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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, May 31, 2024 1:34 AM CDT
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Saturday, December 16, 2023

Samuel Blumenfeld and Laurent Vachaud will be at Le Max Linder Panorama cinema in Paris Sunday morning to present a "Caro Ennio" film club screening of Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War, with its score by Ennio Morricone. This will be the director's cut of the film. Blumenfeld and Vachaud will be on hand after the screening to sign copies of their De Palma interviews book, which will be available, as well.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Sunday, May 14, 2023

A. Frame's Alex Welch talks to Davis Guggenheim about his Apple TV + documentary, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie:
"I found an incredible joy and levity in his books, and that surprised me," Guggenheim tells A.frame. "At first, I thought, 'Someone should direct a movie about Michael,' and then I realized, 'No, I should direct a movie about Michael.'"

That movie is Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, which features intensely personal interviews between Fox and Guggenheim about the former's life and legacy, as well as exploring the ways in which the actor has dealt with his diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease. According to Guggenheim, it was Fox's resilient spirit in the face of adversity that struck such a chord with him. "It made me think, 'If this guy can be so upbeat when he's got this chronic diagnosis and I'm more dark and pessimistic than him, what's really going on here?' I wanted to solve that riddle," he recalls.

"The best movies, for me, are the ones that you come at personally," says the filmmaker. "I just felt drawn to Michael as a person."

A.frame: Michael J. Fox is somebody who has been a constant fixture in a lot of peoples' lives for 40 years. Was the thought of exploring his career and pop cultural impact onscreen at all daunting, or just exciting?

It's always a little daunting, but mostly exciting. I wanted to break out of the sort of rut I was in. I mean, it was a good rut. I had made a lot of films that are about substantial things and topics that stimulated my intellect. But I wanted to break out of that, and there's something about Michael that was appealing to me. "Appealing" doesn’t even seem like the right word. There's something about him that I needed.

The film really captures his resiliency. There's a moment near the start of the film where he falls and this woman comes back to check on him and he just looks at her and quips, "You knocked me off my feet."

He's a saint. That could easily be a line from Alex P. Keaton or Marty McFly, and that moment says a lot. It was a total surprise, first of all. We almost cut just before that. We thought the take was over and he trips very deep in the frame. I've watched it so many times, though, and the thing is that he's being very deliberate with his steps while he's walking so that he doesn't fall, and then the thing that trips him up is the woman. They pass each other and she says, "Hello, Mr. Fox," and he can't help but turn to face her because he's that kind of guy. He doesn't want to be aloof. He wants to be kind, and it's that kindness that sends him tumbling. And then, of course, instead of doing what I would probably do — which is stay on the ground and call my family — he gets up and says, "You knocked me off my feet," and the woman laughs. It says everything about him. He insists that no one looks at him like he's a pathetic creature.

You use a blend of multiple different kinds of footage and media in the film. What was your thought process behind shooting some of the recreation footage used in the doc?

I knew we had to do recreations right away. Then we got Michael Harte to come on board as our editor, who's a genius. I think at Sundance I called him a "wizard genius," and I genuinely do believe that, because he's just the most gifted editor. My solution to depicting certain moments that we didn't have any archival footage for was to do recreations. His solution was always to try and find moments from Michael J. Fox's movies and re-craft them in new and inventive ways. I've seen that done before here and there. Ethan Hawke does it in his Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward documentary series, The Last Movie Stars, which is wonderful. But Michael does it very differently in Still.

You mean because he blends the recreations and movie scenes together?

Yes. For instance, it goes by too fast because it's at the very beginning of this movie, but there's a shot of this hotel in Florida. It's the first shot of the film. Then we cut to a hallway and then to a bed and then you see this figure in the bed and the figure turns and that's all recreation. But then when we cut to a close-up of him waking up, that's from The Secret of My Success. Then we cut back to the hotel room and we show him having a fistfight with Woody Harrelson in basically 10 different movies. In those scenes, the editor and I always battle a little about how to depict each moment, and we fought and fought and fought until the movie decided what was best, ultimately.

Michael is really the only person directly interviewed in the film. Did you ever consider including interviews with any of his peers or family members?

