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What are our Brian De Palma thoughts? 
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Post What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
I've currently seen 15 films by Brian De Palma, and I've liked a few of them, but I haven't really been able to get a handle on the man or -- more importantly -- the cult. It seems that there are a lot of cinephiles, and essentially the entire nation of France, that thinks De Palma is one of the masters, and I just don't see it.

Part of the problem is that the De Palma films I like the most aren't the ones that people who love him like the most. I really like Scarface, even though it needs a good 20 minutes trimmed (the scene of Pacino and Pfeiffer going car shopping is the scene most in desperate need of cutting I've ever seen) and I think Casualties of War is a criminally underrated near-masterpiece. I also think Carlito's Way is an excellent crime drama that hasn't gotten the attention it's deserved.

However, I really don't find much to like in the De Palma canon of De Palma-y films. Sisters didn't do anything for me, Carrie is decent but owes more to King than De Palma, Dressed to Kill is absurd, and Body Double doesn't come together as a film at all. I find them all fun little exercises in excess and Hitchcock admiration, but none really worthy of appreciation on their own terms. Blow Out might be a notable exception -- I like Blow Out.

I completely will grant that he knows his way around a camera, and cinephiles tend to (rightly) get excited about these things. So I often find individual scenes in his movies to be great. There's a scene in Carlito's Way in a pool room that should be taught in film classes as a study of tension, the Union Station scene in the otherwise-spotty Untouchables has some plotting issues but it's really quite brilliantly shot, the final shootout in Scarface is astonishing, and even his lesser efforts typically have one or two scenes of brilliance (e.g. the Cannes heist in Femme Fatale).

Unfortunately I think that sword cuts both ways. He's so committed to the look of individual shots and scenes that I think he misses the forest for the trees. His films (particularly his more "personal" films) often suffer from logical flaws, poor plotting, and what I perceive to be a lack of care for the finished product. So while I enjoy watching his movies, I'll take a Sidney Lumet type (who doesn't focus as much on striking individual scenes but cares more about the finished product) any day.

Thoughts?

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Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:33 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
De Palma is a master stylist. I've never made a secret of my love of his work. I'm typing on a phone so I'll keep this short, but I'll just say that Femme Fatale is one of the finest style exercises I've ever seen.

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Sun Mar 16, 2014 11:06 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
The only movies of his I didn't care for, that I've seen, is Carrie and Raising Cain. Mission: Impossible is probably his third weakest effort, but I still over all enjoyed that. Snake Eyes, The Black Dahlia and Mission to Mars are all incredibly underrated IMO.

But his best movie is obviously The Untouchables. Carlito's Way and Casualties of War aren't far behind.

Haven't seen Blow Out, Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Scarface and The Bonfire of the Vanities.


Sun Mar 16, 2014 11:14 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
ilovemovies wrote:
But his best movie is obviously The Untouchables.


Disagree. I find the style to be great, but the plotting and acting undo the film quite a bit.

ilovemovies wrote:
Haven't seen... The Bonfire of the Vanities.


Don't. For the love of God, don't.

ilovemovies wrote:
The Black Dahlia ... incredibly underrated IMO.


That is the most over the top movie I've ever seen. As per my thesis, some of the individual scenes are good, but damn that movie just goes WOOOOOOOOOOOOO past the point of sanity

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Sun Mar 16, 2014 11:23 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
I thought the Black Dahlia was a wonderfully stylish and intriguing mystery with solid performances from Hartnett and Eckhart. I will say I do remember Hilary Swank not being very good.

And I thought the acting in The Untouchables was great. Well, maybe not from De Niro. He was over the top but, shockingly, not very menacing. But Costner, Garcia and especially Connery were all excellent. Connery deserved the Oscar he won for that role/movie.


Sun Mar 16, 2014 12:31 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
There's something so chilling in the "style is substance" angle that people bring to defend anything, anyone. It's like praising someone's masturbation technique. The opening of Femme Fatale is great but the movie is so jumbled and silly that all the technical mastery in the world can't stand in for, again, masturbation. De Palma isn't the only filmmaker who gets praised for this but he might be the only filmmaker that the sane are rendered insane by, critical one moment of Tarantino for riffing on his favorites and wild eyed over De Palma who is like Tarantino but... I mean, watch Body Double. Between Craig Wasson's performance and the method by which he extricates himself from certain death... really?

