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Monday, March 15, 2010
Peter Graves, the actor who became famous for his role as Jim Phelps, leader of the Impossible Missions Force on the Mission: Impossible TV series, passed away over the weekend. He was 83. The tributes are proliferating over the web, and some are still bitter about the big twist in Brian De Palma's film adaptation of Mission: Impossible that turned the "heroic" Phelps into a traitor, embittered by the end of the cold war and the subsequent diminishing of his own power and status. Driven by greed, Phelps sells out his fellow spies and, as leader, directs many on his very own team to their own deaths. Nick Leshi at The Man Behind The Curtain calls De Palma's film a "travesty" because of the Phelps turn, calling it "a slap in the face." Yes it was a slap in the face, and it was meant to be. This kind of treason happens in the real world, and here was a great opportunity to take a character whose work is based on deception, and to show that the world he lives in is not as cut and dry as the old TV series might have us believe. These are spies, through and through. John Woo even toyed with the idea of an evil Ethan Hunt in his sequel to De Palma's film (the villain of that film wears a mask to look like the Tom Cruise character). Mitchell Hadley feels that Graves was right to turn down the role in De Palma's film, writing, "You know, just as fans of the show know, that Jim Phelps would never betray his country. Sure, Jon Voight, who winds up playing the role in the movie, is a good actor, as well as a good patriot in real life. But he’s no Jim Phelps, and both you and everyone else knows it." Voight was a great choice for the role, but Graves really should have taken it (if he was actaully ever asked to)-- it would have been fantastic.

Posted by Geoff at 4:35 PM CDT
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Saturday, March 13, 2010
Tonight at 7pm, Recess Activities, Inc., an artist development and exhibition organization, presents "Be Black Baby: A House Party In Response to Brian De Palma’s 1970 film Hi Mom!”. The event is being organized by Simone Leigh, along with Sarina Basta and Karin Schneider, as part of CoBra Class (CoBra stands for the Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists) at Bruce High Quality Foundation University. The event is part of a weekly class that is listed on the Recess website as CoBrAnarch Class, in which participants consider "issues such as nostalgia, the mask, collectivity, authorship and cultural appropriation. Conversations begin in response to films and manifest in the creation of props, performance and more filmmaking." Tonight's event begins with performances at 7pm, followed by a dance party from 9pm to midnight. One of the speakers includes film critic David Edelstein, who is, of course, very familiar with De Palma's cinema.

Posted by Geoff at 12:30 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, March 13, 2010 12:33 AM CST
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Friday, March 12, 2010
According to Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE, Paramount Pictures is expected to unveil a new micro-budget, grassroots-inclined division today called Insurge. Hernandez hears that Insurge, which is "emerging in the wake of the tremendous success of Paranormal Activity," will be lead by Amy Powell, who was instrumental in shepherding the success of that film. Insurge plans 10 films in its first year at $100,000 each. Somehow, Hernandez got a look at the website for the new division-- at the time of this post you're reading, insurgepictures.com directs back to the Paramount home page. However, according to Hernandez, the website asks, "Aren’t you tired of being fed the same movies wrapped in different paper? We want to find and distribute crazy, unpredictable, and hopefully awesome movies - movies that make you want to line up to see at your local theater with all your friends (and us). Movies that a big studio would never release because they’re too risky, too silly, and they don’t star Sandra Bullock.” The site states its intention to develop an online community that will have some input into the films and their promotion.

Posted by Geoff at 3:45 AM CST
Updated: Friday, March 12, 2010 11:39 PM CST
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Thursday, March 11, 2010
Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, which is now playing in cinemas throughout the U.S., swept the César Awards last month, winning best picture, best director, and best actor (Tahar Rahim). The film, about an Arab who rises up in the Mafia while in prison, was also nominated for best foreign film at this year's Oscars. Audiard told the L.A. Times' Chris Lee last month that he wanted A Prophet "to be the anti-Scarface not because I don't like Brian De Palma's Scarface -- I've seen it five times! But there's not much to like about him, and you cannot relate to a character who is all bad." Audiard elaborated on that point last week to Geoff Pevere at the Toronto Star, saying, "Don't get me wrong, I love Brian De Palma's movie and I love the character of Tony Montana. But the reason that I love him is also the reason I wanted to make a very different kind of film. Tony is a character with no interiority at all. He's all surface. Everything you need to know about him is right there. What about a guy about whom you know absolutely nothing? Whose entire character unfolds as you're watching him. That's the challenge that I was interested in. A character like Tony Montana has no ambiguity about him whatsoever. What's interesting to me is a guy about whom we really know nothing, except for a few hints like scars that appear on his back, but whom we follow as he does things we may not approve of or even understand. We watch him becoming a person. That was the kind of character I wanted to create. And to watch."

Posted by Geoff at 11:22 AM CST
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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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