Dressed to Kill


Viewed – 03 March 2017  Blu-ray

Another entry in my growing collection of Brian De Palma movie reviews, this time the director’s much admired thriller from 1980.  This is probably the movie that borrows most from Italian Giallo, a genre of stalk and slash thrillers made famous by directors like Mario Bava and of course, Dario Argento.  It also borrows heavily from Hitchcock (especially Psycho), another of De Palma’s regular influences.

Dressed To Kill

A house wife (Angie Dickinson) trapped in a sexually unfulfilling marriage, finds herself yearning for an affair and confesses as much to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine).  However following a chance encounter at an art gallery that leads to a one night stand, the housewife is brutally murdered.  A hooker (Nancy Allen) turns out to be the only witness.

A very of-it’s-time experience initially, with some explicit nudity and rather awkwardly handled sex making early scenes resemble a porn film.  However once the killer strikes things shift into gear dramatically and De Palma’s cinematic flair spreads it’s wings.  This is another movie that is visually captivating and often ingenious … a stand out art gallery sequence and a tense subway scene both showcasing a director at the top of his game.  Add to this a murder-mystery plot that twists and turns wonderfully and even when you discover who the killer is, re-watching certain scenes reveal clever little details and clues.  The acting is mostly adequate with even Michael Cain proving limited and at times a bit wooden … although Nancy Allen proves much more enjoyable.  However like the Giallo the movie tips it’s hat to; acting and performances aren’t the big draw, more so tension and style and well, the occasional bloody murder.  The movie lacks the body-count of a fully fledged Italian thriller, and retains it’s own quirks, with the inclusion of a geeky science student (Keith Gordon) and a stereotypical Police chief (Dennis Franz).  As a package though this delivers a gripping narrative with some genuinely impressive sequences, worthy of it’s legacy.

Blu-rayThe Blu-ray from Arrow Video boasts a rather soft-focus but otherwise clean image.  Colours are rather muted and overall it’s simply acceptable with no real ‘wow’ factor.  More note-worthy is the sound, with a dramatic, perfectly implemented orchestral score and crisp dialogue, both in stereo and a punchy 5.1 HD Master Audio.  I should add that the movie is uncut for the first time in the UK.  Extras are plentiful with several featurettes, including a detailed making of as well as a photo gallery.  There’s also a detailed booklet included that covers the director’s influences and an analysis of the movie by critic Maitland McDonagh.  Again no commentary from De Palma which would have been great but as it stands this is decent treatment for a somewhat forgotten classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Body Double


Viewed – 23 February 2017  Blu-ray

A struggling actor (Craig Wasson – A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) finds himself looking for somewhere to crash following the discovery of his girlfriend’s affair, but soon descends into an underworld of voyeurism, sex and a who-dunnit murder mystery.

Body Double

I’ve always admired the movies of prolific film-maker Brian De Palma and consider some of his output all time classics (Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables).  He has a distinctive visual eye and can put his skills to a number of genres.  However it’s when his movies attract comparisons to the movies of Alfred Hitchcock and also Italian shock maestro Dario Argento that I become the most interested.  Body Double bares a strong resemblance to both film-maker’s works but also has a perfectly sleazy tone that references a different time and is very much a celebration of 80s excess and exploitation.  The story for what it is isn’t that well done and is fairly obvious and easy to predict especially if you’re at all familiar with any of the cast.  However what is fun is De Palma’s cinematic eye that can make even mundane sounding sequences, like a journey through a shopping mall or a beach front terrace, enthralling due to some clever camera work and genuine tension.  Craig Wasson is likeable if a rather unsympathetic character, and I’d forgotten just how much fun Melanie Griffith used to be and is adept here at delivering some great lines which are probably too explicit to repeat.  Yet the movie is on a whole, especially considering De Palma’s impressive catalogue; a bit of an oddity and takes some alarming shifts in tone and style leaving me wondering what was the grand plan here…it really does feel a little thrown together.  For a piece of 80s genre sleaze however, I’d still say give this a chance.

Body Double Blu-rayThe Blu-ray suffers from a few smudgy scenes, especially towards the end of the movie for some reason … but this 4k restoration is otherwise decent looking with strong colours and some nice detail both in close-up and in De Palma’s grand wide shots.  Dialogue is also crisp and free of lip-sync that I could see, and is delivered in the original stereo as well as a 5.1 soundtrack, which although not really making much use of surrounds is effective, especially in the lengthy ‘Relax’ sequence (spot the cameo by Holly Johnson).  This collector’s edition from Indicator boasts a 40 page booklet that has an in-depth interview taken from 1984 as well as a ‘Brian De Palma’s Guilty Pleasures’ segment exploring the director’s influences.  The Blu-ray itself comes with a series of featurettes with interviews with cast and crew, some archive, others more recent and proves invaluable for those interested in film-making and that of the movie itself and it’s legacy.  Surprisingly no commentary which would have rounded this release off superbly but as it stands this is above average treatment for probably one of De Palma’s lesser efforts that still makes for a worthy purchase.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Mission: Impossible


Viewed – 11 August 2015  Blu-ray

With Rogue Nation fresh in my head, I thought it might be fun to revisit the original 1996 blockbuster.  Now sitting down to this, my memory was fairly cloudy and I realised I hadn’t actually seen it since it’s cinema release, yet recalled finding it overly confusing with a couple of stand out sequences.

mission impossible

Cruise, looking very young is Ethan Hunt, not quite the super-spy we  know him to be today but simply a special agent for a CIA division known as IMF.  Headed by John Voight, Hunt and his crew consisting of smouldering French beauty Emmanuelle Béart as well as former brat-packer Emillio Estefez must locate some stolen files that could leak the identities of a number of special agents into the wrong hands.  However during the mission, Cruise finds himself double-crossed and his team all but killed.  He’s then on the run and out to unmask the real culprit as his own innocence comes into question.

