3 Stars Movies

Brian De Palma looks back over his career in the documentary ‘De Palma’

Brian De Palma is an under-celebrated director, responsible for some of the most stunning sequences in American cinema. Just to name four personal favorites of mine: the split-screen prom massacre in Carrie, the Langley heist sequence in Mission: Impossible, the Grand Central Station steadycam chase in Carlito’s Way, and even the failed spacewalk rescue in the otherwise not-so-great Mission to Mars.

Like his touchstone Alfred Hitchcock, he’s also fascinatingly problematic enough to fuel a thousand hours of analysis and debate. Instead, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary provides only a quick overview of his work, solely from one point of view.

In what appears to have been a single sitting, De Palma reminisces over his filmography. The feature-length running time allows only a few minutes to cover each work, reducing his observations about each to a bullet point or two. His stories range from the gossipy (Bobby De Niro wasn’t motivated to learn his lines for The Untouchables), to dismissive (of the criticism over his violent & scopophilic treatment of women), and ultimately philosophical (on knowing when to retire, with Hitchcock and Wilder as exemplars).

There is of course great value in getting such a notable and controversial filmmaker on the record, after his career appears to be complete. But this documentary’s scattershot episodic structure is too broad and shallow, without a central thesis to hang a movie on. It would be serviceable as a value-added-material featurette, but not as a standalone theatrical feature film.

three out of five stars

2 Stars Movies

Everything is… fine… in The Intern

Nancy Meyer’s 2015 trifle The Intern is a little outside the usual scope of this blog, but it sparked a couple thoughts I needed to get out:

What a waste of a decent premise: a retiree reenters a transformed workforce, while the young founder of a startup grapples with success. But so little is at stake for either.

Ben (Robert De Niro) enjoys a comfortable retirement, with a nice home, stable finances, and good health. While he’s a widower, he hardly seems overtaken with grief or loneliness. His urge to reenter the workforce stems from a vague, half-felt malaise, not out of any financial or emotional urgency. He’s… fine.

Jules’ (Anne Hathaway) primary dilemma is whether she should maintain her company’s status quo (which has been functioning… fine) or bring on a more experienced CEO as her business grows (which would also be… fine). She’s also… fine.

The overall feel of this movie is like taking a warm milk bath, where every character was fine, is fine, and will be fine.

But for all its gentle geniality, The Intern does briefly dally with melodrama, as Jules’ frustrated stay-at-home husband smooches another woman. Here, old-school Ben takes a more feminist stance than she. For once, she does not take his seasoned advice, and opts to avoid confrontation with her husband. Similarly, she decides to do nothing with her company. So… everything’s fine.

5 Stars Movies

Petrochemicals, munitions, and Aqua-Cola: Mad Max: Fury Road

A dystopia ruled by three corporate fiefdoms: petrochemicals, munitions, and Aqua-Cola. A diseased and starving population terrorized by a religious army motivated by martyrdom. A decadent ruling class reliant upon the subjugation of women. Environmental collapse. Car culture run amok.

It must be escapist summer blockbuster season!

In case I sound too snarky, let me be clear: I checked my pacifism at the door and loved every second of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. More visionary lunatic filmmakers should get multimillion dollar budgets.

I was going to add it should have been called Furiosa, but I see that’s the title of the forthcoming sequel. Fitting, because Charlize Theron owned a film in which the Tom Hardy’s title character played second fiddle to a largely female cast.

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