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Friday, February 27, 2009
CARLITO AS "NYC ANTIHERO"
KEITH UHLICH ON DE PALMA FILM
Time Out New York's The Frame-Up blog has been running a series this week called "NYC Antiheroes," in which Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle represents "ground zero," according to blog host Joshua Rothkopf, who states that Martin Scorsese's film is "about a man who fails at being a New Yorker." In today's entry, Keith Uhlich interprets the New York of Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way as a "metaphorical prison" that uses everything and everyone from Carlito's past as barriers to the freedom he can ultimately only dream of. Here is how Uhlich eloquently puts it:

Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) has a dollar and a dream. He just needs a little more ($75,000 to be exact) so he can leave his criminal past behind, retire to the tropics, and buy into a car rental dealership. Destiny has other plans for him, but we know this from the start: The first image is Carlito getting shot down in Grand Central Station. The film that follows is his dying-moments reminiscence. A Proustian whirlwind begins in a courtroom, where Carlito is released from jail on a technicality, only to enter another, more metaphorical prison: a city greatly changed from the way he left it. It’s easy to relate to the desire to escape New York, its towering edifices and worlds-within-worlds, as oppressive as they are awe-inspiring. Carlito’s instincts still serve him well in this environment, but they’re now more a force of habit than a true moral code. He’s ready to move on, in body and spirit, even if his aim to please his friends (Sean Penn as sleazy lawyer David Kleinfeld) and lovers (Penelope Ann Miller as whispery-voiced dancer Gail) prevents him from saying so. It’s obvious that there is no exit for him. Befitting director Brian De Palma, Carlito’s death rattle is at once a sublime joke and a cutting indictment of dreamy, age-addled nostalgia, while Pacino’s performance (one of his wizened best) complements De Palma’s acid tongue with quiet dignity.


Posted by Geoff at 3:38 PM CST
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Thursday, February 26, 2009
WRIGHT TO PRESENT PHANTOM IN TORONTO
MARCH 15, PAIRED WITH BERKLEY'S DAMES
Filmmaker Edgar Wright will present Brian De Palma's The Phantom Of The Paradise at Toronto's Bloor Cinema on March 15, 2009, as part of The Wright Stuff: Toronto fest that runs at the theater from March 1st to April 12th. De Palma's film will be the second half of a double bill March 15th that begins with Busby Berkley's Dames. On his site, Wright says of the two films:

If you are a fan of Michel Gondry and yet have never seen a Busby Berkley film, you need to rectify this immediately. Whether you are a musical fan or not, you cannot fail to be dazzled by the eye popping beauty of his choreography. The fact that his wildly inventive setpieces were made in the 1930s is just staggering, they still look impressive by today’s standards. And Phantom Of The Paradise is one of my all time favourite movies. Brian De Palma and Paul Williams’ 1970’s rock opera is genuine one off; satirical, magical, dark and hilarious. It’s both one of the most atypical films in De Palma’s canon, and one of his best.

In late 2007, Wright presented "The Wright Stuff" at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, and kicked it off with a pairing of Phantom Of The Paradise and Alan Parker's Bugsy Malone. Both films feature songs by Williams.

UPDATE: EDGAR WRIGHT TALKS ABOUT PHANTOM
Peet points out in a comment to this post that Wright has previously provided a commentary on De Palma's film at Trailers From Hell. In the commentary (which you can hear/see by clicking the embedded player below), Wright says that Phantom Of The Paradise has a terrible trailer, but is an incredible film. He also mentions that he tried to ape the take of Winslow running down a corridor (as seen in the trailer) for a scene in Hot Fuzz. (Wright also previously provided a Trailers From Hell commentary for De Palma's The Fury.)


Posted by Geoff at 7:50 PM CST
Updated: Friday, February 27, 2009 3:58 PM CST
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009
DE PALMA AT NY INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
PICTURED WITH TYKWER & RUSHDIE AT GUGGENHEIM
After all that talk comparing these directors' set pieces-- Pictured here from left-to-right are director Tom Tykwer, Brian De Palma, and novelist Salmon Rushdie at the Guggenheimer Museum afterparty which followed the New York premiere of Tykwer's The International on February 9 2009. Variety posted the photo, which was snapped by Dave Allocca for StarTraksPhoto.
(Thanks to Patrick for sending it along!)

