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Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Check local listings at PBS.com this week to catch the documentary, No Subtitles Necessary: László and Vilmos, which is being shown on PBS' Independent Lens series. The film, which has been shown at various film festivals, tells the real-life story of cinematographers László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond, who fled from Hungary to Los Angeles with footage they shot of the violent Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Zsigmond, of course, would go on to shoot several films for Brian De Palma: Obsession, Blow Out, The Bonfire Of The Vanities, and The Black Dahlia. According to a Los Angeles Times article by Michael Goldman, Zsigmond had previously been reluctant to make a film about their story, but after Kovács became ill in 2006, he decided to do it. Zsigmond told Goldman, "I had turned down this idea previously. I wasn't interested in a movie about me, and I'm not comfortable in front of the camera. But by the time this idea came up, László was very ill, and I was proud of our relationship and how we helped each other. That doesn't happen often in film circles. So I basically decided to do it for László. He was such a great cinematographer, and why he wasn't rewarded more is incredible. I thought I could help him by doing this movie and making sure people in the future remember his work."

You can hear an interview with Zsigmond and No Subtitles director James Chressanthis on a 123 Film Easy! podcast from November 4th.

Posted by Geoff at 1:54 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 1:55 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Armond White at the New York Press begins his review of the new Iraq war-themed movie, The Messenger, by contrasting the acting style with that of Redacted:

Despite the many things wrong with Brian De Palma’s Redacted, the acting was superbly on-point. De Palma’s little-known cast got class differences right, even while the film’s rhetorical concept was slanting them into the typical Blue State condescension about working-class grunts. This bias infects the latest Iraq War movie, The Messenger, by writer-director Oren Moverman, who lacks De Palma’s instincts for actorly (human) truth. This story about two veterans (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson) assigned MOS duty to deliver death notices to the deceased’s NOK (next-of-kin), is so bungled up with fashionable ambivalence about the Iraq War that every single behavioral detail is not just prejudicial but wrong.

Later in the review, White gives praise to the homecoming bar scene in Redacted, before reiterating his opinion that Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is "now overrated":

For Moverman, Iraq soldiers are already dead. The Messenger is a requiem for zombies at board and overseas. Moverman isn’t skilled enough to convey complex grief like Redacted’s homecoming bar scene; he leaves his actors hanging with specious dialogue all over their faces. Full-bodied Morton has a needful, open gaze but there’s no believable sense of her character’s social reality—she’s playing a conceit. So is Foster, who is always prone to over-acting; Foster confuses making pass at Morton with showing desperation. Or is that Moverman’s confusion? Moverman can’t keep up with his actors’ misguided intensity; his camera roams over the scenes’ emotional values.

At least Kathryn Bigelow’s now-overrated Iraq War requiem, The Hurt Locker, was skillfully directed—noir tropes disguised as a war statement. Yet Bigelow’s skillful film let slip a similarly obnoxious suspicion of its characters—as in its “War is a Drug” conceit that, like The Messenger, critiques masculinity but fails to understand the depths of human commitment. It’s a sorry state when morally befuddled political tracts pass for drama.

Meanwhile, This Island Rod's Roderick Heath states that "Redacted almost succeeds in burning the war movie itself down to the ground, as it keeps the spirit of enquiring, experimental narrative as defined in '60s art alive and relevant." Heath feels the "cultural memory of Vietnam," along with De Palma's earlier films about that war, looming over Redacted. Heath further makes the distinction that in Redacted, De Palma is not concerned with reproducing reality, but instead, "turns realism into a mode of expression."

Posted by Geoff at 3:19 PM CST
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Saturday, November 14, 2009
At H i M i P o V, Randy Aitken has written a monster of an essay analyzing the train station sequence in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables with the good-humored belief that “the devil is in the details”—rhythms, numbers, shapes, and symbols. Randy’s essay is generously illustrated with screen grabs such as the one shown here at left. Below is an example in which Randy is riffing on the use of numbers and teamwork:

Regarding Stone and Ness in The Untouchables train station steps sequence, they are a team who start out together, split up and come together again to fight and triumph over adversity while standing at the threshold of a diagonal staircase in the climax of the train station sequence. In the final moments of this sequence, as the Bowtie Killer's right arm acts as a stranglehold while the left arm has a gun to the bookkeeper's head, he threatens to kill the bookkeeper unless they are both released from the standoff. He begins a count off starting at "one" with a pregnant pause. Ness commands Stone to "take him!" and he kills Bowtie and reduces that Capone pairing down to one. Stone finishes Bowtie's counting sentence by saying "two." The visual storytelling has shown architectural space being developed and explored and through editing, framing, and dialog we have been shown changes in shapes and the proximity of these elements and forms to communicate growth and advance the story.

