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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Den of Geek's Tim George posted an article yesterday examining the unique ways in which each film in Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible franchise has been "clearly delineated by the vision and preoccupations of its particular director." For the first film, George focuses on the ways in which Brian De Palma utilizes suspense techniques learned from watching the films of Alfred Hitchcock:
It is a testament to De Palma’s technique that Mission: Impossible’s most memorable sequence involves Tom Cruise hanging from a wire, and is not dependant on more traditional set pieces. The midnarrative set piece would become a tradition in the sequels, with De Palma’s successors putting their own spin on an IMF mission. The most important aspect of Hitchcock’s style that De Palma has made his own is his use of an omniscient point-of-view. De Palma’s camera may appear to approximate the subjective view of the characters, but his directorial control dictates what the viewer can see.

An early example of this is the early sequence where Ethan Hunt witnesses his boss’s death by an unseen assailant via a camera in his glasses. All that Hunt (and by extension, the viewer) can see is a hand firing a gun directly at the camera. Later, when this scene is revealed to be staged, De Palma shows the action from a long shot to reveal what is really going on.

De Palma’s focus on suspense allows for other homages to Hitchcock, which are more decorative. Following his showdown with the villains, Ethan Hunt watches helplessly as a helicopter’s rotor blade spins toward him. This bit of action is reminiscent of a key moment from the climax of Strangers On A Train, where a technician sneaks under an out-of-control ferris wheel to switch off the mechanism, while the ride spins at high speed only a few inches above his head.

The introduction of the villain in the third act resembles the extended shot which identifies the twitching eyes of the killer in Hitchcock’s Young And Innocent. Starting from a long shot of a train, the camera pulls into a close-up of the killer’s hands through a window. This sequence also shows the influence of the Italian giallo, in De Palma’s use of mise-en-scene to conceal the villain’s identity. De Palma frames the character through a train compartment window, with his identity concealed by a half-closed blind. By framing the shot in this way, De Palma emphasises the character’s black gloves (a motif familiar from both the giallo genre and De Palma’s own Dressed To Kill) as he assembles a gun from the parts of a boombox.

De Palma is famous for his use of split screen to convey and build tension, and he integrates this technique into the opening action with a rather ingenious and subtle variation of the trope. As Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) directs his team, he watches their progress via cameras on their glasses. The respective point of views of these characters appear as a series of windows on his computer screen. In this way, De Palma renders his use of split screen as part of the mise-en-scene.

Sequences like this exemplify the degree to which De Palma is able to blend his style with the conventions of the genre he is working in.


George is not impressed by John Woo's follow-up to De Palma's film. "Indeed, aside from Newton’s role," states George, "everything in Woo’s film appears to be a pale re-hash of its predecessor, with the focus on action lacking the melodramatic heft of Woo’s best work. Mission: Impossible’s most memorable set piece - Hunt being lowered by a wire - is re-worked as the prelude to an extended shoot-out. This sequence, intentionally or otherwise, exemplifies the divergence between De Palma and Woo when it comes to the material and their respective styles."

With JJ Abrams making his feature film directorial debut on the third film in the series, George notes "a shift in the franchise away from visual stylists to filmmakers with a background in screen writing." George appreciates that the third film brings a deeper emphasis on characterization than the second film had done. "Dramatically, Mission: Impossible III is far more substantial and enjoyable experience than its predecessor," states George. "However, there is no disguising a certain cynicism to the focus on character development. Some of these arcs work, but help make Mission: Impossible 3 feel like the season of a TV show collapsed into two-and-a-bit hours." For George, the most recent film in the franchise, Ghost Protocol, is a more comedic, physical, and ironic entry that positively reflects director Brad Bird's background in animated film. He also likes that Bird's film solidifies the team aspect of the franchise. "By the end of Ghost Protocol," writes George, "Brad Bird has delivered the first instalment since Brian De Palma’s original that manages to include all of the elements of the original concept while playing to the strengths of the filmmaker orchestrating the action."


Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly columnist Darren Franich responded to a reader who asked, "In what universe is John Woo’s flaming mess of a Mission: Impossible 2 better than JJ Abrams’ totally and completely acceptable Mission: Impossible 3?"

