Thursday, January 26, 2017

De Palma *** (2016)

Filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow sat down with legendary director Brian De Palma to discuss his long and varied career.  A native New Yorker, De Palma attended Columbia Film School and was a contemporary of Martin Scorsese. Like many of his generation De Palma started out by making "arty" low budget films. His early efforts like Greetings (1968) and Hi Mom! (1970) were inspired by the French New Wave and featured a young Robert De Niro.  A Hitchcock disciple, De Palma modeled his early style on the master of suspense, most notably in the thrillers Sisters (1973), Obsession (1976)and Carrie (1976). DePalma also talks about his friendships with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.  De Palma famously ripped Star Wars apart when Lucas screened it for his friends, with the hilarious comment, "What's All This Force Shit?" To his credit, De Palma helped Lucas by writing the iconic opening crawl. Ironically, like Lucas, De Palma focused on making Box Office Hits in the 1980s. Many of his best movies under performed upon their initial release such as Blow Out (1981) and Scarface (1983), both are now considered triumphs of form and style.  Others were notorious flops like The Bonfire of the Vanities (1991) and the Sci-Fi misfire Mission to Mars (2000). In any case, DePalma has created a diverse body of work that any film fan should check out.  An excellent overview of the man and his work, De Palma is bolstered by compelling clips and the subject's forthright honesty about his craft.  

My Top Five Brian DePalma Movies:

1) Blow Out (1981) - John Travolta stars as sound engineer who may have witnessed a political assassination. One of the last great paranoid thrillers, unrelenting edge of your seat suspense told from a world weary perspective.
2) The Untouchables (1987) One of De Palma's most successful films, a potboiler on the 1930s battle between G-Man Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and Chicago gangster Al Capone (Robert De Niro).  
3) Carrie (1976) - One of the best adaptations ever made of a Stephen King novel that deals with High School bullying and telekinesis.
4) Casualties of War (1989) A worthwhile Vietnam film on the immorality of that conflict.
5) Scarface (1983) Another mob epic on the rise and fall of a Cuban gangster played by Al Pacino in an over the top performance.  One of the essential movies on 1980s excess.

I still need to see Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Raising Cain (1991).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Infiltrator (2016) **

The Infiltrator tells the true story of Robert Mazur, a Custom Services Special Agent who in the 1980s worked undercover as a money launderer for the Mexican drug cartels.  Bryan Cranston stars as Mazur in a sort of in-joke performance as the antithesis of his Breaking Bad protagonist Walter White. But the direction, editing, and script are jumpy and fail to establish any momentum.  Mazur is a family man on the verge of retirement who decides to continue his undercover work to bring down Pablo Escobar's drug empire. The story frequently makes awkward transitions between Mazur's dangerous occupation and relatively stable family life. As the film rushes through these plot points there's a total lack of coherence. Fast pace editing when done right can make for dynamic filmmaking, here the frenetic pace induces boredom.  The Infiltrator covers ground done much better in countless other films, most notably Donnie Brasco and Blow. Go back and watch some Breaking Bad episodes.