Mission to Mars will be defended by someone, his use of people getting buried alive will get studied. He might have some great shots (Mission To Mars, mediocre, has one that's amazing) but so the hell what. He's the David Hockney of cinema: skilled but always doing the same thing. I suppose those into the auteurs have someone else to admire but that still leaves us who don't care out in the cold, stuck with Raising Cain.

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Sun Mar 16, 2014 1:12 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
I find De Palma hit or miss, Scarface was decent but needed trimming, same with Carlito's Way(I also would've prefered it if the beginning of the film didn't give away the fate of the main character right away). Didn't care for Untouchables, Bonfire, Black Dahlia(his worst film for me), Mission To Mars or Carrie(I honestly liked the remake and sequel better). Body Double, Blow Out, Raising Cain were all pretty average.

Mission Impossible was good, but had a few too many many plot holes and it was overall the weakest entry in the franchise. Femme Fatale and Snakes Eyes are both underrated thrillers. Casualities Of War was a pretty compelling war film. Don't really remember much about Sisters or Dressed To Kill.


Sun Mar 16, 2014 1:25 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
Vexer wrote:
Don't really remember much about Sisters or Dressed To Kill.


I like Sisters alright. Dressed To Kill, however, is the unholy son of a Bugs Bunny cartoon and Hitchcock's canon. It does satisfy my itch to see Michael Caine running around dressed as a woman. Wish an anvil had fallen on him, would have been perfectly suited to the tone.

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Sun Mar 16, 2014 1:31 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
When you watch De Palma's movies, you can practically check the names off on a list. Here's De Palma doing Kubrick. Here's De Palma doing Godard. Here's De Palma doing Hitchcock. He's an expert on his influences, but I don't think his creative personality is more than the sum of those influences, and that's what prevents him from rising to the level of some of his contemporaries.

Master impressionist, journeyman storyteller.

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Sun Mar 16, 2014 1:41 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
Anyone have an opinion on The Fury? It's pretty decent as strictly a romp, or would be if it weren't overlong. My general thoughts:

Carrie: Love it. A great 90 minute romp of 70s high school stereotypes and Stephen King devices.

Dressed to Kill: Pretty stupid. Has some good moments, but a lot of it is overwrought and dated.

Blow Out: Love it. The plot is diabolically contrived, but it works due to great performances from Travolta, Allen, Lithgow, and the energy of De Palma's camera never lets up. Very clever, and still a pretty unique movie.

Body Double: Love it. For me, this is the De Palma that succeeds as a straight romp. All the way through it's funny, strange, and completely absurd. Also my favorite Pino Donaggio score. Can't get enough of that "Relax" music video scene.

Scarface: Don't like it. Too long and tedious.

Untouchables: I like it, though it's flawed. The strange, fantastical design never 100% works, and the pacing is always a little too slow. Still, the actors fuel it and the staircase scene, the elevator scene, and a couple others are individually great. And Morricone elevates it quite a bit.

Casualties of War: Great movie, different from any other Nam flick. Terrific epic compositions from Stephen Burum, great Morricone, great acting. The longer version is definitely the one to watch. It has a Bridge on the River Kwai level of moral complexity. Each of the five soldiers has a warped, but distinct psychological viewpoint on the whole thing.

Raising Cain: Interesting and definitely worth a look, though it never quite works in the end. It's weird as hell, but it misses the campy fun of Body Double, Blow Out, Carrie, and Femme Fatale.

Mission: Impossible Don't like it very much. It has its fun aspects, but overall outdated and slow. One of his more cynical movies.

Snake Eyes Pretty decent and fun movie. Definitely a rehash of previous De Palma movies, but also has enough new stuff to make it worthwhile. However, it's also one of Cage's most obnoxious performances. Compared to this movie, his performance in Ghost Rider 2 is low key and subdued. The ending is cool, good example of a De Palma mousetrap divine intervention coincidence.

