Best Movies 2018

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Here’s my list of the Top 10 Movies from 2018:

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10. BOOK CLUB – I really enjoyed this comedy starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen about four friends who decide to read 50 Shades of Grey for their monthly book club, and it changes the way they think about sex and relationships during their senior years. Also starring Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfus, and Craig T. Nelson. My favorite comedy of the year.

9. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?  – in a banner yeary for documentaries, this one was my favorite. Its recounting of the life of Fred Rogers, TV’s Mister Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, resonates deeply today, as Rogers’ message of inclusion and gentle understanding is sorely missed in today’s antagonistic and deeply divided society.

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8. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP – I enjoyed this Ant-Man sequel more than the original. Story is better, jokes and situations are funnier, and Evangeline Lily adds a lot as the Wasp and is a nice complement to Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man. Oh, and then there’s that after-credits tie-in with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR which produced audible gasps from the audience.

7.BOY ERASED – Joel Edgerton wrote and directed this film which exposes gay conversion theory for the dangerous procedure that it is. Fine performances by Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe, and by Edgerton himself as an unqualified leader of the conversion camp.

6. THE FRONT RUNNER – Sure, I’m partial to political movies, but this tale of Gary Hart’s fall from being the Democratic front runner in the 1988 presidential election to dropping out of the race entirely due to an exposed extra-marital affair pushed all the right buttons for me. The film asks relevant questions which are still being asked today. Hugh Jackman is terrific as Gary Hart, as is Vera Farmiga as his suffering wife Lee.

5. EIGHTH GRADE – Awesome film which completely captures what it is like to be an eighth grader. On target writing and directing by Bo Burnham, especially the dialogue, and a fantastic lead performance by Elsie Fisher as eighth grader Kayla Day.

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Elsie Fisher in EIGHTH GRADE (2018)

4. THE GUILTY – From Denmark, this claustrophobic intense police drama is as compelling as they come, the type of film Alfred Hitchcock would have made. All of the action takes place inside a police dispatch office as an officer relegated to the emergency dispatch receives a call from a woman being kidnapped, and he has to deal with the situation in real time. You’ll swear you’ve seen all the action scenes, but that will be your mind playing tricks on you, as the camera remains focused on the police officer throughout. Excellent movie, and lean, as it clocks in at a swift 85 minutes.

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3. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – It was an outstanding year for Marvel, as three of my top ten films this year come from the Marvel Universe. This was the biggie, the ultimate showdown between the Avengers and their most dangerous adversary yet, Thanos. Amazing superhero movie, with a big bold ending which is no longer a spoiler, which is, the bad guy wins in this one. One of the most emotional endings to any superhero movie, causing audible gasps and groans multiple times as the film races to its inevitable conclusion.

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2. ROMA – An extraordinary movie, ROMA was unlike any other film I saw this year. Unassuming simple tale of a maid working for a family in Mexico in 1970-71. Features some of the best camerawork of the year, all of it in mesmerizing black and white. Slow at first, but stick with it. The final 45 minutes is among the most emotional moments on film I saw all year.

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1. BLACK PANTHER –  My pick for the best movie of the year is another Marvel gem. This one takes the superhero movie to a whole other level, dealing with racial issues as well as any mainstream drama. My favorite superhero film since THE DARK KNIGHT (2018). I loved the conflict between hero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and villain Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan),and one of the rare times in a superhero movie where the hero admits he’s wrong and the villain is right.  Outstanding in every way, easily my favorite movie of 2018.

So, there you have it, my picks for the Best Films of 2018.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FAHRENHEIT 11/9 (2018) – Examines Current Political Climate, Offers Solutions

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Michael Moore first burst onto the scene with his well-received documentary ROGER & ME (1989), a scathing look at how GM CEO Roger B. Smith harmed Moore’s home town of Flint, Michigan, by closing the General Motors plant there which caused 30,000 folks to lose their jobs.

Since then, Moore has made his living churning out other documentaries, films like BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (2002), which examined gun violence in America, and won Moore an Oscar, and FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004) which looked at the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

Now comes FAHRENHEIT 11/9 (2018) a film in which Moore sets his sights on the current state of U.S. politics, in particular, the presidency of Donald Trump. Not that it’s just about Trump. It’s not. It also examines the tragic water scandal in Flint, Michigan, the teachers’ strike in West Virginia, and the activism of the students from Parkland, Florida, following the deadly shooting at their school.

