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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"Brian De Palma’s sinuous, elegantly impenetrable first installment" of the Mission: Impossible film franchise "remains one of the Tom Cruise series’ high points," states Justin Chang today in the fourth week of the L.A. Times Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown. It's a "16-week contest to program the greatest summer movie season ever," Chang continues. "Or at least since 1975, the year that Jaws forever changed the landscape of moviemaking, gross tallying and beach bumming forever."

Each week, Chang presents a list of 16 summer movies from 1975 to 2019, and asks readers to vote for their favorites via his Twitter acount, @JustinCChang. De Palma's Mission: Impossible is one of the 16 movies Chang listed this week.

Meanwhile, over at Forbes today, Scott Mendelson takes a look at the ten biggest Memorial Day weekend releases "that aren’t Star Wars or Indiana Jones" movies. It turns out that if you remove those two franchises, and adjust the grosses for inflation, De Palma's film is the eighth biggest Memorial Day weekend release... and John Woo's sequel is the ninth biggest. Here's how Mendelson describes each of these:

Mission: Impossible (Paramount)

$181 million in 1996/$383 million adjusted

Brian DePalma’s low-key, adult-skewing thriller, one which emphasized espionage over action, is still one of the best films in the franchise. It grossed a then-record $75 million over its Wed-Mon Memorial Day weekend. The film would be rather frontloaded, partially due to folks being appalled at having to (gasp) pay attention in order to follow the tricky plot. That Mission: Impossible II was both more streamlined and had scenes where characters stopped the movie to explain what had happened up to that point makes this franchise a rare example of filmmakers “listening to the Internet.” Oh, and turning the TV show’s hero into the villain didn’t fly any better in 1996 than it would in 2020.


Mission: Impossible II (Paramount)

$215 million in 2000/$374 million adjusted

Released 20 years ago this summer, John Woo’s ridiculously over-the-top romantic melodrama (“Notorious meets Hard Boiled”) almost qualifies as self-satire, both from the director and his top-billed star as Ethan Hunt is turned into (conventionally speaking) the coolest (and hottest) action hero ever. The film marked the end of an era where star-driven, non-fantasy action movies were expected to rule the box office. It also began the transformation of Tom Cruise from “biggest movie star on Earth who occasionally does action movies” to “American Jackie Chan who mostly makes action movies.” In a time when Hollywood was starting to embrace “gritty” realism even in its blockbusters, Mission: Impossible II was gloriously surreal.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, May 22, 2020 7:34 AM CDT
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Saturday, May 2, 2020

With many regularly scheduled TV series falling short of production in the wake of Coronavirus shut-downs all over the place, CBS is bringing back its Sunday Night At The Movies beginning this weekend, and all through May. You might say the network is looking to bring back the sort of time when everybody seemed to be watching The F.B.I. on ABC every Sunday night, as in Quentin Tarantino's latest, Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood. Bookended by two of Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones movies (Raiders Of The Lost Ark May 3rd, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade May 31st), Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible will air smack dab in the middle, on May 17th. The other two films are Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump (May 10th) and James Cameron's Titanic (May 24th).

""It's a five-week programming event with epic films, iconic stars, and brilliant stories that viewers love—and love to watch together," CBS programming exec Noriko Kelley states in the CBS press release. CBS also put together a retro-fashioned promo commercial that can be watched on its Facebook page.

"All hail the return of CBS ‘Sunday Night at the Movies’ in May," reads a San Francisco Chronicle headline from this past week. Forbes' Scott Mendelson expects that a new commercial for Paramount's upcoming Tom Cruise-starring Top Gun: Maverick will air during the Mission: Impossible slot May 17th. At The Stranger, Bobby Roberts writes:

It's so bizarre to see the CBS Sunday Night Movie come back to brodcast TV after being made more-or-less obsolete by cable back in the '90s. And then cable was made obsolete in the '00s by the internet, and now because the movie industry doesn't know what it's going to be in the near future, media companies like Viacom/CBS are looking at all these watch parties, looking at their network programming, noticing their large back catalogs, and boom: The Sunday Night Movie returns with a slightly different name at 8pm tonight, presenting a perfect excuse for everyone to get together at the same time, in the same place, and watch 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, maybe the most perfectly constructed film in cinema history. Maybe. I’m sure someone out there has an argument on deck, but I’m betting their champion of choice doesn’t include a giant pit of snakes; a fight inside, on top of, and hanging off the front of a truck at 50 mph; a holy box that melts Nazi faces like Totino’s Party Pizza; and—most importantly—the presence of peak Harrison Ford in all his sweaty, smirky, silly-yet-sexy glory.

