Following on from last year’s Iraq flick Redacted, Brian De Palma has announced a second film set in the region and dealing with the fall-out from the war.

According to Screen Daily, Print the Legend will explore the process of selling the war to America, and revolve around a Jennifer Lynch-like character whose heroic exploits on the battlefield are later exposed to have been concocted by the US military.

Canadian outfit The Film Farm announced the project in Cannes, where they also unveiled plans to produce a second De Palma film, this time an untitled political thriller with a budget of around $15m.

George A Romero
Hey, Man! Its Not Just a Horror Movie...


How George A. Romero covered capitalism, consumer culture, human nature, politics and blogging through the eyes of thousands of zombies…

WORDS: Chris Hewitt PORTRAIT: Larry Busacca DESIGN: Joe Utichi



Night of the Living Dead

The Story...

When the dead start returning to life with a hunger for human flesh, a disparate band of survivors hole up in a Pittsburgh farmhouse, bicker amongst themselves, and try to stop themselves from winding up on an undead menu as a unique three-course set meal. Coffee not included.

Hey, Man! It's Not Just a Horror Movie...

Far from it. The zombies in Night of the Living Dead, according to film historian Robin Wood, represent capitalists, feasting on the flesh of society’s outsiders. But as would rapidly become the pattern in Romero‘s films, the zombies aren’t really the villains. Instead humans are, with Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman) openly fighting with the film’s black hero, Ben (Duane Jones), and even trying to kill him. At the end, Ben is the sole survivor, but is shot in the head by a patrol crew who ‘mistake’ him for a zombie. The subtle implication is that, had Ben been white, he would still have been alive.

Night of the Living Dead
The Black Guy is...

The hero. By making his hero an African-American, particularly one who’s reasoned and intelligent, Romero was overtly addressing the racial politics that were engulfing America at the time. It would become a trend in his movies.

The Female Lead is...

Barbara, played by Judith O’Dea. A far cry from the ass-kickers of later Romero episodes, Barbara spends most of the movie in a catatonic trance, traumatised by the fate she’s just seen befall her brother.

Night of the Living Dead
Gore Factor...

Minimal in this movie, although scenes of ghouls feasting on flesh and Karen Cooper trowelling her mom to death are dripping with black goo that, legend has it, was actually chocolate sauce. At this point in time, Romero hadn’t yet met a young man named Tom Savini and the gore is surprisingly restrained.

Best Line

It’s hard to top “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”, spoken by Barbara’s brother, Johnny. Referenced in the likes of Shaun of the Dead, it’s also a paranoid classic to rival Kevin McCarthy‘s “They’re here!” in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, itself a cracking political allegory.

Night of the Living Dead

Did You Know?

The movie was originally called Night Of The Flesh Eaters.

According to Romero...

“I was brought up on Tales Of Hoffman and movies like Othello and Macbeth. Those were the visual influences — hard shadow, hard light, obvious sources. I tried to make it look like newsreel. I used a handheld Arriflex and I felt so free!”


Dawn of the Dead

The Story...

The zombie epidemic is threatening to engulf the world, forcing a disparate band of survivors to hole up in a Pittsburgh shopping mall, which they turn into their own private paradise. But, with zombies and roving biker gangs trying to get in, their idyll may not remain uninterrupted for long.

Hey, Man! It's Not Just a Horror Movie...

Dawn of the Dead is an overt attack on American consumer culture — not only do the zombies return to a shopping mall, which is described as the place that made them happiest, but it turns our four protagonists into zombies, deadening their souls. In fact, so gripped with avarice are two of the group — Steven and Roger — that they perish while trying to protect what they’ve built, as if material goods are worth a tinker’s cuss in Romero’s apocalyptic world. Once again, as when a biker gang invades the group’s little world and starts pulling it down around them, destroying stores for no good reason, you’re reminded that Romero is, more often than not, on the side of the zombies. Traitor.

Dawn of the Dead
The Black Guy is...

The hero. Ken Foree‘s effortlessly cool, iconic Peter is perhaps the most memorable character in each of the five Dead films. A big bear of a man, Peter’s a born action hero, but he’s not without his compassionate moments, and his genuine affection for his compadre, Roger, hits home in the film’s most affecting sequence, when he is forced to blow his newly-zombified buddy’s brains out.

The Female Lead is...

Gaylen Ross‘s Fran, and she’s several steps up from the appallingly one-dimensional Barbara, showing Romero’s marked dedication to fleshing out his female protagonists. Initially, she seems to be very much the token girlfriend as Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), Steven (David Emge) and Peter run around the mall, but gradually she becomes more assertive. In the end, it’s her determination to learn to pilot the group’s helicopter that saves her and Peter from a fate worse than death. OK, scratch that — just death. But as fates go, it’s still pretty nasty.

Dawn of the Dead
Gore Factor...

High, and in bright Technicolor red, too. By this point, Romero had hooked up with Tom Savini (who also plays the leader of the biker gang), and the special effects guru runs wild here, splattering the place with bright red blood and some of the best headshots in movie history. Check out the impromptu Jackson Pollock that explodes onto a wall near the movie’s end – or, of course, the infamous helicopter gag when rotor blades (actually animated and hand-drawn onto the frame) whip off the top of a zombie’s brain. Interestingly, Greg Nicotero, Romero’s go-to guy for FX these days, was inspired to get into the business by a flesh-biting gag in the first 20 minutes of the movie.

