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Monday, September 29, 2014
Sean Witzke posted a brief riff on Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible to his Supervillain Tumblr last May:

"De Palma does this amazing thing where he does the Kurosawa show-the-plan-first-in-minature but he reverses it to make it work in a spy movie where they misdirect you by telling you all the obstacles they are about to run through, but he does it by having detailed a third element buried in the telling, where the guy who works at the computer is a pawn in the narrative. And he gets beaten up as the story moves forward, just to show how callous the heroes are. It’s all games, and Hunt actually describes it as a game first. I really love how smart/aware it is for a movie that doesn’t need to be anything but set pieces.

"The movie was regarded, at release, as hackwork. Set pieces strung together by multiple writers and directed by a technician, because of the massive massive push behind it at the time. But it functions at such a high level not only as a spy story - full of reversals, nasty violence, huge scope, intimate details, personal stakes, heists, and of course flashy set pieces - but also as a De Palma movie. His themes of surveillance, misinformation, close-up violence, betrayal, visually literalizing narrative complexity, all of them wrapped around the structure of a massive summer blockbuster. The other Mission Impossible movies (all of which I do love in various ways) are Cruise doing Bond, but Mission Impossible is De Palma figuring out how to do his best tricks for the bleachers."

Posted by Geoff at 3:37 AM CDT
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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Thanks to Ari for sending us this link to a new commercial for Progressive, which spoofs the vault break-in-through-the-ceiling set-piece in Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible.

Meanwhile, yesterday, The Sydney Morning Herald's Ben Pobjie posted a mini-review of De Palma's film, which played on TV there last night. "The great thing about Mission: Impossible," writes Pobjie, "is that it simply gallops along, chase after chase, fight after fight, technobabble after brief love scene, the pace never slackening for introspection or boring backstory. Director Brian De Palma knew we didn't need to delve into Hunt's tortured past: we just needed to see Cruise riding bullet trains, being tossed about by explosions, and dangling from a wire to avoid sensors in one of cinema's most definitive secret-agent set-pieces. The film tracks the twisted plot through each reverse, double-cross and red herring, wisely keeping exposition brief and speedy - especially advisable when the story is this ludicrous - and focusing on the gadgets, the bangs and Tom's running-from-bad-guys-stress-face."

Posted by Geoff at 5:25 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jon Voight reveals to Crave Online's Fred Topel that he felt bad about spoiling the heroic image of Jim Phelps, the TV character he transferred to the big screen in Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. He felt so bad, apparently, that he suggested a different ending. Here's the exchange between Voight and Topel:

Topel: When the Mission: Impossible movies became such a successful franchise, did you regret the twist with Jim Phelps? You could have continued as a heroic character in the series.

Voight: I actually wrote another ending for the first movie and I gave it to Tom [Cruise]. I don’t know if I wrote it out, but I had this idea that they found messages coming and it was from Jim Phelps. They thought they killed him but they hadn’t killed him, and he returns, and the other guys return too. The people he thought were dead were not dead. It was all to try to get the mole. He was being used by us, but it didn’t work out.

Topel: Did you discuss that with Brian De Palma?

Voight: Yeah, I think I did. He wasn’t interested.

Topel: The thing was Jim was the hero on the TV show.

Voight: I felt badly about spoiling that image. I felt bad about it.


Posted by Geoff at 7:46 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 7, 2014 7:10 PM CDT
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Saturday, March 15, 2014

From the beginning of an article by Rob Nelson in today's Minnesota Star Tribune:

"Early in Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible reboot from 1996, a flight attendant offers a selection of videotapes to Jon Voight’s mysterious spy team leader, who, sitting in first class, drolly replies that he prefers the theater.

“'Would you consider the cinema of the Ukraine?' the attendant asks. The agent accepts the 'Ukrainian' tape, whose secret message concludes with the news that the tape will self-destruct in five seconds.

"It probably wasn’t De Palma’s intent to say that Ukrainian cinema is dangerous, although the nation’s current crisis should remind us of the perils of knowing about the art and culture of a country on the brink of war mainly through a brief reference in an 18-year-old Hollywood blockbuster.

"Fortunately, a handful of Ukrainian films — two of them certified classics of world cinema — are widely available for streaming on demand."

