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Domino is
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AV Club Review
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Sunday, February 17, 2019
SPOILER IMAGES - MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE & WIDOWS
SHOCK REVELATION SHOT IN STEVE MCQUEEN FILM SEEMS DIRECTLY INFLUENCED BY DE PALMA IMAGE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/clairevision1.jpg





The images above from Steve McQueen's Widows, showing a character sabotaging his sham of a heist and blowing up a van to kill his gang of thieves and fake his own death, full of regret while holding the cell phone remote, seem directly influenced by the beautifully-rendered shot of Claire blowing up a car with Hannah inside of it, remote in hand as she turns her face toward the camera, from Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. While both shots come at a point late in each film, meant to shock the viewer with disbelief in what is being shown, there are differences in subjectivity.

In McQueen's film, we are seeing Liam Neeson's character recall the event in his own mind, seemingly filled with regret about the deaths he has caused. In the De Palma shot, we are seeing a subjective possibility within the mind of Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt, which is why Claire (Emmanuelle Béart) hauntingly turns to look directly at the camera eye, looking at Ethan with a cold stare. Deeply in love with Claire, Ethan immediately tries to wipe that image from his mind, struggling to find a way that it could have been her husband Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) who did the dirty deed. In De Palma's film, the shot is static, and shown in slow motion. McQueen's shot is a choreographed slow dolly or zoom before the film cuts back to Liam Neeson in present day. Both shots are meant as a shock to the system, so to speak.


Posted by Geoff at 9:48 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2019 10:07 AM CST
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Saturday, February 2, 2019
NICOLAS PESCE ON SPLIT-SCREENS IN 'PIERCING'
STEMMED FROM IDEA IN NOVEL OF HIDDEN PERSPECTIVES, & ALSO STYLISTICALLY CITES DE PALMA
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/piercingsplit.jpgNicolas Pesce's Piercing opened yesterday in theaters and streaming on demand. It is Pesce's second feature, following his singularly strange and vivid feature debut from 2016, The Eyes Of My Mother. Piercing, which had its world premiere last year at Sundance, is an adaptation of a novel by Ryū Murakami, and stars Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott. In a review at Rue Morgue, Shawn Macomber writes that the film "has the vibe of Brian De Palma co-directing with Michael Haneke and David Lynch. Piercing is menacing, darkly funny, subversive, grotesque, sexy, challenging, stimulating, immersive and monumentally fucking weird."

In a discussion with The Film Stage's Mike Mazzanti, Pesce mentions De Palma as he talks about the development of the split screens used in Piercing:
There are visual components in both The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing that speak to a kind of slow cinema interest; they’re very observational at times. When you’re prepping a film, do you look to bring specific aesthetic sensibilities to each script you write, or does it first depend on the story and the material and what they require?

It starts off as whatever pops into my head. I sort of have a mental library of movie moments that are perpetually collaged, whether that’s to contextualize movies, or my own life, or my own movies. So, I think that it starts with whatever naturally comes to me—as I’m writing it, reading it, whatever—and then once I know what it looks like in my head I start realizing more where those references are coming from. Sometimes I’m not aware of it, but by the time we were making Piercing, I knew we were making a giallo movie.

Going off of that, this feeling of the commonplace is counteracted by the viscera and the sense of psychopathy in the air from Reed.

Yep.

Which is punctuated by the sharp cutting. While violence and observation are far from being mutually exclusive, they create an interesting dichotomy in Piercing, and sometimes an emotional detachment or distance. How do you go about balancing these visual and conceptual ideas during prep and also in the edit?

It’s really on a case-by-case basis. I think something that’s always been fun for me about filmmaking is that there’s always been a level of experimentation to it. There’s always discoveries that come during every stage. There’s this idea that starts in the book; you’re in their perspectives but you don’t actually know what’s going on.

So, for each character, the things that are going on in their heads are drastically different. So, I thought, how could we communicate these two worlds, but together in the same place, but so disconnected? So, very quickly I was thinking split-screen. Part of it is stylistic—I love Brian De Palma, and he dealt very much in the wheelhouse of what we were doing—but it also conceptually tied in really nicely, this kind of idea of contrasting views of the same thing.

So, we had always known that split-screens were going to be an element of the movie. But initially, it was only planned for the one sequence with Reed on the phone with his wife. And, as we were editing, we were like, this does work the way we wanted it to—where can we find other places to do it? And so, the two other places are key character moments; the first is where Jackie and Reed meet for the first time, and we’re showing how different their lead-ups are to the same moment.

Then, at another moment, Jackie and Reed finally think they’re on the same page—they’re flirting on the couch, they both think they know what’s going on, and they’re both with it—and there’s a moment where something is off, and they both don’t know what’s wrong but they realize they’re on the same page, and we jump back to split screen again. So, you have to find techniques that play into the stylistic choices that you’re trying to make, but it also has to be an element that’s helping the narrative or at least the emotion along, as well.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2019 12:35 AM CST
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Tuesday, November 13, 2018
HITCH & DE PALMA ARE THE MASTERS FOR FEDE ÁLVAREZ
"DE PALMA IS ONE OF THOSE GUYS THAT WAS NEVER AFRAID TO AMP IT UP"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/girlspidersweb.jpgAt last month's Rome Film Festival premiere of his new movie, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Uruguayan director Fede Álvarez brought up Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma as key inspirations for him as a filmmaker (his previous features are the Evil Dead remake and Don't Breathe). According to Cinecittà News' Nicole Bianchi and Artribune's Margherita Bordino, Álvarez said of adapting the fourth book in the Millennium series (which was written post-Stieg Larsson), "The main thing to do is not a comparison between book and film, but a personalized transposition, different from that of others. The fourth book was a 'Scandinavian Agatha Christie', a kind of crazy James Bond. I was very interested in the development of Lisbeth Salander."