Best Line

Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause, please, for the iconic, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” In early drafts, this line actually read, “When there’s no more room in the last carriage, please wait. A new train will arrive in two minutes.”

Dawn of the Dead

Did You Know?

This is the first Romero zombie film in which the Z-word is actually uttered.

According to Romero...

“When I made the first film I was always concerned about this idea, the reason to do this stuff is to upset the applecart and what everyone seems to do is restore the order at the end of these things, which is what I never want to do. At the end of Dawn in the script, I had everybody die and I realised that I was doing it because it was a sequel. I realised I could save a couple of these individuals without restoring the world!”


Day of the Dead

The Story...

OK, everything’s fucked, to put it mildly. With zombies now outnumbering humans by 400,000 to 1, mankind is at the bottom of the food chain and things are looking bleaker than a Scottish winter. Needless to say, a disparate band of survivors hole up in an underground military complex and bicker, argue and generally fight amongst themselves in Romero’s bleakest vision yet.

Hey, Man! It's Not Just a Horror Movie...

Day of the Dead, Romero’s ’80s entry in his Dead franchise is the most overt attack on human nature yet. Save for a handful of sympathetic characters, Romero populates his film with appalling villains, from leering and mocking grunts, to the utterly black-hearted Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato, who appears briefly as a different character in Dawn of the Dead), who is already unhinged when we meet him and rapidly heads south from there into gibberdom. In this, when the zombies attack, it’s generally a relief, while famously Romero works hard to humanise, for the first time, a major zombie character, in the shape of Howard Sherman‘s sympathetic and likeable Bub.

Day of the Dead
The Black Guy is...

The secondary protagonist, with Terry Alexander’s John a laidback Haitian helicopter pilot who is content to sit out the simmering civil war tearing the group apart, until fate — and zombies — force his hand. It’s a departure from the ass-kicking Peter of Dawn, but Terry is a more cerebral character.

The Female Lead is...

The hero – and the strongest female character in Romero’s canon. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is a scientist trying to keep it together in the face of extreme provocation: her colleagues, particularly Richard Liberty‘s demented Dr. Logan, are ineffective fruitcakes. Her army ‘protectors’ either want to kill her or rape her. And her boyfriend, Miguel, is a soldier who makes Captain Rhodes look sane. Sympathetic and three-dimensional, Sarah isn’t a saint by any means, but she’s more proactive than any of Romero’s previous heroines.

Day of the Dead
Gore Factor...

Off the chart, with Savini coming up with grotesque new gags that forced Romero to reduce his vision for the film, after his financiers offered him a larger budget in return for an R-rating. Refusing to compromise, Romero rewrote his massive script for Day, plumping for a smaller budget but more gore. And boy, are we glad, particularly in the iconic moment when Pilato is ripped apart by zombies, yelling “choke on ’emmmmmm!” as zombies drag his entrails across the floor.

Best Line

The aforementioned “Choke on ’emmmmmm!”

Day of the Dead

Did You Know?

Damon Albarn’s cartoon band, Gorillaz, sampled John Harrison‘s theme for M1 A1, a song on their debut album.

According to Romero...

“I love Howard Sherman in that movie. Some of the stuff he did, I was just in awe. The moment when he picks up Salem’s Lot — wow!”


Land of the Dead

The Story...

Those pesky zombies are still stumbling around and biting anything they can get their manky hands on. However, small pockets of survivors have finally got their shit together, and built well-protected enclaves, boasting some semblance of a social hierarchy. No prizes, though, for guessing that, at some point, zombies are going to get in and get their chomp on…

Hey, Man! It's Not Just a Horror Movie...

No, indeed. Romero waited over a decade to make a fourth zombie movie and, when Land of the Dead came, it was loaded with political and social comment, from the thinly-disguised pokes at the Bush administration (Dennis Hopper‘s character might as well be called Rumsfeld) to jabs at the War on Terror (largely fought here, it’s suggested, by just ignoring the problem and hoping it’ll go away) to digs at the class structure of American society, where the rich white man prospers and everyone else can go hang.

Land of the Dead
The Black Guy is...

A zombie! But it’s ok, it’s a hero zombie. Continuing the evolution of the zombies from shambling ghouls to sympathetic characters, Romero gives us Big Daddy, a giant ex-mechanic (played by Eugene Clark) who galvanises his zombie hordes into an army that storms the enclave and reclaims the land for themselves. A land… of the dead. Hey – just like the title! Although not as likeable as Bub, it’s clear that we’re still meant to cheer when Big Daddy – even more terrifying than the fat British wrestler with whom he shares a name – blows Hopper to kingdom come.

The Female Lead is...

In another departure from tradition, not the female lead. Instead, Asia Argento‘s Slack — a hooker with a heart of gold, as they say — turns up about a third of the way in and doesn’t get to do much more than exchange quips with the film’s human hero, Riley (Simon Baker) and fire a gun now and again. Still, it’s nice to renew the Argento-Romero connection.

Land of the Dead
Gore Factor...

Although the film merely garnered a 15 certificate in the UK, the effects, by Greg Nicotero’s KNB, are startling, icky and often hilarious. Nicotero, in fact, was the film’s second unit director, with his team known as The Splatter Unit on set. Our personal favourite? The belly button gag — gets an ‘ooh!’ every time. Remember, kids – piercing just gives zombies more stuff to grab.

Best Line

“I always wanted to see how the other half lives.” — John Leguizamo‘s social climbing mercenary, Cholo, after being bitten.

