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Warren Beatty's
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Filmmaker Mike
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Rie Rasmussen
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Mentor Tarantino
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AV Club Review
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Scorsese tests
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with De Niro,
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James Franco
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& star in
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Coppola on
his recent films:
"What I was
trying to do with
those films was to
make three student
films in order to
try and set a new
trajectory and try to
say, 'Well, what
happens if I have no
resources?' Now, having
done that, my new
work is going to be
much more ambitious
and bigger in scope and
budget and ambition,
but now building on a
new confidence or
assurance. The three
little films were very
useful. I'm glad I did
it. I hope George Lucas
does it, because he
has a wonderful personal
filmmaking ability that
people haven't seen
for a while."

Sean Penn to
direct De Niro
as raging comic
in The Comedian

Scarlett to make
directorial feature
debut with
Capote story

Keith Gordon
teaming up
with C. Nolan for
supernatural
thriller that
he will write
and direct

Recent Headlines
a la Mod:

-Picture emerging
for Happy Valley

-De Palma's new
project with
Said Ben Said

-De Palma to team
with Pacino & Pressman
for Paterno film
Happy Valley

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Interviews...

De Palma interviewed
in Paris 2002

De Palma discusses
The Black Dahlia 2006


Enthusiasms...

The Virtuoso
of the 7th Art

The De Palma Touch

The Swan Archives

Carrie...A Fan's Site

Phantompalooza

Paul Schrader

Alfred Hitchcock
The Master Of Suspense

Alfred Hitchcock Films

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Sergio Leone
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Movie Mags

Directorama

The Filmmaker Who
Came In From The Cold

Jim Emerson on
Greetings & Hi, Mom!

Scarface: Make Way
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The Big Dive
(Blow Out)

Carrie: The Movie

Deborah Shelton
Official Web Site

The Phantom Project

Welcome to the
Offices of Death Records

The Carlito's Way
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Kubrick on the
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FilmLand Empire

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Cultural Weekly

A Lonely Place

The Film Doctor

italkyoubored

Icebox Movies

Medfly Quarantine

Not Just Movies

Hope Lies at
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Motion Pictures Comics

Diary of a
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So Why This Movie?

Obsessive Movie Nerd

Nothing Is Written

Ferdy on Films

Cashiers De Cinema

This Recording

Mike's Movie Guide

Every '70s Movie

Dangerous Minds

EatSleepLiveFilm

No Time For
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Monday, July 27, 2009
STERRITT ON HURT LOCKER:
"UNCRITICAL CRITICS" PRAISE THE APOLITICAL TO A FAULT
"Nobody benefits when critics are as apolitical as the films they criticize," writes critic David Sterritt in regards to the critical praise heaped on Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, currently making its way in theaters throughout the U.S. The critical consensus does seem to be that Bigelow's film lacks any political viewpoint (is this even truly possible?), and that it is all the better for it. There have been a couple of negative reviews of The Hurt Locker posted at Andrew Breitbart's conservative-minded Big Hollywood, where John Nolte sees "unnecessary" political messages throughout, and Alexander Marlow calls it "a left-wing film."

"While the film is excellent in some respects," Sterritt writes of The Hurt Locker, "its politics are worrisome – not because they’re wrong, but because there are no politics in a film about the most politically fraught conflict in recent memory. And the eagerness of critics to overlook or excuse this bothers me just as much." Sterritt agrees that Bigelow's film has more "hair-raising action" than either Brian De Palma's Redacted or Paul Haggis' In The Valley Of Elah (the latter written, like The Hurt Locker, by Mark Boal). But, Sterritt states, the Hurt Locker "comes up extremely short in the politics department." Sterritt doesn't just criticize the filmmakers for being shortsighted in failing to address the politics involved in the war in Iraq-- he also chastises critics for praising the film's apparent lack of ideology:

Dana Stevens of Slate wraps up a rave by saying The Hurt Locker is “without question the most exciting and least ideological movie yet made” about the Iraq war, as if excitement sans ideology – any ideology – were the formula for top-grade cinema. Numerous reviewers find the film’s vagueness about geopolitics, and even geography, a plus rather than a minus. “It so happens that The Hurt Locker takes place in Iraq,” writes Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. “But geography is almost beside the point.” Kenneth Turan says in the Los Angeles Times that “it’s unfair to burden The Hurt Locker with the Iraq label” since there’s “no sense of winning or losing a war here, no notion of making a difference or achieving lofty geopolitical aims,” echoing Boal’s dubious distinction between movies that actually think and movies that just move. Politics don’t even occur to Roger Ebert, who calls The Hurt Locker “a great film, an intelligent film, a film shot clearly so that we know exactly who everybody is and where they are and what they're doing and why.” Has the bar for great, intelligent films slipped so low that a movie qualifies by being comprehensible?

