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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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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Thanks to Chris Dumas for sending along this link to an AV Club article from last fall, in which Katie Rife interviews Bong Joon-ho, who won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay Oscars earlier this month for his Best Picture winner, Parasite. The interview ends with this bit:
AVC: Who are your favorite directors of all time, and who are some younger directors you’re excited to see more from?

BJH: Among contemporary directors, I really admire the horror films of Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. In the generation above that, I have affection for De Palma. But I think that if you climb up that pyramid [Draws a triangle with his hands.] at the very top is Hitchcock.

AVC: I agree.

BJH: I’ve admired him since I was little, and I think I’m under his umbrella as well.

More recently, three days after the Oscars, Bong visited Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was the featured guest at the Walker Art Center’s 30th Anniversary Film Dialogue series. Former Variety critic and current Amazon development executive Scott Foundas interviewed Bong on stage. The photo above, from the Walker Center, was published as part of Peter Diamond's recap of the event for Mpls St Paul Magazine.

Diamond, however, left out the mentions of Brian De Palma and Sam Peckinpah, so here's an excerpt from Citypages' Bryan Miller:

Quadruple Oscar-winning director Bong Joon-ho arrived at the Walker for the 30th anniversary of their Dialogues series just days after he made history at the Academy Awards with his masterpiece, Parasite. He told interviewer Scott Foundas he’d taken Monday to rest from the night’s festivities, then boarded a plane Tuesday for Wednesday’s talk that concluded a partial retrospective of his work. He was still reeling.

“It happened four days ago. Three days ago?” Bong asked, and not rhetorically. “It feels like three years ago.”

It was, he said, a great thing he needs time to process. “It’s still hard to understand.”

He demurred when former Variety critic and Amazon development executive Foundas inquired about his surreal Sunday night, being crowned Best Director and receiving a Best Picture award, but the auteur opened up when the audience couldn’t stop asking about it during the later Q&A.

Bong admitted he thought Parasite’s best chance was for Best International Feature—pausing to apologize for his presumption to fellow nominee Pedro Almodovar, whose Pain and Glory he called “a beautiful movie”—and after he won he felt tremendously calm, expecting nothing more from the rest of the ceremony.

Then the presenters kept saying his name again, and again, and again.

When he took to the stage to accept the award for Best Director, he had no planned speech. He happened to lock eyes with Martin Scorcese. On the spot he felt moved to pay tribute to the Irishman director, which led to the moving standing-O for Scorcese. After that, Bong said he wished he could share the award with his fellow nominees, dividing it into five parts “with a Texas Chainsaw.” “I still don’t know why I talked about Texas Chainsaw. Very strange,” he admitted on Wednesday, chuckling.

In his homeland of South Korea, he’s known as "Director Bong," a fittingly authoritative title for an artist whose films are so precise and supremely controlled. Yet it belies the jolly nature of the man with the boyish mop of hair, who carries himself with graceful nerdiness and isn’t shy about sharing his big, generous laugh. He arrived onstage wearing all black—from socks to suit to undershirt—but he punctured any dour auteur vibes when he started spinning Foundas’s rotating chair as they turned to watch a clip from one of his films. His genuine humility was on display when he confessed he thought his debut film, Barking Dogs Never Bite, was “disappointing” and “amateurish.”

“I’m so happy Barking Dogs wasn’t included [in the retrospective],” he said, laughing as he waved the program in the air. “Never watch that!”

Seven films into his career, Director Bong has earned a global reputation as an undisputed master. It’s fitting that he’s the first director to make a non-English-speaking Best Picture winner, as he’s truly an international director, shifting as fluidly between Korean and English (with some help from a translator on Okja and Snowpiercer) as he does between film genres.

American genre movies are “the blood flowing through my veins,” he explained; you don’t ever think about the blood in your veins, you just know it’s there. He first glimpsed these American movies in edited form on then strictly censored Korean television, and got an unfiltered look at the films of Hitchcock and DePalma and Peckinpah, which were unedited but also untranslated, on the U.S. military’s Armed Forces Korean Network. Years later he’d see the same movies translated in his college film club and contextualize the images burned into his brain. His aim became to merge “the joys of genre with the realities of Korea.”