I saw The International opening weekend and loved it-- a very satisfying motion picture with a poetic sense of paranoia and more than a few highly involving sequences of tense action. The ending is beautifully set up and executed (pun intended) as a dead perfect bit of irony. Tykwer has made a studio action picture that keeps his stamp and keeps us wondering what he will do next.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty, Clive Owen says that Tykwer had a "little film festival" of '70s conspiracy thrillers to get everybody in the right mood...

We watched those [The Parallax View and Three Days Of The Condor], The Conversation, The French Connection. When I did Inside Man, Spike Lee did this cool thing where he screened about half a dozen movies. It was a little film festival to get you inspired. Tom Tykwer loved that idea, so we did it on this.


Posted by Geoff at 1:16 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 1:23 PM CST
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Monday, February 23, 2009
PENN, DE NIRO, & PERHAPS PLAME
DE NIRO INTRODUCES NOMINEE PENN AT OSCARS
Sean Penn was in terrific form last night as he accepted the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Gus Van Sant's Milk. "You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns," Penn told the crowd with sarcastic irony as he accepted his award for portraying the openly gay politician Harvey Milk. "I did not expect this," he continued, "and I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often." Prior to the envelope being opened, Robert De Niro, sharing the stage with four other actors who have previously won the Best Actor award, was assigned to introduce his friend Penn as a nominee in the Actor category. "How did he do it?" quipped De Niro. "How for so many years did Sean Penn get all those jobs playing straight men?" De Niro concluded his speech by saying, "Tonight, it’s important to be a great actor. In life, it’s more important to be a great human being. That’s my friend Sean Penn."

DE NIRO THE BIGGEST COMEDY STAR IN AMERICA?
Penn is interviewed by Mark Binelli in the February 19 2009 issue of Rolling Stone. Binelli comments on the fact that Penn has not done much comedy in his career, wondering how the actor avoided being pigeonholed after his breakout role in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Penn replied to Binelli:

It never happened. I'm more interested in the way drama tends to resonate in people's lives, versus that kind of escapism. But I certainly would have done 10 more comedies had I been offered them. I was talking to someone the other day and said, "Who would have thought when I was younger that I was going to end up being the poster boy for the Queer Nation and Robert De Niro was going to be the biggest comedy star in America?"

PENN STAYED FOCUSED ON CASUALTIES OF WAR
In the interview, Penn also mentions his work on Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War. After Binelli refers to stories about Penn being wild with Tom Cruise and Timothy Hutton while filming Taps early in their careers, Penn says that the three were all "forced" into a fraternity when the producers set them all up in a hotel in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Penn continued to Binelli:

...we were all kids running around. We had a great time. But since then, I'm always the guy who stays at the other hotel than the other actors stay in. I remember, we were shooting in Thailand on Casualties Of War, and some guys were going to the hospital, showing up with stitches.

[Binelli] From being up partying?

It started because groups of young actors can forget what they're there to do. I didn't want to get caught up in that.

PENN IN TALKS TO PLAY JOSEPH WILSON IN LIMAN'S "OUTRAGEOUS" PLAME FILM
According to Variety today, Penn is now in talks to play Joseph Wilson, the ambassador whose New York Times op-ed piece four months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq was critical of the evidence used by the Bush administration to justify that invasion. One week after Wilson's editorial was published, his wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as an undercover CIA agent in a column written by Robert Novak. Naomi Watts is set to star as Plame, and the film will be directed by Doug Liman. A year ago, Liman was set with Nicole Kidman for the Plame role, and, back when Bush and Cheney were still in office, the director had told MTV's Shawn Adler about his "really insane" way to film the story without having to worry about any government objections:

I have a really, really insane take on how to tell it. It’s so outrageous. Ultimately, I’d be doing something no one has ever done before. Therefore it’s automatically appealing to me. I’m just starting to explore whether [what I have in mind] is even possible to do.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 12:08 AM CST
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Sunday, February 22, 2009
GIALLO COMPOSER TALKS HERRMANN, WILLIAMS
SAYS ARGENTO'S LATEST REMINDS OF HITCHCOCK & DE PALMA
This past week, Little White Lies' James Gracey interviewed composer Marco Werba, who has scored Dario Argento's latest film, Giallo. Werba told Gracey that for Giallo, he was inspired by Bernard Herrmann's scores for Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma...

