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Monday, August 3, 2009
BUTLER TALKS MALONE
BUT HAS 'NO IDEA' ON STATUS OF CAPONE
Gerard Butler, who had been set to play Jimmy Malone in Brian De Palma's planned prequel to The Untouchables, was asked about the status of Capone Rising in an interview in the August 2009 issue of Total Film. Butler replied, "I've no idea. It's on the backburner somewhere - it fell by the wayside when we lost our Al Capone. It was actually one of the best scripts I've read in a long time, so it's kind of sad." (The article is edited to suggest that Butler was definitely referring to Nicolas Cage when he spoke of losing "our Al Capone," but he is not quoted as saying anything about Cage, so he could have been referring to another unnamed actor.) Butler then said something we've been hearing him repeat since he signed on to the project: "It was actually one of the best scripts I've read in a long time, so it's kind of sad." The screenplay was written originally by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, and then revised by David Rabe. Butler was also asked by Total Film is he had been practicing his Sean Connery impersonation. "Nah," Butler replied. "It's a very different entity, this film. It is the Connery role, but the guy was completely different."

DID PUBLIC ENEMIES PROVIDE BOOSTER TO CAPONE RISING?
A couple of weeks ago, Paul Heath wrote a story on his blog, The Hollywood News, stating that the success of Michael Mann's Public Enemies had "seemingly boosted two other high profile productions" in development. This included a "shot in the arm" to Capone Rising, according to Heath, as well as to the graphic novel adaptation Pretty Baby Machine. Heath wrote:

We had interviewed PBM Creator and Development Producer, Clark Westerman, last year at the time of the announced deal and he stated it was quite likley the project would not be shopped until results of [Public] Enemies was in. Capone Rising looks like it took a wait and see as well to see what the public's appetite for the period ganster genere is 20+ years after the smash success of De Palma's Untouchables.

I sent Heath an e-mail asking if he could shed light on any of his sources for this story, but he never replied...

Also just in: Kevin Costner escapes injury after severe thunderstorm causes stage to collapse.


Posted by Geoff at 12:37 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, August 3, 2009 1:37 AM CDT
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Saturday, August 1, 2009
MAINSTREAM MASTERPIECE
JOHN KENNETH MUIR ON THE UNTOUCHABLES
John Kenneth Muir continues his weekly look at select Brian De Palma films with a wonderful analysis of The Untouchables, which he calls "De Palma's mainstream masterpiece," it being "a visual exercise in mythbuilding." Muir characterizes The Untouchables as a war film, stating, "On the surface, the brutal struggle in The Untouchables appears to be one regarding law enforcement, but the movie's tone and visuals make it plain that this is not entirely the case. On the contrary," Muir continues, "this is total war, a fact De Palma makes plain via cross-cutting. Early in the film, he cross-cuts between Capone decrying violence as 'not good business' and then a scene involving a little girl murdered in what, essentially, is a terrorist bombing of a local Chicago saloon."

"ODESSA STEPS" HOMAGE MUCH MORE THAN A "STUNT"
Muir is perhaps most inspired in his analysis of De Palma's improvised train station set piece:

Again, this sequence is likely the demarcation point where some people will "get" and appreciate De Palma, and others will simply insist that he is a particularly gifted "thief." For in concept and execution, the staircase scene of The Untouchables is an intricate homage to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 propaganda classic, The Battleship Potemkin.

In that film, the famous "Odessa Steps" sequence dramatized a massacre conducted by the Tsarist Regime, set atop a wide staircase. Civilians were brutally murdered in this bloody sequence, as Cossacks killed men, women and children. Famously, a baby carriage was depicted rolling down the staircase.

In original context, the Odessa Steps sequence was meant to demonize the Imperial Regime, to expose the fact that there was no depth to which it would not sink to hold onto to power in Russia. The scene is so famous in cinema history that some people have apparently believed that there was a massacre on the Odessa Steps even though the incident was a fictional one concocted for the film.

Those who accuse De Palma of lifting the Odessa Steps sequence from The Battleship Potemkin should take one extra step -- beyond that of accusation -- and ask themselves why? What purpose does it serve to feature a similar sequence here, in this movie?