The establishment of a deadly horizontal relationship of the bookkeeper's head caught in between an arm and a gun has changed into a new deadly horizontal relationship between Stone's gun and Bowtie's head.

The angle of the straight line has moved counterclockwise 90 degrees.

And at the end of the straight line is a circle that has become divided into life and death.

As Bowtie's head slips out of frame downwards, an artistic modern abstraction of bloody red color is in evidence. De Palma the artist has thrown some paint upon the canvas for the audience and the characters to admire and comprehend. Bowtie has been zeroed out and we have to decide if Mr. Average, middle-American bookkeeper likes being an art critic, and we wonder if we see ourselves or the character in the canvas that he is standing too close to.

This idea of a making a connection between a straight line and a circle attached to it literally or through implication can be seen in the climax of the basement in Psycho, as well as Burke's activities in Blow Out.

Meanwhile, at Chin Stroker VS Punter, the two British men of the title discuss The Untouchables in-depth in a podcast that runs about 90 minutes.

Posted by Geoff at 1:18 PM CST
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Friday, November 13, 2009
...and I don't really see any deliberate nods to De Palma. I loved the film-- I was one who was impressed with Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, which I felt displayed the mark of a brilliant filmmaker, even if it wasn't a complete success. I have never seen Donnie Darko, even though I am aware that by all accounts, that is the one I need to see (several people have told me not to start with the director's cut, as they feel that Kelly didn't know a good thing when he had it). After seeing The Box, I am convinced that Kelly is a major filmmaker, and will see Donnie Darko as soon as possible. But it is kind of interesting that most people seem to be disappointed with Kelly's two most recent films, and are getting ready to write him off after making a film they loved so much, while I have never seen that first film, and have been very impressed with his recent work.

The thing that strikes me as most De Palma-ish about The Box is the Herrmann-esque music that dominates from start-to-finish. This, combined with Kelly's success at making The Box seem in every way like it was actually made in the 1970s, gave me a strong feeling of De Palma's Sisters. Alternately, the music score by Arcade Fire also brought to mind John Williams' work on De Palma's The Fury, and Ennio Morricone's work on De Palma's Mission To Mars, with its serene sense of inevitable mourning. Yet I never felt these were direct homages-- simply that they seemed to share a certain sensibility (although, --SPOILER ALERT--, Mars ultimately plays a huge part in The Box, so who knows). With The Box, Kelly has taken a brief idea and expanded it with his sense of paranoia in creepy and unexpected ways that I found fascinating. Between Southland Tales and this new movie, Kelly seems to be building toward some sort of perfect beast-- something that will carry his apocalyptic, Twilight Zone-tinged sprawls to a level of cinematic beauty and brilliance. Which means that I am very much looking forward to seeing what he does next.

On a side note, the box's red button under the gleaming dome recalls Kubrick's HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and there was one point as characters are going through a library maze where I got a creepy flashback from Kubrick's The Shining.

Posted by Geoff at 6:34 PM CST
Updated: Friday, November 13, 2009 6:48 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

According to Jerry Dennis at Viva La Geek, Richard Kelly's The Box uses Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View and Brian De Palma’s Blow Out "as reference points throughout." Dennis, who likes The Box quite a bit, says the film also has shades of De Palma's Obsession, stating that the score by Arcade Fire " has a deliberate Bernard Herrmann feel to it, specifically his score to Brian De Palma’s Obsession." Dennis writes that while there are "some Lynchian touches in the film," it "has a deliberate Kubrickian style to it as well." Dennis specifically mentions Lynch's Lost Highway and Kubrick's The Shining as having left traces on The Box.

Posted by Geoff at 12:49 PM CST
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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible will play on the world's biggest movie screen tonight at England's Pinewood Studios, where parts of the film were shot. De Palma's film will kick off a winter series of drive-in screenings that includes Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Full Metal Jacket, among others. The studio's water filming facility is being "temporarily transformed into the world's largest cinema screen," according to the press release, which continues:

The largest movie screenings ever recorded have been to mass audiences in Norway and Japan. In 1996 the Oslo Spektrum’s 70mm film screening of Independence Day measured 40.24m in width, and in 2008 the Tokyo Dome played host to a 37m wide IMAX premiere of Speed Racer. Pinewood aims to break the existing world record for the largest ever movie projection with its outdoor drive-in screening of Mission: Impossible this Saturday 7th November.