And so it goes. David Edelstein recognizes the political shallowness of The Hurt Locker near the end of his New York review, then promptly endorses it. “Last but maybe foremost are the politics—or lack of them,” he writes, commendably bringing up the problem. “The question of what the hell these good men are doing,” he continues, “in a culture they don’t understand with a language they don’t speak surrounded by people they can’t read hangs in the air but is never actually called.” So far, so good, until he asks the rhetorical question, “Or is that why this movie rises above its preachy counterparts?” This raises two non-rhetorical questions in my mind: What qualities make those counterparts preachy, as opposed to informative or provocative? And what counterparts are we talking about, anyway? The critic gives no clue. Over at the Village Voice, meanwhile, Scott Foundas rightly notes that some film-festival viewers tagged The Hurt Locker “apolitical,” and then he executes the same maneuver as Edelstein, saying those comments only show that the film “is mercifully free of ham-fisted polemics” and is content to “immerse us in an environment.” I’m as anti-ham-fist as the next moviegoer, but there would have been plenty of room in that environment for some progressive polemics.

In another mostly perceptive article, New York Times critic A.O. Scott calls Bigelow “one of the few directors for whom action-movie-making and the cinema of ideas are synonymous,” saying you may “emerge from The Hurt Locker shaken, exhilarated and drained, but you will also be thinking.” Thinking about what, however? “Not necessarily about the causes and consequences of the Iraq war,” Scott hastens to add. Scott’s conclusion is a let-down, but at least he explicitly faults the movie’s political limitations, saying that the filmmakers’ concentration on moment-to-moment experience is “a little evasive.” Take out the “little” and the point would be better made.

David Denby’s review in The New Yorker is also both insightful and problematic. The Hurt Locker is not political, he writes, “except by implication—a mutual distrust between American occupiers and Iraqi citizens is there in every scene.” Again the film’s political shortfall – its politics are only implicit, and they encompass nothing more profound or sweeping than distrust – is nothing to fret about. “The specialized nature of the subject is part of what makes [the film] so powerful,” Denby continues, “and perhaps American audiences worn out by the mixed emotions of frustration and repugnance inspired by the war can enjoy this film without ambivalence or guilt.” I’m not sure “enjoy” is exactly what Denby meant to say in this context, but I am sure that movie-movie pleasure is not the best contribution a war-themed film can make to a culture that’s politically challenged to begin with.

BIGELOW: "IT'S NOT MY POSITION TO JUDGE"
Bigelow told the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips that The Hurt Locker "seems to have touched a nerve, no matter which side of the aisle you're on." She further stated, "My job is to communicate; it's not my position to judge or dictate policy. I find it annoying when a film takes a superior attitude and doesn't provide the information in order for me to make my own decision. I don't want to be told what to think."


Posted by Geoff at 10:54 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 25, 2009
'A FILMED DARE'
CRITIC GOES IN DEPTH ON DRESSED TO KILL

John Kenneth Muir, author of Horror Films Of The 1970s and Horror Films Of The 1980s, has posted an in-depth look at Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, which opened in theaters on this day in 1980. Muir considers Dressed To Kill "a filmed 'dare' of sorts; one that nastily, brazenly, grotesquely 'creeps up' to the edge of social responsibility and acceptability, but then — finally — backs away with a tease and a knowing wink." Muir breaks down the themes running through Dressed To Kill, and in the following excerpt, also delves into its intertextual associations (although he does not mention the film's allusions to Bunuel):

Again, De Palma finds ways to honor his cherished source material. The film opens in a shower (since Psycho’s most famous sequence occurred there…) but then builds to a fever pitch in another distinctive enclosure: an elevator. By starting with Angie Dickinson in the shower, however, Dressed to Kill essentially states that it is beginning where Psycho left off. It’s the next step. (And Fincher’s Fight Club [1999] is the next iteration of the schizoid, but that’s a post for another day…)

