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Saturday, November 13, 2021

Editor Tom Eagles was interviewed by /Film's Shania Russell about working on Jeymes Samuel's The Harder They Fall:
There are some really great split screen moments, like in that final battle or when we see the death of RJ Cyler's character and we get to see everyone's reaction. Are those things that were in the script or when did you decide to use those?

Yeah, Jeymes always wanted to do those two split screen moments. The other one is on the train. That last one that you're talking about when RJ dies, he was very particular about what it was. So we worked really hard even in pre, we got to Santa Fe a couple of weeks early, we were cutting in Santa Fe, and I actually worked with the assistants just with stock pictures to try and get that right, to get the rhythm right.

So that was very specific and then the other one, which is Cherokee, LaKeith, talking through the wall to the General on the train, that was a little bit more like, "I want split screens here, you figure it out." I think he was specifically, he did want it to wipe on, and then I just had to figure out how to cut a scene where can see both sides. Which is a tricky thing for an editor because normally you're always directing the audience's gaze a little bit. With split screens you can suggest but you can't tell them exactly where to look.

Because LaKeith was so magnetic, I would use cuts to sometimes try and draw your attention over to the other side, we needed to see what was going on there. And the other thing that was tricky about that is LaKeith is a very fluid performer, so he doesn't say the same thing twice ever. So those things were not shot at the same time, when he was doing the general side, he didn't do all that stuff about "Dred Scott free," he didn't do the countdown at the end. So I had to find bits and pieces that I could play on the general side that made it look like they were part of the same conversation.

And then there were just fun discoveries, I found that we could also wipe off with the movement of the door. So that was really fun and Jeymes told me to look at Brian De Palma for split screens. He's a big De Palma fan so I went back and looked at "Dressed To Kill" and a couple other De Palma's, and "Carrie," to see how those worked.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Friday, November 5, 2021

The new Fall 2021 issue of Filmmaker is anchored by a great cover-story of Edgar Wright in conversation with none other than Bong Joon-ho, discussing Wright's great new film, Last Night In Soho:
Bong: Even though it’s really about Soho, I felt like Café de Paris was the prime location, where you see some of the key visual motifs. I thought you made some really bold choices in that location, where I saw a lot of your cinematic ambitions flow throughout. When Eloise first enters the Café, that was such an overwhelming sequence. While I was watching it, I kept trying to imagine your storyboard, because it was such an ambitious scene. I’d like to hear more about how you shot that sequence.

Wright: The interesting thing about Café de Paris is that it still actually exist[ed] as a club [editor’s note: still open during the shoot, the venue closed permanently in December 2020 as a result of the pandemic]. In fact, it’s quite a famous shooting location—tons of music videos have been done there and lots of British films, like Michael Caton-Jones’s Scandal or Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners. But what we wanted to achieve in the sequence was quite challenging and required a bit more space than the location could offer. Also, it’s still a working club, and they needed it back at night. It was cheaper to build the set than shoot in the real one, so we built it and made it a little bigger than the original—I figured since it’s a dream sequence, we were allowed to do [that]. Because of that, it meant that we could design shots you just couldn’t do on location. For example, when Thomasin McKenzie first comes into the lobby and there’s the first mirror shot with Anya, that’s actually a double set. It’s a double lobby and there’s a mirror there, then when one of the maître d’s, who’s played by Oliver Phelps, takes [Thomasin’s] coat and walks in front of the camera, the mirror slides back revealing Anya and James Phelps, his identical twin brother, also in a maître d costume. It’s basically a Magic Circle shot. It’s also choreographed to the song [Cilla Black’s “You’re My World”] as well. Choreographing everything to a song might seem restrictive, but it isn’t really—we know [Thomasin] is going to walk out into the street to the first chorus, she’s going to see Anya on the second chorus, then she’s going to walk into the club on the third chorus, so you can choreograph movement to those specific moments. And when Anya and Thomasin come together opposite each other for real and touch their fingers on the glass, there’s no glass there at all. They are literally tapping their fingers.

Bong: How many times did you shoot this?

Wright: I can’t remember how many takes that was, but for some of those really complicated shots, we would have Saturday rehearsals. We’d be shooting a five-day week, then on a Saturday we’d ask the cast and a couple of key crew members, like choreographer Jen White, Chung Chung-hoon and especially the camera operator, Chris Bain, to rehearse in the afternoon. There’s no point doing those complicated shots if the camera operator isn’t there [at a rehearsal]. It’s always the mistake people make with choreography sequences—they do the choreography in the studio, and the director and dancers or actors know what they’re doing, but the key person to have there is the camera operator because he or she needs to be in exactly the right spot. The floor is taped up with [all these marks] and we rehearse over and over—“one, two, three.” Later in the sequence, when the actors are dancing on the floor, there’s a long Steadicam take that’s done without motion control. It’s all based on the actors and camera operator being in the right spots at the right time. With the exception of one section, which had a second pass on it, everything is done in-camera. Thomasin and Anya are hiding behind the Steadicam, then switching around. It took about 18 or 20 takes for that one. We rehearsed a lot.

There was also a funny thing that happened when we did that shot on the dance floor. Initially Chung had this little mirrored blade, and he liked to flash his torch into the lens so you get some real flares. During the first couple of takes of that dance floor sequence, Matt Smith [was] in the middle and then Anya and Thomasin were dancing around him, then the camera operator [was] moving around them in a bigger circumference, and Chung was trying to flash the lens, running around an even larger circumference to the Steadicam operator. [laughs] After a couple of takes, Chung goes, “Too difficult! Do the flare later. ” [laughs]

The real thrill for me with all those sequences was to try and figure out how to do as much of them in-camera as possible, so that the actors could really physically be there and act opposite each other, especially in scenes when Thomasin and Anya are playing each other’s reflections. There was lots of trickery where it’s half-practical, half-digital.

