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Recent Headlines
a la Mod:

Domino is
a "disarmingly
straight-forward"
work that "pushes
us to reexamine our
relationship to images
and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
-Collin Brinkman

De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
rapport at work
in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
next novel is Terry

De Palma developing
Catch And Kill,
"a horror movie
based on real things
that have happened
in the news"

Supercut video
of De Palma's films
edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book

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Exclusive Passion
Interviews:

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario

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AV Club Review
of Dumas book

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Entries by Topic
A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Wednesday, January 15, 2020
VIDEO - LUIS GUZMAN RECALLS 'CARLITO'S WAY' AUDITION
WORE OLD BEAT-UP LEATHER JACKET - "BRIAN DE PALMA STARTS CRACKING UP"


In the above People TV video, Couch Surfing, Lola Ogunnaike interviews Luis Guzmán as they couch surf through several of Guzmán's key roles, including his role as Pachanga in Carlito's Way:
Lola: One of my favorites.

Luis: Ohhh, yeah!

Lola: I mean, you're in a Brian De Palma movie, playing Al Pacino's sidekick!

Luis: You ever meet somebody, and your hands get all cold and sweaty?

Lola: Mmm-hmm...

Luis: And you're trying to be, like, really cool about it...

Lola: [laughing] Yes!

Luis: And stuff like that...

Lola: Yes

Luis: Well, that's what it was like for me to meet Al.

Lola: Now, how did you land this part? Did you have another friend who worked on this movie and set you up?

Luis: No-, no...

Lola: Okay.

Luis: My agent, that guy that I told you I got hooked up with by Richard Aster, sent me to an audition. It was funny, because the night before, my brother-in-law and his cousin found this old beat-up leather jacket in Tompkins Square Park. I put that jacket on, and I'm wearing it to the audition, and I get my first line out, and Brian, Brian De Palma starts cracking up. And then, they go, "Thank you," and I'm, "Aw, dang, he laughed at me, man." And I got home, and the casting director called me directly, at home, to tell me, "You got the part."


Posted by Geoff at 7:59 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 6:09 PM CST
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Saturday, January 11, 2020
'CASUALTIES' RANKS ON VULTURE'S 50 BEST WAR MOVIES
KEITH PHIPPS - "IT REMAINS A TOUGH FILM TO WATCH"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/casualtiesbeer.jpg

Yesterday, as Sam Mendes' 1917 opened in U.S. theaters, Vulture's Keith Phipps posted his ranking of "the 50 greatest war movies ever made." The article includes the subheadline, "A look back at a genre that has inspired a century of cinema." Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War doesn't rank very high on Phipps' list, but two excellent Paul Verhoeven films, Black Book and Soldier Of Orange, didn't make Phipps' list at all, which speaks, perhaps, to the inherently subjective nature of one person's viewpoint. In the article's intro, Phipps thoughtfully discusses how war films are viewed and perceived, as well as what constitutes a "war film" for his list:
Speaking to Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune in 1973, Francois Truffaut made an observation that’s cast a shadow over war movies ever since, even those seemingly opposed to war. Asked why there’s little killing in his films, Truffaut replied, “I find that violence is very ambiguous in movies. For example, some films claim to be antiwar, but I don’t think I’ve really seen an antiwar film. Every film about war ends up being pro-war.” The evidence often bears him out. In Anthony Swofford’s Gulf War memoir Jarhead, Swofford recalls joining fellow recruits in getting pumped up while watching Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, two of the most famous films about the horrors of war. (On the occasion of the death of R. Lee Ermey, the real-life drill instructor who played the same in Full Metal Jacket, Swofford offered a remembrance in the New York Times with the headline “Full Metal Jacket Seduced My Generation and Sent Us to War.”)

Is it true that movies glamorize whatever they touch, no matter how horrific? And if a war movie isn’t to sound a warning against war, what purpose does it serve? Even if Truffaut’s wrong — and it’s hard to see his observation applying to at least some of the movies on this list — it might be best to remove the burden of making the world a better place from war movies. It’s a lot to ask, especially since war seems to be baked into human existence.

So, like other inescapable elements of the human experience, we tell stories about war, stories that reflect our attitudes toward it, and how they shift over time. War movies reflect the artistic impulses of their creators, but they also reflect the attitudes of the times and places in which they were created. A World War II film made in the midst of the war, for instance, might serve a propagandist purpose than one made after the war ends, when there’s more room for nuance and complexity, but it also might not.