Michael Moore has developed a reputation over the years for making documentaries that are definitely biased. When you watch a Moore documentary, you are seeing things through Moore’s eyes, and he definitely brings a slant to the material. However, I would argue that Moore’s stamp on his documentaries has less to do with forcing a narrow point of view on its audience and more with entertaining them. In short, regardless of the seriousness of the subject matter, Moore knows how to tell a good story.

I would also argue that Moore’s documentaries are more fair and balanced than people give him credit for. Take FAHRENHEIT 11/9, for example. Sure, the film goes after Trump, but it also shines some very negative light on both Hillary and Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, the point being that it’s the political system that’s the problem nowadays, not just Donald Trump. If the film makes anything clear, it’s that the problems we have now in our political system did not begin with Trump’s winning the presidency. They were in place long before Trump won the election.

But back to the storytelling talents of Michael Moore. FAHRENHEIT 11/9 opens with images of Hillary Clinton about to win the 2016 presidential election, accompanied by Moore’s voiceover, “Was this all a dream?” We see excited voters literally crying that they’re finally voting for a woman president, TV news commentators on both sides of the political spectrum all but guaranteeing a Clinton victory, and oddsmakers pretty much saying Trump had zero chance of winning.

The action switches from Hillary’s upbeat campaign headquarters to Trump’s, and as it does, Moore plays the ominous OMEN theme on the soundtrack, an over-the-top and entertaining touch to be sure.

We then see of course what eventually happened that night, that Trump went on to win the election, to which Moore asks in more voiceover narration, “How the f*ck did that happen?”

And that pretty much sets up the rest of the movie. How did we get where we are today, and now that we’re there, what can we do about it?

Early on, the film paints an unsavory picture of Donald Trump, which isn’t hard to do, since Trump pretty much paints this picture of himself on his own. In fact, at one point Moore relates the story of how Trump was once asked how he could continually weather the storm thrown at him by the media and his critics. His reply? “I am the storm.”

Point taken. For Trump, it’s always been about being the center of attention, and that is something that has remained throughout his presidency.

Moore relates the interesting anecdote that Trump’s interest in running for president began as a publicity stunt to earn him more money for his “Apprentice” TV show, and later when he was fired from the show for making controversial comments about Mexican immigrants, he found himself with more time on his hands and decided to attend the couple of rallies he had already scheduled. When he was met by huge enthusiastic crowds, Trump decided to run for real.

The film also enters some very uncomfortable territory concerning Trump’s relationship with his daughter Ivanka. Moore says very little here and lets all the established footage and comments by Trump about his daughter speak for itself. About the only thing Moore adds is the effective question, “Is this making you feel uncomfortable?”

And as the film points out various negative aspects about Trump, from his racism to his sexism, Moore makes the point that none of this is new. He says we knew this before, and yet no one, he says, called NBC to protest Trump’s involvement on the Apprentice TV show.

The film paints a negative picture of Trump and then some, and does not shy away from comparisons to Hitler. In fact, in one of the films best segments, we see footage of Hitler at a rally, but the audio track plays the sound from a Trump rally. They seem to synchronize perfectly. But none of the anti-Trump stuff in the movie is new. You only have to watch the news or read a newspaper to know that Trump isn’t exactly a presidential kind of guy.

What FAHRENHEIT 11/9 does better than bashing Trump is making the point that he just didn’t fall out of the sky and create all these problems. They existed already.

Moore traces the current political climate back to President Clinton and how back in 1992 after Republicans had dominated presidential politics since 1980, it was decided that the best way for a Democrat to win was to sound like a Republican, and hence the centrist policies were born, as the Democrat party shifted away from its far left and moved towards the center.

This shift continued with President Obama, and Moore points out that Obama’s policies were very Republican, from his use of drones on civilian targets to incarcerating illegal immigrants. Moore makes the point that voters were so frustrated because they felt it didn’t matter who won, both parties were not looking out for their best interests, and hence a lot of people stayed home and did not vote in the 2016 election, which led to Trump’s win.

Moore also goes after Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment and spends time chronicling how it took primary victories away from Bernie Sanders because he wasn’t the establisment candidate.

