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Tuesday, February 1, 2011
BUSCEMI RECALLS 1987 UNTOUCHABLES AUDITION
WHILE ACCEPTING SAG AWARD FOR HIS WORK IN BOARDWALK EMPIRE
At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday (January 30th), Steve Buscemi was awarded outstanding male actor for a drama series for his work on HBO's Boardwalk Empire. According to the New York Daily News' Soraya Roberts, during his acceptance speech, Buscemi recalled auditioning for Brian De Palma in 1987. According to the article, Buscemi "thanked casting director Ellen Lewis 'for having faith after my awful audition 20-something years ago when she brought me in to see Brian De Palma.'" The Swan Archives' Ari caught Buscemi's acceptance speech, and describes what the actor said after bringing up his Untouchables audition: "What he said was that at his audition, he went 'yabbada yabbada yabbada... thank you...,' the implication being that he was so nervous (presumably from being in De Palma's presence) that he couldn't make his words come out straight." While at the podium, Buscemi also begged Martin Scorsese to come back and direct another episode of Boardwalk Empire. Scorsese is a producer and creator of the show, and directed the pilot episode.

Posted by Geoff at 2:15 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 6:13 PM CST
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Saturday, January 29, 2011
CRIME D'AMOUR TO PLAY NEW YORK IN MARCH
PART OF ANNUAL RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA; SUNDANCE SELECTS TO DISTRIBUTE IN U.S.
Alain Corneau's final film, Crime d'amour, is set to play as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's 2011 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, according to Variety and indieWIRE. The series of 21 films, for which the Film Society partners up with Unifrance Films, runs March 3-13, and will feature a tribute to Corneau, who died of lung cancer last August. Corneau's 1979 thriller Série Noir will also be screened as part of the tribute. Sundance Selects is the distributor for Crime d'amour, which will be remade by Brian De Palma later this year under the title Passion.

Last August, Screen Daily's Lisa Nesselson wrote of Corneau's film, "Office politics fuelled by oestrogen rather than testosterone make Love Crime (Crime D’amour) an entertaining excuse to watch Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier play psychological chess as they brilliantly jockey for the upper manicured hand at the Paris branch of a multi-national agro business firm." Nesselson also described the film's tone as that of a "European art film," adding that "viewers who have become accustomed to the forensic marvels detailed on crime-themed TV shows may find the way the French police conduct their investigation quaint, but the film adds a fun wrinkle to the onscreen annals of so-called perfect crimes." De Palma a la Mod reader Pascal says he just watched the film last week (it was released on DVD in France earlier this month), and it made him think about De Palma, because, wrote Pascal, the movie is good, but lacks a certain hauntedness that he thinks De Palma can bring to the material.

In the 2010 TIFF official description of Crime d'amour, Piers Handling wrote:

Imagine Dangerous Liaisons crossed with Working Girl and you are well on your way to the core of Crime d’amour. Alain Corneau’s latest film is a remorseless tale of office politics played out by two ruthless executives, deliciously portrayed by the superb Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier. With ambition and jealousy oozing from their pores, they achieve the magnificent feat of eating up the scenery while delivering highly understated performances as competitive colleagues who become bitter enemies. Corneau’s script is so tight it squeaks, with precise, propulsive scenes that are bitingly sharp and cut to the quick. No asides, no longueurs. This is a masterclass in filmmaking.

Isabelle (Sagnier) is the young ingénue assistant, while Christine (Scott Thomas) is the older woman, a senior executive in a multinational company doing deals around the world. At first they are friendly. Christine, the able executive, is happy to pass the grunt work along to the up-and-coming Isabelle as she learns the ropes. But when Christine starts to take credit for Isabelle’s ideas, and a fellow worker bee begins to fuel Isabelle’s growing doubts about Christine’s duplicitous “all-for-one” attitude, the ground is prepared for all out war. And all out war certainly ensues.

