BASED ON TRUE EVENTS FIRST REPORTED IN THE NEW YORKER IN 1969
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a la Mod:
In fact, De Palma had originally wanted Carice van Houten for the role of Isabelle in Passion, but she was not available during the planned shooting schedule. Noomi Rapace then took on that role. Maybe Hamrah is on to something then by noting a similarity. In any case, here's an excerpt from Hamrah's review:
Even in its partly realized form, Domino’s every frame is better than anything in Game of Thrones. In its less-than-ninety-minute running time, Domino links together CIA surveillance, terrorism, drone warfare, ISIS execution videos, and international film festivals. It all has a last-stand feel, in which De Palma excoriates today’s regime of easy-to-make but disposable images, which people, now all spies, use to brutalize each other. Scene after scene features piles of red tomatoes, there for critics to throw at De Palma so they can be tabulated and scored by review aggregators.
Politics for De Palma is a bizarre excuse for exploitation. This is one of his films in which he spares no one. Everyone is a torturer and a victim at the same time in Domino—confused, compromised, in for punishment. With some irony, De Palma sets up a Libyan terrorist (Eriq Ebouaney) as the film’s conscience. The CIA (in the person of the satanic-blasé Guy Pearce) forces him to work as a double agent, and the film’s plot comes to depend on him. Yet by the end De Palma abandons this downhearted terrorist without any more hesitation than he gave a minor character whose face gets dunked in a fry cooker.
A final scene, which could be the last of De Palma’s career, switches back and forth between a Spanish bullring and a hotel rooftop. The locations are linked by the threat of a mass killing and a camera drone, which De Palma uses to collapse the great distance between mass events and personal ones, a last gasp of mise-en-scène in the age of martyrdom videos on YouTube.
The Fury is the best X-Men film ever made, and in an ideal world it’d be considered a model for what pop cinema can be. But as Brian De Palma’s follow-up to his masterpiece Carrie it was destined to disappoint, in part because of how much they have in common. Both are based on novels about a telekinetic girl. Both feature Amy Irving as an empath who tries and fails to save a peer-in-need. And both enjoy playing at an offbeat pitch; but while Carrie does so within an unmistakable horror designation, The Fury is an ice cream sundae of genres – a coming-of-age supernatural espionage government conspiracy horror-thriller. Got all that? Add an experimentally self-reflexive cherry on top, and you have a film that audiences and critics did not, and largely still don’t, know what to make of. But to De Palma devotees (and some film devotees) it is an essential work, and an irresistible opportunity for writers to intellectualize De Palma’s relationship with cinema through cinema. It’s an exercise that often, for all its worth, makes the film itself sound like a narrative thesis. There is often a clinical disconnect that obscures The Fury’s entertaining and emotional immediacy.
Watching The Fury, the main thing you notice is that even through its early slower section it is blisteringly alive, as if De Palma has some unspoken knowledge that this will be the last film he ever makes (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). It is so in tune with its own wavelength, and with the emotional stakes of its characters, that the preposterously schlocky story feels like it matters (this is greatly helped by John Williams’s momentous Herrmann-eqsue score, by turns eerie, epic, and playful. “For Gillian” is his Harry Potter before Harry Potter). It maintains the same two-fold hold on me every time I watch it — a mix of uncommonly strong investment in the characters and story, and a near-constant awe at its formal power. With an opening set-piece that involves a betrayal by way of (who else but?) John Cassavetes, a terrorist attack, a kidnapping, and a shirtless 62 year-old Kirk Douglas letting loose with a machine gun, an “all-aboard!” line is drawn in the sand. Either hop on or get ready for a long two hours.
That ice cream sundae also contains eccentric pockets of comic relief. Scenes open on oddball peripheral characters, whether it’s the cop who just got a brand new car, the little old lady who delights in helping out a trespasser, or the two security guards who pass the time by negotiating trades of Hershey bars and coffee (it also has the priceless reveal that the elderly Kirk Douglas’s ingenious disguise is to make himself look, wait for it, old!). All that Kirk and quirk gradually give way to the more sincerely executed dilemmas of the teenage Gillian (Amy Irving in a performance that belongs in my personal canon), a new student at the Paragon Institute coming to grips with her increasingly cataclysmic and all-seeing powers.
It’s trademark De Palma to toy around with the nature of cinema, and as The Fury unfolds it begins to self-engage, reaching back into itself in ways that are still hard to fully fathom. Gillian’s telekinetic link to the missing Robin (Andrew Stevens) is depicted visually, including us in the intimate and exclusive psychic link they share. Since Gillian’s visions are triggered by touch and experienced by sight, she acquires information by watching scenes play out in front of, or all around, her. She learns and we learn through her. She becomes submerged in cinema — part of the audience. Gillian experiences harrowing psychic access to Robin, and through the immediacy of the filmmaking we are given that same experiential access to Gillian. This is cinema as the ultimate form of communication, information (surveillance is a recurring theme here too, another De Palma favorite), and feeling, seen as capable of transcending the confines of the screen. As part of his brainwashing, Robin is even shown the first five minutes of the film. Cinema weaponized and all that jazz.