I almost didn't interview him, actually. The original plan was no interviews at all. I pitched the film to Apple that watching it would feel like watching an '80s movie. I wanted a big score. I wanted big music cues from Guns N' Roses and the Beastie Boys. I even got John Powell to score the film, and he'd never scored a documentary before. He's just done big Hollywood movies previously. I so wanted to switch directions from my previous films. I wanted to take people on a wild ride, and interviews tend to slow films down. Interviews are like the basic language of documentaries. But I'd been working on the film for a while already, and I was doing this commercial and this cinematographer showed me a shot where you can put the camera in a certain way that it looks like the interviewee is looking into the lens. It worked really well, but you have to sit really close to the camera in order to achieve that effect.

So, Michael and I were always only about four feet apart from each other. We were always looking right into each other's eyes, and I just thought, "This is amazing." It was so right, because he's right there. I didn't know for sure if it was going to work or if the audience would always be able to understand him — because sometimes his Parkinson's makes it difficult to understand what he’s saying — but he was so funny. He's funny exactly the way you see he is in the film, and he's so winning that it just worked. So, we did more interviews. We just kept going back. We did that kind of interview together about six different times.

Meanwhile, Neal Justin at Star Tribune writes, "Guggenheim's super-personal approach means there is little time to evaluate that ABC sitcom [Spin City] or much of Fox's other works. But you can do that on your own." Justin includes Casualties Of War as one of "five gems" to start with:
Fox does the most ambitious work of his career in Brian De Palma's take on the Vietnam War. He plays a private who dares to go against a gung-ho sergeant (Sean Penn) after the rape and murder of a civilian. The film never got the attention it deserved, in part because it premiered in the shadow of "Platoon." HBO Max

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Anticipating the May 12 Apple TV+ premiere of the documentary Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, The Globe And Mail's Barry Hertz interviewed Fox himself. "The new film is constructed in a uniquely engaging fashion," Hertz writes in the article's introduction, "with director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) and editor Michael Harte mixing footage of Fox’s on-screen work with scripted re-enactments to tell the story of one Canadian kid’s rise to the top of the Hollywood ecosystem, and how being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease changed his life – for the better. Narrated by Fox – who is the only “talking head” featured here, another rejection of the typical celebrity biopic format – Still is as honest as it is adventurous."

Here's an excerpt from the interview portion:

In the new film, there’s one point where you’re talking about seeing your face on magazine covers and you say, ‘it was never a true reflection of myself.’ Is this doc, then, a true reflection of yourself?

True as it could be under the circumstances. As a young man, I was pretty naïve but I always knew when I was selling a movie or enjoying the attention. This was different. When I met Davis and he told me how much my books affected him, I agreed to go on a journey with him and see where it goes. I had no agenda. I didn’t hope it would respark my film career or anything like that. I just wanted to see how a guy who thought in a similar way, and had a great track record of filmmaking, would treat this material.

How closely involved were you in Davis’s decision to construct this film in such a unique fashion?

We talked about it early on, but it’s his genre. I remember my lawyers calling me up and saying, “Here’s how it works: you’ll get three strikes to take major plot points out,” and all these other measures to defend myself against the filmmaker. But I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to make a movie. So I waived all those provisions and I’m glad I did because god forbid I would have gone in and said don’t use my source material as part of the narrative. I thought that was so clever.

I love watching that scene where it’s talking about my relationship with [wife Tracy Pollan] and it’s footage from Bright Lights, Big City. It reminded me how lucky I’ve been in my career to work with everyone I have. Brian De Palma, Paul Schrader. It was so nice to look back and not only reflect on what was going on in my life at that point, but remember all the people I’ve met along the way.

I suppose that anybody who takes time to do this kind of exercise will find some regrets, faults in their decisions. But on the opposite end, I’m curious whether there is anything you initially felt was a mistake, a bad time in your life, that was actually much better than you initially felt, in retrospect?

I’m a goofy, optimistic guy, so all the things that have happened to me were great. I seriously wouldn’t change a thing. The difficulties I had with my early diagnosis, turning to alcohol, getting rid of that to save my marriage – as difficult and painful as all that was, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without it, and my family wouldn’t be the same family without it. So I don’t question things, but I do celebrate them.

