An extremely long, extremely detailed analysis of The Last Jedi. I might be insane

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Copied and pasted from my letterboxd account. Hello, all my seething masses of fans. I know everyone’s been asking, where has F3ldman gone? I miss his poorly worded, poorly thought out reviews of Brian De Palma films. The answer is who cares I don’t have any fans and no one was wondering that. I spent like four hours analyzing the last jedi scene by scene and I couldn’t figure this fucking thing out. If somebody could please explain what I’m misunderstanding I would be forever in your debt.

This review may contain spoilers.

Ok so I don’t have a lot to do today so I’m going to do a detailed analysis about my feelings on The Last Jedi, which have been difficult to parse. I can’t stand that my indifference towards the movie has labeled me a toxic misogynist so hopefully here I can offer some objective criticism. I really WANT to like this movie, maybe this time around I’ll like it more. No one’s going to read this, it’s going to be retardedly long. NOTE; this is not intended to be some kind of takedown of this movie. It’s a kind of personal exercise to work out my thoughts on the film.

Opening scene: the first joke is cringe at best. I’ve seen people justify it by saying Han’s joke in the OG was also silly, and it was but it was quick. It was also sold based on the look of frustration Han expressed when he impulsively replied “how are you?” I also have a problem with starting the movie off with a giant cgi space battle. Do something with the characters first, set up some plot threads (the crawl doesn’t count). A big chaotic action scene opener is difficult to care much about if we don’t quite know the stakes. Don’t assume our interest from the first film has carried over and automatically will make us absorbed the instant this movie turns on. Other than that it’s a well done cgi action fest. Looks gorgeous and you definitely have a feel for the action in a way other movies who rely heavily on cgi action fests fail to accomplish. Nitpick: I experienced mild emotion when the bomber sacrificed herself, but it almost feels like cheating to have something that will guarantee a reaction, probably because the filmmakers knew that the audience wouldn’t have any investment in the scene and wanted to include some semblance of drama. This is a really minor nitpick and it goes into setting up the Rose character so I’m indifferent towards it.

Rey and Luke’s first scene: I love it! Luke tossing the lightsaber over his shoulder, defying years of fan build up. The look of bafflement on Rey’s face. I’ll get into just how much I like (and some elements I don’t like so much) this running theme when I’m doing a wrap up of sorts but I love this joke to death. The little fishing hamlet Luke lives in is totally awesome looking too. I neither like nor dislike the chinchilla creatures that proved controversial. The nerd in me is disappointed at Luke’s reaction towards his reunion with Chewy. It’s consistent with the theme I like and the place Luke’s character is in, but I just badly wanted them to embrace and go out for a drink or something and reminisce about the OT.

Smoke throne room: awesome visuals! It’s like something out of a Bergman film. Shits all over the dumb lava fortress where Vader chilled in R1. Snoke’s reprimand of Kali Ren is some quality writing too. Snoke, I think, is trying to continue inspiring anger in Kylo, but is also expressing genuine dissatisfaction in Kylo’s performance as a sith. Kyli destroys the mask, a symbol of his giving up the quest to become the new Vader and instead set his own path as he’ll do later in the film.

Back to Luke and Rey: he calls a lightsaber a laser sword! So awesome. The minimization of the importance of the jedi, and thus Star Wars’ real societal importance, is one of my favorite things about this movie. Then Luke Skywalker, one of the most renowned fictional characters ever, mills a giant space cow creature and flags from some green milk grimacing at Rey in the grossest way possible. Just awesome. Needless to say the long spear fishing is awesome, done with panache and the idea in and of itself is cool and creative along with the next sequence as Rey wanders a bit. Visuals are not this movie’s weak point, not by a long shot. It is gorgeous. The exposition about the original jedi texts is very cool, some light worldbuilding does a lot to build investment in a sci fi story.

Rey wants training, Luke doesnt want to give it. Good stuff, builds up mystery. Why does Luke want the Jedi to end? What happened to make him this way? I have to say, as much as I like the turn the character took it’s really hard to see how Luke from the OT could morph into this cynical hermit man. I get that he went through trauma and stuff and people change over 30 years, but it doesn’t seem to square with the kind of Star Wars that I like (light hearted fun action adventure, like SOLO). Minor complaint that I can dismiss intellectually but still feel in my heart.

Back to the resistance: the drama between Poe and Leia makes sense, but still feels dramatically contrived. That kind of dynamic is boring to me. He’s a hot dog pilot who plays by his own rules and she thinks he should’ve followed orders. I’ve seen it done and I just don’t care that much. But it’s necessary for some of the dumber plot elements to come.

CGI space battle! This time I give a shit because we’ve received some exposition and are reminded of why we care about these characters. I like the shot of BB8’s head reattaching to his body, super charming!

Kylo Ren hesitates in taking the kill shot on his mother. Some humanity still exists? I don’t think this squares with his character very well. His murder of his father at the end of TFA was clearly meant to show his total sublimation to the dark side, a complete loss of humanity. The one thing Vader refused to do was kill his family and Kylo’s willingness to cross this line meant he had gone to places even Anakin hadn’t. So Rian Johnson hit the reset button on that. I imagine JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan found this irritating af. I did also, it was one of the most interesting elements of TFA, an overall thematically simpler movie, but honestly I’d give up the complexity of this movie to have a consistent and logically sound adventure story. Nitpick: the shot of Leia zooming back into the airlock superman style is really hard not to laugh at. It’s comical.

Luke and Rey: pretty much love all this stuff. Reshowing the Leaia message from ANH is fan service, but it makes sense in the context of the story unlike a lot of the garbage in R1. Luke gives in to teaching Rey some lessons and I’m not quite sure why. I guess R2’s guilt trip worked?

The dynamic between Holdo and Poe is one of my biggest problems with the movie and the worst of its plot contrivance errors. He’s an impulsive hot-dogger, so she won’t let him in on her plan and expects him to just follow orders. I think this makes her a bad commander, which I’m pretty sure was not Rian Johnson’s intent. She should’ve seen that her treatment of him would lead to more hot-dogging. Or it makes Poe more hate-worthy than Snoke or Kylo Ren, since his stupid dumbass actions have the effect of killing the majority of the resistance (a la Bernouts and non-voting liberals in the 16 election). Is the lesson here to blindly obey authority? If so, that’s pretty stupid.

I find the Rose character charming. She’s immediately likable. Her praise for Finn I think is meant to stand in for Star Wars fan’s obsessive fandom. At least at this moment: I can’t remember if they follow up this line of symbolism.

Their plan is convoluted. One of the reasons I hate the casino planet detour. It would’ve been so much simpler for them to just go immediately to the imperial fleet. So they have to disable the light speed tracker by getting into the imperial ship which they can only do by disabling the security which is only possible by recruiting the code breaker which they have to do by going to a dumb prequel-esque casino planet. Convolution.

The Kylo Ren/Rey scenes are some of the most dramatically effective scenes in the film. Nothing but love for that stuff.