Land of the Dead

Did You Know?

Not only do Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright — the Shaun Of The Dead creative team — appear as zombies (which you probably did know), but they’re up front on the poster as well, flanking Big Daddy.

According to Romero...

“Big Daddy’s much more severe than Bub. He has to be a leader. And what happens in this film is that others imitate him. And yeah, I think people did say, ‘There’s something more to this movie.’ Well, I’ve been trying to tell you that, guys, for the last 30 years!”


Diary of the Dead

And so we’re up to date as Diary of the Dead arrives in cinemas. In addition to telling RT about his movies past, we sat down with George A. Romero to learn about Diary and the future of the Dead franchise…

So, you don’t make a zombie film in the 90s, and now it’s two in three years. Are you making up for lost time?

George A. Romero: [laughs] No! I missed the 90s because I was swallowed up in development hell there. I had development deals, made a lot of dough, never made any movies. And basically, I fled and did a little film called Bruiser. I’ve just scrammed and that’s why I missed it.

I had had the idea for Land Of The Dead back then, but I reworked it. Actually, it was — I think — probably thankful that that’s the way it worked out. Post-9/11, it was a much stronger film, I think. That’s what happened with that. When I finished that film, I took a look at it. I was happy with the way it turned out. There was a lot of talk about a sequel and I thought, where the hell am I going to go from here? First of all, I didn’t have an idea and I didn’t want to get involved. I had completely lost touch with the origins of this thing. I wanted to see if I had the chops and the stamina to go back and do a little guerrilla film. Initially I wanted to do something about this emerging media, and I had a little sketch of the script. I was basically ready to go and take a vacation and do it at a film school where I had taught a couple of classes, just to have some control and to do something small.

Diary of the Dead

And Diary is very small — much smaller than Land, which had a $15 million budget.

GR: Yeah, the people at Artfire read the script and said, “We’ll let you have the control if you can make it under four.” I had the idea, and it did grow. I wanted to go back to the beginning. There are a lot of other elements involved here. We lost the copyright on Night of the Living Dead. That’s basically a public domain film and all the other films are owned by somebody else and you have no action in it. So that was also a motivating factor.

I’m glad you mentioned Night, because I thought that Diary was much closer in tone to that movie, and Day Of The Dead, whereas Land and Dawn were poppier. Was that deliberate?

GR: I agree with you. I was trying to do that. I had a conversation early this morning about, “Well, what if they want to make a sequel to this?” Well, this is closer to Night, so maybe we need to do something that’s closer to Dawn. A pure comic book thing.

Are you going to do a sequel to this?

GR: I don’t know what to do. If I had to do a sequel right now, I’d finish the story and start it with the same characters, which is also something I’ve never done. I’m hoping that it’ll all blow away. I’m hoping that if Barack Obama gets elected, I’ll have something to talk about. More importantly, if he gets shot!

Diary of the Dead

I’m intrigued that you and Brian De Palma have made similar films at the same time, with this and…

GR: Redacted. I haven’t seen that and I haven’t seen Cloverfield. I guess there’s a collective subconscious. I don’t know because I haven’t seen those films but I don’t know that they’re exactly about the same kind of thing. I think it’s an influence and where does it come from? It seems to me that this is more of a response to reality television, than it is to this age of New Media. I don’t know if any of these films really speak to that. Redacted, I guess, is helmet cameras, right?

Yeah, and CCTV footage. But it’s interesting that two old stagers-

GR: We’re New Yorkers! [laughs]

OK… New Yorkers, would be drawn to this new form of expression. Were you attracted by the immediacy?

GR: It’s not so much the immediacy but the danger of it. Right in the middle of Super Tuesday in the America election process, they interrupt the election results to say, “We have reports of a tornado touching down in Arkansas. Anyone out there, if you can get a good picture, send it in, we’ll put it on the air and we’ll send you a mug! Be careful!” And people are out there waiting for something to happen. Everyone has a camera phone. The shootings at Virginia Tech, all the footage we had was footage from camera phones. It strikes me as quite dangerous. If Hitler was around, he would never even have to go into the town square. He could throw up a blog and forget about it.

Diary of the Dead

You’ve got a no-name cast this time around, but I detected a few famous voices playing newscasters, including Simon Pegg and Guillermo del Toro.

GR: What happened was, we shot the film in 20 days and then we went back and we had enough money to shoot three more days and that was it. All we could afford was to get the principal footage in the can. We knew we could come back and do the narration portions and the news stuff. There was some of that in the script but we said we can refine it later because it’s all just audio. We shot the film and we came back and we kept writing things and we kept writing dialogue and we would try it on for size. We were all recording – it was me, my editor and my girlfriend and we were sitting there with a finished film but it was all our own voices. So first I called Stephen King and he said, “Sure man, I’ll do it,” and I called some of my other buddies and I’m very grateful that they all said yes and were all willing and able. It’s a vote of confidence.

How did you decide who to single out?

GR: I called people whose work I respect and who I’ve been able to hang out with without having any altercations! [laughs] I tried to call Dario but I couldn’t reach him. [laughs] I don’t know… I guess with subtitles, but he may not have been distinguishable. Tom Savini is one of the voices. I wish that Tom would get back into the biz, so to speak. I think he’s more concerned about being an actor. He wants to be an actor now. He should get back into it.


