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AV Club Review
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Wednesday, August 5, 2015
THE CANON DISCUSSES 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE'
PODCAST - AMY NICHOLSON LOVES DE PALMA'S FILM, DEVIN FARACI, NOT SO MUCH


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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Tuesday, August 4, 2015
CRITERION RESPONSE - ALTERNATE DISC IN THE MAIL
DE PALMA'S REQUESTED CHANGE TO "GEOMETRY OF THE SCAN" WAS NOT CARRIED OVER IN FINAL PRODUCT
Late this afternoon, Criterion posted an updated announcement regarding image distortion in its upcoming Dressed To Kill release:
UPDATED ANNOUNCEMENT:
In our haste to respond to customer concerns about the anamorphic compression on our release of Dressed to Kill, we posted incorrectly that the change had been made at the behest of the director. Brian De Palma did ask for a change to the geometry of the scan, but it was to address the distortion he saw in the image, not to apply it. Unfortunately, that change was never carried over in the final product, and the resulting discs are wrong. Therefore, we are reauthoring discs without the squeeze and will make them available to all purchasers of our release of Dressed to Kill free of charge. Simply e-mail Jon Mulvaney (mulvaney@criterion.com) with your name, address, and some proof of purchase, such as a receipt, and we will send you a corrected copy. We regret the inconvenience, but we hope that in the end all of our customers will end up with a copy of Dressed to Kill that accurately reflects the film as well as the director’s intentions.

Earlier in the day, prior to the above update, Criterion had posted the following announcement:
EARLIER ANNOUNCEMENT:
In the course of preparing the master for Criterion’s new release of Dressed to Kill, director Brian De Palma asked if there was anything that could be done to correct what he felt was a distortion in the image that caused everyone to appear slightly wide or squat. A modest anamorphic compression was applied, and De Palma was satisfied. On reviewing the final product, we feel the adjustment doesn’t accurately reflect the look of the film, and we are reauthoring discs without the squeeze and will make them available to all purchasers of our release of Dressed to Kill free of charge. Simply write to Jon Mulvaney (mulvaney@criterion.com) with your name, address, and some proof of purchase, such as a receipt, and we will send you a corrected copy. We regret the inconvenience, but we hope that in the end all of our customers will end up with a copy of Dressed to Kill that accurately reflects the film as well as the director’s intentions.

Mulvaney had sent an email to Criterion customers following the initial announcement that stated, in part, "We are not 'correcting' or 'fixing' this release. We will offer a disc in addition to the current release that will not have the anamorphic compression that Brian De Palma requested."

Posted by Geoff at 7:25 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 3:08 AM CDT
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'DTK' SQUISHED AFTER 21-MINUTE MARK - REVIEW
"LOOKS GREAT" UP UNTIL THE POINT WHERE ANGIE DICKINSON RUNS OUT OF THE MUSEUM


A review of Criterion's upcoming Dressed To Kill package posted a couple of days ago by Criterion Forum's Chris Galloway states that "the first 21-minutes look great," but that after that, the transfer gets very obviously "horizontally squished." With the early reviews all highlighting aspect ratio issues with the transfer, many are expecting some kind of forthcoming response from Criterion, prior to the August 18 release date. In the meantime, here is an excerpt from Galloway's review:
This may be one of the more frustrating presentations to come from Criterion because you can see how amazing it would have turned out if it wasn’t for one rather huge glaring issue. Touching on the good aspects first the image is razor sharp with stunning detail, improving over Arrow’s presentation which looks a little muddy and fuzzy in comparison. Textures are particularly superb, at times looking like you can reach out and touch them, and the sense of depth is also fairly strong (though this is hampered a bit by an issue I’ll touch on later). It’s incredibly crisp, and easily the sharpest I’ve ever seen the film.

Colours do differ a bit in comparison to every release since MGM’s 2001 DVD. Here the colours are noticeably washed out a little more, though they aren’t overly dull. They can still look fairly vibrant and the reds (found in the blood particularly) are the strongest aspect. Black levels are also very good and crushing wasn’t an issue. I was more than fine with it and I wouldn’t be surprised if colours were closer to this when it was released and the look works for the film. Still, many will have their personal preference on this and will probably prefer the colours used for all of the other releases since the DVD.