Meanwhile, Rickey Fernandes Da Conceição at Goomba Stomp & Sordid Cinema posted his subjective list of the "40 Best Movies of 1996" today. De Palma's Mission: Impossible comes in at number 8. "One man has one chance to do the impossible," reads the quick-tag under the film's title. The description then reads, "An American agent, under false suspicion of disloyalty, must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization."

Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man gets the top spot on this list.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, May 3, 2020 1:34 AM CDT
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Saturday, April 11, 2020

"Had things gone according to plan, today would be the opening night for No Time to Die," Scott Mendelson stated this past Thursday at Forbes. "The 25th official James Bond movie was supposed to open in the UK on April 3 and in North America on April 10 (or April 9 at around 7:00 pm counting previews). Alas, MGM and Universal delayed the movie to November due to concerns about the Coronavirus impacting overseas box office."

Mendelson's article carries the headline, "(00)7 James Bond Imitators To Stream Instead Of No Time To Die." Later in the introduction, he explains, "The bad news is that 007 fans now have to wait another seven months for their fix, which is particularly vexing since Spectre opened way back in November of 2015. So, in the name of charity, here is a list of temporary substitutes while you wait. No, these aren’t James Bond movies, but they exist in the same sandbox, and in some cases are entirely inspired by the Ian Fleming-penned spy saga (and resultant EON-produced movies). So, without further ado, here are 007 alternatives while you wait to Die Another Day and patiently figure out Another Way to Die. All of these will leave you feeling [like] you’re on an All Time High. I’ll see myself out. Oh, and I’ve tried to spread these out a little, in terms of years and decades. I could make this list just from the various spy flicks that debuted in 2015."

Among the list of seven titles, which includes films as diverse as James Cameron's True Lies (1994), Jay Roach and Mike Myers' Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), and Susanna Fogel's The Spy Who Dumped Me, Mendelson includes Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible (1996).

While the stunt-filled and action-packed franchise today stands side by side with the 007 franchise (and the Fast & Furious films) as A-level action blockbuster franchises, this first (admitted mega-hit) was indeed a buttoned down and cynical look at the spy craft, with more in common with The Spy Who Came In From the Cold than GoldenEye. Although both Tom Cruise’s first Ethan Hunt flick and Pierce Brosnan’s first 007 movie are rooted in the cynicism and weariness of lifetime government operatives questioning their purpose at the end of the Cold War. The Brian DePalma film is very much a DePalma film, just as the first five Mission: Impossible films matched the persona of their director (Mission: Impossible II is so John Woo almost spoofing himself). The film earned plaudits in its day for its adult-skewing narrative, its emphasis on suspense over carnage, and its comparatively stripped down narrative. Today, it qualifies as a miracle of modern tentpole filmmaking.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, April 12, 2020 12:17 PM CDT
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Saturday, March 21, 2020

SYFY WIRE yesterday posted a couple of Christopher McQuarrie quotes, culled from the new May 2020 issue of EMPIRE, regarding the new Mission: Impossible movie he is working on. Last month, McQuarrie had teased that Henry Czerny would be returning for the new installment, even though he has been absent from the franchise since Brian De Palma's initial film. "I realized Kittridge had to be right in a scene, and it was transformed," McQuarrie tells EMPIRE of the new one. He also describes Czerny's character as "a meddler."

The other part of the blurb SYFY WIRE has culled from the EMPIRE issue is a quote regarding Ethan Hunt going into space-- your guess is as good as mine where that conversation started. "He’s not going to space," McQuarrie is quoted. "Nor does he need to go to space. What’s beyond that? Plenty."

Posted by Geoff at 4:52 PM CDT
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Sunday, March 1, 2020

Late last week, The Telegraph's Jack Taylor posted an article with the headline, "The complicated, colourful history of Apple products in films." The main thrust of the article is Apple's insistence through the years that on screen, only "the good guys" are to be shown using Apple products:
Over the last few decades, blockbuster films have been awash with Apple products, from iPhones and iPads, to MacBooks and iPods. And, while most companies shell out millions for the privilege of getting product placement on screen, like Heineken and its eye-watering deal to replace James Bond's martini in Skyfall, Apple doesn't pay a penny.