Foundas screened clips from several movies while Director Bong shared an array of fascinating tidbits of their origins—like how he wrote Mother for actress Hye-ja Kim and would have scrapped it if she hadn’t agreed to star, or how he pondered the first half of his acclaimed Parasite for four years, but only conceived of the twisty second half of the film in the final few months of writing the screenplay, which dug deeper into the class-conscious themes that pervade his work.

Foundas joked that when they spoke a few years prior, Director Bong explained he had to go back to South Korea to make a smaller movie out of contractual obligation to the producers of Mother—the film that would eventually become Parasite.

“You couldn’t have made it sound less significant,” Foundas marveled.

Director Bong said he felt “happy” and “safe” in Parasite’s intimate world, working with his frequent collaborator, actor Song Kang-ho.

Funny, because nothing about Director Bong’s work feels safe. He’s become the face of the incredibly rich Korean film culture that includes massive talents like Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon, and Lee Chang-dong. This group of filmmakers, Director Bong says, have more of a loosely shared aesthetic as opposed to a conscious collective movement like Dogme 95 or the French New Wave.

“We’re the first generation of Korean cinephiles.”

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2020 1:45 AM CST
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Saturday, March 16, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/knifeheartposter.jpgLast October, Knife + Heart director Yann Gonzalez told Film Inquiry's Hazem Fahmy that he showed Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise to actor Jonathan Genet, in preparation for his role in the film. Now, Gonzalez tells Kyle Turner at Filmmaker Magazine that he gave star Vanessa Paradis a DVD of De Palma's Blow Out, among others, to give her an idea of the style of acting he was going for:
Filmmaker: Did you do any kind of preparation with Vanessa Paradis before shooting?

Gonalez: Not really. Vanessa needs to be on set to really feel her character. We met several times before though, often with Kate Moran and Nicolas Maury, but it was more like a way to get to know each other. The only thing I did is to offer her some DVDs in order to help her understanding the kind of acting I had in mind for Anne. Possession by Zulawski, Neige by Juliet Berto, Blow Out by Brian De Palma: very intense, sometimes over-the-top performances, more cinematic than realistic. The blonde hair, green raincoat and red boots did the rest!

Meanwhile, back at the time of the Cannes premiere of Knife + Heart, Gonzalez discussed De Palma in more detail to Sugarpulp:
In the galaxy of favorite influences that guide you and that you often quote (Werner Schroeter, Paul Vecchiali, R.W. Fassbinder…), this film brings to light a new figure: Brian De Palma.

My co-writer and I share a great passion for De Palma; this is a common thread that has clearly led us both. In terms of emotional thrillers, De Palma is the king, with films such as Carrie, Blow Out, and Dressed to Kill.

These are also the first films I showed my producer, Charles Gillibert, to demonstrate to him in what direction I wanted to take Knife+Heart, proportionally speaking, of course. De Palma has this unabashed, playful side, weaving constantly between fiction, reality, the cinema, fantasy, and voyeurism.

He also has an absolute love of the cinema. Knife+Heart starts with a 16mm editing table and finishes up on a sort of stellar “projection”… The love of the matter that makes up cinema itself is very much present. A cry of love and rage is etched into the actual film with a knife and is only visible once it’s been through the viewer… I really liked the idea that a woman’s desperate love situation could slip its way onto the film itself.

How did you profile the 70s treatment? The film never falls into the “period film” cliché, it’s much more subtle than that.

I was really worried about it looking like an academic reconstruction, and with my Director of Photography, Simon Beaufils, we very quickly got the idea of working using light to work on the period. Today, all Paris streets are lit using sodium lighting, which gives a horrible yellowy-orange light. So we strived to find the blue-green neon glow of French films from the late 70s / early 80s. Obviously there was a lot of very important and precise work on costumes and settings but, above all, I didn’t want a film that would look outdated. It also had to be able to talk about today’s world using faces and bodies from today. That’s why I called on iconic figures of present-day nightlife, such as Simon Thiébaut who plays Dominique, the head of the transgender gang; or the choreographer for the club scene, Ari de B, who came on set with all his dancers. There’s something very contemporary that shines out through our fantasy 1979 Paris.

Color is extremely present and particularly flashy. It has strong visual presence…

The film shows messed up, euphoric characters, and I wanted a visual portrayal of the inner quandaries they are struggling with. I didn’t want to shy away from going deep inside their minds and extracting images. I love this idea of embracing experimental practices and bringing them into slightly more mainstream cinema, even if I’m aware of the fact that I don’t make the most mainstream films in the world (laughs)! There’s a whole “fringe” that has nurtured my love of the cinema and I want to bring that into my universe, make it more visible. I’m thinking for example of Paul Sharits’ films that used strobing to give a flicker effect to images and I picked up on that to portray the killer’s negative image “memories”.