On one hand, we can certainly point to the deliberate homage and intertextuality we see throughout De Palma's canon. But furthermore, there's a reflexive quality to this reference in The Untouchables. To wit: the battle for capitalist control of Chicago is occurring, roughly, in the same time period that The Battleship Potemkin was made and distributed (circa 1925 - 1930). In other words, by cutting and shooting a sequence just like the Odessa Steps, De Palma is actually reflecting something that the characters of the time might have themselves conceivably understood or known about.

Much more importantly, however, De Palma has created a thematic relative of Potemkin; a kind of "pop" form of propaganda; a heroic myth elevating the G-Men in stature and deriding a corrupt system and the criminals -- like Capone -- who exploited it (the capitalist equivalent of the Tsarists).

De Palma's point -- captured beautifully in the slow-motion shoot-out -- is that Capone's Regime (like that of the Cossacks...) boasts no moral compunction about the murder of the innocent. It will hold onto control any way it can, as we have seen in the corner saloon bombing and now with the imperiled baby carriage. Ness's task is much more difficult: he must eliminate the entrenched, powerful bad guys (the hench-men of Capone) and defend the innocent simultaneously. Remember how that grieving mother told Ness to get Capone? Well, here Ness lands in an even more urgent variation of that scene: finally in the position to prevent the death of an innocent at the same time that he takes down the guilty.

So, yes, De Palma pays tribute to Eisenstein's shock cutting in the famous staircase battle, but he has done two other important things as well. First, he has raised audience "ire" over Capone's actions in the self-same manner as Eisenstein did in regards to the Tsarists;" exposing" a corrupt regime in the process. And secondly, he has re-purposed the "lifted" sequence so as to make a point about the nature of the all-out battle Ness is fighting.

Amazingly, De Palma crafts an action sequence in the very film language appropriate to the era of his film, the 1920s-1930s. In his review, critic Hal Hinson called the staircase shoot-out scene De Palma's "greatest stunt," only-half impressed, but I suggest that given the context, given the reflexivity, given the re-purposing of a classic sequence for a like thematic purpose, it is much more than a stunt. This is De Palma conceiving and deploying brilliant visuals to chart for audiences the epic nature of the Capone/Ness conflict.


Posted by Geoff at 11:51 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 1, 2009 11:52 PM CDT
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Friday, July 31, 2009
HI, MOM! 'PURE PANDEMONIUM' TONIGHT IN HAMPDEN
AND SRAGOW RECALLS WATCHING MAN BITES DOG WITH DE PALMA
Just outside of Baltimore, in Hampden, is a late night coffee house with a bustling art scene called El Rancho Grande. A new monthly film series begins there tonight, kicking off at 8:30 pm with a screening of Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom!. The Baltimore Sun's Michael Sragow wrote about the film today, quoting series programmer John Lingan, and recalling sitting with De Palma seventeen years ago at a Toronto Film Festival screening of Man Bites Dog. Read on:

Based on the 100 percent correct feeling that "there are generally too few places to see older movies in a public place in Baltimore," John Lingan, the managing editor of the Web site Splice Today, launches a new monthly film series at 8:30 tonight at the Hampden café El Rancho Grande (3608 Falls Road).

If Lingan and his fellow programmer, photographer Dan Stack, keep selecting films as cannily as they did for opening night, they may be in for a long, wild ride. Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom!, their debut attraction, remains a milestone of satirical yet artful guerrilla moviemaking. It stars Robert De Niro in crackling improv form. He plays a failed director of what could be called "found porn" who moves on to become a bit player in black revolutionary theater and then a bomb-planting radical.

Seventeen years ago, I sat next to De Palma at a Toronto Film Festival screening of the pseudo-cinema verite serial-killer movie, Man Bites Dog. He hooted and cheered appreciatively at every bold stroke, but afterward whispered, with a smile, "Didn't I do all that 20 years ago in the last half-hour of Hi, Mom!?" He did all that, and more: Hi, Mom! skewers conventional notions of TV, stage and movie "reality" while providing an indelible portrait of New York on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Lingan says he chose it "because I have no idea what to expect. There could be three people there, or we could pack the coffee shop uncomfortably; either seems possible. And Hi, Mom! is a perfect fit for either scenario - you can watch it closely, even academically, or you can watch it in a cramped and crowded nontheater environment and see how everyone reacts to its unique tone and structure. It's a movie that begs to be seen outside of a theater, and maybe while you're pushed up against a stranger or sitting on the steps of a neighborhood coffee shop. We're hoping for that kind of atmosphere, because the movie is pure pandemonium."


