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Sunday, July 23, 2017

John Heard, who portrayed a Trump-like Atlantic City casino/arena owner in Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes, was found dead on Friday in a hotel room in Palo Alto. He was 71. According to Martha Ross at The Mercury News, "His family said he was staying at the undisclosed hotel while recovering from the [back] surgery, which was described as 'minor.'" Just four days earlier, on Tuesday, July 18th, Heard had been the guest on Illeana Douglas' podcast I Blame Dennis Hopper, in which Douglas asked him questions about his entire career (she ran out of time before she'd had a chance to ask him about working on Snake Eyes, which she called a great film and urged everyone to seek out, along with Martin Scorsese's After Hours). But Heard had told Douglas he was having back surgery the next day. Ross' article quotes a post Douglas made to her Facebook page after learning of his death on Friday: "He was filled with optimism and hope that he would get this back surgery and begin to start working again. That’s where he was happiest. Like any actor, he just wanted a job. He just wanted to work."

Heard was a theater actor (he originated the role who, by his own admission, never really took his work in film seriously. He is best known for the Home Alone movies, but his early film career was made up of lead roles in independent films such as John Byrum's Heart Beat (an Edward R. Pressman production in which Heard portrayed Jack Kerouac and co-starred with Sissy Spacek and Nick Nolte, with production design by Jack Fisk), Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way, Joan Micklin Silver's Head Over Heels and Between The Lines, and Paul Schrader's Cat People. He also had a significant role in Penny Marshall's Big.

An obituary by The Guardian's Ryan Gilbey includes this bit about Heard's theater days:

At the Long Wharf theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1976 he originated the role of Billy, the gay soldier, in the first staging of David Rabe’s controversial play Streamers, and was disappointed not to have been retained for Mike Nichols’s subsequent New York production. He won an Obie award in 1977 for his performance in G.R. Point, in which he played a man processing dead soldiers from Vietnam before burial, and won another three years later for his combined work in Othello and Split.

Heard was married to Margo Kidder for six days in 1979. He had supporting roles in many films and TV series in the late part of his career. Ross article quotes some more from Douglas' Facebook post:
In her Facebook post, Douglas said she was devastated to hear about Heard’s death. She described him as a “great, great actor” who inspired her in her career. She said she had been trying to line him up for an interview for a long time; he was hesitant, thinking no one was that interested in him. “I convinced him that there was real interest in him. That people loved him, and wanted to hear from him,” she wrote.

This past March, Richard Luck posted a review of Snake Eyes at Right Casino, noting the similarities between Heard's role in the film and Donald Trump:
Of particular interest is the flamboyant Gilbert Powell. Played by John Heard of Cat People and Home Alone fame, Powell is very clearly the film’s equivalent of Donald Trump; The Donald being among the biggest names operating in Atlantic City around the time the movie was shot and set. Indeed, as the future president’s Historic Atlantic City Convention Center had played host to WrestleManias IV and V, so the man with the hypnotic hair had brought many a major box-office to the East Coast. Trump would also be instrumental in bringing MMA to Atlantic City, a bold move that led to UFC hefe Dana White being among the more unlikely speakers at the 2016 Republican Convention.

Posted by Geoff at 1:35 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, July 23, 2017 11:32 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Richard Luck posted about Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes yesterday at Right Casino:
“Having done a lot of reading about Howard Hughes for another project, I found myself wondering what it would be like if a murder took place during a prize fight at a casino,” an unusually loquacious De Palma told [Charlie] Rose ahead of Snake Eyes’ release. “Hughes was always inviting bigwigs to the fights in Las Vegas and talking business. And as I'd grown up in Philadelphia and had seen how the casinos had come to effect Atlantic City, I thought that environment was the perfect place to stage a murder.”

Borrowing liberally from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo [Editor's note: I think he really means Kurosawa's Rashomon] – in which a crime is viewed from a variety of different perspectives – and pretty much any Hitchcock movie you care to think of, De Palma fashioned a film that’s as big on style as it is small on substance. If the film is ultimately rather frivolous, it’s sure to fascinate anyone who’s either visited Atlantic City or harbours dreams of taking in the wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Of particular interest is the flamboyant Gilbert Powell. Played by John Heard of Cat People and Home Alone fame, Powell is very clearly the film’s equivalent of Donald Trump; The Donald being among the biggest names operating in Atlantic City around the time the movie was shot and set. Indeed, as the future president’s Historic Atlantic City Convention Center had played host to WrestleManias IV and V, so the man with the hypnotic hair had brought many a major box-office to the East Coast. Trump would also be instrumental in bringing MMA to Atlantic City, a bold move that led to UFC hefe Dana White being among the more unlikely speakers at the 2016 Republican Convention.