Dressed to Kill not only quotes from Psycho, but also the Italian giallo tradition. Here we have a film with a mystery component, an operatic score, excessive blood letting, and flamboyant camera movements. Where have you seen that alchemical equation before, Bava or Argento fans? Hitchcock wasn’t able to produce Psycho in color, but De Palma makes the most of this advance in movie technology. He uses garish, bright colors in symbolic, effective fashion here. In the elevator death scene, for instance, Angie Dickinson is garbed head-to-toe in immaculate white, a color which is soon spoiled by her spilled blood during the razor attack. The red-against-white image is powerful in almost a primal way, and it works thematically (as in giallo tradition); suggesting the loss of Kate Miller’s “purity” after the marriage-wrecking affair.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, July 27, 2009 1:22 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009
SAKAMOTO RECEIVES FRENCH HONOR
CITES DEBUSSY AND GODARD AS INFLUENCES
Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto received the Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur (the National Order of the Legion of Honor) last Thursday, according to reports from Japan Zone and Japan Today. During the ceremony at the French Embassy in Tokyo, where he was awarded an officer medal, Sakamoto cited the influence of French composer Claude Debussy and of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard on his work, saying, "Through my music, I hope to repay the debt I owe." Sakamoto, 57, won an Academy Award in 1988 for his soundtrack to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. He later went on to score two films for Brian De Palma: Snake Eyes (1998), and Femme Fatale, which was filmed in France in 2001.

Posted by Geoff at 12:54 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 1:09 PM CDT
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Sunday, July 19, 2009
OBSESSION A 'CURIO OF CINEMA'
BUT VERTIGO FAN FINDS MUCH TO APPRECIATE

Jamie from London wrote about Brian De Palma's Obsession as compared with its inspiration, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, today at the Rituals and Dreams "towards the front, please" blog. Here is a notable excerpt:

The most crucial allusion, however, is the brilliant soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann that envelops the film and contributes so much to its atmosphere. He reprises chunks of the unforgettable Vertigo score; the Wagnerian Tristan chords, low, sombre organs, swirling strings and swishing harps. A recurring choral part is a little like Debussy’s Sirenes. The music brings you back to Vertigo like Robertson’s fixation brings him back to his wife’s death, always mulling things over and wanting to retrace his steps.

The camera movements have their motifs too; very slow tracking shots where the camera approaches locations of import, as if nervously, until the buildings loom over you; particularly in the opening credits as we ascend steps to the facade of San Miniato, the church atop Piazzale Michaelangelo in Florence. The famous 360-degree rotation from that chilling scene in Vertigo, where Kim Novak bleaches her hair and pins it up to “be Madeleine again”, is employed at key moments- when Bujold breaks into her predecessor’s bedroom, kept up like a shrine; when the pair have their reconciliation at the end. One nice scene has Robertson and John Lithgow eat breakfast in a café looking onto Piazza della Signorina; as each speaks the camera moves as a pendulum, Neptune and the other statues moving into focus, then out, the camera sent back and forth like a tennis ball.


Posted by Geoff at 9:43 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009
LITHGOW & GORDON JOINED BY DEXTER
"ALL THAT JAZZ AND LOTS OF BRIAN DE PALMA IN COMMON"
John Lithgow, pictured here from Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, appeared in that film along with Keith Gordon in 1979, right around the time Brian De Palma was working with Gordon on Home Movies and Dressed To Kill. Lithgow had already had his first big role in De Palma's Obsession (1976), and would soon appear in De Palma's Blow Out (1981), and later on, in De Palma's Raising Cain (1992). Lithgow, who is currently filming the fourth season of Showtime's Dexter, tweeted today that Gordon is directing the episode they're filming this week (Gordon has filmed several episodes of the series throughout its first three seasons). "Small world: Keith Gordon directs this week. We have ALL THAT JAZZ and lots of Brian De Palma in common," Lithgow states on his Twitter page. Shades of his work with De Palma, Lithgow portrays a serial killer on the upcoming fourth season of Dexter.

