While the Lady Gaga superbowl party raged downstairs, I was upstairs watching one of the most emotionally upsetting war films ever made…

Americans in the Vietnam war get into a battle while De Palma lowers his camera into the tunnels where someone is creeping up on Michael J. Fox, who has fallen partway through before being rescued. So the movie opens with Fox not being a huge help to his squad, and his reputation only gets worse. The men survive, but a few (movie) minutes later, Fox rescuer Erik King gets shot at a supposedly friendly village. Back at camp, Fox’s teammates (leader Sean Penn, Sean’s violent buddy Don Harvey, John C. Reilly and timid new replacement John Leguizamo) are frustrated that the whorehouse is off limits, so on the way out to their next assignment they kidnap a village girl (Thuy Thu Le) as a sex slave. After she’s raped and tortured for a couple days, they stab and shoot her during a battle atop a train trestle (during which, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a friendly-fire disaster down below) and toss her body off a cliff.

Fox has never gone along with this, trying to free the girl and once standing up armed against his men. Later as he’s recovering from a head injury back at base, he’s told “what happens in the field stays in the field” but reports his men’s actions to Lt. Ving Rhames, who says he’ll break the men into new squads and that Fox should forget it. Fox persists and finds sympathetic Sgt. Dale Dye (a Vietnam vet and the film’s technical advisor) who helps him take the men to military court, but not before Clark attempts to assassinate Fox with a latrine grenade (with some impressive first-person camera) and Fox strikes back with a shovel. The investigators find the girl’s body, each soldier is sentenced to at least eight years in prison, then back to Framing Story Fox, who still has nightmare/daydreams.

While Fox is distracted:

Such an intense and brutal movie. De Palma seems to borrow some of the obvious war stuff from Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, but the acting and filmmaking are on point, and the bitter fury comes through loud and clear. It’s not so much an anti-war movie, more about extremes of human nature, but obviously Redacted is a companion piece. Michael (not Paul) Verhoeven shot a 1970 feature called O.K. covering the same story, which caused outrage at its Berlin Film Festival premiere.


De Palma (2015, Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow)

After finally catching up with Casualties (glad I waited for blu-ray) I watched the recent career-summary documentary, finding it amusing that the guy who directed the swearingest movie of the 1980’s looks like Uncle Toad and keeps saying “holy mackerel.” He’s proud that his generation of buddy filmmakers (Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola) were able to do great work inside the studio system “before the businessmen took over again.”

On Carrie remakes: “It’s wonderful to see what happens when somebody takes a piece of material and makes all the mistakes that you avoided.” He wrote the spy kid in Dressed To Kill as himself. “I used to follow my father around when he was cheating on my mother.” I finally got to see the alternate tidal-wave ending in Snake Eyes, and as suspected it’s cooler than the real ending.

B. Ebiri:

Paltrow and Baumbach don’t get fancy with the filmmaking. They’re smart enough to let De Palma’s own resonant images — his gorgeous compositions, his smooth camera moves — do much of the work. (After all, if you can’t make an awesome clip reel out of Brian De Palma films, then what good are you?)

Directing Dancing in the Dark:

A. Nayman, who does a good job discussing the doc itself, instead of using it as an excuse to talk about De Palma’s career:

De Palma’s pride at taking a potentially ordinary, corporately backed genre exercise and hotwiring it into a slick and enjoyable piece of craftsmanship seems tied to the fact that Mission: Impossible made a lot of money. Whatever their technical or artistic merits, the successes of Carrie, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible differentiates them within a body of work that’s typically been more notable — and in some corners, largely validated — on the grounds of failing to connect with audiences. For all the glee De Palma says he takes in making viewers uncomfortable, he seems to get off even more on getting big crowds into the theater in the first place.

