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Tuesday, February 11, 2014
SPEAKING OF NICOLAS CAGE...
NBC'S 'COMMUNITY' CLASS SIGNS UP FOR "NICOLAS CAGE: GOOD OR BAD?"
Last month, NBC's Community returned to the network for its fifth season, and with creator Dan Harmon thankfully back in control of the series. In episode 2, titled "Intro To Teaching", several of the main characters sign up for a class called "Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad?" The instructor, ensuring the class on day one that "there is no answer," gives them the task of watching five Nicolas Cage films, "no marathons-- space out your viewings." Abed, of course, goes on a marathon, and drives himself crazy trying to work out the answer that clearly does not exist. At one point, he has run wires in his apartment with the names of Cage's films clipped onto them in a seemingly endless flow of titles. Crazed, he tells his concerned friends, "If you watch closely at the seven-minute mark in Snake Eyes, you'll notice the moment where an alien arm could have come up and..."

[Annie interrupts] "Abed, it's not worth it! Maybe Nicolas Cage is just... crazy."

Abed responds, "All actors are crazy, Annie. Some crazy actors are good, some are bad, but none of them are neither. There's no such thing as both. Which one is Nicolas Cage, huh? Huh, oh--" [Abed ends in a Nicolas Cage-type spasm].

A year ago, after Harmon was ousted from the show (he missed all of season four), he had lamented at CommuniCon that he never got to do the Nicolas Cage episode he'd wanted to do.

Vulture quoted Harmon discussing the idea: "The thing about Nicolas Cage movies is … unless you’re a total cynical dick, you have to embrace the fact that Nicolas Cage is a pretty good actor. He's done a lot of weird, dumb movies, but that was supposed to be the point of the episode — that Nicolas Cage is a metaphor for God, or for society, or for the self, or something. It’s like — what is Nicolas Cage?"

Perhaps taking an obsessive cue from Abed, I captured the frame at the seven-minute mark of Snake Eyes... as well as every seven minutes after that. You can see the frames below:


Posted by Geoff at 11:02 PM CST
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Monday, February 10, 2014
NICOLAS CAGE ON 'PHANTOM', IN 2009:
"THAT'S THE FILM THAT MADE ME WANT TO MAKE MOVIES"
I hadn't seen this before, but stumbled upon it just now. It's an article by HitFix's Drew McWeeny from March 2009, in which McWeeny visits the set of Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass. We have previously noted Vaughn's love of some of De Palma's gangster movies, but here McWeeny notes the resemblance of the mask worn by Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass to that of the Phantom in Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise. The mask complements a costume that was inspired by Batman's, and both mark a change from the comic book version of the Big Daddy costume, which was more a sort of ski mask and a trench coat.

In McWeeny's article, he writes about seeing Cage walk onto the set in costume. "My first thought when I see him is Phantom Of The Paradise," writes McWeeny. "The costume looks like someone's homemade attempt to duplicate the black-sculpted body armor look of the new Batman movies, but the mask, especially when you see it in profile, is absolutely a nod to Phantom. There's no missing that crazy pointed beak face thing. So just seeing Cage, I start to smile. It's not what Big Daddy looked like in the comics, and Cage isn't trying to look paunchy or fat the way the character was drawn. Instead, he looks like a guy who takes this all really, really seriously."

Watching Cage working on the set, McWeeny notes that his character seems to be talking, in costume, like Adam West, who played Batman in the '60s TV series. This leads to a very interesting couple of conversations between the two. Here's an excerpt from McWeeny's article:

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Now, keep in mind... before I arrived on set, I was sent an e-mail explaining that I had full access to the set, but I was going to have to keep away from Nic Cage while there because his working process demanded it. Okay. Fair enough. Knowing that, though, I was a little surprised to see Cage walking towards me, taking off the helmet, right after Matthew called cut. I thought he was going to yell at me for laughing during the take, no matter how quiet I was, and for a moment, I envisioned Cage actually having me thrown off the set while he was working.

Instead, he put out his hand and introduced himself. I did the same, and he asked what it was that made me laugh. I could feel Matthew watching me, curious to see what I'd say, so I explained that the choice to use Adam West's cadence was so crazy but so inspired that the laughter was involuntary.