The tricks in De Palma’s formal playbook make all this possible. The editing (at times flickering in-and-out like a flip-book) and rear-screen projection are used to emphasize and envelop. Characters are brought together by overlapping space and sound. The camera often tracks conversation by circling around characters, knowing that the more an image changes, the more we can percieve. A bravura slow-motion sequence turns the notion of the escape scene into a cathartic reverie gone wrong. It isn’t until the end that we realize the slow-motion is in fact stretching out a character’s final moments. It is the perfect encapsulation of how De Palma, at his best, uses pure stylization to not only enhance, but become emotion. Gillian’s shake-ridden fright and confusion, Hester’s (Carrie Snodgress) heartache and longing, and Peter (Douglas) facing the consequences of his quest, are all deeply palpable through this fusion of performance and form.
The Fury carries the devastating punch of his most emotional works like Carrie, Blow Out, or Carlito’s Way, but without the ever-lingering bleak aftertaste. It hijacks the senseless loss that came before with a vengeful ascendance so absolute it can only be called the money shot to end all money shots. And it wouldn’t be The Fury if it didn’t replay from every imaginable angle — wiping our memory out with pure orgasmic vindication.
De Palma goes to Europe and, for the first time, gets really interested in metaphysics: the nature and transference of souls, the encroaching inhumanity of the image as tool and telos, salvation through chance and meaningless structural coincidence. seven years later and no time has passed at all, instead it feels like a different movie collided with this one and some tiny crucial piece got lost in the confusion (but it is wonderfully, gorgeously regained in a dream). some of Hitchock’s influence has been traded in for Eurosleaze’s stumbling towards glorious abstraction, for the better: De Palma has never been freer even at his trashiest. a bathtub overflows and it fills the Seine, seven years later and in a dream
Fiore collaborated with Brian De Palma on several films in the 1960s. Along with Bruce Rubin, Fiore did a little of everything in the De Palma camp. He was the sound recordist on Murder A La Mod (a clip from which ended up playing on a TV in a scene from Blow Out years later). Fiore was the cinematographer on Greetings, and shortly after, co-filmed the split-screen documentary of Richard Schechner's Dionysus In '69 with De Palma and Rubin (the latter recorded the film's sound). Fiore was the cinematographer on To Bridge This Gap, a documentary by Ken Burrows and De Palma, which was edited by Rubin.
There was one other project, a lost documentary from earlier in the 1960s that was to be titled Mod. Fiore, De Palma, Rubin, and William Finley had all shot footage in England. It was Finley's idea, circa 1964, a movie about mods and rockers within a then-burgeoning scene in London. In Justin Humphreys' book, Interviews Too Shocking To Print, Rubin explains that Finley's father had died and left him money, which he was going to use to finance the film. "And I was amazed at the audacity of somebody taking money that they had inherited and immediately spending it on making a movie," Rubin tells Humphreys. "But he was so enthralled by what was going on in London - the whole new music scene and he wanted to document it - to get it on film before it went away because this was the moment of birth for that whole [movement]. I mean, The Beatles were just coming out, and The Stones, and everybody - The Animals, Herman's Hermits, on and on."
After arriving in London ("there was a whole group of us," Rubin says in the book), Finley asked if Rubin would go to France with De Palma to pick up a light Eclaire sound camera, mentioning that he also needed another person to work on the film. Rubin had known Fiore from film school, and De Palma had known Fiore, as well. Fiore happened to be on a Fulbright grant in Paris, "and so he agreed to come back from Paris with us to work on the film," says Rubin, adding that they all had "an incredible two days" in Paris before heading back to London, where they worked on the film for two weeks, "through Christmas and New Year's."
Rubin continues in Humphreys' book:
"Bob Fiore and I went to Birmingham, I think... We drove up there and we went to the Beatles' Cavern (The Cavern Club in Liverpool] and there was a group showing there that night called Herman's Hermits. We got permission - I had a card that said I was from ABC News. I don't know how I got it but people thought that's who I was. They made a lot of things available. We went in and I had enough film to shoot one act of the concert. And it was Herman's Hermits, so I got the camera and Bob Fiore was my sound man at that point. I shot this amazing, exciting number using every element of the zoom lens. It was really very, early '60s exciting experimental cinema. I really shot a great roll of film of Herman's Hermits.
"And then, right after it was done, and we were out of film, the announcer onstage says, 'And, now, everybody - here's Herman!' I had shot the whole backup group without their leader, so I had wasted every bit of film of some of the most brilliant filmmaking of all-time.