Me, I’m using it as an excuse to talk about De Palma’s career. It’s time to rewatch them all, but I’m in the middle of a hundred other things so it’ll probably have to wait. The ones I most need to watch are Hi, Mom! and Wise Guys. And to rewatch, in order:

The Untouchables
Carlito’s Way
Scarface
Mission: Impossible
Body Double
Femme Fatale
Blow Out
Raising Cain (the new edit)
Mission to Mars
Phantom of the Paradise
Sisters

I had high expectations, and this was kinda ordinary. Nothing I haven’t seen from De Palma – a 1970’s-looking Hitchcock knockoff (Vertigo this time) with a few of his typically stylish shots and a not-too-distinctive lead actor (Cliff Robertson, lead of Underworld USA). Better is Genevieve Bujold as the love interest and John Lithgow as the villain/business partner. Speaking of which, it didn’t help that I could see the movie’s ending coming a mile away. Cliff’s wife and daughter are kidnapped, wife is killed in a botched police operation, daughter disappears and 15 years later Cliff sees a girl who looks remarkably like his dead wife. Who could it be? Some creepiness later he finally figures it out, and I wonder if Park Chan-wook was paying close attention.

Written by Paul Schrader (same year as Taxi Driver), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Blow Out) and scored by Bernard Herrmann, who split the vote with his own Taxi Driver score.

B. Westcott in Reverse Shot:

Courtland’s obsession is so all-consuming that he’s blinded to anything beyond doing right by his “second chance.” Confronted with a second ransom note, a newspaper clipping of the exact message he’d received 15 years earlier, Courtland stops nary a moment to consider the irony or ponder the identity of the kidnappers, instead rushing frantically to borrow money from the very man so clearly behind his longstanding misery. The drive towards desperation and doom so inherent to Vertigo (and so clearly voiced in Hermann’s score for both films) is thoughtfully and ambiguously upended in Obsession’s climax. What seemed certain to end tragically is instead resolved in an ostensibly joyous reunion. As the camera swirls around Michael and Sandra locked in embrace, finally coming to rest on a freeze-frame of the gleeful pair, we have to wonder what the image really means.

A twisty triple-cross murder thriller, sleek and sexy and fun while it’s playing, with very good performances, but pretty instantly forgettable. Too bad, I was hoping for another Femme Fatale. American remake of Alain Corneau’s final film Crime d’amour which starred Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Rachel McAdams (To The Wonder) steals credit for her employee Noomi Rapace’s successful advertising idea, is in line for a big promotion, and is dating hottie Paul Anderson who is stealing from the company on the side. Noomi (also great in Prometheus) does all the work while Rachel enjoys being rich and powerful, repeatedly humiliating Noomi until she murders Rachel in the midst of a downward spiral of pill addiction with blue-toned noir lighting.

But wait! After being arrested Noomi manages to prove her innocence with some belated evidence and pin it on the boyfriend instead. And she’s secretly dating her hot red-haired secretary Dani (Karoline Herfurth of We Are The Night, not We Own The Night). The ending gets confusing, since Rachel is apparently alive again (Wikipedia says it’s her twin sister but whatever) and poor Dani gets murdered by either Noomi, Rachel, Rachel’s sister or maybe a ghost or it didn’t happen at all, I dunno. I figured it as a twist on the twist ending, not actually revealing how the final murder happened.

De Palma’s still got the smoothest moving camera in the business (shot by veteran DP José Luis Alcaine, who did at least six Almodovar movies), an excellent looking and sounding movie. I feel like I should’ve liked it more – not that anyone else did (A. Tracy’s takedown in Cinema Scope is the most amusing of the bunch).

Features the upbeat pop title song. Obviously that’s why Snake Eyes had a title song – wasn’t some weird emulation of the James Bond franchise, it’s how De Palma has always made movies. I don’t remember any songs from Redacted, but I’m looking forward to Cyndi Lauper’s hit number “Casualties of War.”