Responding to the idea of Lisbeth Salander as superhero, Álvarez said, "I do not like superheroes, I find them oppressive: Lisbeth is presented as a superheroine, but then I try to expose her to perennial destruction. There is always an element of self-revelation in the character, so this inspires me, the fact that she is human in the end. This film has a tone that I think has a relationship with my previous ones, in particular the suspense of my last film. Hitchcock said to shoot a scene of love as if it were one of death, and vice versa, and here this suggestion was greatly followed. For me he is a master along with Brian De Palma."

Over at Polygon, Álvarez is asked by Matt Patches, "How do you know if you’re going too far into the perverse?" In answering this question, the director again brings up Hitchcock and De Palma: "Well, the MPAA will make sure you’re going too far [laughs], but when it comes to morals, I like to push the boundaries of taste. South Korean cinema is one of my favorites. And directors like Hitchcock or De Palma are the kind of the directors that I think I learned more from by watching their movies. Particularly De Palma, who is one of those guys that was never afraid to amp it up. Even the wardrobes are over the top.

I always like knowing that I really went for it, rather than thinking that, oh, I played that one too safe. There would never be a worse feeling to me in a movie than to think that I played it safe, that I was scared to go in too far. Actually, I look back at Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe and now this — I feel like an old conservative man! But I really try not to be afraid of going overboard."

Back at the Rome Film Festival, Álvarez told Lega Nerd's Gabriella Giliberti, "Undoubtedly I was inspired by the previous directors of this saga. I was in high school when I saw and loved David Fincher's film. He is a director I admire. I would not have imagined that in my life it would have happened that my name and his were put side by side in the same sentence. So surely there is a little bit of Fincher, but I went to the cinema of De Palma or Hitchcock more with this film. I was inspired by them because they are directors who have never been afraid to exaggerate, especially De Palma with his style a bit theatrical and 'operatic.' I did so, and every time I realized I had crossed the limit, I went even further in the scene. I didn't know if what I was doing would work but I still had to try it!"

Also at the festival, Álvarez talked to BadTaste's Gabriele Niola:

This saga seems unable to end. Now after Fincher we start again ....

FA: "Consider that I would never have made a second and third film after that of Fincher, to continue on that style and tone set by a master like him would be impossible. This is instead a story of another author, so it's all a bit less sacred, just be faithful to Lisbeth and you can do whatever you want. And besides, the studio gave me freedom, otherwise I would not even have started. I've never made a film in which I did not have total control."

So if I had to explain the style and tone of your Millennium how would you describe it?

FA: "Not Nordic Noir mystery but more pulp-- I like Brian De Palma and the Korean cinema. I like that territory between the melodramatic and the expressionist that perhaps also implies a sick revenge. Last night I saw the film and all these bright red clothes in the snow were very South Korean cinema but immersed in a fairy tale: we start with a town and we end up in the woods with snow and a cliff."


Posted by Geoff at 10:07 PM CST
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Saturday, November 10, 2018
MORE DETAILS ON DONAGGIO CUES USED IN HOMECOMING
ASIDE FROM OPENING DTK THEME, MUSIC FROM 'BODY DOUBLE'/'CARRIE'/'RAISING CAIN' APPEAR IN LATER EPISODES
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/homecomingep1b.jpg

Amazon Prime's Homecoming, which premiered last week, opens with the same music that opens Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, which was scored by Pino Donaggio. Instead of moving through a hallway toward a bathroom, as in the opening moments of Dressed To Kill, the camera at the start of Homecoming (each episode of which is directed by Sam Esmail) moves from a close-up inside an aquarium of fish, and pulling back to reveal its placement in a large office where Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) is setting up her desk and looking at the file of a recently-returned young soldier she is about to meet for the first time. When he enters her office (continuing the same shot, with Donaggio's DTK theme still playing underneath), he looks at the aquarium, saying it's nice, and asks her if she likes fish. "Not especially, it was here when I got here," she responds with the distracted nervousness of meeting someone for the first time. "I decided it's...soothing." As he has a seat and the two settle in for the start of their first session (at this early point in the story, we are not really sure what the session is about), the camera moves toward the window behind her desk, looking outside of it before a cut takes us to the other side of the window and Donaggio's music gets louder, the camera pulling back to reveal a courtyard scene outside, where a bird walks into frame and lifts itself up onto a ledge, perching and making a sort of deep squawking noise as the episode's title is revealed in large white letters. From here the music abruptly ends as the episode cuts to a different window but in a different, much narrower aspect ratio and quieter music, in what is revealed to be a flash-forward.

Donaggio's "Telescope" from De Palma's Body Double is used in the opening moments of episode 5 ("Helping"), in a sort of playful twist on the kind of romantic preparations taken by Gloria in Body Double, Jenny in De Palma's Raising Cain, or Kate in Dressed To Kill. The music is cut-off abruptly to enhance a bit of humor, yet the end of the episode calls back to this opening in an absurdly dark fashion. The beginning and end of the episode also manage to call back to the opening moments of episode 1, pairing the two Donaggio themes into a unifying thematic strategy.

I have only watched the first seven episodes so far, and I understand there is more Donaggio to come in one of the three remaining episodes. I can tell you that Episode 4 ("Redwood") brilliantly uses Donaggio's suspenseful "Bucket of Blood" cue from De Palma's Carrie to show the investigator visiting the location of the Homecoming facility during one of the flash-forward sequences.

"When we started talking about music, I started talking to my editors about those classic scores by Pino Donaggio, Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and John Carpenter even,” Esmail tells IndieWire's Chris O'Falt. "I just started thinking, this is going to be really unfair to ask a music composer to ape David Shire’s Conversation theme. That’s just ridiculous, or to ask someone to ape Michael Smalls’ theme from Klute."

O'Falt's article goes into the challenges of getting the rights to use so many varied pieces of existing scores, and includes a handy episode-by-episode list of all the scores used:

Esmail broached the subject with music supervisor Maggie Phillips when she first interviewed for the job. She found the idea discomfiting. “People have licensed a score piece here or there, but there’s no real paper trail for older scores like there is for the other music we license,” said Phillips. “There was no way of estimating costs, at all, and the people we were licensing from wouldn’t even know. The NBC-Universal clearance team and my team, no one had ever done this before.”

