Romain recently posted new analyses of the relationships between the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, with focuses on Vertigo and the shower scene in Psycho, the latter of which also includes a section on Dario Argento and De Palma. All feature detailed screenshots for comparisons. Also check out the filming locations section, where, in several cases, Romain has gone back and taken photographs of key locations from De Palma's films, such as the San Miniato al Monte in Florence, seen in Obsession, the passerelle Debilly, seen in Femme Fatale, and a view of Notre Dame de la Croix in Ménilmontant from just two days ago, posted side-by-side with matching frames from De Palma's Femme Fatale, filmed in 2001. Just over "seven years later," we note that Le Paradis has now become La Festive.

Posted by Geoff at 10:59 PM CST
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Monday, February 16, 2009
The Swan Archives has posted several newly discovered photographs from the set of Phantom Of The Paradise, including a shot of Brian De Palma himself operating a camera during the climactic concert section of the film. Along with that gem, two other shots of De Palma on set can be seen at the Production page of the Swan Archives. Also new to the page is a photo showing Sissy Spacek sitting in the theater next to a dog (Spacek was credited as set dresser on the film, while boyfriend Jack Fisk was the production designer. Both went on to get married to each other, and each also worked on De Palma's Carrie-- with Spacek in the lead role, of course). There are several other rare photos to check out at the Archives, which is always full of surprises.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek caught I'm Not There screenwriter Oren Moverman's directorial debut, The Messenger, at the Berlin Film Festival. Zacharek, who mentions Brian De Palma's Redacted as the only standout Iraq war-themed film up to now, calls The Messenger a new beginning in the cycle. Here is an excerpt:

One of the strongest, most resonant pictures I've seen here in Berlin is Oren Moverman's directorial debut The Messenger, which played at Sundance and, after its well-received appearance here in Berlin, will probably start getting the attention it deserves. Ben Foster stars as a wounded Iraq war veteran recently returned to the States. In his new assignment, he's teamed with Woody Harrelson -- a veteran of the "cushier" Gulf War -- and entrusted with the difficult job of notifying the next of kin (or NOK, for short) that their loved ones have been killed in the line of duty.

In the autumn of 2007, when we saw the first rush of war-related pictures like In the Valley of Elah and Rendition, writers across the land (including me) were asked by their editors to grapple with the significance and meaning of these movies. The problem was that, with the exception of Brian De Palma's passionate and disturbing Redacted, most of them were mediocre at best and gutless at worst. In terms of filmmaking, The Messenger marks a new beginning for the real work of dealing with the Iraq war mess. Moverman co-wrote Todd Haynes' extraordinary Bob Dylan un-biopic I'm Not There; he also co-wrote Ira Sachs' wry (if a bit too mannered) Married Life. Although Moverman doesn't have a particularly strong visual sense, The Messenger is still a confident and effective directorial debut, partly because Moverman has good narrative instincts, but also because he shows a graceful touch with his actors. Maybe that's no surprise with an actress like Samantha Morton, who plays a widow befriended by Foster. I've never seen Morton give a bad, or even a merely adequate, performance -- she's the only contemporary actress who can break my heart with nothing but the curve of her smile. But Foster, whom I found distressingly hammy in 3:10 to Yuma, dials it way down here: He doesn't show suffering on his face; he carries it in his bones, as if he realizes that the suffering after the fighting is the greater part of his duty. Moverman has made a tough, compassionate little picture -- with some great and necessary dashes of black humor -- that opens a new door into the world of damage, at home and everywhere, that we now need to face squarely.