A mildly Godardian 60’s-spirited anti-establishment comedy, full of proto-De Palma moments (split-screen, voyeurism, explicit reference to Antonioni’s Blow-Up, the book below). Not much attempt at continuity, more of a series of sketches about three guys.
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Paul (Jonathan Warden, who never acted again) stays awake for three days to become enough of a nervous wreck to fail his army draft exams, then goes on a bunch of blind dates (introduced by title cards).
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Lloyd (80’s horror staple Gerrit Graham) spends the whole movie obsessing over the Kennedy assassination.
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Jon (Robert De Niro, later of Brazil) is a voyeur, always peeping at people through windows and cameras. He fails to get out of the draft, and in the final scene he’s with a news camera crew trying to get a Vietnamese village woman to strip as if there isn’t a war going on around him.
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Does not seem like the kind of movie that would’ve inspired a sequel, but it did just that.

Wikipedia:

De Palma’s most significant features from this decade are Greetings and Hi, Mom!. Both films star Robert De Niro and espouse a Leftist revolutionary viewpoint common to their era. … Greetings is about three New Yorkers dealing with draft. The film is often considered the first to deal explicitly with the draft. The film is noteworthy for its use of various experimental techniques to convey its narrative in ultimately unconventional ways. Footage will be sped up, rapid cutting will distance the audience from the narrative, and it is difficult to discern with whom the audience must ultimately align.

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J. Fox:

The characters’ dialogue is loose and improvisatory, but the overall effect is that of a play that’s been “opened out.” De Palma keeps restlessly inserting jump-cuts and changing scenery to provide interest, but it’s a very talky movie, and his camera is frequently stationary.

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K. Uhlich:

No surprise then that De Niro’s Taxi Driver character has his roots in Jon Rubin, the protagonist of Greetings and Hi, Mom!. Initially a supporting player in the former (running around carefree as he and his two friends dodge the Vietnam draft) he comes front-and-center in the latter as the voyeuristic purveyor of “peep art”, the failure of which drives him to commit a terrorist act. Greetings plants the seeds of Rubin’s discontent in its best scene, a bravura real-time take in which the budding voyeur, as an off-camera voice, instructs a girl to take off her clothes. Funny and horrifying in equal measure, the fact that neither De Palma nor De Niro flinch from the sight before them speaks to the sequence’s great satirical punch. You laugh, but it sticks in your throat. You’re forced to consider two or more simultaneous responses, which is exactly what the best satire should do. And then the director and the actor take you further in a climactic scene with Rubin now in Vietnam instructing a Vietcong girl to strip for a news camera, thus conflating collective and personal voyeurism into the same sordid ball of wax.

If we are to become mighty auteurist film scholars, there are worse hazards than having to declare Public Enemies the greatest film of the year when it’s clearly not; we must also face up to people who question our devotion to the less acclaimed directors working in commercial cinema – specifically, girlfriends who frown incredulously, asking “Snake Eyes? The Nicolas Cage movie? I thought you hated him” and co-workers who say, mockingly, “De Palma isn’t even an auteur… he sucks!”

True, Cage is known for being goofy/awful, but I’ve got a soft spot for his early goofy/awesome roles in Raising Arizona and Wild At Heart (and even Bringing Out The Dead), and I still fancy a good Cage cameo in Grindhouse or his less-crazy role in Lord of War. De Palma seems to have been too concerned with his own gigantor-budgeted bag of tricks to worry about Nic’s wild, yelling performance in the opening scenes. After that, he and best friend/worst enemy Gary Sinise calm down to the standard cop-investigation double-cross game.

The quickly-forgotten Round 7 Girl who’s hot for Cage and his pretend hollywood connections, with the assassin above her to the right.
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Back to Brian’s bag of tricks: we’ve got cameras through walls and ceilings, split-screen, playback, point-of-view, and long, long shots (the opening sequence, awesomely filmed as it is, has plenty of hidden cuts). It’s bravo filmmaking, but the story dies so hard at the end it seems like Brian has just been giving a turd unprecedented amounts of polish. Everyone online seems to know that a massive sfx tidal-wave-flooding-the-casino ending was cut and replaced by the WTF ending of Sinise shooting open the door where informant Carla Gugino (mom in the Spy Kids series, also in Watchmen) is hiding just as the storm rips the outer wall off the building so an arriving police car can catch him, but why? The current ending (and unnecessary epilogue where Gugino catches up with Cage months later) sucks so hard that throwing a giant tidal wave at the movie could only have improved it. No deleted scenes on the disc, so those of us who don’t buy copies of scripts on L.A. street corners will never know what ending was deemed even worse.