Franich responded, "This is an important thing that we need to talk about. Because I have heard some variation of this argument constantly for going on nine years now. The conventional wisdom, in a nutshell: Mission 2 is an incoherent action film with a ludicrous plot and bad acting; Mission 3 is a solid Bourne-era shaky-cam spy movie with a good plot and a great villain. Some people even go so far as to say that Mission: Impossible 3 is their favorite of the franchise.

"Let’s throw out that chestnut right here. Ghost Protocol is the best Mission: Impossible movie. It’s arguably the least Tom Cruise-y of the bunch: By the fourth movie, Ethan Hunt is a semi-emotionless action-bot. But as directed by Brad Bird, Ghost Protocol is a film made out of one great setpiece after another. Bird has an animator’s gift for beautiful geometry: Cruise fighting his way down a corridor in the prison sequence, Cruise fighting his way through every level of a parking garage in the climax. But Ghost Protocol is also the only film in the franchise where the whole Mission squad matters; Cruise’s low-key performance leaves plenty of room for Simon Pegg as the comedy relief, Paula Patton as the badass, and Jeremy Renner as the Cruise-in-training.

"Nobody loves or hates the first Mission: Impossible, and nobody really talks about it anymore. Which is too bad. The first film deserves more credit for starting off with such a fakeout. You think you’re watching a movie about a squad of jocular superspies on a mission that requires cool makeup and subterfuge. And then by the half-hour mark, the whole squad’s dead. (They didn’t just kill Kristin Scott Thomas; they killed Emilio Estevez.) Director Brian De Palma always loved the first-act Psycho twist—see Sisters, see Dressed To Kill—and so the first Mission: Impossible has one of the great left-turns in any vanilla-blockbuster. As a bonus, Mission: Impossible turns one of the franchise’s most iconic characters into a bad guy—the kind of bold storytelling choice that franchises used to make before everyone got too scared of fanboy freakouts.

"Thus, Mission: Impossible 2. This is the movie where Tom Cruise has beautiful flowing long hair and climbs a mountain with his bare hands (just like Shatner in Final Frontier.) This is the movie where Tom Cruise falls in love with Thandie Newton, but then sends her undercover to spy on her ex-boyfriend, charisma vacuum Dougray Scott. This is the movie where the bad guy’s plot focuses on stock options, and the movie where Cruise defeats the bad guy by driving a motorcycle really fast.

"Or something: The plot doesn’t really matter, because the plot never really matters in Mission: Impossible movies, because honestly 'plot' is maybe the eighth most important part of a movie. (Things it’s behind, in no order: Characters, Casting, Dialogue, Cinematography, Music, Lighting, THEMES.)

"The Mission movies give good directors big budgets and let them explore their peculiar fascinations in the context of a boring spy thriller, and Mission is the last great gasp of John Woo in the John Woo Era: The period of time when the Hong Kong director was everyone’s favorite cult-action obsession. All of Woo’s movies are bonkers if you read the plot summaries, but Woo’s style is still sui generis even after everyone ripped off The Matrix ripping off John Woo. Woo is dude who loves dudes with guns, but he’s also a hopeless romantic who loves soft-focus shots of lovers in love, and he has a ludicrously precise aesthetic but he was making movies pre-digital so his precision isn’t antiseptic (like the Wachowskis.)

"So Mission 2 is ludicrous, and wonderfully so. Cruise and Newton flirt via car chase, and nothing isn’t in slow motion. There’s a central weirdness to the Cruise-Newton-Scott triangle: Scott is sort of an Evil Cruise, and sometimes he even puts on Cruise’s face, and there’s a weird sense that Scott and Cruise are both just using Newton as neutral territory where they can fight. (As played by Richard Roxburgh, Hugh is one of the great vaguely-homoerotic henchmen in action-movie history.) There are a couple of Meth Woo scenes, like when Cruise emerges from an explosion flanked by a dove because Catholicism. The final action sequence is a motorcycle chase that turns into a martial arts fight, except it’s 'martial arts' being fought by two identical-looking white dudes. Mission 2 was written by Robert Towne, and Towne basically just took Notorious and deleted half the dialogue." [A La Mod note: Woo has cited To Catch A Thief as his biggest inspiration for MI2.] "It’s not good but it’s completely unfiltered, and it’s a prime expression of Cruisedom at its peak: When Cruise dies eighty years from now, every obituary will mention Cruise climbing the Mission 2 mountain by the end of the second paragraph.

