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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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Saturday, January 18, 2014
LEGUIZAMO TALKS 'CASULATIES OF WAR'
AND EDELSTEIN ON CRUDE PROPAGANDA OF 'LONE SURVIVOR', LACKS ART OF DE PALMA, FULLER, SPIELBERG
In 2011, we posted a video of John Leguizamo talking to ABC's Good Morning America about getting slapped by Sean Penn during take after take of a scene being shot for Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War. That video appears to be indisposed, but Contact Music's Michael West this week posted some quotes of Leguizamo discussing the situation. "I was a Latin guy," Leguizamo is quoted as saying, "and everybody would tell me to stay out of the sun so I could pass... for white... and I audition for this movie and I got the part of Corporal Murphy and then we get to Thailand and I go, 'Ok, shoot, there's a lot of sun; I forgot to put sunscreen on and I get really dark,' and they demote me - to Corporal Diaz... I was mad dark. Sean Penn is a sergeant and we kidnap this Vietnamese girl and we gotta gang rape her and my character refuses and Sean's gotta slap me into submission, and of course, Sean doesn't believe in stage combat because he's too method for that shit, so he's slapping me for real. We're on the 13th take and my face (is) out to here and you can't even understand the dialogue I'm saying and Brian De Palma's going, 'We have to do it one more time, John, it was out of focus.' So it's 'whack' and 'whack' and I'm about to quit and then they cut the scene out of the movie. I twitch every time he (Penn) comes near me."

EDELSTEIN ON 'LONE SURVIVOR'
Meanwhile, Peter Berg's Lone Survivor is a massive hit at the box office. Vulture's David Edelstein opens his review of the film by stating that "Berg’s film of Marcus Luttrell’s memoir Lone Survivor is frankly worshipful: It celebrates sacrifice and sanctifies agony. In an early training montage, Berg lingers on the young Navy SEALs’ sinewy limbs and ripped torsos, marveling (in slo-mo) at their ability to endure pain with manly, near-miraculous stoicism. The prep for war is itself a near-death experience, and it’s transmutational. These ordinary American guys — guys’ guys with pretty wives and loving families — are reborn as supermen.

"Luttrell, played onscreen by Mark Wahlberg, was the only SEAL standing (barely) after a 2005 Afghanistan mission to assassinate a murderous Taliban warlord went wrong. Nineteen Americans died, and Berg uses every cinematic weapon in his arsenal to make you feel each bullet as it rips through the warriors’ bodies, defiling young flesh that he has previously hallowed. The Taliban fighters take single shots to the head or chest and are dead before they hit the ground; the SEALs stay up, eviscerated but seemingly invincible. It is only the Alamo-like imbalance of forces that finally brings them down, and even then their deaths are 'good.' They’re radiant as they take their last, shallow breaths. War has ennobled them.

"I’m not being snarky or ironic when I say to Marcus Luttrell, 'Thank you for your service.' It’s important to separate the men described in his book from their depiction in movies like Lone Survivor, which is crudely written, rife with clichés, and leaves out anything that would transform a piece of propaganda into a work of art akin to Samuel Fuller’s The Steel Helmet, Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War, or Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan."


Posted by Geoff at 4:11 PM CST
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Sunday, January 13, 2013
INCIDENTALLY...
I went to see Gangster Squad today. It's a pretty good movie, and definitely pulls shot ideas from De Palma's The Untouchables, as well as other gangster movies (and the slow-motion scene in which Ryan Gosling's character turns and decides he is going to go after Mickey Cohen after all reminded me of the great Kirk Douglas slow-motion anger gun march in the big set-piece of De Palma's The Fury). In all fairness to director Ruben Fleischer, it is obvious that if he pulled from any of these shots, they are just blips in a movie he has made his own way. Gangster Squad could have been a weightier film under a different director, with this great cast and this script, but as it stands, it is a fast-paced entertainment that, while it sometimes feels a bit too slick for its own good, still manages to satisfy.

Sean Penn gives a great performance, and I noticed a familiar face: Holt McCallany, who had a brief scene with Penn in De Palma's Casualties Of War in 1989 (see picture below), plays Mickey Cohen's right hand man and bodyguard in Gangster Squad (that's him sitting next to Emma Stone in the image above). What a coincidence, 24 years later. UPDATE Thanks to Alex in the comments section for pointing out that another Casualties Of War cast member, Don Harvey, also appears in Gangster Squad as a police officer. Harvey also had a brief scene with Kevin Costner in The Untouchables.