(Nelson then goes on to describe four notable Ukranian films available for streaming: Aleksandr Dovzhenko's Earth, Sergei Parajanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Pavla Fleischer's The Pied Piper of Hutzovina, and Sergei Loznitsa's My Joy.)

Posted by Geoff at 8:02 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, March 15, 2014 8:04 PM CDT
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Sunday, March 9, 2014
Last week, A.V. Club's A.A. Dowd took a look, with spoilers, at the Mission: Impossible film franchise, as part of the site's "Run The Series." Dowd notes that the franchise is, like the Alien franchise, "auteur-driven," as each film is helmed by a different director. "Though they’re all loosely based on the same popular television series," Dowd states, "every one of the four Mission: Impossible movies carves out its own conceptual and stylistic identity. The sequels don’t feel like sequels, but high-concept reboots, as though the gatekeepers of the series were so nervous that their hit formula would go instantly stale that they sought to rewrite it with each subsequent entry. As a result, the nature of Mission: Impossible depends entirely on who’s in the director’s chair.

"Brian De Palma, the New Hollywood veteran who brought M:I to the screen in 1996, offered a paranoid surveillance thriller about distrust of old heroes. Hong Kong heavyweight John Woo, who took the reins next, downplayed espionage in favor of balletic action, fashioning another of his enemies-as-brothers thrillers (this one featuring an enemy so brotherly that he 'doubles' for his rival). Moving from television to movies with his contribution to the series, J.J. Abrams shaped Mission: Impossible III into a big-screen Alias, again examining the attempts of a covert operative to balance professional and personal lives. And Pixar’s Brad Bird, in his fledgling foray into live-action filmmaking, crafted a characteristic ode to exceptional people (à la his The Incredibles), applying a playful animator’s touch to various feats of courage and strength.

"Setting aside thematic thrust, every Mission bears the visual mark of its maker, discernible in any random five-minute stretch of running time. Who but Woo could have made the very turn-of-the-millennium Mission: Impossible II, with its constant slow motion, its double-pistol gunfights, its white doves emerging from a fiery inferno? Who but De Palma could have made the original, flush as it is with split screen, POV shots, and dramatic zooms into faces? Mission: Impossible III proved that Abrams was nuts for lens flares long before Star Trek, while the car-factory finale of Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol is a dead ringer for the climaxes of several Pixar movies. Close your eyes and just listen to these films. Their scores—the inappropriate whimsy of Danny Elfman’s, the swelling bombast of Hans Zimmer’s, the third-time’s-a-charm urgency of Michael Giacchino’s—betray a specific time period and sensibility. Whatever one thinks of the individual movies, there’s no mistaking one for another."

The "inappropriate whimsy" of the Danny Elfman score? Hardly-- on the contrary, I find Elfman's score for the first film heavy with dark themes reflecting the betrayals, sadness, and paranoia of the characters, and any of the bombastic whimsy that occasions within some of the action scenes, perhaps, entirely appropriate.

Here is what Dowd has to say about De Palma's film, more specifically:


The biggest hit of his career, Mission: Impossible was the culmination of De Palma’s brief heyday as a Hollywood hit maker. (Just to try to imagine him getting a summer tentpole gig like this today.) But it’s no anonymous sell-out move: From its opening scene, which conflates government surveillance with the voyeurism of cinema, the film is unmistakably the work of the same director who made Blow Out or Dressed To Kill or any of those fabulously stylish, psychosexual ’80s thrillers. By asserting his authorial personality upfront, by conforming this franchise launcher to his own obsessions, De Palma set the precedent for the series. From here on out, the Mission: Impossible films would smuggle personal preoccupations into their crowd-pleasing packages.

After its cold open, Mission: Impossible launches into an homage to the original show’s credit sequence, teasing scenes from the forthcoming adventure with a fast-cut montage of enticing imagery. The callback proves to be a red herring; not long after, the movie throws reverence to the wind by having all but one member of the IMF squad slaughtered—the loud-and-clear message being that, unlike its small-screen predecessor, this Mission: Impossible won’t be a team exercise. Going one step further, De Palma and his writers (the Hollywood dream team of Steven Zaillian, David Koepp, and Robert Towne) later reveal the hero of the TV series, Jim Phelps, to be a double-crossing traitor. The controversial revelation announces that catering to the diehards will not be a goal of this franchise. Today’s geek-friendly adaptations, slavish in their loyalty to The Text, could learn something from the brazen infidelity of Mission: Impossible.

