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Wednesday, March 10, 2010
At last week's Independent Spirit Awards, Micah Sloat, who starred in Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity, was asked by MTV News if he knew which director might be stepping up to take over the planned sequel. "I know a lot I can't tell you," Sloat told MTV News. "It's really interesting — the whole director drama with the Saw director. That's been public. All I can tell you is that I'm very excited for the project. It's really cool. It's gonna be really interesting, and it's not going to suck, which most horror sequels you would imagine would. We have money now, but we're staying true to the heart of the movie, to the spirit of it and to the vision."

Posted by Geoff at 1:33 PM CST
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Monday, March 8, 2010
Last night's Academy Awards show included a tribute to horror films that was, incidentally, preceded by a parody of Paranormal Activity, in which co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are seen rolling around in bed together before Martin wakes up, walks to Baldwin's side of the bed and, after looming over him for a long time, suddenly slaps him in the face. The horror montage that followed was introduced by Twilight's Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, and included a clip from Brian De Palma's Carrie.

Posted by Geoff at 12:44 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, March 11, 2010 12:09 AM CST
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Friday, March 5, 2010
After months of avoiding any kind of political slant toward the war in Iraq whatsoever in discussing her film The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow told 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl last week that her film is anti-war. Days before the CBS telecast, Bigelow confirmed to The Envelope's Steve Pond that The Hurt Locker is "definitely taking a very specific position" on the Iraq war, and war in general:

Pond: I keep reading about how the movie doesn’t take a political point of view, but it seems clear to me that you have a pretty strong point of view. As you say, it's a hellish situation and we have no business sending our men into it.
Bigelow: Well, that’s certainly my feeling. I’m a child of the ‘60s, and I see war as hell, and a real tragedy, and completely dehumanizing. You know, those are some of the great themes of our time, and we made a real effort to portray the brutality and the futility of this conflict.

Pond: So you would say that the movie does indeed take a stance?
Bigelow: I guess my feeling is that graphic portrayals of innocent children killed by bombs, and soldiers incapable of surviving catastrophic explosions … I think that’s pretty clear. And then also, to add to that, the movie opens with a quote, “The rush to battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” So it’s definitely taking a very specific position.

Bigelow's description of The Hurt Locker marks a decided contrast from earlier interviews, where she seemed to want to distance her film from works like Brian De Palma's Redacted and Paul Haggis' In The Valley Of Elah (adapted from an article by Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal)-- works that took undeniable stands against the war in Iraq, but were met with indifference at the box office and in the press. Bigelow's confession comes after much acclaim for her film, so perhaps now she feels more confident that being clear about the movie's point of view will not hurt the film's chances for success (especially since it has already played theaters and is already available on DVD). But articles such as FOX News' James Pinkerton's, in which he states that the reason for the Hurt Locker's success over most other Iraq-related films is its "quietly pro-war" stance, are suddenly more complicated. The film will surely continue to be looked at as mostly apolitical, but Bigelow's clear statements may lead viewers to rethink what her movie is trying to say.

John Pilger's rant against the Oscars ("Why the Oscars are a Con"), in which he called out filmmakers for being "pimps for a world view devoted to control and destruction," made the rounds a couple of weeks ago. Pilger derides The Hurt Locker as another in a tradition of American war films that glorify psychopaths as heroes:

I only fully understood the power of the con when I was sent to Vietnam as a war reporter. The Vietnamese were “gooks” and “Indians” whose industrial murder was preordained in John Wayne movies and sent back to Hollywood to glamourise or redeem.

I use the word murder advisedly, because what Hollywood does brilliantly is suppress the truth about America’s assaults. These are not wars, but the export of a gun-addicted, homicidal “culture”. And when the notion of psychopaths as heroes wears thin, the bloodbath becomes an “American tragedy” with a soundtrack of pure angst.

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is in this tradition. A favourite for multiple Oscars, her film is “better than any documentary I’ve seen on the Iraq war. It’s so real it’s scary” (Paul Chambers CNN). Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian reckons it has “unpretentious clarity” and is “about the long and painful endgame in Iraq” that “says more about the agony and wrong and tragedy of war than all those earnest well-meaning movies”.