Ready those Oscar ballots! With the Academy Awards around the corner, it’s time to start catching up on what you missed in theaters. Snap up this week’s offerings for award-nominated performances (George Clooney and Co. in Michael Clayton, Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah) and a handful more notable titles of 2007 (American Gangster, Lust, Caution, Margot at the Wedding, Redacted).

Michael Clayton

Tomatometer: 90%

There are seven reasons to pick up Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton on DVD this week: Academy Awards nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Directing, Score, Screenplay, and Best Picture. The taut corporate thriller, about a legal “fixer” (George Clooney) who uncovers sinister goings-on in a case he’s working, is marked by excellent contributions all around. With the exception of deleted scenes and a commentary by director Gilroy and his brother/editor John Gilroy, the bonus menu is sparse, but the real value in picking Michael Clayton up on DVD is the film itself — and the chance to watch two of the best supporting performances in recent memory (by Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton, both Oscar-nominated).


American Gangster

Tomatometer: 79%

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe face off in Ridley Scott’s tale of real-life Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas (Washington) and detective Richie Roberts (Crowe), from a Steven Zaillian script. Critics praised the pic for capturing a gritty sense of place and time — New York City’s seedy underbelly, circa 1970 — and for dazzling performances from its two leading men. Rapper Jay-Z, after an early screening, penned an entire album of songs inspired by the film. And while conspicuously omitted from Oscar honors, American Gangster made numerous Top Ten lists last year. In turn, Universal Studios is releasing the film in not one, but two substantial releases: a 2-disc Unrated edition with 18 additional minutes of footage, and a 3-disc version containing a 32-page collector’s production booklet, music videos by Jay-Z and Ghostface Killah, and a digital copy of the film.


In the Valley of Elah

Tomatometer: 71%

Tommy Lee Jones has twice before been nominated for an Oscar (earning the honor in 1992 for JFK and winning 1994’s award for The Fugitive), but his latest nomination, for his role as the father of a missing soldier in In the Valley of Elah, is his first as a leading man. Elah is written and directed by Paul Haggis and, like Haggis’ Oscar-winning Crash, unapologetically tackles the ground of social commentary: namely, the adverse psychological toll the Iraq war is exacting on soldiers and their loved ones. Two bonus featurettes add texture with a peek at the film’s production and interviews with filmmakers, actors, and the real-life parents of the man whose story inspired the film.


Lust, Caution

Tomatometer: 69%

Ang Lee’s WWII thriller is, as expected, a lush and steamy affair. In 1942 Shanghai, wealthy housewife Mrs. Mak (Tang Wei) partakes in gossip and mah-jongg with other well-to-do ladies while seducing a married man; but Mak is not what she seems — her identity and the affair are staged, part of an elaborate plan by radical students to assassinate a traitorous official. Sexy, NC-17 love scenes mark Lee’s erotic follow-up to Brokeback Mountain in this powerful, beautiful, and tragic love story.

Margot at the Wedding

Tomatometer: 53%

Noah Baumbach caught Hollywood’s attention with 2005’s semi-autobiographical The Squid and the Whale (after making an acclaimed debut ten years earlier with Kicking & Screaming and co-scripting Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), so the heat was on to see if his next film, Margot at the Wedding, would measure up. The verdict? Mixed. Critics note Baumbach’s spot-on, incisive observations of well-heeled East Coasters, but found his characters — including Nicole Kidman and Baumbach’s wife Jennifer Jason Leigh as frictional sisters — overwhelmingly unlikeable.


Tomatometer: 47%

Culling its title from the controversial CIA practice of transporting detainees to areas of borderline-torturous interrogation facilities, Rendition is a muddled, if well-intention, entry into the current subgenre of politically-relevant think pieces. Director Gavin Hood, coming off of his Oscar win for the South African drama Tsotsi, submits a rather disappointing Hollywood debut. Rendition stars Reese Witherspoon as a pregnant American woman struggling to learn why her Egyptian-born husband has disappeared, and her off-screen S.O. Jake Gyllenhaal as a conflicted government suit who is witness to the acts of torture.


Tomatometer: 45%

Arguably the most divisive of 2007’s Iraq-themed films, Brian de Palma’s Redacted is not only an anti-war missive but is also an experiment in mixed media filmmaking — double the chance to alienate movie goers simply looking to be entertained, but a thought-provoking experience for those up for a challenge. De Palma uses a variety of faux-documentary formats to paint a picture of U.S.-occupied Iraq (soldiers’ home videos, European documentary crews, local news reports) and the precarious balance of clashing cultures and violence that threatens to explode with deadly consequences.

‘Til next week, happy renting!

This week at the movies, we’ve got epic poems come to life (Beowulf,
starring Ray Winstone and
Angelina Jolie), a magical toy shop (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder
, starring
Dustin Hoffman and
Natalie Portman), and romance in the
midst of infectious disease (Love in the Time of Cholera, starring
Javier Bardem). What do the critics have to say?

First, the bad news: critics say
will inspire English teachers
and literary scholars to tear out their hair. The good news? The scribes also
say it’s a flick that fans of bombastic action and phantasmagoria will want give
their right arms for. If you didn’t read the epic poem in school, get thee to a
library; suffice to say the story involves a dude named Beowulf (Ray Winstone)
tangling with mead hall-crashing beast Grendel (Crispin Glover) and
his vengeful, seductive mom (Angelina Jolie, much more attractive than her fictional
progeny would indicate). The pundits say Beowulf‘s amazing visuals are
the biggest draw here, as director
Robert Zemeckis uses dazzling CGI to bring
the classic tale to vivid life. (They also note it’s not for the kiddies,
despite its PG-13 rating.) At 79 percent, Beowulf is Certified Fresh, and
it’s well above Zemeckis’ previous animation/live-action hybrid,
The Polar
(57 percent). (And
check out
our Total Recall feature on Beowulf and animation.)