Rey’s plea to Luke to bring back the Jedi and his dismissiveness is similarly effective. I love her naive explanation of the force, Luke’s response “Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong”. Good shit. I reiterate, the Rey/Luke scenes are fantastic. Rey’s vision is very powerful, both thematically and visually. The light side of the force is visualized as the life cycle, the dark side as a monstrous pit. Good visual for sure. I’m less sure about how it works into the themes of the film. Luke’s reluctance grows as he sees her base curiosity at the powers of the dark side. The second Rey/Kylo scene is equally effective.

CASINO PLANET: okay, I’m going to slightly shift my original opinion. I opine about how I kinda wish this movie had taken a softer, simpler approach (even though I appreciate the complexity on offer) then I scoff at the presence of a goofy super sci fi sequence. I know that’s sorta contradictory, but I think this could have worked if done differently. First off the introductory shot of the casino is ugly, plain and simple. If it had been lit darker, to show how scummy this was a la the cantina in the OG movie it might not have stuck out. I may only get this vibe because of the prequels, movies I’ve long loathed and this is pretty reminiscent of some of the material there. They also try to wedge in some kind of anti-capitalist subjugation of the poor theme. Now, I’m not against this kind of theme on principle, I’ve seen plenty of movies that I love with this kind of subject matter. But I really don’t want it in Star Wars. If I’m hesitant to accept the complex themes the movie offers through the rest of the runtime I really don’t want to hear about some done-to-death message about the bourgeois and proletariat, especially in FUCKING STAR WARS. I just do not think this is the place for political posturing (DISCLAIMER: I hate Trump, I hate the cGOP, I hate the current political environment and I’m all for politically themed movies, just not Star Wars. It does not feel appropriate in any way) and it muddies the waters of the much more interesting stuff going on in the rest of the film.

Rey training with the lightsaber is dope. I even appreciate the semi-unfunny joke where the fish people’s little cart gets crushed. It’s consistent with the Star Wars spirit. Luke’s diatribe on the mistakes and failures of the Jedi is dope as hell. Refuting the deification of the jedi simultaneously refutes the deification of the Star Wars mythos. I’m all for shitting on dumbass fanboys. Rian Johnson is a real asshole, in the best way though. We get the beginning hints of character arcs here. Rey begins to restore Luke’s faith in the light and Rey comes around to understanding Luke’s dislike of light side based religious organizations? I’m not so sure about that now actually. In theory I like the “down with the old, in with the new” thematic elements but it doesn’t quite make sense in practice. I guess Luke’s disheartening experiences make him a little blind to the dissonance required to hate the jedi on the level he does, but doesn’t that undermine the theme? Someone smarter than me can probably puzzle that out.

The next sequence on the casino planet (jailbreak) is admittedly pretty fun. Benicio is fun and BB8 is awesome. Then the horse creature things. They’re cute I guess or whatever. The appearance of the children set up the ending of the film and the rounding out of the theme, so I like that. The stampede sequence is the ugliest and worst looking stuff in the movie. It looks bad, no two ways about it. Super prequel-y and leaves a really bad taste in my mouth in an otherwise gorgeous film. And I don’t get Rose’s line “now it’s worth it” when she releases the horse creature thing. It’s just sappy and dumb. It’s a shame they make her character so sappy, she’s a really charismatic actress and I was ready to like her but, to me at least, the character comes off as totally ancillary, like we wouldn’t miss anything if she was cut (along with the entire casino planet).

Rey and Kylo’s scenes continue to be the best dramatic material in the film. I don’t understand Kylo’s urge to let the past die. What past is he speaking of? His own where Luke tried to kill him? Because it seems like that was a primary motivator in what he became, so he didn’t let it die at all. Or Rey’s past? Which neither we, the audience, nor her, the film’s character, know jack about. Again, it’s possible I’m just not smart enough to figure this one out.

The dream sequence in the pit was bizarre, but I really liked it. I do not understand the significance. I am not a smart man. But I love that a Star Wars film included a crazy cyclopean Bergman-esque nightmare. Visually incredible and somehow emotionally resonant. It could be that the dark side offers as few answers for her as the light does. It sets up the blurring of the light/dark lines that comes later so that makes sense. I really like the shot of Luke blowing up the hut where it dollies in and out. Very cool. The movie does not lack for interesting visual style, that’s for sure.

The drama between Luke and Kylo is very compelling. His impulse to end Kylo’s life is another example of the jedi being imperfect. The betrayal was what sent Kylo to the dark side for good. It really works here, but again I always think about what I got out of TFA and how this totally backtracks over all of that. My thoughts on that film and the character arcs therein need serious reevaluation in light of this work. Which isn’t fair, because I think my interpretation was accurate to what Abrams and Kasdan intended and Rian Johnson shat all over it. Not that I don’t like the idea of upending the mythos and the ideas of Star Wars, but not at the cost of totally undercutting the dramatic material in the previous film.

Nitpick: how does Yoda have lightning powers as a force ghost? And then he lectures Luke about looking past the books, AKA exactly what he had been doing and then Luke sort of defends the jedi texts? Wasn’t he on his way to burn them just then? Is he just surprised that Yoda was also gung-ho about the burn-the-temple idea? Again, maybe someone smarter than me can puzzle this out, I am but a simple man. But it don’t make no sense.

I like the message of learning from past mistakes and not dwelling or obsessing on past success. I’ve said it multiple times already, but this is the most interesting part of the film by far, even if it doesn’t square with my ideal vision of what a Star Wars franchise ought to be. “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters” Great line!

Benicio’s lines in the next scene about selling the weapons to both the bad and the good actually assuage my criticism of the ancillary subjugation theme. It kind of makes it play into the moral ambiguity theme that the movie is centered around. I still think my criticism holds water, but I see what Rian Johnson was going for now.

Holdo to Poe: “trust me I got this. I’ve got an obvious plan that for some reason the empire for some reason won’t see coming that I’ll counteract through a maneuver that breaks the logic of all the previous Star Wars films”. This plot contrivance grinds my gears to no end. Probably the most severe of this movie’s blunders.

Benicio Del Toro’s character is going to be the Bolba Fett of this trilogy right? He’ll get knocked into the Sarlac Pitt by a blinded Poe Dameron or some shit. JJ Abrams has such a mess to work through.

Ayyyy back to the throne room! I love this place it looks so fucking cool.

There’s a shot during Poe’s mutiny where someone closes a door and it does that speed up thing that the OG movies did that I just love. So charming.

Again, all I’m getting out of the Poe mutiny is the moral “listen to those in authority and never disobey, they know what’s best for you”. Poe literally mutinies, ruins Holdo and Leia’s plans, and gets a huge chunk of the resistance killed but they’re all like “awww that one’s a trouble maker. I like him.” Which means Rian Johnson anticipated this unintended moral coming through and tried to counteract it with that line. He’s gotta know how BS this whole contrivance is, right?

Holdo’s maneuver is a striking visual. And my gut reaction when it happened in the theater was ‘awwwe yeah. Fucking awesome.” But when you think about it not only does it disrupt the entirety of all Star Wars logic, a problem they’ll have a tough time writing around in the next film, but it also undermines a later “message” (if you can call it that) we are shown later in the film. More on that when we get to it.