Even if Femme Fatale outdid this one in audacity of plot, this has got plenty to recommend it from a purely De Palma geek-out standpoint.

De Palma takes the split-screen next-level, showing simultaneous actions at one moment, and present-tense Cage split with his recreation of past events at the next:
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Ends with a cheesy theme song – what is this, a Bond movie? Batman? Nobody does that anymore.

Whew, a not-too-good late-70’s-looking thriller with hardly any thrills, this wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped it’d be. Funny how in a week I went from watching John Cassavetes masterpiece Faces to watching a movie that ends with John Cassavetes exploding.

Boom!!:
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Movie opens in “Mid East 1977.” Kirk Douglas (below) loses his psychic son Robin to evildoer Cassavetes who subjects him to experiments we’re barely shown for reasons we are never told (and JC doesn’t seem to sweat it when Robin is killed at the end). Kirk goes deep undercover to rescue his son, enlisting Carrie‘s Amy Irving (who gets killed by a car in a botched escape) and psychic troubled girl Carrie Snodgress to help him infiltrate the secretly Cassavetes-backed psychic rest home run by Charles Durning (the president in Twilight’s Last Gleaming). Kirk finds his son but Robin has turned evil and they both plummet to their deaths from the roof. Carrie is miffed and explodes John Cassavetes again and again from fifty-six different camera angles.

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A brief timeline of stories featuring psychic kids and exploding bodies:
Carrie (King, 74)
The Fury (John Farris, 76)
Carrie (De Palma, 76)
The Fury (De Palma, 78)
Firestarter (King, 80)
Scanners (Cronenberg, 81)
Firestarter (Mark Lester, 84)

One of those cool De Palma signature perspective shots:
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Cassavetes (you can tell he’s evil by the black-gloved hand in a black arm cast) with Charles Durning:
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Robin (Andrew Stevens, vet of 70+ crappy movies) looks like he’s wolfing out, but really he’s hanging off a rooftop from his father’s arm full of psychic rage:
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Wow, this was a lot better than I thought it’d be. Why did nobody like it… because it was fakey or obvious? Aren’t all B. De P. films fakey and obvious? But they way he puts those fakey pieces together, and their very in-your-face obviousness (or audacity) make for compelling pictures. This seems like an angry, hastily-assembled statement against the war, but at least it is an angry statement against the war, and against injustice, and one which is interestingly different from anything else out there – attention-grabbing, appealingly watchable, and truthful even as it makes stuff up.

Firstly, it does not seem documentary-like, even when the camera work is handheld. Very purposeful movements, good framing, not pretending like this is Really Happening To Real People, and this style is a great success. It’s a nice blend of the Blair Witch / Diary of the Dead aesthetic with some actual professional photography. I guess after YouTube, studios think people want to see crappy handheld home-movies a la Cloverfield, but De Palma, in not making his camera work “realistic,” has made a fakey movie, but an improved one. Also by using this documentary approach, he has a built-in excuse to employ his signature long takes, a stylistic bit that nobody seems to be commenting on.

Angel Salazar unwittingly filming his own kidnapping:
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At most half of the movie is this soldier’s handheld “doc” of his war experiences… the rest is made of leisurely intercut segments from similarly visually-enhanced sources: a French-made documentary on a checkpoint, a security camera, a legal video deposition, news footage, and websites with streaming video (!). It’s an interesting new way of incorporating the scary internet into a feature film… really just a website cut-and-pasted into the middle of the movie. The point being that each of these sources either progresses the story by giving us more information than a single source could provide, or gives us a new view or perspective on events we’ve seen.