Grendel waiting until somebody invents Jergens.

Everyone can use a dose of magic and whimsy from time to time, right? But
frippery requires a light touch, something critics say
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder
lacks. Emporium stars
Dustin Hoffman in the title role as
the proprietor of a magic toy store, a place where baubles can come to life,
fueled by imagination;
Natalie Portman plays his protégé. The pundits say the
big problem with Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is that it ODs on
zaniness in an effort to make up for a bland storyline. At 24 percent on the
Tomatometer, business isn’t all that brisk at this Emporium.

“Does Mr. Magorium sell cornballers?”

Nobel Prize-winner
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
is widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s great men of letters.
Javier Bardem, hot from his performance in
Country for Old Men
, stars in the adaptation of one of Marquez’ most
celebrated works,
Love in the Time of Cholera
. Unfortunately, critics say
it’s more like Love in the Time of Narcolepsy. Bardem stars as a man who
is so enraptured by a woman he waits 50 years for her, despite her shifting
affections. The pundits say Love misses the spirit and passion of
Marquez’ magical realist tale by miles, with fine actors in miscast roles and a
too-literal approach, bogging down material that has a sense of sweep and
romanticism on the page. At 17 percent on the Tomatometer, Cholera is
under critical quarantine.

Chaplin, post-‘stache.

Also opening this week in limited release: the documentary
I for India
the story of an expat corresponding to his family, is at 100 percent;
Would Jesus Buy?
, a doc that explores the commercialization of Christmas, is
at 94 percent; Gregg Araki‘s
Smiley Face, a stoner comedy starring
, is at 67 percent;
Brian De Palma‘s mixed-media look at the horrors of the Iraq war, is at 52 percent (read
our interview with De Palma
here); the Icelandic import
Eleven Men Out
about a soccer star who comes out of the closet, is at 50 percent;
Noah Baumbach‘s
Margot at the Wedding, starring Nicole Kidman in a tale of
familial strife, is at 47 percent (check out our take from Toronto
here); and
, a wildly ambitious sci-fi/political satire starring
Dwayne "The
Rock" Johnson
William Scott
, is at 42 percent (see our interview
with director Richard Kelly

"Boy, these Dean Martin celebrity roasts are hilarious!"

Recent Angelina Jolie Movies:
77% — A Mighty Heart (2007)
55% — The Good Shepard (2006)
59% — Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)
16% — Alexander (2004)
34% — Shark Tale (2004)

Recent Natalie Portman Movies:
84% — Paris, Je T’Aime (2007)
29% — Goya’s Ghosts (2007)
24% — Free Zone (2006)
72% — V for Vendetta (2006)
80% — Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Brian De Palma, Toronto Film Festival 2006

Brian De Palma fans beware: his most recent film will make you think that the veteran director has — to borrow a line from Full Metal Jacket — been “born again hard.” Redacted is a war drama centered on the rape and murder of a fifteen-year-old Iraqi girl at the hands of American soldiers. Based on true events and told in documentary fashion, the movie uses a collage of digital media to portray the heinous crime up-close and personal, giving audience members every reason to look away but also, by doing so, asking us why it’s taken so long to cringe.

De Palma’s film presents the conflict through every facet available to us, the civilian viewers. His patchwork story expertly addresses the Iraq conflict on its own terms, using the war’s own visual language: a soldier’s video diary is interwoven with a French documentary about military check points, which gets mixed in with Arab TV broadcasts, security camera footage from the army base, internet blogs by wives of the enlisted, webcam chats, recordings of judicial inquisitions, clips posted online by terrorists, YouTube rants, and a slew of still images (which ultimately give real-life footnotes to the fictionalized events). The complex style of Redacted feels like a Google search for “Iraq, war crimes.” This hyper-abundance of accessible media shows that the horrifying war is not just taking place on the ground in Iraq, but also, literally, in the terrain of cyberspace; a place where everyone with a homepage is a resident, and where the rules of engagement are still being written.

Yet despite this daring strategy, the response to Redacted has been ambivalent. Critics, who currently give the film a 57 percent Tomatometer rating, point to flaws in the dramatic logic and a few misjudged performances. But similar problems plague most movies, and these mistakes do not detract from the emotional impact of Redacted or tarnish the film’s craftsmanship in any way. When was the last time you saw a movie with a fifteen-minute shot, handheld, at night, that exposes the true nature of every main character? To disparage Redacted for technical reasons is to miss — or, perhaps, to willfully avoid — its rich, textured, and honest depiction of how the Iraq war is being waged for an audience.

Checkpoint tedium in Redacted

In short, De Palma has made a movie that could only exist in the 21st century, about a war that could only be waged in the 21st century. Whatever missteps in direction he has taken do not indicate a flagging talent but instead reveal that, in this warp speed wireless world, the direction has yet to be defined. If we don’t fully understand Redacted — in other words, if it’s a difficult film for us to read — then that’s because the narrative language remains incomplete. But by risking a new filmmaking vocabulary, De Palma has begun to create the cinetax.

Rotten Tomatoes recently spoke with Brian De Palma about modern warfare, surfing the web, and how video games might just be the vanguard of storytelling.