Nitpick time! I wish they’d done Snoke’s face with practical effects. It would’ve looked so much better. It’s that uncanny valley effect. He’s not un-human enough to keep us from noticing.

Now for more serious errors. So Snoke was aware at how conflicted Kylo was. Set up the whole plot to bring Rey to him so he could get Luke (why does he want Luke? Luke is content to j chill and not do anything) but doesn’t see Kylo’s betrayal coming? It’s set up earlier how much more powerful Snoke is than Kylo as well, but just so Rian Johnson can have his thing where Kylo sort of abandons the dark side and starts going down the middle or something Snoke gets killed. Snoke says that he senses resolve where there was weakness, and it’s clear he’s supposed to be mistaking that for the resolve to kill Rey and complete his sublimation to the dark side (which already happened in TFA but I’ve beat that horse enough) but can’t he read facial expressions? It’s so clear what’s about to go down. Doesn’t make much sense. Tough to overlook, but if the movie were better I wouldn’t mind as much. Hey, at least we get the coolest action scene of the film out of this, where Rey and Kylo fight off the crimson guard or whatever back to back. Super cool visually and I actually like the idea of Kylo going over to the middle and them temporarily teaming up (if it didn’t backtrack over all the great work TFA did but nvm that). Plus those whips they have are dope af and the sound design is stellar. One guy gets like blended up and spit back in little pieces. Totally awesome.

Now here’s another mistake. The movie would’ve won me over it had been truly convinced of its convictions. If the idea is that the Jedi and Sith are old news and we need to forge a new path then why didn’t Rey join up with Kylo? Wouldn’t that be the natural thing to happen? Of course this wouldn’t work because then it would place our heroine in opposition of the resistance we’d been following the entire time, and if she brought them around then we wouldn’t need a third movie. But why doesn’t she join up with Kylo? Is she refuting the movie’s entire theme, that we should forget about the old ways and forge our own path? Or did she remember she likes those dudes with the resistance and realizes she’d have to kill them or some shit if she joined Kylo? So I guess it means that even if we don’t necessarily totally align with good/evil we can still fight over other shit? But what is that other shit now? This movie is kind of a mess isn’t it?

BTW short note having Rey’s parents be nobodies was the only choice they could’ve made. I like it so much more than the idea that they’d be some background characters from the PT or OT or even like Obi-Wan’s daughter. That would’ve been super dumb.

This is probably the closest Benicio Del Toro has gotten to reprising his character of fenster from The Usual Suspects, right? The weird speaking cadence and facial expressions are so Fenster. It’s weird that the movie would take us through all that convolution, to the casino planet, onto the new ship, through all the security, half an hour plus of screentime devoted to this machination, and then just have Finn and Rose utterly fail. I’ve seen it praised as a subversion of expectations, but it feels super unsatisfying in practice. It’s like, wow, so the heroes of the movie are responsible for the decimation of all their friends because they’re incompetent and insubordinate and I’m supposed to like that just because I didn’t expect it? I like these characters! I don’t want to see them fail so egregiously. Or if they do fail maybe they should get something out of the experience, like Luke and Yoda talked about earlier. I don’t see any of that.

I’ve seen people bitch about the shot where it’s revealed that BB8 is piloting the ATST. Get over yourselves, it’s a movie. And their reaction, one of puzzlement, totally sells the bit.

What am I supposed to get out of the bit where Finn kills Phasma? He’s rebel scum? Is that cool? Cause you’re the reason a huge chunk of the rebellion just got murdered. Quality rebelling right there dude.

I think by now I’m so frustrated with some of the other occurrences I’m getting bothered by dumb stuff. It happened in my original viewing too. So some positives. The salt planet looks really cool! Those crystal wolf creatures are kinda cool too! That’s it though, more complaining incoming. Welcome back to the resistance Finn and Rose! All you guys did was fuck up and nothing was accomplished.

So now comes the contrivance for the final action scene. They need to buy time for the rest of the resistance to respond to them (which they never do) so they get in some shitty ship things and attack a bunch of imperial walkers well knowing they are absolutely no match and accomplish pretty much nothing but got a lot of valuable pilots killed (something he was repeatedly chastised for doing in the beginning of the movie, but it’s okay now?). Wow, great stuff. At least the visual of the ships dragging up the red stuff splayed on the white backdrop looks really cool. Honestly, fuck the theme stuff that shit isn’t even consistent or that well done. The visuals are the coolest part of this movie (minus the casino stuff of course).

Ok, when Rey shows up in the Falcon that shit was awesome. Watching her battle them in the crazy crystal mine place with the awesome John Williams score, communicating with Chewy piloting and the little creature thing attempting a cute little wookie roar, that was all super charming and I was having a lot of fun.

The second dumbest thing to happen in the entire film comes next. Finn is ready to sacrifice himself, to buy time for the resistance and make the attack effective (even though they could’ve sent out a single kamikaze that would’ve been equally effective with a bit of backup, but Rose almost kills herself preventing Finn from accomplishing his mission. Why, you ask? Finn is making up for his horrible mistakes that got so many people killed, but Rose says no, no because we will win not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.

What? Huh? Wouldn’t him stopping the breakdown of the resistance barriers be him saving what he loves? And, greatest of all, why was what Holdo did any different? She sacrificed herself for the greater good. Would Rose have stopped her, thus dooming what was left of the resistance, insisting that we need to save what we love. NOTHING MAKES ANY SENSE GUYS AM I GOING CRAZY WHY DO SO MANY RESPECTABLE FILM CRITICS THINK THIS IS BRILLIANT STUFF PLEASE SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME. Again, I’m but a simple man. Maybe all of you guys who thought this was brilliant have some sort of higher level of understanding than I do. Please explain it in terms I can understand I’ll assimilate what you say in good faith.

Look, Rian Johnson knows how to direct a film with visual acumen and incredible style. He can really put together some dope shit when he needs to and he does so here. I badly wish he was a consultant on the writing and they’d instead had Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams plan out the entire story from the beginning. What possessed Disney to think that individual people connecting a serialized story without any sort of grand plan would create a salient, cohesive narrative? So much about this movie is completely baffling to me and so many people whose opinions I greatly admire seem to have nothing but love for this mess just because it subverted expectations. I appreciate that about it, sure, but that doesn’t excuse its blatant narrative fumbling.

The rest of the movie is pretty ok. I like the stuff with force projection Luke. His character arc still doesn’t quite make sense to me though. Like, what did he realize at the end? That, oh, I was right the whole time about the jedi needing to die but I should probably get over my self imposed isolation and lend the resistance a hand? Why? He didn’t really learn anything, Yoda just told him what he’d been expressing all along. You know they really coulda used that helping hand a while ago homie, maybe they wouldn’t be so on the ropes now you know?

Then Leia kind of hands the reigns off to Poe who has done nothing but fuck up and accomplish nothing the whole time. That didn’t feel like a forced arc at all. Was he supposed to learn how to be more subservient and follow orders? Cause he didn’t. Was he supposed to learn to take matters into his own hands and lead when it was required of him? Because that behavior has gotten a lotta people killed in three different circumstances over the course of the film.

