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Monday, August 15, 2016
The tumblr Tea and a Movie ("Watching movies, drinking tea") has posted a series of juxtaposed frame captures from Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible (1996) and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002). The presence of Tom Cruise in both scenes perhaps makes it clear that these two film scenes are in dialogue with each other. However, this is a dialogue that began (perhaps) with the drops of water in Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993), which was adapted by David Koepp, who adapted Carlito's Way for De Palma that same year, and who went on to be De Palma's choice for screenwriter on Mission: Impossible. Following that, Spielberg and Koepp kept the dialogue going a year later with a wild scene in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) that, short of having a Tom Cruise stop just shy of hitting the floor and setting off the alarm of a CIA vault, had Julianne Moore fall and smash face-down, spread eagle onto the rear window of a trailer that has been pushed over a cliff. Spielberg mines the suspense in this scene as a direct "check-this-out" homage to his friend, De Palma, as Moore tries delicately to remove herself from the shattered glass with minimal movement. Koepp included a similar suspense scene in one of his Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies, and in Minority Report, Spielberg also borrows a visual idea from De Palma's Snake Eyes (1998) (which again had a screenplay written by Koepp) by having the camera track through a building overhead, moving from room to room with a "God's eye" view.

Check out the full tumblr juxtapositions at Tea and a Movie.

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 16, 2016 12:30 AM CDT
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Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Huffington Post's Todd Van Luling captured some terrific anecdotes from Henry Czerny about filming his role in Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. "Besides launching a series that continues to have box-office success," writes Van Luling, "the movie featured a sort of strange way to present intensity for a blockbuster: squeezing actors very, very close to each other and the camera."
“I’d never acted with a camera that’s basically hooked under my chin,” Czerny told The Huffington Post in a conversation for the 20-year anniversary. “I didn’t know what to do with it, but Brian was at the monitors and if he didn’t get what he wanted I’m sure he would have told me.”

The most extreme close-up Czerny experienced was when his character accused Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt of being a mole. The two sat in a restaurant surrounded by aquariums. Czerny wasn’t sure, but he thinks De Palma’s desire to feature those trapped fish led to the memorable camera angles. “He didn’t want the [viewers] to forget about the fish tank,” said Czerny. “So by putting the camera below, you have the character in close-up and the fish tank in the background hovering if you will.”

So, did Czerny worry about how he’d look with a camera so close to his face?

Czerny laughed in response to the question. He didn’t even know the camera would be there.

“If they’d told me, I would have paid more attention to those nose hairs. Maybe the hair department or the makeup department knew what was going to go on and then did that for me. [But] I had no idea.”

Czerny also recalled a scene when De Palma told him to get almost impossibly close to another actor.

After Hunt breaks into the CIA, Czerny’s character is telling an intelligence co-worker (played by Dale Dye) that they should send the CIA employee responsible for the mishap to Alaska.

De Palma apparently told the actors, “I need you a little closer,” so they shot again. Then, De Palma said something like, “No, no, closer! Like you’re almost kissing!”

“I just remember thinking, ‘I hope I brushed my teeth thoroughly,’” Czerny laughed.

Although Czerny thought it was sometimes “weird” to work within this method, he enjoyed being a part of what’s now considered De Palma’s signature style. “He’ll do a long tracking shot and then jump in for close-ups. It doesn’t allow you to leave the scene.”

In the article, Czerny also talks about how Cruise would regularly take members of the cast and crew out to a "cool establishment" in whatever big city they were filming in, to help release tension. One night in Prague, Czerny tells Van Luling, "I found myself sitting on a piano bench singing show tunes with Nicole [Kidman]. That was not something you normally get to do."

Posted by Geoff at 11:51 PM CDT
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Monday, May 23, 2016

Haleigh Foutch, Collider
Mission: Impossible 20 Years Later: How An Uneasy Spy Thriller Became a Blockbuster Franchise

"In a prime example of the way De Palma subverted the standard action format, the film’s most iconic set piece is a silent moment of acute accuracy and stillness. When Cruise repels down into that vault, surrounded by a gleaming white light that showcases his figure, form and every minute movement with exclusive intent, it’s not a matter of spectacle, it’s a matter of tension. It’s not about explosions or fisticuffs, it’s about control and technique, and a small-scale demonstration of the physical command that would come to define Cruise’s later career."