Posted by Geoff at 11:15 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 4:49 PM CST
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011
LEGUIZAMO ON GETTING SLAPPED BY SEAN PENN
VIDEO FROM ABC'S 'GOOD MORNING AMERICA'

Posted by Geoff at 12:53 PM CST
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Sunday, December 13, 2009
MANHOOD IN HOLLYWOOD
GREVEN BOOK DEVOTES CHAPTER TO CASUALTIES OF WAR
Manhood In Hollywood From Bush To Bush, David Greven's study on Hollywood's representations of masculinity from 1989 to 2009, was published last week by University of Texas Press. Greven has been a part of the De Palma online community for a number of years. Earlier this year, the online journal Genders published the Greven's insightful essay, Misfortune and Men's Eyes, which looked at male bonding in three early De Palma films (Greetings, Hi, Mom!, and Get To Know Your Rabbit). Greven's new book (which can also be purchased at Amazon) continues the author's discussion of the homosocial, and features an entire chapter on De Palma's Casualties Of War. Here is an excerpt from the book's introduction that discusses the chapter on Casualties Of War:

In Brian De Palma's great antiwar film Casualties of War (1989), his characteristic, career-wide experimentation with split-image effects—the split-screen, the split-diopter—takes on an entirely new significance in terms of De Palma's staging of the masochistic gaze. Daniel Lang wrote an account in 1969 of one of the most harrowing episodes of the Vietnam War: the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese woman by a group of American soldiers, one of whom refused to participate in and unsuccessfully opposed the group's treatment of the woman. The first, and only, film version of this case, De Palma's film emerges in the year that Bush 41 takes office and within a new wave of Vietnam films instigated by the surprising box-office success of Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986).

In this chapter, I consider the original account by Lang and De Palma's cinematic rendering of it, which I view as the synthesization of several key themes in his oeuvre, especially the failed heroism of American manhood. I examine De Palma's film as a representation of American homosociality, providing a historical contextualization of it that illuminates American misogyny and homophobia, the latter no less a key factor in the events as described in the Lang account and De Palma's film. I provide a theoretical framework of the homosocial that allows us to consider De Palma's film as a critique of the normative codes of American manhood and what Gayle Rubin, following Levi-Strauss, calls the "traffic in women." The association of Eriksson, the man who opposed the kidnapping, rape, and murder of the woman, with homosexuality by the ringleader of the group, Meserve, is analyzed as a crucial component of the narrative. I explore the ways in which the film represents homoeroticism as both a galvanizing and threatening element in homosocialized manhood, which inculcates misogyny and homophobia. Further, this film represents a strong corrective to the particular forms of nationalism in the Reagan era, carried over into the Bush era. I also examine the film's staging of a masculine battle between a "negative narcissism" and a "heroic masochism."


Posted by Geoff at 10:12 PM CST
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Saturday, August 29, 2009
TARANTINO ON CASUALTIES OF WAR
AND ALSO SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, SCHINDLER'S LIST
Samuel Blumenfeld, co-author of Brian De Palma: Conversations with Samuel Blumenfeld and Laurent Vachaud, interviewed Quentin Tarantino a couple of weeks ago for Le Monde 2. In the article, Tarantino talks about the war films that inspired him, including Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War. Blumenfeld states that these are not necessarily the films Tarantino prefers, but they are "images of war films that marked his life as a veteran moviegoer." Thanks in large part to the Virtuoso of the 7th Art's Romain Desbiens, who alerted me to the article (and who tells me that he is in the process of changing his terrific site into a blog format), here is an English translation of what Tarantino said about Casualties Of War:

It’s the greatest film about the Vietnam war. Apocalypse Now would be classified in another category as Coppola's film goes beyond the war. De Palma adapts a very small news article, which must have occurred on several occasions in Vietnam or elsewhere. Elia Kazan had also been inspired by it for The Visitors (1972). He had made an intimate film. De Palma treats that same news item in the epic, operatic style that was his signature since Obsession (1976) and Blow Out (1981). Soldiers capture a young Vietnamese girl. Before her murder, every member of the unit, with the exception of one of them, torture and rape her. The cowardice associated with the forced courage of the character played by Michael J. Fox - who does not participate in the rape and denounces his friends – is very moving. Casualties of War presents the most traumatizing rape sequence in the history of cinema. It's also one of the best performances from Sean Penn, terrifying as the sergeant squad leader.