Bong: As filmmakers, more than anything else, we’re just huge cinephiles, and I think when we’re shooting an ambitious sequence like that, we’re always conscious of our predecessors. When I watched that Café de Paris sequence I felt that you might have thought of The Lady from Shanghai by Orson Welles or some of the Steadicam shots in Brian De Palma’s movies. Were there any sequences or directors you were paying homage to or maybe competing with? Were you conscious of any reference points?

Wright: I think all the things you mentioned are dead on. The entire film is inspired by a feeling that I get from some of those films, whether it’s De Palma or Lady from Shanghai, but also Hitchcock and Italian directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Cocteau’s Orpheus inspired me in terms of finding a way to visualize dreams. Something I saw when I was a teenager that struck me in a very profound way was Buñuel’s last film, That Obscure Object of Desire, and the idea of two actresses alternating scenes. I would always have dreams where I knew I was somebody else—not looking in a mirror and seeing somebody else, but just the feeling that I’m experiencing a dream through somebody else’s body and face. So, it was bringing all of those things together. In the Buñuel film, they never have the actresses in the same shot, they just alternate scenes, but I thought, “Well, what if it’s almost as if the baton is being passed?” You see the other person in the mirror, then there’s a handoff. Now Thomasin is on the other side and Anya is the lead in these sequences.

Something I like in Hitchcock and De Palma films—this goes for some of the Italian filmmakers as well—is when things become operatic, in that they don’t really make sense in a physical way but make sense in some kind of dream logic. That was the feeling I wanted in the entire film: What if you had sequences that were clearly dreams, then at a certain point in the movie it all starts to feel like a waking dream? For the second half of the movie, Thomasin McKenzie is so sleep deprived that it’s similar to that manic state when you’re having a lucid waking nightmare.

One other filmmaker we didn’t mention who had a huge influence on me was Michael Powell, and two of his films specifically, Black Narcissus and Peeping Tom. In the former, I love how the use of color is so expressionistic and emotional. Then with the latter I was so inspired by Peeping Tom that I actually used two of its famous locations in Soho. The newsagent that Thomasin McKenzie goes into at the start of the movie is the same newsagent from Peeping Tom—still there, 60 years later. Then the pub they run past towards the end of the film is from the opening of that movie. Again, these locations are not far away from where I live. So, when I say I can’t escape it, I literally can’t escape it. It’s something I walk past every day.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Martin Girard, the co-screenwriter of Bruce LaBruce's Saint-Narcisse, tells De Palma a la Mod that the film "is profoundly influenced by the cinema of Brian De Palma (my all time favorite director, I worship him). Saint-Narcisse that I have co-written with Bruce (another big fan) is about twins (named Dominic and Daniel) and so much more... I'm very proud of the film, of its mix of satire, melodrama, horror, mystery, subversion... and numerous hommages to the master." Girard adds that yes, "the names are a direct reference to Sisters, but you’ll see that there are also many themes close to Obsession and Carrie. After all, it’s a story about double and religious fanatism, among many other things..."

This week, Armond White reviews the film for National Review:

Saint-Narcisse, a place of the imagination, is an ironic destination for LaBruce’s protagonist, who loves to take pictures of himself. Duval looks like a Marvel superhero: curly hair, curious eyes, gym-fit body (part Chris Evans, mostly Sebastian Stan). His arrival in Saint-Narcisse evokes certain gay cultural signposts, from Aubrey Beardsley–style ink-drawing flashbacks to the erotic-art film Pink Narcissus. It’s a combination of myths — from mother dominance to same-sex narcissism — once used to either explain or represent homosexuality. LaBruce adds his own mythology, evoking Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller Sisters (which starred Canadian actress Margot Kidder as twins Dominique and Danielle), playing with the idea of split personality to further tease queer pathologies that are either inflicted or alleged.

“Everyone despised us for what we did and what we were — your grandmother, the church,” Dominic’s witch-artist mother explains, defending her own transgressions. LaBruce’s post-Stonewall, post-Warhol sensibility never shies away from transgression, which is why he has made the bravest, most emotional films about gay experience by any artist in the Western Hemisphere. His only rival is Mexico’s Julián Hernández. In the sequence where the two suedehead twins confront each other in the woods, they share curiosity, frustration, and desire. Their yin-yang postures in postcoital Last Tango stills are daringly cinematic — like the montage of Sebastian reclining against a tree, which dissolves to a rippling lake, leading to the classical mythological image of Narcissus seeing himself reflected in water. These beautiful contemplative moments, more sensitive and sensual than in LaBruce’s 2017 film The Misandrists, are unexpectedly classical.

But LaBruce must interrupt classicism with agitation in the form of institutional critique: Brother Daniel’s sexual identity is derailed by the rapacious priest (Andreas Apergis) in an order of eccentric monks whose seclusion (“Evil grows in the dark,” by the Poppy Family) features S-M rituals and manic self-flagellation. Scenes of monks disrobing and swimming at a pond are like Claire Denis’s Beau Travail finally directed by a gay man, while the corrupt priest’s death is the payback François Ozon tastefully avoided in By the Grace of God.

In Saint-Narcisse, LaBruce works through decadent sexual identity by confronting its corruption. Critic John Demetry pointed out a connection to De Palma’s Carrie (a great movie not generally appreciated for its profound satire of sexual-social-religious guilt) in the scene where an arrow-pierced Saint Sebastian statue (often a gay objet d’art) looks down, comically condemning a perverse supplicant. LaBruce matches that with his own pop-culture jest: Sly and the Family Stone’s “It’s a Family Affair” (“Blood’s thicker than the mud”) during the climax which clears away sorrow, confusion, and narcissism. Saint-Narcisse doesn’t show De Palma’s mastery of suspense tropes but moves from obsessive self-regard to open embrace. Brothers Dominic and Daniel escape the high-priest hypocrite whose lust is stronger than his love, just like LaBruce’s honest, gay-identity horror-satire triumphs over the political blasphemy of Buttigieg’s lust for power.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, September 10, 2021

Jesse Hassenger, Decider
The first shot of The Voyeurs zeroes in on Pippa (Sydney Sweeney), as the camera observes her in the gap of a dressing-room curtain. As she appears to become aware that she’s being watched as she’s undressing, she looks reproachfully toward the audience while pulling the curtain shut. A bit on the nose, perhaps, but in a cinematic landscape so deprived of Brian De Palma-style post-Hitchcockian winking voyeurism, maybe more movies should be aiming to stimulate other body parts besides the boring old heart or brain?

