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Wednesday, June 30, 2010
MUIR LINKS BASTERDS TO SCARFACE
AS WELL AS TO THE AFOREMENTIONED CARRIE

Back when Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds was released last summer, I posted a link to an interview in which Tarantino agreed with Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf that there was a Carrie influence in his film's movie theater climax. A reader named Luu commented on my post, suggesting that there were also images in Tarantino's film that brought to mind De Palma's Blow Out and Scarface. John Kenneth Muir, who did an insightful serial survey of De Palma's work on his blog last year, just recently watched Inglourious Basterds for the first time, and discovered some intriguing links to De Palma's Carrie and Scarface:

Some scholars and pundits have suggested that [Inglourious Basterds] is morally facile, a simple revenge picture that makes the American Basterds (Jewish-American soldiers...) as reprehensible as the Nazis they fight in Europe; but that doesn't seem legitimately the case.

Tarantino's focus isn't necessarily on brutal, bloody violence, but on power, and how it feels to be the party without it. The Basterds in the film, as well as a Jewish cinema owner named Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent), exact violent retribution against the Nazis, it is true. But, oddly -- in almost every situation -- it feels not like eye-for-an-eye Draconian violence, but rather an assertion or re-assertion of self, or self-actualization, if that's possible.

This is why, I suspect, the film's fiery final sequence quotes extensively from De Palma's Carrie (1976) and the famous sequence at the Prom. Both movies concern the victimized pushed too far, taking back the power for themselves in an apocalyptic showdown.

Later in his essay, Muir returns to this idea:

Given the importance of movie history and film in Inglorious Basterds, I find it fascinating that the last act in the film quotes so heavily from the work of Brian De Palma.

I mentioned Carrie at the Prom vs. Shoshanna at the Premiere, but it's much more than that too.

Notice, for instance, that the interior of Shoshanna's cinema is colored and designed to resemble the palatial interior of Tony Montana's Miami home in Scarface. There are staircases bracketing both sides of the central hall, with a ledge above -- on the second floor -- and, finally, a room (in the center of the frame...) leading back to a private domain (office or auditorium).

In Scarface, this grand hall is where Tony goes out in a blaze of glory ("Say Hello to My Little Friend..."). In a very real way, that's also Shoshanna's fate.

Both characters also share something else in common: they went from being powerless, to possessing all the power. Only in Tony's case, he misused and abused that power (through a drug haze). By contrast, our sympathies remain with Shoshanna throughout Inglourious Basterds. She is setting things right (and ending the war...), not committing a cocaine-addled suicide.

Why quote De Palma so extensively here? Well, we know that Carrie is in Tarantino's top five favorite film list (at least last time I checked). But the images and compositions that recall De Palma are well picked for reasons of theme and recognition too. Both Carrie at the Prom: the victim taking out the victimizers and Tony's last stand: a staccato suicide by machine gun -- embody an important part of our contemporary pop culture lexicon. Carrie is about the effect that cruelty has on a person, even a good person. And Scarface is about power corrupting, absolutely. Shoshanna may be Carrie; and Hitler may be Tony Montana, in some sense..


Posted by Geoff at 1:02 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

ADRIAN MARTIN ON ALAIN RESNAIS' WILD GRASS

Adrian Martin begins his Sight & Sound review of Alain Resnais' Wild Grass with the following:

It starts like a Brian De Palma movie, in a mode of full exhilaration. Shots of feet take us to a chic shopping centre. A voice-over informs us that a woman – Marguerite (Sabine Azéma), whose face will not be fully seen from the front until six and half minutes into the film – has special shoe requirements, and this specialness is what will kick off ‘the incident’ (the title of Christian Gailly’s novel) at the heart of the narrative. Point-of-view rules, but on a split register: both the character’s sensorial experience of her surroundings, and the camera’s insistent display of its own, peculiar way of seeing things. Sudden bursts of slow-motion linger on the saleswoman who thrills Marguerite (it is her secret), and eventually on the roller-blading thief who snatches her purse. Mark Snow’s musical score soars. Within the shoe shop itself, we could almost be watching a scene from Sex and the City: a rapid but luxuriant montage surveys shelves, brands, boxes.

Straight away, Alain Resnais’ masterful new film announces its proudly mixed-up character. Resnais is a director who has always complicated drama with comedy, realism with surrealism, philosophy with pop culture – and vice versa. Invention and surprise are his watchwords: as the French critic François Thomas once remarked, Resnais’ gambit as an artist is to outrage or confound viewers at the start of a film, but hold them in their seats to the very end.