I offered to write a symphonic score in a similar vein to Bernard Herrmann because Giallo is a great film that reminds me of the masterpieces of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. Herrmann not only composed for Hitchcock, he also wrote the music for two of the best De Palma films, Sisters and Obsession.

Werba also mentions the score for De Palma's The Fury as John Williams' best:

It’s difficult to say which specific film scores I deeply admire. There are many good compositions for films. I would say that each composer has his own best film scores. John Williams wrote wonderful music for Brian De Palma’s thriller The Fury, but it’s not a well-known score.

WES CRAVEN TALKS EXPLODING HEADS
Also this past week, UGO's Jordan Hoffman posted a conversation with Wes Craven in which the two discussed cinema's best exploding head scenes...

[Hoffman, discussing a screening of the Last House On The Left remake] “You heard the audience’s reaction with the exploding head. That’s entertainment! That was one of the best exploding heads I’ve seen in a while. Definitely in the top ten.”

[Craven] “Well, nothing beats Cronenberg’s Scanners."

[Hoffman] “I disagree! I think Scanners takes the silver medal and there is one better. John Cassavetes exploding at the end of Brian De Palma’s The Fury.”

Craven seems unsure and simply says, “Mmm.”

I backpedal. “But that isn’t just his head, that is his whole body. But it is the head that flies up at the camera. In slow motion.”

[Craven] “Well, I had a hell of an exploding head I shot for Deadly Friend. It was one of the more spectacular things I ever shot of Anne Twomey’s head, but the studio had us cut it out. It’s out there somewhere in a vault at Warner Brothers never to see the light of day.”

[Hoffman] “Maybe for a DVD release?”

[Craven] “Well, you never know.”


Posted by Geoff at 12:20 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, February 26, 2009 7:53 PM CST
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Friday, February 20, 2009
PILGER: HOLLYWOOD CENSORS BY OMISSION

SAYS DE PALMA'S REDACTED SHOWS AN IRAQ RARELY REPORTED
Investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger had a column in the New Statesman yesterday in which he blasts Hollywood filmmakers for consistently overlooking the oppressed victims of invasions, and lays into film critics for playing into the politics of omission by hiding behind sheens of "safe snipes and sneers." Pilger cites one critic's dismissive prose in describing Brian De Palma as "divisive" as an example of how a film like Redacted (which, according to Pilger, "shows an Iraq the media do not report") effectively buries the film from proper consideration. Here is an excerpt from Pilger's editorial:

As Robbie Graham and Matthew Alford pointed out in the New Statesman (2 February), in 167 minutes of Steven Spielberg's Munich, the Palestinian cause is restricted to just two and a half minutes. "Far from being an 'even-handed cry for peace', as one critic claimed," they wrote, "Munich is more easily interpreted as a corporate-backed endorsement of Israeli policy."

With honourable exceptions, film critics rarely question this, or identify the true power behind the screen. Obsessed with celebrity actors and vacuous narratives, they are the cinema's lobby correspondents. Emitting safe snipes and sneers, they promote a deeply political system that dominates most of what we pay to see, knowing not what we are denied. Brian De Palma's 2007 film Redacted shows an Iraq the media do not report. He depicts the homicides and gang rapes that are never prosecuted and are the essence of any colonial conquest. In the New York Village Voice, the critic Anthony Kaufman, in abusing the "divisive" De Palma for his "perverse tales of voyeurism and violence", did his best to taint the film as a kind of heresy and to bury it.

In this way, the "war on terror" - the conquest and subversion of resource-rich regions of the world, whose ramifications and oppressions touch all our lives - is virtually excluded from the popular cinema. Michael Moore's outstanding Fahrenheit 9/11 was a freak; the notoriety of its distribution ban by the Walt Disney Company helped it to force its way into cinemas. My own 2007 film The War on Democracy, which inverted the "war on terror" in Latin America, was distributed in Britain, Australia and other countries but not in the United States. "You will need to make structural and political changes," said a major New York distributor. "Maybe get a star like Sean Penn to host it - he likes liberal causes - and tame those anti-Bush sequences."