Posted by Geoff at 11:50 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 12:01 AM CST
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Friday, February 13, 2009

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek has a completely different take from A.O. Scott's regarding the Guggenheim Museum set piece in Tom Tykwer's The International (see my post from yesterday). Where Scott found Tykwer's film "undistinguished," Zacharek seems to find it anything but, calling it an "audacious action-thriller" that "proves Tykwer is continually building on his promise as a filmmaker, not squandering it." Here is an excerpt from Zacharek's review:

Tykwer revels in working subtle, sleight-of-hand tricks with the camera: A figure who passes by in a blur just made something happen, but what? A sharpshooter sights his target with workaday confidence, only to realize that a shooter even sharper than he is has already worked out a better angle -- the camera gives us just enough clues without giving the whole game away. Tykwer pulls out all the stops in a fantastically choreographed shootout that unfolds, with steady and brutal grace, inside the nautilus of the Guggenheim Museum. (Frank Lloyd Wright devotees should know that no ramps were harmed in the making of this picture. Aside from a few establishing shots, the sequence was filmed inside a giant replica built in Berlin.) So many contemporary action-movie directors just crash through a violent action scene, knowing they can add faux energy in the editing room later. Tykwer, on the other hand, honors the laws of physics: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, although it can be converted from one form to another and transferred from one object to another. In the Guggenheim sequence, in particular, Tykwer does all that converting and transferring visually. He has planned his shots so carefully that the editing feels organic.

In fact, The International gets most of its narrative shape not from the dialogue but from the visuals. Shot by Frank Griebe, who has frequently worked with Tykwer, the picture has a somber, elegant look. Even though it hops from one glamorous location to another (Istanbul, with its collage of sun-warmed rooftops, looks particularly resplendent) the images never have that stiff, flattened, travelogue quality. They always look like places where people work and live, and where time passes.

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe's Ty Burr asks, "Will the Guggenheim shoot-out in The International go down as one of the most rip-roaring action sequences in movie history?" For "perspective," he looks at other "slam-bang" classic movie moments, including one from Brian De Palma's The Untouchables:

Brian DePalma has some nerve: The Union Station gunfight between Eliot Ness and several of Al Capone's meanest is modeled on the Odessa Steps sequence from the 1925 Russian classic The Battleship Potemkin - right down to the runaway baby carriage.

Burr begins his review of Tykwer's film by stating, "Two-thirds of the way into The International comes an action sequence so audacious, so supremely well crafted that I don't want to tell you anything more about it. I'll have to, in a bit, but if you want to retain a moviegoer's constitutional right to be surprised, just stop reading and go. I can promise you a fairly good thriller with mixed-bag elements: preposterous plot, smartly elegant direction, one of the worst recent performances by a major actress, and a dynamite stick of an action scene that can stand close to the greats (the car chase in The French Connection, the single-take battle sequence in Children of Men) and from which the movie never really recovers."

Posted by Geoff at 11:03 AM CST
Updated: Friday, February 13, 2009 11:22 AM CST
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The New York Times' A.O. Scott is unimpressed by Tom Tykwer's new film, The International, which will open in North American theaters tomorrow after premiering at the Berlin Film Festival last week. Scott acknowledges that Tykwer's films have been stylish up to now, but calls the director's new work "undistinguished," imagining what someone like Brian De Palma might have brought to the table instead. Here is an excerpt from Scott's review:

And what about Tykwer's destiny? When Run Lola Run came out - was it really 10 years ago? - he seemed to be at the forefront of an emerging generation of brash, pop-savvy, globally minded young filmmakers. Since then he has drifted toward hackery without quite surrendering his initial promise. Perfume, his 2006 adaptation of Patrick Süskind's novel, may have been dreadful, but it was not without style.

The International, in contrast, is so undistinguished that the moments you remember best are the ones that you wish another, more original director had tackled. In the hands of Brian De Palma, for instance, a tense showdown at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan might have turned into a fugue of architectural paranoia, but Tykwer is content to turn Frank Lloyd Wright's creamy spiral into a chaotic shooting gallery. Similarly, a climactic foot chase through a Turkish bazaar needed the kind of breakneck precision Paul Greengrass brought to the last two "Bourne" movies. And when a cloud of bats suddenly took wing, I wished they were pigeons, and I wished for John Woo.