Some of the things in the film, people might wince at. But I was going, yeah, cool. Like that moment of me laying on the floor looking up at Tracy and finding her bored with my alcoholism and realizing that was the moment I needed to change. Yeah, I made the right decision coming out of that. The great thing about this film is the moments with my family. The way we were laughing. You can’t fake that laughter. I laugh so much it’s all you can do to get my face to not stretch beyond its skull and blow off.

Well there’s an image for a movie. Actually, it sounds pulled from The Frighteners.

Peter Jackson, I got him between masterpieces.

Hey, The Frighteners is a favourite film of mine.

I wouldn’t joke about it if I didn’t believe that, too. He’s a great filmmaker. I first met him in Toronto, when Heavenly Creatures premiered at the festival. I flew up to see it, and then agreed to make that film.

There is at one point in this doc where Davis says that you get close to the tough stuff and then dart away. How hard did he push you – and how hard did you push yourself – to get to the more difficult material?

Davis did a brilliant thing, in that he put the camera 15 feet away from where I’m sitting, back up against the wall, and he left it on. I forgot it was there. The painful stuff, when I’m looking vacant and drooling in that blank, concrete Parkinson’s stare, I couldn’t have manufactured that for him. He had the filmmaker’s instinct to know how and where to get that. I didn’t see footage until the end, so I didn’t even know what he was up to. He wasn’t going to do talking heads – the one talking head was just mine, even though my head can barely talk some time. If I had any prenegotiated control over the material, it would have been a disaster.

I would, though, like to see a sequel where it’s just talking heads of collaborators you’ve worked with.

They gave me an Academy Award this year for my humanitarian work, which was great because Woody Harrelson presented it. He gets up and starts telling these stories and I thought, oh Jesus. Someone once said to me that we were “eighties famous,” and that’s true. We had a different perspective. There were none of these things [points to his smartphone]. It was just hardcore.

Woody starts to tell this story about when we were in Thailand, and I took them through the jungle. It was me, Woody and [hockey player] Cam Neely, and we found this little hut. It was Deliverance in Southeast Asia. This kid comes out who I had met before, and I gave him this big bag of baht, and he took me to this concrete wall and we jumped over. That’s when Woody and Cam realized there were like 35 cobras in there. I just sat there until they picked up a cobra. Its blood was drained and mixed with Thai whiskey and we drank it. “Brotherhood of the snake,” or something goofy like that. Madness. If we got a whole group of my friends and told these stories, we’d never get out of there.

I think you just found the title of your next doc, though. Michael J. Fox: Brotherhood of the Snake.

Or Fox Eats Snake.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

At Movie Finatics, the latest "Unsung Cinema" feature looks at Casualties Of War. Here's the start of it:
To put it simply, Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War is a devastatingly sad anti-war drama. Based on actual events of the 1966 incident on Hill 192 during the Vietnam War, a Vietnamese woman was kidnapped from her village by a squad of American soldiers who raped and murdered her. It’s essentially about morality and how there is an innate sense of right and wrong in a dire situation like war, or is it all about survival? It’s about following orders or going along with the crowd vs. standing up for some injustice you’ve seen, no matter the cost. It’s also about the brutality of violence, the trauma of war, the brutality of masculinity, and the brutality of misogyny. These are not pleasant subject matters to deal with on screen. Not a film where you gather the family for a night of escapism at the movies. You’ll likely never forget Casualties of War after seeing it, and it’s all the greater because of it.

By 1989, Vietnam pictures had become a staple in American cinema. Films like The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket came out with tremendous success and fanfare. Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July was released later that year with immense success. They told the horrors of the Vietnam War at a time when Americans were beginning to reexamine that terrible criminal nightmare. By the time Casualties of War came out, it had received some excellent reviews but did not do well at the box office. Critics like Siskel and Ebert liked the film but did not give it as high of marks as they did Platoon. The timing of the release clouded the critical reaction at the time. It also was out during the infamous Summer of 1989 with films like Uncle Buck, Batman, Parenthood, The Abyss, When Harry Met Sally, Lethal Weapon 2, and Turner & Hooch were going strong. For a film with a genuinely tricky subject matter like the one it portrays to compete with these more mass entertainment films was asking a lot. For De Palma, this came after the tremendous success of The Untouchables. Casualties of War, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, would lead to a career setback for him.