Corneau keeps his explosive material under such fine control that he seduces us into going along for the ride as the devilishly complex plotting, full of surprising twists and turns, unfolds before our eyes. Filling out this mischievous entertainment is a supporting cast of men-on-the-make – from American executives who fly in to approve deals to the police and lawyers who swoop in when things start to go south. Corneau and his cast deliver an immensely enjoyable and delightfully devastating take on the corporate world.


Posted by Geoff at 4:03 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 6:15 PM CST
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
VARIETY: 'DE PALMA FINDS PASSION PROJECT'
REMAKE OF CORNEAU'S CRIME D'AMOUR WILL BE SET IN THE U.K., START SHOOT IN AUGUST
Variety's John Hopewell, writing from Madrid, reports that Brian De Palma will direct Passion, a remake of Alain Corneau's French psychodrama Crime d'amour, which starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier "as two feuding corporate execs, one of whom is driven to murder the other." The film played at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. De Palma told Variety, "Not since Dressed to Kill have I had a chance to combine eroticism, suspense, mystery and murder into one spell-binding cinematic experience." The remake will be set in the U.K., and is set up at SBS Productions in Paris, which is headed by Saïd Ben Saïd, who also produced the original film. The budget for the France-Germany-U.K.-Spain co-production will be around $30 million, and will be part-financed, according to Hopewell, "by a combination of co-production coin from European partners, subsidies, tax coin and French TV money." SBS used a similar structure for its current production of Roman Polanski's God Of Carnage, according to Hopewell. Passion is set to start shooting this August "at a studio in Cologne or Berlin," according to Hopewell, "tapping into Germany's liberal tax rebates." Hopewell adds that exteriors will be filmed in London, and that the film's key cast will be announced by the time of the Cannes Film Festival in May.

"MOVIES OF THIS KIND ARE VERY DIFFICULT TO MAKE TODAY IN THE U.S."
Hopewell's article continues:

"Passion" adds to the U.S. talent that is currently signing on to film or TV projects financed and often produced out of Europe.

Ben Said said he was willing to discuss financing with a Hollywood studio, but thought it more likely he would produce English-language European movies with top-notch American directors without recourse to U.S. finance.

"As with Roman Polanski's 'God of Carnage,' we can use a European film model and all its support systems, set up co-productions and find the money to make it," said Ben Said. "Movies of this kind are very difficult to make today in the U.S. because the U.S. doesn't have co-productions and the studios are not interested in making them."

"Carnage" has sold worldwide except for the U.S. and Japan.

Crime d'amour has been described by some American critics as Dangerous Liaisons meets Working Girl.


Posted by Geoff at 3:24 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 3:34 PM CST
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BODY DOUBLE TO PLAY AT FANTASTIC FEST
OUT-OF-COMPETITION CLAUSTROPHOBIA THEME; ARGENTO HONORED AS JURY CHAIR

Brian De Palma's Body Double will be screened at the Gerardmer 18th International Festival of Fantastic Film as part of a retrospective around the themes of "schizophrenia, claustrophobia, paranoia and other small joys of life." Body Double will play during "Claustrophobia Night," along with Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum, William Friedkin's Bug, and James Wan's Saw. Other films in the retrospective include Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Roman Polanski's Repulsion, David Lynch's Lost Highway, David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, Robert Wiene's The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Victor Fleming's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Richard Fleischer's The Boston Strangler, and Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, among others. Dario Argento will chair the jury for the films in competition at the fest, which runs from today through January 30th. There will be a special screening of Argento's Suspiria, as well as an Italian giallo night featuring Argento's The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Mario Bava's Twitch Of The Death Nerve, and Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper.

