Bilge Ebiri

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE: Brian De Palma's psycho rock musical

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE: Brian De Palma's psycho rock musical

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Brian De Palma’s infamous tendency to divide his career between “one for me” personal works and “one for them” studio movies. One of his strangest and most beautiful films, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, airs tonight at midnight, and it is absolutely not to be missed. In fact, “strange” doesn’t even do it justice.

SIDEWAYS and the bitterly human comedies of Alexander Payne

SIDEWAYS and the bitterly human comedies of Alexander Payne

Is SIDEWAYS, which airs tonight at 10P on Sundance Channel, Alexander Payne’s masterpiece? It’s got some competition, to be sure: Many would cite ELECTION, his bitter satire about a high school student council election, as the Payne film that continues to resonate most over the years. Personally, I always had a soft spot for ABOUT SCHMIDT, his Oscar-nominated comedy-drama about a recently widowed Jack Nicholson traveling across the country in his Winnebago. And then of course there’s THE DESCENDANTS, which netted a bunch of awards and nominations last year (and won Payne his second Best Screenwriting Oscar).

SIDEWAYS and the bitterly human comedies of Alexander Payne

SIDEWAYS and the bitterly human comedies of Alexander Payne

Is SIDEWAYS, which airs tonight at 10P on Sundance Channel, Alexander Payne’s masterpiece? It’s got some competition, to be sure: Many would cite ELECTION, his bitter satire about a high school student council election, as the Payne film that continues to resonate most over the years. Personally, I always had a soft spot for ABOUT SCHMIDT, his Oscar-nominated comedy-drama about a recently widowed Jack Nicholson traveling across the country in his Winnebago. And then of course there’s THE DESCENDANTS, which netted a bunch of awards and nominations last year (and won Payne his second Best Screenwriting Oscar).

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE: Jonathan Demme remakes a political thriller — and himself

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE: Jonathan Demme remakes a political thriller — and himself

When Jonathan Demme remade THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE — airing tonight at 10P — in 2004, many people were perplexed: Why remake a film that was such a perfect time capsule of Cold War pop culture? Indeed, John Frankenheimer鈥檚 1962 original, about a politician who has been brainwashed by the enemy, feels perfectly placed in history: It’s a film that both embraces Red Scare paranoia while satirizing McCarthyist histrionics. Demme probably felt that the post-9/11 political climate in the U.S., what with the enigmatic War on Terrorism and the controversial Patriot Act, warranted a revisitation of this premise. But the original was, in essence, a tight and effective suspense flick with political overtones — more Hitchcock than Sherwood Andersen. Demme鈥檚 politically pointed remake is darker, more modern and more despairing, with an A-List cast to match its ambitions, featuring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE: Jonathan Demme remakes a political thriller — and himself

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE: Jonathan Demme remakes a political thriller — and himself

When Jonathan Demme remade THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE — airing tonight at 10P — in 2004, many people were perplexed: Why remake a film that was such a perfect time capsule of Cold War pop culture? Indeed, John Frankenheimer鈥檚 1962 original, about a politician who has been brainwashed by the enemy, feels perfectly placed in history: It’s a film that both embraces Red Scare paranoia while satirizing McCarthyist histrionics. Demme probably felt that the post-9/11 political climate in the U.S., what with the enigmatic War on Terrorism and the controversial Patriot Act, warranted a revisitation of this premise. But the original was, in essence, a tight and effective suspense flick with political overtones — more Hitchcock than Sherwood Andersen. Demme鈥檚 politically pointed remake is darker, more modern and more despairing, with an A-List cast to match its ambitions, featuring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep.

Brian De Palma and the power of THE UNTOUCHABLES

Brian De Palma and the power of THE UNTOUCHABLES

Back in in 1987, when Brian De Palma came out with THE UNTOUCHABLES — which airs tonight at 10P — nobody quite knew what to expect. True, it was a much-anticipated crime epic about the small group of Chicago law enforcement officials led by Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) who brought down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) at the height of Prohibition, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and filmmaker David Mamet, but nobody quite knew which Brian De Palma was going to show up.

CASSANDRA'S DREAM and the complicated legacy of Woody Allen

CASSANDRA'S DREAM and the complicated legacy of Woody Allen

Anytime Woody Allen releases a new film, moviegoers naturally debate where it ranks on his filmography. Is it a triumphant return to form like last year鈥檚 MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, or a dud like 2009鈥檚 WHATEVER WORKS? Is it a vibrant echo of his early masterpieces, or a dispiriting reminder that he鈥檚 now 76 and his best years may be behind him? There鈥檚 rarely a middle ground: It鈥檚 either Good Woody or Bad Woody.

VOLVER and Pedro Almod贸var's second golden age

VOLVER and Pedro Almod贸var's second golden age

Over the past three decades, Pedro Almod贸var has become one of the most widely beloved filmmakers in the world. His 2006 drama VOLVER — on Sundance Channel tonight and all month — was one of his biggest popular and critical hits, garnering its star Penelope Cruz a Best Actress Oscar nomination and helping cement his status as one of the few foreign filmmakers who could rightfully be called a household name in the U.S. To those of us who have been following his career since the beginning, this has come as a welcome surprise.

Breaking boundaries: 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan

Breaking boundaries: 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan

Right from the get-go, you can tell that Michael Winterbottom鈥檚 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE — airing this weekend and all month long on Sundance Channel — is no ordinary biopic. It begins with Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) addressing the camera as he narrates his life. Wilson was a British TV personality who was so taken with the emerging punk and post-punk scene in the 1970s and ’80s that he founded Factory Records, a Manchester-based label that brought the world such notorious bands as the Happy Mondays, Joy Division and New Order. This playful, inventive retelling of his tale intercuts between some of his TV stunts and the key moments of his career, all as he continues to speak directly to us; part of the film鈥檚 charm is that Coogan was himself a Wilson-like character at the time. (Already popular among Brits, he enjoyed a tremendous career surge after this role.)

The making of an "impossible" movie: THE NAME OF THE ROSE

The making of an "impossible" movie: THE NAME OF THE ROSE

When director Jean-Jacques Annaud first announced that he would be making a film adaptation of THE NAME OF THE ROSE — airing on Sundance Channel this Sunday at 10:05PM — many were perplexed, if not aghast. Umberto Eco’s thick historical novel was a gripping medieval mystery, true, but it was also a dense meditation on linguistics, theology, the legacy of the Classical Age and history in general, from a proud academic who had previously been known mainly for his brilliant books and essays about semiotics, literary theory and aesthetics. The novel was a remarkable combination of page-turning suspense and heady philosophy —- how on earth would it translate to film, and a big-budget one at that?