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DE PALMA Review - A Masterclass Triumph

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DE PALMA, from A24 and Scott Rudin, presents the story of Director Brian DePalma, tracing his lineage from his middle class suburban beginnings through his highest achievements, lowest disappointments and the fun loving early days of modern moviemaking.

Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, DE PALMA, actually provides a looking glass into the early careers and springboard launches of many of the most prolific contemporary talents revered today.

Brian DePalma narrates the film in both first person and retrospect as he takes the audience to his home we were learn about his early childhood, as far back as he wishes to tell. An orthopedic surgeon father, never home, a stay at home mom who loved her three sons. His Quaker school, where religion was taught along with proper contrition and sharing of emotional issues. He told of standing once and revealing his parents were fighting, yelling and screaming I think it made him feel better.

His parents divorced. As a student at Columbia University, De Palma was studious and excelled in physics and science. Incredibly intellectual he received achievement awards attesting to his intellectual pursuits.

After graduating from Columbia he entered Sarah Lawrence's Theater program. Creatively his exploration began as a side line, somewhat of a seduction tool, he and his roommate, the late William Finley, began making short films with De Palma as the director and Finley the main talent. The two would collaborate on many additional projects over the years.

Soon he found this Sarah Lawrence Theater group where a never heard of Bobby DeNiro was studying his craft. Casting Bobby, DePalma said was genius. He was all over the place.

DePalma weaves into the narrative early clips of these movies, starring in THE WEDDING PARTY, a 1963 farce, starring then unknown Robert De Niro, in his first starring role. Reviewed by The New York Times, THE WEDDING PARTY was described as a "dipper of fresh water" and "wonderfully funny."

Paltrow and Baumbach essentially allow De Palma to write his own script, as their questions, if there were any are edited out. De Palma speaks eloquently on his movie making preferences and life covering the best, CARRIE, SCARFACE, BODY DOUBLE, CARLITO'S WAY, THE UNTOUCHABLES and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to the less known and less received THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, MISSION TO MARS.

De Palma leads the viewer through the movies of his life. He reminisces of the seasons of newness, of being labeled The Movie Brats of the 1970's that included Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas of filming Spielberg with his phone, and remarks, "Steven was the first person I knew to have a phone in his car."

He talks of his choices the genre that brought him the most acclaim, the underbelly of society, that vein of violence that seems to run through his films.

De Palma talks on filming they iconic cult classic Scarface. The urban myth of Tony Montano and his rise from Cuban refugee camp thug to Miami's top cocaine dealer. De Palma offers a behind the scenes into the filming and the squabbling with writer and budding director, Oliver Stone, who was removed from the set for giving directions to the actors.

Explaining SCARFACE De Palma speaks about the behind the scenes trouble, the Miami locations and how essentially he was run out of town as the Cuban community and others didn't want the film made.

SCARFACE was shot entirely on a Los Angeles sound stage. The film depicts his intent on keeping an authentic Miami without shooting in the coastal city.

He tells of his main star Al Pacino being injured during the final shooting scene, he grabbed the barrel of his little friend and he was out for two weeks. De Palma explains it was during this time that he shot the major climatic ending every way he could, with clips of Spielberg on the set, De Palma shot the violent ending with his star in the laid up.

As the film is a chronicle of Brian De Palma's life and career the Stephen King horror classic CARRIE was also discussed and the back scenes and story presented.

Brian De Palma spends the majority of the film weaving a mosaic of the aspects of movie making including the business side, which at times is a necessary evil of practicing one's craft, pursuing passion or the countless other metaphors available for simply movie making. On the times where the studios and the director manage to get through the budget without threats, a war or break down of the project, De Palma

DE PALMA features the filmography of Brian De Palma including from the 1960's, WOTON'S WAKE, an early student film; THE WEDDING PARTY, 1963, starring unknowns Jill Clayburgh and in his first starring role, Robert De Niro; THE RESPONSIVE EYE, 1966, De Palma's first documentary which chronicles the 1965 Museum of Modern Art exhibition; MURDER A LA MOD, 1968, De Palma's first full length feature; GREETINGS, 1968, with Robert De Niro and in 1969, DIONYSUS IN '69.

From the 1970's DE PALMA features HI, MOM, 1970; GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT, 1972; SISTERS, 1973, PHANTOM OF PARADISE, 1974, OBSESSION, 1976; CARRIE, 1976, which earned two Academy Award nomination for leads Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. It also marked the beginning of the modern day teen horror drama and is considered De Palma's first box office smash. THE FURY, 1978, with Kirk Douglas, Pauline Kael, of the New Yorker Magazine, said of its climactic scene: "'This Finales is the greatest finish for any villain ever. One can imagine Welles, Peckinpah, Scorsese and Spielberg still stunned, bowing to the ground, choking with laughter."'

The 1980's ushered in a more confident De Palma, having found his cinematic voice and genre, he began with HOME MOVIES, 1980 with Kirk Douglas; DRESSED TO KILL, 1980 with Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson and Nancy Allen in a Hitchcock-esque styling, De Palma was forced to edit some of what has been called "a gorgeously shot erotic thriller." BLOW OUT, in 1981, starred John Travolta, Nancy Allen and John Lithgow again the De Palma thriller unfolds as a sound technician accidentally films a Presidential candidate's assassination.

The next two films have remained cult classic for more than thirty years. SCARFACE, written by Oliver Stone and directed by De Palma, remains an urban myth even today as merchandise featuring Cuban immigrant Tony Montana rises to lead the Miami Drug Cartel. The film earned three Golden Globes.

BODY DOUBLE, 1984, stars a young Melanie Griffith with Deborah Shelton and Craig Wasson. Even if you only remember bits of BODY DOUBLE, it remains in the psyche after more than thirty years. De Palma, to this day defends the use of the larger than life murder weapon.

The 1980's continue with WISE GUYS, 1986, a comedy with Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel and Joe Piscopo; THE UNTOUCHABLES, with Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro remains his most industry acclaimed film earning four Oscar nominations and Sean Connery winning both Oscar and Golden Globe for his performance.

De Palma closed out the 1980's with CASUALTIES OF WAR, starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn based on the 1969 new Yorker account of a patrol who abducted, raped and murdered a Vietnamese girl. The film examined both side of the Vietnam War.

Brian De Palma began the 1990's with BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, from the novel by Tom Wolfe, a film which is considered one of his rare commercial and critical flops. Moving forward to RAISING CAIN, in 1992, he cast John Lithgow, who drew critical praise for his diabolical performance.

CARLITO'S WAY, 1993, named the Best Film of the 1990's by Cahiers Du Cinema and earned Golden Globe nominations for Al Pacino and Penelope Ann Miller.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, 1996, the first in the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Tom Cruise franchise films. Who can't remember the exploding gum and restaurant fish tank; the Helicopter tunnel chase scene is also heavily discussed in the film as creatively the ending was creating more turmoil than the entire shoot.

SNAKE EYES, 1998, with Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise again titillates with a 12-minute opening Steadicam scene that stands out, in fact as it is written, "has become legendary."

Slowing down a bit over the last fifteen years, Brian De Palma has directed five films including MISSION TO MARS, 2000, FEMME FATALE, 2002; THE BLACK DAHLIA, 2006; REDACTED, 2007; and PASSION, 2012.

DE PALMA is a must see film; a film historian's nirvana and a director/actors masterclass. De Palma explains how he navigated the studio system and became one of the most successful directors of contemporary culture.

DE PALMA opens June 10, 2016 in select cities expanding over the next two weeks. Check your local listings. 

 

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