Thai Students Caught Cheating with Mission Impossible Spy Glasses

"A top Thai medical college has caught students using spy cameras linked to smartwatches to cheat during exams in what some social media users on Monday compared to a plot straight out of a Mission Impossible movie. Arthit Ourairat, the rector of Rangsit University, posted pictures of the hi-tech cheating equipment on his Facebook page on Sunday evening, announcing that the entrance exam in question had been cancelled after the plot was discovered. Three students used glasses with wireless cameras embedded in their frames to transmit images to a group of as yet unnamed people, who then sent the answers to the smartwatches."

Posted by Geoff at 8:21 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, May 23, 2016 8:22 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

In this week's podcast The Canon, Amy Nicholson praises Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, and also Tom Cruise as an actor and a producer of the film and franchise. Nicholson, who has written a book about Cruise, says the friction between De Palma and Cruise arose from Cruise as producer trying to reign De Palma in financially a bit (she says De Palma finally got some money to do a big film, and wanted to play with those toys). She points out that this tension led to the two, along with Cruise's producing partnet Paula Wagner, shooting Mission: Impossible almost like an independent film-- renegades who, for instance, shot at the restaurant (in the fishbowl scene) without the proper license (Faraci points out that it is clearly a set, at least in the explosive part). Devin says the film is a little boring. Amy says, whaah? He says it’s not propulsive, and maybe he’s having a little bit of ADHD response to it. They both agree, however, that Emilio Estevez' death scene is not only the greatest death in the franchise, but is one of the greatest death scenes in any movie, ever. Fun to listen to, mostly because of Amy's enthusiasm for the film. As it says above, they also discuss the other films in the franchise, and rank them.

Posted by Geoff at 3:26 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 8, 2015 4:09 AM CDT
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Monday, August 3, 2015

Thanks to Norm for sending along USA Today's "definitive ranking of the Mission: Impossible movies". The article was written (and the rankings chosen) by Kelly Lawler, who places the first film from 1996 at the top of the list. Here is what Lawler writes of De Palma's film:

"The original and the best. There’s a reason that each subsequent movie has had to work so hard to up the stakes and make the missions even more impossible, because that image of Tom Cruise hanging from the ceiling of the CIA headquarters is just so iconic. The movie had just enough of the camp from the original TV series, and made all the right choices when it came to casting (Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise! Vanessa Redgrave plays an arms dealer!), its director (the one and only Brian De Palma) and its heart-stopping action. This is the movie that gave us Tom Cruise: Action Star. You’re welcome, universe."

Posted by Geoff at 1:03 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 4, 2015 2:39 AM CDT
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Sunday, August 2, 2015

IMPOSSIBLE MISSION FORCE from Sean Witzke on Vimeo.

Thanks to Rado for sending along the link to the above video, which spends a hefty amount of its running time on Brian De Palma's initial film in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Made by Sean Witzke, the video mentions a couple of films in regard to De Palma's film that I hadn't considered prior: Ronald Neame's Gambit and Roman Polanski's Macbeth. Here's my transcript of Witzke's narration during the De Palma portion (parts of Witzke's narration gets inaudible or buried, so there's a piece or two I was unsure of)...

Cruise and Wagner selected Brian De Palma to adapt the ‘60s TV series into a film. I’ve always felt that Mission: Impossible is the closest film in De Palma’s catalog to Carrie: an established property, and in the mainstream, but one that applies directly to his abilities, his style, and his obsessions. It’s a film he knew how to make. The property has all the hallmarks of a De Palma film: suspense, narrative and visual formal playfulness, betrayal, impotence, conspiracies on conspiracies, a hero with a self-destructive fixation, and brutal audience manipulation.

It is the most film-literate of the franchise. De Palma’s love of Hitchcock is long documented, and at this point, completely internalized. Instead, he nods towards films we call Hitchcockian. De Palma and his longtime editor Paul Hirsch dance with the material, intercutting guy-in-the-van heist staples with arresting sequences where you’re held in tension forever. De Palma would indulge the explosive green-screen spectacle that is the expectation of the genre, but he would spend an equal amount of time on silence, menace. De Palma’s homage to blacklisted American director Jules Dassin’s Euro-caper film Topkapi, about a team of amateur thieves stealing royal Turkish emeralds, also involves an acrobatic feat and a pressure-sensitive floor. But perhaps an unspoken influence is Ronald Neame’s Gambit, a ‘60s film that also has an acrobatic heist sequence. Gambit’s narrative trick, where we see Michael Caine’s perfect idea of a planned heist play out as fantasy before we see it play out for real, his clockwork ideas presented in a way that at first hides his incompetence and ability to adapt in crisis, unlike the amateur he hires as a distraction, who is a natural thief.