Suzanne Forlenza organised Apple's film and TV marketing almost single-handedly in the '90s, and worked out a system still in use today. "Frankly, we are absolutely overwhelmed with requests," she told the Irish Times in 1996, "The good news is we have established excellent relationships throughout Hollywood, so we have first crack, typically, at all the big films."

"We provide the computers requested for on camera usage on loan, all being due back to us at the end of the filming."

Forlenza made clear that Apple products could only ever be portrayed in a positive light, withholding permission where this couldn't be guaranteed. In the first Mission: Impossible film (1996), for example, she insisted that Tom Cruise use a Mac while the villains had IBMs. "We have a standing insistence that [Apple] will only be in the hands of the good guys."

This philosophy hasn't changed much since, as Knives Out director Rian Johnson was frustrated to discover: "Apple lets you use iPhones in movies, but – and this is very pivotal if you're ever watching a mystery movie – bad guys cannot have iPhones on camera."

The tech giant was one of the first companies to realise the value of lifestyle branding through film and TV, whether that be the high-tech glamour of Mission: Impossible or the socialite chic of Sex and the City. Below, the company's most influential product placement spots.

The list of films and TV shows that comes next in the article includes Mission: Impossible:
One of the earliest appearances of Apple in film is Tom Cruise's aptly-named PowerMac in the action spy thriller, which rivals Bond for its love of high-tech gadgets. Apple made a deal with the producers to feature clips from the film in their adverts in exchange for the laptop being front and centre during Cruise's hacking escapades. Marketing manager Jon Holtzman said: "We saved almost $500,000 in production costs – and got Brian De Palma to direct and Tom Cruise to act in it."

The commercial for the PowerBook can be viewed on YouTube. What remains unspoken in all of this is how De Palma subverts the whole idea of "good guys" and "bad guys" in Mission: Impossible, even though, yes, Tom Cruise is the hero of the piece. Placing Cruise's hero in the same position at the end that Jon Voight (as Jim Phelps) had been sitting in at the start of the film indicates a potential blurring of the lines, as does Ethan Hunt's taking on the role of "Job" and breaking into the CIA to steal the NOC list. Similarly, the characters using MacBooks in De Palma's Passion are all just as bad as they are good. De Palma focuses in on the MacBooks with their Apple logos twice in that film, highlighting the product as well as the two sets of characters using them, echoing the blurring of the good/bad lines in Mission: Impossible.

Posted by Geoff at 11:21 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, March 4, 2020 9:42 PM CST
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Sunday, February 16, 2020

When I first met Brian De Palma, he asked me how I got into his work. "Was it Mission: Impossible?" he asked. This was in 2002, about six years after Mission: Impossible was released, and it had been De Palma's biggest financial success up to that point (it remains so, today). But when I started telling De Palma that no, I had actually been following his work since I had seen Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, and Phantom Of The Paradise on video years before that, he perked up. I thought of this moment today when I read a tweet from Matt Zoller Seitz, who was responding to a tweet from Mike Ryan, a senior writer at Uproxx, who wrote this morning, "We don’t make a big enough deal that Brian De Palma made an awesome Mission: Impossible movie."

Seitz responded, "There was an interview where he said he thought that was the movie he would be remembered for, and it was difficult to tell if he was genuinely enthused by the prospect, or if he had that old director thing where the film that made the most money is by definition 'the best.'"

Based on my conversation with De Palma in 2002, it would seem he probably saw that prospect as a simple matter of fact. Yet, even though De Palma had smuggled a personal film into his biggest commercial blockbuster (in the Scorsese sense of "the director as smuggler"), De Palma, to me, would seem to be more enthused at the prospect of being remembered for something like Blow Out, or even, perhaps, Carlito's Way. The latter two films are the ones he had personally chosen to open and close his 2002 retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. In any case, Mike Ryan's tweet about Mission: Impossible led to a whole lotta love for De Palma's film in response.