"And I gotta say," I continued, "I love the 'Phantom of the Paradise' mask." He gave me a sharp look, then looked at the mask again and smiled.

"You think so, eh?" He held it sideways for me, so the profile was visible again. Unmistakable. "Do you know that film well?"

"I do," I said. "It's one of my faves. I love De Palma, but that's one of his that I have a special affection for."

"That's the film that made me want to make movies," Nic replied.

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After another take, Cage comes back to discuss with McWeeny the possible influence of Phantom on Darth Vader:
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As Vaughn called cut so they could move the camera for the next round of shots, Nic walked back over to where I was. I could see he had something on his mind, something I assume he'd been thinking about for a while.

"Okay. Let me ask you something. What year was 'Phantom of the Paradise' released?"

"Uhhh... 1974, I think?"

"And what year did 'Star Wars' come out?"

"1977. Definitely."

"Do you think the design of the Phantom had any influence on the design of Darth Vader?"

"Well, sure. All in black. Helmet. Breathing device on the chest. Cape. De Palma was a friend of George's back then. I can totally see that being an influence."

He smiled and, without saying anything else, headed back onto the set. I felt like I'd passed a test of some sort.

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Posted by Geoff at 3:12 AM CST
Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 3:14 AM CST
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Saturday, February 8, 2014
BONG JOON-HO CITES DE PALMA AS INSPIRATION
DURING DOUBLE-INTERVIEW WITH TARANTINO AT BUSAN FEST LAST FALL
Posting the other day from the Berlin International Film Festival, Jeffrey Wells stated that "Journos with geek-leaning tastes are trying to get into the Berlinale screenings of Joon-ho Bong‘s Snowpiercer. I know it’s not going to do it for me so I couldn’t care less. I concluded after seeing Mother that Joon-ho Bong is basically a Brian De Palma pretender. He might not be as 'bad' as Park Chan-wook (Stoker) but he’ll do until the next Chan-wook film comes along."

This led Film Freak Central's Bill Chambers to tweet, "Wells calling Bong Joon-ho a Brian De Palma pretender might be the most ill-informed thing he's ever written in the last two days." (See the whole tweet with responses below.) As we noted in 2009, Wells caught a screening of Mother at that year's Cannes Film Festival, and, writing again at his Hollywood Elsewhere blog, called it "a richly stylized Brian De Palma-esque thriller about a mom who mightily endeavors to prove that her mentally handicapped son, accused of killing a young girl, is innocent. There's no doubting that Bong Joon Ho is a De Palma devotee in the same way that De Palma was a Hitchcock acolyte in the '70s and '80s. Mother was by far the most interesting sit because of his immaculate and exacting composition of each and every element. The result is consistently flourishy and at times operatic -- deliberately unnatural, conspicuously acted, very much a director's film. Ho is coming, however, from a fairly well-worn genre place, although I'll give him points for delivering a surprising third-act twist."

And it turns out that perhaps Wells is on to something with the De Palma comparison. At last fall's Busan International Film Festival, according to Twitch, Joon-ho mentioned that as a kid, he was inspired by American films that he later learned were made by the likes of De Palma and John Carpenter. The trick is that Joon-ho did not yet understand English, and so he developed his imagination by reconstructing the stories of the films in his head.

Joon-ho mentioned this during a double-interview with Quentin Tarantino, moderated by Scott Foundas. Tarantino headed out to the festival just to meet Joon-ho after he'd heard from a mutual friend that they were hanging out with Joon-ho at the fest. Twitch's Kwenton Bellette, who posted the selective transcription of the discussion, wrote that, reportedly, "insiders" were suggesting that Joon-ho had been "extremely unhappy" with edits to Snowpiercer, apparently mandated by the notoriously edit-happy Weinstein Company. Bellette speculated that, as "Weinstein stock", Tarantino had been sent there to calm Joon-ho down, but it seems more likely that Tarantino was simply there because he enjoyed Joon-ho's films.