Mission to Mars: One of his best, and certainly his most underrated. Morricone's awesome score, awesome camera setups which convey a cool feeling of zero-gravity, special effects that still look pretty damn good compared to say, Independence Day and Starship Troopers. A nice, subdued performance from Gary Sinise. Also an affectionate tribute to other space movies, and for me, it recaptures the feeling I had being a kid at the turn of the century. A very millennial, Nickelodeon kind of movie. Warm and feel-good.

Femme Fatale: Really good movie, perhaps great. I think it's the most formalistically tight movie of his career; almost too tight. But extremely clever, diabolical construction. It feels like his ultimate thesis movie. Though it doesn't have the fun camp of Body Double, imo.

Black Dahlia: Good one-time watch, might not hold up beyond that. Some crazy-ass scenes though, and a fun neo-noir feeling. Not the best of anything that it is, though I like it a lot more than L.A. Confidential

Passion: Solid retro De Palma, but not wholly memorable. Feels like he made it for the fans, and as such I appreciate it, but it's not a great movie. In terms of retro returns for old directors, Bullet to the Head was way better.


Sun Mar 16, 2014 3:30 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
here are some other De Palma threads, with some great stuff from JJoshay

viewtopic.php?f=27&t=4335&hilit=passion

viewtopic.php?f=27&t=3099&hilit=snake+eyes


Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:11 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
I've likely mentioned this in previous threads, but I generally prefer his early counterculture works, such as "Greetings;" its semi-sequel "Hi, Mom!;" and "Get to Know Your Rabbit"... and, because I was a kid in the '80s, "Wise Guys."


Wed Mar 19, 2014 9:19 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
Carrie and The Untouchables are very good; highly entertaining. Some set pieces in Mission Impossible are great, but otherwise the film drags. Really don't like Passion. I think I have seen only these four.


Wed Mar 19, 2014 9:26 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
Of his ones I've seen I like Blow Out and Carlito's Way the best. The Untouchables is classic good guys vs bad guys fun. Scarface is trashy fun that goes over the top. Hard to take it too seriously at this point. But I still like it. Carrie has a few dated elements. But it's one of the better Stephen King adaptations. Casualties Of War is underrated and Femme Fatale is one of his better recent ones.

On the other hand The Black Dahlia is a miss. Snake Eyes is also a miss, although there were parts of it I did like. May have to re-watch that one. I wasn't a fan of Mission: Impossible and Mission To Mars, primarily because they don't feel like De Palma films. They feel like any director could have made them. The less said about The Bonfire Of The Vanities the better.

Still haven't seen Passion. Got it on my Netflix que.

The primary reason I feel that De Palma has never gained the same respect that a Coppola or Scorsese has is two-fold:

His body of work is more inconsistent than Scorsese's and unlike Coppola who gained much respect early on in his career on account of The Godfather, he's always followed a more idiosyncratic path.

He's never made a major statement in the same manner they have. When he does, it's usually in the guise of a genre film (IE: the commentary on voyeurism and political corruption in Blow Out). Casualties Of War is the one film where he did and it got so overlooked at the box office it didn't elevate him to that respectable level.

In some ways he's similar to Oliver Stone, although he never had the same period of sustained accomplishment that Stone did between 1986 and 1991.

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Wed Mar 19, 2014 10:06 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
I like De Palma's style without loving any of his films.

I do like The Untouchables, and loved it as a kid.

Scarface plummeted in my estimation as I grew up.

Carlito's Way is pretty good. Ditto Mission to Mars and Causalities of War.

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Wed Mar 19, 2014 12:02 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
I think Mission to Mars is quintessentially a De Palma film. It is for him what Tintin is for Spielberg: some of his most elaborate camera setups. I also see De Palma as a consistently romantic director at heart, and Mars is sort of the culmination of that.


Wed Mar 19, 2014 3:22 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
JamesKunz wrote:
ilovemovies wrote:
But his best movie is obviously The Untouchables.


Disagree. I find the style to be great, but the plotting and acting undo the film quite a bit.

You'll need to elaborate more here please. THE ACTING IN THE UNTOUCHABLES UNDOES THE FILM QUITE A BIT? Well that's something new I've learnt today. Kevin Costner is ideally cast, giving his equal career best performance along with his impeccable work in J.F.K. Sean Connery probably got a lifetime achievement Oscar, but there's nothing wrong with his acting at all. He, as always, is the epitome of panache. The dialogue on the bridge when he first meets Elliot Ness and every scene they share together is top shelf.