RESNAIS AS OVERLOOKED INSPIRATION FOR DE PALMA
At the start of De Palma's 1962 short film Woton's Wake, the camera briefly pans over a set of books on a shelf. Included on that shelf amongst published screenplays by Ingmar Bergman, film theory books by Sergei M. Eisenstein, V.I. Pudovkin, and others, are separate published screenplays for two early films by Resnais: Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year At Marienbad. Armed with this fact, one can detect a seemingly conscious (though perhaps subconscious) strain of Marienbad in De Palma's early feature Murder a la Mod. The influence of Resnais on De Palma's work is worth investigating, especially now that it has come full circle to where a major critic sees De Palma in late-period Resnais.


Posted by Geoff at 11:35 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, April 7, 2013 5:45 PM CDT
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Sunday, June 20, 2010
SRAGOW ON DRESSED TO KILL AT 30
AS PSYCHO TURNS 50
Next month marks 30 years since Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill caused a sensation in theaters across America. As The Baltimore Sun's Michael Sragow suggests, there has been a lot of discussion about Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which turned 50 this past week, "but nothing about the 30th anniversary of Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill." Sragow fills in that gap as a preview to tonight's screening of De Palma's classic at Baltimore's AFI Silver, calling De Palma "cinema's most underrated virtuoso." De Palma wrote the script "as if designing a set of booby-trapped Chinese boxes," writes Sragow. "The people he put inside them are one of the best ensembles ever to inhabit a blood thriller." I love what Sragow writes below about the subway scene, something that always strikes me as absurd everytime I watch the film, but in a kind of surrealist joke kind of way:

For all of its shocks, Dressed to Kill is often subtle and delicate. [Angie] Dickinson ponders picking up a sharkish-looking man in an art museum -- and De Palma registers every shift in her changeable mood with camera moves as poetic as the paintings on the walls. The film contains a terrific dated joke: at one point, [Nancy] Allen, pursued by the film's maniacal killer, runs into a subway station fit for Walter Hill's The Warriors. In 1980, before the city cleaned up its act, audiences roared at the sight of a woman seeking safety in the New York City subways.

But most of Dressed to Kill is timeless. With its most explicit surge of violence coming fairly early, this movie is a whodunit that's also a let's-hope-he-won't-do-it-again. In every decade from the 1960s on, De Palma has done terrific work. Why do you think we hear so little about Dressed to Kill and The Fury and De Palma's first masterpiece, Blow Out, also from his late-70s/early 80s heyday?

DTK PART OF "MASTERPIECES AD INFINITUM" EXHIBIT AT CENTRE POMPIDOU-METZ
Meanwhile, The Centre Pompidou-Metz opened last month in Metz, France, and according to The National's Natasha Edwards, features an exhibition titled "Chefs-d’oeuvre?" which "investigates the notion of the masterpiece." One of the galleries in this exhibit is titled "Masterpieces Ad Infinitum," which, according to Edwards, "covers the eclectic media, complexity and referentialism of contemporary art, where uniqueness and craftsmanship no longer apply, yet the notion curiously persists. In one room, three screens simultaneously show us suave James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which influenced the gallery scene in Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, which is brilliantly parodied in Brice Dellsperger’s spoof Body Double 15."


Posted by Geoff at 12:54 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, June 20, 2010 1:12 PM CDT
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Thursday, June 17, 2010
M:I ONE OF TEN BEST "PURE HOLLYWOOD ACTION" MOVIES
PLUS: A YOUNG ADULT PARANORMAL THRILLER HAS DE PALMA POTENTIAL

Simon Brew at Den Of Geek has thought long and hard about it, and has now posted his list of "The 12 best pure Hollywood action movies of the 1990s." At number 10 is Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, which Brew feels is De Palma's "last great movie." While I find the film brilliant, De Palma has actually made even better films since then, but here is what Brew writes about Mission: Impossible:

Mission: Impossible is a tight, taut action thriller, featuring some terrific set piece sequences (the kind that De Palma continually excels at).

It's also got a terrific cast, and one that Tom Cruise is happy to sit more as an ensemble member of (unlike, say, Mission: Impossible III). For while he's front and centre of the film for good chunks, just look at the memorable names around him. Vanessa Redgrave eats up the screen as Max, while the likes of Jean Reno, Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Beart and Ving Rhames are each good value, too. It'd be remiss not to mention David Schneider popping up right at the end, too.