Why did Luke’s projection dying kill him too? This is admittedly a serious nitpick, I’d be okay with it had the rest of the movie made sense.

Was Rey’s ability to lift up those stones supposed to be the completion of her arc? I don’t get it. What changed that let her be much more powerful in the force all of a sudden? Maybe her rejection of Kylo’s offer, aka what really seemed to be the main point of the movie? And wait, if the message was that the old need to die and we should move on why is Luke insisting he isn’t the last jedi? So I guess all of that was wrong and we really should trust in the idea of the jedi? Or maybe this is a new version of the jedi uninhibited by the old’s mistakes. But why would the new generation be inhibited by the old’s mistakes in any case? What happened in this movie to change that?

When I originally watched this movie I tricked myself into really enjoying the ideas of the movie. I liked the idea of the theme and I liked Rian Johnson’s attempts to totally subvert my expectations. I had similar reservations about the function of the plot, thought the characters made stupid decisions, but I thought hey at least he tried something cool and original.

But now that I’ve poured a lot of time and effort into really parsing what this movie had to offer I’ve realized even the elements I thought were cool are muddied by bad storytelling and inconsistent thematic work. I thought I’d probably upgrade my review at the end to three, maybe up to four stars. Nah. Downgrade to two. The competency with which the movie was made and the visual style earn it those two. It’s far from a boring movie. But it is so frustrating. Frustrating because it has potential, the ideas are there, the technique is excellent. But the fundamentals are totally outta whack

I’m done writing about this bullshit now.

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Femme Fatale (2002)

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Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale is his best work since Blow Out. That’s really saying something because I really like Blow Out. This movie has everything. It’s got the classic De Palma style, Hitchcock references, insane erotica, hilarious melodrama, daring heists, and a fantastically intricate plot that weaves all this together ingeniously. The ending might drive some people a little mad, but I thought it stunningly brilliant.

Basically, and I say that lightly because nothing is basic about this movie, the film revolves around the scheming double-crossing character of Laure (Rebecca Romjin) as she deceives everyone across multiple continents and absconds with millions. It starts off with an elaborate diamond heist, where she ridiculously serves as a decoy, engaging the target, a famous film director’s wife bedazzled with the most absurd top you’ve ever seen. In fact, the top she wears, a golden snake studded with millions worth of diamonds, is the target of the heist.

Of course she double crosses her allies and makes off with the treasure for herself. She is mistaken for her doppelganger (referencing Hitchock’s Vertigo), a missing woman named Lili who recently lost her husband and young child. Lili’s parents take her back to their home, where she draws a bath. Suddenly Lili reappears at home. Unaware of Laure’s presence she commits suicide in a fit of depression. Laure sees this as an opportunity and disappears with Lili’s passport and a plane ticket to America. She meets a man on the plane, marries him, and returns to Paris when he becomes the French ambassador. Yet danger lurks for her in France as her accomplices of old have begun to seek out their revenge, who learn of her reappearance due to a photograph taken by one Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas).

What follows are an intricate set of events where she deceives, lies, strips, and shoots her way to a ten million dollar payoff. I don’t want to get too deep into all she does while in France because that would end up being the whole write-up, but needless to say she is well deserving of the title femme fatale. My favorite scene in the film involves a strip tease in a bar cellar where De Palma really indulges in his meticulous yet opulent directorial style that he’s known so well for. It ends in a fight between Bardo and another patron of which we see only the shadows while the camera dollies in on Laure, laughing at the artfulness of her devious machinations.

The film is an absolute tour de force of Brian De Palma, the perfect kind of material for his style. He utilizes every trick in the book. This is probably his best use of his trademark split screen, where the split ends with a dual shot of the same view, one of the actual square and another of Bardo’s recreation of the square made of hundreds of individual snapshots. It’s absolutely sensational.

Rebecca Romjin is also great in her role. You can read the cunning in her eyes so well, and the sensuality she brings to the picture is positively incredible. You couldn’t have asked for a better performance, especially in the aforementioned strip tease sequence.

The ending is pretty incredible as well. Upon being dunked into the river Laure wakes up back in the bathtub at her doppelganger’s house seven years earlier. It is easy to see how this kind of “it was all a dream” twist in the story would drive some insane, but I found it refreshing, especially when considering the scenes that happen afterwards. Of course Laure doesn’t allow Lili to kill herself, and through that act sets the wheels of fate in a totally different direction. We see a sequence from earlier played out again, but with slightly different details that change the entire event. Due to Laure’s brief act of altruism, a deviation from her usual Machiavellian selfishness, she was able to make her life into something far better and more genuine, and save multiple lives in the process. De Palma allowed Laure a second chance and a happy ending, a kindness rarely if ever offered to his characters.

All in all this is definitely one of De Palma’s greatest works, a film extraordinarily grand in scope of plot. The plot is intircate, but not unfollowable (Mission: Impossible I’m looking at you) and his direction is impeccable as usual. Its got everything a De Palma fan could want: sex, crime, violence, and a twist beautifully hinted at in subtle ways that turns the entire work on its head. This may be his masterpiece.

 

Sisters (1972)

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The movie Brian De Palma cut his teeth upon, Sisters is a genuinely fun romp of a psychological thriller/horror. Being De Palma’s most blatant homage to Hitchcock, this film references the master’s work in a variety of interesting ways while also being able to tell an engaging little mystery of its own.

Probably the most obvious reference is to Psycho, where our villain has a split personality in which one side is capable of brutal murders while the other acts as an innocent bystander in the proceedings. De Palma is able to jazz up this premise by giving us more backstory into how exactly our mental case developed such a condition.

The film begins with a classic Hitchcock opener, where we see a television show where some unknowing individual’s chivalry is tested by giving them a chance at voyeurism. The two contestants Phillip and Danielle, played by Lisle Wood and Margot Kidder, go out for some drinks. They are stalked by an unknown man (William Finley), said to be Danielle’s ex husband Emil, who follows them as they go back to Danielle’s apartment where they make love.

The next morning Phillip is murdered, by someone we presume to be Danielle’s sister, Dominique (also Margot Kidder). The scene is witnessed a la Rear Window by a neighbor, Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt). The shot where the murder is witnessed is done with De Palma’s classic split screen view, where we see from inside the apartment as Phillip crawls over to the window and begins righting “HELP” on the window while also seeing from Grace’s point of view as a bloody hand scrawls the desperate message.

Also done in split screen is the process of Danielle and Emil cleaning the house of all evidence pertaining to the grisly crime while Grace tries to hurry the police along up to the apartment. It serves to increase the suspense fantastically, and we see just how close the police come to catching the crooks red handed as Emil emerges from the apartment with a bag of dirty rags just moments before the police arrive. It’s a brilliant little scene.

Now, like I said above, our mental case around which the film revolves is a clear homage to Psycho but actually manages to be more interesting than Psycho’s Norman Bates. We are served a fascinating backstory pertaining to Danielle and Dominique’s history as Siamese twins. Apparently their fragile mental states were codependent, and when Dominique was killed in their separation surgery Danielle’s mind is fractured, splitting into an alternate personality, a version of her deceased sister. It makes for a fascinating peek into a totally broken mind and delightfully satiates the appetites of the morbidly curious.