Posted by Geoff at 6:34 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, July 16, 2009 11:18 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 11, 2009
FABOLOUS FINDS CARLITO'S WAY
UPCOMING LOSO'S WAY INSPIRED BY DE PALMA FILM
In the shadow of Brian De Palma's Scarface, the director's other collaboration with Al Pacino, Carlito's Way, has its own cult growing. That cult will get a boost this summer when Fabolous releases his new album, Loso's Way, July 28, which features a heavy lineup of guest stars, including Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Ne-Yo. Fabolous told Billboard in March of 2008 that he wanted to make a concept album that would be similar to what Jay-Z did with his tie-in to Ridley Scott's American Gangster. Without naming the film at the time (keeping it a secret), Fabolous explained his idea to Billboard:

I always wanted to touch on this particular movie musically because I felt some of the things in the movie related to me and to lots of other people. A lot of scenarios and situations in the movie are relatable. Plus, I always wanted to use a theme for my album, like how Jay[-Z] used American Gangster because he saw a character that was relatable to him. I want to take scenarios and turn them into records, and vice versa.

STANDOUT TRACK IS "PACHANGA"
With the final product finally being released more than a year later, Fabolous now tells Billboard about how his own personal stories link with Carlito's Way:

To help tell his story, Fabolous looked for inspiration in Carlito's Way, the 1993 movie in which an ex-con pledges to shun drugs and violence despite the pressure around him.

"The concept of the album came from me watching Carlito's Way and seeing how he was a guy who came from jail and wanted to do something bigger and better," he says. "I didn't come from jail, but I came from the hood, and in many ways I felt just like Carlito, because even though I'm still connected to the streets, I wanted to do bigger and better things too. There were a lot of parallels between his story and mine."

Fabolous says the lead single, "Throw It in the Bag," produced by Tricky Stewart and featuring his labelmate the-Dream, doesn't fit in with the theme, but he explains that "it was so contagious and catchy that we just had to go for it." The motivational "It's My Time," featuring Def Jam newcomer Jeremih and produced by the Runners, which was released in conjunction with "Bag" and appears in a TV ad for the NBA draft, is an example of how Fabolous' and Carlito's stories coincide.

"This song is about how I generally feel about my life and my career, and it's relatable to people because it's the type of song that motivates you to do whatever it is you have to do, just like Carlito," Fabolous says. "Throw It in the Bag" and "It's My Time" recently entered Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Pop 100 charts at Nos. 94 and 99, respectively.

Created with help from producers like Jermaine Dupri and DJ Toomp, other tracks on the album include "Stay," featuring Marsha Ambrosius from Floetry, about a son asking his father not to go. "It's a personal record for me because in between the last album and this album I had a son, and so on this track I talk about my relationship with my son and with my father," says Fabolous.

"Last Time," finds collaborator Trey Songz singing, "'this is the last time but I gotta see my baby,' but it is a metaphor for him having to see the streets one last time, just like Carlito on his last run," says Fabolous.

But the record that plays off the movie the most is the stand-out track "Pachanga," named after Carlito's right-hand man, who betrays him at the end of the film. "A thug changes and love changes, friends become strangers, pachanga," Fabolous rhymes, sampling Nas' "The Message."


Posted by Geoff at 3:52 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 11, 2009 4:00 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009
THOMSON & TUCKER ON SCARFACE
AND SCARFACE MONTAGE MAKES BLOGGER'S TOP TEN LIST

The Untouchables isn't the only Brian De Palma film feeling the love from critics amidst the heat of Michael Mann's Public Enemies. Pauline Kael stated that Scarface was "a De Palma movie for people who don't like De Palma movies." David Thomson fits that bill perfectly, as he hates most De Palma films, but loves De Palma's Scarface. Thomson, generally unimpressed with Mann's Public Enemies, offers his list of ten great gangster films, courtesy of the Irish Times. Listed chronologically, De Palma's film is number nine, right before Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas. Here's what Thomson wrote about Scarface:

Howard Hawks’s Scarface (1932), in which Paul Muni played a version of Al Capone, is a deserved classic, but the 1983 remake, written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma, is even better. For a start, shifting the action to Miami and making Tony Montana an outlaw from Castro’s Cuba is very clever, and it allows Al Pacino to play with a Cuban accent the way a cat teases a dying bird. It was as if all the restraints Pacino had respected to play Michael Corleone were tossed aside. Beyond that, this Scarface is a modern opera (with music by Giorgio Moroder) that builds from the first bloody job on Miami Beach to the assault on Tony’s cocaine palace by Colombian thugs. Along the way, we get deliciously sleazy performances from F Murray Abraham, Harris Yulin and Robert Loggia as low-lifes for whom Tony finds appropriate executions. Then there is the young Michelle Pfeiffer as the bad-tempered prize Tony craves, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as the sister he can share with no one.