As a snapshot of Atlantic City in the late 1990s, then, Snake Eyes simply can’t be beaten. It’s just a shame that budgetary restraints prevented director De Palma from closing out the movie on his own apocalyptic terms. “I wanted to finish the movie with a tidal wave,” the filmmaker explains in the must-see documentary De Palma. “I thought that given the nature of Atlantic City and what goes on there, it might be interesting just to wipe the whole place off the map. So we shot that ending but then found that the effects budget wouldn't stretch to a tsunami. Because of that, we had to settle for the more conventional ending. Pity - I would've liked to see Atlantic City in ruins.”

Posted by Geoff at 7:08 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 7:15 PM CDT
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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Nicolas Cage, who stars in Paul Schrader's new film, Dog Eat Dog, spoke on the phone recently with Moviefone's Drew Taylor, who couldn't help but ask Cage about Snake Eyes...
One of the other things that came out this year was in the "De Palma" documentary; the original ending for "Snake Eyes" was finally seen. Was that validating?

I didn't get to see it. I would love to see the "De Palma" documentary. I'm a huge fan of Brian's and I tried to get to work with him several times since we did "Snake Eyes." But I didn't get to see the documentary or the alternate ending. Could you explain it to me?

Oh sure, it was when the big wave comes over Atlantic City and you're trapped in a tunnel, drowning.

Yes, that's fascinating. I remember him talking about it but I didn't know that he shot the wave. That's fantastic.

Similarly, there was a documentary out last year about your "Superman" movie with Tim Burton. Was it nice to see that stuff finally get out there?

Yeah, it was nice that the filmmakers gave folks a chance to look at what it was really looking like, instead of that goofy picture that came out, which was a Polaroid that didn't have any real lighting. It wasn't even a real costume. It was somebody trying to start a story and created a shakedown on the Internet, but it was entirely false. You can see the way it was genuinely going with a little bit of care and understanding put upon it.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, November 4, 2016 12:14 AM CDT
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Friday, May 13, 2016

Posted by Geoff at 2:46 AM CDT
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Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Snake Eyes: A Nicolas Cage Activity Book, from Haunt Me Studio, was published in the U.K. in December, and will make its way to the U.S. on March 6th. The description of the 32-page book at Amazon goes like this:

"Nicolas Cage? What a guy. Whether he's kidnapping children, boosting jazzy cars or fighting brutal criminals on a plane, up in the skies - He does it in a unique style which is so, well, Cage-ian. Snake Eyes is our illustrated homage, an activity book full of puzzles, games, colouring in pages, amazing illustrations and the best of times."

The original Haunt Me Studio description goes a little further:

"Nicolas Cage, what a guy. He truly is one the weirdest characters of Hollywood cinema. Whether he's boosting cars, fighting criminals in the skies or generally just kickin' ass - he's our guy! Snake Eyes is our dedication to Nic. You get the chance to Uncage him from mazes and draw him a new face if [his] has been stolen off. Oh, don't forget to dress him up real slick or let him chat girls up at a seedy bar."

(Thanks to Matthew!)

Posted by Geoff at 2:34 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 2:35 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015
David Koepp has a new movie in theaters, reteaming with Johnny Depp for the action/comedy Mortdecai (if this project seems wildly different from Koepp's previous directorial outings, it may be because it is not a project instigated nor written by Koepp himself). Koepp talked with Den Of Geek's Wil Jones, who asked him about the altered ending for Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes. "It had a different ending, yep," Koepp tells Jones. "And I’m trying to remember what the original ending was… [Gary Sinise’s character] didn’t die, Nic Cage’s character saved him at the end. It’s not uncommon to change things. It didn’t end up that much different, it’s just that they wanted the bad guy to get his comeuppance. So he did."

Interesting... in the past, all the talk about the ending has seemed to center on the idea of the big wave at the end, wiping things away like the fury of God. The fact that Koepp was the screenwriter, and they asked him to change it up, and that he remembers the big focus being on the bad guy getting his comeuppance, suggests that perhaps to test audiences, they wanted to see the bad guy get it better than he did with the wave.

In 2002, four years after Snake Eyes played in theaters, I was in attendance as De Palma told an audience at his retrospective at the Pompidou in Paris that the original idea was that a divine hand of judgement was delivering its wrath down on "Sin City." De Palma told the French audience, "They don't believe in that in America," referring to all the flack he got from test screenings and studio heads that the ending "just didn't work." De Palma finally decided to change Snake Eyes' ending of his own accord (he reportedly did not want the alternate ending included on the DVD because he did not want people to think that he was forced to change it), and he has claimed that he likes the new ending better. The tidal wave still exists in the final film, but does not play as big a part in the climactic happenings as De Palma had originally planned.