Moore also mentions that during the election, Trump smartly moved to the left on policies more than Hillary, as he doubled down on her connections to Goldman Sachs, and reminded voters that she had voted for the Iraq war, and he said he would never have supported it. Moore’s point: Trump is not stupid.

The second half of the film largely moves away from Trump and gets into the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, going into detail over the reckless and criminal behavior of Michigan governor Rick Snyder who allowed lead contaminated drinking water into the drinking supply and did nothing to stop it. This segment, which chronicles the illnesses of the children of Flint because of the lead contamination, is the most disturbing part of the film.

Moore also shows Obama personally arriving in Flint to the cheers of the people, seeing his presence as validation to their arguments. They believed he would save them, but that’s not what happened. Obama punted on the issue and seemed to imply it wasn’t all that bad, that filtered water would be okay. Interestingly enough, Moore reveals that in the 2016 presidential election, the only candidate who took the time to visit Flint was Donald Trump.

The second point of FAHRENHEIT 11/9, after making it clear that we are in a crisis in this country, is what can we do about it? And the answer according to Moore is political activism. Moore takes us to West Virginia where we witness a successful and very necessary teacher’s strike. He takes us to Parkland, Florida, where he shows firsthand the activism of the students there after the shooting at their school. Moore also chronicles the new crop of younger more liberal candidates.

Moore also points out that the United States in spite of what Republicans claim is really a liberal nation, and he backs this assertion up with poll after poll showing a majority of Americans are pro-choice, don’t own guns, want health care, and free public college tuition, among other things.

FAHRENHEIT 11/9 runs just over two hours, and it held my interest throughout. As I said, Moore’s strength as a maker of documentaries is that he knows how to tell a story. The film provides for an entertaining two hours, and this isn’t at the expense of an informative documentary. It does both quite successfully.

Members of Team Trump will no doubt cry “fake news” but as I said Moore also goes after Hillary, Obama, and the entire Democratic establishment.  Does Moore present his case with his own biases intact? Absolutely! But he backs up his opinions with real footage and interviews.

The United States is in a major political crisis here in 2018. FAHRENHEIT 11/9 makes the point that it is  not the time to throw in the towel and give up, but rather, it’s the time to get out there and vote and make a difference.

If not,  we will only have ourselves to blame.

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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (2018) – Documentary Defines and Shares Mister Rogers’ Legacy

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There are two things that WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (2018), Morgan Neville’s documentary on TV’s Fred Rogers, does well above all else.

It validates Rogers’ work during his thirty plus years on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, revealing him as more than just a kind and gentle host of a children’s TV show. His mission had a far deeper purpose.

And it delivers his ongoing message to today’s society, which is in desperate need to hear it and learn from it.

Fred Rogers, of course, was popularly known as Mister Rogers because of his time hosting Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the iconic PBS children’s television show which ran from 1968-2001. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? chronicles how that show began and follows Rogers on his lifelong mission to connect with and care for young children.

Rogers went to school to become a minister but was both so intrigued by the new medium of television and disgusted by it in that it provided little to no proper programming for children, that he decided to put his ministry plans on hold and start his own TV show for kids. That show eventually became Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And Rogers eventually became an ordained minister. Although he did not wear a collar, he would work as a minister his whole life, reaching out to children, spreading his message of love and acceptance during every episode of his show.

It wasn’t quite known how effectively Rogers was connecting to children until one day early on when WGBH in Boston invited Rogers to make a live appearance, and the line of children waiting to see him stretched outside around the building for blocks. From that time forward, Rogers became a mainstay on Children’s Public Television.

It almost didn’t happen, as the Nixon administration planned to dramatically cut funding for public television, and in one of the film’s more dramatic moments, we see Rogers testifying before Congress, where his powerful statement actually earns them the funding right there on the spot.

The movie also chronicles how bold Rogers was, as he was not afraid to cover controversial topics. He saw it as his mission to reach children and be there as the person who could explain these confusing and potentially upsetting things to them. The film shows clips from episodes on assassination following the Robert Kennedy assassination, on disasters after the Challenger explosion, and on divorce and death.

And with a regular character who was black, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood also consistently delivered a message on positive race relations.

But this was just a small part of what Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was all about. Rogers saw it as his mission to be an advocate for children and for his show to be that safe place where they could learn about life, and where they could be heard. Rogers speaks of the importance of listening, and also of quiet, and we see many of the quiet peaceful moments of his show juxtaposed with the loud, insane moments of other children’s’ shows and cartoons. As one interviewee said, “there were plenty of quiet moments on the show but no empty ones.”