TUCKER: DE PALMA GAVE PFEIFFER ONE OF THE MOST SPECTACULAR ENTRANCES
Meanwhile, sparked by Mann's latest, Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker (author of Scarface Nation) is offering an "EW University" gangster movie class all week long. In today's lesson, Tucker discusses the role of women in gangster movies, with a focus on Pfeiffer's Elvira:

Who’s the most famous, most recognizable female character in the gangster-film genre? I’d have to say Elvira Hancock, wife of Tony Montana in the 1983 Scarface. Since a lot of gangster movies are period pieces set during the Prohibition Era, it’s not surprising that women have been largely relegated to being gold digger girlfriends – “molls” -- or innocent companions or mothers of the male protagonists. It wasn't until the World War II era, when there were more women sitting in movie-theater audiences, that the female roles were made more substantial. There are enough exceptions to this rule, however, to make women in gangster films an intriguing area of EW University study. Most immediately, Marion Cotillard, as John Dillinger’s famous real-life moll Billie Frechette, is more of a presence than your average gangster accompaniment in the new Public Enemies; director Michael Mann didn’t cast this excellent actress (La Vie en Rose) to have her stand around and simper.

But let’s go back to Elvira in Scarface. This was Michelle Pfeiffer’s star-making role. Director Brian De Palma gave her one of the most spectacular entrances in movie history: dressed in a slinky dress that hugged every curve, Elvira descends slowly from a glass elevator, with Pacino’s Tony momentarily speechless, in awe. Wearing a blonde pageboy hairdo and talking tough, Elvira ends up matching Tony curse for curse and, as their cocaine consumption increases, toot for toot. This is a far cry from the original 1932 Scarface’s femme fatale, Poppy, played by Karen Morley. She’s little more than a pretty trinket Paul Muni’s Scarface Tony Camonte wears on his arm; the real woman in this movie is Scarface’s sister, Cesca, portrayed by Ann Dvorak. She’s so loyal, she grabs a gun and stays by her brother’s side for the film’s final shoot-out. The clear implication throughout the film, although this could never be stated outright, of course, is that Scarface’s sister loves him more — is more like a faithful lover or wife — than his girlfriend is.

SCARFACE MONTAGE TAKES IT TO THE LIMIT
Warren J. Cantrell's top ten list of movie montages, posted at Scene Stealers, is not specifically related to gangster films, but it does feature Scarface up there in the top five. Here is what Cantrell says about the montage:

Money. That’s not only a description of this montage, but the image that kicks it off and sweet-Christ, is there a lot of it! After solidifying his position as the go-to man for cocaine imports and distribution in Miami, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) goes to work maximizing his power base in the vacuum left in Frank’s absence. Wisely moving through what looks to be as many as six months of expansion and growth, director Brian De Palma gives the audience not-so-subtle hints regarding the extent of Tony’s ascension. We watch the spread of the protagonist’s influence through multiple business ventures, a chic wedding (that showcases a fucking domesticated tiger), lines of men marching into a bank with duffel bags full of money, and a good-for-nothing junkie wife that is in it for the gravy. The montage has been parodied before, and for good reason, as it is absolutely dripping with cheese (the background track rivals Bloodsport’s in sheer awesome-per-square inch), yet isn’t that the point? The film is a salute to the possibilities of life in the United States for any person with balls solid enough to take what is there. In Tony Montana, America found a willing taker, a victim of this country’s lop-sided promise who, while tough as nails and quite willing, did not understand the basic necessity of freedom: restraint. A microcosm of the thematic elements of the film at large, the montage represents both Tony at the peak of his power, yet in the midst of what will ultimately ruin him. It is Tony’s blind embrace of the American dream (and the idea that one must keep reaching for more) that will doom him, for he doesn’t understand (nor will he ever) that balls might be what it takes to get to the top, but that brains are needed to stay there. The song here is “Take It To the Limit,” and for good reason, as the montage demonstrates Tony doing what he does best, mainly chewing through everything and everyone to get higher up the social ladder (the tragic inevitability, of course, is that once to the top, to keep trying to climb will mean a terrible fall).


