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Domino is
a "disarmingly
work that "pushes
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and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
-Collin Brinkman

De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
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musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
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Supercut video
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edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
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A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2015
On Monday, The Washington Post's Dennis Drabelle posted a review of Douglas Keesey's recent book, Brian De Palma's Split-Screen: A Life In Film. Here are some excerpts:
Keesey has taken an unusual approach to his subject. Rather than lay down a biographical foundation at the outset, he introduces elements of De Palma’s private life as they crop up in his movies: 29 in all, which Keesey summarizes and analyzes in chronological order. (To avoid plot spoilage, save Keesey’s chapter on a given film until after you’ve seen it.) This works better than one might expect because, more than most directors, De Palma pours his psyche into his work. “When you’re making a movie,” he has said, “you think about it all the time — you’re dreaming about it, you wake up with ideas in the middle of the night — until you actually . . . shoot it. You have these ideas that are banging around in your head, but once you objectify them and lock them into a photograph or cinema sequence, then . . . they no longer haunt you.” De Palma has also written the scripts for many of his films, but Keesey could have done a better job of helping us keep track of who did what. The book cries out for a filmography.

As it turns out, De Palma has a highly charged past to draw on. When he was in his late teens, his father, an orthopedic surgeon in Philadelphia, allowed the boy to watch him in action. “I was standing right next to him in front of the operating room table,” De Palma recalled of one episode. “He cut off a patient’s leg and then gave it to me!” When Dr. De Palma had an extramarital affair, Brian found out about it, sided with his mother and got busy gathering evidence on her behalf with a tape recorder and a camera. And for all his eventual success, Brian was not the standout among the offspring. That honor went to his mathematically gifted older brother Bruce, with whom Brian had to compete as a kid. (Bruce later descended into what Keesey calls “a kind of hubristic madness.”)

De Palma works out that sibling rivalry in Sisters, in which the eponymous women — both played by Margot Kidder — were born as conjoined twins and then surgically separated. De Palma’s harrowing experience in that operating room helps account for the dismemberment in Body Double. As for using a tape recorder to gather incriminating evidence, look no further than Blow Out...

One more thing about Blow Out. Although it obviously owes something to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (as even the titles suggest) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, I think Blow Out outclasses both forerunners in sheer entertainment value. In any case, that seems to be the way with De Palma: He is one of those artists whose forte is spinning variations on themes pioneered by others. And what’s wrong with that? What contemporary mystery writer hasn’t been strongly influenced, at least indirectly, by Wilkie Collins and James M. Cain? What writer of romances doesn’t owe a big debt to the Brontë sisters and Daphne du Maurier?

Hollywood has shamefully neglected De Palma; he’s never even been nominated for a best director Oscar. Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen announces that it’s time for a reassessment of his unjustly slighted oeuvre.

Posted by Geoff at 1:15 AM CDT
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015
The Hollywood Reporter's Jordan Mintzer reviews a new French thriller:

"It may sport one of the longer titles in recent memory, but retro French thriller The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (La Dame dans l’auto avec des lunettes et un fusil) nonetheless comes up way too short in the storytelling department. That said, this third directorial effort from cartoonist Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat) is filled with plenty of throwback stylistic flourishes, a terrific '60s-'70s soundtrack and an eye-popping lead turn from Skins star Freya Mavor — all of which could help the early August release gain a minor cult following at fests and on the small screen.

"The prolific Sfar scripted his first two films — one an animation flick based on his popular graphic novel, the other a dreamlike biopic of legendary French crooner Serge Gainsbourg — but this is the first time he's worked with someone else's material. He could have chosen more wisely: Based on Sebastien Japrisot’s 1966 crime novel (previously adapted by Anatole Litvak in a forgotten 1970 version starring Samantha Eggar), the screenplay by Gilles Marchand and Patrick Godeau offers up one major third-act twist amid an otherwise weary psycho-suspenser that fails to bring the audience on board.

"What will however lure some viewers in is deliberately old-school filmmaking that gives nods to 70’s-era Brian De Palma and Dario Argento, while bringing to mind recent nostalgic genre pieces like Berberian Sound Studio, Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears. Sfar may not have much to work with here, but he works it to the bone, employing split-screen, flashbacks, flash-forwards and suggestive jump cuts, with cinematographer Manu Dacosse (Hallelujah) capturing it all in exquisite sepia-toned widescreen...