But the thing we most take away from Mission: Impossible are wonderfully set-up action moments. De Palma knows how to wring maximum tension out of these, and it's his discipline in putting these sequences together that was sorely missed in the overblown first sequel. Furthermore, Mission: Impossible also benefits from a lean running time, meaning you're not left focussing too heavily on the occasionally over-wrought plot that the MI team are trying to uncover. Instead, you're just left to enjoy one of the very best action thrillers of the 90s.

YOUNG ADULT FILM FRANCHISE SOUNDS LIKE A MATCH FOR DE PALMA
While we're on the subject of kicking off franchises with a bang, The Hollywood Reporter's Jay A. Fernandez reported yesterday that Paramount and MTV Films will adapt the best-selling young adult paranormal thriller novel Wake. According to Fernandez, "Wake is the first of three novels written by [Lisa] McMann about a 17-year-old girl named Janie with the unwanted ability to become sucked into people’s dreams. Not surprisingly, she sees things she would rather not see. But when she gets pulled into a terrible nightmare, Janie dangerously goes from mere witness to participant." The script is being written by Christopher Landon, who co-wrote the Rear Window-esque Disturbia. This sounds like a project that would have huge potential for someone like Brian De Palma. I almost forgot to mention: Miley Cyrus is being talked about for the lead, but she wants to see the script first. I also forgot to mention: Paranormal Activity 2 producers Steven Schneider and Jason Blum are involved in this project, as well.


Posted by Geoff at 12:50 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010
UPCOMING FEATURE LOOKS AT PHANTOM LOVE
PLUS: FINLEY & GRAHAM AT THIS SUMMER'S ROCK CON IN NEW JERSEY
An upcoming dramatic feature film called Phantom Love will attempt to shed light on why the city of Winnipeg was so taken with Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise in 1975. Winnipeg filmmaker Paula Kelly has displayed a consistent interest in Winnipeg history in her films. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, Phantom Love is one of several features Kelly plans to make with funds from her prizes as recipient of the first ever Manitoba Film Hothouse Award for Creative Development. According to the article, the film will tell the story of a 15-year-old girl during the "'gritty, grimy' winter of 1975, when the city -- including Kelly herself -- embraced the horror-musical movie Phantom of the Paradise with a fervor unique in the world." The article continues, "Kelly believes it was our bleak surroundings that compelled us to escape into Phantom's 'glittery glam-rock world.'" Kelly herself was 15 years old in 1975, so there definitely appears to be an autobiographical nature to this project.

In other Phantom news, Gerrit Graham and William Finley are two of several "Horror Rock Stars" set to appear at this year's Rock Con: Weekend of 100 Rock Stars, taking place July 30 - August 1 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Posted by Geoff at 1:05 AM CDT
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Monday, June 14, 2010
HOW ARE THE "MOVIE BRATS" TODAY?
CRITIC SAYS COPPOLA & DE PALMA ARE REINVENTING

In an article about Francis Ford Coppola posted today at The Telegraph, critic Sheila Johnston offers a brief assessment of Coppola's fellow "movie brats": "Today some of his peers are making gaudy, hollow baubles (Martin Scorsese); some (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg) are busily tending to their merchandising franchises; others (the Johns Milius and Landis) haven’t directed a feature for years. With the partial exception of Brian De Palma (with his controversial Iraq drama Redacted), Coppola is the only one to have entirely reinvented himself." I'm not sure how Landis wound up included in there (he was never really lumped in with the "movie brats" per se), although he is among their generation. While I do not necessarily agree with her assessments of Scorsese and Spielberg, it is true that De Palma and Coppola are doing the most interesting work of their generation right now. Lucas has talked about going back to making the personal, experimental cinema he's always wanted to make, but doesn't seem to know how to get started.

Johnston's article centers around Coppola's latest release, Tetro, which, along with his previous film, Youth Without Youth, marks his return to personal, independent filmmaking. "I am an amateur filmmaker now," he told Johnston. "They don’t have to pay me to work on a film like Tetro because the payment is just to participate in the cinema, which is a magical medium and one you can keep learning about. That’s my reward. I don’t make films for money. Or for my career." Johnston also offers some very interesting notes on the press release for the film:

Instead of the usual selective litany of career triumphs – and Coppola has enough of those to boast about: The Godfather films, Apocalypse Now, five Oscars, two Palmes d’Or – his official biography in Tetro’s press notes kicks off by describing his “financial hardship” and “years of 'work for hire’ – the disdainful legal term for those who serve at the pleasure of others”.