Posted by Geoff at 12:09 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 12:11 PM CST
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011
MCCONKEY ON RAISING CAIN STEADICAM SHOT
RUNNING COMMENTARY AT STEADISHOTS.ORG
Thanks to The Virtuoso of the 7th Art's Romain Desbiens for pointing us in the direction of a recent video posted at Steadishots.org, in which Steadicam operator Larry McConkey, who has worked with Brian De Palma numerous times, discusses the great police station shot in De Palma's Raising Cain, in which two police detectives listen to a doctor relate the backstory of the main character's father as all three of them travel down stairs, hallways, and elevators to reach the basement morgue. With the crazy angles and logistics involved, McConkey says he originally told cinematographer Stephen Burum that "you can't do that with a steadicam," but Burum made him try, anyway. McConkey describes how he followed the characters with a steady, moving extreme dutch angle that had to slowly be brought back as the characters moved through the space. All the while, McConkey had to keep his arms from twitching or bumping as he kept pressure on the tilt, as the slightest movement would have disrupted the shot. McConkey describes how his idea to have actress Frances Sternhagen keep walking in the wrong direction (so he could position his camera where it needed to go to change into a wide shot) led to her developing the movements as part of her character (the character is so focused on what she is saying, she just keeps walking in whatever direction she is going until directed by the detectives to backstep or turn and go a different direction). Other nice tidbits: McConkey talking about De Palma silently watching the shot on a monitor and tilting his head as the characters walk down the stairs and the camera tilts with them, then looking back at McConkey and Burum with his head still tilted, then looking back at the monitor (McConkey says "It was never discussed!"); McConkey decided to tilt the camera again inside the elevator, because Sternhagen is so much shorter than Gregg Henry, which meant that when he panned over to the other detective and back, he had to go back-and-forth again at an odd angle; the elevator ride was much shorter than it appears on screen, and Henry had to do a little shift in his body weight to hide the fact that the elevator was coming to a stop. McConkey describes two takes where everything was perfect: in one, he wishes he had kept it because after they move into the morgue and the camera swings around to look at the three characters, according to McConkey, "you hear Brian yelling, 'TILT!...DOWN!...NOW!!!'" In another take, everything was perfect ("We all nailed it," says McConkey), except when he moved the camera around the bed in the morgue, he ran into the toes of the body on the bed, less than twenty seconds from the end of the shot. "Brian goes, 'Do it again,'" says McConkey as he mimics De Palma's arm motion, signalling everybody to pick up and go back to the start.

Posted by Geoff at 12:17 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 12:21 PM CST
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011
DE PALMA ATTACHED TO 'PARKER' PROJECT
WORKING WITH BLACK SWAN SCREENWRITER JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
After all that talk about how Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is similar to the cinema of Brian De Palma, it turns out that De Palma's name was actually included in the Black Swan press kit. Under the kit's bio for screenwriter John McLaughlin, one of McLaughlin's latest film projects is listed as "a movie based on the Donald Westlake underworld character Parker with Brian De Palma attached to direct." I checked with De Palma, who confirmed the project. The bio also mentions a McLaughlin project called The Man Who Killed Houdini, and someone at TampaBay.com yesterday must have misread McLaughlin's bio, because they mistakenly stated that De Palma was attached to the Houdini project (De Palma said he is not involved with that one).

In any case, the Parker project sounds rather promising. Parker is a character created by Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark. The first novel to feature the character, The Hunter, was published in 1962, and subsequently adapted into two films: John Boorman's masterful Point Blank (1967), which starred Lee Marvin (as "Walker") and Angie Dickinson; and Payback (1999), starring Mel Gibson (as "Porter") and Gary Sinise. Robert Duvall also played a character based on Parker in John Flynn's The Outfit (1973), as did Jim Brown in Gordon Flemyng's The Split (1968).

McLaughlin shares screenwriting credit for Black Swan with Mark Heyman and Andrés Heinz. McLaughlin was the one who initially moved the story from its original Off-Broadway setting, bringing it into the world of ballet. McLaughlin has also adapted Stephen Rebello's book, Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho, into a screenplay that was at one point heading into production under the direction of Ryan Murphy, and starring Anthony Hopkins as Hitchock. However, Steven Zeitchik at the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil) is now in talks to take over that project.