mi1Directed by one of my favourites, Brian De Palma (Carrie, Carlitio’s Way) and with a twisting, complex narrative … this stylish and very well filmed ‘espionage thriller’ seems at first worlds away from the action extravaganza the series is known for.  Yes, we hardly get any chases, fights or stunts for pretty much the entire run time.  This was therefore more closely based on the TV show, with a more ‘pure’ mission: impossible storyline and with a strong if somewhat arrogant turn from Cruise and good work from series stalwart Ving Rhames.  It is too complicated (but not that clever) and at times confusing, which marred my enjoyment, but with a very tense CIA headquarters break-in that has been parodied to death (but is still cool) and a stunning climax on the roof of a speeding train heading into the channel tunnel – this remains a good start to a franchise that has developed and (mostly) improved with every entry.  Oh and ‘that’ theme has never been better implemented.

The Blu-ray is a mixed bag.  The image quality at first appears impressive until I noticed some harsh edge enhancement and wider shots seriously lacked detail.  The bog-standard Dolby Digital 5.1 is serviceable but lacks some punch.  Thankfully then we do get some decent extras on this box-set re-issue such as a M.I. retrospective documentary, various featurettes, a documentary on Tom Cruise and photo galleries.  A lack of a commentary is a let-down but not surprising considering the fairly underwhelming treatment of the movie itself.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  2.5 /5

Carrie


Viewed – 15 April 2014  online rental

It’s difficult to really say what we as movie lovers actually want from a remake.  In my opinion they have usually only worked when the source material is ropey or lacking in the first place, with some exceptions of course.  So now we come to what was possibly one of my most dreaded rehashes.  First mistake – remake a bonafide classic of the genre, Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel.  Second mistake – the casting of pretty starlet Chloe Grace Moretz, something I have ranted about here on this very blog.

Carrie

But brushing such fears aside, what is it actually like?  Well let’s back track a little and tell you what we have here.  Moretz plays lonely, bullied high school kid Carrie White, who lives in the shadow of her god-fearing, domineering mother (Julianne Moore) and pretty much tries to go unnoticed … until that is she gets her period in the school showers and becomes a cruel laughing stock to everyone who witnesses it.  But hey, Prom Night is on the horizon, so things can only get better … right?

Let’s just say straight away, I was wrong about Chloe Grace Moretz.  She is actually surprisingly convincing as the outcast Carrie, something I didn’t see coming and hey I’ll admit when I am wrong.  She portrays the iconic role previously played by Sissy Spacek very well indeed, and even seems to have grown somewhat as an actress in the process.  The second slam dunk is Julianne Moore – absolutely perfect as Carrie’s demented bible-quoting mother, and does the impossible by equalling the performance of the excellent Piper Laurie – possibly the true highlight of the original.  The rest of the cast aren’t quite so interesting; we get the token popular girl who grows a conscience, the bully who basically is like every other bitch in such movies, and the do-gooder gym teacher … all not adding much.  Director Kimberly Pierce however is clearly well-traversed in De Palma’s movie and this is basically a very close never-really-daring-to-try-anything-new sort of remake – although when the original pretty much hit all the right notes, that can be (mostly) forgiven.

Some bits are drawn out (the car sequence…), there’s too much CGI and the final prom bit fails to go for the jugular … oh and sorry Chloe you don’t look scary covered in blood.  Yet this was still better than I expected.  Worth a look.

Verdict:  3 /5

Peeping Tom


Viewed – 28 January 2011  Blu-ray

50th Anniversary Edition

Michael Powell’s 1960 thriller was much maligned by critics at the time, referred to as ‘sick and filthy’, although many have now called it a misunderstood classic.  Looking on it now it feels tame considering the subject matter, but remains a very disturbing and effective experience.  Carl Boehm plays a quiet, nervous focus puller at a local film studio who supplements his income shooting glamour photographs at seedy Soho newsagent.  Yet following a troubled childhood where his scientist father used to film his every movement and play cruel tricks on him, he begins stalking and murdering beautiful women in an attempt to capture their last moment on film.

With plenty in common with Hitchcock’s much more celebrated Psycho, I found this a fascinating oddity in the history of British cinema.  Shot with a garish colour scheme and with theatrical, caricature performances, Powell’s film is both creepy and uncomfortably amusing.  Carl Boehm is certainly an unsettling presence, his dead-eyed stare chilling.  Supporting cast, although little more than set dressing fill the film with personality, and as an experience I found it very watchable and gripping, if a little ‘safe’.  In comparison to many a movie that followed, the violence is very restrained and the often sexualized women, severely lack any titillation factor, and nudity is (almost) non-existent.  Director’s such as Brian De Palma, Dario Argento etc would have had a gruesome field day with such material, but I actually think it is just as effective for being more subdued.   Powell’s direction is masterful, with some expert camera work and imaginative use of ‘what you imagine seeing is often much more horrible than what you do see’, creating something that definitely leaves its mark.  It feels very much of its time, hinting of course on what was to come during the 60s and 70s, what boundaries were to be pushed, and for that reason, it remains a milestone.

This restored 50th Anniversary edition boasts a vividly detailed picture even if the age of the movie does reveal itself in parts, and the mono 2.0 soundtrack is serviceable rather than outstanding.  Extras however are first-rate starting with a very informative introduction by Martin Scorsese, followed by an audio commentary from Powell historian Ian Christie, featurettes, a stills gallery and an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker.  A detailed booklet about the making of the movie is also included.

Verdict:  3 /5