Still, Phillips took the job and it became an extensive research project to determine who owned the scores’ publishing rights, and then the actual recordings. Once that was determined, another journey began: locating the recording and digitizing it for the show. (While there might be obvious appeal in a “Homecoming” soundtrack comprised of the best thriller scores from the 20th century, that was a licensing bridge too far.)

Pre-existing scores meant tremendous time and expense. Sometimes Phillips discovered dead ends, or scores that couldn’t be licensed. Phillips and NBC-Universal also had to work with unions to make sure dozens of session players would be paid for scores they played decades ago. However, Phillips’ bigger concern became the creative side.

“Most editors are used to sending a scene to a composer, and having a composer hit those beats and write to those beats and emotional storylines to make it work,” said Phillips. “On ‘Homecoming,’ the editors, and our one music editor, had to to carve it out of preexisting score written for a different movie. We’d have to combine a few scores, and there were times I had to tell them to replace some scores, because they were too expensive after they had carefully crafted it to work with their scenes.”

As the first few episodes hit the editing room, Phillips and the editors started to see an even bigger creative problem. In the 10-episode series, there are longer, key scenes between Heidi (Julia Roberts), a counselor helping veterans adjust to everyday life, and Walter (Stephan James), a young soldier back from a tour in the Middle East. The show ultimately arcs around their many-layered relationship.

“It’s a weird tone between the two of them,” Phillips said. It’s slightly romantic, it’s a little emotional, but you don’t want to push it too hard. It should be pretty subtle, and the scores that we were using were really big scores… a lot of these things we found to put under those scenes felt very heavy handed.”

Often, published scores don’t include quiet moments of “underscore,” but rather the showy moments of action, drama, and emotion. Phillips started to doubt the feasibility of using entirely pre-existing scores.

“I called one of the producers and I was like, ‘I really don’t know if we’re going to be able to do this,’ and it was mostly because I was trying to help the editors find stuff for that first scene between Heidi and Walter,” said Phillips. “So they sat down and talked to Sam, I wasn’t there, and Sam was like, ‘Absolutely no. I want all pre-existing score.'”

Esmail recalled the moment he realized there was no turning back on his concept. “Music is everything to me,” said Esmail. “It’s the heart and soul of a movie or TV show to me because it can be such an injection of tone, and I think tone is everything to a story. So I just took a moment and said, ‘We should embrace this.’ This is too critical for me to ask someone to be derivative, which is also not very fair to them, but also, I wouldn’t want that. I would always constantly compare it to the real thing, and just thought it was so critical to the kind of tightrope walk that we’re doing with tone in the show that I just thought, ‘Let’s just go for it.'”

Phillips agrees that using older scores as temp music would have been a mistake. Music supervisors and composers refer to this as “temp love,” in which creators fall in love with the temp music and ask composers to mimic it. Like many, Phillips believes it’s not only a horrible way for a director to collaborate with a composer, but it’s also why so many scores in the last 15 years sound the same.

Phillips did get Esmail to use a few more modern scores for the show’s quieter moments. She also established a “No YouTube” rule for the editors: Not only were many scores pulled off the internet knock-offs that wouldn’t match, Phillips also wanted to secure the original recording before the editorial team started cutting to it.

Now that she has the final product, Phillips is impressed by how organic the music feels to the show, and the future possibilities for television scores.

“You don’t hear scores this big in TV, and it added so much of the tension,” said Phillips. “It’s a thriller, but it’s a slow burn. It’s not like you are wondering what’s behind the corner. The scores make it feel very thematic and heighten the tension and add to that edge-of-the-seat feeling you’re getting while you watch it. I don’t think it’d be like that without that big dramatic score on top of these scenes.”

So would she recommend using pre-existing score to other creators? “No,” laughed Phillips. “This ended up working because it was so organic to how Sam saw the show and shot the show. He’s a crazy genius, who was backed by a producing team willing to spend the money to see the process through.”

Below is list of the scores used in “Homecoming,” by episode.

Episode 1

“Dressed to Kill,” composer Pino Donaggio
“All The President’s Men,” composer David Shire
“Marathon Man,” composer Michael Small
“Vertigo,” composer Bernard Herrmann

Episode 2

“Klute,” composer Michael Small
“Duel,” composer Billy Goldenberg
“The Gift,” composers Daniel Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans

Episode 3

“Capricorn One,” composer Jerry Goldsmith
“The Andromeda Strain,” composer Gil Mellé
“The Car,” composer Leonard Rosenman
“Chariots of Fire,” composer Vangelis
“Gray Lady Down,” composer Jerry Fielding
“Star Chamber,” composer Michael Small

Episode 4

“The Amityville Horror,” composer Lalo Schifrin
“The Day The Earth Stood Still,” composer Bernard Herrmann
“The Hand,” composer James Horner
“Carrie,” composer Pino Donaggio
“The Andromeda Strain,” composer Gil Mellé
“L’Apocalypse des animaux,” composer Vangelis
“All The President’s Men,” composer David Shire

Episode 5

“Body Double,” composer Pino Donaggio
“The Taking of Pelham 123,” composer David Shire
“The Conversation,” composer David Shire
“Escape from New York,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
“The Thing,” composer Ennio Morricone
“Narrow Margin,” composer Bruce Broughton
“The French Connection,” composer Don Ellis

 

Episode 6

“High-Rise,” composer Clint Mansell
“Scanners,” composer Howard Shore
“The List of Adrian Messenger,” composer Jerry Goldsmith
“Copycat,” composer Christopher Young
“Creation,” composer Christopher Young
“Three Days of the Condor,” composer Dave Grusin

Episode 7

“Gray Lady Down,” composer Jerry Fielding
“The Thing,” composer Ennio Morricone
“The Andromeda Strain” (TV Series), composer Joel J. Richard
“Christine,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
“The Parallax View,” composer Michael Small
“The Thing,” composer Ennio Morricone
“The Fog,” composer John Carpenter
“Halloween 3,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth

Episode 8

“The Conversation,” composer David Shire
“Christine,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
“Halloween 3,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
“Altered States,” composer John Corigliano
“The Andromeda Strain,” composer Gil Mellé
“The Fog,” composer John Carpenter

Episode 9

“Body Heat,” composer John Barry
“Dove Siete? Io Sono Qui,” composer Pino Donaggio
“Raising Cain,” composer Pino Donaggio
“Legend,” composer Tangerine Dream
“Oblivion,” composer Anthony Gonzalez & Joseph Trapanese
“All The President’s Men,” composer Michael Small
“The Eiger Sanction,” composer John Williams

Episode 10

“The Dead Zone,” composer Michael Kamen
“The Andromeda Strain,” composer Gil Mellé
“Opéra sauvage,” composer Vangelis


ADAM NAYMAN ON THE VISUAL STYLE OF 'HOMECOMING'

Meanwhile, at The Ringer, Adam Nayman delves into the visual style of Homecoming:

The all-around excellence of Amazon’s new 10-part thriller Homecoming has been covered already on The Ringer; not since that show about mean rich guys (I think it’s called Succession? Can anyone help me with this?) has an original series gotten so many Twitter-verified writers so excited. Fortunately, the hype is justified, at least on a level of pure craft. The Ringer’s Alison Herman correctly describes Esmail’s aesthetic as “heavily stylized, filled with split screens, overhead shots, and a constant accompaniment in an intricately composed composite of nail-biting scores,” to which I would only add—in case there’s any ambiguity—that this kind of audiovisual ingenuity is very much a Good Thing. Even in a year when directors like Atlanta’s Hiro Murai have already demonstrated serious chops in the TV format—and even without the knowledge that Esmail is trying to find a way to visualize material that began in podcast form—the Mr. Robot helmer’s bravura showmanship is worth celebrating. So how about doing it with some of the same detail-oriented focus that the show has itself? I thought you’d never ask.

The first shot of Homecoming’s pilot is also the first opportunity for Esmail and his team to play a game of spot the reference. As the camera tracks back from the aquarium in therapist Heidi Bergman’s office, Pino Donaggio’s satirically overwrought score from Dressed to Kill plays in the background. The obvious in-joke is that Brian De Palma’s 1980 thriller hinges on a plot twist involving a psychiatrist with a secret, and the shot’s slow, elegant movement copies De Palma’s style.

As the camera locks into place and Heidi prepares to deliver the first line of the show, the blinds on either side of her create a frame within a frame whose dimensions mirror the 1:1 aspect ratio used in the flash-forward scenes. Even within the reality of the show’s 2018 timeline, Heidi occupies a narrowed position, suggesting a lack of knowledge despite her authoritative position behind her desk. More importantly, the show’s visual signature has been established almost subliminally.


Posted by Geoff at 2:11 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, November 10, 2018 2:21 PM CST
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Thursday, October 25, 2018
'HOMECOMING' BORROWS FROM DONAGGIO'S DTK SCORE
ESMAIL PREVIOUSLY USED DONAGGIO THEME FROM 'BLOW OUT' FOR EPISODE OF 'MR. ROBOT'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/homecoming2.jpg

According to Vulture's TV critic Jen Chaney, Amazon Prime's new series, Homecoming, which is directed by Sam Esmail, has "a score that sometimes literally borrows from older films — like Alan J. Pakula’s Klute and Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill." Here's the whole paragraph, for more context:
There are moments in Homecoming that are positively Hitchcockian, particularly with regard to Esmail’s choice of imagery. In episode three, there’s a vertical shot of Carrasco descending a flight of stairs that’s deliberately evocative of Vertigo. In a later episode, Esmail deploys a Hitchcock zoom so glorious it deserves an Oscar, even though, yes, I know, Oscars are not given to TV shows. Elements like that and a score that sometimes literally borrows from older films — like Alan J. Pakula’s Klute and Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill — infuse Homecoming with a classic conspiracy theory thriller spirit that makes it feel a bit old-school and thoroughly contemporary all at once. That’s an appropriate combo for a series based on something modern (a podcast) that has the feel of a throwback (a radio serial).

UPDATE OCT. 27 - HOW ESMAIL EXPANDED 'HOMECOMING' PODCAST INTO TV SERIES

The Wall Street Journal's John Jurgensen posted an article October 27th with the headline, "The Surreal World: TV Delves Into Paranoia, Anxiety and Misinformation." The article includes a discussion about Homecoming, and some interview comments from Esmail:

Homecoming” initially was a podcast, released by Gimlet Media in 2016 and featuring a surprisingly star-studded cast. Catherine Keener, who was the first to sign on, played Heidi Bergman, the character Ms. Roberts portrays in the TV adaptation. Oscar Isaac was Mr. James’s audio counterpart as the troubled veteran, while David Schwimmer played a hard-charging company man who launched the Homecoming program (played on TV by Bobby Cannavale).

The podcast’s creators, Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, also wrote and executive-produced the TV adaptation. When Mr. Esmail signed on to direct it, he expanded the story for a different medium by drawing on the tense cinema of the 1970s. For example, most of the music in “Homecoming” is from that era, using scores borrowed from movies directed by Brian De Palma, Alan J. Pakula and John Carpenter.

Mr. Esmail developed the style for “Homecoming” with many of his “Mr. Robot” collaborators, including cinematographer Tod Campbell and production designer Anastasia White. They tried to create a world in which characters deal with incomplete information in settings that feel askew.

The octagonal office where Ms. Roberts conducts counseling sessions creates a fishbowl effect. “You can move the camera around and it always feels circular, like there’s no way out and anyone can look in,” Mr. Esmail says.

In an unusual visual technique, “Homecoming” uses standard widescreen shots during the scenes from the past—before the Homecoming program unravels—but narrows the frame to a square when the story flashes forward.