Meanwhile, I recently found this Premiere.fr interview with De Palma about Redacted that I don't believe I'd seen before.


Posted by Geoff at 11:07 PM CDT
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Sunday, June 13, 2010
COX'S META MOMENT
COUGAR TOWN ACTRESS REVISITS DANCING WITH SPRINGSTEEN
ABC's Wednesday night comedy block already paid homage to Brian De Palma earlier this year when, on an episode of Modern Family, a baby was calmed by watching Scarface. Following that, a late-season episode of ABC's Cougar Town, which stars Courteney Cox, paid homage to the De Palma-directed Bruce Springsteen video Dancing In The Dark, which starred a then-unknown Courteney Cox. In an article about the possibility of Cox receiving an Emmy nod for her work on the show, The Envelope's Glenn Whipp refers to this "meta moment," and quotes from Cox and the show's co-creator Bill Lawrence:

"I think people think she's just a personality playing an extension of herself when, in fact, she's not like the people she's playing," Lawrence says. "Courteney is beautiful. It looks easy for her. She doesn't seem like an underdog. She doesn't get as much credit for working as hard as she has."

That point hit home for Lawrence in the late-season "Cougar Town" episode when Jules' teen son flips through her old high school yearbook and comes across a picture of Mom onstage dancing with Bruce Springsteen. It's a meta moment, recalling the actual Brian De Palma-directed music video that had Cox, then 20, playing a fan pulled on stage to go dancing in the dark with the Boss.

"If people remember that young girl super-excited to get a part where she grabs Bruce Springsteen's hand and dances like an idiot, they'd see her in a different light," Lawrence says. "She has had to fight, just like everyone else."

Cox has a slightly different take, not about the fighting or the dancing "like an idiot" part, but about using the clip in the first place.

"I thought it was too wink-wink, but Bill convinced me to do it, and he was right," Cox says, laughing. "I fought it because I knew I'd have to watch the video again. I looked it up on YouTube right before we shot the scene. Can I just say one thing to get it out there? I'm a much better dancer now."

Below is a transcript of the scene from the episode called Breakdown, as pictured in this post:

Jules: Oh, you got your yearbook.

Travis: Besides my senior photo, there’s like one picture of me, and it’s with Mr. Goolsbey, the creepy woodshop teacher.

Jules: [laughs] Why do you have your hands on his breasts?

Travis: Because I was pretending to push him into the bandsaw, but they cropped that part out.

Jules: Bummer for you, dude. What happened to Mr. I-don’t-care-about-high-school?

Travis: What was I supposed to say? I didn’t make any mark at all.

Jules: The only thing that matters is that you got through it. It’s not like I made some big splash in high school.

Travis: Really!? Because I got your yearbook…

Jules: [nervous laughter] Well, we don’t need to look through that, I mean, I’m barely in it.

Travis: [opening book] Look—inside cover, you as the prom queen.

Jules: Yeah, I got 98% of the vote, but, you know, whatever. And it’s only one thing. It doesn’t mean I was super cool.

Travis: Is this you dancing on stage with Bruce Springsteen?

Jules: Yeah, that was super cool. [she starts dancing like they did in the video]

Travis: [disgusted] Stop it.

Jules: [still dancing] I’m sorry. [she turns and dances out of the room]


Posted by Geoff at 10:25 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, June 13, 2010 10:27 PM CDT
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Thursday, June 10, 2010
PASSION FOR THE FURY
"DELIRIOUS, BOUNDARY-PUSHING CINEMA AT ITS HIGHEST FORM"
Kenji Fujishima discovered Brian De Palma's The Fury on DVD last weekend, and calls it "delirious, boundary-pushing cinema at or very near its highest form." With that I concur completely. Fujishima breaks down The Fury's operatic slow-motion escape sequence, with selected captures from the scene. "De Palma—more so than in his previous film Carrie," states Fujishima, "creates a world in the film, but not just a visual one: He practically evokes a whole emotional universe, one keyed intensely into the broiling anxieties of its telekinetic pre-pubescent characters, Gillian and Robin."