How did you go about working on the music with your brother, Anthony Gonzalez? What desires guided you in this particular project?

We wanted to recapture the Gialli ambiance of the 70s, to feel that sinister yet sentimental tone. But we also needed to distance ourselves from that in order to create something contemporary, and not find ourselves in a pastiche of the genre and its music. Faithful yet unfaithful at the same time… We are both poetical and even sentimental, in a certain way. We wanted to dive in headlong, particularly as melancholy and poetry are found in numerous 70s horror film sound tracks, from films by Lucio Fulci to those by Mario Bava – I’m thinking in particular of the harrowing sound tracks of Don’t Torture a Duckling or Twitch of the Death Nerve.

And here again, this principle of pleasure came rushing back: I got Anthony to listen some old sound tracks from straight and gay porn films. He quickly gathered the musical codes and finally, the most beautiful tracks in Knife + Heart the most pleasurable ones, are probably the ones he recreated for the film’s fake porn movies.

For this sound track, Anthony worked once again with Nicolas Fromageau, who he’d already worked with on the first two M83 albums and who’s a childhood friend. For the three of us, there’s something about Knife+Heart that’s strongly linked to our teenage years and the films that fostered our love of cinema.

The films I liked as a teenager were a little more “strange”. My brother is four years younger than me and he told me a few years after the fact that he and Nicolas used to sneak into my bedroom in Antibes to watch my videos by Jodorowsky, Richard Kern and Jean Rollin… And they were quite marked by that! The sound track to Knife+Heart was a way for Nicolas, Anthony and I to come back to our first loves, our first powerful images and sensations from the cinema.

How did you deal with shooting the porn scenes? They’re extremely suggestive, but you don’t actually see anything head-on.

I didn’t want the sexuality to veil Anne’s tragedy, her adventure, which for me is the film’s backbone. It’s first and foremost the portrait of a woman and it just so happens she produces porn films. We kept all the imagery and the substance and had great fun with that but without showing the coarsest of images because to top it off, that’s not what I retain from porn films of the period. I wanted to come back to a sort of innocence and naïveté that you saw in the first porn films. It was before AIDS came on the scene and there was an obvious enjoyment in playing together, and taking pleasure together and some films even mixed heterosexual and homosexual sex scenes. Nicolas Maury dealt really well with this playful aspect in the fantastic way he has of playing with genders, identities, and even his own femininity when he portrays a transgender version of Vanessa in several scenes.

It was important to make these scenes moments of comedy and to bring a certain joy into the sex. The aim was to make the viewer want to be a part of things. I think that a young heterosexual male could quite easily want to live within the film. For me it’s a much more important gesture, and much more political than showing sex scenes in order to shock the middle class… who aren’t actually shocked by much and haven’t been in a very long time!

In any case, your cinema contains more of an erotic element rather than veritable pornography.

For me, cinema is ontologically erotic. We mentioned De Palma a little earlier. We could also have mentioned Verhoeven, Argento, Fulci and dozen other great or lesser masters who aren’t so well known. I miss that subversion in today’s cinema. Sexuality cuts through feelings; it’s part of what forms a person, part of his or her story. Anne is tormented by her sexuality, through her work but also because of the way she loves. The use of voyeurism inherited from De Palma recurs throughout the story: Anne spies on her editor through a spyhole; two boys are spied on by one’s father as they have sex… It’s something that is repeated throughout the film. There’s a very erotic desire that isn’t mine, it belongs to the film itself, to its very essence. We’re in a time of regression and puritanism that I wanted to go against whilst recapturing the lifeblood of cinema.