"We were very ragtag as a group and we did what we could do. We did shoot some stuff of a group called The Who in a room in a hotel but nobody had ever heard of them, really, but people were saying, 'This is going to be a big group.' It was a small hotel performing area in a restaurant, like. I did shoot some of their performance."
Fiore went on to work with the Maysles brothers as a camera operator on Gimme Shelter (1970), and was a cinematographer on a key Vietnam documentary, Winter Soldier (1972), in which former U.S. soldiers testify in Detroit about their experiences in Vietnam. Fiore was a co-director and cinematographer on Pumping Iron (1977), the doc that made a star of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he was a camera operator on Robert Townshend's Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987) and Al Pacino's Looking For Richard (1996).
Milestone Films shared some words from Fiore's daughter, Jessamyn: "My father was a really good man. That description may seem overly simplistic but I think we can all agree that actually, at this moment, being a good man is a great accomplishment. He was incredibly generous; he had a talent for making people feel at ease and welcome. This was the skill that made him such a great documentary cinematographer — putting people at ease in front of the camera — but also made him a great friend, a trusted confident, and a wonderful father.… He was a modest man, but also very proud of the films he made, proud of their endurance and continued relevance, knowing they could be experienced long after he was gone.”
It’s something that has repeatedly happened over the years. Legendary director Brian De Palma released a new movie that was shrugged off as a minor work from the filmmaker despite its singular vision and meticulously crafted set pieces. This spring when De Palma’s Domino was released in select theaters and VOD, I, too, thought the film was a minor work from De Palma that featured two incredible sequences. I can’t believe that I, an absolute De Palma fanatic, made the same mistake that so many others had made. I undervalued a new De Palma flick. Revisiting Domino for its Blu-ray release, I was struck that De Palma has once again made an absolute killer thriller, a cynical film with strong political overtones and the director’s incredible knack for crafting suspense in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock. Simply put, despite what anyone has said, Domino rips."DAD AT THE MOVIES" SEES CUTS WHERE NONE EXIST...?
The screenplay for Domino by Petter Skavlan taps right into Brian De Palma’s cynicism, especially when it comes to American international interventionism. Look throughout De Palma’s filmmaking career and you see example after example of this robust skepticism about America’s ability to dictate its wishes to the world and Domino fits right in that mold, embodied by the brash, outlandish performance by Guy Pearce. Within the world of Domino, which is set in 2020, the reality of American involvement means that a rather simple murder case becomes increasingly complicated, with the CIA pull string behind the scenes and creating layers of distrust even amongst allies.
The way in which Domino features Islamist terrorists has caused a bit of an uproar because of the stereotypical nature. But De Palma injects a few wrinkles that take the director deeper into what terrorism truly is. He’s not interested in the religious motivations for terrorism, but how technology and visual storytelling can be used to spread the horror. Al Din and his cabal of terrorist cohorts speak of their religious jihad but they’re more focused on creating glossy portraits of terror, sensationalized videos of violence that will dominate news cycles and spread on the internet. De Palma is fascinated to see how easily his beloved visual medium can be utilized to spread evil.
Unfortunately, behind the scenes issues between the producers and De Palma have led to the director to all but abandon his film. The Blu-ray for Domino sadly boasts no special features. While one of the great American filmmakers continues to languish outside of the Hollywood system, he proves once again that when given the resources he can craft a sequence as good if not better than anyone. Domino is another highly cinematic work from Brian De Palma that dives into themes that the director has been exploring throughout his career, going all the way back to his breakthrough hit Greetings in the ‘60s. Time will tell if people finally get around to catching up with Domino, but I have a feeling that De Palma’s latest will build its dedicated cult following as it shows once again the master hasn’t lost his touch.
This genre is propelled by action sequences, and director Brian De Palma offers up some exciting set pieces, first with the attack that results in Lars’ death and a 007-worthy rooftop chase, then a gripping sequence at Spanish bullfight. The film itself is typical De Palma too, self-conscious of its medium even as it’s slyly self-referential. For example, a video posted by the terrorists is analyzed by the police for its use of camera angles and sophisticated cinematography techniques. Later, one of the terrorists attacks a film festival in a sequence told through video sequences watched on various computer laptops, a film-within-a-film.
Eriq Ebouaney has so much presence on camera that I also really wished for more of his story, more about Ezra Tarzi, his family, and how he ended up stuck in the middle between the Danish police, the CIA and ISIS. He’s an actor to watch, for sure, and has already had great success in Three Days to Kill, Kingdom of Heaven and Hitman.
Still, there’s a lot wrong with this story, not the least of which is that Christian is a miserable cop, so busy saying goodbye to his female friend that he forgets his gun as he heads out on patrol. He’s later suspended from the police force for such negligence, but that entire sequence – and its consequences in the subsequent story – are quickly subsumed and never appear again in the narrative. There are also long periods when Christian and Alex are driving or tailing the terrorists where there’s a weird absence of dialog. Moody? Yes, but in the “are we there yet?” sense.