Posted by Geoff at 7:59 PM CST
Updated: Friday, February 13, 2009 11:07 AM CST
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Monday, February 9, 2009
A Film Addict blogger named Katchita provides more information about the Berlin discussion that followed the screening of Rie Rasmussen's Human Zoo last Thursday, and suggests that Luc Besson's participation may have been in name only... Here is what Katchita wrote:

The post-film environment smacked of conspiracy, into which the audience sank with palpable satisfaction. Prior to the screening, Berlinale staff indicated it wouldn't be followed by a Q&A as they didn't believe the director was present. Afterward, however, the supporting male actor, Nick Correy, jumped on stage and angrily denounced Luc Besson, much of the time without a microphone, until one belatedly surfaced, the Berlinale crew all the while indicating that scheduling didn't allow for a Q&A. He talked about obstacles to the film's financing and production, then Rasmussen showed up very briefly on stage, after which they both took it outside the theater. Their message was that, short days before the Berlinale, a non-disclosure agreement had been signed and Besson's name had, from complete absence, been elevated to a prominent place on the credits, this being the first time a film with his involvement had been chosen to open the Berlinale Panorama. Interestingly, IMDB has nothing linking him with this film as of this writing. Outside, the press swirled around and I thought to myself, this film will be a hit. We'll see, but with a beautiful, angry and talented actress/ex-model-cum-director/writer at the center of an artistic controversy, it has all the elements. Run, don't walk, to see this film. The screening today was not even sold out; the final one is next Saturday evening and I can't think of a better way to spend Valentine's Day.

Daniel Schieferdecker at jetzt.de caught up with Rasmussen in Berlin. Asked about the sex and violence in her film, Rasmussen says that she is concerned with aspects of reality, and that she naturally shows sex from a female point of view. Schieferdecker later suggests that the focus on shoes in the film only confirms old cliches about women. Rasmussen, tickled that Schieferdecker noticed this, states plainly that "that is not a cliche, that is a fact: girls like shoes."

A couple more reviews of Human Zoo have popped up-- here are some links and excerpts:

Film Addict Katchita:

The film was not perfect, with a couple of confused plot twists that may have been due to either over-writing, over-editing or a combination of the two. But when I see this sort of energy in a director's first feature film, that's something to which I play close attention.

Not for the faint at heart, Human Zoo takes up the sociopathy of betrayal, in the context of love and war. Writer/director Rie Rasmussen also plays the main character, a woman of mixed Serbian-Albanian parentage narrowly saved from rape or worse in 1999 Kosovo by a man who is, aside from a quirky feminist streak, strictly psychopathic. During her subsequent time with him in the anarchic mafiadom of Belgrade, the camera returns to her wrist wounds from the war. She worries them open again and again; we see quiet drops of blood, richly red, artistic, fall onto an etched glass bowl in one scene, contrasting with some of the more effective portrayals of violence I've seen in recent years in the cinema. We observe the betrayal of nearly every norm of decent society as Rasmussen rages at this world of ours. It's a particularly female form of rage, and I, for one, think it's about time the world take note.

Ray Bennett at the Hollywood Reporter:

The film demonstrates that Rasmussen has much to offer as a filmmaker although it's too uneven to be called a success. The Belgrade scenes are performed in the local language and are entirely convincing but the sequences in Marseilles are done in English and suffer greatly for that.

Rasmussen holds the screen credibly but while Corey is a hunk and gets to frolic with Rasmussen in some very explicit sex play, he's a lightweight compared to [Nikola] Djuricko, and the stilted English dialogue leaves even the wonderful [Hiam] Abbas (The Visitor) stranded.

Posted by Geoff at 7:55 PM CST
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Saturday, February 7, 2009

The above shot from Rie Rasmussen's Human Zoo may look like something out of Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes, but Screen Daily's Dan Fainaru suggests that Rasmussen's film is a cross between two of my very favorite films-- De Palma's Femme Fatale (which Rasmussen also appeared in) and Luc Besson's Nikita. It turns out that Besson co-produced Human Zoo wih Rasmussen.

Besson had cast Rasmussen in his final live action film as director, 2005's Angel-A (which was shot by Besson's regular cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast, who is also the cinematographer on Human Zoo). According to one blogger who was at the premiere in Berlin, Rasmussen and costar Nick Corey indicated that Besson hates Human Zoo, as the two traded insults aimed at Besson. Rasmussen apparently mortgaged her house to make this feature, and her post-screening discussion almost did not happen. Here is how "scribe" describes the event in a Kunstblog post:

With the film over, I waited to leave. But then Nick Corey, the actor who played Shawn, jumped on-stage (with the lights still down), and the drama became a farce. He told us the director was outside the screening room and wanted to speak to us. The woman who had done the introductions appeared with a mic (and a spotlight) and explained there was no time for a post-screening discussion.