Posted by Geoff at 1:32 PM CDT
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Saturday, March 9, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/usposter.jpg"I want to do what Hitchcock did, what Spielberg did, what Brian De Palma did — dark tales," Jordan Peele told an interviewer on the red carpet at last year's Academy Awards. His second feature as writer/director, Us, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival yesterday in Austin, Texas, and early reviews popping up are mentioning Brian De Palma and other filmmakers. Yet each review also stresses that while Peele might wear those references on his sleeve, the bold vision behind the film is uniquely his own. A couple of the reviews mention De Palma in specific relation to a standout split-diopter shot Peele uses in Us. However, Peele is surely familiar with Steven Spielberg's use of split-diopters in Jaws, as well-- one of these reviews mentions that the boy in Peele's film wears a Jaws T-shirt. Here are some excerpts:

Britt Hayes, Birth. Movies. Death.
On its outermost surface, Us is an effective survival horror thriller in the vein of The Strangers, featuring phenomenal performances from all involved. Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss make a decadent meal out of their supporting parts as friends of Gabe and Adelaide, but Nyong'o's performance rules them all with a transcendent duality that demands repeat viewings.

As with Get Out, Peele recontextualizes his influences into strong aesthetic choices; the opening credits sequence – a slow zoom out from the eye of a caged rabbit, revealing it as but one of many – evokes the cerebral horror of Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg. In particular, the influence of the former's Sisters and the latter's preoccupation with the body/self as foreign object are apparent throughout. Us is so layered in meaning it may as well be an immersive experience; a metatextual funhouse mirror akin to the one young Adelaide encounters in her early flashback. It's a film about mental illness and a film about trauma and PTSD. It's a film about imposter syndrome and never quite feeling as though you've earned the things you have or the people who love you. It's a film about our country, as Adelaide sharply observes that these "others" are Americans – and we are our own worst enemy, just lying in wait for the moment when we can easily topple our own lives and all we've built around them.

It's a film about the part of ourselves that we hate the most; the weak, needy part that's all unseemly desire and craven id; the part that we refuse to acknowledge because it is the absolute worst of us, or so we think. What if you ignored that part of yourself and refused to nourish it, but it found a way to grow in the shadows? What if it found a way to feed itself, and learned to approximate your movements and sounds? What if it got out? Imagine being confronted by this existential concept made feral reality; imagine the reckoning.

Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
If the opening scenes are deliberate, once Us gets going, it goes; the efficiency of the turn is striking, as is the confidence with which Peele sets his scenes, moves his camera, and freaks us out. In scene after scene he creates a mood of offhand, everyday spookiness, and then turns the screw with genuinely disturbing imagery. The visual strategies foreshadow the identity of the invaders, each of whom seems a bizarro replica of a member of the family; Peele is constantly framing his characters in mirrors, glass reflection, and even, late in the film, a thematically appropriate De Palma-style split diopter shot. The cinematographer is Mike Gioulakis (his credits also include Glass and It Follows), and he spends much of the film, which is set mostly over one long night, playing with light and dark and dark skin, in backgrounds and shadows.

The editing is sharp – there’s a suite of cross-cut one-on-one confrontations, once each of our protagonists meets their doppelganger, that’s sort of staggering – but Peele is always careful to give his actors their moments. (Elisabeth Moss has one, carefully applying lipstick in a mirror, that is absolutely chilling.) Every performance lands, thought Nyong’o has the movie star role, and plays it as such; her payoff moments deliver, but she’s unnervingly creepy when playing her character’s villainous half.

And yet, with all those virtues noted, Us can’t quite match Peele’s debut. Part of that is just a question of timing; Get Out is a terrific thriller that also arrived at precisely the right moment, in the morning-after hangover of a stupefying presidential election, and seemed a timely reminder of the evil that our smiling friends and neighbors are capable of.

But if Get Out was accidental Trump commentary, Us is decidedly deliberate, particularly in its third-act explanations and revelations, and when Peele preceded the SXSW screening by announcing, “the movie is about a lot of things,” he tipped his hand a bit – particularly in the opening stretches, there’s a fair amount of seemingly random setup and sheer oddity, bunnies under opening credits and vague on-screen text about underground tunnels and a lot of details about the 1986 Hands Across America project. Some of it pays off, but in a way that makes those elements feel like side scrawlings in a director’s notebook, plot points created to accommodate stuff he thought would be cool to throw into the movie, rather than growing organically from the material.

Get Out was the latter, and as a result, it was tight as a drum. Us is not that, which isn’t entirely a criticism. Such ambition – a sophomore filmmaker grasping to make a big statement, and fumbling a bit in the process – is not only forgivable, but admirable. Ultimately, he’s hoping to provoke thought, self-examination, even anger.