That adds a claustrophobic urgency to the therapist’s quest for facts, Mr. Esmail says: “Boxes within boxes.”

As a director, Mr. Esmail is known for that kind of unorthodox camera work, intentionally framing characters off-center or surrounded by odd spaces. “Sam would walk into a room and his first question would be, ‘Does the ceiling come off?’ because he wanted to shoot from above,” Mr. Bloomberg recalls.

“We want absolute control over how we design the shot,” Mr. Esmail says, especially for scenes of people in a facility designed for surveillance. “They’re under a microscope.”


In an episode of Mr. Robot two years ago, Esmail opened with a flashback using Pino Donaggio's theme from De Palma's Blow Out. The episode's intro also brought to mind De Palma's Dressed To Kill and Carrie. Here's what I wrote on August 18, 2016:
Last night's episode of USA's Mr. Robot (season 2, episode 7, "eps2.5h4ndshake.sme"), which was directed by the show's creator, Sam Esmail, opened with a flashback set to Pino Donaggio's theme from Brian De Palma's Blow Out. The theme is the first significant sound heard in the episode (after a couple of footsteps), runs over the opening title and beginning of the credits, and includes a direct homage to De Palma's Carrie, a film which was also scored by Donaggio.

The episode opens with a hint of the way Donaggio's music brings us into Kate Miller's world in the first part of De Palma's Dressed To Kill. The Blow Out theme, lush and melancholic, is accompanied by a camera (us, the viewer, a.k.a. Elliot's "friend") consistently pushing in toward Joanna Wellick, the wife of Tyrell Wellick, a character we are so far led to believe is no longer alive. The flashback is centered on a gift, earrings, that Tyrell had given to Joanna just before a social gathering. As the camera gets closer to Joanna, and Donaggio's music offers sad reflection, Tyrell appears, and even when the scene shifts to the gathering (which includes the woman Tyrell murdered last season, leaving us without a doubt that we're in a flashback), the movement keeps moving from wide shot and, with help of a dissolve, into Joanna's face, seemingly moved by the earrings, the camera eventually providing the viewer a close-up view of an earring in Joanna's ear which, via a match-cut, takes us out of pre-Tyrell's disappearance and into a more present-day, post-Tyrell flashback, where Joanna is tending to her baby in a stroller on the street.

Donaggio's theme here enters into its sparse piano portion (the part that Tarantino used for a tender texting moment in Death Proof), as the episode's opening credits also begin. An older woman is walking by, and Joanna smiles at her, but the woman turns out to be one of the many angry members of society walking around the city in the wake the E Corp hack. Targeting Joanna (and while we as viewer are still focused on the fact that she is wearing the expensive earring gift), the woman suddenly throws a bucket of what appears to be red paint onto Joanna, while shouting, "Capitalist pig!" The use of the word pig, a bucket, and the color red (whether actual pig's blood or red paint) mark the moment as an overt homage to De Palma's Carrie, as does the way Joanna then begins to scream out at the world while splattered in red, yet we can't hear her screams, only the quiet piano of Donaggio's theme from Blow Out, as the title "Mr. Robot" starkly appears overlayed upon Joanna's rage.

As Donaggio's theme trails off to its poignant final notes, the scene shifts once again into present day, as Joanna is now gazing upon a new gift set on top of her kitchen counter: a framed ultrasound sonogram of the baby she and Tyrell created. Joanna has been receiving gifts that seemingly come from Tyrell, who may be dead, and as the camera looks up from the countertop to Joanna sipping on a glass of wine as she looks down at the gift, we hear Elliot's voice ("I see you"), and for a moment, juxtaposed against Joanna's face, we sense that Elliot has been sending the gifts, and perhaps watching Joanna, until we realize Elliot is addressing us, his "friend," the viewer. Or is he...?

In any case, it is a brilliantly-conceived opening sequence by Sam Esmail. Looking forward to seeing how it all fits in once we know the truth about everything that is actually going on.


Posted by Geoff at 8:06 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, October 27, 2018 12:24 PM CDT
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Friday, September 21, 2018
'ASSASSINATION NATION' & MAYBE DE PALMA, MAYBE NOÉ
SEVERAL TAKES ON SINGLE-TAKES IN SAM LEVISNON FILM
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/assassinationnation.jpg

Sam Levinson's Assassination Nation opened in theaters today, and most reviews, positive or negative, seem to mention a single-take sequence of one kind or another, often mentioning Brian De Palma, and sometimes mentioning Gaspar Noé. So, here we go:

Armond White, National Review

Levinson surveys social and political controversies such as narcissism, waterboarding, and 4Chan extortion as sick jokes, but he fails to provide comic relief. A feminist gag about remaking Straw Dogs bombs: “Instead of Susan George being raped, it’s Dustin Hoffman.” “Hasn’t Nancy Meyers already done that?” It’s self-congratulatory and presumes Millennials’ unlikely cultural savvy. Through Levinson’s own cultural arrogance, the middle-class double standards look just like the banal American Beauty, and his vision of political turmoil turns into The Purge. Anarchists and lynch mobs wear masks atop masks, leading to the siege of a black family’s home staged in laughably blood-spattered imitation of De Palma’s Scarface. The capper is Lily’s declaration against hypocrisy: “Don’t take your hate out on me; I just got here!”

Rob Thomas, The Capital Times
Eventually, and unconvincingly, they focus on Lily, and the second half of “Assassination Nation” becomes straight-on horror as Lily and her friends try to escape the vigilante mob and, eventually, turn the tables on them. Levinson shoots the violence with a lot of style and energy — there’s a brilliantly staged single-take shot of a house under siege, the camera panning from one window to another, that seems a clear homage to Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out.”

But under the style there’s not much to “Assassination Nation,” and the film’s attempts at making some larger point about mob mentality or the destructive power of social media — usually a speech by one character with an American flag strategically placed in the background — feel forced. Like in the “Purge” movies, “Nation” is a commentary on how horrible other people are, while reassuring the audience that we’re not anything like that.