For more information on the Parker character, visit The Violent World of Parker.


Posted by Geoff at 1:35 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 3:34 PM CST
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Sunday, January 16, 2011
WRIGHT PROGRAMS HITCH/DE PALMA NIGHT
UPDATE: KEITH GORDON TO PARTICIPATE! FRENZY & DRESSED TO KILL AT THE NEW BEV

Edgar Wright is currently in the middle of "The Wright Stuff II" at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. For next weekend, on Saturday and Sunday (January 22 and 23), Wright has programmed a double feature of Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, followed by Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill. Wright plans to be at the Saturday screening of Frenzy to discuss the film, and this just in: Keith Gordon, who played the De Palma-like nerdy-science wonk role in Dressed To Kill, will appear in person during Saturday's screening of that film. Here is Wright's description of the double feature as posted on his blog, Edgar Wright Here:

Edgar says:
Late period Hitchcock and golden period De Palma, together at last. Both fantastic thrillers, breathtaking technical exercises and coal black comedies.

Frenzy had a mixed reception when first released as some were disappointed that Hitch finally showed in graphic detail what he had only hinted at before. I say this ruthless atmosphere only strengthens this grimly funny tale of a man wrongly accused of being a serial killer. As a Brit myself, I personally love the early 70’s grubbiness of the tale, murder among the fruit stalls and potatoes. Lovely!

Dressed To Kill opens with a dream sequence, but the nightmare never ends. De Palma conjures a dark cloud of doom over his ensemble and creates opera from terror. The technique in this film is absolutely incredible, one of those movies that is a mini film school in itself.

And a special bonus that Saturday (Jan. 22) at midnight: Wright will be on hand to present a screening of Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run. Here's what he wrote about that one:

Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run is the kind of movie I wish I’d directed; there’s such a joyful explosion of ideas and techniques, such great momentum and perpetual motion. When I first saw this it made me want to direct another movie more than ever, I remember dragging friends to see it, including Simon Pegg & Jessica Hynes. Indeed it had an influence on my favorite Spaced episode Gone (2.5). It will be great to see this again with a crowd, it’s like a great party mixtape of a movie.


Posted by Geoff at 7:57 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, January 20, 2011 6:32 PM CST
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Friday, January 14, 2011
CRITERION ANNOUNCES BLOW OUT
SET TO INCLUDE NEW HOUR-LONG INTERVIEW WITH DE PALMA, WHO SUPERVISED THE NEW TRANSFER
Criterion today announced that it will release Brian De Palma's Blow Out on DVD and Blu-Ray April 26, 2011. The film marks its 30th anniversary this year. The restored digital transfer for the new DVD was supervised by De Palma himself. The two-disc set (the Blu-Ray is one disc) will include a new hour-long interview with De Palma, conducted by filmmaker Noah Baumbach (Greenberg), as well as a new interview with Nancy Allen. Another inspired feature: Cameraman Garrett Brown on the Steadicam shots featured in the film within the film. The set will also feature select on-set photos from photographer Louis Goldman, the original theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring an essay by Michael Sragow, as well as Pauline Kael’s original New Yorker review. But that's not all-- the Criterion website promises that more goodies are apparently in the works for this highly-anticipated release.
(Thanks to Jon Rubin!)

Posted by Geoff at 10:52 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 14, 2011 10:56 PM CST
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GUGINO ON SNAKE EYES' LOST ENDING
"WE SHOT IT ON VISTAVISION, SO IT LOOKED PHENOMENAL"
Carla Gugino was interviewed by Hollywood Outbreak's Greg Srisavasdi, who asked the actress about the original "tidal wave" ending of Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes, which was altered prior to its 1998 release when test audiences did not respond positively. Click on the above link to hear Gugino talk about the sequence and the film-- but here is what she told Srisavasdi:

