Growing up, even prior to adolescence, I had seen an array of Brian De Palma pictures, including the likes of Mission: Impossible, Scarface and The Untouchables - really just the filmmaker's greatest hits. I was an admirer for sure but it wasn't until high school, when I first caught Dressed to Kill (I believe it was on Cinemax), that I truly fell head-over-heels for De Palma's work.
I was flat-out entranced by De Palma's 1980 film, and by the museum scene in particular, which remains one of my all-time favorite sequences captured on film. The combination of his mastery of the Steadicam, the brilliant and beautiful Pino Donaggio score and of course Angie Dickinson's incredible performance left me in awe. When I sought out pictures like Blow Out, Body Double and Raising Cain shortly after, De Palma quickly emerged the top of the heap among directors for me. Over the years to follow, I got around to Obsession, Sisters and Femme Fatale, among others, and while I wasn't always as thrilled as with Dressed to Kill, I was most certainly never bored.
So, when I heard the talented filmmakers Noah Bambach (The Squid and the Whale) and Jake Paltrow (The Good Night) were embarking on a De Palma documentary, I was of course over-the-moon in excitement, and even more delighted to realize just how involved De Palma would be in the project.
The finished product, which runs just short of two hours in length, is an immensely entertaining rundown of De Palma's filmography, chock-full of movie clips and engrossing anecdotes.
We learn, among other things, of the pain-in-the-ass that was Cliff Robertson on the set of Obsession; United Artists' mixed feelings about Carrie at a time when the studio was pushing more "serious" Oscar contenders; the importance of the art direction in Scarface and Carlito's Way; how directing Robert De Niro in 1987 was a vastly different experience than working with him 20 years prior; the aggravating screenwriting conflicts behind Mission: Impossible; and why Mission to Mars proved the ultimate disenchanting Hollywood experience for the filmmaker.
All of this is a lot of fun and I suspect even accessible to non-De Palma die-hards. But while the film does a fantastic job showcasing these pictures, I wish it had spent a bit more time fleshing out the filmmaker himself. We're told of De Palma's affection for French cinema and, of course, Hitchcock, and are treated to a synopsis of his family upbringing but otherwise it seemed to me that, in a virtual blink of an eye, the picture dove right into the Greetings/Hi, Mom era. I wanted to learn more about how Universal Pictures paid to get De Palma through school and was also hoping for more on his relationships with fellow filmmakers at the time, i.e. Spielberg, Scorsese and Lucas, who make all-too-brief appearances. In hindsight, I actually think Julie Salamon's The Devil's Candy, about the making of De Palma's disastrous The Bonfire of the Vanities, in some ways was more enlightening and honest in getting inside the filmmaker's head, and about contrasting the career trajectories of his' and other directors of the time.
With that said, however, this is still a very impressive love letter to one of the most fascinating filmmakers of the 20th century and an absolute must-see for De Palma devotees.
I had never been much of a fan of the "dystopian society" picture - films like Brazil, Gattaca and the Planet of the Apes series, for instance, left me cold, as I felt the focus was so honed-in on the look of the pictures that the storytelling and characters were never properly fleshed-out. That changed a bit in recent years with films like Children of Men and Never Let Me Go (both among my top 10 films in their respective years) as beyond the art direction, I found the pictures supremely interesting and, in both cases, quite heartbreaking.
Those two films were exciting and had moments of beautiful subtlety and both of those elements are gravely missing in filmmaker's Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster, a picture that proved a sensation at last year's Cannes but struck me as heavy-handed and manipulative, a film with an intriguing presence that's merely dreary in the early-going and borderline-unwatchable with more than a half hour to go.
Colin Farrell, in a turn that walks a fine line between charmingly awkward and annoyingly stilted, portrays David, whose wife has just abandoned him for another man. In this particular dystopian society, single persons are transported to a resort (imagine the Swiss spa from Youth, crossed with Shutter Island) in the middle of nowhere where they are given 45 days to find a partner among the other hotel guests. If they fail, they are turned into an animal of their choice - for David, it's the lobster, which enjoys a long, fertile life and has blue blood, "like an aristocrat."
This set-up and the first half hour or so of the picture is mostly watchable, as David befriends a couple of fellow resort guests (John C. Reilly and the terrific Ben Whishaw) and, in the film's best sequence, in an effort to avoid the transformation, embarks on an amusing and shocking partnership with the hotel's "heartless woman" guess (Angeliki Papoulia). Still, all of this should be far more engrossing than it ultimately is. The atmosphere is lethargic and most of the cast seems to be sleepwalking through the picture.
Where the film really skids off the tracks is when David at last escapes from the resort and joins up with a crew of "loners," who with the exception of one member (Rachel Weisz), prove just as suffocating as the folks back at the resort. David and the Weisz character privately strike up a romance and what the loners' dictatorial leader (Léa Seydoux) does in an effort to tear them apart will undoubtedly go down as one of my top "are you fucking kidding me" movie moments from 2016.
There are close to no moments of The Lobster that are neither boring nor bombastic.