"Everything about Mission 3 makes more sense, and nothing about Mission 3 is remotely as fun. After a high-tension flashforward opening, the movie flashes back to an interminable first act. Cruise is getting married! To a boring nurse played boringly by Michelle Monaghan! Cruise has a boring squad—pre-Nikita Maggie Q looking great and pre-Tudors Jonathan Rhys Meyers looking angry—and they set off on a mission to rescue the only cool character in the movie, a pre-Americans Keri Russell. Russell dies immediately, but not before Abrams films a helicopter chase through a bunch of windmills that is one of the most incoherent action scenes not filmed by Michael Bay.

"This was Abrams’ first movie, and he hadn’t quite developed his style for the big screen. So there are a lot of visual choices in Mission 3 that feel TV-like in the worst way—close-ups and shaky cameras, the weird bluescale mid-00s monochrome that made every big-budget action movie looks like the Michael Douglas scenes from Traffic. The movie often suggests an episode of 24 with more explosions and zero moral ambiguity. The exception is the Vatican City scene, an excellent setpiece that also features the genuinely strange vision of Tom Cruise’s face being molded into Philip Seymour Hoffman’s face."

Franich concludes with his ranking of the films:

1. Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
2. Mission: Impossible
3. Mission: Impossible 2
4. Joe Carnahan’s unfilmed Mission: Impossible 3, which would’ve co-starred Kenneth Branagh, post-Matrix Carrie-Anne Moss, pre-Match Point Scarlett Johansson, and would’ve apparently been the “punk-rock” version of Mission: Impossible. 5. JJ Abrams’ filmed Mission: Impossible 3, a.k.a. pop-punk version of Mission: Impossible.

Posted by Geoff at 3:13 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 3:21 AM CST
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Friday, December 19, 2014
Thanks to Peter for sending in this link to a David Bordwell essay about Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, which was posted almost two weeks ago. Bordwell begins by stating, "The phrase 'visual storytelling' is a very modern invention." And yet, Bordwell points out, "Visual storytelling is seldom purely visual. In film, it needs concepts and music and noises and even dialogue to work most fully. We can learn a lot, I think, by starting with 'purely visual' passages and see how they’re reinforced by other inputs."

Bordwell briefly discusses Alfred Hitchcock as "the most vociferous defender of visual storytelling," before moving on to De Palma, defender of "the purity of the pictures in motion pictures." (Bordwell then lists four quotes from De Palma, including one from my own interview with the director from 2002.) This all leads up to Bordwell's discussion of the invasion sequence in De Palma's Mission: Impossible, which "runs an astonishing eighteen minutes and, as typical of a film’s Development section, constitutes almost pure delay. You can imagine doing it in a couple of minutes, or a lot more," states Bordwell.

Screenwriter David Koepp provided Bordwell with information about the production, and is quoted in the essay: "[De Palma] had another great idea, which was a reaction to the current state of summer movies at the time. He was tired of all the noise, of the bigger bigger bigger noisier noisier noisier setpieces, and desperately wanted to come up with one that used silence instead. He cackled at the idea of a big summer movie set piece that was predicated on silence."

"The result," Bordwell points out, "is nice case study in visual storytelling. It also indicates how even a pure instance needs non-visual elements to be understood."

Perhaps even more interesting is the next section of the essay, in which Bordwell analyzes the opening sequence of Mission: Impossible, focusing on the visual and audio information happening behind Emilio Estevez as Jack:

"Once the official Kasimov has given the name Ethan needs, the team’s goal is achieved and Jack can search it on his computer. In the meantime, Kasimov needs to be dragged off without fuss, and so must be given a drugged drink. That, we now understand, is the task of the woman hovering in the background of Jack’s shots. We’ve also been primed by the tray with bottle and glasses in the first shot.

"One option would be to pan or cut to the woman behind Jack and show her doping the drink. (This is what the shooting script seems to call for.) We might even see the woman’s face as she does it, but even if we don’t, a shot emphasizing her would give us a lot of other inessential information about the room.

"De Palma makes another choice. This woman is important only in terms of what she does. Panning to her, or supplying a separate shot, and showing her face might make her seem as important a character as Jack, Ethan, or Claire. She’s not. So De Palma reduces her to her function: doping the drink. And for economy, she does it in the same setup previously devoted to Jack’s reaction. She’s kept in the background."

As always, Bordwell illustrates his essay generously with many stills from the film.

Posted by Geoff at 1:15 AM CST
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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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