“My favorite thing is the idea that people will leave ready to have a conversation with whoever they’re with,” Peele explained in the post-screening Q&A. “I have a very clear meaning and commentary I’m trying to strike with this film, but I also wanted to design a film that’s very personal for every individual.

“In the broader strokes of things, this movie is about this country. And when I decided to write this movie, I was stricken by the fact that we are in a time where we fear the other. Whether it is the mysterious invader that we think is gonna come kill us and take our jobs, or the faction that we don’t live near that voted a different way than us… we’re all about pointing the finger. And I wanted to suggest that maybe the monster we really need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us.”

Monica Castillo, RogerEbert.com
As he did with “Get Out,” Peele pays significant tribute to the films that have influenced him in “Us.” Though this time, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus, as I spoke with others who saw the movie, we focused on different titles that stood out to us. For me, “The Shining” looked to be the film that received the most nods in “Us,” including an overhead shot of the Wilson family driving through hilly forests to their vacation home, much like the Torrance family does on the way to the Overlook Hotel. There’s also a reference to “The Shining” twins, a few architectural and cinematography similarities and in one shot, Nyong’o charges the camera with a weapon much like Jack Nicholson menacingly drags along an ax in a chase. However, “Us” is not just a love letter to one horror movie. Peele also pays tribute to Brian De Palma with a split diopter shot that places both Adelaide and her doppelgänger in equal focus for the first time in the movie. There’s also a tip of the hat to Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” in terms of dueling balletic styles and a gorgeously choreographed fight scene that looks like a combative pas de deux.

Posted by Geoff at 10:17 PM CST
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Thursday, February 28, 2019

We've heard Brian De Palma sing the praises of Neil Jordan in the past, and now critics of Jordan's new film, Greta, are seeing what they perceive as homages to De Palma. Here are some review links and excerpts:

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press:

Imagine you're a 20-something living in New York City and you spot a particularly nice and structured green leather handbag on the subway. Do you report it to the MTA? Ignore it and move on? Claim it and its contents for yourself? Return to the owner?

For Chloe Grace Moretz's Frances, a wide-eyed transplant to the big city, it's obvious: You go alone to hand-deliver the bag to Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), who, according to the identification card you find, is a tiny, nice-looking woman in her 60s. This is the first of many mistakes Frances makes in writer and director Neil Jordan's ("The Crying Game," ''Michael Collins") stylish and knowingly over-the-top "Greta," a dark, Brian De Palma-esque fairy tale about the dangers of trusting a lonely soul. She might just turn out to be a wolf, right?

Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
The psychological thriller Greta gets off to a promising start: As a camera discreetly follows Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz through a New York City subway, Julie London sings a silky version of “Where Are You?” and director Neil Jordan’s name appears on screen. Viewers familiar with Jordan’s previous work — from his script for Mona Lisa to the game-changing The Crying Game — will understandably feel prepared to encounter the kind of twisty but sophisticated puzzlers he’s best known for.

Er, not so fast.

As an exercise in style, Greta turns out to be a maddeningly mixed bag. Its New York setting (which should be another character in this tale of modern urban manners) is continually undercut by obviously foreign filming locations — Dublin and Toronto did the honors here — and its themes of vulnerability, obsession and ritualized violence are no less drearily familiar for being given a pseudo-feminist patina. An intriguing two-hander bursting with potential instead becomes something we’ve seen before — up to and including bizarre pivots into sadism and body horror.

Moretz plays Frances, a recent Smith College graduate who has moved to Tribeca with her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe), a wealthy fellow Smithie with no discernible job other than practicing yoga and tossing off cynical bon mots about crystal meth, colonics and how the Big (rotten) Apple is going to eat Frances alive. When the quiet, polite Frances finds an abandoned purse on the subway, she takes pains to find the owner, who turns out to be a French woman named Greta (Huppert), an eccentric but kind piano teacher who invites Frances for tea and conversation. Their relationship blooms, in part because Frances recognizes a nurturing figure she’s been missing since her own mother died, and soon the two are spending more and more time together, to the increasing consternation of the possessive Erica.

Alert readers will see the words “Huppert” and “piano teacher” in the same sentence and immediately sense impending doom. While Greta has none of the torturous rigor of Michael Haneke’s 2001 film The Piano Teacher, Jordan and co-screenwriter Ray Wright borrow heavily from other movies, especially classics from the paranoid canon of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

With a nod to Fatal Attraction here and one toward Single White Female there — not to mention brief homages to Brian De Palma all the way through — Greta feels as time-warped as its title character’s cozy but slightly confining apartment. Despite some clever work with cellphones and text messages, the story and atmosphere feel impossibly forced, shoehorned into a milieu that never feels authentic enough to elicit real dread.