TELL ME NO LIES
Writing that "censorship by omission is virulent," Pilger's editorial calls for "another Wall Street, another Last Hurrah, another Dr Strangelove."

Incidentally, in 2005, Pilger edited a book titled Tell Me No Lies, which is also the title of Angel Salazar's documentary within the fiction of De Palma's Redacted.


Posted by Geoff at 3:08 AM CST
Updated: Friday, February 20, 2009 3:09 AM CST
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Thursday, February 19, 2009
ARMOND WHITE ON THE INTERNATIONAL
COMPARES TO DE PALMA, SPIELBERG, PECKINPAH, ROSI
Armond White reviewed Tom Tykwer's The International last week in the New York Press. White found the film "simplistic," noting that "emotion and politics are not director Tom Tykwer’s things." White highlights Tykwer's ambitious Guggenheim Museum set piece, and mentions three Brian De Palma films throughout the review. Here is an excerpt:

A credible emotional point of view is rare in action movies; problem is, emotion and politics are not director Tom Tykwer’s things. Despite the clear outline of worldwide greed in Eric Warren Singer’s screenplay, The International is terribly simplistic. Using the IBBC as a metaphor for Capitalism, Singer assesses the self-interest that makes the world turn. But except for Owen and Watt’s empathetic portrayals this is essentially a cloak-and-dagger programmer pumped-up De Palma-style.

Tykwer sends Owen and Watts through a series of show-off set pieces. None express psychic turmoil like De Palma’s extravaganzas: A sequence at Berlin’s National Gallery featuring Arnold Bocklin’s Isle of the Dead salutes the great museum scene in Dressed to Kill without defining Salinger’s disposition through the art work...

Of the many climaxes in this climax-stuffed cautionary tale, it is the clash at the Guggenheim Museum—where Salinger has trailed an assassin—that get Tykwer’s most flamboyant. It’s allegory for global anarchy and destruction. Salinger and the assassin recognize their common humanity, then their tension and obstacles escalate. This sequence is an ambitious combination of moral conflict and bravura aesthetics. Configured to match the sloping, slanting, continually changing perspectives of the Guggenheim’s rotunda, the scene attempts to out-do the visceral curlicues of Tykwer’s first hit, Run Lola Run. It visualizes Salinger’s dizzying, uphill struggle and 360-degree paranoia. Tykwer daringly intercuts video installations (actually from the Hamburger Bahnhof by Julian Rosenfeldt). As Salinger’s targets shift and danger boomerangs, capitalism itself becomes an Abstract Expressionist version of the Disasters of War. This tour de force is more accomplished than any of the set pieces in Children of Men—or Zodiac for that matter—yet it fails to drive home the sadness in Salinger’s eyes, unlike the astonishing photo-realist mural in Femme Fatale that summarized its heroine’s life journey.

Instead, as Tykwer goes on to other tricky chases and sensational killings, The International becomes more routine and shallow—even as it pretends to uncover the intricacies of small-arms trading, Middle East subterfuge, collateral damage and varieties of ethnic revenge. Although audiences chuckle when Armin Mueller-Stahl’s jaded banker explains to Salinger, “Life is stranger than fiction, fiction has to make sense,” the unfunny joke is on the way contemporary political fiction (in movies) rarely makes sense of our moral alarm. One reason lies in Tywker’s fanciful/serious approach. Though stylish, it lacks the aesthetic-moral force of such political thrillers as Francesco Rosi’s Exquisite Corpses, Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite, Spielberg’s Munich or DePalma’s Blow Out.

When we’re told that “We’re all slaves to debt” or that war comes from “banks committing so much of its resources sale of weapons” and that cynical news is matched with cleverly staged assassination scenes in anonymous crowded cities, it means that The International isn’t any better than Children of Men. Although war and financial crises are distressing, today’s moviegoing generation doesn’t know the culture shock of assassination and disillusionment that informed Rosi, Peckinpah, Spielberg and De Palma that movies like this merely exploit. Owen pantomimes feeling, but through political snark and snazzy technique, we’ve lost the beauty of art with feeling.