Naturally, fans—and original cast members—greeted these affronts to the show’s legacy with anger. Consensus among the incensed seemed to be that De Palma’s movie had not only butchered the source material, turning it into a vanity project for [Tom] Cruise, but had also applied the Mission: Impossible brand to a soulless Hollywood action flick. That criticism is a bit baffling, frankly. Yes, there are some pyrotechnics, especially during the speeding-train climax, heavily excerpted in the trailers. But in De Palma’s hands, Mission: Impossible is largely an exercise in suspense—in bombs under the table that don’t go off, as his hero Hitchcock might put it. The movie’s most memorable moments, like the undercover op during the party and the famous hanging-from-the-ceiling Langley infiltration, are models of escalating tension. Stealth is privileged over confrontation—a trend that would blessedly continue throughout most of the series.

In fact, the main reason that Woo’s installment now feels like the low point of the franchise is that it abandons the ethos of the original, essentially earning the accusations that were lobbed at De Palma’s movie. Whereas the first film boasts a Hitchockian wrong-man plot, with Hunt framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Mission: Impossible II riffs on Notorious—but only until about the midpoint, at which point Woo hijacks his perverse sleeping-with-the-enemy scenario in favor of some very Woo-ish adrenaline rushes. M:I 2 is a moronically caffeinated extreme-sports highlight reel, its story a thin pretext for rock-chord machismo and shots of its shaggy-haired star striking “badass” poses. (Even more so than the previous film, this one is basically The Cruise Show.) Still, there’s plenty of dumb fun to be had with Woo’s hilariously excessive approach, especially when the director pushes both his own and the series’ trademarks to their self-parodic limits.


Here's what the Prague Post's André Crous wrote about the Prague locations used in the first and fourth films:

Brian De Palma’s film adaptation of the well-known television series had some tense moments that were set in the land between West and East, where Americans were still hatching some dastardly plans even as the East’s veil of secrecy was gradually lifting. The first act of this film is set in a Prague where the U.S. Embassy apparently looks exactly like the National History Museum on Wenceslas Square, and main character Ethan Hunt finds himself missing a violent car explosion on Kampa square (Na Kampě), just off Charles Bridge, which is eerily deserted. In the film’s third sequel, the 2011 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Prague doubled as Budapest and Moscow (yikes!).

Posted by Geoff at 7:47 PM CST
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Last September, Kristin Scott Thomas told The Hollywood Reporter's Alexandra Zawia an anecdote about working with Brian De Palma on Mission: Impossible. "I really like Brian De Palma, in a twisted way," she told Zawia. "He gave me the most outrageous acting direction once on Mission: Impossible. I was acting away, and he says 'Cut, cut, cut! You are in [Albert] and you are a spy. You look like you are surveying your estates in Russia.' Stop acting, right? I should write a book: 'Pieces of directing I have loved.'”

In an interview posted last week at Thompson On Hollywood, Scott Thomas gives Matt Mueller a few more details about the situation. Mueller asks her "whether she ever felt 'lost' on big Hollywood films like Mission: Impossible."

"I used to love it," Scott Thomas replies. "I love it less now because I'm more impatient. When you're working on a small film, you feel very much part of the actual filmmaking process. When you're on a huge film, it's all technical so that's when I enjoy being told to stand there, duck my head because something's going to fly over it. I like all that, too. On Mission: Impossible, Brian De Palma gave me one of the most cruel notes. I was standing in a lift trying to look like I'm a spy and Brian said, 'Cut! Kristin, stop looking like you're thinking about your orchards in Russia!'"

Posted by Geoff at 6:02 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 11, 2013 6:06 PM CDT
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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Tom Cruise will discuss his film career with the New York Film Festival's director of programming, Kent Jones, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's An Evening with Tom Cruise on Monday, December 17. The conversation will be followed by a preview screening of Jack Reacher, the potential Cruise franchise vehicle-starter directed by Christopher McQuarrie that opens in theaters that following Friday. In between those days, the Tom Cruise tribute continues with seven films programmed by Scott Foundas, including Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, which will screen at 6:30pm on Thursday, December 20. The other films are Tony Scott's Top Gun, Paul Brickman's Risky Business, Barry Levinson's Rain Man, Oliver Stone's Born On The Fourth Of July, Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire, and Ed Zwick's The Last Samurai.