"Clearly pushing style over substance, Sfar lavishly exercises his cinematic chops but fails to bring us along for the ride. He’s got a great eye, plus a great ear for period music – including classic cuts like Wendy Rene’s 'After Laughter' and James Carr’s 'Love Attack' — yet none of it builds to more than B-level fluff. Sure, all a movie may need is 'a girl and a gun' as Jean-Luc Godard once said (he never mentioned the glasses), but a good story never killed anyone."

Posted by Geoff at 7:32 AM CDT
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Sunday, August 9, 2015
Now that Criterion has announced that most people will be receiving the corrected version of Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, it seems that only a select few will end up seeing the original version that has been getting the bad press. Even so, here are links to two more reviews of the incorrect version:

Mondo Digital

"It's difficult to imagine a horror thriller more purely enjoyable than Dressed to Kill, one of the highest peaks of Brian De Palma's career and a gleeful joyride of a film that continues to reward after countless viewings. Though it received a mixed critical response due to De Palma's perceived cribbing from Hitchcock (which didn't affect a huge turnout from the public), the film has gone on to be considered one of the '80s' most accomplished directorial feats in the horror genre and ground zero for the modern erotic thriller, still sitting high above its many successors. Much of the fun here lies in the insidious surprises tucked into both its plot and cinematic language, on the surface a playful riff on Psycho, as well as visual flourishes found in the foreground and background of the frame in every single scene."

[Note: read this Mondo review for a terrific summary of the history of Dressed To Kill in its various home video releases. Below is the final part of this, the now-early, incorrect Criterion version...]

"Two years later, De Palma's classic got another round on both American Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection, presenting a combination of new and preexisting extras. However, the presentation of the film itself is a baffling beast indeed. Touted as a new 4K transfer supervised by De Palma, it starts off promisingly enough with the restoration of the original scope Filmways logo (finally!) after the MGM one and looks significantly more detailed than before, with potent albeit somewhat more golden colors compared to the past MGM version. It also sports more picture information on the left side, in fact quite a bit more in many shots. Then after the first reel (when Dickinson leaves the gallery), things go haywire as the image squishes in significantly, resembling a major anamorphic squeeze as everyone suddenly looks anorexic and distorted. The jump is obvious right away when Dickinson starts walking down the museum steps, and this strange anomaly remains for the rest of the running time (complete with that wealth of additional but possibly extraneous information on the left, which has a habit of throwing the compositions out of whack in some shots). The frame grabs seen in the body of this review are from the Arrow release, but you can see the same shots from the Criterion one by clicking here for images one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven. As you can see, the compositional balance veers all over the place along with the color saturation, which ranges from pale and yellow in some shots to beautiful and significantly improved in others (such as the first split diopter one of Nancy Allen and Bobbi). The LPCM mono audio is true to the original theatrical mix and sounds excellent, while optional English subtitles are provided. UPDATE: Criterion has implemented a disc replacement program for anyone who purchases the Blu-ray or DVD; at least the first wave of retail copies will all be as described above but can be exchanged for a version with the correct framing."

Ian Jane, DVD Talk

"The new extras on this disc start off with an interview conducted with De Palma by filmmaker Noah Baumbach that runs just under twenty minutes. It's an interesting piece that sees the director talk about how his style evolved over the years, how this film was initially received during its original run, working with Michael Caine on the film, his admiration for the score and quite a bit more. We also get a new sixteen minute interview with lead actress Nancy Allen who shares her thoughts on being cast in the film, her character and related wardrobe and what it was like working with some of her fellow cast members on the film. Producer George Litto talks for twelve minutes about working with De Palma not just on this movie but on a few other pictures as well and he shares some input on his relationship with the director. Composer Pino Donaggio gets sixteen minutes in front of the camera to also discuss what it was like working with De Palma not just here but on some other projects. He also offers some insight into his creative process and his thoughts on the movie itself. Body double Victoria Lynn Johnson is an interesting choice for an interview, she gets nine minutes here to talk about her work in the movie and as a model (she was a Penthouse Pet Of The Year in 1978) and what it was like doubling for Dickinson. The last of the new interviews conducted for this release is a ten minute segment with Stephen Sayadian who was the art director in charge of the photography for the film's original poster. He gives some input on creating the image, that has since gone on to be pretty iconic, and the importance that it played in properly marketing the film to theater goers. Aside from the new interviews we also get a featurette called Defying Categories: Ralf Bode that features filmmakers Michael Apted and Peer Bode and runs just under eleven minutes. Here they talk about the effectiveness of the methods employed by the film's late cinematographer and specifically what they bring to the movie."

