Sisters – Brian De Palma week

This is Brian De Palma week. Sisters is currently available on instant Netflix.

Sisters

WATCH: Sisters (1973) – Rated R

“Reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) sees model Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) commit murder in the apartment across the way and promptly alerts the police — who find no corpse or other evidence of the crime. Left to her own devices, Grace teams with private eye Joseph Larch (Charles Durning) to crack the case, with the trail leading to Danielle’s once-conjoined twin and a creepy mental asylum in director Brian De Palma’s disturbing shocker.”

“Did you know that the germs can come through the wires? I never call and I never answer. It’s a good way to get sick – very, very sick. That’s how I got so sick! Someone called me on the telephone!”

Brian De Palma both wrote and directed Sisters. He also cast two of his friends, Jennifer Salt and Margot Kidder as the leads. This is an early film of his and is a bit rough around the edges. He uses his split-screen a bit here (then a new technique) three years before his iconic use of it in Carrie.

Again De Palma is in Hitchcock mode here. He uses odd camera angles and tracking shots a la his role model. Bernard Herrmann, a frequent Hitchcock composer, provides a good score here.

Acting is a little uneven. Jennifer Salt underplays her role as the intrepid reporter allowing the other cast members to dominate the film. Margot Kidder is quite good as the mysterious Danielle. The show is stolen by the delightful Charles Durning as an investigator.

Obsession, yesterday’s film, is clearly the stronger mystery but Sisters certainly has its rough charms.  I recommend watching this because it is entertaining but not very highly because the twist is easy to guess and some of the third act shenanigans don’t make much logical sense.

People Watch: Look for Olympia Dukakis as Bakery Shop employee #2.

Obsession – Brian De Palma week

Okay here are some very late postings from last week due to the holidays. This is Brian De Palma week. Obsession is currently available on instant Netflix.

Obsession

WATCH: Obsession (1973) – Rated PG

“While vacationing in Italy, Michael Courtland (Cliff Robinson) spots a mysterious woman (Genevive Bujold) bearing an eerie resemblance to his late wife — who, along with his daughter, was killed 15 years earlier. Blinded by grief, Michael pursues the beautiful doppelganger, but winning her heart turns out to be a dubious prize. Brian De Palma helmed this unabashed homage to director Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Vertigo.”

Up until he made Scarface in 1983, almost all of Brian De Palma’s movies come off as homages to or extensions of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. Obsession is certainly no exception. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

In addition to directing, De Palma also wrote the story with Paul Schrader who wrote the screenplay. Strangely, Schrader eschews his usual focus on the seedy side of life for an old-fashioned if somewhat creepy mystery.

The story does build slowly but the payoff is quite worth it. An odd casting decision late in the film (to explain would be a spoiler) actually works quite well. A lot of De Palma’s camera angles and shot compositions are quite impressive.

Oddly Netflix did not spell either actors name correctly in their description. It is Cliff Robertson, not Robinson, who capably plays the male lead. That is Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben to those of you that don’t watch older movies. Genevieve Bujold wonderfully plays dual roles here as wife and mystery woman.

For the music, Brian De Palma wisely turned to Hitchcock veteran Bernard Herrmann. Obsession was nominated for an Oscar for Herrmann’s score. While not Herrmann’s best, it is quite haunting and lyrical as befits the tone of this film.

This is a very good mystery but is slow to get going despite starting with a kidnapping. The third act is wonderful and I highly recommend this film. One caveat: For some bizarre reason, instant Netflix’s transfer of this film ends abruptly with no credits so one is left wondering if that is really where the film ended.

People Watch: Watch for a much younger and blond (?!) John Lithgow as Michael Courtland’s southern-fried friend LaSalle.

Body Double – Brian De Palma week

This is Brian De Palma week. Body Double is currently available on instant Netflix.

Body Double

PASS: Body Double (1984) – Rated R

“In a nasty double-whammy, struggling actor Jake Sculley (Craig Wasson) loses his girlfriend and then witnesses a brutal murder in a neighbor’s apartment. When a young porn actress (Melanie Griffith) befriends Jack, the two join forces to find the killer. Feeding his seemingly unquenchable appetite for gore and violence, Brian De Palma directed this Hitchcock-inspired thriller, which earned Griffith a Golden Globe nomination.”