Posted by Geoff at 1:41 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010
A.O. SCOTT ON CARRIE
"A GRAND COMIC OPERA"
A.O. Scott at the New York Times posted a Critics' Pick Video essay this week about Brian De Palma's Carrie. Stating that the film "is like the combination of an after school special and a horror movie," Scott praises Carrie as "a grotesque, scary, comical, psycho-sexual tour de force." Elaborating, Scott continues, "Sometimes in the space of a single scene, the film pivots from B-movie exploitation to profound and disturbing insight. Brian De Palma is a master of both. None of the technical tricks or stylish flourishes feels at all superfluous. The feverish color scheme matches the lurid theme. The musical cues wiggily summon the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock, and together with the editing and the pacing, keep us in a perpetual state of uneasy suspense. And there's an artificial quality to the camerawork that makes everything feel more nightmarish than real." Scott then goes into a discussion of the acting performances in the film before concluding, "Gothic and extreme as it is, Carrie is fundamentally a coming-of-age story. Stephen King, for all his sensationalism, has an acute understanding of human psychology, and Carrie captures both the emotional volatility of the world of female adolescence, and the terrifying power of female sexuality. This is not a simple horror movie or revenge fantasy. It's a grand comic opera about innocence, shame, and anger. And it's exactly because Carrie is so small, so innocent, so helpless, that her rage inspires such awe."

Posted by Geoff at 11:34 AM CDT
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Monday, June 7, 2010
HIRSCH AT BLOW OUT SCREENING TUESDAY
PAIRED WITH FEMME FATALE AT THE NEW BEVERLY


Film editor Paul Hirsch will be on hand for a Q&A following a screening of Brian De Palma's Blow Out, which Hirsch edited, Tuesday June 8 at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. The Q&A will be moderated by Ain't It Cool News' Jeremy Smith. Aside from Blow Out, Hirsch has worked with De Palma on numerous films, including Hi, Mom!, Sisters, Phantom Of The Paradise, Obsession, Carrie, The Fury, Raising Cain, Mission: Impossible, and Mission To Mars. He also worked as editor on the two best Star Wars films, "A New Hope" and The Empire Strikes Back. Also on the inspired bill is De Palma's Femme Fatale, scheduled to start at 9:40pm (Blow Out begins at 7:30pm). The double bill is part of "Phil's Film Explosion Part 2," in which Phil Blankenship, the man responsible for the theater's midnight screenings, focuses on (mostly) 1980s cinema, with an apparent shot to the future with 2002's Femme Fatale. Dennis Cozzalio offers a terrific suggestion for anyone in the Los Angeles area: attend tonight's double bill at the New Bev of Sorority House Massacre and The Slumber Party Massacre to get a taste of the genre that De Palma parodies at the very beginning of the next night's lead-off feature, Blow Out.

Speaking of Hirsch, he recently served as editor on the Robert De Niro/Al Pacino cop/buddy movie Righteous Kill, which I finally watched last week (watch out for SPOILERS here). De Niro and Pacino got a lot of flack for this one, but the project itself I think was a good one to take on. Where De Niro went wrong, I believe, was in taking the project to director Jon Avnet, who has a style akin to television. The script is good, and the idea to cast Pacino opposite DeNiro in this is a good one. However, with that pairing having previously been directed by Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Mann, a stronger director would have worked wonders for this project. That said, there are two sequences that really stand out for being extremely well-edited. The first is a scene where the two cops are being interrogated, and the shots roll at us in rapid succession and from various directions, as the pair are compared to Lennon & McCartney ("not an inch of daylight between them"-- how's that for a contrast to their juxtaposition in The Godfather Part II?). Indeed, De Niro and Pacino tease their interrogators with irreverence as if they were two Beatles at a sixties press conference. A followup scene later in the film becomes a split-screen marvel as the two cops are juxtaposed against each other, and then against themselves, as if we are watching four personalities in the minds of two men. Very creatively done.

Righteous Kill also carries thematic links with De Palma's Snake Eyes. Pacino had turned down the role of Kevin Dunn in the latter film opposite Nicolas Cage's Rick Santoro, but in Righteous Kill his character takes a very similar twist, although the roles in each film, regarding who looks up to who, is reversed. In an odd bit of serendipity, Carla Gugino has been cast in both films as the go-between female figure who is the first to identify the real killer. (John Leguizamo plays a younger cop in Righteous Kill, teaming up with Pacino's cop, but there is no real "Carlito"-type of tension between the two characters in this one.) In the making of docs on the DVD, De Niro says he liked the script, which I agree is a good one, but he should have taken it to a great director. De Palma, Scorsese, Coppola, or Eastwood—even Michael Mann, any of these would have elevated the material, which was already a strong piece of work, especially when combined with the casting.


Posted by Geoff at 12:48 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, June 7, 2010 12:53 PM CDT
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