What nonsense. Her film offers a vicarious thrill via yet another standard-issue psychopath high on violence in somebody else’s country where the deaths of a million people are consigned to cinematic oblivion. The hype around Bigelow is that she may be the first female director to win an Oscar. How insulting that a woman is celebrated for a typically violent all-male war movie.

Before ranting similar disdain for James Cameron's Avatar, Pilger stops to contrast the fate of De Palma's "admirable" Redacted:

By contrast, the fate of an admirable American war film, Redacted, is instructive. Made in 2007 by Brian De Palma, the film is based on the true story of the gang rape of an Iraqi teenager and the murder of her family by American soldiers. There is no heroism, no purgative. The murderers are murderers, and the complicity of Hollywood and the media in the epic crime in Iraq is described ingeniously by De Palma. The film ends with a series of photographs of Iraqi civilians who were killed. When it was order that their faces be ordered blacked out “for legal reasons”, De Palma said, “I think that’s terrible because now we have not even given the dignity of faces to this suffering people. The great irony about Redacted is that it was redacted.” After a limited release in the US, this fine film all but vanished.

Meanwhile, Armond White at the New York Press has made a splash by shouting, "Wake Up and Smell the Oscars: They Stink! (Or why Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t need to win a statue because she’s better than that.)" White rants against the hegemony of Oscar prognostication in the media and film circles at the expense of any discussion of the art involved. White, who had originally written highly of The Hurt Locker, later began to state time and again in his reviews of other films that The Hurt Locker was "now overrated" by others. Recently, he mentioned Bigelow's film in two separate reviews of films released around Valentine's Day. In his review of Lasse Hallstrom's Dear John, White wrote:

Dear John could be The Hurt Locker of romantic movies when Green Beret Staff Sergeant John Tyree (Channing Tatum) loses his stateside girlfriend Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) while serving his country in Iraq. The film has little feeling for military experience, or the sense of patriotic duty that John enunciates during the opening narration: “I am a coin in the United States Army. My edges have been rimmed and beveled. I have two [bullet] holes in me, so I’m no longer in perfect condition."

John’s reference to coins and wounds makes a trenchant metaphor for his humble sense of sacrifice and exploitation. As one young man among millions, he takes a thankless military commission that many civilians presume is ordinary. John represents the type of heroism to which most people pay lip service but little real attention—unless it is politically convenient, like The Hurt Locker passing off action-genre tropes (and fashionable pessimism) as a true response to war. It’s worth appreciating that Dear John is just a different form of similar sentimentality. As in The Hurt Locker, the audience’s war fatigue is what’s exploited.

The civilian scenes where John and Savannah meet, fall in love and attempt to negotiate their future together don’t reference the current political moment except that the war seems far away—unconnected to people’s daily preoccupations. Sappy director Lasse Hallstrom only glancingly identifies John as the type of working-class Southern white boy who joins-up. John’s motivation—isolated from his disabled, uncommunicative father—(Richard Jenkins) isn’t any more serious than Jeremy Renner’s bogus pathology in The Hurt Locker. It’s a sentimental cliché.

A few days later, in his review of Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day, White called Julia Roberts' cameo, in which she "impersonates an Iraq war vet," a "mushy subplot" that was more significant than The Hurt Locker in that it "normalizes the war as a now acceptable—even heartwarming—part of contemporary American experience."

Posted by Geoff at 2:41 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, March 7, 2010 8:08 PM CST
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Monday, March 1, 2010
Reading over the many web postings the past few days about the possibility of Brian De Palma directing the sequel to Paranormal Activity, it is a little surprising how shocked many people are by the prospect. I think a lot of people overlook the idea that a sequel to this sort of movie can essentially be an entirely new movie-- clearly, regardless of the screenplay (which may or may not have been completed yet), if De Palma were to sign on for the project, he would be making a Brian De Palma film. And clearly, if Paramount is considering hiring De Palma to direct the film, the whole reason they would do so is because they would expect a Brian De Palma film. Okay, so if the project were to be a go, De Palma would have the freedom to make a film dealing with the paranormal, which itself offers up myriad possibilities of visual storytelling, which happens to be his thing. The film brand ("Paranormal Activity") being what it is, and with a release date already being hyped, it would be a showcase already primed by the machine-- a showcase for whichever director takes on the project. As a De Palma fan, I would love to see him work in this genre with this kind of freedom, and a built-in audience that would hopefully be surprised. The film may happen with De Palma, or it may not, but it sounds like a very good idea.