The film’s attempts to tie its mayhem to the #MeToo movement at the end feel about as heartfelt as Kendall Jenner joining the protesters in that Pepsi commercial. Oh, and if you don’t know who Kendall Jenner is, “Assassination Nation” is definitely not for you.


Nick Schager, Film Journal International
Masked men are soon forming posses and hunting for fresh meat—female, in particular, which shifts Assassination Nation’s focus away from pricking modern online paradigms and toward cultural misogyny. Lily, Sarah, Em and Bex (who’s transgender) are cast as prey and, afterwards, as noble avenging feminist angels. Alas, their persecution at the hands of Charlottesville-esque white psychos (highlighted by a sub-Brian De Palma-style sequence shot from outside a home’s windows) might have had more bite had Levinson not first spent so much time depicting his heroines as thoroughly awful. As with an upside-down image of a bat-wielding girl standing on the American flag while stalking cheerleaders practicing an eroticized routine in a darkened gym, everything here is laughably underlined in a vain attempt to Say Something Meaningful about contemporary teenagerdom and America. The only thing conveyed by this wildly moralizing, exhaustingly edgy film, however, is its own shock-tactic self-love.

Adam Nayman, Cinema Scope
The red, white and blue split-screen that showcases the horny, house-partying girls of Assassination Nation is the first—and maybe best—bit of neo-Godardian gamesmanship in Sam (son of Barry) Levinson’s state-of-the-union horror comedy. Suffice it to say that there are more plausible candidates to make satire great again than the guy who directed The Wizard of Lies, to say nothing of the fact that this ostensibly anti-misogynist plunge into distaff objectification and abjection, with incessant sexual violence (and jokes about rape jokes!) is written and directed by a white dude—a well-meaning one, to be sure, one who has read his Arthur Miller and duly reduced its essence to emoji-style bullet points.

So, sad face: after half the population of the city of Salem has its data hacked by an Anonymous-style e-terrorist, the men turn on the hot, horny high-school girls who’ve so shamelessly inflamed their desires via their Instagrammed existences. It’s a clever set-up, permitting the ticking of various politically correct boxes while exalting in all kinds of wretched excess, hence the entirely smug “trigger warnings” that frame the proceedings (an conceit worthy of Gaspar Noé, and all that that implies). But the more that Assassination Nation tries to be about everything—hysteria, hypocrisy, media hypnosis and, of course, Donald Trump—it sacrifices precious specificities of character and context. Plus, casting Joel McHale as the Purge-masked face of toxic masculinity isn’t as effective as, say, unleashing James Franco in Spring Breakers (yet another film that Levinson is chasing without quite catching up to). Everything you need to know about this film is contained in its most self-consciously bravura sequence, an extended, single-take home invasion that’s at once accomplished, self-impressed, sadistic, and redundant.


Jordan Raup (from Sundance last January), The Film Stage
Throughout the scattered build-up and visceral release, Levinson has plenty of ostentatious touches, some of which work better than others. During a party, he breaks down the frame into a triptych in a perceptive comment on how what should be an intimate experience is distilled into vertically-oriented, social media-ready clips apt for public digital consumption. Less effective is a single take which floats around the house as the town zeroes in on their victims. By the fifth or sixth minute, it’s clear more tension would have been felt if this was simply a well-executed series of shots inside the home.

And finally, the hosts of Build Weekend Watch end up their discussion of Levinson's film with an off-the-cuff discussion of De Palma, in which each one picks their favorite De Palma film-- and between the three of them, they manage to pick my three favorite ones... although Camilleri needs to go back and look at the pointed police station exposition scene in Raising Cain again, for sure...
Ethan Alter: There is one scene that sort of summarizes the movie, to me, and what it does well and what it mostly doesn't, is there's a long set-piece, with a bunch of Purge-like points (where everything's broken down), the townspeople are attacking the teenage girls who are running. And they're attacked at their house-- the scene is done sort of halfway between Brian De Palma and Gaspar Noé, with a lot of upside down camerawork, trying to do all-in-one-shot Steadicam where you can sort of see where they cut, but they're trying to create the impression of it all being a single-take. It should be, again, a three-minute sequence. They drag it out for eight minutes. And at that point, at about the five-minute mark, you're like, oh, okay, they're just showing off.

Ricky Camilleri: Sounds like Brian De Palma.

Ethan Alter: Yeah, there is truth in that.

Karen Han: I love him, though!

Ricky Camilleri: I love Brian De Palma, but there is definitely a sense, of, you know... Raising Cain is a movie where there are some one-shot wonders in there. Like, this is about nine minutes of just floating through a police station for literally no reason, but... God love ya, keep it up, man.

Ethan Alter: Yeah.

Ricky Camilleri: And the thing with Gaspar Noé, I love Gaspar Noé, and I love the upside down camerawork, and I love when he shocks. Because I feel like all of the things that he is doing, is, he's not putting anything on, he's just naturally who he is, and he can't help it. Love him or hate him, that's what he's going to do. It's not like he walked into a room and said, "Oh, I'm gonna be like this director." Whereas this director seems like he may have done that, and said, "Gaspar Noé." Want to move onto the next movie, guys? What do you think? Got more about Assassination Nation? We good? You wanna just talk about Brian De Palma for a little while?

Ethan Alter: Yeah, we could do that.

Ricky Camilleri: What's your favorite Brian De Palma movie?

Karen Han: Phantom Of The Paradise. Absolutely.

Ethan Alter: Oooh, good choice. Good choice.

Ricky Camilleri: Okay, we'll throw some rocks right now. What's your favorite De Palma?

Ethan Alter: It's cliché, but Carrie. Carrie is just, proto-Stephen King, proto-seventies horror, it's great. It still plays well.

Ricky Camilleri: I'd go Blow Out. The fireworks sequence in Blow Out, with the camera going around, is incredibly beautiful. I saw it for the first time on the big screen and it blew my mind.