TARANTINO "SHAKEN" BY SPIELBERG'S WWII FILMS
Tarantino also comments on The Guns of Navarone ("This is the first film about men on a mission, of which Inglourious Basterds is the distant heir"), The Longest Day ("The opening sequence, in which the Germans play with a German shepherd in the hills, is breathtaking"), The Dirty Dozen ("Previously, actors like John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson, and Jim Brown had never appeared in a war movie"), Kelly's Heroes ("This is one of the worst performances of Clint Eastwood"), and Inglorious Bastards ("This is not my favorite macaroni combat movie - that's the name given to these films on World War II, in reference to "spaghetti westerns." I am much more appreciative of Umberto Lenzi's Desert Commando").

And with so much discussion going on about Tarantino's new film in relation to some of Spielberg's WWII films it is nice to see what Tarantino himself has to say about them. Here is what Tarantino told Blumenfeld about Saving Private Ryan:

Spielberg is doing something unheard of with the opening of this movie. When you watch the sequence of the landing, it’s no longer possible to look the same way at The Longest Day, or even Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One. I was shaken in a similar manner by Schindler's List. Even though I have seen many films about the Holocaust, none up to that point had managed to get at the feeling of what it was like to be in the inside of a concentration camp. Saving Private Ryan made me aware of some issues raised by the cinema of war that I was unable to ask on my own. The idea that forty men on a boat are exterminated in seconds by a volley of machine gun is terrifying. Can you imagine the most atrocious carnage? Obviously, yes. Except that throughout the scene, you are persuaded to attend the worst slaughter in history. The sequence of the knife fight between a U.S. soldier and a Nazi at the end of the film is also as notable as the landing. I hate war movies where they show a soldier killing his opponents without sweating, as if it were insignificant. If I was fighting to save my skin, I think it would be a little more difficult. It's hard to kill someone, it takes sweat, and even with this, you have no guarantee of reaching your goals. Spielberg managed admirably to stage this scene with that dimension.


Posted by Geoff at 12:48 AM CDT
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Thursday, August 6, 2009
ZACHAREK PICKS CASUALTIES
FOR ON-THE-SPOT "HALL OF FAME" DECISION

Last week, Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule posted an interview he did back in June with Salon film critic Stephanie Zacharek. Near the end of the interview, Cozzalio asks Zacharek "what would be in your movie hall of fame?" Zacharek lists The Lady Eve, the Apu Trilogy, The Rules of the Game, the Godfather movies (just parts I and II: "When I say the Godfather movies," Zacharek says, "Part III does not exist"), and The Wild Bunch. Then she says, "Let me see. Also something by Brian De Palma, probably Casualties of War." In the interview, Cozzalio and Zacharek discuss what it's like for her to be married to another film critic (Charles Taylor), Pauline Kael, movies she's stood up for, and interactions with readers. A very interesting read-- check it out. Also check out Cozzalio's terrific conversation with Joe Dante.


Posted by Geoff at 11:39 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 6, 2009 11:40 PM CDT
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Tuesday, June 2, 2009
MORE ON KINATAY FROM TARANTINO
TRANSLATION OF FRENCH METRO ARTICLE
The Philippine Entertainment Portal posted an article yesterday that provided a full translation of what Quentin Tarantino had to say about Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay, for which Mendoza was awarded Best Director at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Here is the translation from Metro France, provided by PEP's Jocelyn Dimaculangan:

Metro France: You know already [all the good things] that people say about Inglorious Bastards. Quentin Tarantino remains one of the biggest cineastes of his generation. A well informed cinephile also, who has spent much time in Cannes theaters these past few days...

Is there a film that you've particularly liked since you arrived?

"I can't really speak about the other films in competition because if I mention two, they will ask me why I didn't mention two more! But if there is one that I would gladly defend, it's Kinatay by Brillante Mendoza because it seems [to be] receiving the worst critics up to now. But me, I found it extraordinary."

Precisely, what is your critique [of the film]?

"For a film that puts you in the witness position, I believed it from the beginning to the end, an impression strengthened by the fact that the story is told in real time. The situation is at the same time horrible and ordinary, almost boring. And it is rather crazy that such a thing could be boring! In some aspects, Kinatay reminded me of Casualties Of War, the film of Brian De Palma. We are witnesses of a murder of this prostitute in Manila, a "disposable" being, if we refer to the world she lives in. And the filmmaker [makes] us aware of her humanity, showing her pain. I also adored the flight in the car, in the dark, exciting because we can make out the forms and the sounds."

