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Days of De Palma (Part 20): De Palma (2015)

I feel like Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary De Palma was made just for me.

As I was finishing my lengthy “Days of De Palma” project of watching all of the films directed by Brian De Palma, I learned of the existence of this documentary.  Oh my god!  How perfect!  I decided I needed to wait until I finished my re-watch project before I’d watch the documentary, but as soon as I finished watching 2012’s Passion (the final film released, so far, by Mr. De Palma), I immediately turned to this documentary.  To say that I loved it would be an enormous understatement.


This documentary, simply titled De Palma, is unlike almost any other documentary I have ever seen.  There’s no array of talking-head interview subjects, no fancy graphics, no complicated narrative.  The set-up is deceptively simple.  The documentary is just an extended interview with Mr. De Palma, who is sitting and talking directly into the camera.  The interview looks like it was filmed on two or three different occasions.  Mr. De Palma talks a little bit about his background and upbringing, but for the most part De Palma is simply a film-by-film retrospective of Mr. De Palma’s long and storied career.  Film by film, in chronological order, we move through Mr. De Palma’s filmography.  We watch clips from the films and listen to Mr. De Palma’s many fascinating stories about the making of those films.

That’s it!  That’s the whole documentary!  It’s like the ultimate DVD special feature for a (nonexistent) box-set collecting all of Mr. De Palma’s movies.

What a perfect, extraordinary film for me to watch after having just watched all of Mr. De Palma’s movies!!

This film was amazing.  It works because a) Mr. De Palma has made so many great movies over the years, and b) because Mr. De Palma turns out to be a wonderful storyteller.  It is a tremendous joy listening to him spin yarn after yarn as he recounts his experiences, good and bad, in Hollywood.  The film feels intimate, like Mr. De Palma is a good friend and we’re just sitting around together, shooting the shit and reminiscing.

The film is filled to overflowing with fantastic stories about Mr. De Palma’s experiences over the course of his career.  We learn that he and George Lucas cast Carrie and Star Wars together.  We hear a terrific story about a young De Palma having to find a way to work with the great Orson Welles who was unable or unwilling to learn his lines.  We learn that events in Dressed to Kill were inspired by Mr. De Palma’s actual experiences, as a young man, of learning that his father was cheating and … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: The Squid and the Whale (2005)

After watching Noah Baumbach’s film Greenberg last month (click here for my review), I thought it’d be fun to re-watch the first film of his that I ever saw: 2005’s The Squid and the Whale.

I’m not sure what prompted me to rent this film 4-5 years ago.  Possibly the great, intriguing title, or maybe the DVD’s well-designed cover art.  Whatever it was, I remember really being impressed with the power of this funny, sad story.  I was excited to see it again last week!

The Squid and the Whale is set in Brooklyn in the 1980’s.  Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline play Walt and Frank Berkman, two boys whose parents, played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, are going through a divorce.  It’s a coming-of-age story, as the two boys struggle to deal with the dissolution of their once-stable family-unit.  Needless to say, the process is difficult on them both, though the two boys react in entirely different ways.

I can imagine that description of the film’s being about a painful divorce makes it sound like it would be a real slog to get through, but the story of the film (which Mr. Baumbach both wrote and directed) is told with a very light tough.  There are some scenes that are difficult and hard to watch, no mistake, but for the most part the film is rather a good deal of fun.  Throughout the story, Mr. Baumbach maintains a great deal of affection for all of the characters (even when they behave badly), and he’s able to mine a great deal of humor from their quirks and antics.  At certain moments, the film is very funny.

Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as Walt Berkman.  This is a fully-formed performance, and one can easily see why he went on to such high-profile roles in the past few years (in films like Zombieland and The Social Network).  Equally impressive is Owen Kline as his younger brother, Frank.  According to imdb, Owen has only appeared in one short film in the years since The Squid and the Whale, and that’s too bad because he’s really terrific in this film, honest and natural.

But in my mind it’s Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney who make the strongest impact.  Both of those incredibly talented actors have put in impressive performances in a number of great films, but it’s their roles here that always stick out in my mind as among their most memorable.  Jeff Daniels’ character, Bernard, is quite a prick — arrogant about his literary knowledge and jealous and threatened when his wife gets her first taste of success.  But his struggles are so wonderfully human that I … [continued]