Click here to read Carla Gugino's recollections of the original ending, as well as a report from someone who has actually seen a version of the original ending, but with no sound effects or music soundtrack.

Back to the new Koepp interview-- Jones follows up his question by asking Koepp how he reacts to having to make changes such as that to his scripts. "When I write for someone else…," replies Koepp, "I think the [script] reaches it’s best state around the third draft. And I think after the third draft you kind of need to say goodbye, because it’s going to become something else. You can fight for things you believe in, but the number of fights screenwriters have won over everyone else can be counted on one hand. I always try to look at it like a writing experience; I get the script to the state where I’m really happy with it. And then I say bye, and it’s going to go off and make the presence it makes in life like a child! It’ll make mistakes and it’ll be a different thing, it won’t be yours."

Earlier in the interview, Jones asks Koepp about making Jim Phelps a traitor in De Palma's Mission: Impossible, as well as creating the character Ethan Hunt for Tom Cruise to play. "Tom was involved first," Koepp tells Jones. "He was interested in doing it, and he was producing it. And then Brian [De Palma] called me and said why don’t you take a crack at it. You have to consider who’s in it, and then make it work.

"The essential problem was Tom Cruise was the biggest star on the planet, and [the original TV show] was an ensemble that tilts towards no-one. I’d never viewed the TV show as sacrosanct. We had to acknowledge who our cast was. So I can’t remember whose idea it was, either De Palma or Steve Zaillian said let’s start by killing the team, lets just get rid of them. Because you had to work out how you get this ensemble piece into a star vehicle. So we killed everybody, and we were feeling very cheeky, and decided we’re going to do want we want, we’ll kill people, we’ll make the good guy the bad guy, and added in the new recruits. And I think it worked out well."

Posted by Geoff at 11:04 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 11:05 PM CST
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014
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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Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Drew Taylor's interview with Brian De Palma was posted today at The Playlist, and Taylor took the opportunity to ask De Palma about the lost ending of Snake Eyes. "The whole idea at the end of Snake Eyes was deus ex machina," De Palma told Taylor. "We were dealing with such a corrupt world that the only way to solve the problem is to have a hurricane come through and wipe it all away. That was my initial idea. And the problem is that people don't believe in that [laughing]. They don't believe in God looking down from above and saying, 'The only way to deal with this is a flood. There's so much corruption here, let's wipe it all away and get an ark out and start from scratch.' But it didn't work in the previews so we did this other ending which I don't think is as effective. We did shoot this big wave that swept through the casino but we ultimately cut it out."

Taylor then asked De Palma if he has ever thought about restoring the original ending either back into the movie, or perhaps as a special feature. "Well it was like when they made the special version of Casualties of War, I put in two scenes that were cut out from the initial release and I was very happy to put them back in. If they came to me and said, 'We're thinking about doing a new version,' I'd be happy to do it."

For more about the original ending for Snake Eyes, see this De Palma a la Mod post from 2011.

Taylor also asked about De Palma's role in the opening crawl for Star Wars. "Well, you know, I find about these things that even my memory is beginning to dim a little bit. What I do remember is there was a crawl and Jay Cocks and I looked at it and said to George, 'I think we can make this better, because there's so many complex things going on here. Why don't you give us a shot at re-writing this?' And we did."

Earlier in the interview, Taylor said to De Palma, "Passion is a remake of a fairly recent French movie. You've been linked to another Untouchables and a Paranormal Activity sequel in the past. How do you feel about sequels and remakes, both in terms of your own work and what you choose to do? And how close did Paranormal Activity and Untouchables get?"

De Palma replied: "Well that's like ancient history, those two projects. The Untouchables prequel has all sorts of economic and legal problems wrapped up with Paramount. And the Paranormal situation was that they reached out to me and we had some discussions about it but that was many, many years ago. Right now I'm working on the Joe Paterno/Sandusky situation [Happy Valley, which De Palma also told Taylor is "a very serious movie about the whole Paterno/Sandusky situation"] and something that's set in France. So that's what's going on now."

Shockya's Karen Benardello posted a separate interview with De Palma yesterday. Here is an excerpt featuring the last three questions:


SY: One of the film’s most ambitious sequences is when a murder is carried out while dancers perform Jerome Robbins’ modern staging of the classic Nijinsky-Debussy ballet ‘Afternoon of a Faun,’ which is based on the Mallarmé poem about dreams and desire. What was the inspiration in showing the murder and the ballet at the same time on a split screen?