Posted by Geoff at 1:52 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Posted by Geoff at 1:27 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 8, 2015 1:30 PM CDT
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Sorry I missed this, but two days ago, Criterion posted an update about its upcoming edition of Dressed To Kill:
Update, 8/6/15: Good news, everyone. The Dressed to Kill street date is moving to September 8. Thanks to the concerns of our customers and the efforts of reviewers at websites like DVDBeaver.com, who helped point out the problems with the release early, we were able to make the fix before the bulk of orders had shipped. We will, of course, replace any faulty copies that may find their way into circulation, but we are working to ensure that all customers, including those who have placed preorders, and all major retailers will have corrected product in time for the new street date. To be certain that you have the correct version, look for the words “Second printing” on the back of the package and on the disc.

Posted by Geoff at 4:07 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 8, 2015 4:07 AM CDT
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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

In this week's podcast The Canon, Amy Nicholson praises Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, and also Tom Cruise as an actor and a producer of the film and franchise. Nicholson, who has written a book about Cruise, says the friction between De Palma and Cruise arose from Cruise as producer trying to reign De Palma in financially a bit (she says De Palma finally got some money to do a big film, and wanted to play with those toys). She points out that this tension led to the two, along with Cruise's producing partnet Paula Wagner, shooting Mission: Impossible almost like an independent film-- renegades who, for instance, shot at the restaurant (in the fishbowl scene) without the proper license (Faraci points out that it is clearly a set, at least in the explosive part). Devin says the film is a little boring. Amy says, whaah? He says it’s not propulsive, and maybe he’s having a little bit of ADHD response to it. They both agree, however, that Emilio Estevez' death scene is not only the greatest death in the franchise, but is one of the greatest death scenes in any movie, ever. Fun to listen to, mostly because of Amy's enthusiasm for the film. As it says above, they also discuss the other films in the franchise, and rank them.

Posted by Geoff at 3:26 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 8, 2015 4:09 AM CDT
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Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Late this afternoon, Criterion posted an updated announcement regarding image distortion in its upcoming Dressed To Kill release:
In our haste to respond to customer concerns about the anamorphic compression on our release of Dressed to Kill, we posted incorrectly that the change had been made at the behest of the director. Brian De Palma did ask for a change to the geometry of the scan, but it was to address the distortion he saw in the image, not to apply it. Unfortunately, that change was never carried over in the final product, and the resulting discs are wrong. Therefore, we are reauthoring discs without the squeeze and will make them available to all purchasers of our release of Dressed to Kill free of charge. Simply e-mail Jon Mulvaney (mulvaney@criterion.com) with your name, address, and some proof of purchase, such as a receipt, and we will send you a corrected copy. We regret the inconvenience, but we hope that in the end all of our customers will end up with a copy of Dressed to Kill that accurately reflects the film as well as the director’s intentions.

Earlier in the day, prior to the above update, Criterion had posted the following announcement:
In the course of preparing the master for Criterion’s new release of Dressed to Kill, director Brian De Palma asked if there was anything that could be done to correct what he felt was a distortion in the image that caused everyone to appear slightly wide or squat. A modest anamorphic compression was applied, and De Palma was satisfied. On reviewing the final product, we feel the adjustment doesn’t accurately reflect the look of the film, and we are reauthoring discs without the squeeze and will make them available to all purchasers of our release of Dressed to Kill free of charge. Simply write to Jon Mulvaney (mulvaney@criterion.com) with your name, address, and some proof of purchase, such as a receipt, and we will send you a corrected copy. We regret the inconvenience, but we hope that in the end all of our customers will end up with a copy of Dressed to Kill that accurately reflects the film as well as the director’s intentions.

Mulvaney had sent an email to Criterion customers following the initial announcement that stated, in part, "We are not 'correcting' or 'fixing' this release. We will offer a disc in addition to the current release that will not have the anamorphic compression that Brian De Palma requested."