Meanwhile, this past Wednesday, Film School Rejects' Margaret Pereira posted an article with the image above, and the headline, "The Shot That Made Mission: Impossible." A subheadline reads, "We take a deep dive into the first of many memorable Mission: Impossible shots." Pereira's article then begins:

The iconography of movies is always a little unstable. The imagery and symbolism that are legible to an audience depend so much on the cultural, historic, and generic context. There are even entire academic subfields dedicated to studying it. The visuals we associate with certain themes or characters can be as simple as the Batman logo and as nuanced as Han Solo’s smirk. But there are also images so powerful that they immediately seep into the filmic bloodstream and soak into every nook and cranny of culture. Mission: Impossible contains one of these images.

Tom Cruise, suspended by a single cable, hanging over a computer console. His black secret-agent garb contrasting with the pristine white background. Utter silence. It’s almost absurd that it’s so simple. Directed by Brian De Palma, the 1996 adaptation of the TV series of the same name finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) embroiled in the first of many scraps with the IMF. Ethan’s been accused of double-crossing, in a botched mission that found the rest of his team dead (or so he thinks). To clear his name, he must steal a list that reveals the secret identities of all operatives in the IMF and team up with a smattering of ex-agents to do so.

In truth, it doesn’t particularly matter what he needs to steal and who he needs to steal it for. This first entry in the Mission: Impossible film franchise spends a lot of time explaining the exact circumstances of the conspiracy. It’s something later movies will mostly abandon — we just get that Cruise has to hang off the side of a plane and we’re happy with that. In fact, the labyrinthine plot of Mission: Impossible contributes to the power of this single shot. The stunning immediate impact of the shot has all viewers forgetting briefly the scene’s narrative purpose and instead investing in the film emotionally. You’re too anxious to be concerned with the specific reason why we’re in this room.

Part of what builds this intense anxiety is the circumstances of the break-in. Alarms will be activated if any sound is too pronounced, a gauge notes the room’s average temperature, and the floor has a sensitive pressure sensor. Because of this, Ethan has to be suspended directly in the middle of the room. The way Cruise’s body breaks up the geometric design of the space adds a lot of visual interest and thematic weight. This bunker is designed solely to keep information in, the secrets of which Ethan must expose to get his life back. He descends into this hyper-codified, precisely organized space as a major disruption. It mirrors the way he disrupts the plans of his adversaries and even his status as a generally rogue agent in future movies.

What’s masterful about De Palma’s approach here is the way he implicates the audience in this shot. While many filmmakers emerging from the more-is-more school of thought might add the classic musical twang here, De Palma opts for silence. Ethan must be dead quiet so as not to trigger the alarms, and we realize that we must be as well. By extending the rules of the story world using sound (or rather a lack of sound), De Palma connects us more deeply to Ethan and his mission.

De Palma also ensures the camera’s slow descent into the space with Ethan leaves the audience hanging on for dear life. The camera never feels like it’s resting on the ground; it’s hovering. Our perspective is just as precarious as his. Ethan is our lifeline; he’s the only one who’s hooked into the cable. We’re forced to trust him. All of these techniques cause the throat-catching, breath-holding effect we’ve come to expect from the Mission: Impossible movies.

There exists a grand meta-narrative of the Mission: Impossible franchise, wherein Tom Cruise is the Ethan Hunt of Hollywood filmmaking. Cruise refuses to let his audience down; he comes back again and again even when we say we’ve had enough. No scandal can keep him down for too long; no box-office disappointment can force his retirement. He’ll hang off the side of a building or jump out of an airplane if he has to, whatever it takes to get his mission done. This film, and particularly this shot, help begin that dynamic.

Mission: Impossible was also the first film Cruise ever produced, and he’s clearly aware of the importance of his own iconographic effect in this movie. Cruise’s producing career includes the rest of the Mission: Impossible films, along with a couple of Jack [Reacher] films, and most recently, Top Gun: Maverick. These projects are a sign of self-awareness in Cruise; he knows what his audience wants to see and is willing to back it financially and creatively. Mission: Impossible cemented his status as a movie star as well as a major creative force in 21st century Hollywood.

Not every movie star would understand that his visual impact lies in being a spatial disruption. The image of Cruise’s body suspended in mid-air isn’t particularly macho or sexy. It simply signifies to audiences the most important part of his persona: he’ll never drop us. This shot sticks in our collective craw certainly because of the gorgeous construction and the utter silence. But even more than that, it establishes Ethan Hunt as the character willing to risk it all, and Cruise as the only actor who could ever convincingly play that. Mission: Impossible created the visual symbolism of Tom Cruise, and his impact will be forever meaningful to audiences because of it.