Like most De Palma films, though, Casualties of War has undergone critical reexamination and praise. However, it’s still not considered as significant as more infamous Vietnam films like the ones mentioned above. I’m here to argue that it is just as monumental and maybe one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made. I almost hesitate to call it a war film because while there are few battles and action scenes, it’s more about the moral problem faced by our main character and the horror unleashed on an innocent Vietnamese woman. De Palma films in his usual theatrical style which I love a lot. Big set pieces, dramatic music, and appalling beauty. He usually boiled down his films to three or four big visual set pieces. You’ll never come out of a De Palma film not interested in visual storytelling. That’s who De Palma is at heart, is a visual cinematic storyteller. He’s one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, and my love of visual storytelling comes from films like his and Hitchcock.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Woody Harrelson honored Michael J. Fox at the 13th Governors Awards this past Saturday in Los Angeles. Fox was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which is awarded to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry." Here's a breakdown of Harrelson's on-stage story via MovieMaker's Margeaux Sippell:

But of the honorees, only Michael J. Fox has tasted cobra blood. It happened in the late 1980s, as Harrelson visited Fox in Thailand, where Fox was shooting the 1989 Brian De Palma Vietnam War drama Casualties of War.

“One night, Mike took us to the end of the jungle, and we stopped at this little hut, and Mike, you know, ran out of the car, this kid runs up to him, and he hands him like thousands of [Thai] baht, which probably amounted to about $16,” Harrelson said.

Suddenly, Harrelson saw something he didn’t expect.

“I couldn’t believe it. I look in there and Mike is sitting next to this kid with dozens of cobras all around them ready to strike and—no jest—and the kid was toying with these cobras,” Harrelson recalled. “He taunted a bunch of these cobras and then he found the orneriest cobra, grabbed it by the neck, threw it in a cage with a mongoose, where I saw the craziest fight I’ve ever seen between any animals other than studio executives—you guys know I’m kidding.”

Woody Harrelson continued.

“And the mongoose won, they took the snake, tied it by its tail, ran the blood out, half-filled four glasses with cobra blood and half with Thai whiskey,” he said. “Drinking the cobra blood is called ‘becoming brother to the snake. … Mike and I drink lots of things together and he can hold his own—what can I say, he’s Canadian. But Mike promptly vomited his snake cocktail. Never could hold his cobra blood.”

You can watch Woody Harrelson tell the Michael J. Fox cobra blood story here or above.

But seriously, folks: Harrelson also noted that Fox, who has spent years advocating for greater research for people with Parkinson’s, “never asked for the role of Parkinson’s advocate, but it is his best performance.” He added that his friend “sets the ultimate example of how to fight and how to live.”

Fox seemed to enjoy it all.

“I love you,” he told Harrelson as he accepted the award. “We did some damage. We did some damage in the ’80s.”

Posted by Geoff at 7:03 PM CST
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Thursday, June 2, 2022

Michael J. Fox was a guest recently on the podcast Working It Out, which is hosted by Mike Birbiglia. In one part of the podcast, Fox talked about how his memory issues, resulting from the onset of Parkinson's disease, led to him choosing roles that did not require a lot of dialogue. The Hollywood Reporter's Abbey White pulls the story from the podcast episode:
“When I did the spinoff from [The] Good Wife, which is [The] Good Fight, I couldn’t remember the lines. I just had this blank, I couldn’t remember the lines,” he said.

The actor, author and advocate called the experience “strange” after a career of being able to pick up a script and spit lines back out.

Family Ties, he said, “used to give me the script and I’d go, ‘I’m in. Mallory, get off the phone.’ And I knew it, like in an instant, and it continued to be that way for me. I have 70 pages of dialogue on a [Brian] De Palma movie, and knowing that a hugely expensive Steadicam shot depends on me knowing the lines — not a trickle of sweat on my brow,” he recalled.

But then while filming the CBS spinoff on a soundstage in Culver City, the actor says he couldn’t “get this line together.” It was the “same problem” he would have while filming in Canada for Kiefer Sutherland’s show Designated Survivor. But while another person might have panicked, Fox said he kept his cool.

“It was this legal stuff and I just couldn’t get it,” the Back to the Future star said. “But what [was] really refreshing was I didn’t panic. I didn’t freak out. I just went, ‘Well, that’s that. Moving on. A key element of this process is memorizing lines, and I can’t do it.'”