What’s more frustrating is the lazy and somewhat insulting tendency of De Palma to zoom in on something to clue us in that it’s important to the story. This doesn’t just happen once (gun on table, cut to naked woman, cut to Christian walking out the door, cut and linger on gun still on table) but recurs throughout the film. Entirely suitable for manga, it’s a pet peeve of mine in cinema. Let us figure it out, don’t break the narrative with these foreshadowing close-ups or oh-so-obvious placements on camera.
There are a lot of pretty awful movies out there, however, so in the end I would assess Domino as a B grade film. If you like actioners, if you’re a big fan of Coster-Waldau (I am!) and van Houten (I am!), if you are a Brian De Palma completist, or you’re just looking to burn a few hours, Domino is mostly well assembled and muchly fun to watch. I’m just hoping for the director’s cut that chops out some of the banal elements and smooths the many narrative hiccups and cuts to weave the main story with the many secondary narrative elements. Now that would be a really good cop film.
Relegated to a VOD release, final cut snatched from its director [*questionable statement], bearing the marks of a rushed and underfunded shooting-schedule, and visually incomplete to boot, Brian De Palma’s DOMINO has all the warning signs of a real cinematic disaster. And yet, the experience of watching the film is, at times, at odds with these facts.
For all its occasional jankiness, DOMINO begins brilliantly. Set in Copenhagen, in 2020, nondescript cop Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his partner Lars (Soren Malling) are called to an apparent case of domestic violence. This scene is preceded by an extended shot, in Christian’s apartment, which provides a crucial detail: he has left his gun behind. As they enter the lift, they bump into Ezra (Eriq Ebouaney), whose feet are wet with blood. He stabs Lars in the neck, and a VERTIGO-quoting rooftop chase is initiated, ending with Ezra captured by CIA (led by an enjoyably hammy Guy Pearce), and Christian dealing with the aftermath of his friend’s attack.
Ezra, who is an ISIS-affiliated terrorist, becomes a brutal enforcer for the CIA in Denmark, depicted as an EU police-state under the Americans’ watchful aegis. Christian, meanwhile, is reprimanded for forgetting his gun and begins investigating the terrorist network (operating as fast-food sellers, hiding explosives in tomato crates) with Alex (Carice van Houten), whose motivations are more tangled than they first appear.
Much of this – the ‘drama’ – is plainly bad; many scenes are staged with a perfunctory, even bored, eye-rolling manner, others are barely colour-corrected; the high-strung score is ramped up to alert you of some impending action, only emphasising how dull what’s happening presently is; and the performances are hilariously, stoically wooden. Coster-Waldau particularly seems to have been inspired by Ben Affleck’s turn in Terrence Malick’s TO THE WONDER: he’s a living slab, essentially part of the scenery — he can run, he can fight, he can look vaguely in the direction of another actor in a scene, but can he emote? Are you joking? No chance.
But, should you be able to suffer through this, there are shots, sequences, scenes which demonstrate that unmistakable and inimitable De Palma touch. This is another way of saying that the director’s ‘provocative’ — a dread term — leanings are in evidence here, and they are as nasty, irresponsible, precisely articulated, and expressive as ever.
De Palma strikes at where we live – he sets fire to shit-filled bags and leaves them at our complacent doors. DOMINO is another instalment in the director’s filmography concerned with our relationship with images and screens, how people can be lured into a false sense of security, or panic, by the manipulation of media. The key sequence here is one which depicts, in split-screen, first-person-shooter fashion, a terrorist attack on a film festival red carpet. The nauseating effect of the POV is doubled when it occurs to you that this might be, in a compartmentalised way, wish-fulfilment on the director’s behalf. The sequence calls to mind the unbelievable “Be Black, Baby!” sequence from De Palma’s HI, MOM! for its sheer in-your-face outlandishness.
The finale, set in an Almeria bull-fighting stadium, becomes a mission to stop both an atrocity on Spanish soil and the recording, for propagandistic purposes, of that atrocity. It’s an incoherent set-piece, for sure, but it’s assembled so beautifully with such attention to tension, recalling the structures of the delirious, musical sequence-making of DRESSED TO KILL, BODY DOUBLE, and FEMME FATALE.
Only those compelled by a sense of auteurist completionism will end up letting DOMINO into their eyes and ears, which is, in a limited way, a shame: because, despite the obvious truncated and distorted nature of the film, the marks of De Palma’s authorship are still visible, and still pleasurable. It’s all here: the ominous zooms, the axial cutting, the split-diopter shots, the mystifying chutzpah; and, to save the best until last, it’s good to note that when De Palma the sequence-constructor is allowed to emerge from the movie’s cracked casing, he can still sing.