Posted by Geoff at 7:25 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 3:08 AM CDT
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A review of Criterion's upcoming Dressed To Kill package posted a couple of days ago by Criterion Forum's Chris Galloway states that "the first 21-minutes look great," but that after that, the transfer gets very obviously "horizontally squished." With the early reviews all highlighting aspect ratio issues with the transfer, many are expecting some kind of forthcoming response from Criterion, prior to the August 18 release date. In the meantime, here is an excerpt from Galloway's review:
This may be one of the more frustrating presentations to come from Criterion because you can see how amazing it would have turned out if it wasn’t for one rather huge glaring issue. Touching on the good aspects first the image is razor sharp with stunning detail, improving over Arrow’s presentation which looks a little muddy and fuzzy in comparison. Textures are particularly superb, at times looking like you can reach out and touch them, and the sense of depth is also fairly strong (though this is hampered a bit by an issue I’ll touch on later). It’s incredibly crisp, and easily the sharpest I’ve ever seen the film.

Colours do differ a bit in comparison to every release since MGM’s 2001 DVD. Here the colours are noticeably washed out a little more, though they aren’t overly dull. They can still look fairly vibrant and the reds (found in the blood particularly) are the strongest aspect. Black levels are also very good and crushing wasn’t an issue. I was more than fine with it and I wouldn’t be surprised if colours were closer to this when it was released and the look works for the film. Still, many will have their personal preference on this and will probably prefer the colours used for all of the other releases since the DVD.

So, to a certain extent I was very pleased with what we got, and the first 21-minutes look great. The transfer was clean and stable, presenting natural looking grain, no noticeable digital tinkering, and a wonderfully filmic quality. Even the clean-up job is impressive, wiping out just about all imperfections, the only real issue I noticed being some fading on the edges of the screen a few times. It looks great… Until roughly the 21-minute mark—when Angie Dickinson’s character runs out after the man she was tailing in the museum—where the transfer makes a questionable turn.

If the colours to the film are debatable this next aspect isn’t: for whatever reason the rest of the film, a little bit after that 21-minute mark (I’m guessing after a reel change) the image becomes horizontally squished. This of course creates the odd effect that causes everything and everyone to look unnaturally skinny with enlarged foreheads. And this isn’t some mild annoyance that only becomes obvious here and there: it’s right there in your face. True, there are a few scenes where the problem doesn’t stand out as much as others, but this probably has more to do with framing and positioning. I watched the film a second time to verify where the squishing occurs now that I was aware of it, and yes, a little bit after the 21-minute point the squeezing starts and never lets up.

It’s a bewildering issue more because of the fact no one seemed to notice this. It was supervised and approved by De Palma but he didn’t see? And it’s not like it’s a subtle problem: it’s pretty obvious and you don’t need any sort of side-by-side comparison to notice, especially when weird artifacts show up because of it. Take for example the scene where Michael Caine and Paul Margulies are conversing as they walk down a staircase, the camera circles them and creates all sorts of distortions in the frame as the geometry of the stairs change, becoming stretched or compressed with each turn of the camera. If no one noticed the problem is it intentional then? A VHS tape I had first seen the film on, cropped to 4x3 of course, actually did squish in the image at times throughout the film to aid in keeping some of the widescreen compositions (anybody who saw Die Hard on VHS will remember these effects). But this was done mostly for the diopter shots and the split screen sequence, along with a few other moments where pan-and-scan wasn’t going to cut it. That made sense then (though was no less annoying, and obviously widescreen would have been better) but doing the same thing here, when the image is actually presented in widescreen, makes no sense. Plus if it was intentional why are the first 21-minutes normal? I can only believe it’s a mistake but I am still stunned it wasn’t something that was noticed, and it’s a shame because this had the potential to be one hell of a presentation. Just an incredible disappointment.

And here are some of Galloway's thoughts on the supplements:

Criterion does top previous editions in one area: the supplements. Criterion ports over the old MGM supplements but also adds on a number of their own, starting with a new interview with Brian De Palma conducted by Noah Baumbach. Baumbach asks De Palma about how he came up with the story and asks the development process behind the film, from setting up the various long sequences, to filming the actors to project the desired emotional effect, and the use of music throughout. They also talk about the controversies surrounding the film’s release, along with the Hitchcock touches. Surprisingly it’s only 19-minutes but they’re an effective 19-minutes.