Last month, Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr. posted that McQuarrie will direct the fifth Mission: Impossible film, which will be produced by Cruise and JJ Abrams. Writers were still to be hired for the project, according to Fleming, but it would seem likely that McQuarrie himself would be involved in the writing, as he has written every film he has directed so far, including the screenplay adaptation of Jack Reacher, from the Lee Child novel One Shot. McQuarrie also co-wrote the screenplay for Valkyrie, which starred Cruise and was directed by Bryan Singer.

Posted by Geoff at 7:18 PM CST
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Friday, December 23, 2011
I'll get this minor SPOILER ALERT out of the way first (don't read if you don't want to know)-- Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol ends with a cameo from Ving Rhames, playing Luther Stickell. After Ethan Hunt's latest adventure, Bird does a direct echo of the post-adventure scene in Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible by pointing the camera at a Seattle cafe's television, on which can be seen a newscaster explaining away the "official" cover-up version of the events which have just transpired in the film. The camera then pans through the cafe to find Ethan and Luther sitting at a table, enjoying a drink together as the two discuss the latest mission. (Bird's film also touches on the J.J. Abrams Mission story after the De Palma homage... not sure if the John Woo Mission is in here somewhere or not.)

I liked Ghost Protocol quite a bit. Bird really brought the playfulness to it that he spoke of in interviews, and the film has more than a few laughs coming from several directions, while still keeping a palpable spy-genre tension. The opening prologue brings the viewer right into the movie with a fast-paced chill, followed by a highly entertaining jailbreak mission. Worth noting is that Paul Hirsch, who edited the De Palma Mission, returns for the new one, as well.

While I feel the new film is the best one since the first one, I still feel that De Palma's is the best Mission so far. De Palma's film moves in a cooly fluid, insidiously beautiful way, with a layered, subversive element to the images. Bird's film advances in animated leaps and bounds, thrilling to the moment. Each version works, but it seems to me that the De Palma film has so much more to say about the dirty business of being a spy, and it does so rather chillingly.

Two critics who really like Bird's film are Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman and City Arts' Armond White. Gleiberman includes Ghost Protocol at number ten on his list of 2011's best films, calling it the best in the Mission series. "In an action-ride culture that offers so much fake adrenaline," states Gleiberman, "it's cathartic to encounter the real thing."

Meanwhile, White begins his review of Bird's film this way: "Brian De Palma’s 1996 Mission Impossible was a cartoon even though he didn’t direct it like one. The sheer, exhilarating pleasure of Mission Impossible IV (officially subtitled Ghost Protocol) comes from star-producer Tom Cruise’s ingenious decision to cast animation master Brad Bird." White later continues, "Whereas De Palma’s hyper clear visual style was gravely emotional even when the action was absurd, it didn’t quite transform the TV-based material into the Fritz Lang revelation De Palma intended (despite the helicopter/train Chunnel sequence’s very obvious reference to Lang’s 1929 Spies). Bird’s movie is lighter, yet more visionary."

White further compares Abrams to Bird and De Palma: "Co-producer J.J. Abrams tried and failed to make a deluxe TV-movie in Star Trek. Abrams simply lacks a cinematic eye comparable to Bird (comparable to De Palma? Forget it.) Bird’s conceptual staging of a prison break, a choreographed seduction at a ball in India and a chase during a desert dust storm display a big-screen sense of movement that harkens back to great animation as well as silent movie slapstick."

In the final paragraph of the review, White claims that the Besson stable of directors is still the crew to beat when it comes to the action genre: "If Ghost Protocol was any better, it would match the splendid advance of action movie aesthetics that Luc Besson has spearheaded in the Transporter movies (especially Olivier Megaton’s Godardian Transporter 3) as well as Angel-A, Taken, From Paris with Love and this year’s terrific Colombiana. These recent heroic action narrative innovations by Besson, Paul W.S. Anderson and Neveldine-Taylor are accomplishing what De Palma was after. Hollywood is slow on the uptake. Tarantino, Eli Roth and their ilk can only amp-up brutality; they lack visual wit. But in Ghost Protocol, Cruise and Bird are catching up. It is a rare pleasure to salute a Hollywood action movie that gets it right."

