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

Simple, straightforward, obvious movie full of affable people, a pleasant diversion with some delicious-looking food but probably not even as great/interesting as something like Waitress.

Favreau’s smallest film in over a decade, but probably didn’t feel small since he was writer/director/producer/star/cook. Although it might’ve been ghostwritten by Twitter. His movie star friends come along – Avengers Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. play his restaurant hostess and ex-wife’s ex-husband. Sofia Vergara (vengeful brothel mistress of Machete Kills) is the still-friendly ex-wife, Dustin Hoffman the chef’s boss, Oliver Platt the restaurant critic who sends Favreau on a road-trip journey of self-discovery, starting from scratch and remembering what he loved about cooking (alongside longtime assistant John Leguizamo) and reconnecting with his favorite regional dishes and his 10-year-old son and ex-wife and finally making up with the critic (but not with Dustin Hoffman) and opening his own place and getting remarried.

Loyally following the director’s intent, I watched this on an iPod. Seven episodes, supposedly released over seven days, but I started on day eight and watched at my own pace. Supposedly a fat young boy “blogger” is backstage at a fashion show watching events unfold over seven days, editing together segments from single-take interviews with participants backstage. Some of the performances are very fun to watch – especially Jude Law as a diva cross-dressing model who keeps dropping his fake accent. I’m happy to play along, expecting, if not a new favorite film along the lines of Yes and Orlando, at least a smart, good time. In the first place it seems a bad sign that she’s written a takedown of the fashion industry. I’ve seen enough Project Runway to know there’s no need.

J. Kipp:

The movie is supposedly being made on an intern’s camera phone and these actors embody characters eager to share their experiences about the bitter, hypocritical world of fashion. Does that sound remotely interesting to you? Not at all, I’ll bet, because you’re already way ahead of the movie—we know inherently that the fashion world is superficial, and having a gallery of famous personalities line up and preach to the art house converted is nobody’s idea of a good time.

Sorry, Kipp, but halfway through I realized the movie isn’t a fashion attack at all. It’s something worse – a woman my mom’s age coming to terms with the power of the internet. The fun performances start getting watered down by hysterical ones. Increasingly ludicrous plot developments undermine the movie’s believability, and it devolves into the kind of camp I’d feared it would be when I first heard the premise.

Potter:

Funnily enough, I never thought of it as a film about the fashion industry. I thought of it as a film about people who happen to be in that setting. But as a filmmaker, what’s interesting about it is that it’s a world dedicated to appearances. But what the story’s about is what lies behind appearances, the tension between what you see and the reality underneath. It’s not really about fashion so much as about industry in crisis and individuals becoming unmasked … and finally, the gradual dawning realization that the person in the room with power is the youngest one, because he understands this new age of information on the Internet.

So our blogger Michelangelo (never seen or heard) watches as fabulous designer Merlin (Simon Abkarian: “He” in Yes) launches his new fashion line with models Jude Law, Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), and at least two others unseen. Also at the company are serious Bob Balaban (Christopher Guest regular, the film critic in Lady in the Water), “invisible” hispanic worker Adriana Barraza (the medium in Drag Me To Hell), and Dianne Wiest (recently of Synecdoche New York but I remember her best from Edward Scissorhands) as a manager who yearns for the old times when everyone knew everyone and all manufacturing wasn’t done in China.

Highlights of the movie are the interviews with jaded critic Judi Dench, wiry war photographer Steve Buscemi, fashion mogul Eddie Izzard, and his nervous caffeine-addicted bodyguard John Leguizamo. Lily Cole and pizza delivery-man-turned-fashion runway motorcyclist Riz Ahmed (of Dead Set) have the only semi-interesting character developments (Cole flees the scene and stays at Michelangelo’s house – a sweet ending, and the only non-bluescreen shot)

Not faring too well: Swedish Ben Affleck-lookalike Jakob Cedergren and Last King of Scotland vet David Oyelowo as an ineffectual Shakespeare-quoting cop, both of whom act angry at Michelangelo towards the end yelling at him to stop filming, while they stand in front of his bluescreen and look into the camera.