The movie speeds along at a great pace throughout the first two thirds. Jennifer Salt is great as the tenacious young reporter, desperately trying to get the police to believe her story. I especially enjoyed the scene as Grace and the police go through Danielle’s apartment trying to find any evidence of the murder Grace witnessed. Margot Kidder is also great in this scene, playing the laid back French-Canadian model Danielle with a terrific touch of disconnectedness, giving us the distinct feeling that not all is quite right with her.

De Palma’s signature style is put to tremendous use here, and although the last third of the film feels a little bit rushed as the entire twist ending is dumped into our laps in a few short, confusing minutes, the script is a fine mystery that keeps our attention throughout.

There are a couple other fun references to Hitchcock laid throughout, including a great sequence where a private detective rummages through Danielle’s apartment when she walks in unexpectedly. Grace places a call to distract her and watches through binoculars as the detective avoids the occupants, much like Jimmy Stewart does with Grace Kelly in Rear Window. 

It’s not De Palma’s most tidy work, that would have to go to Body Double, but it was a great start from a junior director to what would be a fruitful career. The acting is very good and, as always, there are some shocking moments of violence sure to surprise and fascinate. I haven’t yet figured out the final shot, but I do enjoy the nihilistic conclusion to Grace’s search for justice for the murdered Phillip. Her repeated cries that “there was no body because there was no murder!” is sure to raise the hackles on even the most devoted horror fan.

Raising Cain (1992)

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Raising Cain is a tour de force by John Lithgow. I always knew the man was something special when it came to play deranged psychopaths. His turn as Burke in Blow Out was especially sensational, embodying the unemotional coldness that you would imagine a sociopath would have. Here he takes on five different roles, making each just as incredible as any other role he’s taken on.

Raising Cain is about Carter, a child psychologist who murders women in order to abscond with their children in an attempt to study their personality development. It quickly becomes clear that Carter’s personality development was anything but normal. Carter is a victim of a multiple personality complex. One minute he’s Carter, the next he’s Cain. Carter is a genuine fatherly figure who is dedicated to his work whereas Cain is a streetwise tough talking goon. The two characters are as far apart as they can possibly be from each other and Lithgow embodies both phenomenally.

Unfortunately the plot doesn’t really thicken beyond this initial premise. There are your suspenseful sequences common to just about any De Palma thriller, but really its Lithgow’s performance that makes the film stand out. In one scene he takes on the personality of a seven year old boy, and his facial expression and body language are stunningly accurate to how any little boy might act. The nervousness and twitchy eye movements are incredible and its a wonder what kind of mindset Ltihgow had to be in to nail this role the way he did. I’d have to imagine James McCavoy took a lot of inspiration from Lithgow’s performance when taking on a similar role in the recent film Split.

It’s unfortunate that the plot never seems to go anywhere. We are given multiple overly expository scenes that explain the full details of Carter’s particular condition which may have been necessary when the film came out, but seeing as this sort of thing has been the subject of a myriad of movies since then it feels unnecessary.

De Palma’s in full form with this type of material and he makes excellent use of his trademark stylistic flourishes to inject the proper sense of lunacy into the film. There are many instances where De Palma makes use of a dutch angle shot, evoking well the queasy uneasiness of Carter’s shattered mind. Also included are well directed suspense sequences so well known to anyone familiar with De Palmas work. This includes the climactic end scene taking place over three levels of a hotel catwalk. Proper use of slow motion and excellent set up make you feel like you’re there with the characters witnessing this traumatic event.

During one of the long expository sequences De Palma has the characters wander about a police station. The two cops follow the woman explaining the entire plot to the audience and the camera follows along beautifully in one five minute long take. This even includes them going down a flight of stairs as the camera rotates into a dutch angle while she mentions the traumatic events that cause Cain’s initial split. I can’t help but think this is De Palma sort of poking fun at these kinds of expository scenes, and having the psychologist almost wander away multiple times during the take can symbolize the audience’s wandering patience with the exposition. It’s quite brilliant.

So, like always, De Palma turns out a well directed if slightly underwritten movie. The film could’ve used a bit more in the way of plotting or a few extra twists or turns. As it is there aren’t many real surprises which comes as a bit of a disappointment in a movie about something as demented and disturbing as multiple personality disorder. Lithgow’s incredible performance is enough to entertain any viewer however. All in all its a good entry into De Palma’s filmography and I applaud him for trying a thriller with a more psychological/horror element to it for once.

Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

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Brian De Palma’s Bonfire of the Vanities is an interesting movie to watch from a modern perspective. It appears to be a satire of the go-get-it attitude fostered by American culture in the 1980s, but today it can be applied to the prevalent hatred for the upper class that elevates politicians like Bernie Sanders into the mainstream.

You have all sorts of characters that could be parodies of modern figures and movements. The black preacher and the outrage he manufactures for the hoodlum put into a coma by Sherman McCoy’s wrong turn can easily be equated to the black lives matter movement of today. The journalists eager to get the scoop on Sherman could be the mainstream media, constantly looking for the next example of the rich striking down. It’s a culture that’s as prevalent today as it was in the 80s.

The film, however, never really reaches the heights it seems to aim for. The myriad of characters that circle Sherman like sharks who smell blood are never fleshed out well enough to fill out the satire the way it deserves to be. Simply put, there are too many characters and the film stretches itself too thin to properly deliver a biting satire of the caricature of each of them.

Take, for example, the assistant district attorney that spies an opportunity to get in good with the mayor. While it’s clear what he’s doing and to what end, we don’t get a good feel for what exactly this man is doing wrong. To anyone viewing the film he’s simply trying to prosecute a man who’s injured a Bronx teenager in a hit and run incident. We don’t get a good enough feel for the cycism this character was clearly meant to inspire, and as a result we rather sympathize with his crusade to bring the perpetrator to justice.

The Bruce Willis character is also given far too little screen time to be able to understand his exact motivations. What exactly does he see in this story that’s so spellbinding? Why does he so badly want to capture it? We never get enough of a peek through to figure him out entirely.

Morgan Freeman comes off better than most as the intelligent, real world judge who attempts to inject a bit of sense into the frothing craze of the situation at hand. The scene at the end where he lectures his mad courtroom is the finest point in the film, and it was when the underwritten message of the movie came to light for me.

And underwritten it is. Unfortunately this means an end result where most viewers will probably come away sympathizing with the mobs of opportunistic individuals rather than being disgusted by them. The original Tom Wolffe novel, although I haven’t read it, regarded these people with a white hatred for the opportunistic pigs they were. Anyone viewing the film without this in mind would probably enjoy seeing the millionaire adulterer Wall Street socialite taken down a peg in life. And I don’t think that was what was intended.

