Tag Archives: Brian de Palma

Blow Out (1981)

(On Cable TV, March 2018) I hadn’t seen Blow Out in at least thirty years, so it’s funny to see what sticks and what doesn’t—my childhood memories of seeing the film (in French, on broadcast TV “prestige” Saturday evening showing) included the ending shot and the “animated film” sequence but little else. I think I learned of the Chappaquiddick political scandal after watching the film, which is really weird in retrospect. Watching the film as a seasoned thriller fan, I was a bit more impressed by director Brian de Palma’s ability to create suspense and memorable sequences through directorial audacity. John Travolta is surprisingly good (and young!) as a sound-effect technician who ends up embroiled in a political assassination conspiracy—with no less than an even younger-looking John Lithgow as an effectively creepy antagonist. Blow Out moves quickly and doesn’t have too many dull moments. While some character motivations are suspect (as in; the protagonist seeing the heroine again for no other reason that she’s attractive) and the coincidences in the plot defy credibility, but de Palma knows what he’s doing (just watch that opening shot) and the look at exploitation filmmaking at the eve of the eighties is simply fascinating—the period feel of the era’s technology, complete with tapes and physical cutting, is now one of the film’s biggest strengths. The ending is a downer, but it’s almost entirely justifiable through the film’s atmosphere and thematic resonance. Blow Out remains a remarkable early-eighties suspense movie that clearly owes much to the conspiracy thrillers of the seventies.

Carrie (1976)

(On TV, October 2016) The original Carrie has become a pop-culture reference, but watching the film nowadays is a reminder of both how good Brian de Palma could in his prime, but also how far more fast-paced movies are nowadays. Especially teen thrillers. (The remake, which I saw immediately after this original, clocks in at half an hour shorter despite keeping most plot pieces intact.) I’ve read the Stephen King novel too long ago to faithfully evaluate whether the film is faithful to the novel (I think so), but the main draw here is the way de Palma injects some movie magic in even the simplistic framework of a teen horror movie. Witness the long shots, the split screen, the editing…. It all comes together during the infamous prom sequence. Sissy Spacek is very good as the titular Carrie, sympathetic despite ending the film as a homicidal maniac. John Travolta shows up in an early role. Otherwise, it’s a fair period piece, often far too long for its own good, and overly dramatic in portraying its central mother/daughter conflict—culminating in an overlong climax. Carrie still works thanks to great direction, and the seventies atmosphere is good for a few nostalgic throwbacks.

Snake Eyes (1998)

(In theaters, August 1998) This film starts off with an impressive seemingly-uncut, very complex 12-minute scene. Nicolas Cage also starts off grand, but loses a lot of energy as the movie advances. Not coincidentally, the movie also settles down after a while, causing considerable disappointment. A whodunit becomes procedural thriller, then degenerates in late-night movie fare. Beautifully shot by Brian de Palma, but finally quite average. The most-charitably-described-as- deus-ex-machina ending is adequate in the theatre, but doesn’t survive the trip back home. A shame, considering the talent involved.