The Voyeurs isn’t just De Palma-esque; it’s a full-on erotic thriller, recalling movies like De Palma’s Body Double and Dressed to Kill, as well as less distinguished titles like 1993’s Sliver, with which it shares a fixation on urban surveillance. Pippa and Thomas (Justice Smith) are a couple who moves into a beautiful new apartment building and become fascinated with another couple, whose lives (sex and otherwise) unfold in full view across the street from them. Pippa becomes significantly more fascinated than Thomas does, though it’s hard to tell if she’s more attracted to amorous (some might say sleazy) photographer Seb (Ben Hardy) or the possibly distressed model Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Anyway, twists ensue, many of them erotic.

These types of movies have fallen out of fashion, as so many subgenres do—but it’s hard not to read their particular absence as a commentary on the utter sexlessness of so many mainstream movies (*cough* MARVEL *cough*). Despite fewer content restrictions than ever (no one will be checking IDs before you stream the decidedly R-rated Voyeurs on Amazon Prime this weekend), movie studios are cautious about heavily sexualized stories or characters. And there are some signs audiences like it this way, or at least have come to understand it as a standard: Every few months, sometimes even more often, someone goes viral on Twitter for opining how unnecessary it is for any movie to include basically any kind of sex scene. As far as anyone can tell, these tweets are rarely authored by your grandparents. They often seem to come from genuine twentysomethings, perhaps chucking sexuality out with the male gaze that has often informed them.

This possible generation gap may actually be a niche issue amplified by the Very Online, but it’s one that Michael Mohan, the writer-director of The Voyeurs, seems to be aware of nonetheless. Compared to vintage erotic thrillers, Mohan’s movie is striking for focusing on characters who read much younger than typical ‘80s or ‘90s protagonists. Justice Smith and Sydney Sweeney aren’t vastly younger than, say, Kathleen Turner in Body Heat or Melanie Griffith in Body Double, but they read that way thanks to the actors’ past work. Sweeney is known primarily for teenage or teenage-adjacent roles so far; though she often plays characters who are forward or provocative, as she did on Everything Sucks!, the short-lived ‘90s-based coming-of-age dramedy also shepherded by Mohan, she’s mostly kept pace with her real-life age. Smith has played some nominal adults in blockbusters like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Detective Pikachu, but these are exactly the kind of big-studio projects that are essentially kids’ movies with a few dark moments to placate adults. They barely have romance, let alone any hints of sex.

The movie’s characterization of Pippa and Thomas accentuates their late-Millennial, borderline-Gen-Z vibes. They come across as faintly disbelieving that they belong in a nice Montreal apartment, their romantic banter is dorky and self-deprecating, and they ask Siri about open relationships at brunch. Even their mismatched voices drive home their lack of forceful adultness: There’s a built-in hesitancy to Sweeney’s Drew Barrymore-ish lilt, while Smith’s deeper voice contrasts with his character’s sheepish attitudes (“that’s some good content,” he deadpans about seeing the neighbors across the way having sex). A distance forms between the characters because Pippa is intrigued by the watching-and-watched kink, while Thomas—who seems more squeamish about sex from the jump—blanches. (He’s technically correct about the questionable ethics of Pippa’s behavior—and still comes across as a worrying scold.)

The Voyeurs ultimately pushes further than vague questions of generational comfort with sexuality; it doesn’t really take place in anything resembling the real world, knowingly so (“It just doesn’t feel real,” Pippa says at one point late in the film). But the tension it generates between sexual curiosity and contemporary prudishness gives it some metatexual punch. Mohan and Sweeney place Pippa at the center of that tension. She appears in a concealed state of undress so many times that it almost becomes a running gag, making this the first movie in ages to actually attempt to wring suspense out of when nudity will occur. (Smith mostly stays clothed—both thematically appropriate for his character and somewhat unfair.)

This sounds lascivious, but the movie knows what it’s doing in this regard; it feels equally eager to recall the heyday of Mr. Skin and to be called “horny” on Twitter. If it feels a little like a training-wheel erotic thriller, lacking noirish overtones or the setpiece-heavy dexterity of a great thriller, maybe that’s part of its design. Instead, The Voyeurs remains hyper-fixated on the idea of watching — Pippa’s line of work is ophthalmology, enabling plenty of gnarly eyeball closeups (and the line “I know what the inside of her oculus looks like”) — to the point where the movie feels like a viewer’s guide to itself, easing an unaccustomed audience into its sexy, dangerous world. If it’s all a bit indulgent without a lot of emotional resonance to its more ghoulish twists, well, maybe that’s OK, too. Onanism doesn’t get much play in mainstream movies, either.

G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle 
So that’s the setup of this tamer-than-it-should-be thriller, a slow-moving dud until a slam-bang finale that contains a couple of delicious twists. If only the whole movie had been like that.

The director is Michael Mohan, who wrote the pedestrian script and is making his feature debut after working with Sweeney on the Netflix series “Everything Sucks!” His direction is fine; Sweeney, so good in Amazon’s Blumhouse film “Nocturne,” is effective.

But one wonders how a master of truly twisted movies — say, a David Lynch or a Brian De Palma — would have approached “The Voyeurs.” One suspects they would have a bit more fun and taken us further down the moral rabbit hole. And the sex would have been better too.

Ferdosa Abdi, Screen Rant
Sydney Sweeney and Justice Smith star in the saucy, silly, and extremely messed up erotic thriller The Voyeurs, which is perfect for a new generation of fans. Viewers have long been starved of truly absurd, yet sexy erotic thrillers that have an intoxicating blend of attractive people doing stupid and dangerous things for the absolute thrill of it. In The Voyeurs, writer-director Michael Mohan takes all the lessons of the truly wild erotic thrillers of the 1990s and brings them into the modern age. With a dose of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Brian De Palma’s Body Double, The Voyeurs perfectly captures all there is to love about the genre.

