Monday, February 28, 2011

Hero Worship: Brian De Palma

This originally started as a discussion about Brian De Palma's Sisters, with a brief bit about the director himself in the beginning, but then I started talking about him and basically didn't stop. So what we have here instead is a ridiculously long piece of me kissing Brian De Palma's ass. I had considered editing this thing down and adding my bit about Sisters, but then that would go against the whole reason I started this blog, which was for me to have an outlet to discuss films in a completely free manner. Since I am talking to no one in particular(most likely no one at all), I can speak very freely about my true opinions towards movies and movie makers, without having to pretend I like/dislike a certain film/director for the sake of not getting into a pointless argument.
So here we go:

I have a confession. When I first started watching films by Brian De Palma, I didn’t really care for them, which led to not caring too much for the man himself. This was a few years ago. Flash forward to today and not only do I absolutely love him, I find him to be one of the most unique and talented directors, pretty much ever. What happened?

Well I put the blame on two different factors. First was the buildup and anticipation for his films which put me at a point where I had to be disappointed. For a fan of the crime and gangster genre, you would not believe the amount of times I’m asked if I’ve seen Scarface. (Answer: About 6) And the same can be said for The Untouchables as well. So when I finally saw them I found that neither particularly wowed me. I mean, you ask random people on the street what the great crime films are, and those two titles will come up about as often The Godfather and Goodfellas. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I dug the films at the time, but found something lacking. More on that later.

The other issue which led to my distaste for De Palma early on was the simple fact that I WAS NOT WATCHING DE PALMA MOVIES! I mean, sure, Scarface and The Untouchables are De Palma movies, but not, you know, truly. De Palma is a man known for working in a pulp thriller/horror genre, and here I was watching crime epics. I’ve been told that his films fit into two basic categories, his Horror/Thrillers, often inspired by The Master of Suspense himself. Or his studio hired output. While nowadays I don’t see any dip in quality between the films, one has to admit it just seems like De Palma is more at home when working in his genre of choice. Although of course he gives nothing less than a hundred percent for any film he works on. You can practically feel the intense care put into every scene of his movies.

So anyway, at some point I rewound on De Palma and started again. This was sparked by a screening of Carrie, which is nowadays one of my favorite movies, and something I find truly scary. That was when I started on my (sort of) research of him and found out about his films and style. His love for Hitchcock and visual storytelling, and discovered that I had become enamored with his work. Long hypnotic tracking shots and masterful use of split screen were among the things that drew me to him like a bulimic person to a toilet.

It is my belief that in every single De Palma film, there is something beautiful and amazing, which makes the flick worth your time, even if the story itself isn’t particularly stellar. Take for example the opening to Snake Eyes. People may dislike the story being told, and as a result the movie itself, but damn if that opening isn’t impressive as hell. Even masterful tracking shots like the restaurant entrance from Goodfellas has to bow down to the beauty presented on screen here. The same can be said about The Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission: Impossible, and even Mission to Mars. And you know what? The heist sequence in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven was great, the one in De Palma’s Femme Fatale is better. And these are just his films that aren’t universally hailed as absolutely mind bendingly amazing.

As much as critics like to hold on to this thought that De Palma splits critics down the middle, you have to admit that when he’s on, he’s more unstoppable than that train in Unstoppable. Carrie, Sisters, Dressed to Kill, Carlito’s Way, Body Double, Scarface, The Untouchables, The Fury, Obsession… these are movies that any director would kill for. And then consider the magnificence on display in these movies, the “figure 8” shot in Carrie, the final sequence in Dressed to Kill and Carlito’s Way, the entirety of Body Double. Let’s see, how should I put this? This… this is the good shit.

De Palma has often been accused of being little more than a Hitchcock clone, but when I look at his films, I see the pure amount of joy that a movie can bring. I see a director who cares about the visual aspect of the film as much as the commercial or storytelling aspects. And you know what, as De Palma himself has said, Hitchcock is the best there is in the Thriller genre, if you want to be successful, then you’re gonna borrow from the master, and that’s exactly what he does. His friends, Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas and Coppola consider him the master, and simply put, Brian De Palma is the balls.

[I realized reading this again that while I said "more on that later" several paragraphs up, I did not in fact go back to it. Maybe next time]

Facebook Carryovers: Ten Favorite Westerns

So I'm cheating a bit with my first post being something carried over from my notes on facebook, but being that this blog is just an extension of what I was already doing there, I figured it made sense to put some of that stuff here as well.

You see I watch things in waves. What I mean by this is that I'll get really into a director, or genre, and for a while that's all I'll watch. Currently I'm really digging Brian De Palma, so when I put up a first post proper, expect it to probably be something by him. But anyway, this list was made when I was really deep into the Western Genre, which was actually sparked by playing Red Dead Redemption... Go figure. Anyway, here's the original note, with one notable change. I took out The Outlaw Josey Wales for Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead.