So, to a certain extent I was very pleased with what we got, and the first 21-minutes look great. The transfer was clean and stable, presenting natural looking grain, no noticeable digital tinkering, and a wonderfully filmic quality. Even the clean-up job is impressive, wiping out just about all imperfections, the only real issue I noticed being some fading on the edges of the screen a few times. It looks great… Until roughly the 21-minute mark—when Angie Dickinson’s character runs out after the man she was tailing in the museum—where the transfer makes a questionable turn.

If the colours to the film are debatable this next aspect isn’t: for whatever reason the rest of the film, a little bit after that 21-minute mark (I’m guessing after a reel change) the image becomes horizontally squished. This of course creates the odd effect that causes everything and everyone to look unnaturally skinny with enlarged foreheads. And this isn’t some mild annoyance that only becomes obvious here and there: it’s right there in your face. True, there are a few scenes where the problem doesn’t stand out as much as others, but this probably has more to do with framing and positioning. I watched the film a second time to verify where the squishing occurs now that I was aware of it, and yes, a little bit after the 21-minute point the squeezing starts and never lets up.

It’s a bewildering issue more because of the fact no one seemed to notice this. It was supervised and approved by De Palma but he didn’t see? And it’s not like it’s a subtle problem: it’s pretty obvious and you don’t need any sort of side-by-side comparison to notice, especially when weird artifacts show up because of it. Take for example the scene where Michael Caine and Paul Margulies are conversing as they walk down a staircase, the camera circles them and creates all sorts of distortions in the frame as the geometry of the stairs change, becoming stretched or compressed with each turn of the camera. If no one noticed the problem is it intentional then? A VHS tape I had first seen the film on, cropped to 4x3 of course, actually did squish in the image at times throughout the film to aid in keeping some of the widescreen compositions (anybody who saw Die Hard on VHS will remember these effects). But this was done mostly for the diopter shots and the split screen sequence, along with a few other moments where pan-and-scan wasn’t going to cut it. That made sense then (though was no less annoying, and obviously widescreen would have been better) but doing the same thing here, when the image is actually presented in widescreen, makes no sense. Plus if it was intentional why are the first 21-minutes normal? I can only believe it’s a mistake but I am still stunned it wasn’t something that was noticed, and it’s a shame because this had the potential to be one hell of a presentation. Just an incredible disappointment.

And here are some of Galloway's thoughts on the supplements:

Criterion does top previous editions in one area: the supplements. Criterion ports over the old MGM supplements but also adds on a number of their own, starting with a new interview with Brian De Palma conducted by Noah Baumbach. Baumbach asks De Palma about how he came up with the story and asks the development process behind the film, from setting up the various long sequences, to filming the actors to project the desired emotional effect, and the use of music throughout. They also talk about the controversies surrounding the film’s release, along with the Hitchcock touches. Surprisingly it’s only 19-minutes but they’re an effective 19-minutes.

Criterion also gets a new interview with Nancy Allen, running about 16-minutes, where the actress talks about that period of her life, first getting married to De Palma while taking a break during filming of 1941 and then watching him work on the script to Dressed to Kill. She recalls how visual the script was and how impressed she was with it, only to be thrilled when she found out he had written what was really the starring role for her. She then talks about developing the character, from the actual research to how the costumes even aided in the process. She also talks about the difficulty in shooting some of De Palma’s more elaborate sequences, where timing is everything, giving a play by play on a couple of scenes. Short, but again it manages to be wonderfully indepth.

Producer George Litto next talks about his films with De Palma: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out, obviously proud of the films that came out of the collaboration (he also feels that the museum sequence in Dressed to Kill is one of the best pieces of filmmaking he has ever seen). Composer Pino Donaggio next talks about the film’s score and his collaborations with De Palma over the years, and how De Palma uses his music. He’s most proud of the music he created for the museum sequence, and explains how he studied the scene extensively to get the right momentum and feel. Both interviews are insightful and entertaining, running 12-minutes and 16-minutes respectively.

The next supplement is a bit of a surprise but proves to be a rather great inclusion: an interview with Victoria Lynn Johnson, Angie Dickinson’s body double in the film. She talks about the casting process she went through and then what it was like working with De Palma, who surprised her with his attention to detail. She never felt uncomfortable with the scene or situation, was pleased it was a “legitimate” film (the cast helped her feel better about the project), and she talks about her brief moment of fame when it came out she was Dickinson’s double. It runs 9-minutes.

