De Palma: two directors plonk a camera in front of legendary director Brian De Palma, and he discusses his turbulent career, warts ‘n’ all. This kicks off with a brief history of his journey into cinema; starting as an indie director through to his studio system break alongside Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola. The rest of the documentary feels like De Palma defending his stinkers and bigging up the films that initially underperformed, but have been subsequently lauded. My main issue with this documentary is that I don’t know who it’s supposed to be aimed at: the 2-5 minute recap of every single film is too high-level for De Palma nerds like me – even with the odd anecdote – yet it pretty much spoils the best parts of every film that ‘De Palma n00bs’ won’t have seen yet. As it’s just De Palma talking, it feels a touch self-indulgent – massaging his own ego – and coming over as a tad weird, bitter, & unhinged by the end. This is capped off with a final few minutes that turn into the biggest self-congratulatory handjob; where De Palma states that he is the only director keeping Hitchcock’s notions of “pure cinema” alive! This is the only time I’ve ever though that what I was watching could have benefited from more talking heads lending different perspectives and additional context. Don’t get me wrong, De Palma is one of the most under-rated directors out there; and although he’s had some stinkers, he’s also made some of the greatest movies of their times… but this isn’t the tribute that I was expecting; or that a masterful director like Brian De Palma deserves.
If you really want to explore De Palma, scrap this and go watch Blow Out, Femme Fatale, Scarface, or The Untouchables to see the damage this guy can do with a camera.
Wolf of Wall Street: based on the memoirs of a drugged-up banker that did a load of bad things. Most obviously, three hours is just far, far, far too long for this story, which is essentially: motivational speech, loads of drugs, party harder than Andrew WK, repeat x20. The premise is classic Scorsese – rise-and-fall – but they way in which it’s told, what he chose to film, and how he chose to film it is anything but. There’s so much skin, sex, sensationilsm, and alpha-male testosterone in here that it felt like Michael Bay defiling a Scorsese sceenplay. Another huge problem is that the main character – Jordan Belfort – isn’t even remotely likeable or interesting; just a one-dimensional, remorseless asshole. On the plus side the script it great, the casting is magnificent and Scorsese really gets the most from them. It’s also very funny, funnier than most comedies, although it does have a lot of time to play with. Sadly, it feels a bit cheap coming from someone that’s brought us films like The Departed, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Taxi Driver… and it made me remember how good a film Boiler Room was. Scorsese – you’re above this. Studios – no director is above cutting empty & pointless scenes from! Not Scorsese, not Tarantino, nobody.
Side by Side: documentary explaining the different ways in which digital and film reel images make their way from the director’s lens and on to cinema screens. It’s a film made specifically for film nerds, about the technical aspects of the end-to-end process of film-making – yet it’s all very high-level, with simplistic explanations that only really cover the basics – parts remind you of school educational videos. Still, it’s a great excuse to sit down with the cream of Hollywood directors, editors, DPs & various industry names, and hear their professional opinions on it: cast list below. It’s also packed with some of the greatest shots from over 100 years of Cinema – starting with ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ through to Avatar. As an interviewer, Keanu is quite good (although we only ever see short sections) but he gets surprisingly blunt and animated with big Hollywood figures: he also pulls off every look imaginable from genuine tramp, through to rockstar and everything in between. The most interesting part was seeing how the digital switch moves the emphasis away from the DP (director of photography) and towards editors and colour timers. Side by Side is a good look at the Analogue Vs Digital debate; however, it’s a fight that’s been raging on for well over 15 years now, and one that digital has all but won – as the new shooting and projecting standards. Because of this, it doesn’t really shed much more light on the subject. Lucas and Cameron championing digital Vs Nolan and Pfister who are unsympathetically anti-digital – anyone interested in cinema will already know this. Still, it’s worth watching, if only to see your favourite directors with the gloves off, hammering into the format they don’t like.