A model dies in the runway, her long scarf caught in Riz’s motorcycle wheel and the company decides to hold another show two days later, in which another model is shot to death. By that time the movie’s plot has already become way suspect, and the themes of fame and success, image and the power of the internet have reared their ugly heads. Apparently guns were handed to all the models as part of the show, and the audience was overrun with kids attracted by Michelangelo’s blog videos and I’m not sure what happened then, but people start yelling into his camera that Mich is the one with all the power here because he controls their images’ distribution over the rabble-rousing internet. Adriana cries that she is no longer invisible, D. Wiest joins the protesters against her own company, and nobody thinks to slap Mich upside the head, take away his camera and remove him from the premises. Maybe it’s more of an interesting concept and performance piece than a finished product, but it got my strict attention and I’m still very interested in Potter and whatever’s on her mind, so I went quote-hunting.

NY Press:

Potter defies the digital era’s fascination with new technology by emphasizing its limitations. … Her video technique doesn’t substitute for cinematic variety or photochemical richness. Instead, strict adherence to the basic things that digital media record (a face, place, moment) helps to appreciate the difference between video and film. Eschewing the lazy carelessness of so many misguided digital enthusiasts, Potter’s rigor becomes a refreshing reminder of true cinematic values.

J. Romney:

The novelty turn is Jude Law cross-dressing as supermodel Minx, sporting a series of preposterous wigs and an intermittent Russian accent (is Minx from Minsk?). All flirty grandeur (“Are you shy because I am celebrity, yes?”), it’s Law’s most theatrical screen performance yet, but it’s perfect here, both a larky send-up of his own beauty and a comment on the catwalk model as imaginary woman. But the people most redolent of the flesh-and-blood humanity that fashion operates to obscure are Steve Buscemi and British model Lily Cole. … As a purely plastic creation, an unusually sensuous essay in cinema povera, Rage is oddly compelling, a genuine one-off.

Slant:

The sketch-like focus on dialogue and characterization, as opposed to plot or mise-en-scene, is clearly the most logical direction for the burgeoning online/mobile entertainment movement, where grandiose visual concepts are dwarfed into 3.5 horizontal inches and uninspired set pieces are scrubbed ahead with the flick of a pinky. The advantage of Rage is its stylistic redundancy and still-life portraiture feel; one could pause the film at any time to check their email and return without having severed the narrative flow. The disadvantage is that the movie’s serenely glabrous surface lacks dynamism: Aside from the colored backgrounds that match each respective character’s eyes, garments, and/or hair, there are no visual indicators of plot development or tension, which lends itself to 98 minutes of occasionally soporific sameness. … While the stark visual formalism of the experiment is ideal for shrunken PDA and laptop screens, the monochromatic backgrounds and crystalline digital sheen seem borrowed from online commercials. Mute the sound, and you’ve got an adequately produced Apple ad.

M. Atkinson:

Rage has made itself noteworthy as the latest effort of a name filmmaker to address … the fact that cinema, as it’s traditionally made and consumed, is being starved by digital culture. Everyone knows the drill – movies, TV, music, newspapers, publishing, etc. are all dying pig-stuck deaths because of the internet, although no one dares to say that the internet is, in fact, the problem, and increases its dominance at a very real and looming set of costs to us all. … The film’s proud artifice rubs the mock-doc set-up the wrong way if you’re keeping score, except that “fashion” is all about the dishonesty of surfaces, and Potter’s film seems to be less about its subject and story than about how to make movies with as little as possible (another Warhol principle) and conform them to the new digital world. (In an interview in the latest Sight & Sound, she calls it “survivalist filmmaking, a no-waste aesthetic.”)

Potter again:

I think there is a deeper feel of rage, a kind of quiet rage on a mass scale and not knowing where to focus this rage which is the negative end of globalization. The positive end is the internet in my view, but the negative end which is about greater and greater ownership by anonymous corporate entities and less and less about freedom for the individual.

About women filmmakers:

It is making some headway because when I first started there were no women in the context where I was working. And that was a very lonely place, and I’ve watched that shift gradually. People used to come up to me in all parts of the world and said oh I loved The Piano and I said no that was Jane (Campion). And she and I would meet up now and then at festivals and she would say that people keep telling me they love Orlando and I’d say yes, sorry. So it was as if there were two of us in a sort of vaguely conspicuous, visible place in the pantheon of directors and that’s changed surely.