Charles Martin Smith is totally believable as the out of his depth agent / accountant, and De Niro sums up the situation perfectly by overplaying Al Capone in the fifteen minutes of screen time he's given. (De Palma would not have made the film if the originally cast Bob Hoskins took the role, such was his want to get the casting and acting as great as he could. No De Niro, and the film would've have had a different director. That's balls. That's someone, in my opinion, trying to get every role cast flawlessly, so that the acting could match the production design, something De Palma would always get right until the 90's.)

Billy Dragon plays the right style of villain for the film, which leaves Andy Garcia. If Kunz said Garcia is a weak link in an otherwise excellent ensemble cast of mostly newcomers that would have been fine. When Connery and Costner go to pick the apple off the tree and Garcia is firstly introduced, his first few lines are poorly delivered. Not nearly as bad as QT in Pulp Fiction or anything like that, but he seems out of his depth. He's pretty much a superfluous character in the otherwise excellent, meticulously acted classic.

This is James' Berardinelli's 57th favorite film of all time by the way, with a nice review http://www.reelviews.net/php_review_tem ... tifier=854. I tend to lean toward James' B side of things on this one, and don't think the acting or plotting take away from the overall enjoyment one bit.

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Sun Mar 23, 2014 8:19 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
wisey wrote:
JamesKunz wrote:
ilovemovies wrote:
But his best movie is obviously The Untouchables.


Disagree. I find the style to be great, but the plotting and acting undo the film quite a bit.

You'll need to elaborate more here please. THE ACTING IN THE UNTOUCHABLES UNDOES THE FILM QUITE A BIT? Well that's something new I've learnt today. Kevin Costner is ideally cast, giving his equal career best performance along with his impeccable work in J.F.K. Sean Connery probably got a lifetime achievement Oscar, but there's nothing wrong with his acting at all. He, as always, is the epitome of panache. The dialogue on the bridge when he first meets Elliot Ness and every scene they share together is top shelf.

Charles Martin Smith is totally believable as the out of his depth agent / accountant, and De Niro sums up the situation perfectly by overplaying Al Capone in the fifteen minutes of screen time he's given. (De Palma would not have made the film if the originally cast Bob Hoskins took the role, such was his want to get the casting and acting as great as he could. No De Niro, and the film would've have had a different director. That's balls. That's someone, in my opinion, trying to get every role cast flawlessly, so that the acting could match the production design, something De Palma would always get right until the 90's.)

Billy Dragon plays the right style of villain for the film, which leaves Andy Garcia. If Kunz said Garcia is a weak link in an otherwise excellent ensemble cast of mostly newcomers that would have been fine. When Connery and Costner go to pick the apple off the tree and Garcia is firstly introduced, his first few lines are poorly delivered. Not nearly as bad as QT in Pulp Fiction or anything like that, but he seems out of his depth. He's pretty much a superfluous character in the otherwise excellent, meticulously acted classic.

This is James' Berardinelli's 57th favorite film of all time by the way, with a nice review http://www.reelviews.net/php_review_tem ... tifier=854. I tend to lean toward James' B side of things on this one, and don't think the acting or plotting take away from the overall enjoyment one bit.


Alright the plotting bothers me more, but the acting is an issue for me. I find Costner to be too bland here to be an interesting lead. He's just "determination," writ large, which might be more a problem with the writing than his acting, but he doesn't impress me at all. De Niro goes too big -- you like it, I don't -- whereas Garcia barely registers, which is more of a problem than it should be considering than he's one of the few left alive at the end. Martin Smith goes for too broadly comic (gulping the alcohol in the Canada scene) for my tastes. None of these are HUGE concerns, but a great movie should have great acting.

Now, want to know my plotting issues?

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Sun Mar 23, 2014 10:53 am
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
I have issues with the plotting in the film myself, so i'd definitely like to know what your issues with it are.


Sun Mar 23, 2014 1:45 pm
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Post Re: What are our Brian De Palma thoughts?
I think Untouchables has a number of problems, interesting mostly just for the photography, sets, and music.


Sun Mar 23, 2014 2:26 pm
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