Unlike other great conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View and Twilight's Last Gleaming, Brian De Palma's Blow Out has a demented sense of humor. In some ways this makes its theme of institutional failure all the more discomforting. The plot surrounding a political assassination grows more outlandish by the scene, lending darkly comic implications and an overwhelming sense of helplessness to a film about the worst kind of warped patriotism.
While recording sound in the countryside for a horror film, audio technician Jack Terry (John Travolta) accidently captures a car crash on tape. The occupants of the vehicle careen off a bridge and into a creek. Terry saves aspiring make-up artist Sally (Karen Allen) but the driver, governor of Pennsylvania and a presidential hopeful, perishes. His death sends a shockwave throughout the nation, but the real drama unfolds when Jack and Sally begin to piece together how and why he was killed.
De Palma, ever the cinephile, utilizes the components of film sound (repetition, recording, scratching) to great effect in scenes of tension. There's the woozy 360-degree shot in which Jack slowly discovers all of his tapes have been erased by a proactive assassin (John Lithgow), and the diabolical ending where a character's murder is captured on tape only to be reclaimed for use in a schlock horror film.
Long takes and crane shots are pivotal to De Palma's examination of corrupt power structures and personal vulnerability. Multiple murder sequences are shot from above, looking down at the victim who is unaware they are about to perish.
Blow Out, which screens at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 13 and 14, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills, is unflinchingly cynical about how quickly our individual freedoms can be compromised. "I hate to be observed," Sally confesses early on, but in De Palma's film she really has no choice in the matter.
Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet: An exiled artist returns home to with the help of his housekeeper and her daughter in this animated feature produced by Salma Hayek and based on the work of Lebanese author Kahlil Gibran. Screens through Thursday, Aug. 20, at the Ken Cinema.
Little England: This Greek melodrama begins in the 1920s and spans decades in the life of a family attempting to marry their daughters off to wealthy men. Screens through Thursday, Aug. 20, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer star as secret agents from opposite sides of the Berlin Wall battling ex-Nazi terrorists in 1960s Europe in this remake of the popular television show.
Straight Outta Compton: F. Gary Gray's biopic charts the rise and fall of the infamous rap group N.W.A. in the early 1990s.
Stung: Giant killer wasps interrupt a peaceful garden party in this schlocky horror film. Screens through Thursday, Aug. 20, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Ten Thousand Saints: Ethan Hawke and Hailee Steinfeld star in this dramedy about a teenager who moves from Vermont to New York City to live with his estranged father.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl: Bel Powely stars in this drama about a teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco who begins an affair with her mother's boyfriend.
Tom at the Farm: Xavier Dolan's suspense film follows a city dweller (played by Dolan) venturing into the countryside to meet the family of his recently deceased boyfriend. Screens through Thursday, Aug. 20, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One time only
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Johnny Depp dons a ton of makeup for his iconic role as Jack Sparrow in Gore Verbinski's surprisingly fun action adventure film. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12, at The Headquarters at Seaport Village.
Bridesmaids: Kristin Wiig wonders why she's always a bridesmaid and never a bride in Paul Feig's hilarious comedy about learning to appreciate what you have in life. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Moloka'i Solo: Bob Liljestrand's films explores the life of Audrey Sutherland, mother to pipeline surfer legend Jock Sutherland who spent summers kayaking all over the world. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12, at the San Diego Surf Museum in Oceanside.
Radical Grace: In this documentary produced by Susan Sarandon, three nuns stand up to the Catholic hierarchy to fight for several forms of social justice. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12, at The Center in Hillcrest.
Double Indemnity: Barbara Stanwyck stars as Phyllis Dietrichson, a bored and conniving housewife who recruits an unsuspecting insurance salesman to murder her rich husband in Billy Wilder's classic film noir. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13, at Althenaeum Music and Arts Library in La Jolla.
Blow Out: John Travolta's audio technician attempts to expose an assassination plot after recording a car accident involving a presidential hopeful in Brian De Palma's 1981 thriller. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 13 and 14, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
A Day with Thornton Dial Sr. and Ralph Fasanella's America: Two separate films explore the life and work of sculptor Thornton Dial and painter Ralph Fasanella. Screens at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, at Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park.
29th Street: Anthony LaPaglia and Danny Aiello star in this comedy about a New York City man who consistently finds himself in the worst possible situations. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, at The Hotel Lafayette in North Park.
Annie: This 2014 remake stars Jaime Foxx in the role of a rich mayoral candidate who begrudgingly adopts an orphan girl when he sees the political benefits of having a family. Screens at dusk Friday, Aug, 14, at Lemon Grove Park.
Some Like it Hot: Two musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who've witnessed a mob killing must disguise themselves as parts of an all female band to flee the state. Screens at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 15 and 16, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Radical Harmonies: Director Dee Mosbacher takes the viewer inside a folk music scene specifically aimed at lesbian audiences for the last three decades. Screens at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, at the Women's Museum in Liberty Station.
Working with Pinter: Harry Burton will be on hand to screen his film about the famous playwright Harold Pinter. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, at the MOXIE Theatre in San Diego.
Grease: Sing-a-long with your favorite tunes from the classic musical starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Screens at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, August 16 and Wednesday, Aug. 19, at local area theaters. For more information go to Fathomevents.com.
The Storm Makers: Guillaume Suon's documentary tells the story of Aya, a former slave who at the age of 16, was taken from Cambodia to Malaysia and forced to work as a maid. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17, at San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Life Partners: Two young women find their friendship tested when one of them finally begins her first relationship with a man. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18, at Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
Shadow of a Doubt: Joseph Cotton's Uncle Charlie might not be the man he seems to be in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller co-starring Teresa Wright. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, at Scripps Ranch Public Library.
Point Break: Kathryn Bigelow's masterful crime film is about a young F.B.I. agent (Keanu Reeves) who infiltrates a Los Angeles gang of robbers known as the "Ex-Presidents." Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma..
The Room: The best worst movie you will ever see. Screens at 11:55 p.m. Saturday, August 8, at the Ken Cinema.
Strangers on a Train: Tennis pro meets a mysterious and charming stranger while travelling cross country on a train and the two decide to swap murders. Boy was Alfred Hitchcock was a madman. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, August 9, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
The Black Pirate: Come for the dashing Douglas Fairbanks, stay for the ravishing and influential action sequences. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, August 9, at Adobe Chapel Museum in Old Town.
Last Chance Harvey: Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson co-star in this romantic comedy about two elderly people brought together by chance in London. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, August 10, at the San Diego Central Library in East Village.
Whatever Works: Larry David annoys the hell out of everyone in this Woody Allen comedy of indecision. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, August 11, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Johnny Depp dons a ton of makeup for his iconic role as Jack Sparrow in Gore Verbinski's surprisingly fun action adventure film. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 12, at The Headquarters at Seaport Village.
Bridesmaids: Kristin Wiig wonders why she's always a bridesmaid and never a bride in Paul Feig's hilarious comedy about learning to appreciate what you have in life. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 12, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.