In the first film, characters are constantly telling stories, to one another, to themselves. IMF operatives are taught to narrativize their lies, and Ethan Hunt’s most useful skill is to quickly formulate or see through lies. The film’s biggest set pieces are a television episode link building and destroying what the audience expects from the film, dropping the bodies of a whole team of the type of actors who get cast in a big-screen reboots of properties, including a career-best uncredited turn from Emilio Estevez. The cast is then replaced with actors best known for working with Luc Besson, Claude Chabrol, Quentin Tarantino. A rejection of Hollywood slickness in favor of the kind of cinema De Palma finds exciting. Similarly, the plan for the Langley heist takes its time to beat up the poor analyst that’s in their way, torturing him like an ant getting its legs ripped off under a microscope.

De Palma’s most interesting homage is to Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Macbeth, filmed immediately after his wife Sharon Tate’s death. Banqua’s ghost appears as a blood-soaked corpse. The editing is what makes it seem unreal, the accusing dead man [isn’t?]. Jon Voight’s Jim Phelps appears to Hunt the same way. De Palma and Cruise present Ethan Hunt as somewhere between a Hamlet and Macbeth, a callow youth smarter than everyone around him, willing to set his whole life on fire to prove a point. Cruise approached De Palma to direct the sequel, but he had moved on, had already made his idea of the action film.

Posted by Geoff at 3:29 AM CDT
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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Manohla Dargis, New York Times (from her review of Rogue Nation)

"The first Mission: Impossible movie, a spinoff from the 1960s television show, was released 19 years ago and was, though it’s almost hard to believe it now, something of an auteurist event, having been directed by Brian De Palma. Mr. Cruise was an established action star by 1996, but he also helped produce the first film, which strengthened his status as an international brand. As a star-auteur, he has always been the most important feature and effect of the series, although it’s telling that Mr. De Palma oversaw the set-piece that gave the movies their foundational image: Mr. Cruise’s operative, Ethan Hunt, hovering like a spider (or a puppet) above a luminous white floor while suspended by a very thin rope.

"As the clock tick-tocks, and Ethan struggles to keep his cool — a single drop of sweat splashed on the floor would blow the operation — the visual gloss and high-tech gobbledygook, Mr. Cruise’s graceful athleticism and Mr. De Palma’s New Hollywood suspense chops flow together, turning the scene into the emblematic Mission: Impossible showstopper. It’s the kind of pure cine-spectacle that jolts you before sweeping you up. There’s never been a scene in the series as memorable as that one, even if the exploding fish tank, the film’s other eye-popper, comes close. These sequences set a high bar both for directors who followed in Mr. De Palma’s wake and for Mr. Cruise’s physical performance, which in the later installments has largely involved progressively scarier stunts...

"Clearly Mr. McQuarrie and his star feel the need to stamp the series with seriousness, something that Mr. De Palma knew better than to do. And throughout Rogue Nation, you can sense the filmmakers comfortably, at times awkwardly, playing tug of war with the mood, which grows sinister with the excellent Sean Harris as the regulation evil genius and almost frisky with Alec Baldwin as an intelligence blowhard and Tom Hollander as a political boob. Mr. Pegg’s second-banana flair is especially crucial here because it helps show that Mr. Cruise, whose smile at times seems awfully strained these days, can still take a ribbing as well as a licking."