Malignant review - Charles Bramesco, The Guardian
In an interview with IGN, [James] Wan expressed a desire to work at a more intimate scale between blockbuster studio gigs, something in line with “the kind of films that excited me when I was much younger, when I was a teen growing up, idolizing film-makers like De Palma, Argento, and all that”. Those influences, De Palma’s twisted Sisters in particular, make themselves known in this winningly demented second-act stretch up to the acrobatic finale. (The Argento name-check boils down to the copious closeups of black-gloved hands wielding a medical award modified to serve as a dagger, a splendid and original signature weapon.) Maybe there’s something to be said for the surprise factor of such a sudden, palpable change in the film’s atmosphere. In practice, however, it feels like Wan’s being stingy with the livelier mayhem he’s evidently capable of unleashing. He can access a spectacular cinematic evil lying dormant inside him, so he ought to take a cue from his own story and let it be free before it can eat through the back of his skull.


Not a review, but a summary of James Wan's discussion about Malignant, posted back in July by Mary Beth McAndrews at Film School Rejects

The Malignant trailer is full of imagery that harkens back to the work of Argento and other giallo directors. Giallo is a subgenre of horror that saw its golden age in the 1970s. These films, such as Tenebrae and Bay of Blood, are crime-thrillers full of gruesome deaths, red lighting, leather gloves, and an amateur detective who must get to the bottom of the mystery.

Wan directly references Argento’s Opera, explaining that this film “really has shades of all those ’80s and sometimes ’70s of more violent and visceral thrillers.”

Giallo is an aesthetically stunning genre, and the use of lighting and space in the Malignant trailer reveals James Wan’s respect for that period of horror history. Gabriel, the film’s villain, is shown decked out in black, the staple outfit for any giallo killer. Red light bathes every frame, and the film’s protagonist embodies the ethos of the giallo main character who is thrust into violence seemingly by chance until they realize the depth of the crimes at hand.

In defining the film himself, Wan says, “It’s horror, but it’s also a traditional thriller. It’s psychological, it’s serial killer, but it’s also potentially a monster movie.” While the trailer does reveal a giallo-inspired film, Wan also explains how this film draws on De Palma’s Dressed to Kill and Raising Cain to create something “in the vein of (De Palma’s) most outrageous whodunit vision.”

This is not just a typical possession film. This is something darker and sexier than his previous films, pulling from a grittier side of horror history.

He also explains the plot of Malignant as the horror version of a certain Disney animated feature, as the story revolves around two sisters trying to figure out a series of murders. Specifically, he says, “There’s a horror version of Frozen in that there is some of that sisterly camaraderie, but with a lot of crazy shit that happens around them.”

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Premiering on HBO Max this Friday, The Flight Attendant is an eight-episode thriller series based on a novel of the same name by Chris Bohjalian. According to Brent Hallenbeck at the Burlington Free Press, the novel "has undergone some major changes" for the HBO series, which was written by executive producer Steve Yockey, who, discussing the tone he was going for, mentions Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma:
Yockey, at the time working as a writer on the TV show “Supernatural,” was hired to oversee adapting “The Flight Attendant” to the screen.

“What Chris did so beautifully is create this kind of pressure cooker for Cassie,” Yockey said. But to adapt the story for a series, Yockey wanted to amplify some of the novel’s scenes.

“This event, this traumatizing event of waking up next to Alex’s body, kind of sends her on this ultimate journey that kind of makes her face the truth,” said Yockey, adding that the central theme of “The Flight Attendant” is “What happens when you have to stop lying to yourself?” He wanted to take a thriller and make it darkly comedic, in the vein of directors Alfred Hitchcock or Brian De Palma.

Yockey realized early that Cuoco was the right person for the job. “You kind of know 10 minutes after talking to her the first time, she has this incredible professional drive and this incredible specificity, but it’s there, this effervescence, this charm, this sense of ease that wants to pull you in,” Yockey said.

Bohjalian had almost no role in adapting the book for the screen. He had phone conversations and text exchanges with Cuoco early in the process and met her at a shoot in New York City last December.

“One of the great things about Kaley that was clear to me early on was how much respect she had for the material and how well she understood Cassie Bowden,” Bohjalian said, “so I knew it was in the best hands imaginable.”

He met Yockey at that December shoot as well. Bohjalian said he was struck by “how brilliantly he had plotted out what he wanted to do to turn this novel into eight hours of really fun, surprising, interesting television.”

Meanwhile, an early review of the HBO limited series by The Gate's Andrew Parker begins:
The limited series equivalent of a comedically nasty, but pleasingly intoxicating beach read, The Flight Attendant is an intricately drawn mystery that moves at a swift, effortlessly bingable pace. A project that finally gives star and producer Kaley Cuoco a proper, headlining showcase, The Flight Attendant deliriously rolls through its twists and turns through the lens of an unreliable, frequently blackout drunk narrator and the input of a long dead corpse. If that sounds strange, you’d be right, but within the weirdness of The Flight Attendant is an effective character study and a genuinely fun whodunit. The fact the show – adapted by series creator Steve Yockey from a novel by Chris Bohjalian – seems to have little clue where it’s heading next is part of the fun, and a great reflection of the trainwreck main character at its centre.