Robert Rodriguez and Salma Hayek discussing Once Upon a Time…
Interviews include: Keanu Reeves, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Martin Scorsese, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Christopher Nolan, Walter Pfister, David Fincher, Lars von Trier, John Malkovich, Danny Boyle, Joel Schumacher, FULL CAST HERE
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. What do Francis Ford Coppola, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Dennis Hopper, Joe Dante, Robert De Niro, David Carradine, Pam Grier, and Ron Howard (to name but a few) all have in common? …give up? They all got their first break from one man; Roger Corman. Much like the majority of his movies, Corman’s career feels like fiction; as a story reader at 20th Century Fox he singled out the script for The Gunfighter, added some suggestions and got no credit for the film’s success, so he left the company in 1955 and self-funded his first movie – he hasn’t stopped working on films ever since. The biggest weapon in this film’s arsenal is Corman himself; he’s fascinating and a very watchable presence – intelligent, unassuming, genuine, happy, modest, energetic, amiable… to be honest, I’d have been happy with a more in-depth 90 minute conversation. His relevance and importance through the decades is truly eye-opening, which is nicely contrasted with Corman’s penny-pinching / budget maximisation methods that have seen him direct and/or produce well over 300 movies and almost never make a loss. The doc does lose some steam and focus around the hour mark, and in patches it feels like a sugar-coated, rose-tinted fanboy piece, but they’re minor complaints. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel does a decent job of covering the highlights of an amazing +50 year career in 90 minutes, letting the audience know how his surname embodies an entire genre. Most importantly, I sat with a smile on my face for most of the runtime
The man. The Legend. Roger Corman. Doesn’t look like an exploitation master!
Goodfellas: (Blu Ray) A semi-fictional take on the life of Henry Hill; notorious American Mobster from Brooklyn. The chemistry between all the characters is fantastically played, sure there are some stereotypes, but the main three are very believable and realistic, yet completely different. Liotta’s acting is great, but his commitment was even more noteworthy; starting off naive and weedy but becoming a fat, ruined, coked-up mess for the last 30 minutes. Women don’t get much of a look-in, and it’s a good job because Bracco’s acting and ‘jewish accent’ are unforgivable. Scorsese shows he’s a master of the craft with many great, long, signature single-take shots – in particular the journey from the car to the table at the front of the club and from the skies to the meat truck – very powerful directing for the duration that backs up the story. The only anomaly is a bizarre breaking of the fourth wall at the very end of the film. The elegance of the direction is contrasted with a lot of brutal, no-holds-barred violence: beatdowns, bitchslaps, chest-stabbing, face shots, and a lot of gun-butts to the nose! Unfortunately, the Blu Ray doesn’t do the movie justice; the picture’s mediocre and the audio track is pretty lifeless – not once does it make you think “wow”. As divisive as this statement may be, I truly believe that this is the ultimate gangster movie and does in one film what The Godfather fails to do in three – an interesting and highly-watchable epic about the rise-and-fall of an ordinary man, that was accurate and true to the Italian Mafia.
Gangs of New York: Scorsese’s star-studded epic tale of one man’s quest for revenge in 1880’s New York. It starts and ends with some ultra-graphic violence and bloody guts – although the end is still quite flat – and pretty much everything in between is all about the drama & story. The cinematography’s more plain and subtle than you’d expect from a master like Scorsese, although the elaborate sets, large cast, costumes and historical references seem meticulous and keep your eyes plenty pleased. Daniel Day Lewis slightly overcooks his character, although was the highlight as usual and the rest of the cast were decent; even John C Reilly and his silly face. Like all ‘foreign’-background roles everyone’s accents oscillated between Americana and Irish (other than the natives Gleeson and Neeson). It’s a great effort, but quite a drawn out affair that lacks depth in both characters and story. Because it’s so specific, New Yorkers would appreciate it most.
The Departed: modern twisty cop tragedy based on a Hong Kong trilogy and set in Boston; which tees up some of the worst crimes against accents in modern cinema – the foxy psychiatrist being the biggest offender. There’s a lot of ‘hard’ and seemingly strange cuts & edits, with some amateur-looking camerawork in places (although it won Best Picture / Best Editing Academy Awards: so it must just be me!). Despite these foibles you still get absolutely immersed courtesy of the superstar cast and phenomenal story. Walberg’s rage and Nicholson’s insanity are especially great to watch, although all the mains put on a noteworthy show. The soundtrack’s also used brilliantly to get you more involved in the scenes, and the last hour of this film is pure cinema gold, with drama and twists all over the shop! It’s a great film, and if you liked this a lot it’s 100% worth watching the original ‘Infernal Affairs’ trilogy. It won’t do Boston tourism, or the Irish, any favours…