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Monday, February 23, 2009
Sean Penn was in terrific form last night as he accepted the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Gus Van Sant's Milk. "You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns," Penn told the crowd with sarcastic irony as he accepted his award for portraying the openly gay politician Harvey Milk. "I did not expect this," he continued, "and I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often." Prior to the envelope being opened, Robert De Niro, sharing the stage with four other actors who have previously won the Best Actor award, was assigned to introduce his friend Penn as a nominee in the Actor category. "How did he do it?" quipped De Niro. "How for so many years did Sean Penn get all those jobs playing straight men?" De Niro concluded his speech by saying, "Tonight, it’s important to be a great actor. In life, it’s more important to be a great human being. That’s my friend Sean Penn."

Penn is interviewed by Mark Binelli in the February 19 2009 issue of Rolling Stone. Binelli comments on the fact that Penn has not done much comedy in his career, wondering how the actor avoided being pigeonholed after his breakout role in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Penn replied to Binelli:

It never happened. I'm more interested in the way drama tends to resonate in people's lives, versus that kind of escapism. But I certainly would have done 10 more comedies had I been offered them. I was talking to someone the other day and said, "Who would have thought when I was younger that I was going to end up being the poster boy for the Queer Nation and Robert De Niro was going to be the biggest comedy star in America?"

In the interview, Penn also mentions his work on Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War. After Binelli refers to stories about Penn being wild with Tom Cruise and Timothy Hutton while filming Taps early in their careers, Penn says that the three were all "forced" into a fraternity when the producers set them all up in a hotel in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Penn continued to Binelli:

...we were all kids running around. We had a great time. But since then, I'm always the guy who stays at the other hotel than the other actors stay in. I remember, we were shooting in Thailand on Casualties Of War, and some guys were going to the hospital, showing up with stitches.

[Binelli] From being up partying?

It started because groups of young actors can forget what they're there to do. I didn't want to get caught up in that.

According to Variety today, Penn is now in talks to play Joseph Wilson, the ambassador whose New York Times op-ed piece four months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq was critical of the evidence used by the Bush administration to justify that invasion. One week after Wilson's editorial was published, his wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as an undercover CIA agent in a column written by Robert Novak. Naomi Watts is set to star as Plame, and the film will be directed by Doug Liman. A year ago, Liman was set with Nicole Kidman for the Plame role, and, back when Bush and Cheney were still in office, the director had told MTV's Shawn Adler about his "really insane" way to film the story without having to worry about any government objections:

I have a really, really insane take on how to tell it. It’s so outrageous. Ultimately, I’d be doing something no one has ever done before. Therefore it’s automatically appealing to me. I’m just starting to explore whether [what I have in mind] is even possible to do.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 12:08 AM CST
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Sunday, February 22, 2009
This past week, Little White Lies' James Gracey interviewed composer Marco Werba, who has scored Dario Argento's latest film, Giallo. Werba told Gracey that for Giallo, he was inspired by Bernard Herrmann's scores for Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma...

I offered to write a symphonic score in a similar vein to Bernard Herrmann because Giallo is a great film that reminds me of the masterpieces of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. Herrmann not only composed for Hitchcock, he also wrote the music for two of the best De Palma films, Sisters and Obsession.

Werba also mentions the score for De Palma's The Fury as John Williams' best:

It’s difficult to say which specific film scores I deeply admire. There are many good compositions for films. I would say that each composer has his own best film scores. John Williams wrote wonderful music for Brian De Palma’s thriller The Fury, but it’s not a well-known score.

Also this past week, UGO's Jordan Hoffman posted a conversation with Wes Craven in which the two discussed cinema's best exploding head scenes...

[Hoffman, discussing a screening of the Last House On The Left remake] “You heard the audience’s reaction with the exploding head. That’s entertainment! That was one of the best exploding heads I’ve seen in a while. Definitely in the top ten.”

[Craven] “Well, nothing beats Cronenberg’s Scanners."

[Hoffman] “I disagree! I think Scanners takes the silver medal and there is one better. John Cassavetes exploding at the end of Brian De Palma’s The Fury.”

Craven seems unsure and simply says, “Mmm.”

I backpedal. “But that isn’t just his head, that is his whole body. But it is the head that flies up at the camera. In slow motion.”

[Craven] “Well, I had a hell of an exploding head I shot for Deadly Friend. It was one of the more spectacular things I ever shot of Anne Twomey’s head, but the studio had us cut it out. It’s out there somewhere in a vault at Warner Brothers never to see the light of day.”

[Hoffman] “Maybe for a DVD release?”

[Craven] “Well, you never know.”

Posted by Geoff at 12:20 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, February 26, 2009 7:53 PM CST
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Friday, February 20, 2009

Investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger had a column in the New Statesman yesterday in which he blasts Hollywood filmmakers for consistently overlooking the oppressed victims of invasions, and lays into film critics for playing into the politics of omission by hiding behind sheens of "safe snipes and sneers." Pilger cites one critic's dismissive prose in describing Brian De Palma as "divisive" as an example of how a film like Redacted (which, according to Pilger, "shows an Iraq the media do not report") effectively buries the film from proper consideration. Here is an excerpt from Pilger's editorial:

As Robbie Graham and Matthew Alford pointed out in the New Statesman (2 February), in 167 minutes of Steven Spielberg's Munich, the Palestinian cause is restricted to just two and a half minutes. "Far from being an 'even-handed cry for peace', as one critic claimed," they wrote, "Munich is more easily interpreted as a corporate-backed endorsement of Israeli policy."