Posted by Geoff at 2:55 AM CST
Updated: Monday, March 1, 2010 2:59 AM CST
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Just days after getting an update on Brian De Palma's latest projects comes an unexpected report from Steven Zeitchik at the L.A. Times' 24 Frames blog. According to Zeitchik, Paramount is "seriously considering a trio of more experienced directors" to take on the sequel to Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity, the phenomenon shot for $10,000 that is still frightening audiences around the world. Steven Spielberg helped convince Dreamworks (which at the time was being aquired by Paramount) to distribute the film, eventually suggesting a different ending for the film in the process. The film was memorably promoted with ads showing audiences reacting to what was happening on the screen. Months ago, Paramount announced a release date for Paranormal 2-- October 22 2010. However, the director hired for the sequel, Kevin Greutert, who had directed Saw VI, was optioned back by Lionsgate for Saw VII 3D, which will also be released October 22nd. So Paramount has been searching for a director. Besides De Palma, the other two directors with genre experience being considered, according to Zeitchik, are Brad Anderson (Transiberian) and Greg McLean (Wolf Creek). Zeitchik states that the film currently has no director or actors attached, and that the screenplay is still being worked on.

My feeling is that De Palma's name attached to the sequel would make it stand out above the Saw sequel that comes out the same day. This is a project that De Palma could have a lot of fun with, bringing in a potential whopper of a film on time and under budget. It also has the potential to further some of the modern storytelling techniques he played around with in Redacted. Beyond all of that, it is no wonder Paramount would consider De Palma for a project such as this-- De Palma has had his two biggest hits (in terms of grosses) with Paramount: Mission: Impossible and The Untouchables. The question might be, will De Palma consider Paranormal Activity 2...?

Posted by Geoff at 11:42 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, February 25, 2010 12:09 AM CST
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Monday, February 22, 2010
It's been a while since our last update on Brian De Palma's latest projects, so we got the word from the man himself. The director says he is still trying to cast The Boston Stranglers, which Gale Anne Hurd's Valhalla Motion Pictures is producing. Also still in the works is Tabloid, the John Edwards-inspired thriller being produced by the Film Farm. De Palma also confirms that he has indeed been working with Paul Williams on a stage production of Phantom Of The Paradise, with the original film's Ed Pressman producing. One project has fallen by the wayside, however, as De Palma said he is no longer involved with William Boyd's The Blue Afternoon.

Posted by Geoff at 8:48 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 10:01 AM CST
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Paul Williams will be a keynote speaker at Canadian Music Week 2010, which runs from March 10-14 in Toronto. Williams will appear on Saturday, March 13, to present his keynote address, and will also perform on the “Kings of Songwriting” panel as part of the fest's Songwriters’ Summit. One day earlier, Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise (for which Williams wrote the songs and in which he plays evil record mogul Swan) will be screened as part of the Canadian Music Week Film Festival. Phantom screens at 9pm March 12th.

Posted by Geoff at 12:32 AM CST
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Friday, February 12, 2010
Mark Romanek, who was one of the students who made Home Movies with mentor Brian De Palma in 1979, had put a lot of energy into making The Wolfman before quitting over budget issues just before filming was to begin. According to a CHUD interview with Joe Johnston, the director who took over the project, Romanek had left behind some choice ingredients. Armond White at the New York Press concludes his mostly negative review of "the loudest horror film ever made" with a discussion of Romanek's vision, citing De Palma a few times along the way:

Here’s a puzzle for film historians: The Wolfman was conceptualized by music video director Mark Romanek, who studied under Brian De Palma on 1980’s Home Movies. Although Romanek left The Wolfman before capable Joe Johnston took over direction, this is the most complete representation of Romanek’s sensibility yet to reach the big screen. Every shot features enormous artistic detail (Romanek’s encyclopedic visual mastery). It is sumptuously art-directed with Gainsborough interiors and exquisitely photographed (by Shelly Johnson) so that moonlight, candlelight and dust motes play in a single shot. And the genuinely malevolent slaughter scenes evoke Goya’s richly tragic disasters. This isn’t sentimental cruelty like Peter Jackson’s silly King Kong remake nor Sam Raimi’s ridiculous Drag Me to Hell. But like De Palma’s grievous violence, it’s artful.