Posted by Geoff at 10:35 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 22, 2018
GUTIERREZ' NEW FILM TAKES MORE VISUAL APPROACH
'ELIZABETH HARVEST' USES TOOLS OF HITCHCOCK, DE PALMA, KUBRICK, & LESS DIALOGUE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/elizabethharvest2.jpgSebastian Gutierrez's Elizabeth Harvest was released a couple of weeks ago, and is described by MovieMaker's Grant Vance as a "trippy, colorful genre mashup." Gutierrez tells Vance that he set out to make a movie that would be more visually-oriented and less dialogue-driven than his previous films:
Grant Vance, MovieMaker Magazine: One of my Favorite aspects of Elizabeth Harvest was your handle of the atmosphere and tone. How do you develop and maintain that atmospheric tone as a writer and director when dealing with something so genre-oriented?

Sebastian Gutierrez: The last four movies that I directed were so small I hardly have a set. I had actors, and I had to rely on dialogue. I made very character-driven films. So it became really important for me that the next movie I made, even if I didn’t have a big budget, would have camera moves, and sound and music put together. The story of Elizabeth Harvest was written with that in mind. The script has a lot less dialogue than stuff that I usually write.

I wanted to use tools that people like Hitchcock and De Palma and Kubrick use; have the camera to creep down corridors. Really creating that claustrophobic feel of being trapped inside a house was something the director of photography and I shot listed for very specifically. A lot of it is about a house that is set up for Elizabeth to look around and lose herself in. It was very important that we used the colors that we were concentrating on to make it all feel like a dream inside her mind that she’s moving through.

MM: Could you elaborate on the specifics? For instance, were your canted angles, vibrant colors and off-kilter framing all conceived within the script writing process?

SG: The color coding came about early on. Elizabeth Harvest is written so that every 20 minutes something switches in the story. This is opposed to a traditional three act structure. It’s basically a Russian doll structure of story inside a story inside a story. There’s a lot of time stuck in the past and I wanted it to feel less like a logical leap that you had to take and more like a visceral thing that you felt.

We decided that these very saturated colors—red, blue, green, and yellow—would represent different things in each of those scenes from the past. Not really what everyone represents exactly, but they were then parallel with the present day scene that had to do with that emotion with cyan and amber. It was a really good way for the actors and the director of photography and the production designer and myself to find our way through the story. Not to mention that it’s fun to play with really bold saturated colors.

MM: Can you touch on the idea of interloping different genres within Elizabeth Harvest? Jumping naturally from arthouse sci-fi to classic horror.

SG: From the very beginning I wanted to not make a horror movie. I love horror movies, I just didn’t want to only make a horror movie. The horror in Elizabeth Harvest is something much closer to European horror from the 60s and 70s. I’ve been making movies in this country for awhile, but i’m Venezuelan. My sensibilities have always been as a foreign filmmaker; very highly stylized and visual. That sort of Euro-horror that goes from the very cheap and clunky to the very arthouse sort of poetic horror like Eyes Without a Face are things that I’ve always really loved. The Blue Beard story is the bones of the story. It’s a very classic gothic love story, but this movie happens to be science fiction. I needed that to deal with [Elizabeth] differently than [her parallel] in the original Blue Beard story.

The notion of mixing genres is simply that it’s very hard to do a movie that’s just one genre in the post-modern world. The hard part is grabbing things from different genres and understanding that there’s a portion of the audience that won’t like you subverting those rules. There’s a version of this movie that’s straight up horror—which isn’t a bad notion—but it’s much less interested in developing how these characters ended up here. Everyone knows exactly what happens in this story. When someone says “Go everywhere except the one room!” I wanted to get that out of the way immediatly.

MM: Does the Blue Beard influence mingle with an other direct story references? I was sensing a sadistic God complex in Henry viewing Elizabeth as his Eve, in a sense.

SG: There’s a sub genre of mad scientist movies that I love that are usually less concerned with the mad scientist setting out to be god. They’re more interested in the mad scientists doing the wrong thing for love. It’s like Hitchcock would say: “I’m not interested in who done it. I’m interested in what done it.”

MM: I really enjoyed the utilization of split screen; an editing technique with a post-modern sensibility. From a directorial standpoint what are the advantages of using this editing style?

SG: One was for practical purposes, since the audience has already seen this. The second suspenseful one came out of wanting to take a crack at that and have fun with it. Split screens are something that I’ve always wanted to do. Brian De Palma is an absolute master at them, especially in the great, great greta, film Sisters. People like John Frankenheimer. Filmmakers used them awhile back in the 60s and 70s and then people kind of stopped.

Both of those split screen scenes in the movie were in the script, but they’re different once you’re shooting them. Your mind doesn’t work that way. The funny thing with split screen is that you can’t see everything at the same time, so you’re making connections to be able to leap from one thing to another. It’s a bit of a trap to make it make perfect sense. And that’s what I like it about it. It works on a purely visceral level and it can really add suspense. It’s a stylized if you marry it to the right kind of music. You can feel that giddiness. That’s my favorite thing in Spielberg movies, when you’re smiling because it’s a very “movie” moment. But mostly it’s a trick that you’re playing to your brain as you’re watching the thing, and if it works you’re really dragging out the suspense.


Posted by Geoff at 11:41 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 31, 2018
ESMAIL CONTINUES HITCHCOCK & DE PALMA FLOURISHES
WITH NEW AMAZON PRIME SERIES, 'HOMECOMING'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/homecomingteaser.jpgLast week, during a Television Critics Association panel for Amazon Prime's upcoming series, Homecoming, Sam Esmail, who directed each episode, mentioned Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma while discussing the cinematic style of the show, which stars Julia Roberts. Here's an excerpt from a report of the panel posted by Deadline's Dade Hayes:
The audience saw a clip from the show, which details a social worker’s efforts to help soldiers returning from war (though perhaps, it seems, to nefarious corporate ends). In one continuous take, the scene shows Roberts taking a phone call at her desk, standing up and walking down stairs and through a densely populated office. In a fluid tracking shot, the camera follows her both from afar and overhead, passing over the walls dividing each room. Such explicitly cinematic flourishes, Esmail said, were inspired by films by Hitchcock and Brian De Palma.