Maybe the ultimate purpose of a war movie is to let others hear the force of these stories. Another director, Sam Fuller, once offered a quote that doesn’t necessarily contradict Truffaut’s observation but better explains the impulse to make war movies: “A war film’s objective, no matter how personal or emotional, is to make a viewer feel war.” The films selected for this list of the genre’s most essential entries often have little in common, but they do share that. Each offers a vision that asks viewers to consider and understand the experience of war, be it in the trenches of World War I, the wilderness skirmishes of Civil War militias, or the still-ongoing conflicts that have helped define 21st-century warfare.

Compiled as Sam Mendes’s stylistically audacious World War I film, 1917, heads to theaters, this list opts for a somewhat narrow definition of a war movie, focusing on films that deal with the experiences of soldiers during wartime. That means no films about the experience of returning from war (Coming Home, The Best Years of Our Lives, First Blood) or of civilian life during wartime (Mrs. Miniver, Forbidden Games, Hope and Glory) or of wartime stories whose action rests far away from the battlefield (Casablanca). It also leaves films primarily about the Holocaust out of consideration, as they seem substantively different from other sorts of war films. Also excluded are films that blur genres, like the military science fiction of Starship Troopers and Aliens (even if the latter does have a lot to say about the Vietnam War). That eliminates many great movies, but it leaves room for many others, starting with a film made at the height of World War II in an attempt to help rally a nation with a story of an operation whose success required secrecy, extensive training, and beating overwhelming odds.


Casualties Of War places at #44 on Phipps' list:
Brian De Palma’s brutal, fact-inspired film about the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese woman didn’t catch on with audiences, helping to end the cycle of ’80s Vietnam War films and sidelining star Michael J. Fox’s attempt to cross over to more dramatic roles. It remains a tough film to watch, in part because De Palma shifts his skills as a creator of tense suspense films to a story of unbearable sadness in which a group of American soldiers (whose ranks include John C. Reilly and John Leguizamo in their film debuts) uses the permission of a violent, charismatic superior (Sean Penn) to engage in barbaric acts. Fox’s casting as the film’s moral center, and a man who suffers for his honesty, feels disorienting at first, but it works. Marty McFly looks out of place in such an awful situation, but that only drives the point home.

Posted by Geoff at 10:07 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, January 11, 2020 10:10 AM CST
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Thursday, January 9, 2020
NOEL VERA - 'DOMINO' A MESS, BUT ALSO STYLISH, FUNNY
"DE PALMA HAS THE BALLS TO DARE, AND IN MY BOOK DARE WELL"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/entrancejoedomino2.jpg

In part one of his "In my book best of 2019," Business World's Noel Vera includes the latest works from Quentin Tarantino and Brian De Palma:
Finally there’s Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, which helped sharpen my fondness for yet another disreputable filmmaker who deals with lurid pulpy material — only difference being this filmmaker has talent and likes to take vicious jabs at the political establishment, often to his disadvantage. Brian de Palma’s Domino is a mess, but no more so than his other seemingly tossed-off efforts (Body Double, Snake Eyes, Mission to Mars). It’s stylish and funny, with some of its best broadsides aimed at the CIA; there are audacious setpieces and you can debate how successfully they’re executed but De Palma has the balls to dare, and in my book dare well. The filmmaker, alas, has disowned his work, declaring this wasn’t the film he intended; on the plus side you hope (as in the case of Snake Eyes) that a director’s cut will be made available some day.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Wednesday, January 8, 2020
'CASUALTIES' PART OF KAEL SERIES NEXT WEEK - CHICAGO
KAEL'S CAUSES CÉLÈBRES RUNS JAN 10-22 AT GENE SISKEL FILM CENTER
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/kaelscauses.jpg

Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War will screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago on Saturday, January 18, and on Tuesday, January 21st. The screenings are part of a series centered around critic Pauline Kael, who wrote a deeply impassioned New Yorker review of Casualties Of War upon its initial release in 1989. The series, "Kael's Causes Célèbres," runs January 10-22, featuring "seven films that are especially important in defining Kael's taste and influence," Martin Rubin, associate director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, states in the program notes. Also screening alongside the series is the recent documentary, What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael.