BDP: Well, that’s a ballet I particularly like. I saw the Jerome Robbins choreography on the Internet, and it’s a black and white video that had to be taken in the ’50s. I thought it was a fantastic reimaging of this particular Debussy piece, ‘Afternoon of a Faun,’ and I’ve always wanted to put it in a movie. This gave me a perfect place to do it.

In the original film, she goes to the movies and slips out. **SPOILER ALERT** In this case, I wanted to put her in a ballet, so I could place the ballet against the murder at Christine’s house. By using that big close-up, you always think that Isabelle is at the ballet, and she couldn’t possibly be at the house. **END SPOILER ALERT**

SY: ‘Passion’ marks the seventh that you’ve worked on with music composer Pino Donaggio. Since the film is a crime mystery drama, what was the process of working with Pino to create the perfect score for the film, and capture the rivalry between Christine and Isabelle?

BDP: Well, I’ve worked with Pino on seven films together. He knows how to do these long violent sequences that I create. The last cue at the end of the film, when the last nightmare takes place, no one writes music like that but him. It’s exciting and suspenseful and scary and dramatic, and it’s completely unique to his talent.

SY: ‘Passion’ is set to be released on Thursday on VOD, with a theatrical rollout set to follow on August 30. What are your thoughts on VOD-do you think it’s the new release precedent for smaller, independent films?

BDP: Well, I’ve never done it this way before, and I’m interested to see how it plays. It was the choice of the distributor, and I’ve never had a movie released first On Demand, and then theatrically in a theater. But we’re looking at films all the time on smaller screens, so that’s the way it seems to be going.


Posted by Geoff at 7:13 PM CDT
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Saturday, March 17, 2012
TIFF is having an ongoing late night series called "Bangkok Dangerous: The Cinema of Nicolas Cage." Up tonight is Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes, which has prompted A.V. Club Toronto to post a series of essays about the actor, called "Caged Wisdom." This week, John Semley posted an essay that delves into Snake Eyes' opening shot, the odd criticism of De Palma as a "stylist," and the film's intricate split screen sequence. Regarding the opening sequence, Semley writes, "It’s a persuasive, hypnotizing bit of film craft, ranking right up there with the director’s best. It’s not closed-off enough to function as a self-contained short film or anything. But as a piece of geometry, as an object lesson in what it is that Brian De Palma does as a filmmaker, it’s instructive—truly bravura. Oddly, it’s this sense of bravura, this virtuoso quality, that has earned De Palma so many detractors."

Posted by Geoff at 5:03 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, March 18, 2012 9:08 AM CDT
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Sunday, March 11, 2012

The past two issues of Fangoria have featured parts one and two of a terrific interview with Nicolas Cage, conducted by Chris Alexander. In the current issue (#311), the discussion leads to Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes:

FANG: You've worked with most of the living masters, including David Lynch in the wonderful Wild At Heart. But I must say, Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes is woefully undervalued, both as a De Palma film and a Cage film. And that tracking shot...

CAGE: I don't watch my movies, but that one, if I catch it on television... I'll shut it off after two minutes, but I'll look at it and go, "Oh, wow, what did we get up to there?" That movie is remarkable, really. It has a style that's all its own, and the tracking shot is what Brian would call "No Net Productions." It was as if we were on a high wire and we'd go for five minutes, doing nonstop dialogue, movement, rehearsing all day long and if one line was blown, we'd have to stop, set it up and do it all over again.

FANG: How many times did you do it?

CAGE: I don't remember, but I know I was rehearsing it day and night, in my head all the time, even in the shower. Then on the day we were filming, we rehearsed well past lunch before we actually started to shoot. I often tell people I'm working with, if they are interested in tracking shots, to check out the beginning of Snake Eyes, because it is a standout, right up there with Touch Of Evil.

Speaking of long tracking shots, this issue of Fangoria also includes an article about the just-released remake of Gustavo Hernández' The Silent House (the new version shortens the title to Silent House). Hernández' film stood out for its use of one long single-take to present its haunted house story in real time. In the Fangoria article, Open Water filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau describe how they worked hard to give the illusion that their Silent House is done in one long single-take, although it is made up of a string of very long continuous takes itself. (De Palma's opening 15 minutes of Snake Eyes also includes one or two well-designed cuts to present the illusion of a single take.) The pair also explains why, after showing the film at Sundance in 2011, they went back and shot a new ending. "We actually reshot quite a bit of the movie, like the last 15 minutes," Lau tells Fangoria's Michael Gingold, "and obviously one reason was that because it's a continuous take, it was not simple to change that film!"

Posted by Geoff at 10:33 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, March 11, 2012 10:36 PM CST
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