Film Review: Sisters (1972)

Also known as: Blood Sisters (Ireland)
Release Date: November 18th, 1972 (Filmex)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!” – Grace Collier

Brian De Palma is a very talented director. This early film from him has him tapping into Alfred Hitchcock territory. While De Palma is no Hitchcock, this is as good as Hitchcock’s ’70s films, after he moved on from his prime.

Funny enough, De Palma got Bernard Herrmann to do the score for this film. For those that don’t know, Herrmann was a regular collaborator with Hitchcock. He also did the scores for Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons, The Day the Earth Stood Still and a slew of other classic pictures.

Herrmann’s score here is incredible and this wouldn’t be the same movie without Herrmann’s melodic, enchanting and otherworldly music. Sometimes the score is slow and beautiful, other times it is pounding, a bit shrill but always interesting.

De Palma channels his inner Hitchcock in his style and narrative structure. This is like a Hitchcockian thriller turned up to 11. This is a murder mystery story but it has very dark and unusual twists. In fact, I had never seen this before and having now seen it, I can see where all these other films and novels I’ve enjoyed have taken cues from the story’s twist.

The visual style is also heavily borrowed from Hitchcock but De Palma does it so well that this is much more of a strong and respectful homage than the director simply emulating a master.

The dream/hallucination sequence towards the end is majestic and nightmarish.

De Palma also taps into Hitchcock’s cinematic obsession of voyeurism. There are elements of Rear Window and Psycho in this but De Palma pulls this all off without a hitch.

This was a really cool film, which makes me appreciate the early work of De Palma even more.

Plus, Margot Kidder was absolutely superb in this. Jennifer Salt was a lot of fun too.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early De Palma films: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise and The Fury.

Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible (1996)

Release Date: May 20th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Koepp, Robert Towne, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez

Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Can I ask you something, Kittridge? If you’re dealing with a man who has crushed, shot, stabbed, and detonated five members of his own IMF team, how devastated do you think you’re gonna make him by hauling Mom and Uncle Donald down to the county courthouse?” – Ethan Hunt

I wasn’t super fond of this when it first came out but I must have been stupid at 17 years-old. Revisiting this movie over two decades later was a real treat.

Full disclosure, I haven’t seen any Mission: Impossible movies since the second one and I haven’t watched any of them since that one came out in 2000. Friends always rave about them but I’ve always been like, “Meh, whatever.”

Since I’ve heard exceedingly good things about the last few, I figured that I’d start the series over and see how I feel about them now. Well, this one was a hell of a lot of fun and it resonated with me much more now than it did in 1996.

I really like Tom Cruise in this picture and Ethan Hunt really is the American equivalent to James Bond. However, he isn’t quite there yet, as far as being as cunning and as suave as Bond, but it is a work in progress. While this isn’t Ethan Hunt’s rookie mission, this story feels like the moment where he becomes more than human and actually evolves into a super spy or really, a superhero without a cape.

Brian De Palma did a nice job of creating an interesting and rich world. This is the smallest and most confined of the Mission: Impossible films, as they would get more and more grandiose with each release, but it is still a real big screen extravaganza. It feels and looks like a blockbuster. And while I’ve been a massive James Bond fan my whole life, I think it was the slightly more realistic approach with this series that didn’t allow it to click for me, as I had just come off of Goldeneye, a year prior. You see, Bond still had a good amount of cheesiness to it then.

Now don’t get me wrong, Mission: Impossible had some cheese too but it was less gadget-y and not full of sexy one liners and sexual tomfoolery every five minutes. That final confrontation where we see the helicopter go into a subway tunnel is absolutely insane and it bugged me in 1996 but in a way, it still kind of does because it didn’t feel like it fit the tone of the film. It felt like the movie jumped the shark there and even though I appreciate this more, that scene still made me cringe a bit in 2018.

But that’s really my only gripe about this motion picture. It had a very capable director and a solid cast, although I wish Emilio Estevez wouldn’t have gotten killed off so damn fast.

Most importantly, this gave birth to a massive film franchise and looking back, this wasn’t a bad launching pad.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Mission: Impossible sequels, the Bourne film series and the Kingsman movies.

Film Review: The Black Dahlia (2006)

Release Date: August 9th, 2006 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Josh Friedman
Based on: The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Fischler, Rose McGowan, Troy Evans, Pepe Serna

Davis Films, Millennium Films, Nu Image, Signature Pictures, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“She looks like that dead girl! How sick are you?” – Kay Lake

For a modern noir picture with a cast this star studded, The Black Dahlia was a real disappointment. It had some positives but it mostly falls flat and is an example of style over substance.

This is not a good example of the work Brian De Palma can do. He is one of the best directors of his generation but this really misses its mark, which is unfortunate, as the subject matter is great and the talent he was able to get in this picture was impressive.

Josh Hartnett is the main star of the picture but his role feels pretty weak. I don’t feel like it is Hartnett’s fault, I feel like it is the direction of De Palma and the emotionless script. However, Hillary Swank, who is more talented than this film is able to show, is kind of just in this movie. It doesn’t really matter that it is her.

Although, everyone else does seem to work with the material. I thought that Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johansson were really good in their scenes and Patrick Fischler, a guy who is in everything but doesn’t get the notoriety he should, knocked his scenes out of the park. You also get to see Mike Starr and Troy Evans, two guys who do a lot of cop type roles but always bring their best to the table.

The real scene stealer however, is Mia Kirshner, an actress I’ve been mesmerized by since first seeing her in The Crow: City of Angels, a film where she was the only positive other than the murderous psycho biker played by Iggy Pop. Kirshner truly owns her role in this picture and it may have been the best she’s ever been. She’s really the only character in the film that you feel any emotion for. Honestly, it’s been eleven years since this came out and she should have gotten more prestigious roles but maybe her work was overshadowed by this being such a lackluster film.

Now, despite the overall film falling short, the visuals are top notch. The cinematography is unquestionably superb. Everything within the film feels true and authentic, even the bizarre K.D. Lang performance that pops up in the middle of the movie.

The narrative and the big reveal at the end were all pretty poorly strung together, though. It just made the film too bizarre and frankly, pretty fucking stupid and just really annoying after sitting through this two hour mess.

Typically, I like the work of Brian De Palma. This one just misses its mark.