People who attend Redacted expecting to see a “Brian De Palma film” are going to be surprised by how different it is from your previous work — I certainly was. What about this subject matter made you alter your style so significantly?

Brian De Palma: I discovered the form while I was researching the material. I was approached by HDNet to make one of their 5 million dollar movies, on anything I wanted. The only requirement was that it be shot in high definition, and I thought that was great, if I could figure out something that would work best in that medium. When I read about this incident that was so similar to the events in Casualties of War (1989) I did some research on the internet and I came up with all these unique forms where people were expressing themselves in relationship to this incident, and the war in general. That became the shape of the movie. It was a unique way of presenting the material in a format that was interesting to me because it’s a whole new way of creating a storyline in this kind of fragmented mock-documentary. My initial idea was to use as much real material as possible, but of course the lawyers told me I couldn’t use it because it was too close to the real case, so I was forced to fictionalize everything. I relied very much on the characters in Casualties of War, not knowing much about the actual soldiers except for the prime instigator. There wasn’t much information about them. They were all being prosecuted while I was making this movie.


Redacted rings very strongly of truth, so even if you had to change the facts, it’s one of those stories that’s very familiar to people who get up every morning and read the headlines. But it goes much further than that, with all the different points of view that you include, each with its own voice. How did you develop this tapestry?

De Palma: It all emerged from my research. My first task was to get the news stories about the actual case, but since I couldn’t use the real news stories I had to fabricate ones using international correspondents who were in Amman, where we shot. So I basically duplicated the original news stories. That was the beginning. Then I read somewhere about this Los Angeles-based Spanish-American filmmaker making a movie from his war diaries to get into NYU Film School — that was based on something I stumbled upon on the web. I realized that this could provide my principle narrative. And, of course, that idea also comes out of the documentaries I looked at where there were soldiers with cameras recording what’s going on, because everyone has a camera over there. I saw all that in the documentaries. Then the attitudes, and the feelings, and frustrations, and the passion about the war, all those were expressed in the soldiers’ blogs, and in many independent documentaries that I looked at. So the principal narrative form came from Salazar’s personal diary.

Then I had all this information I had to convey about what happens at check points, because this particular unit was on a checkpoint and that’s where they saw the girl going in and out every day. There were many, many news stories about accidents at check points and how many people were killed all the time. So I had to present all that information, and I also wanted to slow the movie down. Being deployed in Iraq is incredibly boring most of the time, but then it’s punctuated by incredible, crazy violence from out of nowhere. I had to slow the movie down. That’s why I created the mock French documentary — very elegant, Handel music playing from Barry Lyndon — it slows everything down, and it gets all the statistics across about what happens when people go in and out of check points.

The pacing of the movie was extremely effective, with how you gradually build tension for the frantic violence that happens later on. It sounds like your research process was a micro version of what historians will have to do when they look back on this conflict years from now, in terms of synthesizing a gigantic amount of very specific information.

De Palma: That’s what surprises me about the people who are shocked by Redacted, or the portrayal of the soldiers, or the pictures at the end of the film — all this material is out there! It’s like they assume I dreamt this up. It’s all there. The problem is, it’s not in your mainstream media, so nobody knows about it. But if you get on your Google search engine and put any of these things in, you’ll come up with all the same devices that I used, including something like the rant of the protestor. That’s one of the few things we were able to buy, actually. That was somebody’s rant. We actually bought the rights to that, and I just rewrote it to be played, and the best person to do it was Abigail Savage. But that’s an actual rant.


It’s shocking because it’s so familiar, but it’s the stuff that you subconsciously try to forget about, you don’t want to pay attention to it.

De Palma: I think not many people are doing the kind of research that I was doing. They’re watching, you know, what happens to Britney when she takes her daughter to some play group. Those are the kind of things that dominate the web, and YouTube, and whatever. You have to dig a little deeper. But all of this stuff is out there.

There have been other films recently about the Iraq conflict, such as Jarhead and The Kingdom, but you’ve very intentionally and very effectively adopted a completely different perspective from those: the documentary perspective. Do you feel like a documentary style, for the nature of this war, is the best method for examining it?

De Palma: That’s something that I discovered. It’s not like I had a plan. In the process of researching I came up with all these unique ways of expression that are completely indigenous to the web. Nobody’s ever seen this onscreen before. I have another idea to put in this form, but things have changed in the last six months since I wrote it! There are even newer forms that people have not seen yet. There’s all of this new media going on. It’s very interesting to tell these types of contemporary stories in this form.

Straight-forward narrative filmmaking essentially would have been Casualties of War, but there’s no point in doing that again. I was quite happy with the different forms that I came up with when I researched the material. And who knows; this may be one experimental film that comes and goes, and we move on to whatever. But I feel that there’s something here, in Redacted, and I want to experiment with it more, because it’s the way that I’ve noticed my daughters take in information. They’re sixteen and eleven, and they sit on their beds with their computers on their stomachs and they browse from thing to thing to thing to thing to thing. They don’t go to the theatre and sit down and watch O’Neil for five hours. That’s not how they’re getting their stories told to them. So, I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s certainly changing.

The uncomfortable reactions to the movie must be coming from not only the disturbing subject matter, but also from the fact that it’s a new language. A normal theatergoing audience can’t quite comprehend it yet.