With honourable exceptions, film critics rarely question this, or identify the true power behind the screen. Obsessed with celebrity actors and vacuous narratives, they are the cinema's lobby correspondents. Emitting safe snipes and sneers, they promote a deeply political system that dominates most of what we pay to see, knowing not what we are denied. Brian De Palma's 2007 film Redacted shows an Iraq the media do not report. He depicts the homicides and gang rapes that are never prosecuted and are the essence of any colonial conquest. In the New York Village Voice, the critic Anthony Kaufman, in abusing the "divisive" De Palma for his "perverse tales of voyeurism and violence", did his best to taint the film as a kind of heresy and to bury it.

In this way, the "war on terror" - the conquest and subversion of resource-rich regions of the world, whose ramifications and oppressions touch all our lives - is virtually excluded from the popular cinema. Michael Moore's outstanding Fahrenheit 9/11 was a freak; the notoriety of its distribution ban by the Walt Disney Company helped it to force its way into cinemas. My own 2007 film The War on Democracy, which inverted the "war on terror" in Latin America, was distributed in Britain, Australia and other countries but not in the United States. "You will need to make structural and political changes," said a major New York distributor. "Maybe get a star like Sean Penn to host it - he likes liberal causes - and tame those anti-Bush sequences."

Writing that "censorship by omission is virulent," Pilger's editorial calls for "another Wall Street, another Last Hurrah, another Dr Strangelove."

Incidentally, in 2005, Pilger edited a book titled Tell Me No Lies, which is also the title of Angel Salazar's documentary within the fiction of De Palma's Redacted.

Posted by Geoff at 3:08 AM CST
Updated: Friday, February 20, 2009 3:09 AM CST
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Thursday, February 19, 2009
Armond White reviewed Tom Tykwer's The International last week in the New York Press. White found the film "simplistic," noting that "emotion and politics are not director Tom Tykwer’s things." White highlights Tykwer's ambitious Guggenheim Museum set piece, and mentions three Brian De Palma films throughout the review. Here is an excerpt:

A credible emotional point of view is rare in action movies; problem is, emotion and politics are not director Tom Tykwer’s things. Despite the clear outline of worldwide greed in Eric Warren Singer’s screenplay, The International is terribly simplistic. Using the IBBC as a metaphor for Capitalism, Singer assesses the self-interest that makes the world turn. But except for Owen and Watt’s empathetic portrayals this is essentially a cloak-and-dagger programmer pumped-up De Palma-style.

Tykwer sends Owen and Watts through a series of show-off set pieces. None express psychic turmoil like De Palma’s extravaganzas: A sequence at Berlin’s National Gallery featuring Arnold Bocklin’s Isle of the Dead salutes the great museum scene in Dressed to Kill without defining Salinger’s disposition through the art work...

Of the many climaxes in this climax-stuffed cautionary tale, it is the clash at the Guggenheim Museum—where Salinger has trailed an assassin—that get Tykwer’s most flamboyant. It’s allegory for global anarchy and destruction. Salinger and the assassin recognize their common humanity, then their tension and obstacles escalate. This sequence is an ambitious combination of moral conflict and bravura aesthetics. Configured to match the sloping, slanting, continually changing perspectives of the Guggenheim’s rotunda, the scene attempts to out-do the visceral curlicues of Tykwer’s first hit, Run Lola Run. It visualizes Salinger’s dizzying, uphill struggle and 360-degree paranoia. Tykwer daringly intercuts video installations (actually from the Hamburger Bahnhof by Julian Rosenfeldt). As Salinger’s targets shift and danger boomerangs, capitalism itself becomes an Abstract Expressionist version of the Disasters of War. This tour de force is more accomplished than any of the set pieces in Children of Men—or Zodiac for that matter—yet it fails to drive home the sadness in Salinger’s eyes, unlike the astonishing photo-realist mural in Femme Fatale that summarized its heroine’s life journey.

Instead, as Tykwer goes on to other tricky chases and sensational killings, The International becomes more routine and shallow—even as it pretends to uncover the intricacies of small-arms trading, Middle East subterfuge, collateral damage and varieties of ethnic revenge. Although audiences chuckle when Armin Mueller-Stahl’s jaded banker explains to Salinger, “Life is stranger than fiction, fiction has to make sense,” the unfunny joke is on the way contemporary political fiction (in movies) rarely makes sense of our moral alarm. One reason lies in Tywker’s fanciful/serious approach. Though stylish, it lacks the aesthetic-moral force of such political thrillers as Francesco Rosi’s Exquisite Corpses, Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite, Spielberg’s Munich or DePalma’s Blow Out.

When we’re told that “We’re all slaves to debt” or that war comes from “banks committing so much of its resources sale of weapons” and that cynical news is matched with cleverly staged assassination scenes in anonymous crowded cities, it means that The International isn’t any better than Children of Men. Although war and financial crises are distressing, today’s moviegoing generation doesn’t know the culture shock of assassination and disillusionment that informed Rosi, Peckinpah, Spielberg and De Palma that movies like this merely exploit. Owen pantomimes feeling, but through political snark and snazzy technique, we’ve lost the beauty of art with feeling.

Posted by Geoff at 4:55 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:56 PM CST
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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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