Posted by Geoff at 12:38 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, July 31, 2009 12:39 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 30, 2009
MORE DE PALMA REFERENCES
A GANGSTER, AN ORPHAN, AND... HARRY POTTER?
The poster image at left is for a two-part film series by Jean-Francois Richet that tells the story of real-life French gangster Jacques Mesrine. The first film is called Mesrine: Killer Instinct, and stars Vincent Cassel. According to Paul Dale at The List, Richet's two-part saga reflects the influence of a number of filmmakers:

Richet’s enterprising handle on the material Killer Instinct is a work of veneration and compulsion comparable to the better films of Brian De Palma (Scarface, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Carlito’s Way). Like a French Tarantino, Richet is clearly a filmmaker who loves movies and moviemakers. Over the course of these two films, he pays considerable respect to, among others, William Friedkin, Peter Yates, Michael Mann, Luc Besson and Michael Bay.

Dale goes on to suggest that the film's comparisons to The Godfather and GoodFellas are perhaps overstated:

Such comparisons actually do the film a bit of a disservice. Though driven by a euphoric narrative that undeniably belongs to mainstream English language cinema, Killer Instinct and to a lesser extent its sequel is actually awash with homegrown influences. The sequences set in late-50s Paris could have been lifted from Henri Georges-Clouzot’s brilliant 1947 dockside thriller Quai des Oefevres and the spirit of Jean Gabin, most notably in Michael Carné’s moody 1938 deserter-on-the-loose drama Le Quai des Brumes which shadows every frame and crooked turn of Cassel’s ratty mouth.

COZZALIO: ORPHAN'S BEGINNING AND ENDING RECALL DE PALMA
Meanwhile, Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule was reminded of De Palma twice while reviewing Jaume Collet-Serra's Orphan, currently in U.S. theaters. Cozzalio was jolted during the opening of the film, writing, "I had to fight the urge to bolt from the theater during this opening sequence. And had Collet-Serra continued to operate in this weirdly dissociative style of De Palma-tinged surgical theater of horror, who knows how much I could have/would have taken?" Cozzalio also hints that the surprises in store in the final stretch of Orphan place "the movie in the vicinity of one of Brian De Palma’s great sick jokes," as the audience most likely will not see what's coming.

NEW HARRY POTTER FILM PAYS HOMAGE TO CARRIE
Finally, in a review of the new Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Kevin Maher at the Times Online states that the final act contains "a fantastically cheeky homage to Brian De Palma’s Carrie." Guess now I'll have to go check it out...


Posted by Geoff at 1:35 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, July 31, 2009 12:03 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009
OIFF BEST DIRECTOR INSPIRED BY DE PALMA
GOLDBERGER'S DON MCKAY EVOKES COENS' BLOOD SIMPLE
31-year-old Jake Goldberger's feature debut, Don McKay, won him the Best Director award at Cincinnati's Oxford International Film Festival this week. The film stars Thomas Haden Church (who also coproduced), Elisabeth Shue, and Melissa Leo. According to CityBeat's Jason Gargano, Goldberger told the audience at the OIFF postscreening Q&A that his inspirations for the film are Joel and Ethan Coen's Blood Simple (that film's M. Emmet Walsh has a part in Don McKay) and early Brian De Palma films. Gargano calls those name checks curious, but The Envelope's Scott Feinberg, writing about the film after it played at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, said that Don McKay "is a mind-twister that fails to fall neatly under any traditional genre label -- it blends horror, romance, drama, comedy and even film noir in a way that is somewhat evocative of early Coen Brothers films such as Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing, if not nearly as polished." Sounds intriguing, to say the least. Gargano writes that the film should see a theatrical release later this year. Below is a clip, courtesy of Variety blogger Anne Thompson, who describes the film as a "twisty thriller."

SPEAKING OF BLOOD SIMPLE
According to Screen Daily, Zhang Yimou will direct a remake of Blood Simple, which "will be set in a Chinese noodle shop in desert, rather than in a Texas bar."


Posted by Geoff at 1:33 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 2:58 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009
LOSO'S WAY MOVIE
INCLUDED IN DELUXE VERSION OF FABOLOUS CD, OUT TODAY

P.S. Just found out that Fabolous and Street Family put out a collection in 2006 titled Loso's Way: Rise To Power. So they did the prequel before the sequel-- go figure.


Posted by Geoff at 9:51 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 10:12 AM CDT
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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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