And that’s one of the things that this documentary does the best. It makes clear that Rogers had a mission and a purpose, and that during the years his show ran, the mission was successful.

Yet the film shows Rogers lamenting near the end of his life that he feared that people still didn’t get his show and what he was all about, that he was seen as just an oddball Pollyanna character who talked slowly to children.

And he felt this way partly because of the backlash fueled by Fox News in the early 2000s where some claimed that Rogers actually harmed children by telling them they were special, because this kind of talk led to children growing up feeling entitled and becoming whiny adults. Rogers also faced protests from groups who felt offended by his acceptance of gays. These attacks by the political right were rather ironic since Rogers was both a Republican and an ordained minister.

It’s this part of the film that connects successfully to today, as here in 2018 we live in a time of massive political divisions and hatred, fueled by partisan fighting and ever-more-violent rhetoric. Rogers no doubt would be appalled to see what is going on today. He also no doubt would have been putting together his show to help children understand what is going on and help them be able to deal with it.

Director Morgan Neville has created a deep and resonating documentary with WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? It’s not a superficial anecdotal film, where we learn why he wore a sweater, or why he changed his shoes. It’s about the man and his mission to reach as many children as possible and to tell them they are loved.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? makes it clear that Fred Rogers was a remarkable and special individual, and when he passed away on February 27, 2003 at the age of 74, the world lost one of its staunchest child advocates, and children lost a treasured and dear friend. Indeed, the centerpiece of his show was his simple message that all children were loved, and everyone was special, that one didn’t have to do anything remarkable to be special. We are all born that way.

You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you. There’s only one person in this whole world like you. And people can like you exactly as you are. —Fred Rogers.

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AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER (2017) – Al Gore Continues His Fight

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It’s been eleven years since AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006), the Oscar-winning movie which featured Al Gore as the spokesperson for saving the environment, hit the theaters.

Gore used that film as a platform to awaken the world to the dangers of global warming. The movie was an informative and rousing call to action.  It was 2006, in the latter stages of the George W. Bush years, and there was hope that perhaps this environmental movement would take hold.

Now comes AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER 2017), the sequel where Al Gore is still trying to convince people that the most important issue on earth is in fact saving the earth.  Since the first movie, the Bush years have ended, the Barack Obama administration has come and gone, and now we have Donald Trump.  In terms of the United States taking a leadership role on environmental issues and global warming, with the arrival of Trump, things have gotten worse since 2006.  Much worse.

In fact, even though the election of Donald Trump doesn’t factor into the movie until the final few minutes, there is a general sense of exhaustion and despair around Gore throughout the movie, as if he is tired of fighting a losing battle.  Gore hasn’t given up, not by a long shot, and this film like the first is a call to action, a call to get people on board with saving the environment.  But still you can see it in Gore’s eyes, a sense that the powers that be are going to resist and continue to resist for a long time.  There’s also some disbelief on his part that people just can’t see the urgency of what he is talking about, that they simply aren’t buying what he’s selling, and for Gore, that lack of interest is sinful.

This feeling is best summed up in a scene late in the movie where Gore is watching the results of the 2016 election, and he quips that a famous boxer once said, “Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the face.”  Gore then sighs and pretty much says, “it’s back to the drawing board.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Gore never says he’s giving up, nor hints that he’s going to.  In fact, he says the opposite, that in spite of all the adversity, you have to keep going to outlast the other guy.  But you can see the frustration in his eyes all the same.

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL:  TRUTH TO POWER uses news footage to debunk criticisms of statements Gore made in the first movie. For example, in the first film, Gore showed a graphic that due to global warming flood waters would rise in New York City reaching the site of the World Trade Center memorial.  He was criticized and laughed at for making such a statement, yet this movie provides video footage of the massive flood in New York City several years ago in which water did indeed reach the World Trade Center site.

Gore travels to the streets of Miami, streets that are dealing with flooding on a regular basis, because as Gore explains, as the glaciers melt, the water has to go somewhere.  It’s going into the oceans, and sea levels are rising.  Gore also travels to the polar ice caps and captures on film the melting glaciers.

