Sunday, July 12, 2009

Al Pacino double bill

I enjoyed last weekend's James Cagney double-bill. The hit-and-run style of reviewing - watch the film, hammer out the article, post it online, watch the next film, repeat - made the experience a lot more immediate than my usual modus operandi of watch film, let my thoughts about it percolate in the back of my mind for a few days, draft out an article, revisit it the next day, edit, polish, correct typos, generally dick around with it for probably longer than necessary.

So I've decided to repeat the exercise today. Longer films this time, so expect the second review much later this evening.

Our subject: a pair of gangster movies (interesting that the general "crime movie" remit of Shots on the Blog seems to have gravitated so specifically towards the gangster movie), one made in the '80s and very redolent of the rampant materialism of that decade, the other in the '90s and more introspective in its approach - that pair Al Pacino with director Brian de Palma. I don't think I've written about a de Palma film yet on The Agitation of the Mind. Let's rectify that. He's an interesting if frustrating film-maker.

I've often heard this summarising comment applied to Stanley Kubrick's ouevre (and not without justification): that his films are technically brilliant but devoid of emotionalism. You could easily say the same of de Palma, and in fact use the comparison to point up that as technically-minded as Kubrick is at the cost of the human element, his films are also very accomplished narratively. Not only is de Palma's work generally lacking emotionally (although one of this afternoon's choices provides an exception to the rule as does, say, 'Blow Out'), he's not adverse to sacrificing narrative coherence for the sake of showmanship (pick your own example here; I can think of at least half a dozen without even flipping onto IMDb to refresh my memory).

De Palma's also an ideal director to engage with right now because, generally speaking, his best outings have a crime/mystery/gangster bent. In order to maintain the integrity of that statement, I am going to have to pretend that 'The Black Dahlia' doesn't exist - or, better still, imagine myself in an alternative reality where David Fincher had directed it and was currently in pre-production with James Ellroy's follow-up 'The Big Nowhere' and not some Facebook flick.

But I digress. The first film of the afternoon is sliding into the DVD player and a definitively dodgy dude is about to get off the boat from Cuba ...

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