Managing the projection of Pinewood’s Drive-In, QED Productions Director Paul Wigfield says "We’re projecting onto the world’s largest screen at Pinewood, so it’s a fantastic opportunity for QED to demonstrate the very latest projection technology from Christie, the world leaders in digital cinema. Mission: Impossible seems the perfect choice to beat the existing world record and it will look absolutely sensational."

Posted by Geoff at 1:09 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, November 7, 2009 1:11 AM CST
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Friday, November 6, 2009
Richard Kelly's third film, The Box, opens in theaters today. At left is a shot from the film juxtaposed with the key shot from Brian De Palma's Blow Out, courtesy of Peet Gelderblom at Directorama (thanks Peet!). Back in June, Kelly talked about the film to Aint It Cool's Mr. Beaks, discussing how he wanted The Box to have the feel of a 1970s picture, even though he shot it digitally with the Genesis camera. When Beaks brought up Vilmos Zsigmond, Kelly talked about how actor James Marsden was reminded of De Palma:

It's funny. When Marsden saw the film last week, he brought up DRESSED TO KILL and early De Palma for some reason. We do use a lot of zoom lenses. But because it's the Genesis, it has clarity that's beyond that. But it still does not feel digital. I've seen it digitally projected and I've seen a print, and I have to say I prefer the print because Genesis transfers to film beautifully. It's such a great camera system. Normally, when I see digitally-photographed films, I prefer to seem them digitally projected. And I do prefer digital projection only because I hate cigarette burns at the reel changes. And I hate it when the plate system is not well calibrated and you sometimes lose a few seconds in between changes. That drives me crazy - especially when it's a film I directed. My biggest nightmare is having a press screening where the projectionist is not quite hitting the reel changes right. That's upsetting. And that's why I'm like, "Please, just digitally project it." But I'm really happy with the print.

(Thanks to Rado!)

Posted by Geoff at 4:22 PM CST
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Friday, October 30, 2009
Just in time for Halloween, a Carmike cinema in Bloomington, Illinois, is screening Brian De Palma's Carrie-- it opened today (Friday), and is scheduled to play all week long, at least three times a day, just like all of the other modern multiplex titles that litter its boxes this week. How much fun is that?

Meanwhile, we're hearing that Jacob Gentry's My Super Psycho Sweet 16 has a strong Carrie vibe, especially in its final third. The movie was made for MTV, and will air on the channel twice on Halloween day (Saturday)-- at 1pm eastern, and again at 7pm eastern.

Posted by Geoff at 11:37 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, October 31, 2009 7:07 PM CDT
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Posted by Geoff at 12:43 AM CDT
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Out of all the movies in Brian De Palma's oeuvre that could be turned into a haunted house idea, who would have thought someone might consider a scene from one of De Palma's early comedies might be the one that sticks out? Well, anyone who has seen the riveting "Be Black, Baby" sequence in De Palma's Hi, Mom! will surely never forget it. Steve Biodrowski at Hollywood Gothique feels that Hollywood's Theatre 68 Halloween Haunted House, which runs through October 31st on Sunset Boulevard, "is the closest anyone has ever come to realizing our dream of a haunted house attraction, which would be a Halloween version of the interactive ”Be Black, Baby” sequence from Brian De Palma’s early black comedy, Hi, Mom!" Biodrowski describes the Theatre 68 haunted house further by contrasting it with Universal's:

In a dramatic sense, Theatre 68 succeeds where Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios fails: Universal’s theme park Halloween attraction promises to make you feel as if you have entered into a horror movie, but the experience is more like walking through a living museum recreating horror hits from your favorite franchise; even without a proscenium arch, you are one step removed from the scenes that play out in front of you, and you get the feeling they would continue with or without your presence. Theatre 68, on the other hand, really makes you feel like an active participant; in fact, you are the centerpiece of the show, which cannot go on with you. There are many Halloween haunts that hurl horrors of every kind at you; Theatre 68 is the only haunted house that truly immerses you in the action every step of the way.

Posted by Geoff at 11:13 AM CDT
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