Category Archives: Brian De Palma

Carlito’s Way-1993

Carlito’s Way-1993

Director Brian De Palma

Starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller

Scott’s Review #1,224

Reviewed January 29, 2022

Grade: B

Brian De Palma would be firmly planted in my Top 10 favorite directors of all time- maybe even the Top 5. His daring and juicy Dressed to Kill (1980), and horrific Carrie (1976) are still visually mesmerizing to me.

Carlito’s Way (1993) takes De Palma into New York mobster territory similar in vein to his 1983 disappointment Scarface (1983). Both star Al Pacino.

The latter is set in Miami while the former offers many reminders of its New York City setting like street signs and other exterior trimmings of the Big Apple, especially in Spanish Harlem.

Sequences also occur on Long Island, New York, and Rikers Island.

The film is based on two novels written in the 1970s when the events in the film are supposed to be set. This doesn’t work as well as you might think but more about that later.

Carlito’s Way itself is a solid mobster film that borrows from many others including Scarface, The Godfather (1972), and Goodfellas (1990). If I were to take ten mobster films it might get lost somewhere in the middle.

But it’s still an above-average watch and sprinkles pleasant De Palma familiarities like slow-motion dreamlike sequences and a terrific chase through the subway and Grand Central Station that will bring a smile to Dressed to Kill fans.

It’s just not one of the best Brian De Palma films nor one of the best mobster films.

Released on a technicality after years in prison, Carlito Brigante (Pacino) swears to give up his criminal ways, but it’s not long before the ex-con is sucked back into the New York City underworld thanks to his shady lawyer and friend Dave Kleinfeld (Sean Penn).

All he wants to do is save enough money to leave town and retire in paradise.

Carlito reconnects with his aspiring actress/dancer girlfriend, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) while young and dangerous gangster Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo) plots revenge on Carlito and Kleinfeld after being slighted.

Kleinfeld has also stolen money from a dangerous convict so that’s an added stressor for both him and Carlito.

The time is very odd. It’s supposed to be the 1970s as the musical score suggests as disco party music blasts during club scenes. The clothes and hairstyles somewhat align but there is a strange 1980s feel which is even stranger given the film was shot in the 1990s.

The chemistry between Pacino and Miller is okay but nothing terrific either although it grows during the film. At first, I wondered what they saw in one another but was slowly won over by the pair. By the end, I was rooting for them to ride off into paradise together.

The best part of Carlito’s Way is the final thirty minutes or so. On the run from the bad guys, Carlito and Gail decide to meet on a late-night train bound for Florida. There, they will forget their troubles and live happily ever after on the beach.

Oh, and by the way, Gail is now pregnant.

De Palma, as he usually does, creates a dazzling climax. I was mesmerized by the cat-and-mouse chase scenes and what Grand Central looked like in the early 1990s when the film was shot. And there’s also the terrific running from subway car to subway car chase scene just like in Dressed to Kill.

As an aside, Pacino who is Italian is playing a Puerto Rican character. One character comments that Carlito could almost pass for an Italian. Given Pacino’s heritage in the very Italian Godfather films, this is an anecdote that made me chuckle.

Penn and Pacino give it their all and craft unusual characters, especially Penn, and it’s a delight seeing great actors play off of one another.

Carlito’s Way (1993) has some hits and some misses and borrows heavily from similar films including De Palma’s films. This too often makes it become a comparison film rather than containing its own identity.

Femme Fatale-2002

Femme Fatale-2002

Director Brian De Palma

Starring Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Antonio Banderas

Scott’s Review #1,137

Reviewed April 28, 2021

Grade: B+

The plot of Femme Fatale (2002) is muddy, to say the least, and I was left perplexed by the details by the time the film concluded. I even needed to review a synopsis to figure out what the hell went on but I was willing to do so.

But, let’s remember that it’s directed by Brian De Palma so the beauty is in the visuals’ style and stimulation, which makes the film pay off in spades.

Probably more similar to a modern De Palma film like 2012’s underrated and underappreciated Passion than more familiar turf like Carrie (1976) or Dressed to Kill (1980), Femme Fatale has juicy trademarks that only fans of the director will immediately notice and revile in.