Do you still go as often to the movies?

"From age 17 to 22, I was filling up a detailed list of all the films I would see in a year. I was averaging 197 to 202 per year and at that time I was broke! I am doing much less today. In real life, my own movies get in the way and one has to be a journalist to see so much!"


Posted by Geoff at 11:55 PM CDT
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009
KINATAY REMINDS TARANTINO OF DE PALMA
FILM WINS CANNES DIRECTOR PRIZE FOR MENDOZA

Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza won the Best Director prize Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival for Kinatay. The film was hated by some (Roger Ebert suggested that it is the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival), but according to a report at Inquirer.net, Quentin Tarantino called it "extraordinary," telling the French newspaper Metro, "I’d gladly defend Kinatay … it reminded me of Brian De Palma." Kinatay (the title translates to "slaughtered" or "butchered" in English) follows a young policeman as he agrees to join an unnamed operation with a shady friend. The job turns out to be the kidnapping, rape, and butchering of a drug-money-indebted prostitute by a gang of men, some of which are senior members of the police force.

Tarantino surely saw similarities between Kinatay and De Palma's Casualties Of War, where the audience is driven to identify with a soldier who finds himself caught up in a kidnap-rape-and-murder situation that he feels helpless to do anything about. Mendoza opens the film (which I haven't seen) with the young man's wedding, and these daytime scenes are shot in 35mm. The night of the horrifying mission is shot in HD, as Mendoza, according to his press notes, attempts to show that "like the character, the city of Manila is full of mystery. It becomes a totally new character at night."

In the press notes, Mendoza presents his film as a Christian morality experience (the prostitute is named Madonna) that he states was based on a true event that he heard about first-hand from a criminology student. Mendoza wanted the audience to feel, like the young man, "trapped as both victim and accomplice." Screen Daily's Mike Goodridge wrote in his review of Kinatay, "Offering audiences no relief or redemption, it is perhaps most notable for its daring in attempting to capture the moment a young man crosses the line into irrevocable evil."

A couple of clips from Kinatay can be watched at YouTube. Click here to access the Cannes press notes. IFC's David Hudson has links and quotes from several other reviews.


Posted by Geoff at 12:19 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 12:22 AM CDT
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Thursday, May 22, 2008
TARANTINO TALKS DE PALMA

Quentin Tarantino gave a cinema master class this morning at the 61st Cannes Film Festival, and Karina Longworth was there to provide a live blog full of notes from the lecture. Tarantino mentioned De Palma several times, calling him his "rock star" when Tarantino was younger, and discussing his use of 360-degree pans. He also mentioned that he stole a line from Casualties Of War, a film he used as inspiration for a scene in Reservoir Dogs. Here are some excerpts from Longworth's notes:

Influences starting out: Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Sergio Leone, Howard Hawks. Brian DePalma was like my rock star. I spent a year and a half going over theTV Guide looking for movies by Hawks. They played 80% of his sound films on LA TV.

They show the first scene from Reservoir Dogs.
DePalma always used 360s to emphasize love. I don’t use it for that reason. But as time has gone on, I’ve had a million directors come to me afterwards, whenever they put a bunch of people around a table, they want to circle the camera around it, and they say, “We can’t do it — it’s Reservoir Dogs! You’ve taken it from us!”

3:12: [difference between Reservoir Dogs opening scene, credits, second scene, where Tim Roth is bleeding in the back of the car] You know they had breakfast, you know that something drastic has happened between the two. And now you’re just playing catch-up.
I wanted to show that as much fun as the guys are in their suits and the cool things they say, the violence is very real. Bullets aren’t movie bullets. It’s real. If you’re shot in the stomach, your gastric juices are released, it’s an incredibly painful experience, it’s a slow death and it’s painful all the way. So I was going to try to dramatize that. So we were like, “How do you do that?” And we just went for it.
If I had any inspiration for that scene, at the time I was into that moment in Casualties of War, when the black soldier gets shot and Sean Penn is trying to him in the helicopter. There’s a tremendous amount of tenderness there. I even stole a line––Sean Penn says, “Look at my eyes, I’m gonna hypnotize you.” I stole that.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, February 1, 2014 1:40 AM CST
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