Later in the review, Parker brings up De Palma:
The tone of The Flight Attendant plays like Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor by way of vulgar auteur darling Brian De Palma, complete with an obvious affinity for multiple split-screens in every episode.The Flight Attendant is nasty business, but a lot of it is played for cheeky laughs that are both in bad taste and yet wholly appropriate given the outlandish premise. While The Flight Attendant handles Cassie’s alcoholism as appropriately tragic, the character herself comes down perfectly between self-awareness and obliviousness. Cassie isn’t a dummy, but she’s prone to doing stupid things in hopes of numbing the pain of her existence. She needs help, but her friends and co-workers have known her to be a functional alcoholic for so long that they figure Cassie will just figure things out on her own and come out on top in the end.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, November 26, 2020 6:22 PM CST
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Friday, September 18, 2020

I've watched the first two episodes of Ratched (new on Netflix). Both are directed by Ryan Murphy with compelling, colorful visual style and panache. Bernard Herrmann-esque music pervades. Jennifer Salt co-wrote two of the episodes, and is an executive producer on the 8-episode series, which was created by Evan Romansky and Murphy, based on Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Several reviews mention Alfred Hitchcock and/or Brian De Palma. Here are a couple of samples:

Alci Rengifo, Entertainment Voice

When Netflix granted maverick producer Ryan Murphy carte blanche to make original content, they essentially unleashed his obsession with aesthetic. When approaching his latest Netflix offering, “Ratched,” understanding the Murphy look and feel is key. Officially this is some kind of prequel about Nurse Ratched, the domineering, dark authoritarian in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” made iconic by Louise Fletcher. But dismiss the 1975 movie, or even the original 1962 Ken Kesey novel. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen the movie or read the book. This series has no connection to them aside from the character’s last name. The rest is pure, demented reinvention, sometimes bordering on goofy, but never boring to look at.

In the Murphy universe it all begins with murder. It’s the early ‘50s and a young man named Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock) flips out and kills several priests, apparently convinced one was his father. Edmund will surely face execution and is sent to the Lucia State Hospital, located in a picturesque spot in California. It is here where Nurse Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) arrives looking for work. Stern and focused, Ratchd nearly intimidates the hospital’s chief doctor, Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). Hanover is desperate for funding, practically begging the state governor, George Wilburn (Vincent D’Onofrio). Ratched doesn’t mind the lack of positions, she finds a way to push one nurse out and get her spot. It’s soon evident her real reason for being at the hospital is to get close to Edmund. The killer will soon become the poster child for the hospital’s rehabilitation efforts, which verge from misguided to horrific. Ratched will become a player in it all, even connecting romantically with another character in ways she would have never dreamed.

Ratched” is not necessarily a creation of Murphy. Some attention has been given to how it began as a spec script by Loyola Marymount University film student Evan Romansky four years ago. Along with Murphy, Michael Douglas, who produced the 1975 movie, is also tapped as a producer here. However there is no denying the real force behind the show. Murphy’s stamp is on every episode. It’s a better entertainment than his “Hollywood” series from earlier this year, a revisionist history of the Hollywood Golden Age. But like that series, “Ratched” works best as a visual experiment than as a story. While it’s a timeless classic, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is not “Star Wars,” so it’s not as if audiences have been dying for a prequel. So Murphey lets loose, making every chapter a mad melodrama with heightened colors, camera angles that are obvious homages to Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, and a music score taken straight out of “Cape Fear” or “Psycho.” Many sequences find Ratched walking down a hall as the lighting turns to a hypnotic green or red. The décor, even of the Lucia State Hospital, is lush and seductive to the eye. Never has a mental institution looked this alluring anywhere else. It could be a spa from hell. There are individual moments that can be enjoyed just for Murphy’s fixation on details, like a seaside meal between Ratched and Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), who works for the governor and gets very close to the nurse. Ratched tastes oysters for the first time, and the scene is done in a way where we can almost taste them ourselves.

Andrew Crump, The Playlist
Typical accoutrements for eating raw oysters include cocktail sauce and mignonette, plus or minus a curious spirit for the uninitiated. The key accompaniment is subtlety. But subtlety is served rarely in the Ryan Murphy extended universe, so when Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) and Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon) take a seat at an oceanside restaurant and order an oyster plate, the sexual undertones don’t go “under” at all. They’re as low-key as a jackhammer. But that’s okay. The eroticism and flirtation rest on the surface like vinegar in the shell. Gwendolyn is giving her Mildred her first taste of oysters while handholding her through a metaphor for oral pleasure.

This scene is set about halfway through “Ice Pick,” the second episode in the origin story series “Ratched” on Netflix. Like many productions Murphy puts his name on, he serves as an executive producer and developer; the creator is Evan Romansky, taking pages from Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as well as Miloš Forman’s 1975 adaptation, which is arguably more widely embraced by pop culture than its source material. Regardless, Romansky’s series functions as a “What if?” taking viewers back nearly 20 years to Nurse Ratched’s arrival at Salem State Hospital, back when she was driven by morals and ideals and didn’t approach every patient like a nail. She’s still cunning and ruthless, of course, conniving her way into employment at a mental hospital in Northern California, but she’s also appalled by certain practices seen as state-of-the-art for the times, like hydrotherapy.

“True monsters are made, not born,” reads Netflix’s logline for the show. If that thesis held up as one episode fades into the next, “Ratched” might have better cogency, though even if the writing betrays the basic conceit, the narrative still hums along nicely. What actually hobbles “Ratched” is the Russian nesting doll effect of structuring a prequel around the chief antagonist in a movie based on a book. Characters like Nurse Ratched don’t require explanation. In fact, they can’t be explained at all. They exist solely to provide a wall for protagonists to collide with. Sometimes inhumanity’s roots demand excavation. Most times they’re best left rooted in the dirt.

What’s especially frustrating about Romansky’s enterprise is that “Nurse Ratched” could have done just fine on its own merit divorced from pre-existing intellectual property; as a kinky thriller about a haunted and unstable medical professional who sabotages her peers, bumps off the occasional patient, and disposes of the bodies, all while struggling with her late-stage sexual awakening and a dose of wartime trauma, the show works and handily outclasses Murphy’s other 2020 projects, “Hollywood” and “The Politician.” Think of “Nurse Ratched” as a confluence where the movies of Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock pool together with genre plots about evil nurses, buttressed by the excess that defines Murphy’s brand. The resultant mixture proves satisfying by the end of the pilot’s opening sequence, where Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock) brutally kills a quartet of clergymen with throat slashes, dozens of stab wounds, and one head smash.