My favourite of the new features, though, may be an interview with Stephen Sayadian, who worked on the photograph used for the poster art for the film. This 10-minute interview is particularly fascinating because it looks at the marketing industry for low budget horror films at the time, which was actually built from work in the porn industry, from ads for Hustler to cover designs for VHS (Sayadian says he received complaints that his company’s video art made the films look way better than they actually were). From here he then talks about shooting the photo that would eventually be used for the poster art, from gathering together props (like the shoes) to getting the people to pose for it. He also talks about an alternate photo shoot and the finished product we see here is probably more appropriate for the film (Sayadian admits they hadn’t seen the film yet when they shot the first one), though De Palma apparently chose to use the other one. It’s a fairly funny feature giving some great insight into an industry that gets somewhat overlooked.

Criterion then includes the 2001 documentary included on MGM’s DVD (and has also appeared on MGM’s and Arrow’s respective Blu-rays) The Making of Dressed to Kill. The lengthy 45-minute documentary coves the film’s genesis, production, and release. It features interviews with Dickinson, Allen, Gordon, De Palma, Dennis Franz, and others. Like most documentary features that appeared on MGM DVDs back in the day it’s a solid, very informative doc, but unfortunately, similar to Arrow’s disc, most of the material is repeated in the other new features on the disc. Still, it’s worth watching to get De Palma’s insights into the film (primarily his annoyance at the cuts he had to make, which he doesn’t really get into in the new interview found here) and it also offers more in-depth analysis of key sequences in the film.

Criterion then sees fit to include a tribute to the film’s director of photography, Ralf Bode. Called Defying Categories: Ralf Bode it features his brother, experimental video artist Peer Bode, and director Michael Apted. Peer brings a more personal angle to the feature, talking about his brother’s work and his early experimentation with the camera. Apted, though, offers the most praise. Apted states he had absolutely nothing to do with Dressed to Kill but he wanted to come on here to talk about Bode and give him the recognition he feels he never got. He praises his work and how he was able to adapt to each film. It’s a loving tribute looking at the man’s work.


Posted by Geoff at 2:32 AM CDT
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Monday, August 3, 2015
THE ONE AND ONLY BRIAN DE PALMA
USA TODAY RANKS FIRST 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' FILM AS BEST IN FRANCHISE


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
TWEET - 'DE PALMA' DOCUMENTARY

Posted by Geoff at 10:37 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 2, 2015 10:37 PM CDT
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GLENN KENNY TWEETS - 'DRESSED TO KILL'

Posted by Geoff at 5:15 PM CDT
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AUDIO-VIDEO ESSAY - 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' FILMS
GRANTLAND VIDEO LOOKS AT FRANCHISE, WITH STRONG FOCUS ON DE PALMA'S FILM

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
AUTEURIST EVENT
DARGIS: DE PALMA SET-PIECE GAVE 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' SERIES FOUNDATIONAL IMAGE

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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ANOTHER REVIEW OF CRITERION 'DRESSED TO KILL'
"VERY STRANGE ANOMALIES" APPEAR THROUGHOUT, BUT SOME AREAS LOOK FINE
The juxtaposition at left, taken from the DVD Beaver review of Dressed To Kill from the other day, shows the Arrow edition at the top, and the new Criterion edition at the bottom. In this particular shot, it appears that the Criterion edition has the correct aspect ratio, while the Arrow version looks as though it may have been stretched horizontally. However, according to a review by Dr. Svet Atanasov at Blu-ray.com, the Criterion disc they were sent features "numerous serious framing anomalies," including stretching and the top of the frame being lowered "too much." "Needless to say," states Atanasov, "the overwhelming majority of the film looks very awkwardly framed. There are no problematic degraining or sharpening adjustments. Colors are stable and healthy, never appearing artificially boosted. There are no large debris, cuts, damage marks, or torn frames, but I noticed a few tiny flecks. Finally, overall image stability is outstanding."

Meanwhile, on the site's forum, Blu-ray reviewer pro-bassoonist posted yesterday morning:
1. There are some very strange anomalies on the upcoming release of Dressed to Kill, but at the moment I don't know if Mr. De Palma is aware of them.