Posted by Geoff at 2:48 AM CDT
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Friday, July 31, 2015

I'll get to posting a ton more of those Rogue Nation-related links this weekend (and see Harry's comment in yesterday's post for a quick review of the new film). For now, here's a nice insightful look back at De Palma's Mission: Impossible from The Film Stage's Ethan Vestby--
"For not just trafficking in the de-sexualized PG-13 rating (the very first of his career) but also having the pressure of a tie-in N64 game, U2 song on the soundtrack, and likely soda / potato chip / fast food promotion of some sorts, the easy narrative would be to say the subversive artist of Hi, Mom! took a necessary paycheck gig coddling a star’s ego to bide time until his next passion project. Yet one locates in Mission: Impossible not a tension or subservience between director and star, but rather a synchronicity. Rather than subvert Cruise’s movie-star image, De Palma’s typically intense formalism situates him in his natural habitat.

"De Palma is fully aware that Cruise is too big a star to really disappear into a role. He may don a latex face for portions of the film, but he never disguises his iconic voice. Simply put, Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise: a perfectly poised image (some may say cipher) pirouetting around other perfect images of architecturally stunning European locales or fortress-like CIA headquarters.

"In Cruise having his own James Bond, the film had to jettison the ensemble-based narrative of the original Mission: Impossible television series, leaving only one carry-over from the original: mentor / team leader Jim Phelps, who’s killed off early, anyway. While the Phelps / Hunt dynamic is only briefly established and not really imbued with heavy psychological or emotional weight, its place in the narrative represents a key De Palma theme: the man who fails to save someone. The difference is that this typically hinges on a romantic or sexual angle: John Travolta holding the bloody body of Nancy Allen at the climactic Fourth of July celebration in Blow-Out; Michael J. Fox haunted by reminders of the young Vietnamese girl he was bullied out of protecting from rape and eventual murder in Casualties of War; or, in Body Double, milquetoast Craig Wasson spiraling into the porno underbelly of Los Angeles to avenge the brutal killing of the beautiful neighbor he peeped on.

"Hunt witnesses Phelps’ death on his watch-screen (a spy gadget reconfigured into a De Palma-esque tool of surveillance) and is then later paid a visit in an expressionistic dream sequence — one made bizarre by its canted angles, but even moreso through the exaggerated acting of Jon Voight as a ghost. Yet both instances point to a kind of unreliability affirmed by the later reveal of Phelps as a mole. The presence of a fake image ready to be reconfigured makes it most comparable to Body Double, another film that sees itself changing locations, introducing new characters, and shunning a typical dramatic coherence for the modern cinema of attractions. Who can forget the narrative grinding to a halt for a Frankie Goes to Hollywood music video?

"The difference being that whereas Body Double is a film about Hollywood, Mission: Impossible simply is Hollywood. Although they both take place within a liquid-like world and adhere to a dream logic, the megastar can easily navigate it while the not-quite-in-on-the-joke Craig Wasson gets hopelessly lost. While De Palma still manages to undercut Body Double’s snark with a somewhat melancholic tone, Mission: Impossible is free of anything resembling excess drama. The film may set itself up as something of a revenge picture — Hunt wants to clear his name, and both he and Phelps’ wife also have the intention of getting even with those responsible for the death — but he also remains the life of the party throughout (and in many instances at the expense of the hapless Jean Reno). It’s refreshing, especially compared to how J.J. Abrams’ mostly decent third installment stumbled in the literalness of its romantic subplot, something a melodramatic maximalist like John Woo could at least pull off through sheer force in his sequel.

"The film certainly hasn’t been considered an example of streamlined storytelling, its impenetrable plot becoming the stuff of notoriety. (For one of many examples see a joke made at its expense in a Billy Crystal-digitally-added-into-Jerry Maguire Oscar spoof.) Yet, if to again use De Palma’s film as a cudgel with which to whack contemporary blockbusters, the film feels liberated of the exposition and origin stories that clog up so many franchise affairs. The audience confusion arose from the fact that the film doesn’t hesitate to have every plot line collapse and swallow each other whole. It gives into a pure pop filmmaking desire for where the director wants to stick the camera and how the star will look best in it.

"From the cold open, throwing us in the middle of a mission, we get a sense of the professionals to which this is all old hat (masks are just part of the job, etc.), as well as the film’s most important motion, in that it doesn’t conclude with an action beat (like the Bond openings), but rather the disassembling of a film set. Besides just the 'film about filmmaking' analogy, what Mission: Impossible finds just as (if not more) important than a stunt is the plasticity of a situation and its location."