Criterion also gets a new interview with Nancy Allen, running about 16-minutes, where the actress talks about that period of her life, first getting married to De Palma while taking a break during filming of 1941 and then watching him work on the script to Dressed to Kill. She recalls how visual the script was and how impressed she was with it, only to be thrilled when she found out he had written what was really the starring role for her. She then talks about developing the character, from the actual research to how the costumes even aided in the process. She also talks about the difficulty in shooting some of De Palma’s more elaborate sequences, where timing is everything, giving a play by play on a couple of scenes. Short, but again it manages to be wonderfully indepth.

Producer George Litto next talks about his films with De Palma: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out, obviously proud of the films that came out of the collaboration (he also feels that the museum sequence in Dressed to Kill is one of the best pieces of filmmaking he has ever seen). Composer Pino Donaggio next talks about the film’s score and his collaborations with De Palma over the years, and how De Palma uses his music. He’s most proud of the music he created for the museum sequence, and explains how he studied the scene extensively to get the right momentum and feel. Both interviews are insightful and entertaining, running 12-minutes and 16-minutes respectively.

The next supplement is a bit of a surprise but proves to be a rather great inclusion: an interview with Victoria Lynn Johnson, Angie Dickinson’s body double in the film. She talks about the casting process she went through and then what it was like working with De Palma, who surprised her with his attention to detail. She never felt uncomfortable with the scene or situation, was pleased it was a “legitimate” film (the cast helped her feel better about the project), and she talks about her brief moment of fame when it came out she was Dickinson’s double. It runs 9-minutes.

My favourite of the new features, though, may be an interview with Stephen Sayadian, who worked on the photograph used for the poster art for the film. This 10-minute interview is particularly fascinating because it looks at the marketing industry for low budget horror films at the time, which was actually built from work in the porn industry, from ads for Hustler to cover designs for VHS (Sayadian says he received complaints that his company’s video art made the films look way better than they actually were). From here he then talks about shooting the photo that would eventually be used for the poster art, from gathering together props (like the shoes) to getting the people to pose for it. He also talks about an alternate photo shoot and the finished product we see here is probably more appropriate for the film (Sayadian admits they hadn’t seen the film yet when they shot the first one), though De Palma apparently chose to use the other one. It’s a fairly funny feature giving some great insight into an industry that gets somewhat overlooked.

Criterion then includes the 2001 documentary included on MGM’s DVD (and has also appeared on MGM’s and Arrow’s respective Blu-rays) The Making of Dressed to Kill. The lengthy 45-minute documentary coves the film’s genesis, production, and release. It features interviews with Dickinson, Allen, Gordon, De Palma, Dennis Franz, and others. Like most documentary features that appeared on MGM DVDs back in the day it’s a solid, very informative doc, but unfortunately, similar to Arrow’s disc, most of the material is repeated in the other new features on the disc. Still, it’s worth watching to get De Palma’s insights into the film (primarily his annoyance at the cuts he had to make, which he doesn’t really get into in the new interview found here) and it also offers more in-depth analysis of key sequences in the film.

Criterion then sees fit to include a tribute to the film’s director of photography, Ralf Bode. Called Defying Categories: Ralf Bode it features his brother, experimental video artist Peer Bode, and director Michael Apted. Peer brings a more personal angle to the feature, talking about his brother’s work and his early experimentation with the camera. Apted, though, offers the most praise. Apted states he had absolutely nothing to do with Dressed to Kill but he wanted to come on here to talk about Bode and give him the recognition he feels he never got. He praises his work and how he was able to adapt to each film. It’s a loving tribute looking at the man’s work.

Posted by Geoff at 2:32 AM CDT
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Monday, August 3, 2015

Thanks to Norm for sending along USA Today's "definitive ranking of the Mission: Impossible movies". The article was written (and the rankings chosen) by Kelly Lawler, who places the first film from 1996 at the top of the list. Here is what Lawler writes of De Palma's film:

"The original and the best. There’s a reason that each subsequent movie has had to work so hard to up the stakes and make the missions even more impossible, because that image of Tom Cruise hanging from the ceiling of the CIA headquarters is just so iconic. The movie had just enough of the camp from the original TV series, and made all the right choices when it came to casting (Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise! Vanessa Redgrave plays an arms dealer!), its director (the one and only Brian De Palma) and its heart-stopping action. This is the movie that gave us Tom Cruise: Action Star. You’re welcome, universe."

Posted by Geoff at 1:03 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 4, 2015 2:39 AM CDT
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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Posted by Geoff at 10:37 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 2, 2015 10:37 PM CDT
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