I remember really enjoying this film when it came out. It is very stylish (as all of De Palma’s films are). The use of odd camera angles, the mastery of widescreen real estate, and the lesser underlying theme of police suspicion all point to De Palma being Hitchcock’s successor.

Watching this film now the setup is just unbelievably stupid as is the main character Jake. The rather obvious villain’s plot hinges on coincidence as well as Jake being essentially clueless.

De Palma wanted to make three films here – a Hitchcockian thriller, a comedy poking fun at the film business, and a story about the adult film industry. Unfortunately he didn’t invest enough in any of them to make them work feature length.

The scene where Jake acts in a porn film is very well staged. There is a marvelous moment where a mirror is closed and you can see the camera crew at work. The whole scene is set to the tune of “Relax”. There is another scene that is marvelously played out over the end credits as well.

I can’t recommend this because of the large gaps in logic. If you are willing to overlook those, this can be a very entertaining film but not one of De Palma’s best.

People Watch: Brian De Palma originally cast 70s/80s porn queen Annette Haven as the female lead, Holly. He had also planned to include unsimulated sex scenes. Naturally Hollywood said ‘No way!’ Annette Haven was a consultant on the film and imdb lists her as an uncredited actress though I couldn’t spot her. The ‘don’ts’ speech Holly gives is based on Annette Haven as well.

Carlito’s Way – Brian De Palma week

Please accept my apologies for not updating over the past few days but we were part of the East Coast Blizzard. While 8-12 inches of snow won’t seem like much to Northerners, the Carolinas certainly aren’t prepared for it. There wasn’t any drama but my wife and I were trapped in house for three and a half days.

This is Brian De Palma week. Carlito’s Way is currently available on instant Netflix.

Carlito's Way

WATCH: Carlito’s Way (1993) – Rated R for strong violence, drug content, sexuality and language.

“Sprung from prison on a technicality, Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) vows to use his unexpected second chance to his best advantage. But every time he tries to get out of the rackets, the bad guys pull him back in. Director Brian De Palma stamps his signature electric visual style onto this searing drama about the challenges of trying to go straight in a crooked world. Sean Penn, Viggo Mortensen and John Leguizamo co-star.”

“A favor gonna kill you faster than a bullet”

Brian De Palma starts this film off wonderfully. The opening sequence is shot in black & white except for a color poster offering an Escape to Paradise, the treasure chest at the end of the rainbow throughout this film. The nightclub featured in the film is El Paraiso. There are many other touches of paradise being just out of reach for everyone.

De Palma is a wonderfully visual director. Watch all the wonderful touches as a simple drug deal early in the film starts to fall apart – a door is slightly ajar, some people’s reactions are just slightly off, the music on the jukebox is turned up a little louder. The suspense is palpable – most other directors would have played it as a sudden act of violence but De Palma lets you watch it unravel.

Al Pacino gives a wonderful performance here as Carlito Brigante. He manages to be almost as magnetic as he was in Scarface and yet is also restrained – something that Tony Montana could never be accused of. He also does a voice-over through much of the film that works quite well as a narrative trick.

Most of the other actors are a little over the top, especially Sean Penn, but it works for this film as De Palma draws in broad strokes. John Leguizamo is his usual flamboyant self. The usually solid Luis Guzman is the big surprise here. He wisely underplays to everyone and comes out in the end as the best of the supporting actors. If all you know of Viggo Mortensen is that he played Aragorn, you’ll be in for a shock when you see him in this film.

This is a very stylish gangster film. As with most modern gangster films, there is quite a bit of language. The F bomb is dropped 139 times according to IMDB. Violence is strong but not actually pervasive. I highly recommend this film as long as language does not offend you.

People Watch: Marc Antony aka Mr. Jennifer Lopez has a role in the Latin Band. Also Adrain Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli on Heroes) has a small role late in the film as Frankie.