The artificiality isn’t helped by an intrusive and cliched score, which prods the audience toward jump scares and creepy reveals with the uninvited pushiness of a musical mansplainer, and which returns time and again to a tiresome motif from Liszt’s maudlin “Liebestraum.” When Greta and Frances adopt a sweetly decrepit mutt named Morton, the foreshadowing couldn’t be clearer, and his fate hangs over the proceedings like a soulful, sad-eyed threat.

As those proceedings ratchet up, logic and intelligence give way to plot mechanics and pulp thrills. On behalf of Smithies everywhere, this one is here to tell you they’re brave but not this stupid.

Greta might pretend to turn the tables by presenting the sexualized predation of a young woman at the hands of a female malefactor instead of a male one. But the fetishistic leer is just as troubling and offensive. Disturbance eventually gives way to derangement in a story that grows exponentially more irritating the more preposterous it gets.

As Morton might say: When it rains, it pours.

Sean Burns, WBUR
The films of Irish writer-director Neil Jordan are all fairy tales at heart, though usually on the grimmer side of Grimm. Perhaps best known in this country for “The Crying Game” and “Interview with the Vampire,” Jordan can always be counted on for a tricky mix of literary sophistication and vulgar delights, brought off with a thick atmosphere of sinister enchantment and the showman’s flair of a wily Irishman spinning a yarn that’s half-malarkey and twice as enjoyable for it.

Greta” — his first film in eight years — has more malarkey than most. Built out from the bones of a Friday night slasher pic, the screenplay (credited to Jordan and Ray Wright, from a story by Wright) infuses its generic stalker plot with all sorts of wild and wooly weirdness, fashioning it into a high-camp showcase for international art-house treasure Isabelle Huppert.

She gives a gloriously nutzoid performance here, punctuating her placid demeanor with delicious flashes of mania. The movie is what the kids used to call a hoot.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Frances, a timid Boston gal fresh out of school who’s just moved to big, scary New York City. She’s currently crashing with her ridiculously wealthy college roommate Erica (a very funny Maika Monroe) whose parents bought her a comically oversized SoHo loft for graduation. (In a visual gag designed to torment anyone who has ever endured Manhattan real estate woes, Frances rides her 10-speed bike around inside the apartment.)

One day Frances finds a forgotten handbag on the subway, and like a Good Samaritan looks inside for ID and sets about returning the purse to its rightful owner. (“This is New York,” Erica scolds. “You should have called the bomb squad.”) The bag belongs to Huppert’s Greta, a lonely widow living in a cluttered apartment lined with overgrown ivy.

This highfalutin’ French version of Eleanor Rigby has been longing for a friend like Frances, and the two take to one another almost instantly — though attentive viewers might already be wondering about that muffled pounding coming from the wall behind Greta’s piano. “Construction,” she claims.

It’s not exactly a surprise where all of this is headed, so credit “Greta” for getting down to business right away and dropping a big reveal most movies would save for the end of the second act somewhere around the 30-minute mark. It feels like Jordan wants to get all the pesky plot stuff squared away as quickly as possible, so he can concentrate on having Huppert terrorize young Moretz in increasingly baroque fashion as the movie jumps the genre rails into bonkersville.

Jordan and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey conjure a collection of gorgeously evocative images. Moretz has the face of a cherub in a church painting, and maybe the most startlingly beautiful shot finds her crying at the movies with her eyes hidden behind 3D glasses, a vision of sorrowful kitsch.

As “Greta” gets kookier the visuals become more vividly expressionistic — Huppert’s shadow stretching long across the length of the living room floor like the wicked queen in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” while Moretz dons a little red riding hoodie.

Greta” is a feast to look at and pretty much a riot to watch, taking fiendish delight in the story’s inherent predictability by piling one fake-out on top of one another. There’s a dream within a dream sequence here that employs the same audience-taunting tactics as Brian De Palma’s “Raising Cain,” and it became unfortunately clear during the screening I attended that not everyone in the crowd was in on the joke.