Posted by Geoff at 7:35 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, July 31, 2015 9:32 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 30, 2015
Thanks to Rado for sending along the poster at left, which is part of a series of Saul Bass-style posters put together by Paramount's Rogue Nation promotional team that depict key stunts performed by Tom Cruise throughout the film series. You can see the rest of the posters here.

Christopher McQuarrie has been saying that the new film is a sort of "Greatest Hits" of the Mission: Impossible film franchise, and reviews have been noting that, as well. In Entertainment Weekly, McQuarrie mentions that Casablanca was also a key influence on Rogue Nation. There are a million and a half links to reviews of the new film, reviews of De Palma's film, best-stunt articles, podcasts, etc. I'll just start listing the links here-- check back here for updates throughout the day.

The Missions Improbable Podcast
A podcast where John Leavitt and Sydney Bernstein discuss the Mission: Impossible movies as if they matter. "Mission Impossible or 'Brian De Palma directed this?!' John and Syd discuss the surprisingly tight and retro thriller and what rebooting Mission Impossible for the 90s meant. Also discussed: Vanessa Redgrave, when is a twist not a twist, and computers, are they magic?"

Matt Perri, The Workprint
"The movie is very stylish. Having Brian De Palma at the helm does that to a film. Seriously, whether you want it or not, you’re getting style. If you were a family member and you handed the camcorder to your cousin, Brian De Palma, the part where you exchange vows with your S.O. would be really intense. But his style works. The claustrophobic camera work and angular shots add a nice dimension to the paranoid mood of the film and Danny Elfman’s score is very much old school, brilliantly mimicking the tackiness of a 60’s spy show with heavy militaristic drums and horns — and the occasional bongo drum to smooth it all out because spies are hip, baby."

Russ Fischer, /Film, The Best ‘Mission: Impossible’ Action Scenes
"Brian De Palma‘s first Mission: Impossible film wasn’t packed with action setpieces — there are only three, really, but those three are all top-tier action filmmaking, and one of those three defined the series for years to come. In the two decades since, the series has been tackled by a variety of directors — John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, and now Christopher McQuarrie — each of whom with a slightly different balance of action and espionage."

Joe Walsh, Cine Vue
"The opening scene with a 53-year-old Cruise clinging to the side of a military plane as it takes off (whilst managing to say his lines) is a sight to behold. McQuarrie and his team have cherry-picked the most enjoyable elements of the previous four instalments and attempted to generate a hybrid Mission: Impossible film. We have a cat and mouse chase through London echoing De Palma's street scenes in Prague and a motorcycle chase through Morocco, near mirroring John Woo's Mission: Impossible II (2000)."

Scott "Movie" Mantz, Access Hollywood
"The fact that Rogue Nation triumphs as an action film with a tightly-plotted screenplay should not come as a surprise, since it was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for writing 1995's The Usual Suspects and has been on something of a roll with Cruise ever since he co-wrote 2008's under-seen suspense thriller Valkyrie. McQuarrie also co-wrote last year's flat-out brilliant sci-fi epic Edge of Tomorrow, and he wrote and directed 2012's underrated Jack Reacher. (He also did an uncredited script polish on the aforementioned Ghost Protocol.)

"But the key to the success of Rogue Nation is that it moves the Mission: Impossible series forward while also looking back on the staples that made it so great in the first place. The highly publicized stunt with Cruise hanging from the side of an airborne cargo jet is an envelope-pushing nod to his hair-raising climb outside the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol. There's also a gripping underwater break-in scene that brings to mind the dangling heist scene that Brian De Palma directed in the first installment, and that's followed by an exhilarating motorcycle chase that harkens back to what many regard as the best scene from director John Woo's Mission: Impossible II."

Posted by Geoff at 1:41 AM CDT
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Friday, July 24, 2015

The "Everything Wrong With" series looks at Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible in the video above. After two quick "Movie Sins" right at the beginning, the narrator (Jeremy Scott) says, "I'm going to go ahead and knock off five sins because Brian De Palma shows how you can tell a story visually without having to cut to a new shot every second-- he uses the anamorphic format beautifully in this movie, and if you pay attention, you're rewarded." And there's another subtraction of "sins" later on. Also, make sure to watch the end of the video-- after going through the movie, there are some mash-ups of Mission: Impossible with other films, such as Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
(Thanks to James!)

Posted by Geoff at 1:26 AM CDT
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