De Palma utilizes interesting stylistic flourishes to jazz up the film, but it’s impossible to make a good movie out of a script where the characters are underdeveloped. As a result of this the characters, rather than being brilliant caricatures of their real life counterparts, come off as plain unlikable. Thankfully the characters are eccentric enough and the directorial style charming so as to make the film an entertaining romp. It’s just a shame it couldn’t reach the heights that it aspired to, it would’ve been a fine satire that would be ever as relevant today as it was when it came out in 1990.

Obsession (1976)

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Brian De Palma’s Obsession is his ode to Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It concerns a man’s relentless preoccupation with the memory of his deceased wife and his subsequent attempts to recapture that forever lost relationship with a different woman. However, try as it might, Obsession film lacks the layers of depth that made Vertigo into the masterpiece that it is. Nevertheless this is still a decently fun little movie, even if it drags a bit in some parts.

Cliff Robertson plays Michael Courtland, a New Orleans land developer whose wife and daughter are kidnapped and killed at the start of the film. Fifteen years later and Michael makes a trip to Florence with his business partner Robert Lasalle (John Lithgow). He goes to visit the church where he and his wife had met and runs into a woman, Sandy, who looks strikingly similar, played by Genevieve Bujord in a dual role as both the wife and the new woman. 

Immediately Michael is attracted to this woman, seeing promise in her of returning to his old life before the tragedy. Much like in Vertigo there are scenes where Michael attempts to get Sandy to act the same as his deceased wife. He has her walk a certain way and asks her to call him Mike, just like his wife used to.

I have to say that this all comes off as creepy. In Vertigo it was obviously gross behavior as well, but by the time it was occurring in that film you’d spent so much time with Jimmy Stewart’s character that you could easily empathize with his behavior. There was a good amount of effort put into personifying Stewart’s anguish at the loss of his loved one so that when he rediscovered someone similar you could feel his desire to recapture that fleeting romance.

It’s also the fact that Michael in Obsession is trying to recapture the love of a marriage, a relationship far more complex than the romance at the center of Vertigo. It’s a bit stranger for someone to attempt to reestablish a lost marriage, rather than rekindling a courtship extinguished at the climax of affection.

There’s also the fact that in Vertigo Hitchcock makes known the identity of the doppelganger as soon as she is discovered. That gives an added layer of depth to each interaction between the characters. In Obsession the reveal takes place at the end of the film: standard thriller stuff. It makes the preceding interactions a duller affair.

Now it may not be fair to compare this movie to one of the greatest works in cinema history, but the film invites the comparison every chance it gets so it is inevitable that one might contrast the two. Mirror shots of Sandy putting on the dead wife’s jewelry, dream sequences, and even a scene where a man is pulling Sandy along unwillingly to a place she doesn’t wish to go. The references are near constant, so the comparison becomes unavoidable and obviously Obsession doesn’t hold a candle to the great masterpiece that is Vertigo. 

I also have to say that I guessed half the plot twist pretty early on. John Lithgow is basically a walking spoiler. The man is just far too menacing to convincingly play a good guy in a Hitchcockian thriller. It was clear early on that he was the perpetrator.

What was very enjoyable about this film was the music and direction. First off, Bernard Hermann is an absolute master composer. The musical swells at moments of emotion conjure a dreamlike atmosphere, much like the dream Michael now walks through where he finally gets a chance to revive his lost love.

De Palma is also a stylistic genius and he fills this movie with some gorgeous shots of Florence from dark back alleys to a mass zoom out of a cemetery the couple walk through. Also included is some interesting photography during the dream sequence and great shots of Sandy moving about the house. You get a great feel for space from De Palma’s shots, allowing you to sympathize with poor Sandy attempting to fill the shoes of an idolized figure in Michael’s life.

This isn’t De Palma’s best work, but it is a bit unique for him. It carries the classic twists and turns of one of his thriller films, but also contains a style and emotion rarely seen in his films. The central idea for the story doesn’t come off as well as it did in Hitchcock’s masterpiece, and that’s really the crux of the problem with this movie. Thankfully some excellent music and De Palma’s stylistic choice of overwrought melodrama make this into an enjoyable experience.

Casualties of War (1989)

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Brian De Palma has up to this point in his career directed a wide variety of genres. Although being mostly at home within the confines of a Hitchcockian thriller he has shown that he is also able to deliver very good crime and horror films in the case of Scarface and Carrie respectively. And now he tries his hand at a war film.

De Palma has shown that he can be a very stylish, opulent director, but it seems he knows that his usual sly camerawork is out of place in a film about the horrors of war. This is De Palma at his most restrained, filming the characters and action from a distance, seeming to prefer longer takes of character interactions in a manner pioneered by the great John Ford. He doesn’t have the same eye for proper blocking and staging of sets that makes John Ford’s style work so well. The result is a disappointment from a fan of De Palma’s who wanted to see him do something interesting stylistically with a different sort of material. De Palma indulges in one gratuitous POV scene that could’ve been ripped right out of Body Double or Dressed to Kill, and it feels totally out of place in this movie.

The movie centers around on Pvt Eriksson (Michael J Fox) who is a newby, or a cherry as the soldiers refer to them, to the Vietnam war. He seems to empathize with the local Vietnamese that his compatriots trounce upon. In an early scene we see him playing with a group of village children, establishing Eriksson’s humanistic qualities that the film will focus on.

His squad consists of Harvey (John C. Reilly), Clark (Don Harvey), Diaz (John Leguizamo), and Sgt Meserve (Sean Penn), who begin a long patrol by kidnapping a local woman (Thuy Thu Le) to use as a sex slave and living punching bag as they make their arduous journey. This sets up the main conflict of the movie, as our hero, Pvt Eriksson, seeks to keep this woman from harm and, as a result, ends up an outcast from his own unit.

It seems that whatever conscience these men may have once had has been ground out of them by the countless horrors inherent to the war they’ve been enlisted to fight. The level of complicity of the local population with the enemy is typically unclear until it’s too late, and as a result they’ve grown to view the Vietnamese citizenry as vermin. Too many friends have died because of these people so their well of trust has run dry. Their natural borne moral guidelines I believe to be the titular casualties of war.

This isn’t a bad story necessarily. The themes aren’t entirely dissimilar from those of Platoon, yet that film’s script does a far better job digging into the psyche of the men who’s morals have been wiped clean by near constant trauma, whereas Casualties of War gives us one death scene and some decent acting, mainly from Sean Penn. The dialogue between Meserve and Eriksson in their clashes over the morality of their undertaking leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than comprehensive examinations of their conflicting ideologies it essentially boils down to Meserve calling Eriksson a pussy and threatening him menacingly.

The acting by Sean Penn provides the most depth you’re likely to get out of these encounters as his character’s sociopathy is well displayed. Michael J Fox also does a good job of portraying his character’s frustration at the futility of his attempts to impose morality on his comrades. What’s interesting here is the utter inevitability of the rape and murder. Eriksson hasn’t any recourse in his situation and is forced to stand by while the brutalities are inflicted. It seems the film means to say that sometimes there isn’t anything the good guys can do to stop the bad guys. These are the film’s strongest points.