Posted by Geoff at 6:30 PM CST
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Saturday, February 1, 2020

This morning, Christopher McQuarrie tweeted a black-and-white photo of Henry Czerny with the message, "There is no escaping the past...#MI7MI8" The teasing indication, of course, is that Czerny, who played the IMF director in Brian De Palma's franchise-starting Mission: Impossible in 1996, is returning for the next two installments, which are being filmed back-to-back later this year for planned releases in 2021 and 2022. About two hours later, Todd Vaziri, visual effects supervisor on the recent Mission: Impossible films, tweeted the image above with the message, "🚨 KITTRIDGE ALERT 🚨".

A week ago today, McQuarrie discussed one of Czerny's big scenes from De Palma's film in a tweeted response to Tom Gregory. "DePalma," wrote McQuarrie, "while he certainly has flair, doesn't do anything in Mission just for show. His low angles in the fish restaurant, for example, create an intense sense of pressure and keep the fish tank above them in the story. He's not showing off. He's setting up. He let the scene and location tell him where to put the camera and when to cut. He understands that a scene is not just a series of lines, but a series of emotional impulses. The *visuals* tell the story. The dialogue is merely score. Watch the scene again without sound."

On a side note, I love this response McQuarrie tweeted earlier this morning to someone asking him how he avoids plot holes: "Avoid plot."

Posted by Geoff at 4:42 PM CST
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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Yesterday, Tom Gregory directed a tweet to Christopher McQuarrie, who has written and directed the two most recent Mission: Impossible movies, and who will also be directing the next two films in the series back-to-back. "Watching the first M:I on tv in the UK," Gregory tweeted to McQuarrie, "and De Palma uses a lot of low and/or Dutch angles which fits the story/emotion etc perfectly. Do you find your camera positioning is an instinctive thing or an intellectual decision?"

McQuarrie, responding via two tweets, wrote back, "DePalma, while he certainly has flair, doesn't do anything in Mission just for show. His low angles in the fish restaurant, for example, create an intense sense of pressure and keep the fish tank above them in the story. He's not showing off. He's setting up. He let the scene and location tell him where to put the camera and when to cut. He understands that a scene is not just a series of lines, but a series of emotional impulses. The *visuals* tell the story. The dialogue is merely score. Watch the scene again without sound."

Posted by Geoff at 10:15 PM CST
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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Todd Vaziri, a veteren visual effects artist who has worked on David Koepp's Stir Of Echoes and Mission: Impossible III, among many many other films, posted a video on Twitter a couple of days ago that shows a rare behind-the-scenes look at the Tom Cruise fish tank stunt from Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. Vaziri's tweet gives credit to stunt coordinator Greg Powell.

Posted by Geoff at 11:02 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, October 13, 2019 11:04 AM CDT
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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

This week, La La Land Records is releasing a limited edition (3000 units) two-CD set of Danny Elfman's score for Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. The set includes a few alternate unused versions of Elfman's score, and liner notes by Jeff Bond. Here's the La La Land description:
La-La Land Records, Paramount Pictures and Universal Music Special Markets present the remastered and expanded original motion picture score to the 1996 blockbuster feature film that re-imagined an iconic TV property and launched an astounding series of hit feature films that continues to this day, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, starring Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames and Jon Voight, and directed by Brian DePalma. Acclaimed composer Danny Elfman (BATMAN, DARKMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, SPIDER-MAN) unleashes an enthralling and action-packed orchestral score - one of the composer’s finest works. Elfman’s score is by turn dark and mysterious, light and romantic, sleek, yet operatic – all of it building up to one of the most exciting action finale music cues of the 90’s! Disc One features the original 1996 album assembly, mastered by Patricia Sullivan while Disc Two showcases the remastered film score, expanding the original album release by more than twenty minutes. Produced by Dan Goldwasser and Neil S. Bulk and remastered by Mike Matessino, this powerhouse 2-CD set is limited to 3000 units and features exclusive liner notes by writer Jeff Bond. The sleek art direction is by Dan Goldwasser.

Posted by Geoff at 7:09 AM CDT
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