De Palma: Exactly correct. To me it’s almost atonal. Suddenly you’re playing atonal music and people don’t know what to make of it. That’s what I noticed when I screened it at the beginning, is people had nothing to say afterwards. Basically they were struck dumb. They couldn’t process the material. Then the first thing, of course, when you don’t understand something, you attack it. “It’s not this, it’s not this, it’s not this.” I’ll never forget the first time I saw Barry Lyndon, I just wasn’t ready to process the way Stanley Kubrick did the movie, and I reacted very strongly against it. The way he told this particular story, with this particular technique. But over the years it’s become one of my favorite movies of Kubrick’s. Once it gets you into the temporal sense, and the pictorial sense, of the period, of the piece, it all makes perfect sense to you. But when you first see it, you go, “Why all these endless shots, why these zoom-ins — what’s going on here?”

Like Redacted, Barry Lyndon is also a movie where the filmmaker imposed very stringent technical limitations on himself.

De Palma: Exactly correct.

Is there any other reason besides your admiration for Barry Lyndon for why you wanted to use the same music in your movie?

De Palma: I think what was so instructive about Barry Lyndon was how Kubrick slowed down time; using very classical, measured music, he used very elaborate pull-backs. Of course I didn’t have the beautiful pictorials that he did. You make the audience study the frame; something that I think people have completely forgotten about.


I’d like to dig a little bit deeper, if we can, into what you discovered about the language of digital storytelling. It’s such a new phenomenon, and I think Redacted is one of the few films that really prods at the edges of what’s possible — ultra long takes, handheld consumer cameras, relationships developed over the internet, everyone allowed a voice — it’s fascinating. And the other thing about digital media, which is why this war is a perfect topic for it, is the immediacy and the responsiveness of it. You can produce images like a reflex. That’s the raw nerve that this film strikes.

De Palma: It’s a great new way to deal with narrative forms. It’s like things you discover in video games; the way they tell their stories. And of course video games emulate films a lot, and television shows, with their little story sequences within the games. But there was a really big breakthrough when they started to have games where you could approach the world from any place. It didn’t go linearly. It was more like a mosaic. You could discover the story from the north, the south, the east, the west, and I said, “Wow.”

I remember when I saw my first video game where it was played from a point-of-view shot. It was Colony and this must have been twenty years ago. I was knocked out by it. I said, “Oh my God.” The players were perceiving all of this space through a point-of-view shot. And of course that’s one of the main building blocks of moviemaking; it’s totally cinematic, it doesn’t exist in any other art form. I’m always fascinated by what the video games are doing. I truly believe that the creative forces in my generation, instead of being filmmakers, they wanted to be game programmers. They’re literally creating spaces and stories. They’re constantly discovering new forms. Every six months there’s a new game where they push the envelope into something else. And this is also very true of the internet. The other day I discovered BloggerTV, where you have two guys talking about a subject, like an iChat, and it’s any topic they want to talk about, like talking heads on television, except it’s a discussion about a specific subject instead of people screaming at each. In any event, all this stuff is changing every day. And as I think about doing another film in this form, I’m constantly amazed at the new things that crop up.

Is it a coincidence that you’ve been influenced by video games, and quite often the “video game mentality” of modern warfare is cited? Is that something you brought into the film, this idea of soldiers being trained by virtual simulation and how that might affect their actions on the battlefield?

De Palma: Yeah, people say that, but the reality of on-the-ground has nothing to do with a videogame. As soon as soldiers get over to Iraq, they get it real fast. You can play every one of the most violent videogames in the world, and it doesn’t give you a clue about what it’s like to really be deployed in Iraq. A comparison is ridiculous.


As far as the actors whom you chose to portray the soldiers, none of them will be recognizable faces to an audience, but I thought all of their performances were convincing. Private Flake was an incredibly frightening character.

De Palma: It’s interesting that you say that, because that’s one of the main criticisms I get all the time, “Oh, these actors are overacting; they’re a bunch of amateurs.” Ridiculous! I mean, they’re acting in relationship to what situation they’re in. When they’re in barrage, they behave like warriors at the post, because that’s what they’re supposed to look like; that’s how the director wanted them to look, and the actors take on a personae and an acting style appropriate for that form. When they’re being filmed by Salazar, they’re mugging and confused and spontaneous, which is exactly what it’s like if you’re taking a home video. When people react against Redacted so strongly, they don’t understand the context of what the actors are doing. People are used to movies where the actors are always the same because the point of view never shifts. But when you change the form, the acting has to adjust.

So instead of a classical “character arc” you were going for a more prismatic study of people.

De Palma: Yes, but there’s still very much a sense of character progression. Flake is a little tweaked when he gets over to Iraq, but you can see him sort of changing as the movie goes forth. People just don’t understand how the form affects character presentation.

My immediate reaction after seeing the film, and what I did, was to view it a second time. In thinking about why that was, I got the notion that it was almost too much to absorb in one sitting — to learn how to view the film, and then to appreciate it at the same time — and so it resists a sense a resolution.

De Palma: The resolution is very much how I feel. I very much identify with McCoy; I feel frustration at not being able to stop the war, of being a participant in it, but being unable to do anything about it, just like McCoy can’t do anything about the girl being raped. He carries that guilt with him. The other thing we’ll be living with for decades is all of these soldiers coming back from Iraq harboring what they’ve been through. It’s going to be like Vietnam but ten times worse. And it’s going to go on for decades. I live near a V.A. hospital in California and I see these guys all the time, wandering around with that aimless stare on their faces, and of course everyone forgets about them. This is going to be going on for decades.