The second half of the film takes a Kafkaesque turn, as Pvt Eriksson attempts to seek justice for what transpired in the jungle. Of course his superiors take on a “boys will be boys” attitude about the event and he is reasonably disheartened by the experience. The scenes in the jungle are far more compelling by comparison which makes the film feel a bit uneven. The murder of the kidnapped woman feels like the natural climax and it happens a bit more than halfway through the movie.

I’m aware that this is a true story, and although I haven’t read the entire New Yorker article I have read about what happened. The film seems to have stuck to the true story for the most part, which is admirable in its own way. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that I have to give it a pass for being paced inconsistently. True stories rarely occur in the proper three act structure that works so well in movies.

The framing device is half baked at best. Rather than ending the film on the heart wrenching and depressing note the story deserves, the screenwriters choose to try and give the tale a more positive spin. It doesn’t work. Had they allowed the atrocity to occur and simply had the audience deal with the cruel reality of the horrors of war the film would’ve been far more effective. As it stands this is an ok movie that could have been great had it been structured differently. It stands apart from De Palma’s other works as something a bit more mature, but it fails to exceed anything else I’ve seen by him.

Carrie (1976)

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Carrie’s telekinetic abilities in this film are the supernatural manifestation brought on by a lifetime of suffering. Years of torment, the smothered ambition and intellect, of a person who so desperately wants to be accepted but life’s dice roll simply won’t allow it. Many, many people around the world can identify with Carrie’s struggle; I know I could. But the difference in Carrie’s struggle was her preternatural ability to strike back at her abusers, and it makes for a one hell of a satisfying conclusion to a well told story.

The film begins with an overhead shot of a volleyball match. The camera slowly makes its way over to a lone girl who looks uncomfortable, almost exposed in her athletic outfit. The ball comes her way and she botches the spike, much to the ire of her teammates. The subsequent titlecard sequence is beautiful photography of a steamy locker room. We bear witness to numerous women in various states of undress all fooling around implying camaraderie. But slowly the camera makes its way to the back of the room where we see a lone figure taking a shower. The music implies a certain childlike innocence not found in teenagers while also invoking a deep sympathy. Its a brilliant opening that perfectly establishes Carrie’s feelings of separateness from the rest of her classmates.

It’s here that Carrie (Sissy Spacek) experiences her first period, which she is unaware is a natural function of the female body. Her reaction is to run for help, but it only serves to increase her awkward eccentricity to the rest of her class, who react as you might expect. A teacher attempts to punish the girls who mocked Carrie which leads to the ban from prom of one of the more popular girls (Nancy Allen). Of course this petulant little cunt blames Carrie for her punishment and seeks revenge in the most horrible way she knows how. This leads to the final scene of grisly carnage where Carrie takes her ultimate vengeance.

The truly sad part is that Carrie isn’t an unattractive girl. She’s not overweight or ugly by any means, even sporting a decent figure with voluptuous curves. And when she goes to prom it’s revealed, almost surprisingly, that she’s actually gorgeous. A beauty that other women would die for. Yet her ostracization isn’t based so much upon physical appearance so much as it is a function of her social ineptitude; a quality born into her and exasperated by an overbearing religious fanatic of a mother (Piper Laurie).

The most terrifying sequences to me are the ones between Carrie and her mother. Ironically, their house, which is adorned with countless religious idols, is bathed in a hellish orange glow. Its a truly tragic thing when a girl who is so despised and ridiculed at school cannot run home for any comfort. Instead she receives lectures on maintaining sexual purity from a mother who projects her own perceived sinfulness upon Carrie, never allowing her to form full fledged relationships. She locks Carrie into a closet where her only company is a demonic eyed statuette of Jesus, presumably symbolizing the agony that religion, or her mother’s twisted puritanical version of religion, has brought her life.

Even more tragic are the ill fated attempts to bring Carrie back into normal society. One of her classmates (Amy Irving) takes pity on her and bids her boyfriend into asking Carrie to prom. Seeing Carrie at prom finally feeling happy and at peace with the world brings fleeting moments of joy to our souls. We can see that underneath all the callused layers of protection she’s built for herself is a girl that’s real and emotional.

We yearn for her happiness and sympathize with her despair because who wouldn’t? I particularly enjoyed De Palma’s direction during her first dance with Tommy Moss (William Katt). He has the camera spinning around them, slowly picking up speed as she asks him question after question about why he took her of all people to prom. It culminates in him tenderly telling her that they’re here, together, and he likes it. And it seems like he’s being genuine. Like her innocence and modesty have made him regret those years of ignoring her and he wished he’d seen her for what she was sooner. The camera eventually is spinning so fast around them we get the distinct, queasy feeling that this romance is too good to be true; that the night is beginning to spin out of control into its inevitable and grave conclusion.

The acting from Sissy Spacek is absolutely sensational and she was surely well deserved of her Oscar nomination for the role. She plays the girl so that you can understand why teenagers would treat her the way they do while also maintaining a fine level of sympathy. You can see the deep pain inside her every time the camera looks down her eyes. And when she turns catatonic and begins using her telepathy to butcher her harassers it is sincerely haunting. You can really feel her mind shift over into that instinctive mode where her only intention is to use every ounce of ability to inflict pain. It’s really disturbing.

Horror movies aspire to be as good as this one. This was De Palma’s breakout movie, and in my opinion one of his finer works. He allows his characters to make the horror, rather than vice versa. If only all his scripts were as good as this one.

The Untouchables (1987)

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So I couldn’t help but wonder at one point in this movie if the cops who get moved into Agent Ness’s treasury division get paid extra money for their increased risk. It would only make sense right?

If you get hung up on small details like these you’re not going to enjoy Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. The movie avoids things like historical accuracy or authentic police procedures in favor of delivering a stylistic action/crime thriller. And that part is done brilliantly. De Palma once again shows off his impeccable directing chops with some truly exhilirating sequences of action and suspense.

The showdown inside a train station, for instance, is a masterclass in suspenseful action film making. He sets the stage beautifully: simultaneously he gives us a good feel for the geography of the upcoming shootout while providing suspense in the form of a mother moving her child ever so slowly up a flight of stairs. The subsequent action lasts all of ten seconds in real time, but is shot in slow motion and because De Palma has painstakingly set up the locations of the various bad guys it is easily immersive.

Kevin Costner is Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), an agent of the treasury department (I wasn’t aware the treasury department had a law enforcement division?) who is tasked to clean the streets of Chicago of the bootlegged booze coming from Al Capone’s gang. His initial efforts are thwarted by dirty police officers in his own ranks, so he elicits the titular set of untouchable officers totally clean of any corruption. The film’s title could also refer to Capone (Robert De Niro) himself, seeing is so powerful he is basically untouchable by law enforcement.

The acting here is decent enough. De Niro is the standout for me as a brutally violent version of Al Capone. Every look at his face feels like staring down the barrel of a gun. The man oozes brutality and we are shown that first hand when he beats one of his subordinates brains in with a baseball bat. This is a man that can and will do anything to keep his empire afloat, including blowing up little girls.

The ever so charismatic Sean Connery plays Malone, the street smart cop who has been around the block a few times and therefore is aware of the corruption of Chicago. He doesn’t have a lot to work with but is still able to make his character charming and likable.