Sounds like the start of a new season of “American Horror Story,” except the scares are replaced by the sense of watching strangers undress through their upstairs window. The naughtiness that partially, but substantially drives “Nurse Ratched”s plot feels like a release, even when Romansky and his writing team—comprising Murphy, naturally, as well as his usual cohort Ian Brennan and Jennifer Salt—pause it for genre-mandated bloodletting and squeamish discomforts, ranging from LSD-fueled delimbings to cranial lobotomies performed at the business end of an ice pick (in case Episode 2’s title doesn’t immediately give away the game.) In “American Horror Story,” images like that would be the showcase. Here, it’s more like a set of bookends to prop up complicated bedroom roleplay, Mildred’s sexual self-denial, and her mission to get herself as close to Tolleson as possible. Turns out they’re related, the “how” being revealed in, again, “Ice Pick,” one of the series’ fundamental chapters.

Posted by Geoff at 11:00 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 19, 2020 7:46 AM CDT
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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Hulu premiered the "teaser" today (see video above) for Justin Simien's new film, Bad Hair. According to Indiewire's Ryan Lattanzio, when Bad Hair premiered at Sundance this past January, Simien, who wrote and directed the film, said, "I follow my obsessions down the rabbit hole, and this one began with some conversations about, particularly a sub-genre of Korean horror films that deal with hair horror. I felt like there was a uniquely American story there. I’m obsessed with the ’70s and ’80s psychological thrillers, satirical mashups, Brian De Palma movies, Body Snatchers, Rosemary’s Baby, all those kind of movies."

Lattanzio's article continues:

Simien took from his favorite horror movies to tell a uniquely black story that he feels is missing from the horror genre. “I felt like I haven’t really seen anything that’s pulling from all those different traditions, but is also black, and is using those sort of cinematic techniques to interrogate and make us look at the absurdities of what black women specifically, but what all marginalized people go through,” he said.

“It’s a movie about a killer weave — spoiler alert — but the weave itself burst onto the national scene in 1989, specifically through the popularity of Janet Jackson, the ‘Pleasure Principle’ video first but then ‘Rhythm Nation’ and all those amazing Ebony covers,” Simien said. “I thought it would be an interesting way to look at ourselves but through a fantasy kind of lens. It’s easier sometimes to digest some of this stuff if we can be in a dream world, and I felt like I could make a dream world out of 1989.”

“Let’s not forget music and fashion at that time in black culture was alive and thriving. It’s really when it became rich,” star Kelly Rowland said.

Sharing the trailer at Deadline today, Dino-Ray Ramos states, "The teaser reflects Simien’s affinity for ’80s and ’90s horror pics and gives off some serious Brian De Palma energy as it follows Anna Bludso (newcomer Elle Lorraine), who had a traumatic experience during her childhood when her scalp was burned from a mild relaxer perm. Fast-forward to her adult life in 1989, and she is working at a music video TV show called Culture, which is the epitome of hip hop and New Jack Swing style. Her life is turned upside down when her dreadlocked boss is replaced by Zora (Vanessa Williams), a vicious ex-supermodel who looks to switch things up. When she warns Anna about her natural hair, she goes out and gets a weave from a bougie yet mystical hairdresser (Laverne Cox). She looks good and starts excelling at work with her new hair, but after a while, it begins to have a bloody mind of its own — literally."

Ramos adds that Hulu will release the film on October 23, "with a to-be-determined theatrical date," so I guess the takeaway there is that it will be streaming on Hulu October 23rd, with a possible theatrical release beforehand.

Two reviews of Bad Hair from that Sundance premiere specifically mention De Palma's Body Double:

Monica Castillo, The Wrap

Bad Hair” is shot on film in a way that captures the movie’s throwback look and allows Simien and his cinematographer Topher Osborn to play with color and lighting. The night scenes practically sparkle from blue moonlight, yet dark alleyways and overpasses look even more foreboding with less light. In some scenes, colorful neon signs and lighting fixtures heighten the intensity of the moment.

There’s one particularly striking scene of two actors in mid-kiss backlit with a bright blue light, and carefully composed moments like this add to the film’s suspense – things can’t be this pretty all the time in a horror movie.

Costume designer Ceci also deserves a round of applause for recreating the vivid fashions from the start of her career in the late 80s and early 90s. The gamut of costumes range from professional office wear at the TV channel to casual clothes when visiting family to the fashionable excesses of performers and TV personalities. Many of Ceci’s ensembles also tell a nuanced story of cultural identity and class.

Simien dives into his love of horror movies and peppers references to some of his favorites throughout “Bad Hair.” For instance, there’s a split diopter shot as an homage to Brian De Palma’s “Body Double,” an axe that harkens back to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and many other allusions to such movies as “Carrie,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Bad Hair” references itself often, repeating scenes and clues to the story in flashbacks, which can sometimes get in the way of its own momentum. The movie is front-loaded with exposition, but once the action gets going and the narrative pieces fall into place, “Bad Hair” is a creepy movie with thoughtful political twists and thrilling supernatural turns.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire
The plight of black women and their hair has birthed enough cinematic investigations to yield its own subgenre, from Chris Rock’s astute 2009 documentary “Good Hair” to the 2020 Oscar-nominated animated short “Hair Love.” These endearing cultural explorations are mere preludes to the exuberance of “Bad Hair,” a rambunctious, overindulgent comedy-horror excursion from “Dear White People” director Justin Simien. Equal parts vintage Brian De Palma thriller and race-centric corporate fashion satire in the spirit of “Putney Swope,” Simien’s ludicrous ’80s-spiced supernatural B-movie doesn’t know when to quit, much like the demonic weave at its center.