Joon-Ho's citing of De Palma and Carpenter came after Tarantino answered Foundas' question about which filmmakers from Asia had been an inspiration. Here is What Joon-ho said: "I must say my hero in Korean film must be the director of the original Housemaid, Kim Ki-young. Other than this, when I was a kid we have a Korean American broadcast station. At midnight I would sneak out and watch these very sexual and very violent movies. Later I learned these were films by directors like John Carpenter and Brian De Palma, but at the time I could not understand any English so I reconstructed the stories of them in my head, which greatly helped my imagination."


Posted by Geoff at 4:25 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, February 8, 2014 4:29 PM CST
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Friday, February 7, 2014
NANCY ALLEN 'THROWBACK THURSDAY' PIC
WITH TRAVOLTA & LITHGOW, POST-'BLOW OUT' GET TOGETHER


Nancy Allen posted the above photo to her Facebook page yesterday, with the comment, "Throwback Thursday: Post Blow Out get together with John Travolta and John Lithgow."

Posted by Geoff at 1:06 AM CST
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Thursday, February 6, 2014
TWO MORE TOP TENS FOR 'PASSION'
AND IT LANDS AT #46 ON FILM COMMENT'S 2013 CRITICS POLL


Apparently, I'm really late on this, as it was posted back on December 16th, but the Film Comment 2013 critics poll finds Brian De Palma's Passion landing at number 46. Joel & Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis was voted film of the year. Inside the magazine's January/February issue are the personal bests of individual Film Comment editors and fellow critics, with Passion included on two of them:

Violet Lucca
(Film Comment's Digital Editor)

1. Upstream Color
2. A Touch Of Sin
(Then alphabetical)
The Act Of Killing
Bastards
Emperor Visits The Hell
No
Passion
Spring Breakers
12 Years A Slave
Wadjda

Nathan Lee
(Contributing Editor to Film Comment)

1. Le Pont du Nord
2. "Slumber Party Alien Abduction"
(from V/H/S/2)
3. Gravity
4. Faust
5. Spring Breakers
6. The Lords Of Salem
7. Stranger By The Lake
8. The Grandmaster
9. Passion
10. Dark Skies

Previously: 'PASSION' - 2013 YEAR-END LISTS AND MENTIONS


Posted by Geoff at 6:18 PM CST
Updated: Friday, February 7, 2014 10:31 PM CST
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014
'PHANTOM' IN PHOENIXVILLE & SANTA ROSA
FEBRUARY 14 and FEBRUARY 20, RESPECTIVELY
The digital restoration of Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise will be screened next Friday, February 14th at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. "Celebrate Valentine’s Day at The Colonial with an unconventional love story," Brendan Carr writes of the screening at the Colonial Theatre website. The screening begins at 10:15 pm. (Thanks to the Swan Archives for the news!)

And the following Thursday (February 20th), over in Santa Rosa, California, a double feature of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom Of The Paradise will screen as part of the Cult Film Series at the Roxy 14. The double feature begins at 7pm.

Posted by Geoff at 10:56 PM CST
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'CARRIE' PART OF SPACEK SERIES IN MINNEAPOLIS
SERIES RUNS MONDAYS & TUESDAYS IN FEB. AT TRYLON MICROCINEMA
"Sissy Spacek: Seemingly Lost" is the name of a February film series at The Trylon in Minneapolis. The series of four films began this week with Terrence Malick's Badlands, and includes Brian De Palma's Carrie February 24th and 25th. "Best known for her disarming innocence," states the series' description, "Sissy Spacek boasts an amazing range. Conveying naivete and sadness, her performances reveal a woman who knows exactly where she’s going. The Trylon showcases four of her most complex and challenging roles." The other two films are Robert Altman's 3 Women and Costa-Gavras' Missing.

Writing about the film series, Pioneer Press' Chris Hewitt reminds that "Pauline Kael famously described Spacek as 'a squashed, froggy girl who could go in any direction.' I disagree with Kael's choice of animal -- Spacek's half-formed quality in her early films is more tadpole- than frog-like, and anyway, I'd say her vulnerability has more in common with a baby bird. But Kael is right that one of the thrilling things about these early Spacek performances is that you have no idea what this strange creature is going to do next."