Oh, my gosh. I know, it’s so weird. I feel like that came about just before they started doing (much more often) alternate endings on DVDs, etc. Because I saw that ending, and it was awesome! I prefer that ending to the ending that’s in the movie now. But I know that there was a thing at the moment with Snake Eyes where they felt like it was a bit of, like a ‘70s conspiracy thriller, and then all of a sudden it became an action movie with that tidal wave sequence. But in fact, I kind of loved that about it. We shot it on VistaVision, so it looked, you know, phenomenal. I actually did get pneumonia while shooting that sequence, and I was like, ‘It’s okay, suffer for your art, it’ll be great.’ And then they cut the sequence out of the movie! But I love De Palma. I love Brian. I had a great time working on that movie. Nic was fantastic, and Gary Sinise. You know, that opening sequence of that movie I think is still one of the best opening sequences of any movie.

Yeah, needless to say, De Palma, I mean, you know, he pays homage to Hitchcock, and the visuals. But that was something interesting was that a lot of people had told me that he was such a visual director that he would really… that I would not get any acting direction. And he was absolutely a fantastic actor’s director, as well. I mean, Brian always said, he was like, you know, ‘All of my movies that now are considered classics were lambasted at the time.’ And he was like, “I’ve always been appreciated in looking back, never in the moment when it’s happened,’ you know. Which is interesting, how that is. And I’m a huge fan.

THE ORIGINAL ENDING
Back in 2001, "BWL," a member of the forum at Bill Fentum's currently defunct "Directed By Brian De Palma" website, was able to view an alternate version of the Snake Eyes ending on VHS, but with no sound effects or music soundtrack. Here is how BWL described that ending:

It starts off the same as we have all seen. Rick Santoro stumbles into the tunnel, bloodied and beaten up, with Kevin Dunne following from behind him, waiting to see where Julia Costello is hiding. Anthea and her cameraman are outside getting shots of the storm and Anthea says "I'd sure like to know what I did wrong to get all the shit assignments!" The cameraman yells "Just roll so we can get out of here!" Then Anthea goes into her countdown and says, "Well, it looks like tropical storm Jezebel just may be a hurricane after all!" Meanwhile, as Rick and Kevin approach the door to the area where Julia is locked inside, Rick sees the shadow of Kevin holding a gun. We cut to a shot from high atop the room where Julia is hiding and see rain seeping in (this is the first shot I recognized as different). Rick turns around and faces Kevin. With his face all beaten up Rick says, "Kevin, am I still pretty?" Kevin tells him calmly to unlock the door and have Julia come outside. Rick says, "No I won't tell her. I won't let you kill her" and covers the door with his body and his arms. Kevin loses his patience and says "TELL HER TO OPEN THE DOOR!"

We cut to Anthea and her cameraman outside on the boardwalk as the cameraman pans his camera off the boardwalk towards the water(not a POV shot) and then it cuts to a huge wave that is gathering steam and headed straight for the boardwalk. We cut back to Rick, who finally agrees to ask Julia to let him in since Kevin is seriously threatening him and yelling "OPEN THE DOOR!" Meanwhile, we cut back out to the boardwalk as the camera zooms in closely on Anthea who says "HOLY SHIT!" as the tidal wave smashes through a ferris wheel and amusement park on its way towards them. The cameraman grabs Anthea and pulls her inside the van. Rick tells Julia that it's him and she should open the door. Inside Julia says "Rick is that you?" and grabs the handle to the door. She fumbles with the door handle for a few moments but the door is not opening- it's stuck. Kevin loses his patience and fires off 6 or 7 shots right through the doorway. Julia recoils in fear and lets out a scream. Similar to the version we've seen, the shots manage to cause the outer doors that lead to the boardwalk to open up. Rick and Kevin rush inside the room where Julia is hiding. Rick covers Julia with his body to protect her from Kevin and she stands behind Rick scared out of her mind. Kevin says, "All right, Rick. I'll give you one more chance. Get out of the way or I'll shoot right through you." Rick looks outside and sees the gathering wave. He says to Julia, seemingly out of capitulation, "Sorry baby, I tried."