The same cannot be said for Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness, who is archetypal to a fault. He’s a man who has a great deal of respect for the law, even going so far as to implore the division of police officers assigned to him to restrain from touching any alcohol despite the ready availability of the substance. Costner plays him straight, and try as he might he doesn’t do much to make the stiff character Eliot Ness likable.

The central conflict of this film seems to be the price of justice. Ness wants justice for Capone, but is initially unwilling to step outside the confines of the law to accomplish his goals. This begins to change as he learns from the elder Malone. If he wants true justice he’s going to have to leave his comfort zone. This takes effect in various ways: from their initial warrant-less seizure of a warehouse stocked to the brim with booze to Eliot eventually allowing a man to fall to a brutal death as an act of revenge.

I have to say I’m not sure if I agree with the message the film is trying to send here. Maybe a cop should be willing to work outside the lines occasionally, but to go so far as to indiscriminately murder someone to satiate a thirst for vengeance? I don’t know, maybe I’m too bleeding heart.

In any case the sets, costumes, and music (by the always amazing Ennio Morricone) are all fantasic and really nail the look and feel of thirties Chicago (if it did really look like that, I can’t really say I wasn’t there). De Palma is able to engage in some of his signatory slick directing while depicting the opulent lifestyles of the gangsters or the many action scenes. As always in a De Palma flick there’s a chase scene that is done absolutely brilliantly and is one of the highlights of the entire movie.

Overall this is a good action film that doesn’t require a tremendous amount of brainpower. The characters, their conversations and stories aren’t above cliche and that keeps the film from reaching its true potential. Watch for the style: a tremendous looking film, but you can go ahead and tune out just about everything else. You won’t miss much.

Journal: Embrace the Chaos

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the chaotic nature of the world recently. I’ve always been aware of these thought paths, but my mind never went down them as deeply until I read Blood Meridian. There’s a quote in there that stuck with me:

“Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you will not lose your way”.

This struck me for a number of reasons.

The biggest, I think, is that I think I’ve been a victim of the type of mindset that Judge Holden was describing above. I’ve always wanted to try and categorize things, or place them into easily digestible boxes so as to understand them better. The recent turmoil of american politics is one example of something that I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around for a while now. I’ve been trying to understand the election of Donald Trump from a variety of angles that would make it easy to digest. Maybe it was racism? Maybe economics? Maybe people just hated Hillary Clinton that much?

The truth is, obviously, that all of those things played a part. I knew that, but I’ve also been trying to root around for a singular answer that could help me better understand. It’s just too difficult to believe that many of my fellow countrymen chose something that I saw as so obviously wrong. So distinctly embarrassing. They put their faith in someone that was clearly an egomaniac and a liar and it doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve picked up a series nihilistic views about the world since then that I think are totally justifiable by the Cormac McCarthy quote above. In an ironic way the above quote gives me the explanation that I’ve been searching for.

I think that Trump voters felt burned by the system. This isn’t a totally alien thought to me; I think I’ve felt similarly in certain situations. I cast my vote for Bernie Sanders in the primaries for just those reasons: the establishment didn’t have anyone’s back but their own. They set the system up to work for themselves and didn’t give half a shit about the little guy. Sanders seemed like an authentic, reasonable voice among the Clintons of the world. Those kinds of smarmy, self-important career politicians who tested every word they’d ever spoken in front of a focus group to be sure they maximized their chances of victory (since then I’ve learned to have more appreciation for career politicians and the political establishment but that’s besides the point).

So here comes a guy that tells everyone what they’ve all been thinking: the establishment is corrupt, they’re phony, they’re fakers, and they’re only interested in screwing you over so they can collect a few extra bucks off your pain. Obviously this played into the feelings of all those that felt the system wasn’t doing them any good. Someone that was willing to say anything no matter how wrong or dumb it would make them look once they’d actually attained victory would obviously do very well with these types of voters. He said what they wanted to hear and that was enough for them.

He also drew from a massive well of online conspiracy theories and fed them to his followers as if they were utter fact. I’ve seen countless, hilarious theories about the Clintons, ranging from their days as hitmen to the completely insane idea that they ran a child sex ring through a D.C. pizza joint. My question has been why do people feel these ways, why are they so susceptible to such clearly ludicrous arguments or obvious ploys for their votes.

The answer I came up with, thanks to the McCarthy quote, is it is their own way of explaining the chaos in the world. Why else would people be living in such misery? Working such long hours for such shit pay? Slaving away in some Pennsylvanian steel mill just to be cut loose in a modern economy that their government hadn’t prepared them to enter? It has to be because the people at the top are conspiring against them, that big money was destroying their upward mobility and costing their families the lives they ought to have.

Now obviously there is some of that with lobbyists and the Citizens United decision and what have you. But the ultimate truth of the matter is that the world is a chaotic place. The government can only do so much to help you and the bureaucracy we’ve established is far too complex to change as the times call for it. The people at the top barely know what they’re doing themselves. They’re all just normal people with extraordinary amounts of responsibility heaped on their shoulders and their attempts to navigate the bureaucracy in the hopes of helping people typically amount to nothing. There are too many competing ideas, too many people, too much to attend to. It’s a miracle that the system works at all.

I think this truth is too much for a lot of people to accept. That we are just a bunch of rats bouncing around a cage barely held together by the fragile structure of society and government. That the world economy and billions of lives are entangled in such an immeasurably complex knot that no single person can possibly decipher it let alone untangle it. It’s a concept that I can’t even begin to describe fully, and I’ve been grappling with it for a while now.

But I think that’s the reason I’ve been so desperately searching for. It is preferable to believe that the guys at the top are knowingly fucking over the rats at the bottom rather than acknowledge that the guys at the top probably have no idea what they’re doing. And when someone like Donald Trump comes along, someone who is a member of that elite club, who has disentangled that knot of the world and become richer than you could ever dream of. When that someone comes along and says you’re right, that they’re all snakes, then you’re inclined to believe him.

Now I don’t believe this fully explains his election. I’m leaving out other major reasons like his not so coded racism and the horrifically flawed candidate that was Hillary Clinton (I think she would have been a terrific president, but she had problems as a candidate), but I think that this explains how a solid majority of his base latched onto him. He told them the order they saw in the world was true and promised to fix it. To make everything better and make things work the way they were supposed to. In a way this also explains the popularity of Bernie Sanders, who ran on a similar message, albeit sans the racism, misogyny etc.

When Trump inevitably fails to deliver on what he promised those people will either believe his bullshit about how he was held back and the GOP establishment and democrats kept him from accomplishing what he intended, or they’ll jump ship. We’ll see what happens eventually.

There are many complicated truths in our lives that are beyond our capacity to accept. These truths are the chaos in our lives that we constantly attempt to rearrange so as to make them understandable or so we can tell ourselves that we’ve mastered that subject. The real truth is that we have to keep learning, that we may never accomplish true mastery but we can continue to understand as much as possible while simultaneously accepting that it will never fully make sense.

Embrace the chaos and you’ll be all the more happier for it.

I’ll probably be writing a lot more about this in the future, but I think for now this is a decent start.