With 2014’s “Dear White People,” Simien became one of the most exciting writer-director voices in black cinema, merging scathing and satiric observations with genuine insights into contemporary African American frustrations. “Bad Hair” turns the clock back to 1989, elaborating on the thorny issues surrounding black women in popular culture, and may as well be a prequel set in the same snarky universe. However, “Dear White People” managed a tricky balance between snark and genuine social commentary, but even the most acrobatic screenwriting can’t bear the weight of everything Simien tosses into “Bad Hair.” Working overtime to wring substantial insight from a deranged premise about a killer hairstyle with a thirst for blood, the movie’s alternately trying too hard and not hard enough.

At least it’s a substantial mess: “Bad Hair” opens with a James Baldwin quote, digs into the contradictions of the nascent music video industry, and bemoans the sexism of late-’80s workplace — all before tackling the specter of slavery that frames the entire premise. At the same time, it’s a riotous genre pastiche filled with shrieking music cues, canted angles, and shadowy encounters galore. Simien crams the wild psychological thrills of “Body Double” into the framework for wry anti-capitalist humor, and that’s appealing enough in fits at starts. At 115 minutes, however, “Bad Hair” struggles to make its disparate elements click; there’s just enough potential strewn throughout to make it clear the movie could have benefited from a shearing of its own.

Posted by Geoff at 6:44 PM CDT
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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Brian De Palma continues to be a main influence on the style of Amazon Prime's series Homecoming. In 2018, Sam Esmail, who directed all ten episodes of the first season, told an audience of television critics that the kind of continuous, fluid tracking shot he showed them from the series was inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. Then, once the series hit in October of that year, it was discovered that the score used direct pieces from classic paranoia films directed by the likes of De Palma, Alan J. Pakula, and John Carpenter.

The second season of Homecoming premiered yesterday, with Esmail keeping no more than an executive producer role. It turns out that the new director, Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who directed all seven episodes of season two, was a big fan of the first season and fought hard to get the job. The Advocate's Daniel Reynolds has the details:

Another exciting addition is Kyle Patrick Alvarez, a gay Latinx director known for films like C.O.G. and The Stanford Prison Experiment; he also holds TV credits with Netflix's 13 Reasons Why. For Alvarez, these were great expectations of steering the second season of Homecoming after its acclaimed debut in 2018. “You want to live up to people's expectations,” said Alvarez, who said his goal was to create a “digestible and fun season that moves quick and surprises you [and] keeps you really engaged throughout.

This is the first time Alvarez has helmed an entire season of television. Since The Stanford Prison Experiment, the director has worked in TV to direct episodes of various shows, but nothing of this scope. He landed the job the old-fashioned way, through lobbying a producer. “I was a massive fan of season 1,” he said. He then “fought really hard” for the position; he pitched creators [Eli] Horowitz and [Micah] Bloomberg with specifics on how he would film the entire season. His pitch worked. “I'm grateful that they certainly took a chance on me,” he said. “I’m not quite sure how I got that lucky.”

One of the challenges for Alvarez was making the show his own following Esmail, who directed the first season with the distinctive visual style of aspect ratio changes, an “inspired move,” said Alvarez. Alvarez said he had an “open-door policy” in his own artistic choices. While he did not “want to rewrite the book on how this show is shot,” he also did not want to establish Homecoming as “that show where the bars change.”

Thus, the bars no longer change in season 2 — although split screens between characters provide their own moments of dramatic tension and revelation that reference the techniques of the first season while also expanding their meaning. “I was trying to stay in the spirit of it while following my own intuitions,” Alvarez said.

Additionally, Homecoming brought in a composer for the music of its second season; the first used classical scores. Alvarez characterized season 2 as more of a “traditional thriller,” with chase and suspense scenes that require customized sound. Thriller titans Alan J. Pakula and Alfred Hitchcock were clear artistic influences in season 1. And while Alvarez also channeled these filmmakers, he additionally “leaned into” the “grandiose style” of Brian de Palma, especially in the split-screen sequences.

There’s also the cast itself. Notably, [Julia] Roberts does not appear in season 2. While Alvarez did “love” her performance, he would have been “wary” of including her character with the way her storyline ended. “It was a relief to say hey we're going to start at a different place with a different person,” said Alvarez. That person is [Janelle] Monáe, who Alvarez was “thrilled” to have on. “PrimeTime,” from her work as a musician, is the most played song in his iTunes library, he admitted.

Alvarez discusses that split-screen scene in more detail with ComicBook.com's JK Schmidt:
What was your favorite scene, second season, that you've got to make?

Kyle Patrick Alvarez: Oh, man. Probably the end of episode ... There's a few, but I think the sequence I was most excited about, or the most invested in myself, was the end of episode two when Janelle and Hong see each other from across the crowd as the balloons are falling, and we go into split screen. Because I remember in my first pitch, I said, "Look, I think this season ..." Split screen was used in a very utilitarian way in season one. It was, "Hey, we're going to be ..." It's an immense amount of phone calls in season one, but it never weighs on you because the split screen is always keeping you engaged on both sides of it. So here it was like, "Okay, we only have two phone calls this season, maybe three. So how else can we utilize split-screen as a narrative device?"

And so for me, when I came in, I said, "Well, look. Episode two is all about her tracking this woman. She has no idea who she is, and tracking her and tracking her, and it's this labyrinthine thing going around this building. And we need to make this the biggest, De Palma, over-the-top kind of meeting we can, because obviously it leads to a bit of a twisty moment. And so for me, that's one of those rare moments where everything you conceive of, it ends up working and clicking.

Usually, filmmaking is about unexpected surprises, both good and bad ways, and that's one of those scenes that just ... It worked. It was how we storyboarded it, it was the score fit in how we imagined it. It all clicked into place, and so I watch it, and it feels very planned and fulfilling to me because I'm like, "Oh, that worked." So I'd say I'm the most proud of that. It was just technically really difficult having that incredible amount of extras, only being able to afford to drop those balloons a couple of times. There was a lot of pressure on how we're going to pull that off.

Queerty's David Reddish also asked Alvarez about De Palma and Kubrick:
I would call this quite a departure from your work on Tales of the City or 13 Reasons Why. This is a potboiler thriller, and at times, a very surreal one. How did you land the job? How did you develop your approach?