The entire experience that De Palma creates is titillating, erotic, fetishist, and thrilling. It’s an enrapturing piece.

Unfortunately, Femme Fatale was a box-office dud but has subsequently amassed a cult following status likely by the legions of De Palma fans who appreciate the good stylistic film.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, with legs for miles and an abdomen to fry eggs off of, stars as Laure Ash, a master manipulator, who takes part in one last jewel theft intending to leave behind her life of crime. Her intention predictably doesn’t turn out so well but Laura sure does look great in her leather-clad outfits and affair with a female supermodel.

Later, Romijn-Stamos also plays an odd character named Lily, who is suicidal.

Reinvented under the presumption of a respectable married woman, Laura captures the attention of eager photographer Nicolas (Antonio Banderas). He becomes mesmerized by the elusive woman amid the gorgeous locales of Paris and accidentally shatters her carefully crafted world by way of his photo taking.

The steamy women’s bathroom love scene between Laura, who is bisexual, and Veronica, a model with a diamond gold ensemble top, is not just a male chauvinistic turn-on, but hugely important to the storyline.

Laura is supposedly in cahoots with thugs “Black Tie” and Racine who aggressively wait outside the restroom, but is Laura double-crossing them both? Is she partnered in crime with Veronica or is she just a mark?

The riddles of the plot are both positive and negative especially when one scene plays out twice, midstream and during the finale. There is a mystique that forces the viewer to give up on any comprehension and plausibility over Laura and her motivations and modus Operandi.

I chose to immerse myself in the bevy of trimmings that De Palma tosses our way like a hungry dog salivating over a bone.

He borrows a bit from the best of Alfred Hitchcock films (when doesn’t he?)and his own, neither a bad thing. The most obvious is from the 1954 masterpiece, Rear Window, an orgy of fetishism, which appears throughout, mostly concerning Nicolas as he spies on Laura again and again, almost obsessively.

Romijn-Stamos isn’t the best actress in the biz and Banderas would grow as an actor after this film but Femme Fatale is about style, not Academy Award acting and the beauty is trying to figure out a puzzle and being startled by a twist ending and a replay of the events to provide some sort of explanation.

The twist is quite a doozy and had me rethink the entire film. Plot holes be-damned it was a very good reveal but also made most of the rest of the film a bit worthless.

Femme Fatale (2002) will never reach the upper echelons of the best of Brian De Palma films but it’s hardly a waste of time to give it a spin either.

Forgetting the steaminess altogether, the film is to European appreciating viewers with the astounding and plentiful sequences in and around Paris.

Blow Out-1981

Blow Out-1981

Director Brian De Palma

Starring John Travolta, Nancy Allen

Scott’s Review #574

Reviewed December 31, 2016

Grade: A-

The follow-up to the 1980 masterpiece that was Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma carves a web of intrigue and mystery with Blow Out, a film starring some of the same cast members from Dressed to Kill (1980) and from 1976’s Carrie.

Comparisons can be drawn to the trio as they are all in the psychological thriller/horror vein- notwithstanding, the predecessors are the superior films.

Blow Out is not quite on the level with those masterpieces but is still a worthy effort and a must-see for fans of De Palma’s work.

John Travolta and Nancy Allen are the stars of the film-recreating their chemistry from Carrie. In that film, the pair are the clear villains, but in Blow Out they are the heroes and have a rooting value.

Dennis Franz appears as a shady thug and John Lithgow is superb as the dastardly  Burke, hired to commit a crime, and enjoying it all too much.

Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sound effects technician, working and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He works on low-budget horror films and is highly respected for his craft. Alone in a remote park, recording sound, and video, he records a car careening off a bridge into a creek.

He saves Sally (Allen) from the sinking car and this is the point in the film where the intrigue takes off. The driver of the car is a governor and he has died- Sally was having an affair with the governor and his aides are intent on covering this up.

To make matters more complicated, Jack has detected a gunshot on his recording-just before the crash, leading to obvious foul play.

I adore the beginning sequence of the film- my favorite. The film begins as a slasher film, unbeknownst to the audience. A collection of dizzy college girls dance, drink, and shower, as the cameras are placed outside of the dorms.