2. The anomalies appear throughout the entire film, and some are very distracting. The credits confirm that at least three different parties were involved with the restoration, so I am unsure how they could have been missed. However, there are also areas of the film that look fine.

3. Color scheme -- I saw that there are some claims that the film is "tealed", etc. This isn't true. Criterion's Lee Kline is responsible for the color grading and he is someone that understands extremely well what he is doing.

4. Lastly, I don't know if there is some sort of mastering/encoding defect -- something that caused the stretching externally. However, I don't like to speculate, so when/if there is some new factual information I will update the review/community.

And then last night, pro-bassoonist posted the following on the forum:

Hey guys,

Criterion are aware of the issue. As usual, when there is enough helpful information, there will be a response.

The information will be made available here.

In the meantime, could we please drop the overreactions and move on? Thanks.

Pro-B

Atanasov's review includes the following text from the leaflet provided with the Criterion release:

"The version of the film included here is director Brian De Palma's original and preferred unrated cut. Supervised by De Palma, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative; a 35mm interpositive was also used for additional footage for this cut. Benjamin Sutor at Sony Colorworks in Culver City, California, supervised the conform of unrated content to the original R-rated theatrical version to correctly assemble this master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI's DRS, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter, and flicker.

The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube's integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 4.

Transfer supervisor: Brian De Palma. Colorist: Lee Kline/Criterion, New York."

Atanasov's review also provides details about the special features included in Criterion's edition. Here are Atanasov's reviews of the new extras produced for this release:

Interviews -

1. Brian De Palma - in this brand new video interview, director Brian De Palma discusses with filmmaker Noah Baumbach the evolution of his style, Dressed to Kill and the structure of its narrative, the use of specific sounds in different sequences, Pino Donaggio's score and how the anxiety and paranoia in the film are linked to it, Michael Caine's performance, the film's controversial reception, Alfred Hitchock's influence on his work, etc. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2015. In English, not subtitled. (20 min, 1080p).

2. Nancy Allen - in this brand new video interview, Nancy Allen explains how she was approached to play the character of Liz Blake and how she prepared for the role, and discusses her interactions with costume designer Ann Roth, her work with Keith Gordon and Michael Caine (with some great comments about the seduction sequence), etc. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2015. In English, not subtitled. (17 min, 1080p).

3. George Litto - in this new video interview, producer George Litto discusses his collaborations with Brian De Palma on Obsession, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2015. In English, not subtitled. (17 min, 1080p).

4. Pino Donaggio - in this new video interview, composer Pino Donaggio discusses the score he created for Dressed to Kill as well as his long professional relationship with Brian De Palma. The two began working together in 1976, after Brian De Palma heard the score for Don't Look Now, and their first project was the horror thriller Carrie. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2015. In Italian, with optional English subtitles. (16 min, 1080p).

5. Victoria Lynn Johnson - in this new video interview, former model and 1978 Penthouse Pet of the Year Victoria Lynn Johnson explains how she was approached to do the erotic shower scene in the very beginning of Dressed to Kill. (She was Angie Dickinson's body double). The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2015. In Italian, with optional English subtitles. (9 min, 1080p).

6. Stephen Sayadian - in this new video interview, Stephen Sayadian, the photographic art director for the original Dressed to Kill one-sheet poster, describes how the original design was created and discusses the importance of poster-driven promotion at the time. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2015. In Italian, with optional English subtitles. (11 min, 1080p).

Defying Categories: Ralf Bode - in this new featurette, filmmaker Michael Apted (Gorky Park, Blink) and experimental video artist Peer Bode (We Can't Go Home Again) discuss the legacy and working methods of the late cinematographer Ralf Bode, who lensed Dressed to Kill. The featurette was produced exclusively for Criterion in 2015. In English, not subtitled. (11 min, 1080p).


Posted by Geoff at 2:10 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 1, 2015 2:22 AM CDT
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Friday, July 31, 2015
WHEREAS 'BODY DOUBLE' IS ABOUT HOLLYWOOD...
"'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' SIMPLY IS HOLLYWOOD" -- ETHAN VESTBY, THE FILM STAGE


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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