The director got into a bit of trouble and seemed to be banished for a little while after the calamitous reception of his last Hollywood picture, 2007’s “The Brave One” — a fascinatingly misguided attempt to remake “Death Wish” with Jodie Foster as an NPR talk show host in the Charles Bronson role. It’s a deeply weird movie that felt mostly like a semiotic exorcism for its star’s complicated history of portraying victimized women, while also trying to work as a trashy fantasy for the four people in the world who wanted to watch Terry Gross gun down rapists.

I’m relieved to report that “Greta” does not take itself nearly as seriously, while still carrying over Jordan’s knack for making New York City look like a forest primeval. (Everyone in his movies always seem to be on their way to grandma’s house.)

The nutty pleasures of the film’s final act come primarily courtesy of Huppert’s wackadoo flourishes — considering the internet’s affection for the actress, this will probably be the most meme-d movie of 2019 — and an extra level of irony for anyone who was traumatized by her career-defining performance in Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher.”

Yet some of these scares still carry a Freudian kick, like a child’s toy chest re-purposed as an instrument of torture or the sinister properties of stuffed animals. Meanwhile, baking gingerbread cookies hasn’t been so perilous since the days of Hansel and Gretel. “Greta” is Jordan’s most gonzo fairy tale since 1999’s unfairly derided “In Dreams,” and in Huppert he’s found his ideal Big Bad Wolf.

Glenn Heath Jr., San Diego City Beat
A renowned Irish auteur whose diverse filmography jumps between genres, Jordan twists and contorts conventional thriller tropes to maximize Greta’s unshakeable neediness. The unpredictability of her actions eventually seeps into the aesthetics—a riveting and lucid sequence midway through the film pivots between dream and reality with effortless precision.

Blurred lines are Greta’s specialty. The gaps between companionship and obsession, kindness and guile, trust and doubt are much thinner than most like to admit. Frances experiences the slippery slope firsthand; most interestingly, though, Greta’s tactics merge digital stalking (texting and photography used with malicious glee) with old school confrontation.

Relying heavily on Huppert’s singular presence to keep its maniacal momentum alive, Jordan’s film uses her visage to successfully balance the tone between campy and creep out. This pushes Moretz into permanent victim status without much to do aside from screaming and clawing for life, the scared-straight woman to Greta’s big bad wolf.

Unlike Jordan’s previous film Byzantium, which tweaked the vampire construct with an impressionistic style, Greta (opening Friday, March 1) falls more in line with the neo-stalker narratives perfected by Brian De Palma. But it’s a film less concerned with voyeurism or sex than the idea of ultimate control manifesting itself in two ways: emotional and physical. When Greta is denied the former, she transitions to the latter. Huppert’s performance consistently lives between these two competing elements, giving her character volatility that is also rooted in desperation.

But what is the core of Greta’s particularly nutty frenzy? Jordan refuses to psychoanalyze and only infers answers. The film positions her as an omniscient and unstoppable force that is nostalgic for a time when domesticity could mask the destructive power dynamics between abusive parents and their children. Fables have a way of revealing the nightmarish implications of utopian façades, and Greta does exactly that.

Dann Gire, Chicago Daily Herald
Sometimes, a greasy cheeseburger hits the spot. Nothing high quality. Nothing particularly good for you. Nothing fancy. Just a cheeseburger.

Neil Jordan's "Greta" qualifies as the cheeseburgeriest thriller I've seen since 2018's "The Strangers: Prey at Night."

It won't win Oscars, unless the Academy approves categories for "Best Performance of a Dim Detective" or "Best Screenplay With More Holes Than a Machine Gun Target."

This long-fused thriller sneaks up on you. Just when you think it can't get slower or more boring, it attacks!

A sudden burst of playful suspense awkwardly inverts genre cliches, carefully avoiding the butcher knives, cheap jump-scares and heroes-resorting-to-savagery expectations in R-rated stalker films.

Instead, "Greta" (written by Jordan with Ray Wright) tries to out-DePalma Brian DePalma, especially with a daring twist on the obligatory dream sequence.

Even if these reworked devices don't quite work, thriller fans should appreciate the persistent attempts.

Courageously accomplished French actress Isabelle Huppert, never one to shy away from odd or challenging characters, plays Greta with full-throttle relish, fitting for a cheeseburgery performance where she emotionally simmers for a long, long time before flipping out.

Posted by Geoff at 7:56 AM CST
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