Posted by Geoff at 4:55 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:56 PM CST
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
VIRTUOSO UPDATES
ROMAIN REVISITS LOCATIONS FROM FEMME FATALE, OBSESSION
Romain Desbiens has been doing some outstanding work at The Virtuoso of the 7th Art-- check out his phenomenal new welcome page for starters. Romain recently posted new analyses of the relationships between the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, with focuses on Vertigo and the shower scene in Psycho, the latter of which also includes a section on Dario Argento and De Palma. All feature detailed screenshots for comparisons. Also check out the filming locations section, where, in several cases, Romain has gone back and taken photographs of key locations from De Palma's films, such as the San Miniato al Monte in Florence, seen in Obsession, the passerelle Debilly, seen in Femme Fatale, and a view of Notre Dame de la Croix in Ménilmontant from just two days ago, posted side-by-side with matching frames from De Palma's Femme Fatale, filmed in 2001. Just over "seven years later," we note that Le Paradis has now become La Festive.

Posted by Geoff at 10:59 PM CST
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Monday, February 16, 2009
PHANTOM SET PICS SURFACE
UNEARTHED AT THE SWAN ARCHIVES
The Swan Archives has posted several newly discovered photographs from the set of Phantom Of The Paradise, including a shot of Brian De Palma himself operating a camera during the climactic concert section of the film. Along with that gem, two other shots of De Palma on set can be seen at the Production page of the Swan Archives. Also new to the page is a photo showing Sissy Spacek sitting in the theater next to a dog (Spacek was credited as set dresser on the film, while boyfriend Jack Fisk was the production designer. Both went on to get married to each other, and each also worked on De Palma's Carrie-- with Spacek in the lead role, of course). There are several other rare photos to check out at the Archives, which is always full of surprises.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
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Sunday, February 15, 2009
ZACHAREK MOVED BY THE MESSENGER

"MARKS A NEW BEGINNING" FOR IRAQ WAR IN CINEMA
Salon's Stephanie Zacharek caught I'm Not There screenwriter Oren Moverman's directorial debut, The Messenger, at the Berlin Film Festival. Zacharek, who mentions Brian De Palma's Redacted as the only standout Iraq war-themed film up to now, calls The Messenger a new beginning in the cycle. Here is an excerpt:

One of the strongest, most resonant pictures I've seen here in Berlin is Oren Moverman's directorial debut The Messenger, which played at Sundance and, after its well-received appearance here in Berlin, will probably start getting the attention it deserves. Ben Foster stars as a wounded Iraq war veteran recently returned to the States. In his new assignment, he's teamed with Woody Harrelson -- a veteran of the "cushier" Gulf War -- and entrusted with the difficult job of notifying the next of kin (or NOK, for short) that their loved ones have been killed in the line of duty.

In the autumn of 2007, when we saw the first rush of war-related pictures like In the Valley of Elah and Rendition, writers across the land (including me) were asked by their editors to grapple with the significance and meaning of these movies. The problem was that, with the exception of Brian De Palma's passionate and disturbing Redacted, most of them were mediocre at best and gutless at worst. In terms of filmmaking, The Messenger marks a new beginning for the real work of dealing with the Iraq war mess. Moverman co-wrote Todd Haynes' extraordinary Bob Dylan un-biopic I'm Not There; he also co-wrote Ira Sachs' wry (if a bit too mannered) Married Life. Although Moverman doesn't have a particularly strong visual sense, The Messenger is still a confident and effective directorial debut, partly because Moverman has good narrative instincts, but also because he shows a graceful touch with his actors. Maybe that's no surprise with an actress like Samantha Morton, who plays a widow befriended by Foster. I've never seen Morton give a bad, or even a merely adequate, performance -- she's the only contemporary actress who can break my heart with nothing but the curve of her smile. But Foster, whom I found distressingly hammy in 3:10 to Yuma, dials it way down here: He doesn't show suffering on his face; he carries it in his bones, as if he realizes that the suffering after the fighting is the greater part of his duty. Moverman has made a tough, compassionate little picture -- with some great and necessary dashes of black humor -- that opens a new door into the world of damage, at home and everywhere, that we now need to face squarely.


Posted by Geoff at 11:50 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 12:01 AM CST
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