Getting the job meant a lot to me. I was a big fan of Season 1, and actually watched it while we were shooting Tales. I was in New York and watched it all in my hotel room and loved it so much. It’s a show that asks a lot from a director. The visual style is baked into what the show is and how it’s built. Sam [Esmail, director of Season 1] had built this beautiful fresh thing for TV, so it became about evolving it, making it different. For me, the last movie I’d done was The Sanford Prison Experiment which was in the same style of 70s filmmaking, all the stuff Sam was drawn to. I suspect we like all the same movies, because watching Season 1, it felt like someone made the show for me.


In the interim, I’d done a lot of TV work with Tales and 13 Reasons. So was going back and forth between a lot of genre stuff. Honestly, I was waiting for an opportunity like this to get to direct every episode and have a voice. It’s not like directors don’t have a voice in TV, but it’s different. You’re the substitute teacher. You come in, do your episode, and leave. Here, I was there from the moments the scripts were finished until the very last special effects shot. It feels really gratifying.

Absolutely. And it is very much yours. That’s one thing I love about it—it has a cohesive voice and visual style. You like to use a lot of very long takes, and a lot of split-screen. I’m guessing you’re a fan of Brian DePalma, in that sense. The long zooms feel like something out of Kubrick, especially The Shining. What do you love about that approach?

You know, it’s interesting. Even though I think the styles are relatively similar between the seasons, I feel like Season 1’s North Star, in terms of a director, was Alan J. Pakula, with The Parallax View being essential. This season I kind of went into a little bit pulpier, like let’s do DePalma. I always joke that there are a couple of moments where, if he is watching, he’ll roll his eyes. I obsessively watched the end of Carrie and especially Blow Out. It’s one of my favorite movies.


It’s just about making sure you’re not copying a filmmaker you love; you’re taking inspiration from how they evoke a feeling. That’s how you avoid imitation. Kubrick, obviously, the set was out of 2001. But zooms kind of went out of fashion. I love them. I think it’s kind of wrong; there’s a lot you can do with them. I just love what they do.

That’s wonderful. And I wouldn’t be too self-conscious about borrowing from DePalma. He’s borrowed from other directors—Hitchock, Eisenstein, Antonioni—his whole career. It’s everywhere.

That’s very true. He may have invented the idea of referential directing.

But it fits. It adds an almost surrealistic feeling to the action. Do you storyboard or rehearse?

We didn’t have the time to rehearse. We did storyboard a lot. Weirdly, for me, the process of storyboarding is where you get the value. Storyboards themselves are more for everybody else. Me and the storyboard artist would meet from 6-7:30 every morning before everyone showed up and try to draw as much as we could. When you have 500 extras, you can’t improvise.


A crane shot can take three hours to set up, so you have to be so exact. If not, you won’t make the days.

See also:

More details on the Donaggio cues used in Homecoming

Posted by Geoff at 10:33 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, May 25, 2020 7:03 PM CDT
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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Late last month, Criterion released a special edition of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, which features a new audio commentary from a group made up of Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jeff Goldblum, and Kent Jones. Yesterday, Film School Rejects' Rob Hunter posted a list of things he learned from listening to the commentary track, including this tidbit:
Anderson notes that Dmitri’s (Adrien Brody) walk down the hotel hall feels inspired by Brian De Palma. “We were talking earlier about Brian De Palma,” he adds a beat later.

Posted by Geoff at 8:10 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, May 13, 2020 7:40 AM CDT
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Monday, February 24, 2020

From Argentina, Natalia Meta's second feature, The Intruder, had its world premiere this past weekend at the Berlin International Film Festival. Prior to the screening, Variety's John Hopewell and Emiliano Granada had posted the psycho-sexual thriller's teaser trailer, writing that the film is "Lensed in a polished fashion by ace Uruguayan D.P. Bárbara Álvarez – if the teaser is anything to go by – and sporting a dash of Polanski – the dead lover – and the pervasive pathology of De Palma, The Intruder, as suggested by [Meta's debut feature] Death in Buenos Aires, announces a director who has no interest whatsoever in naturalism – seen in not only settings but her commanding visual style. Both of Meta’s movies explore a very broad color palette and, like DePalma’s, do not fall entirely into any genre category."

With the help of Google translations, here are a few samples from reviews posted following the Berlinale screening:

Diego Batlle, Otros Cines Europa

From stress to psychic disorders, from pills to recurring nightmares, from unmanageable energies to indecipherable sounds and ghostly apparitions, The Intruder (a story inspired by the novel The Lesser Evil, by C.E. Feiling) is an increasingly ominous psychological thriller which has clear influences from the movies of Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg, and a certain aesthetic of the giallo, and more specifically from the work of Dario Argento.

Joan Sala, FILM IN
Neither the Latin American cinema, nor the genre cinema, let alone the cinema directed by women, is usually habitual in the competitive sections of the European class A festivals. Similarly last year there were hardly two women in competition at the previous Venice Festival and no Latin representative at the last Cannes Festival. Well, The Intruder inaugurates the competitive section of this 70 edition of the Berlinale breaking both stigmas at a stroke. The second film of the Argentine filmmaker Natalia Meta is a disturbing psychological thriller that borders the universes of Brian De Palma and Peter Strickland, in turn breathing the essence of Sebatian Lelio's Gloria.

Diego Lerer, Micropsia
The director of DEATH IN BUENOS AIRES - a film that, beyond its very obvious problems, evidenced an unusual formal audacity in the national genre cinema - applies to the Feiling text resources that could well have come out of a European thriller from the '70s and early' 80s, stepping a little on the giallo, another bit on the classic Nicolas Roeg DON'T LOOK NOW (which met in Argentina with the curious and unforgettable title of VENICE RED SHOCKING ) and somewhat more, moving from the mainland, in the darkest films of Brian de Palma of that time as OBSESSION, DRESSED TO KILL or, for its specific theme, BLOW OUT.

Posted by Geoff at 7:58 AM CST
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