Cue Rie Rasmussen, who strode on stage. No messing with her. She and Corey traded insults directed at Luc Besson, who is credited as producer but apparently hated the picture. She also said the story had personal resonance, in terms of the immigration and trafficking theme (a sub-plot of the film), as her adopted sister's mother had been trafficked to Russia.

Extraordinary stuff, but it was cut short to make room for the next screening. Corey repaired outside and continued slagging off Besson and bigging up Rasmussen, who mortgaged her house to make the film. Then she held court. I was quite interested to hear her views on the reversal of gender roles in the film, with Adria taking an all-action stance while Shawn is a support. Once she started talking about women's natural function being reproduction, I rather lost interest--biological determinism is so 20th century.

From reading the several reviews already posted, Human Zoo, which Rasmussen wrote, produced, directed, and edited, appears to feature wild shifts in tone, extreme violence, and explicit sex. Here are some excerpts:

Dan Fainaru at Screen Daily :

This strangely downbeat 2009 Panorama opener begins as a political drama which attempts to explore such weighty issues as Balkan war crimes and illegal immigration in the West only to turn very quickly into an oversexed thriller. First-time director Rie Rasmussen also produced, wrote and edited the film as well as playing the lead and it's obvious she took on too much, starting out with something akin to Lorna's Silence but ending up with a cross between Femme Fatale and Nikita...

Rasmussen's script feels arbitrary, under-developed and shaky; the dialogue is, at best, declamatory. DoP Thierry Arbogast lets himself go at times with an orgy of kinky angles interspersed with long, languorous shots. Overall, it suggests a limited budget. The performances are equally skimpy. Rasmussen expresses distress by posing in a smouldering stance and mustering up a sexy pout while Nick Corey seems bemused by the thinly-sketched character he has to play. Nikola Djuricko, however, appears to thoroughly enjoy himself as the brutish Srdjan.

Leslie Felperin at Variety :

Rasmussen shows moderate skill as a helmer only in the scenes featuring graphic sex and violence, which at least have a sort of visceral immediacy. Elsewhere, her lack of skill is painfully apparent, particularly in the editing department. Given the pic's obviously substantial budget, which stretched to extensive location use, one has to wonder why Rasmussen took on this job as well.

scribe at Kunstblog :

Part war drama, part jet-black comedy, part romance and part social commentary, the film is wildly uneven in tone. In Serbo-Croat, French and English, the dialogue varies from astute to embarrassingly obvious. The film takes a wild left turn when the heretofore timid, restrained Adria suddenly turns into The Terminator and starts chopping off hands and shooting up strip joints. Most bizarre.

The director, who also played Adria, has very strong views on gender roles and I think somewhere in this picture is a comment on violence and strength but I found the ending a huge copout.

Rich Cline at Shadows On The Web :

This fascinatingly bold drama centres on a woman reliving her horrific past during the ethnic cleansing war in Kosovo as she tries to reassemble her life in Marseilles. Stylish and energetic, with a fiercely feminist attitude, it's a clever look at the issue of refugees mixed with an examination of how much of our identity comes from our nationality. It's a bit populist and Besson-like, but keeps you thinking.

Leonardo Lardieri at Sentieri selvaggi :

This review from Italy mentions the confusing tonal shifts in the film, but also notes the scene pictured above, where the protagonist, who has just slaughtered the managers in a brothel, is followed by the camera from above as she moves through corridors and the camera catches the aftermath in each of the rooms. Lardieri notes that the scene brings to mind Chan-wook Park's Oldboy.

Abel at Berliner Morgenpost :

This review from Germany suggests that the wild and often crude film has the "unmistakable" handwriting of Luc Besson.