Posted by Geoff at 1:29 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 11, 2009 1:42 PM CDT
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Friday, July 3, 2009
PHANTOM INSPIRATION FOR MOULD
Hüsker Dü member says he shows De Palma film to bands
Bob Mould, of Hüsker Dü and Sugar fame, was the guest editor at magnetmagazine.com last week. Mould's initial editor's desk column was all about Phantom Of The Paradise. Mould incorrectly states that Winslow Leach was played by Gerrit Graham (Leach was, of course, played by William Finley), but his enthusiasm for the film is obvious. Here is what Mould wrote:

Phantom Of The Paradise is a Brian De Palma spectacle that combines The Phantom Of The Opera, Faust and glam rock. The film was released on Oct. 31, 1974. Paul Williams is cast in the role of Swan, the svengali of Death Records, who is auditioning musicians for the opening of a revolutionary new club called The Paradise. Winslow Leach, a nerdy songwriter (played by Gerrit Graham), manages to get his song heard (and then stolen) by Swan. Classic rock ‘n’ roll insanity ensues. There is a brilliant scene that depicts Leach in a recording-studio control room, seated at the keyboard, working feverishly to complete his cantata for the opening night of The Paradise. Leach is wearing his owl-like Phantom helmet/mask, speaking through a vocoder/oscillator, surrounded by pills and sheet music. For some reason it reminds me of—or maybe foreshadows—Daft Punk. It is also surely a coincide that the cantata is written for, and about to be sung, by Leach’s love interest, whose name is Phoenix (played by Jessica Harper). Hmm.

The original title of the film was to be Phantom, but it was changed at the last-minute, to avoid potential legal conflict with the copyright holders of The Phantom comic strip. In addition, almost all references to Swan Song Enterprises, the ubiquitous media concern that was headed by Swan, were removed from the film. The instigator of said removal was Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin, who had created Swansong Records (an actual label) just prior to the release of the film. Grant was a major thorn in the side of 20th Century Fox, and his threats to block the release of the film forced De Palma and 20th Century Fox to mask or recut major portions of the film. The original theatrical release was met with the sound of no hands clapping, except for, inexplicably, the city of Winnipeg, where the movie and soundtrack were enormous successes. In the intervening years, two Phantompalooza events have taken place in Winnipeg. I love showing this movie to bands on the eve of recording sessions. It’s a great way to get everyone, including myself, to unwind a bit before the big day.


Posted by Geoff at 12:13 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009
PUBLIC ENEMIES ON VIEW
INEVITABLE COMPARISONS TO THE UNTOUCHABLES ENSUE

Michael Mann's Public Enemies opened today in North America, with many critics referencing Brian De Palma's The Untouchables in their reviews of the new film. Here are some samplings:

Marshall Fine at Hollywood & Fine:
As I said, this movie is all about the action: There’s very little that could be construed as scenes of Dillinger planning his heists. The bank jobs themselves are brief – the shoot-outs and get-aways afterward take up more time. There’s little of the flashy melodrama, for example, that made Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables so operatically enjoyable.

James Berardinelli at ReelViews:
Obvious candidates for comparison are Arthur Penn's 1967 touchstone, Bonnie and Clyde, and Brian De Palma's 1987 The Untouchables. Public Enemies lacks the fire and energy of the former and the operatic grandeur of the latter. Mann's approach to this story is businesslike and low-key; he's not trying for something epic. His goal is to demythologize Dillinger - something at which he is only partially successful...

...The director's objective is to emphasize drama over suspense and, as a result, the kind of fast pace and narrative momentum often associated with a thriller is absent here. However, there are individual scenes in which Mann ratchets up the level of tension. The most apparent of these is a seemingly throw-away sequence: after escaping from the Crown Pointe jail, Dillinger and his pals sit at a red traffic light in the stolen car in plain view of everyone in town, including law enforcement officials. It seems that the light will never turn green; endless seconds tick by. Passersby turn to look at the car. The scene, intentionally drawn-out for maximum effect, is as agonizing as De Palma's famous homage to The Battleship Potemkin's Odessa Steps in The Untouchables.