Movie ends with “real” photos from the war, which have been censored by order of the cowardly film studio (HDNet/Magnolia)’s legal department, closes with a staged photo by B de P, I don’t know why exactly.

from the French doc:
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BdP: “The US government has co-opted the Fourth Estate. It made the networks buy its spun, whitewashed version of the facts. The government has made sure there are no images that are too upsetting. We don’t see the soldiers being hurt or killed. And we don’t see Iraqi civilians being hurt or killed. I’ve been watching this incursion into the Middle East and, being a director, I naturally wonder: Why are they leaving certain things out, and where are they? Even in the case of my movie, where I tried to get these images in, I got redacted.”

A redacted photo:
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I see nothing to complain about here. This movie shouldn’t have died like it did at the box office (I definitely would’ve gone if it hadn’t disappeared so quickly) and it shouldn’t be getting so many anti-American accusations by people who haven’t watched it. It’s specifically a film by an American about American troops killing the people they are supposed to protect, and that’s dangerous idealogical territory to be treading, so who we needed to tell the story was a filmmaker who walks hard like De Palma, who can’t (judging from an interview I just read) seem to tell when he’s being provocative or embellishing the truth, and who is well used to backlash. Not being an actual documentary, I didn’t find it as heartbreaking as The War Tapes (though they have similar endings), watched it with a more artistic remove, but from what little I’ve read in the media and Redacted-related articles and interviews, the story is real and is worth telling. Better to tell it now while it’s still happening (the soldiers were actually just acquitted, no surprise there) than to wait 60 years when it’s safe enough to make a Flags of Our Fathers prestige-pic out of it. It’s too bad the people who haven’t heard the story aren’t gonna see it here. Better luck next time, Mr. De Palma.

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Angel’s helmet-mounted night-cam shoots conflicted compadre McCoy:
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This movie, are you kidding me? 100 percent awesome. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, split screens, mobile long takes and a shower scene with a knife. It could only be Brian DePalma’s parody-tribute to Phantom of the Opera.

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Winslow Leach is writing a rock cantata of Faust and auditions it for Swan, the hugest most important record producer in the industry. Swan steals Leach’s cantata and adapts it for his new theater (Paradise), auditions some girls (Leach meets one briefly, Phoenix, falls in love, thinks she has a perfect voice for his songs, etc), then gets Leach falsely arrested and sent to prison, where his teeth are removed and replaced with metal ones for some reason I forget.

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Leach escapes, returns as the Phantom of the Paradise, and kills the dude hired to sing his stuff (“Beef”). But Swan finds Leach and signs a lifetime deal with him to keep writing stuff that Swan will produce… a bad deal for both of them, I guess. After a life/death struggle for creative control and the love of the girl, they both end up dead dead dead.

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Good music, good story, great movie. What in the world happened? Why have I never heard of this before? Why haven’t my coworkers heard of it?

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Best part: the phantom stabs himself in the heart, but can’t die because he’s still under contract.

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The missing link between Bonfire of the Vanities and Carlito’s Way.

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Movie’s chugging along fine for a half hour, then helloooo awkward voiceover. Something must’ve gone wrong in the editing process, or maybe test screening audiences were confused.

John Lithgow:
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I love how De Palma keeps trying to make artful tributes to Psycho, then Gus Van Sant just up and remakes Psycho, the dummy. Killing the female lead 40 minutes in… check. Same shot in the police station from Dressed To Kill, also in a police station. Characters named Dante and Cain, heh. With the knife to the hand, the wig/dress costume, the elevator scene and the multiple personalities, this thing has Dressed To Kill written all over it. De P. is referencing himself more than Hitch this time around.

John Lithgow:
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The fun is to figure out which characters are John Lithgow and which aren’t (spoilers: his twin brother and the kid at the restrooms are, his dad is not). Whole movie is worth it for the awesomely choreographed long-shot slow-motion finale at a hotel.

John Lithgow:
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DVD box says: “When Jenny cheated on her husband, he didn’t just leave… he split”. But he was split from the start, and the cheating only got him to try to blame her new guy for one of Lithgow’s murders (it only stuck for about 10 minutes).

John Lithgow:
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Looked for a second opinion but it’s (the only one?) missing from Reverse Shot’s De Palma discussion page. Maybe I’m alone, but I think it’s a real cool movie.

aaaaand John Lithgow:
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