Fox, who described himself as a “big [Quentin] Tarantino fan, and a big Brad Pitt fan, and a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan,” said a similar moment in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood made him consider how he could have responded to not remembering lines versus how he wanted to respond. The scene involved DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, who forgot a line in the middle of a scene for the fictional pilot episode of Lancer, which also featured Timothy Olyphant’s James Stacy.

“He went back in the dressing room, he was screaming at himself — he was like tearing into himself in the mirror and drinking. Just a mess,” Fox recounted. “And I thought about that, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to feel that. Am I wrong to feel that? Am I right to feel that?'”

The actor and advocate continued, going beyond whether it was right or wrong to what it told him about taking on parts.

“I don’t take on something with a lot of lines, because I can’t do it. And for whatever reason, it just is what it is,” he said. “I can’t remember five pages of dialogue. I can’t do it. It can’t be done. So I go to the beach.”

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Last week, Le Point's David Mikanowski wrote an article about Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War, upon the release of the new Blu-ray-and-book box set from Wild Bunch. Here's an excerpt, with help from Google Translate:
The presence of a woman in a war film is astounding - this genre full of testosterone has traditionally been vested in men. Even though she is gagged, tied up, and spends most of the time moaning and crying, in a state of prostration. Besides, Oanh's death is a nightmare streak that seems to never end. Covered in blood, she walks like a ghost on the railway tracks of a bridge (the scene was shot on the banks of the River Kwai, near the Burmese border). Unforgettable, her slow agony resembles a funeral march, a requiem.

Depalmian heroes are often haunted by a woman they have seen die before their eyes, unable to rescue her. This was notably the case for the characters played by Cliff Robertson in Obsession (1976), John Travolta in Blow Out (1981) and Craig Wasson in Body Double (1984). This time, it's the one played by Michael J. Fox who becomes a passive witness to a crime and blames himself for being cowardly in front of the other soldiers by not preventing them from taking action. Through his melodrama, De Palma speaks of individual responsibility. And asks an ethical question: are rape and murder more excusable when committed in wartime? "Even in war ... Murder is murder," read the slogan of the film's American poster.

In the eyes of some, this appalling news item remains anecdotal and insignificant. A point of detail in a napalm bombing war. As a good moralist, De Palma, on the contrary, believes that Oanh's death is not a drop of water in a sea of blood. His film works as a metaphor: we must see in this rape that of an entire country by the American invader. And when Michael J. Fox is indignant during a scene, it is De Palma who expresses himself through him (the famous tirade of Eriksson: “Just because each of us might at any second be blown away, everybody’s acting like we can do anything. And it don’t matter what we do. But I’m thinking, maybe it’s the other way around, you know. Maybe the main thing is the opposite! Because we might be dead in the next split-second, maybe we gotta be extra careful what we do.”) Almost philosophical, the theme of Outrages (the individual who is right against the group) provokes reflection. And De Palma would rather dwell on the fate of a single victim, to move the public, than on that of thousands of dead.

Heroes or bastards

War makes heroes, but also bastards, the director seems to say. Dropped in the middle of a conflict they do not understand, attacked at night in the jungle (an incredible opening sequence in an underground gallery where the Viet Cong look like ants), the young American soldiers behave badly towards the Vietnamese civilians in the film. Because the army never prepared them to face a foreign country, a culture, and customs different from theirs. Towards the end of Outrages, the four soldiers guilty of the crime are sentenced (one of them to life) by a military court. But in reality, they were acquitted!

Indeed, after multiple appeals, the sentences were considerably reduced. None of them will have served more than five years in prison. Out of fear of reprisal, the real Eriksson even changed his identity and became a farmer somewhere in the Midwest. In 1972, Elia Kazan made a film that imagined a fictional sequel to this story: The Visitors with James Woods. In the heartbreaking drama, a soldier’s former comrades in arms, who had denounced them for the rape and murder of a Vietnamese woman, returned, after being released from prison, to his Connecticut villa for revenge. And took the opportunity to rape his partner!

No, Outrages is not a cool movie. It looks like a sticky nightmare, which causes discomfort and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Because De Palma's cinema is outrageous. Upon its theatrical release, the film divided critics. The New York weekly The Village Voice notably published an indictment against the film and its director - one of the most violent attacks ever directed against a filmmaker! But Outrages also has supporters. Steven Spielberg was raving about it in Rolling Stone magazine: “This is a huge film, perhaps the most beautiful that we have shot about Vietnam.” Renowned New Yorker reviewer Pauline Kael also wrote a lengthy, glowing article about the film.