Posted by Geoff at 3:28 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, February 8, 2009 12:14 PM CST
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Friday, February 6, 2009
Rie Rasmussen's directorial feature debut, Human Zoo, kicked off the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival yesterday, and will screen several more times this weekend. Rasmussen also stars in the non-linear film, which was shot by Thierry Arbogast. Rasmussen met Arbogast on the set of Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale in 2001, where she shadowed the cinematographer to learn about filmmaking. Human Zoo is about a young woman who is a Balkan refugee now living as an illegal immigrant in present-day Marseille. Rasmussen also wrote the screenplay.

Posted by Geoff at 11:06 AM CST
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Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Filmbo at Filmbo's Chick Magnet has posted a comparison between Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir and Brian De Palma's Redacted. Filmbo had a problem with Folman's use of real video at the end of his mostly animated film (the film was drawn and animated after using actors to stage scenes for reference). Filmbo writes:Though more egregiously, the videos at the end of Waltz with Bashir attempt to garner support for the film's political agenda by appealing to the emotions of the spectator. The film actually uses pictures of dead, Palestinian babies to manipulate the opinions of its audience. It's quite a decision by the filmmakers, who up until this point resembled Alain Resnais and Richard Linklater.

It reminded me of the end of Brian De Palma's Redacted and the film's near-decision to commit the exact same manipulation. But Redacted is a smarter film. I'm not sure whether it is important to credit Magnolia with this and believe the Hi Mom!-esque controversy over their decision to redact De Palma's images, or whether you should credit De Palma and see the controversy as a scripted "Be Black, Baby" stunt meant to emphasize the film's satire over its politics. The impact of the film's ending carries the same treasure trove of meaning either way. The redaction of the "dead baby" images are the final punchline to Redacted, for it says that even De Palma's film can not exist without some form of censorship. And like the youtube clips that run throughout the film, Redacted's finale is yet another jab at the empty means and empty language with which some people express their politics.

Actually, it's final punchline is Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, a film Redacted prophetically satirized more than a year in advance.

Posted by Geoff at 1:23 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 1:24 PM CST
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Saturday, January 31, 2009
UPDATED February 3 2009

Pop Music Notes yesterday ran a post about music videos that have been reshot for certain markets. Included is a comparison of the three videos shot for Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax. The first one "featured what can best be described as a leather bar/sex club setting," according to the post, which was perhaps a little risque for regular music channels. Godley & Creme then directed a more standard performance video with a laserbeam theme. And later on, to help promote Body Double, which featured the song as kind of a centerpiece, Brian De Palma directed a video for the song that included scenes from his film. However, there is often confusion about this rare clip, as the scene in the film itself plays much like a music video (the clip taken directly from Body Double is all over YouTube, and that is the one originally posted at Pop Music Notes-- it has since been corrected).

The actual music video (posted above) features extra shots that are not in the film, including a close-up of the "Indian" walking around the club, and the members of the band on stage (laserbeams included), and later, looking through telescopes set up at the club's window and seeing several scenes from Body Double, including said "Indian" about to murder Gloria Revelle (the video ends with the suspension of the murder and the lead singer turning his head from the telescope, looking directly at the audience as he sings "Come" and the frame freezes-- as if to say "go to the movies to see what happens!"). Also included in the video is a very funny parody of Flashdance, a film De Palma was almost coerced into directing. Around 1982, De Palma had signed on to direct Flashdance believing that if he did this one for the team, the producer would help De Palma get his pet project on the Yablonski murders in gear. However, De Palma quit Flashdance after two weeks.

In the Relax video, a man (who may or may not be a member of the band) dressed up as a woman in a wig and a dress (another De Palma staple given extra weight in a film called Body Double) does a Flashdance-type routine on stage that culminates with the money shot of the transvestite pulling the chain that lets the water loose onto his/her body as it sits in a chair, just as the music breaks (and just before the lead singer lets out the song's trademark "huh!"). As Drew points out in a comment to this post, the joke's origin also seems to lay in the fact that "the Flashdance filmmakers famously used a male body double for several of Flashdance-star Jennifer Beales' more complicated dance moves," including a breakdance audition scene. (Thanks, Drew!)

They should really include this video on any future DVD release of the film.

Posted by Geoff at 12:17 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 12:12 AM CST
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