Liam Lacey at The Globe And Mail:
From his first feature, Thief , through his TV series Miami Vice and Crime Story to the epic cops and robbers duel in Heat , Mann has shown himself a poet of shoot 'em up mayhem. Public Enemies should have been his grand opus. Instead, the film feels restrained and pictorial. Compared with the convulsions of Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather or Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, or the raging gangster flicks of the Thirties, it's a coffee-table book.

Armond White at the New York Press:
Public Enemies tries to out-grandiose De Palma’s lavish The Untouchables but pop-satirist De Palma understood genre. Mann’s just a dilettante. There’s no narrative pulse; this is a show-offy, contemplative crime movie, which means the genre is deadened from the get-go. Long sequences of Dillinger’s heists and breakouts contrast G-Man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) in drawn-out pursuit sequences. Even the shoot-outs seem desultory rather than urgent. Not good guys vs. bad guys, but equalizing crime and virtue, chaos and order. Mann’s decision to delete music from the combat scenes (intended to win critical plaudits) creates a dull pretentiousness. Technical flamboyance meets spiritual aridity. Mann’s B-movie cool is never as hip or craftsmanly as Tarantino’s. Mann takes emotion out of gangsterism. His no-hope gunfights avoid a rooting interest; we’re put in a cynic’s position watching history play out— even though Mann’s J. Edgar Hoover–bashing (portrayed by Billy Crudup) rewrites history with smug hindsight. Every scene’s strangely aestheticized, not dramatically involving, as if Mann was stepping back and observing his own masterly canvas.

J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader:
The liberties Mann takes with the facts are reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s in The Untouchables, where Eliot Ness decides to get tough with Capone by policing outside the lines. Mann has Hoover (Billy Crudup) ordering Purvis to “take off the white gloves.” Subsequently Purvis’s men torture a suspect in his hospital room by applying pressure to a wound and try to beat a confession out of Dillinger’s loyal gun moll, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).

Elliott J. Gorn at Slate:
Ultimately, Mann fails to capture the essence of the Dillinger story because Public Enemies is a gangster movie. The clothes the men wear, the scenes they inhabit, and the language they speak all resonate with that genre. Most of the action takes place in director Michael Mann's hometown, Chicago, and Mann again and again makes references to other gangster films. One can't look at his scenes shot in the lobby of Union Station or at the old financial district on La Salle Street and not think of The Untouchables.

Stephen Schaefer at the Boston Herald:
But what is Public Enemies trying to say really? Unlike Bonnie and Clyde which blatantly and effectively romanticized a pair of Depression era bank robbers as doomed young lovers, Public Enemies presents John Dillinger as too brutal and flawed to be heroic yet hardly a figure of evil. The great Thirties gangster update remains Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables precisely because it was a classic example of the good cop – Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness – determined to bring down the very bad gangster Al Capone (Robert De Niro). Mann and company have muddied the waters too much – or not enough – making the good guys slightly sinister and creepy and the bad guys not worth cheering, much less crying over.

Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times:
Mann often wants to do traditional films but do them differently, do them better, enabling the audience to feel both the newness and the tradition. With Public Enemies, he has made an impressive film of great formal skill, one that inescapably has a brooding dark-night-of-the-soul quality about it.

Simultaneously an art film and a crime film, Mann's latest work (he shares screenplay credit with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman) may not give you a ton to hang on to emotionally, but the beauty and skill of the filmmaking keep you tightly in its grasp...

...The story Mann and company set out to tell is in part the traditional one of the doomed love of outsiders on the run and in part a newer, more socially aware interpretation of gangsterdom, the story of lone criminal wolves, in Mann's words, "being pressed on both sides by twin evolutionary forces -- on the one hand J. Edgar Hoover inventing the FBI, and on the other, organized crime evolving rapidly into a kind of corporate capitalism." We're a long way from The Untouchables here.

AND OTHER REVIEWS OF NOTE...

Sean Burns at the Philadelphia Weekly:
In Mann’s boldest, most controversial stroke, form becomes content in Public Enemies . Dillinger has reemerged into a modern alien landscape he can’t understand, and thus Mann shoots the entire film in handheld hi-definition video. There’s not an establishing shot to be found, or any of the pretty period niceties we expect from pictures like this. The movie looks raw, aggressive and sometimes awfully ugly. 