A large portion of the movie deals with the Paris Climate Agreement, and shows Gore working behind the scenes.  At the time, India did not want to sign the agreement, as they balked at the idea of using renewable energy sources like wind and solar instead of fossil fuels because systems for these new cleaner energy sources were simply not in place.  It wasn’t a practical transition for India to make. Gore works behind the scenes connecting a solar company with the Indian government to help them go solar, and eventually India changed its mind.  The film then goes on to show the nations of the world ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement.

Of course, the celebration was short-lived.  Soon after being elected, Donald Trump declared that the United States was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, calling global warming a hoax and saying that focusing on environment issues was a monumental waste of time.

With Gore as its guide, AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER delivers its message and makes its point, but directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk don’t really make full use of their editing powers.  The bulk of the film features Al Gore talking.  And talking.  And talking.  And although Gore is truly passionate about his work, his words alone lack the potency to drive the point home that combating global warming must be done now, that the danger is imminent and very real.  The film could have used more dramatic and telling footage.

Sure, some of news footage is dramatic, like the flooded streets in Florida, but oddly most of the film is low-key.  It fails to deliver that sense of urgency.  Like Gore, the entire documentary seems to be wading through a sense of frustration.

Also, with the film focusing solely on Al Gore, other world players are only seen fleetingly, folks like John Kerry and President Obama, for instance.

Nonetheless, Gore is right when he calls this issue as big as the civil rights movement.  He says people know when things are right and when things are wrong, and to ignore the science which states that the earth is in trouble, is flat-out wrong.

That being said, this is not a very impactful movie, and as such, it’s doubtful it will convert many naysayers into environmental activists.  And that’s something that is definitely missing in AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL:  TRUTH TO POWER, that feeling that this movie will make a difference.

It would be nice if in a few years Gore stars in a third movie, making this an INCONVENIENT trilogy, and in that film he’s able to boast that people heeded the call to action, hereby ending the global warming epidemic.  That would be sweet, indeed.  But I’m not holding my breath.

Fixing the environment means change, dramatic change, and for most people, that’s something that is simply too inconvenient.

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DE PALMA (2016) – Controversial Director Reflects on His Career

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Brian De Palma tells his story in DE PALMA (2016).

Brian De Palma has a lot to say about his career.

And in DE PALMA (2016), the new documentary on the acclaimed movie director by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, he gets nearly two hours to do just that.

The film is actually footage from an interview Baumbach and Paltrow shot with De Palma back in 2010.  They liked the footage so much they added lots of film clips and turned it into a documentary.

DE PALMA pretty much plays like a one person movie panel.  Brian De Palma is front and center speaking to the camera for nearly the entire movie, with appropriate film clips thrown in to highlight his points and stories.  As such, it’s not going to win any awards for creative cinematography.

Back in his heyday, in the 1970s and 1980s, Brian De Palma was a polarizing and controversial movie director, infamous for his ultra-violent yet stylish movies, especially for over-the-top scenes of violence against women.  He was also known for his Hitchcock homages which critics often slammed as simple knock-offs.

In DE PALMA, Brian De Palma takes us through his entire career, beginning with his early years, when he used to operate in close circles with his best friends and fellow filmmakers Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Paul Schrader, and Steve Spielberg.  De Palma also worked with a very young Robert De Niro and directed De Niro’s first movie, GREETINGS (1968).

De Palma continues with how he began to make a name for himself with films like SISTERS (1973), PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974), and OBSESSION (1976).  He called Genevieve Bujold’s performance the best part of OBSESSION, and Cliff Robertson the worst part, explaining that Robertson, once he saw that Bujold was stealing the show, tried to sabotage the movie by making things as difficult as possible for both Bujold and De Palma.

Later that same year De Palma was offered the project which would launch his career, CARRIE (1976), based on the novel by Stephen King. De Palma lamented that the studio really didn’t get behind CARRIE since they viewed it as just a gory horror movie, but to his delight, both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were nominated for Oscars.

After the success of CARRIE, De Palma received a huge budget for his next movie, THE FURY (1978) which happened to be the first Brian De Palma movie I ever saw.

After THE FURY, De Palma entered his Hitchcock period with such films as DRESSED TO KILL (1980), BLOW OUT (1981), and BODY DOUBLE (1984), films that critics complained were too derivative of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. DRESSED TO KILL was modeled after PSYCHO (1960) and BODY DOUBLE was modeled after VERTIGO (1958) and REAR WINDOW (1954).

