Often a popular movie will inspire other storylines to reach the silver screen, and it’s easy to see that director/writer Timothy Woodward Jr. was inspired by The Untouchables in making Gangster Land. From the punchy dialogue to its propulsive score, Gangster Land definitely takes a few pages from the Brian De Palmaclassic.
That being said, Gangster Land offers new insight into the genre, as we follow the life of Machine Gun Jack McGurn (Sean Faris, effective at being edgy), a former amateur boxer who becomes Al Capone’s (Milo Gibson) right hand man in 1920s Chicago. McGurn is best known as the orchestrator behind the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and, since I’m not one to give away spoilers, the rest of McGurn’s life is also one for the history books.
The Sopranos vet Jamie-Lynn Sigler plays McGurn’s love interest and Peter Facinelli (Twilight) co-starring as Capone and McGurn’s nemesis “Bugs” Moran. A tip of the hat to Woodward Jr. for casting Don Harvey, who worked with De Palma in Casualties of War, as one of the detectives who tries to put McGurn back on the straight and narrow path (Jason Patric is the other cop assigned to clean up Chicago’s crime ridden streets).
The biggest surprise of Gangster Land is that Milo Gibson, son of Mel Gibson, holds his own as Al Capone, and his scenes with Faris simply crackle. Their friendship and mutual savagery is believable, and their chemistry, along with the joy of watching a solid ensemble go to work, make Gangster Land a highly entertaining watch. It may not have the cinematic mastery or production values of The Untouchables, but few films reach that mark anyway. Gangster Land has enough punches in its arsenal to survive more than a few rounds, and it’s great to see McGurn’s life given the cinematic treatment.
Gangster Land is now out on Blu-ray and DVD via Cinedigm.
One of this year’s most notable Blu-ray releases was Carrie: Collector’s Edition. Any new iteration of Carrie is highly anticipated in the home video market, but this Scream Factory version celebrates the film’s 40th anniversary. Plus, this version is a 4K scan of the original negative, giving more pop and depth to the feature.
The film, which was the first Stephen King book to ever be adapted to the screen, also increased the star power of lead actress Sissy Spacek (who previously received notice for her work in Badlands). Brian De Palma, who was just coming off directing Obsession, took on Carrie with aplomb, visualizing every frame of the story months before production even started. What started out as the tale of an introverted teenager (Spacek) with destructive powers morphed into a box office hit.
The two-disc collection, while containing some of the previous special features from past releases, also includes new interviews with screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, editor Paul Hirsch, director of photography Mario Tosi, casting director Harriet B. Helberg, and several actors (Piper Laurie, P.J. Soles, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Edie McClurg). Previously released Carrie interviews with Spacek, De Palma, art director Jack Fisk (Spacek’s husband), and Amy Irving are also featured in the disc.
The most notable anecdotes, along with De Palma’s insight on how he visualized Carrie, comes from Cohen. The writer details his initial attraction to Stephen King’s story and breaks down the long and winding process it took to get Carrie to production. He also explains how the films Throne of Blood and Deliverance were heavy influences in some of Carrie’s most memorable moments.
If you are a Brian De Palma fan like we are at Hollywood Outbreak, you have to see a documentary called De Palma which is now playing in limited release. Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, the film features De Palma talking about his life and his great body of work which includes Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission Impossible. However, the film he enjoys the most is the 1993 drama Carlito’s Way starring Academy Award winners Al Pacino and Sean Penn. The film is about a former criminal who, after being released from prison, tries to make a good life for himself and settle down with the love of his life (Penelope Ann Miller). Unfortunately, the sun doesn’t always shine for Carlito Brigante (Pacino) as he’s pulled back into a life of crime.
Along with Pacino and Penn, the film features many great actors such as John Leguizamo, Luis Guzmán and Adrian Pasdar. A few years back, we spoke to Pasdar who recalled having a great memory working with the great Pacino on and off the camera.
Brian De Palma grew up a fan of the French New Wave and Alfred Hitchcock films, and during the early 1970s he already had a few films under his belt. With George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Schrader among his friends, De Palma was part of an entirely new “wave” of storytellers, and his visually arresting style and oftentimes idiosyncratic narrative aesthetic will surely be championed (and argued) for generations to come.
Co-directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow are close friends with the director, and De Palma’s candid look at his body of work shines through. Whether it’s discussing his creative triumphs (Dressed To Kill, Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way) or his roundly drubbed misfires (Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission to Mars), De Palma shoots straight from the hip, and it’s this unflinching honesty (as well as his trademark dry sarcasm) which lifts this project to an entirely different level.
De Palma is the only person talking in the documentary which, in its all too brief 111 minutes, gives a blow by blow account of all his films. Another project which features critics, fellow filmmakers, and family members discussing their perspective on the director would surely be welcome, especially since there are so aspects to cover in his work that De Palma doesn’t even touch.
While most filmmakers star their project with a story and build their visual landscape from this universe, De Palma usually starts with an image that he simply can’t shake, and this approach has led to some of the most eye-catching and memorable sequences in cinema. So while having De Palma sit and talk about his movies without any sense of movement could be seen as a lack of imagination from Baumbach and Paltrow, this static construct actually serves the material. It’s De Palma’s films which are the star of the show, and even his least “successful” films breathe with an inspired sense of movement and raw energy (for proof, check out the opening moments of Bonfire of the Vanities or Snake Eyes). So if you’re ready to check out some of his beautifully constructed compositions from his diverse body of work, this documentary doesn’t disappoint.
The picture is also a subtle call to arms for filmmakers to be open to approach their stories from the truest of vantage points. A master of manipulation, De Palma has often said that the “camera lies 24 frames per second,” and part of that seduction is to understand that, when working in cinema, artists shouldn’t be afraid to push their creative limits. Television, as an art form, is rife with well written stories and character development, but movies are an altogether different beast. Dreaming in a darkened theater, among a group of strangers is what movie watching is all about, and as this gripping documentary proves, a picture, especially when shot by Brian De Palma, is worth a thousand words.
De Palma opens nationwide Friday, June 10th and I’ll be discussing the film on this week’s episode of the Hollywood Outbreak/Cold Cockle Productions podcast CinemAddicts.
In 50 years plus of filmmaking, Brian De Palma has crafted successful studio driven projects (Scarface, Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables) and has also managed to chase his singular creative passions (Sisters, Dressed to Kill, Femme Fatale). A visual master who grew up loving Alfred Hitchcock and French New Wave films, De Palma’s movies, whether you love them or not, are never boring (even The Bonfire of the Vanities had its moments).
Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, De Palma is a documentary that delves into the filmmaker’s inspiring and often controversial creative life. Detractors of his work complain about the eye catching violence and superficial sheen that’s supposedly infused in his movies, while others praise his technical skill and pure passion for cinema (De Palma’s oft-used phrased is “the camera lies 24 frames per second”).
De Palma hits select theaters June 10. Check out the trailer below and tell us what you think!!