Redacted is in limited release this Friday.

In a classic example of irony in film, Brian De Palma has found that portions of his war drama Redacted have been…well, redacted.

The film, currently receiving decidedly mixed reviews during its limited run, closes with a montage of photos taken from the Iraq front — photos De Palma was forced to edit by Redacted‘s distributor, Magnolia Pictures, due to what The Hollywood Reporter describes as “legal and financial concerns.” The director took his concerns to the New York Film Festival on Wednesday, where he told an audience:

“The irony of all this is that even though everyone (in Iraq) has a digital camera and access to the Internet, somehow we don’t see any of these images…why are things being redacted? My own film was redacted.”

Movies about the Iraq war have proven to be a tough sell thus far, and given Redacted‘s particularly challenging storyline — the Reporter describes it as depicting “fictional soldiers raping an Iraq teenager and killing her family” — it’s likely that the Mark Cuban-owned Magnolia was one of the only places De Palma’s film could have been made. Still, De Palma feels misled. From the article:

De Palma added that he “lost” the long-running fight with producers to allow the images only 24 hours before the screening. At a postscreening dinner, producers acknowledged that it was a difficult decision but, given the legal and financial concerns, one in which they had little room to maneuver.

The graphic photos depict victims of the war; with the black magic-marker etchings across their faces, though, the faces are now difficult if not impossible to recognize. Magnolia execs have said that it’s impossible to get legal releases for the photos, while Cuban has been quoted as saying he found the unredacted images problematic.

Redacted has already attracted criticism from right-wing pundits such as the popular comedian and respected film critic Bill O’Reilly, who the Reporter quotes as calling De Palma “a true villain in our country” and suggesting that even though “no one” will actually see it, the movie will somehow lead to the deaths of American troops.

De Palma’s comments at the New York Film Festival were met with an emotional response from Magnolia executives Eamonn Bowles and Jason Kliot, who stood up from the audience to disagree:

Bowles countered the charge that Magnolia was taking the easy way out when he asked De Palma in front of reporters, “Who else would make this movie?”

Redacted is scheduled to see wide release on November 30.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Well, it certainly hasn’t been a dull festival. Tons of films big (Michael Clayton) and small (Juno) have screened to kudos, and on the whole there haven’t been very many outright disappointments (notwithstanding George Romero‘s Diary of the Dead and a few others).

It’s now a week into the Toronto Film Festival, and we definitely have our favorites. They include, in no particular order: the Ian Curtis biopic Control, the quirky teen comedy Juno, Lars and the Real Girl starring Ryan Gosling, and Julie Taymor‘s ambitious Beatles-infused Across the Universe. Many other entries are good as well (No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Lust, Caution, Disengagement). A few in particular are unconventionally enjoyable (Sukiyaki Western Django, Nothing is Private).

Across the Universe

I just came from a press screening of Brian DePalma‘s Redacted, anticipation of which stemmed from its second-place showing last week at the Venice Film Festival (where Ang Lee‘s Lust, Caution took the Golden Lion prize). With an unconventional format that combines a French-narrated faux-documentary, a deployed soldier’s home videos, local Arab television reports and fictional video-hosting websites, Redacted tells the (based-on-a-true) story of a group of U.S. Army soldiers involved in the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl. DePalma’s film is at least rife with meaning, though there are so many divisive issues concerning Iraq in Redacted that it’s hard to know where to start. Are U.S. peace-keeping procedures dangerously confusing to Iraqis? Does mutual misunderstanding often lead to tragic civilian casualties? Do the media keep the rest of us adequately informed about a war that is happening on the other side of the world? Redacted is likely to split critics (one journalist warned me off, calling it straight-up “bad,” while a smattering of applause erupted at the end of my screening).

Plenty of other films have gotten mixed receptions as well. Julie Taymor notoriously battled with studio execs over her Across the Universe, which combines a 1960s-1970s love story with historical events, all set to a near non-stop soundtrack of Beatles songs. Sound good to you, fellas? Unsurprisingly, Across the Universe seems to leave many male reviewers cold, while women (and predisposed lovers of musicals) enjoy it much more. The film is out in limited release this week. Full review to come!

Speaking of high profile cinematic gambles, I’m headed out to the late night screening of Todd HaynesI’m Not There. Cate Blanchett nabbed Venice honors for her portrayal of Bob Dylan; six more actors take on different aspects of the legendary musician’s life and persona, including Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Richard Gere. More on that very shortly.

The Venice Film Festival awarded top honors to Ang Lee, Brad Pitt, and more as festivities came to a close Saturday.

Ang Lee’s Chinese language thriller Lust, Caution came to the still-ongoing Toronto International Film Festival dogged by minor backlash from Venice critics, yet nabbed the top Golden Lion prize at that festival’s close. The win is Lee’s second in three years, having won in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain (Chinese entry Still Life won last year).

Lust, Caution

In similar fashion, other high profile wins this year premiered at Venice before being shown in Toronto. Brad Pitt, in Toronto with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, nabbed the Best Actor award in Venice for his portrayal of the tormented titular outlaw. Cate Blanchett took Best Actress honors for her role in the Bob Dylan-inspired The I’m Not There, which will screen for critics at TIFF on Tuesday.

TIFF attendees will also get the chance to watch Brian DePalma’s The Redacted, about American troops and Iraqi locals who clash over a horrible crime. The film earned Venice’s second-highest award, the Silver Lion.

Click here for the full list of winners.

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