At the core of Del Toro’s performance is the same Oedipal anguish as De Palma’s Raising Cain; and though a father-son werewolf clash turns ludicrous, there’s a final flourish straight out of The Fury. Best of all is a liebestod, staged Romanek-style against a jugendstil waterfall where Lawrence grabs Gwen’s wrist—a shocking gesture of love just like the climax of Carrie. What’s missing from The Wolfman is De Palma’s sophisticated, humorous purpose, as Romanek surely intended.

Posted by Geoff at 7:04 PM CST
Updated: Friday, February 12, 2010 7:07 PM CST
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010
If you've been looking to complete your collection of music from Brian De Palma's cinematically sumptuous adaptation of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, your task just got a little easier. Yesterday, k.d. lang released Recollection, a two-CD set that includes, finally, her version of Cole Porter's Love For Sale as performed in The Black Dahlia. Meanwhile, yesterday, I learned something I hadn't realized: the music on the soundtrack during the Man Who Laughs sequence (where the three friends are watching the silent movie at the theater) was done by Mark Isham's assistant, Cindy O'Connor. You can hear the track, titled The Man Who Grimaces, in full at O'Connor's MySpace page.

Posted by Geoff at 12:12 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 12:16 PM CST
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Tuesday, February 9, 2010
A new book out today by TIME magazine's Jim Frederick examines the real life story of the soldiers whose actions inspired the Brian De Palma film Redacted. Frederick's Black Hearts draws on interviews with soldiers from the unit known as "the Black Heart Brigade," with a critical eye toward the leadership, or lack thereof, involved in the soldiers' day-to-day activities. The book, subtitled "One Platoon's Descent Into Madness In Iraq's Triangle Of Death," does not mention De Palma's film. TIME magazine is running two excerpts this week: "The Downward Spiral of Private Steven Green", and "Anatomy of an Iraq War Crime".

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the New York Times' A. O. Scott posted an essay about the apolitical approach to the Iraq and Afghansitan wars taken by Kathryn Bigelow and others. Scott notes the cluster of war films from 2007 that dared to deal with the politics involved:

There have been some exceptions to this rule. Brian De Palma’s “Redacted” and Paul Haggis’s “In the Valley of Elah,” released in fall 2007, questioned the war in Iraq, one in anger and the other in sorrow and both with emphasis on the effects of the fighting on men in the field. Other films from that year, like Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs” and Gavin Hood’s “Rendition,” tried to dramatize debates then unfolding in the public sphere about the justice or prudence of American policy. None of these movies were particularly successful, either with audiences or in their earnest, cautious attempts to frame the issues of post-9/11 geopolitics.

It may be that movies, at least as they are currently made and consumed, can’t bridge the gulf between the theater of war and the arena of politics. It is also probably true that the soldiers who are the main characters in fictional and nonfictional war movies don’t talk much about the larger context in which they struggle to survive and get the job done.

Speaking of the politics involved in Redacted, Screen Addict takes De Palma and company to task for the film's product placement deals:

Amongst the credits – after a montage of gruesome and horrific war images – De Palma and his Producers (clearly unaware of the inherent irony) thank numerous luminaries of the military-industrial complex, including Samsung, Toshiba and Panasonic (all electronics manufacturers who have developed goods for military means, earning shedloads of money in the process).

Most notable among the ‘Product Placement Thanks’ is Nokia, a long-term army supplier across the world and a recent industrial partner of Siemens, a company notorious for their operation of factories which were converted into Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. More pertinent to the Middle East, however, is a Nokia-Siemens partnership which sparked controversy – albeit since the release of Redacted – for its plans to provide Iran with telecommunication systems that would allow unprecedented monitoring of its already repressed citizens.

All this is not to suggest that films should be made without the assistance of these companies, or that we should somehow boycott every product that has an investment in the military-industrial complex, these are businesses after all, and military is big, big business.

But with Redacted, Brian De Palma (and his Producers) seem to be taking goods and/or money from such organisations on the one hand, and seeming to preach against the interests of these organisations on the other. Call it an act of subversion if you will, but it seems to be just another symptom of the confused creative approach to a frequently confusing war.

Posted by Geoff at 5:25 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 8:46 PM CST
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