Hewitt states that "Carrie features Spacek's peerlessly sad/scary performance as the title character, a bullied high school student who lashes back after she's pranked at prom. Spacek, 25 when she shot it, has no problem convincing us she's a teenager. Director Brian De Palma's movie is a stylish, bizarrely successful experiment in tone. Piper Laurie, as Carrie's violently fundamentalist mom, behaves as if she's in a comedy, which somehow makes her even more frightening. It launched many a movie career, including Nancy Allen's, Amy Irving's and John Travolta's. But the reason it all hangs together is that you can't take your eyes off Spacek's timid-but-all-powerful Carrie, a victim who declines to be victimized."


Posted by Geoff at 9:19 PM CST
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Monday, February 3, 2014
SHAVIRO: 'HER' IS THE INVERSE OF 'PASSION'
DE PALMA'S "MASTERPIECE" SHOWS "ACTUALITY OF NEOLIBERAL SUBJECTIVITY"


Cultural critic Steven Shaviro, who in recent years has articulated the current post-cinematic atmosphere (in which cinema is no longer a cultural dominant) by way of what he calls "Post-Cinematic Affect" (flows of new media forms in confluence with digital technologies and postmodern capitalism), recently wrote on his blog that he "was quite impressed" with Spike Jonze's Her, "though I didn’t really like it very much. For me, it is more interesting to think about than it actually was to watch." Shaviro suspects that Jonze was attempting to tap into the deep sadness of his previous film, Where The Wild Things Are, "but despite considerable formal inventiveness, he doesn’t quite achieve it this time."

Shaviro continues, "But Jonze does sort of (inadvertently?) display the hollowness of the aching sincerity that has come to prominence in our recent (white, liberal, well-meaning) culture as an impotent reaction formation against the hyper-cynicism of official Capitalist Realism. I vastly prefer the 'post-irony' of films like Joseph Kahn’s Detention to the non-ironic sincerity of Her; but they are both reactions against the same thing, the way that hip irony, or what Sloterdijk long ago called 'cynical reason', is the 'official' affect, as it were, of 'there-is-no-alternative' neoliberal capitalism."

Shaviro concludes, "Ultimately, Her is the exact inverse, or the flip side, of a much better film — Brian De Palma’s recent masterpiece Passion. De Palma shows the actuality of neoliberal subjectivity, in which everything is vicious competition in the service of self-entrepreneurship, with female sexuality as the linchpin of the whole structure. In contrast, Jonze shows neoliberal subjectivity’s self-deluding idealization of itself as total sincerity, maintaing this emotional nakedness and yearning within the parameters of a world in which 'sincerity' can itself only be a commodity, or a form of human capital to bring on the market. And the punchline is that even this self-congratulatory idealization is a weak and unsustainable facade. It is ultimately too hollow and sad to serve even its ideological function. Most self-delusions are self-congratulatory and even megalomaniacal; but Theodore’s self-delusion, which is also that of all the other human beings he meets (or for whom he works, writing 'handwritten' personal letters for other people) is lame, vapid, and devoid of true imaginativeness. Her — rather than The Matrix — is really the film whose motto should be, 'welcome to the desert of the real.'”


Posted by Geoff at 2:05 AM CST
Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 2:07 AM CST
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Saturday, February 1, 2014
'AFTERNOON OF A FAUN' DOC
LOOKS AT LIFE OF TANAQUIL LE CLERCQ, OPENS IN NY WED., BERLIN FEST IN FEB.
Nancy Buirski's documentary Afternoon Of A Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq, looks at the life of "Tanny" Le Clercq, the ballerina for whom choreographer Jerome Robbins created his staging of Afternoon Of A Faun. Brian De Palma has said he'd always been fond of Robbins' version, and adapted it as part of his latest film, Passion. The documentary premiered at the New York Film Festival last year (one year after Passion played there), and will open this Wednesday, February 5th, at Film Society Lincoln Center, and will also screen at the Berlin International Film Festival this month.

Variety's Ronnie Scheib, reviewing the film after its New York screening last October, says the documentary "has a lot going for it: extraordinary footage of the exquisite dancer in signature roles created for her by master choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins; a romantic triangle involving those artistic giants; full-blown tragedy as Le Clercq is struck down by polio in her prime; and enough terrible ironies to fill several documentaries. Questionable emphases sometimes skew the film’s proportions, but between the beauty of the dance imagery and the lyricism of passages culled from Le Clercq’s personal letters, Faun often soars.