Posted by Geoff at 7:48 PM CST
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Friday, December 9, 2011

Get More: Movie Trailers, Movies Blog

MTV News' Josh Horowitz
talked with Tom Cruise on the red carpet as he was promoting Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and asked him which of the set pieces in the M:I series was his favorite. When Cruise had trouble coming up with just one, Horowitz said it was hard to top the Langley break-in sequence of the first film. The article states that Cruise credits Brian De Palma for that scene's success. "I remember when I was doing it, my head kept hitting the floor," Cruise told Horowitz. "I was running out of energy, and we were running out of time. So Brian said, 'Look, if you don't get it on the next take, I'm going to have to edit that scene,' and cut to where I fall down. So I said, no, I don't want to do that. To one of the stunt guys, I said, 'Give me your pound coins out of your pocket.' I put the pound coins in my shoes, the tips, so that's what allowed me to be able to balance and keep off the floor for that whole shot. That kept my face from hitting the floor. And then De Palma knew that we had the shot, and he just held it, and held it. I was like, 'How long can I hold off the floor?' Brian had a fantastic laugh, and then he said, 'All right, cut.'"

Posted by Geoff at 6:23 PM CST
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Saturday, November 5, 2011
The second trailer for Brad Bird's upcoming Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol was released last week, and Flickering Myth's Rohan Morbey included this juxtaposition of a screen shot with one from Brian De Palma's 1996 M:I film. This placement of Jeremy Renner as a direct homage to De Palma and Tom Cruise's showstopping moment in the first film (which itself was an homage to Jules Dassin's Topkapi, MI creator Bruce Geller's original inspiration for the TV series) seems to bolster the idea (rumor) that Cruise and company are looking toward Renner to possibly take over at some point as lead actor in the franchise.

Bird told the Los Angeles Times' Geoff Boucher that he watched the earlier films in the series to find the playful rhythms he wanted to weave into his version. "One of my favorite moments acting-wise were the scenes [Cruise] did with Vanessa Redgrave; he kind of came alive in a slightly different way,” Bird told Boucher in reference to the De Palma picture. “You could tell he had a lot of respect for Redgrave and knew that he had to be on his game because she was going to get every drop out of her part of the scene, so he better get every drop of his. There was a playfulness to those scenes together that I really liked. When you see the [new] film, it’s a little more playful than the other Mission: Impossible films — hopefully without undermining the suspense or action.”

Meanwhile, Cruise is currently shooting his next movie, One Shot, which also features Werner Herzog, not as director, but as actor. Herzog plays the villain in the Christopher McQuarrie adaptation of the novel by Lee Child, which Cruise is hoping will be the first film in a new franchise. Herzog spoke with Movieline's S.T. VanAirsdale yesterday about working with Cruise, and Cruise's knack for working with great directors. Herzog surprised VanAirsdale when he stated that De Palma "is certainly the better director than me." Here is the excerpt:

VanAirsdale: Cruise is an interesting actor to me — someone who’s never directed, but who’s instead worked with some of the foremost filmmakers of the last half-century: Kubrick, Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, and many others. Have you met him?
Herzog: Yes.

What do you think of his regard for filmmakers? Do you think his wanting to work with you in this context was because he probably wouldn’t have the chance otherwise?
No, he does not work with me. He works with the director, Chris McQuarrie. I’m only a partner in crime onscreen. But let me try to describe him: Yes, he has worked with some very, very good — very good — serious filmmakers. But what strikes me is that sometimes you can tell from five miles’ distance: “This is a professional man. He means business.” He’s extremely well-prepared, very good to work with, very respectful — a very kind human being. And you can tell, strangely enough, from five miles’ distance.

McQuarrie aside, being on this set is probably as close to working with you as Tom Cruise is going to get, considering the films you make.
Not necessarily, because the kind of films he has been into — like Mission: Impossible — I’m convinced that… I don’t even know who made Mission: Impossible. Who directed Mission: Impossible?

The first one was Brian De Palma.
OK. Brian De Palma is certainly the better director than me.

If I had tried to make Mission: Impossible, I wouldn’t have come up with a film as intense as Brian De Palma. I mean this very film, for example. There are other people who do that better.

Fair enough.

Posted by Geoff at 5:56 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, November 5, 2011 6:05 PM CDT
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