In November 1994, in the pages of the monthly Les Inrockuptibles, Tarantino, in full promotion of Pulp Fiction, declared of Brian: “Blow Out is the absolute masterpiece of De Palma, closely followed by Outrages. The latter is in my opinion the best war movie ever made. It’s also one of the best movies about rape and Sean Penn’s best role - which is no small feat." Bertrand Tavernier also defended the feature film in 50 Years of American Cinema, his reference work co-written with another scholar, Jean-Pierre Coursodon: "De Palma manages to renew himself with this film which constitutes for him a real challenge, changing it at the same time of genre, place and register." The authors of the book also prefer his film on Vietnam to that of Kubrick: "The finale of Full Metal Jacket is a bit thin. And it is possible to find richer, even more courageous, a film like Outrages which, for its part, tackles a real moral problem head-on." Which is to say that De Palma was one of the few filmmakers to get their hands dirty, to immerse themselves in the Vietnamese quagmire.

In 2007, the bearded man filmed with digital cameras Redacted, a mock documentary that is once again based on a true story and is presented as an extension of Outrages, a twin film. He embarked on this adventure after reading an article about an incident during the Iraq war in which US Army soldiers allegedly raped a 14-year-old girl, shot her in the face and allegedly burned his body, before massacring his family.

How could these young people have come to this? What is original here is that De Palma recreates the drama through various sources of images: surveillance cameras, videos posted on YouTube, blogs and a GI's diary. A fascinating theoretical object, which forms a good double program with Outrages. A work that has lost none of its strength three decades later. Moreover, during his retrospective at the Cinémathèque française in 2018, the filmmaker without hesitation chose Outrages to represent his work. At the end of the screening of the film, he burst into tears in front of the audience of his master class, so much this film, for which he had fought for so long, was close to his heart.

Outrages boxed set with the film on Blu-ray (in its Director's cut version with six additional unreleased minutes) and on DVD (in its cinema version). As a bonus: numerous additions and a large 200-page book, specially written by Nathan Réra and illustrated with rare photos and archives. Limited edition of 2,500 copies. € 49.99. Wild Side.

Posted by Geoff at 10:28 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 4, 2022 10:30 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Sofilm's Maxime Werner looks at the making of Casualties Of War:
1979: Veteran and playwright David Rabe attempts to resuscitate the project and goes to see De Palma, who had taken an early interest in Lang's story, when he was just an underground filmmaker unknown to the battalion. But it will take a few more years and a favorable alignment of the planets for the endeavor to succeed. 1987: two Vietnam films, Full Metal Jacket and above all Platoon, have just hit the box office, and De Palma is himself crowned with the triumph of the Untouchables, which places him in a position of strength in Hollywood. But this is not enough. To pass the pill of such a depressing and controversial project (to the point that the startled Paramount withdrew in favor of Columbia), you need a huge star. Luckily, Michael J. Fox, the youth idol since Back to the Future and the Family Ties series, is looking for more serious roles than he is usually offered. A simple reading of the script (written by Rabe) convinces him: Eriksson, it will be him. To play his nemesis, Sergeant Meserve, producer Art Linson debauchery Sean Penn, best known at the time for his escapades with his companion Madonna that made the tabloids cabbage. A few youngsters, real blue screen dicks, complete the cast: Don Harvey, John C. Reilly, John Leguizamo. It remains to find the girl. De Palma absolutely insists that she be Vietnamese, and not Thai or Filipino, for example. He goes around the world to finally find her in Paris. Her name is Thuy Thu Le, she is a student and sees an advertisement. She shows up for the audition and it is immediately overwhelming. Outrages will be her only film.