Check it out:

With my current obsession in Western flicks, I decided to make a quick top ten list of my favorites. Let's first get the obvious out of the way, The Searchers is not on this list, neither is Tombstone, although it's certainly ridiculous to even utter those two flicks as being anywhere near the same league. Once again this list will not be in numerical order, I'm just gonna list them alphabetically.

For a Few Dollars More: I don't think the middle chapter gets as much recognition as it deserves. This flick actually has my favorite standoff of all time.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: If I had to choose one movie here as my favorite, it would be this one. I mean, it was the flick that made me finally fall in love with Westerns.

High Noon: Watched it for the third time today, and it still continues to amaze me how different this film was. I love that we have an actual human character, as opposed to the glorified heroes that we see in Eastwood and John Wayne.

The Magnificent Seven: It took me forever to even getting around to watching this because I knew I would have an unfair bias towards this because of Seven Samurai, but when I finally did a few months ago, I was surprised and just how much fun I had with this flick. Plus, I mean, everyone was losing their minds when they heard that The Expendables was going to star a bunch of manly men, well this flick did it first. I mean, Steve Mcqueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, and a bad ass turn by Yul Brynner... this, is the good shit.

Once Upon a Time in the West: If we stripped everything down, and didn't waste time breaking things into categories like Classical Westerns, Spaghetti Westerns, Contemporary Westerns and all the rest, this one probably stands up above the rest as the absolute best the complete genre could offer, and it's a film I can watch over and over again.

The Quick and the Dead: This may be an odd choice but I really dig the film. The Western, as defined by John Ford or Sergio Leone is a thing of beauty, often with long held shots of breathtaking scenery. This film however, switches that up for the pure energy of Sam Raimi, one of the most distinctly visual directors of our time. Also, if your favorite part of the Western is the final stand off, then this one flick is your wet dream.

The Proposition: The Australian flick by John Hillcoat is certainly one of the most intense films in the genre. Also, what an interesting dilemma, he has to kill his older brother, in order to save his younger one. Man, being the middle child must really suck.

Rio Bravo: Confession time, yes this is the only film on my list starring The Duke, but damn, I love this film so much I don't feel all too guilty about it. Here he stands as the ultimate Western hero, and the complete opposite of Gary Cooper's character in High Noon, and it's awesome. Also, that scene when Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson sing together, I actually start to tear up a little, every time.

Unforgiven: Is any Western list complete without Unforgiven? It's the film Gran Torino wants to be, and the perfect final chapter to the Western in general.

The Wild Bunch: Now I have to admit, for most of the film, I do find it pretty dull. I found it really difficult to care about the characters in any capacity, with the exception of Ernest Borgnine. BUT, this film is beautifully crafted and extremely gritty, with some of the best shootouts ever.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Little Introduction

I'm gonna let you know exactly what you're in for right away, this will be me talking about movies, that's it. I won't be doing movie news or anything like that, this isn't a horrid attempt at a geek news site. I'm simply going to discuss movies, and on occasion, the movie business. This is nothing more than a movie geek who is so hopelessly obsessed that he needs some outlet to post his random musings, and what better (free) forum than the internet to do this?

So here's how things are gonna work out if you should happen to find this and dig it. I have absolutely no knowledge about setting up anything here, so what you see is what you're gonna get. The idea here will be to keep things simple, we're just gonna talk about movies(yes, movies, not "cinema"). Generally speaking, I guess you could call what I'm gonna write a review, but really they're nothing more than thoughts I have about films as I see them. I'd say expect about four to five updates a week, but with no set schedule, they'll be posted as they're posted. Also, there won't be any consistency to the films discussed, it'll just be what I have on my mind at the moment.

So with that I figure I could tell you a bit about my film tastes and whatnot so you get an idea of what you're in for.

I like to think I have no bias towards any film, although we all know this to be false. My favorite genre fits into that whole realm of Crime/Gangster/Film Noir. I have no problem with the abstract and avant garde. Like most people I believe story to be the most important single element of a good narrative movie, but I hold it in much lower regard than most people. I'll like films that make little to no sense and tell less than compelling stories if other aspects of it should be exceptional. The general scale I use to look at films(assuming they're narrative) would look something like:
40% story
30% character
30% technical aspects
Course it all changes from film to film, but that's a good solid starting point.

Quick rundown
Ten Favorite Movies:
1. Chungking Express
2. The Godfather + Part II
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
4. Once Upon a Time in America
5. Magnolia
6. American Beauty
7. Seven Samurai
8. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
9. Pulp Fiction
10. After Hours

Ten Favorite Directors:
1. Martin Scorsese
2. Wong Kar-Wai
3. Alfred Hitchcock
4. Sergio Leone
5. Paul Thomas Anderson
6. Christopher Nolan
7. Edgar Wright
8. Brian De Palma
9. Stanley Kubrick
10. Sam Raimi
Okay, that's all for now, I'll have a proper first post either later tonight or tomorrow.