De Palma said he was heavily criticized for power drill murder scene in BODY DOUBLE, especially for making the drill so big, but as he explained, the drill was gigantic because in order for the scene to work, Craig Wasson’s character had to see it coming through the ceiling, and for that to happen, the drill had to be huge.  As De Palma explains it, it made perfect sense to him because it was simply part of the story.  He said he never intended to create extra violent scenes against women, but that those scenes existed only to satisfy the stories he was telling.

In the middle of these films came SCARFACE (1983), starring Al Pacino.  De Palma tells the story of how he was so annoyed at the ratings board for not giving his film an “R” rating even after all his edits, especially to the chain saw scene, that once he did receive the “R” rating, he went back and released the unedited version anyway.

He also said, and it’s true, that the way he edited the infamous chain saw scene, you never see the chain saw cut into the victim’s flesh.  I recently re-watched SCARFACE for the first time in years and I was surprised at how little De Palma showed in that scene.  It’s really not that gory at all.

After the comedic flop WISE GUYS (1986), De Palma made the movie that once more resuscitated his career:  THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), which just might be De Palma’s most popular movie, but strangely, it’s one of my least favorite films that he made.   Oftentimes I find De Palma’s camerawork overbearing.  The famous “shoot-out with the baby carriage falling down the stairs” scene in THE UNTOUCHABLES, for example, I find almost unwatchable because of the pretentious slow-motion camerawork.  Some see it as cinematic genius, but for me it’s just cinematic overkill.

Likewise, in his discussion of CARRIE, De Palma talks about the complicated shots he conceived for the end of CARRIE and how the producers were unhappy with the results, to which De Palma says they just didn’t get the genius of his work.  While this may be true, the climactic bloodbath in CARRIE is another example where the camerawork gets in the way of the story.  To me, and this is why I’m not the biggest De Palma fan, if you’re going to use the camera creatively, you have to do it in a way where it empowers the story, not detracts from it.  Spielberg does this all the time.  De Palma does not.

His next film was CASUALTIES OF WAR (1989), the gripping Vietnam movie starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn.  This one I did like, and it’s probably my favorite Brian De Palma movie of all time.  I remember seeing it at the movies and being blown away by its potency.

De Palma tells some interesting anecdotes from the set of CASUALTIES, specifically of how Sean Penn used to torment Michael J. Fox.   At one point, Penn was supposed to whisper a line in Fox’s ear about payback, but De Palma heard Penn say, “TV actor!”  De Palma felt Penn’s antics caused Fox to feel alienated and defensive on set, which ultimately helped Fox’s performance since his character was supposed to feel the same way.

This was followed by one of De Palma’s biggest flops, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990), a downward trend that would continue over the next few years.  After a brief surge from the Tom Cruise vehicle MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1996), De Palma’s career bottomed out with the woeful MISSION TO MARS (2000) which was the last movie to date that De Palma shot in the United States.  His subsequent films have all been made in Europe.

DE PALMA is not the most riveting documentary I’ve ever seen nor even the most informative.  Its style is simple.  De Palma speaks directly to the camera the entire time, and when he’s not on screen, we’re treated to appropriate movie footage, which is  used here effectively.

De Palma also isn’t the most animated speaker around, but he does provide plenty of stories and anecdotes. He also asks questions.  For example, De Palma points out that although people have praised Alfred Hitchcock as a cinematic genius, no one else except for De Palma himself has ever tried to use Hitchcock’s style.  He asks why more directors aren’t making movies like Hitchcock did?  It’s a fair question.

Maybe part of the answer is that De Palma’s homages to Hitchcock never really worked all that well.  Part of the reason they didn’t work was they were too closely based on the Hitchcock movies they were paying homage to. Had De Palma used Hitchcock’s style in stories that were original and not derivative of specific Hitchcock movies, he may have had better results.

For Brian De Palma fans, DE PALMA is must-see viewing.  For the rest of us, it’s a chance to see and listen to a film director reflect back on his entire body of work.  And whether you’re a fan of De Palma or not, you have to give the guy credit for his persistence and for sticking to his guns when it came to making movies the way he wanted to make them.

De Palma is currently 75 years old and still making movies in Europe.

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