We see all of the action through the glass windows, then the steady cam is used from the killer’s point of view. This is a highly effective scene and rather humorous too. Inevitably, a creepy killer appears in the shower to butcher one of the college girls until the real beginning of the film starts.

This aspect is clever on the part of  De Palma. Why not trick the audience early and keep them guessing?

Also compelling is the villain of the film- Lithgow. Typically playing sweet-natured characters, it was interesting to see him as a maniacal killer- and reminiscent of the crazed killer from Dirty Harry, in his harried, grotesque facial features.

One particularly chilling scene involves the murder of a prostitute at the train station. I like this scene because the audience gets to know her a bit before she meets her fate- adding a level of empathy for the victim.

Enjoyable are the location sequences of Philadelphia, which give authenticity to the film. Specifically, the train station. Grizzled, dirty, and bustling, the locales set the tone of the film.

The chemistry between Travolta and Allen is decent, though I found more chemistry between them in Carrie. I did not care for Allen’s use of an accent- intended to be a Philadelphia accent, it seemed a New Jersey one to me and simply does not work at all in the film.

This distraction is the only weak point of the film.

All in all, Blow Out is a very good film. It combines mystery, political intrigue, and the famed De Palma stamp- which in itself is worthwhile enough to watch.

Blow Out (1981) contains a dream-like element- as Carrie and Dressed to Kill before it did, which only enhances the mystique. The not so happily-ever-after ending is superb.



Director Brian De Palma

Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie

Top 100 Films #37     Top 20 Horror Films #12

Scott’s Review #325


Reviewed January 5, 2016

Grade: A

Carrie is a horror film from 1976 that is adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name.

Many King adaptations have failed, but Carrie (along with The Shining) is among the best.

Going beyond the scope of horror and receiving more than one major Oscar nomination (largely unheard of in horror), Carrie influenced films and filmmakers for decades beyond release.

This is largely due to the dream-like and breathtaking direction of mood master Brian De Palma.

By this time (2016), the film and the character of Carrie White were legendary.

Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is a lonely suburban teenager, ostracized by her classmates for being “weird”. Her mother (Piper Laurie) is a devout Christian who spreads the word of god amongst the neighbors.

Carrie has a special ability to move things, usually during anger- this is called telekinesis.

After a humiliating incident in the girl’s locker room when Carrie begins menstruating, one of the nicer girls in the class, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) feels sorry for Carrie and convinces her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to take Carrie to the prom.

When others in the class take revenge upon Carrie with a sick joke, things take a horrific turn.

Betty Buckley as the empathetic gym teacher, Miss Collins, and John Travolta and Nancy Allen, as dastardly Billy and Chris, also star and are perfectly cast.

The direction in the film is second to none. De Palma adds interesting camera work throughout the film.

During a tender, lovely prom dance between Carrie and Tommy, the camera circles the pair repeatedly, giving a spellbinding, but not dizzying quality.

The use of slow-motion in the important “pig blood” scene is immeasurably effective.

The seemingly eternal time it takes for the blood spilling to occur, and the camera (in slow motion) goes from Sue to Miss Collins to Chris to the bucket of blood is fantastic.

The list of inspired and intense scenes goes on and on- from the climactic scene between Carrie and Mrs. White to the “jump out of your seat” final scene.

The acting is also worthy of high praise. Spacek and Laurie deservedly received Oscar nominations for their work. Spacek elicits so much rooting value into her role with a shred of psychosis bubbling just beneath the surface.

Carrie wants to fit in and have a happy life so the audience is immersed in her corner and celebrates her short-lived happiness with Tommy at the prom. Spacek is just perfectly cast.

Laurie on the other hand exudes crazy in every sense, but we do feel pangs of sympathy for her. We largely believe she cares for her daughter and wants to protect her from the dangerous world.

Carrie (1976) is a masterpiece that continues to hold up well and influence generations who can relate to school bullying,  taunting, and the desire to see the nasty popular kids get their just desserts.

More than a great horror film, it is a revered classic with a dreamy, moody vibe.

One of my all-time favorites.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Sissy Spacek, Best Supporting Actress-Piper Laurie



Director Brian De Palma

Starring Al Pacino

Scott’s Review #191


Reviewed November 13, 2014

Grade: B

Scarface is a 1983 mob film directed by Brian De Palma and is an atypical film for the acclaimed director of several stylistic thrillers such as Dressed to Kill (1980), Sisters (1973), and Carrie (1976).