De Palma pushes the sliders of realism far. There is no question of reconstructing Vietnam in the Hollywood jungle of the studios. But it's 1988, and Vietnam itself is still not an option. So, go to Thailand, where an entire village is created from scratch. For the jungle scenes, the team sets up in an open pit, deep in the forest, with water ramps for the rain. While the technical team is busy, the actors are not to be outdone. Because you don't improvise yourself as a soldier, if only for the beautiful eye of a camera. Under the guidance of two Vietnam veterans, they undergo intensive training and learn to behave like a real patrol. For two weeks before filming begins, they eat C rations (the soldier's individual ration: canned fast food), take long walks through the forest carrying heavy M- machine guns. 60 or grenade launchers, learn to disassemble and reassemble their rifles. Problem: One of the instructors quickly turns out to be a berserk, the type who sets up assault simulations in the middle of the night, in corners infested with snakes. Even Sean Penn, even the most invested of the troop, ends up answering him: "Are you not a little sick? This is a movie we're making, not the war. The dingo is quickly replaced by Dale Dye, another veteran who also plays Captain Hill in the film. The experience helps to create bonds between the actors, to strengthen their sense of belonging to a group, but also to give everyone a place in this group, the one they will occupy in the film. Each becomes his character.

In full delirium Actors Studio, Sean Penn plays the game thoroughly, even if it means behaving like a bastard with everyone. It has to look true on screen. Poor John Leguizamo bears the brunt in a scene where, take after take, Sean slaps him heavily - for real, then. After the thirteenth take, Leguizamo begins to see candles. But, of course, it's Michael J. Fox who suffers the most from the Sean Penn "method", who doesn't speak to him. Never. Even outside filming hours: in the hotel restaurant, he sits at another table. The rest of the time he trains or spends some time with "his" soldiers. For the purposes of a scene where Fox has to act out anger, he goes so far as to stick a straight right before the take. "Sean treated him like crap," producer Art Linson will say. As for the famous trial scene where Penn whispers something inaudible in Fox's ear, De Palma says the actor horrors him with every take. Like, "I fucked your wife a few times and now it's gonna be your turn. "At the end of the shoot, Fox will send him a note:" I wouldn't say it was a pleasure, but that it was a privilege. "

The shooting is extremely trying, especially the jungle scenes. First there is the climate, the tropical heat which is around 50 degrees, the sun beating down hard, when it's not the torrential rain ... Enough to cause a lot of delay and put everyone on the edge. To wait between takes, while De Palma perfects one of his super-sophisticated camera moves that are his specialty, the actors brutalize themselves with a questionable local beer. It takes a month to get the first night fight scene canned, with one shoot every night. To make matters worse, poisonous insects and snakes are present. Sometimes someone yells "Cobra !! And the tray is cleared while specialists take care of the intruder. Under these conditions, anyone ends up getting sick one day or another. Michael J. Fox vomits almost after every dose, has a colic and ends up in the hospital coughing up blood. Everyone has one desire: to go home, to their country. We count the days. It may only be a movie, but you end up believing it. As Fox says, “I wouldn't say I'm a Method actor, but after 60 days in the jungle you hate everyone and want to get the hell out of here."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Friday, October 8, 2021

This morning, Wild Bunch tweeted the cover image for its upcoming box set Blu-ray and DVD release of Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War. "An edition that was long overdue ..." began the tweet. "OUTRAGES by Brian De Palma, in Cinema & Director's Cut Versions, will be available on December 1st on Blu-ray · DVD · Large format book. It's happeninnnnnng".

More details were provided by Cine Series' Pierre Siclier, here with the help of Google Translation:

A newly restored Master on DVD and Blu-ray

Released in a 113-minute cinema version, Casualties of War also received a 121-minute Director's cut version. These two versions will be combined in a collector's edition Blu-ray / DVD, which will be offered on December 1st by Wild Side.

In a press release, the publisher writes:

From Obsession to Carlito's Way, from Blow Out to The Untouchables ... Haunted by their past or driven by their integrity, the heroes of Palmiens denounce crimes that others would like to keep silent and come up against systems that crush. Brian De Palma will have had to persevere to transpose to the screen this appalling tale recounted as early as 1969 by journalist Daniel Lang.

The box set, in addition to bringing together the two versions of the film, will offer bonuses that promise to be exciting. Including a twenty-minute interview with Michael J. Fox and a making of that we will scrutinize with attention. As said above, the shooting was quite complicated, in particular because of the difficult relationship between the two main performers. Along with these video documents is added a large-format 200-page book illustrated with rare photos and archives. An object not to be missed.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, October 9, 2021 12:39 AM CDT
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