Esmail said the cinematography and atmosphere of paranoia borrows from Mr. Robot. Like that show, he said, Homecoming taps into a seemingly bottomless well of feeling about the current era of “corporate greed,” as he put it. “We’re still reeling” from the 2008 financial crisis, he said, notably from the fact that no financial executives wound up criminally prosecuted for the meltdown. “I don’t want to say all corporations are the villains but there is that un-trustworthiness,” he said.


Previously:
Blow Out & Carrie haunt Mr. Robot flashback prologue

Posted by Geoff at 8:31 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, July 31, 2018 6:08 PM CDT
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Friday, June 29, 2018
OZON - 'I REALLY LIKE DE PALMA'S FEARLESSNESS'
"HE'S NOT EVEN AFRAID OF BAD TASTE, NOT AFRAID TO GO FURTHER"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/ozondepalmafearlessness.jpgFrançois Ozon's Double Lover was released on Blu-ray and DVD last week-- if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it: a boldly stylish sexual thriller with some truly audacious images. The discs include a 17-minute interview with Ozon and lead actress Marine Vacth, conducted by Richard Peña at the Quad Cinema in New York. When Peña asks how Ozon became interested in adapting a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, Ozon replies:

"I've long read and been a fan of Joyce Carol Oates. Once, an article said even she had a double-- she wrote detective novels under pseudonym. I was very surprised. I wanted to see what she wrote. I finally found this book of hers, Lives of the Twins, translated as L'Amour en double (Double love). I read it as the perfect material for a psychological sexual thriller, a vintage Hitchcock or Brian De Palma. So, I got started working on it, and then learned that the rights were taken, so I stopped. Years later, my producer said the rights were available again, they were in the U.S. I worked and developed the adaptation. I changed a few things, preserving the toxic, perverse, and sexual spirit of Joyce Carol Oates."

Later on in the interview is the following exchange:

Peña: Were there other films that were coursing through your mind while you were making this film? Because it seems to me there are a number of different references, conscious or otherwise...

Yes, certain images do come to you working on a psycho-sexual thriller. First, yes, there's Hitchcock, my favorite filmmaker. I watch him regularly-- a master of narrative and also of manipulation. So, certainly, there are references to him. The same goes for Brian De Palma. He too replays along Hitchcock's lines. So, I fall in that line of art. As a filmmaker, I really like Brian De Palma's fearlessness. He's not even afraid of bad taste, not afraid to go further. He gets deep into his subject, in... in an extreme way. He has a very visual form. There's work behind it. I thought that this film, this story, would give me formal freedom.


Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, June 30, 2018 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, June 15, 2018
DREW BARNHARDT'S 'RONDO' INSPIRED BY DE PALMA, ETC.
WILL GET WORLD PREMIERE AT FANTASIA FEST IN MONTREAL THIS SUMMER
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/rondosmaller.jpgDrew Barnhardt, longtime reader of De Palma a la Mod, has a new film called Rondo, which will have its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montréal this summer. The festival runs July 12 – August 1. Bloody Disgusting's Brad Miska had the description from the Fantasia press release posted yesterday:
A neurotic, introverted young military veteran forces himself to go to a party to meet new people and finds himself plunged into a bizarre criminal underworld of sex and blood in Drew Barnhardt’s utterly mad RONDO (World Premiere). An exuberantly seedy, obsessively well-directed gonzo thriller that’s funny in the darkest ways, RONDO’s violent twists and genuinely uncomfortable moments will leave you breathless from gasping, laughing, and screaming – possibly at the same time. Oddly reminiscent of CRIMEWAVE-era John Paizs by way of De Palma, this is a squirm-inducing, one-of-a-kind exploitation oddity that even the most brazen viewers will never be able to unsee.

I had a chance to view Rondo a couple of months ago, and I would say that the film's website provides a perhaps more accurate description: "Paul, a troubled veteran, is given a special PRESCRIPTION that opens a door to a world of sex, murder, and revenge. Full of black comedy and violent twists, Rondo follows the young vet as he descends into bizarre criminal enterprises in the high-rises of Denver, Colorado." That synopsis adds, "In the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Brian De Palma’s Body Double, Drew Barnhardt's Rondo is a sexy, funny, and distinctly modern update to the suspense thriller."

I found Rondo to be a very vivid movie, in terms of image, story, style, graphic images/language, music, the whole shebang. The propulsive music, by Ryan Franks and Scott Nickoley, carries the film along through memorable chase and suspense sequences. The film features a narrator, and I was reminded of Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Phillip (or, going back, Woody Allen's Take The Money And Run, perhaps, or even Kubrick...?). When I asked Barnhardt about this, he responded via email, "Stanley Kubrick has been my favorite director for ages and it is probably not possible for me to ever shed some of my Kubrick affectations (nor do I desire to). The narrator is one of those. However in Rondo, unlike my last movie where I used a Michael Hordern Barry Lyndon stand-in, my search for the narrator this time out was built on Peter Thomas and his voice work for both Forensic Files and Nova. So that's what all that is all about."

And of course there is plenty of De Palma influence in Barnhardt's new film: the change in protagonist halfway through, linked by the gaze into each other's eyes at moment of one's death (transfer of knowledge and narrative). An elevator sequence that brings the chase in Carlito's Way to mind. Barnhardt agrees there are echoes of De Palma, Kubrick, but also Buñuel and "even getting to play around with some Peckinpah stuff in the finale." He also mentions Verhoeven. However, Barnhardt stresses, "My hope is, that such a gumbo of influences has led to this picture kind of being its own spicy little monster. Or, at least, MY spicy little monster."

I would say it is that, for sure.


Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2018 8:15 AM CDT
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