The subject matter centers on the mob and the world of drug trafficking, in this case, cocaine, a very popular, powerful drug that ran rampant throughout the 1980s.

Jealousy, greed, and deceit are common characteristics of Scarface and the story focuses on a temperamental, cocky, and arrogant Cuban refuge sent to Miami by Fidel Castro, as a way of banishing criminals from Cuba and shipping them off to the United States to survive on their own.

Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino, goes from dishwasher to crime lord by selling drugs and creating an empire for himself.

He manipulates, tricks, and makes enemies left and right including stealing his boss’s girlfriend (Michelle Pfeiffer) and eventually falling into a troubled marriage with her.

He loves his financially struggling mother and sister, giving them money and opening a salon for his sister, but he also controls them, especially his sister, and is filled with rage whenever she attracts the affection of a potential suitor.

In his mind, nobody is good enough for her and he is filled with machismo and over-protectiveness. Tony eventually self-destructs due to jealousy, rage, and heavy drug use.

I found the film overall quite compelling but kept thinking to myself how much it resembles a light version of The Godfather (1972) or Part II (1974) and Goodfellas (1990).

I am fully aware that Scarface preceded Goodfellas, but seeing it for the first time in 2014 this was my initial reaction.

I was also kept aware of the fact that it must have been influential in the creation of the popular NBC television series Miami Vice, which debuted a year or two after Scarface was released.

Similarities such as crime lords, Miami Beach, and drugs mirrored the slick feel of the hit television drama as well as the look, style, and fashions.

The performance of Al Pacino is problematic- in my view, this is not at all his best work. For starters, his accent keeps going in and out and I found him slightly unbelievable in the role. A phenomenal actor, something with his performance did not sit well.

The musical score to the film is cheesy- almost shockingly so. Granted this was 1983, but the silly dance beats sporadic throughout now seem completely dated.

Parts of Scarface dragged a bit, however, a sudden dramatic scene (the dismembering of Tony’s friend by mobsters and Tony’s meltdown in a fancy restaurant) more than makeup for the occasional lags in drama.

Scarface (1983) is not on the level of other contemporary violent mob films, but for fans of the genre, it will be enjoyed.



Director Brian De Palma

Starring Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt

Scott’s Review #178


Reviewed September 29, 2014

Grade: B+

Directed by stylistic film genius Brian De Palma, Sisters (1973) is an early entry in the famed director’s repertoire and a direct homage to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock.

The film stars Margot Kidder as a French-Canadian model named Danielle Breton, who shares a Staten Island, NY apartment with her demented twin sister Dominique. For many years Danielle and Dominique were conjoined twins and only recently surgically separated.

After a romantic date with a new acquaintance, Danielle begins to feel ill and Dominique murders the new boyfriend after he surprises, who he thinks is Danielle, with a birthday cake.

But is it Dominique or is it Danielle?

Meanwhile, a neighbor, Grace Collier played by Jennifer Salt, witnesses the murder from across the alley, and in a highly dramatic scene, involving the victim attempting to scrawl “help” on the window, Grace gets the police involved.

The authorities are skeptical and unsympathetic to Grace’s claims since she works as a newspaper reporter and is constantly challenging the police department in her articles.

Finally, when the police do search Danielle’s apartment, no dead body is found. This sets off the plot for the remainder of the film as Grace looks for the missing body on her own (in Nancy Drew’s style) with the help of a detective she hires, Joseph Larch, comically played by Charles Durning.

One point to mention about Sisters is that the film is a blueprint for De Palma films to come, but that does not mean it is not engaging on its own merits- it pales in comparison to other De Palma gems that followed, such as Carrie and Dressed to Kill.

It feels raw and slightly underdeveloped compared to those aforementioned films.

Danielle’s ex-husband and doctor, Eli, while creepy and sinister, is not fully explored, and his relation to events taking place is a bit vague throughout much of the film.

Techniques such as the split-screen showing simultaneous action oftentimes relating to each other are introduced in this film and are a marvel to watch as so much of the plot is revealed in these sequences- activity in Grace’s apartment contrasts with and interchanges perfectly with action in Danielle’s apartment- highly effective and suspenseful.