It also looks wrong —1930s icons are in period dress, yet they’re also in overlit, trembling CNN video, surrounded by inconsistent color-timing and strange blurs from the popping light sources. Somehow this insane choice lends a freakish immediacy to Public Enemies, as if it’s happening right now instead of in the distant past. I spent the entire movie on the edge of my seat even though we all already know everything about John Dillinger at the Biograph Theater and the ending is a foregone conclusion.

Matt Zoller Seitz at IFC:
[Mann is] virtually unique among A-list auteurs shooting in high-def in that not only does he not try to make it look like film, he goes out of his way to call attention to the fact that it’s video. Why? A theory: besides indicating a true artist's respect for the properties of the medium he’s chosen (painters don’t break their backs trying to make watercolor resemble oil paint), Mann is looking to amp up immediacy and shatter the usual subliminal reassurances that we’re watching a movie and it’s not “really” happening. Film is about things that happen to other people, usually people who are a lot richer and prettier than we are. Video is about what happens to us, at a birthday party or memorial service, in line at the bank, on the sidelines at a news event. The video-ness of the video in Public Enemies is discombobulating in a good way; when we look at all these handsome men and women in their period clothes, driving their period cars and speaking their period slang, we’re not seeing something that happened long ago, something safely removed from our own experience. It’s happening right now, live, right in front of us. Not many big summer films help us see familiar situations through fresh eyes. Public Enemies is one such movie: perhaps not minor Mann at all, but something major, a work that needs to be seen, absorbed and argued about more than once.

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times:
Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is a grave and beautiful work of art. Shot in high-definition digital by a filmmaker who’s helping change the way movies look, it revisits with meticulous detail and convulsions of violence a short, frantic period in the life and bank-robbing times of John Dillinger, an Indiana farm boy turned Depression outlaw, played by a low-voltage Johnny Depp. Much of what makes the movie pleasurable is the vigor with which it restages our familiar romance with period criminals, a perennial affair. But what also makes it more than the sum of its spectacular shootouts is the ambivalence about this romance that seeps into the filmmaking, steadily darkening the skies and draining the story of easy thrills.

Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times:
This is a very good film, with Depp and Bale performances of brutal clarity. I'm trying to understand why it is not quite a great film. I think it may be because it deprives me of some stubborn need for closure. His name was John Dillinger, and he robbed banks. But there had to be more to it than that, right? No, apparently not.


Posted by Geoff at 11:39 PM CDT
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009
BRILLIANT STRUT
EXTRA RECALLS WORKING ON SET OF CARLITO'S WAY

Nick Leshi posted today about his experience working as an extra on the set of Carlito's Way-- here are some excerpts:

Even though you can't see a glimpse of me in the final film, it's still one of my fondest memories.

I had done some stage work before and had just finished a stint as an extra on Law & Order, so to me this was the big time. I first had to go to Kaufman Studios in Astoria to get fitted for my costume. This was a period gangster film, so they had me decked out in platform shoes, bell-bottom pants, a polyester shirt like the kind Larry used to wear on Three's Company, and big framed slightly tinted glasses. Gotta love the disco era!

The film shoot took place at the Palladium, the old night club in Manhattan. It seemed like there must have been over 200 other extras for the scene in which Carlito Brigante and his lawyer were celebrating his release from prison. Even though I was one of many, I was thrilled to be on the same set as actors Al Pacino and Sean Penn, and director Brian De Palma...

...I was one of the lucky ones chosen to be near the principle actors. They had me walk behind the table where Pacino and Penn were doing their scene. I did it a bunch of times, and each time I strutted like I was the king of the world.

I stayed professional and focused while cameras were rolling. At one point between takes, I made eye contact with Pacino and I couldn't resist giving him two big thumbs up and a goofy grin. (I swear, I was still in character as a goofy nightclub patron!) Al Pacino just rolled his eyes at me. Correction -- Carlito Brigante rolled his eyes at me!

Months later, I went to see the movie and I wasn't surprised to see no trace of my brilliant strut on the silver screen. It didn't bother me too much. It was still a wonderful experience that I'll never forget.


Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 12:04 AM CDT
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