"Buirski opens and closes her film with excerpts from the titular Debussy pas de deux, choreographed by Robbins and featuring Le Clercq and partner Jacques d’Amboise. The soft-focus kinescope footage, shot from a particularly felicitous camera angle, highlights the elegant, articulated movement, coltish grace and gestural wit that distinguished the incredibly long-legged Le Clercq from the petite, compact ballerinas that preceded her, inspiring choreographers to experiment with moves they had never before envisioned. Balanchine 'discovered' her at his School of American Ballet when she was 14 and soon shaped many of his seminal ballets around her unique talents...

"Le Clercq became Balanchine’s third wife in 1952, the revered ballet master winning out over her best friend and confidant, Robbins, whose impassioned letters to her fill the soundtrack and whose choreography for her often fills the screen. The docu’s final irony finds a tired Le Clercq postponing her Salk polio vaccine before setting off on the troupe’s European tour, fearing it might further debilitate her, then succumbing to the disease weeks later in Copenhagen."

Below is the BIFF trailer for the film, followed by a video of Buirski discussing the film on stage at the NYFF last year.
(Thanks to Rado!)




Posted by Geoff at 2:15 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, February 1, 2014 2:21 PM CST
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Friday, January 31, 2014
MCWEENY ON 'CASUALTIES OF WAR'
EXAMINES THE FILM SCENE-BY-SCENE AS PART OF "MOVIE REHAB" SERIES
Drew McWeeny's Movie Rehab series examines Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War as a movie that got "lost in the tidal wave of Vietnam films in the late '80s." McWeeny goes through the film scene-by-scene, and says that David Rabe's screenplay "is beautifully structured, and far more than 'just' another movie about Vietnam."

After looking at the tunnel scene near the beginning of the film, McWeeny delves into the contrasting acting styles of Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn:

"One of the main reactions I heard from people who dismissed Casualties Of War during its theatrical run in August of 1989 was that they didn't want to watch Michael J. Fox in a Vietnam film, that they simply didn't believe he was right to be a soldier. Even then, I didn't buy that as a legitimate gripe. First, Fox is a good actor, and always has been. Second, Vietnam wasn't a particularly picky war in terms of who the Army was willing to send over, and if a guy like Fox had enlisted or been drafted, they would have sent him happily. I think De Palma and Rabe get the racial balance right in the film, and beyond that, I think it's a nice cross-section of types so that when things go south… and they do… it's not just an either/or situation between Eriksson and Meserve. The acting styles of Sean Penn circa-1989 and Michael J. Fox circa ever couldn't be more different, and I like that friction that seems to exist between them. There's this huge macho swinging dick energy that Penn gives off where he basically tries to annihilate Fox through sheer force of personality alone. The Fox casting not only is not a problem for me, it's one of the things I love about the film the most. I was thrilled that he decided to try and stretch and ended up working with one of my favorite filmmakers at the time, and I thought it paid off in a genuine tension onscreen."

McWeeny doesn't seem to be a fan of the "director's cut" version of the film, for which De Palma restored the scenes he'd reluctantly cut from Casualties for its initial release, and also doesn't think the ending works. "The rest of the movie feels anti-climactic, honestly," McWeeny writes, "including an interrogation scene with two guys questioning Eriksson exhaustively, trying to pick holes in his story that was added to the director's cut of the film that is the only DVD currently available. The courtroom scenes at the end are necessary, but it's the least interesting stretch of the film. The one great beat is watching the four of them march out of the court martial, and Meserve leans in to whisper something to Eriksson and then --

"--- and then comes the unfortunate coda, where De Palma reaches for some profound beat between Eriksson waking up on the train and following the girl out to return a scarf to her. It's supposed to offer him some sort of closure, but it doesn't work as a moment at all. I think sometimes an ending like this can deflate a film, and in the case of Casualties, it's hard to deny that things end with a fizzle. There's something very odd about the way De Palma dubbed Amy Irving's voice over the English dialogue by Thuy Thu Le, and the dialogue she has is corn of an almost preposterous degree."


Posted by Geoff at 1:22 AM CST
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 1:23 AM CST
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