DePalma uses many Hitchcock influences, but in no way steals them- the idea of a set of conjoined twins with mental illness was taken from a real-life story of Soviet twins.

Viewers familiar with Psycho will smile during the murder scene as influences are apparent- Rear Window is certainly referenced as countless scenes of the camera looking into Danielle’s or Grace’s apartment or the camera looking out onto a street scene or someone with binoculars spying out of their apartment and into someone else’s apartment across the street- very visually oriented.

The Hitchcock similarities continue with the musical score- it is composed by Bernard Hermann, a frequent collaborator of Hitchcock films- think Vertigo.

After all of the psychological build-up throughout the first hour of the film, the final thirty minutes or so, taking place within the confines of a mental asylum, is confusing and unrealistic, as various flashbacks and dream sequences are used, even using one character taking the place of another in a dream- edgy and unique, but tough to follow and organize properly.

Grace is assumed to be a newly admitted mental patient seemed far-fetched. What exactly transpired between Danielle and Dominique present and/or in the past?

Even though events are explained, I found myself scratching my head a bit after the film.

For fans of Brian De Palma films, Sisters (1973) is a perfect movie experience to show the influence to come and not a bad film on its own either.

Dressed to Kill-1980

Dressed to Kill-1980

Director Brian De Palma

Starring Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Michael Caine

Top 100 Films #13    Top 20 Horror Films #5

Scott’s Review #164


Reviewed September 2, 2014

Grade: A

Dressed to Kill (1980) is Brian De Palma’s greatest work throughout his storied career.

Set in New York City the film is essentially divided into two halves.

The first half centers around Angie Dickinson, who plays a bored housewife named Kate. She is unhappy in her marriage and seeks therapy from a psychiatrist played by Michael Caine, whom she makes sexual advances towards.

She is unfaithful to her husband, yet is a kind, intelligent, cultured woman. She adores her son and loves her husband, but is utterly unfulfilled with life.

Do we, the audience sympathize with her? Does she get what she deserves? Is she a victim? One powerful scene involves a wide-eyed little girl who cannot stop staring at Kate. Can she sense Kate’s shenanigans? Does she sense her conflict? Does Kate feel guilt? Kate is a complex character and brilliantly played by Dickinson who gives the character sexiness, softness, and appeal.

After a shocking event in a high-rise elevator rivaled only by the shower scene in Psycho (1960) in its surprise and terror, the remainder of the film belongs to Nancy Allen, who plays a prostitute named Liz, determined to solve a mystery to clear her name.

De Palma sets the dreamlike tone to the film with a sizzling opening shower scene sure to make the prudish blush in its explicitness, which I found deliciously sexy.

A ten-minute museum sequence speaks volumes without dialogue as Kate has a cat-and-mouse flirtation with a stranger.

The brilliance of Dressed to Kill is its versatility and complexity and contains one surprise after another from the elevator scene to the final reveal to the final stage itself.

It is part horror film part thriller and always stylish.

The film was surprisingly not well regarded upon its release, but over the years has achieved respect due to its creativity and excellent mood. Many scenes are shot in slow motion adding an effect to them.

Dressed to Kill (1980) is simply brilliant on every level.



Director Brian De Palma

Starring Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace

Scott’s Review #58


Reviewed June 23, 2014

Grade: A

Passion (2012) is a must-see for all Brian De Palma fans, Carrie (1976), and Dressed to Kill (1980).

Unfortunately, the film received little fanfare and is mostly forgotten, but it deserves a viewing.

The film is set in the world of advertising, where backstabbing and scheming are commonplace.

Rachel McAdams stars as an executive who steals her assistant’s (Noomi Rapace) ideas regularly. Fed up, the assistant plots revenge.

McAdams is delicious as the callous, calculating, little girl over her head in the corporate world.

The praise goes to DePalma, though, for creating yet another stylistic gem similar in tone to many of his other successful films.

The plot is almost secondary to the direction- twists and turns, and cool camera angles make the film an enjoyable experience. A common DePalma trait is a dreamlike feel which I love in his films.

The ending is a direct homage to Dressed to Kill.