Then we cut to Kevin's henchmen driving in their van to "pick up the package on the boardwalk" (a scene referenced in the regular version when Kevin radios them and they respond while they're in the middle of putting the dead bodies into the concrete). The henchmen see the large globe detached from The Millennium rolling down the boardwalk by Anthea's news van. One of the henchmen says, "What the hell is that?" (which in the regular version was said verbatim by the emergency rescue personnel). The wave hits the boardwalk and washes over the news van and into the globe (this shot is also in the regular version). We cut back inside as Kevin is standing in the middle of the room about to shoot Rick, who is still covering Julia off on the side of the room. We see a wideshot of these three in the tunnel when all of a sudden the globe comes SMASHING through the tunnel wall and in an instant it rolls right over Dunne. The globe is followed from behind by a huge blast of water that rushes over Julia and Rick as they cling to each other and struggle to keep their footing. The water continues to rush in over them, filling up the tunnel, but after a few moments it recedes. Once it is safe the cameraman from the boardwalk comes running into the tunnel with his camera. As we pan down over the scene we see the large globe stopped dead in its tracks in the middle of tunnel with Kevin's crushed body and dangling from it, apparently impaled by a jagged piece of metal. Rick is lying on the ground coughing up water and still badly hurt from his beating. Julia comforts him by her side as the cameraman rushes over to them yelling to Anthea, "there's people in here!" But he says it less out of concern than out of opportunity. We then see from the POV of the cameraman's camera (as we similarly do in the regular version) a shot of Julia and Rick. Julia says with disgust "Would you just get away!" The cameraman zooms in on Rick's bloodied face and he stares blankly into the camera, and then the scene dissolves to the Mayor's awards ceremony (which is back the movie we all know).


Posted by Geoff at 1:17 AM CST
Updated: Friday, January 14, 2011 1:20 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011
DECADE LISTS: MISSION TO MARS

Okay, so it's been a week since I promised the decade list summaries, but here they come, beginning with this post about Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars, which several critics and bloggers fondly remembered as they recalled the first decade of the new millenium. Here are the lists and links...

Benjamin Strong, The L Magazine
Regarding the year 2000, Strong wrote, "The Oscar-winning Best Picture may have been Ridley Scott's Gladiator, with its turgid, fake-looking battles inside a computer generated Coliseum. But in terms of special effects and pure movie spectacle, late-breaking science fiction pictures like Transformers or Avatar still can't hold a candle to Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars, 2000's most woefully overlooked picture, and one of the most beautiful-looking outer space movies ever made."

Also at the L Magazine, Matt Zoller Seitz put together an "End-of-Decade Clip Party" called We Love the Aughties, the first part of which included a scene from Mission To Mars.

Ryan Kelly, Medfly Quarantine
Kelly discusses Mission To Mars in his chronological list of "the movies that mattered most" to him during the decade in question. "For me, the first great movie of the decade, and also among its most reviled, though why I'm not exactly sure. But it's a wild, bold, and beautiful take on our place in the Universe, and the miracle and wonder of existence --- simultaneously sophisticated and pulpy." (There is more discussion of Mission To Mars in the comments section of Kelly's post.)

Rob Humanick, Slant Magazine
The Slant Staff placed Mission To Mars at number 80 on its list of the 100 best films of the decade. Of the film, Humanick wrote, "An argumentative line in the sand for what cinema means, Mission to Mars might be the greatest '50s sci-fi film ever, even if came half a century late. 2001 by way of irony-deprived B-movie euphoria, this wide-eyed space odyssey subverts big budget expectations with bigger feelings, actively and eagerly engaging one with expressionist emotion. Like Kubrick's masterpiece, Mars takes comfort in the probability of life elsewhere but more profoundly does it appreciate what human life means to itself. The film ponders and posits, elevating those thoughts to religious wonder. Where did we come from? We may never know, but we can always dance the night away." In the comments section, "dbe2101" wrote that "Mission to Mars is neither a good film nor a watchable one," which prompted Humanick to reply: "Well, dbe2101, gonna have to disagree with you... I for one am glad to be in the purported minority—not loving Mission to Mars seems like not loving life. But obviously, it's not that simple."

