Ness/Costner, a true believer, says “let’s do some good” before busting up a joint he falsely heard is importing liquor, then the others make fun of him for the action-movie quip. He puts a team together in honest cop Sean Connery, sharpshooter Andy Garcia, and accountant Charles Stone (future director of Air Bud) to go after Al “De Niro” Capone for tax evasion since they can’t get him for anything else, and do-gooder Ness learns that he can’t stay clean when everyone else plays dirty.

Towards the end of this movie I wrote that it’s “THE 1987 movie” – not the best or most popular, but it’s the movie, and I wondered if I could find the movie for every other year – but the next morning I wasn’t sure what I meant by that.

It is hilarious that Connery won a supporting oscar for his Highlander II-ass performance instead of… I dunno, John Goodman in Raising Arizona, or The Cowboy in Innerspace, or Alice Cooper in Prince of Darkness, or That 70’s Dad in RoboCop.

De Palma makes a theme of child endangerment leading up to his stairway setpiece:

After Rotterdance I was in a Rear Vertigo Window Remix mood, and De Palma got me covered. It’s suspense-comedy, with lead guy Jake (Nancy’s sympathetic doctor in Nightmare on Elm Street 3) as the world’s most awkward loser, set up to witness a fake crime. He’s introduced being fired from the movie Vampire’s Kiss since he can’t perform his grave scene due to high anxiety claustrophobia, then going home to catch his wife enthusiastically cheating. He does get to kiss the girl he’s stalking (Deborah Shelton of Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II) after almost chasing down her purse snatcher, but fails to save her life in an absolute mess of a driller-killer murder scene.

Enter Melanie Griffith, too thin to be a porn star. Now an accomplished stalker, Jake starts acting money after his sex scene with Melanie, impresses her with the fancy place where he’s staying, then reveals that he’s familiar enough with her work to have recognized her through the telescope in the staged crime scene. He overcomes his claustrophobia, defeats the murderer, and gets re-cast in Vampire’s Kiss. Really not a great movie but pretty fun. Between Scarface and Wise Guys, De Palma had to get the 1980s out of his system, making a movie that contains a whole Frankie Goes to Hollywood music video.

Home Movies (1980)

Framed as a lecture by professor Kirk Douglas on student Dennis, “an extra in his own life.” Some of the framing in this is nice if one seeks that De Palma magic, but the action is silly-ass, with sped-up-film goofiness and pauses for laughter after clunker jokes. It’s some consolation that it’s all meant to be a film-in-a-film with a self-consciously big music score.

Kirk must’ve done this as a favor after The Fury. Our main boy who films everything (including his cheating dad) is Keith Gordon, his girl is Nancy Allen, a year before they both appeared in the great Dressed to Kill. I dig the energy of Keith’s cult leader brother Gerrit Graham, just off playing the title role in C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud. As a cheapie exercise in film production assigned to De Palma’s real college students, it came out mostly fine, except maybe the blackface bit.

The Wedding Party (1969)

Another collaboration with Sarah Lawrence college, this time with De Palma the student, shot before Greetings but released after Robert De Niro’s star rose. More undercranking and dubbed voiceover, opening as madcap silent comedy – so this is where he learned it – and references to cross-dressing in both films prefigure Dressed to Kill.

Charlie is a nervous groom, arriving with two groomsmen (RDN +1) at a wedding site with the bride’s too-large family. Bride Jill Clayburgh is ironically best known for a film called An Unmarried Woman. They each get advice from their people, Charlie waffles on the marriage and/or cheating with piano girl Celeste. The dialogue is better than the other movie, and editing is very fun, with jump cuts galore. It gets a little long – hard to sustain wacky comedy for 90 minutes.

Rewatched for the first time since theaters (?) in prep for M:I:6:Fallout, and it was much fun. I remembered Emilio Estevez’s elevator death, but not that it happens in the opening sequence and that he dies along with the entire team of Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Béart (not really dead) and her husband and team leader Jon Voight (also not dead, and the secret double-agent mole who planned the whole thing to frame Tom Cruise and make off with the secret documents or whatever). On the side of evil Voight are Jean Reno, who dies in the preposterous helicopter-in-the-train-tunnel finale, and Vanessa Redgrave, who is just quietly arrested. I was impressed by the rubber-masks game, recalling the advanced digital trickery in M:I:4:Ghost:Protocol, and then happily, part six featured just as many rubber masks.

Dramatic camera angles, first-person shots and entire subjective scenes which play differently in flashback, because it’s still De Palma.

Team 1: Estevez (his last appearance in a theatrical film that he didn’t direct), Cruise (same year as Jerry Maguire), Béart (right between her two major Rivette films), and Burnt by the Sun star Ingeborga Dapkunaite:

Cruise and K.S.T., lurking:

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
Mission: Impossible
Body Double
Femme Fatale
Blow Out
Raising Cain (the new edit)
Mission to Mars
Phantom of the Paradise

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.

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).

Lloyd (80’s horror staple Gerrit Graham) spends the whole movie obsessing over the Kennedy assassination.

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.

Does not seem like the kind of movie that would’ve inspired a sequel, but it did just that.


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.


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.


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.

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:

Ends with a cheesy theme song – what is this, a Bond movie? Batman? Nobody does that anymore.