Chris Stangl, The Exploding Kinetoscope
Stangl went year-by-year as he began to build a list of 100 memorable films from the decade, placing Mission To Mars at number 6 for the year 2000. Stangl wrote:

"'Drifting through eternity will ruin your whole day.' So goes some wisdom from Brian De Palma’s marvelous spaceman thriller. Mission to Mars is practically a humanist retort to 2001: A Space Odyssey, its climactic moments dedicated to a pretty and inspiring filmstrip on biological evolution on Earth. Containing something to bewilder or sour nearly ever viewer, even the film’s final statement of wonder is marred by one badly designed transitional era CG alien effect. But all De Palma films have a little of this wonder, and no small amount of dread, as starry-eyed humans are ricocheted around a cosmic pool table along networks too daft to make sense of, dragged by forces they cannot see. Mission does, in its finale, marvel at nature, but until then it is variously spooked and awe-struck.

"The climax of physical action occurs in the black void, of course, stranded between heaven and earth (well... between spaceship and Mars), safe home and unknown adventure, chilly womb and blazing death. The suspense device is of properly calibrating jet pack thrusters and conserving limited fuel supplies; the moral questions are of the same stuff: applied force, inertia, impossible choice and aiming carefully while navigating through space.

"One zero G setpiece alone sees the director pushing the cinematic apparatus’ ability to organize space and time to a new plane: it is a De Palma Future. As the ship is about to enter orbit around Mars, a micrometeorite barrage perforates the hull, one space suit helmet, and one astronaut’s hand: bam, bam, bam, these are the crises in poetic simplicity, tiny rocks hurtling through infinity just to fuck up four heroes. The ensuing repair effort is a suspense scene of elaborate construction without parallel... except in the De Palma canon. Beginning with the image of atomized blood globules swirling lazily about the pristine ship, the sequence expands and flows into airless abstract 3D museum diorama. As four crewmembers undertake separate tasks in different locations and the atmosphere rapidly suctions out of the craft, their work unites the action, a seamless vignette about punctured seams. The source of the first leak is detected via the floating blood droplets, the second by a serendipitous packet of Dr. Pepper. The pieces and particles flocking in one direction to create a whole, the scene snakes through space, inside and outside, perfectly oriented in a place where up and down do not apply and time is the crucial dimension. Linked in purpose, discrete no longer, like the chromosomes sent to a blue planet from a red one, like the astronaut’s DNA model built of M&M’s, like the Dr. Pepper and the blood, like the clouds of Martian dust. Like pictures threaded in sequence, moving in time together to tell a story."

Eugene Novikov, Cinematical
Novikov listed his favorite science fiction films of the decade, and included Mission To Mars and Lawrence Kasdan's Dreamcatcher under the heading, "Most Underappreciated," writing, "I will admit that my uncommon patience with De Palma's visual style and his starry-eyed desire to ape Kubrick may have contributed to my appreciation of Mission to Mars. Dreamcatcher I thought was mistreated -- the tonal shifts and occasional plunges into goofiness seemed like shrewd choices rather than mistakes to me. But I'm probably not going to convince anyone about either of these."

Tiago Costa, Claquete
After posting his top 20 of the decade in order of preference, Costa listed "the rest in any order"-- but that list begins with Mission To Mars.

Tom, I Hate Popcorn
Finally, in a blog post that has disappeared since it was posted December 24, 2009, Tom placed Mission To Mars at number 24 on his list of the 25 best films of the decade. I will post Tom's full list in the Femme Fatale post, either today or tomorrow.


Posted by Geoff at 4:43 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 4:52 PM CST
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