Here's Rubin's program description of Casualties Of War:

One of Kael's last great causes célèbres was CASUALTIES OF WAR, a film that divided critics and represented a marked change-of-pace for a director whose stylish thrillers she had long championed. Based on a real incident from the Vietnam War, it tells of a American reconnaissance squad, sexually and otherwise frustrated, who are incited by their sergeant (Penn) to kidnap a Vietnamese girl, over the increasingly urgent (and risky) objections of one of the soldiers (Fox). What's remarkable is how many of the characteristic elements of De Palma's thrillers and crime films (ominous p.o.v. tracking shots, split-focus widescreen frames, voyeurism, complicity, lingering guilt, the link between sex and violence, etc.) are adapted so effectively to a very different context, rendering the Vietnam War as an expressionistic nightmare rooted in reality rather than in genre tropes. 35mm widescreen.

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
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Tuesday, January 7, 2020
'I'M RICKY!' - TRAILER FOR NICOLAS CAGE STAND-IN DOC
CAGE-A-RAMA CONTINUES WITH 'UNCAGED' SCREENING THURSDAY IN LONDON

As a quick follow-up to its Cage-a-rama 2020 fest in Glasgow this past weekend, Matchbox Cineclub will screen Uncaged - A Stand-In Story this Thursday night at Genesis Cinema in London. The film is about Marco Kyris, who was Nicolas Cage's official stand-in from 1994-2005. Kyris will be at the screening to participate in a Q&A. The evening will open with a screening of Con Air.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 8, 2020 12:11 AM CST
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Monday, January 6, 2020
GUARDIAN LOOKS AT 2020 & MISSION TO MARS, TOO
"REAL PEOPLE'S LIVES WILL BE ON THE LINE"...
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2mastronautline.jpg

We might as well keep these coming all week long to start out the year--- today, The Guardian's Charles Bramesco has an article with the headline, "Apocalypse now-ish: what can we learn from films set in 2020?" The first film Bramesco discusses is Mission To Mars, and it includes the above publicity still. Here's what Bramesco writes:
Inspired in part by a defunct ride at Disney’s theme parks, Brian De Palma imagined what humankind’s first manned journey to the red planet might play out. It is because the answer turns out to be “direly” that the film focuses the majority of its run time on the second such trip, a last-ditch rescue to extract the cosmonaut left behind by an accident the first time around. Let Elon Musk consider this a warning, as he and his top people at SpaceX vow to launch some undoubtedly rich eccentric into the deepest reaches of space by 2024: real people’s lives will be on the line, and even in the best-case scenario, we may still have to reckon with our genetic origins as bastardized Martian-DNA descendants. Which would, at the very least, level the market value of 23andMe.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 7, 2020 12:00 AM CST
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Sunday, January 5, 2020
THE SUV OF 2020 IN 'MISSION TO MARS'
FOX NEWS LOOKS AT WHAT HOLLYWOOD CONSIDERED THE CAR OF THE FUTURE, 20 YEARS AGO
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2msuv.jpg

The other day, Gary Gastelu at Fox News posted an article with the headline, "This is the SUV Hollywood thought we'd be driving in the year 2020." The article includes the image above, from Mission To Mars, and begins like this:
The year 2000 was a wondrous time. The future had arrived! After surviving the Y2K threat anything seemed possible. Including traveling to Mars.

That was the plot of the Brian De Palma-directed action film “Mission to Mars,” which depicted an ill-fated trip to the red planet in the year 2020. Hey, that’s now!

Set mostly in space, it didn’t offer much of a vision of what Earth would look like 20 years in the future, except for an opening scene at a July 4th barbecue for a team of astronauts potrayed by Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle and Connie Nielsen and Jerry O’Connell. All box office draws in the days before streaming.

Unfortunately, everything at the party looks very … normal. There’s no future tech to be seen and you probably could’ve recreated most of the wardrobe on a shopping trip to Old Navy and Ann Taylor. That said, no SciFi film worth it’s CGI would be complete without a car of the future, and MTM has one of those. Sort of.

Sinise’s character, mission co-commander Jim McConnell, arrives at the party in a bizarre-looking silver two-seat convertible SUV called the VX-02, with the 2 in subscript signifying the molecular formula for oxygen.

The thing is, it wasn’t really all that futuristic. It was a concept for a drop-top version of the Isuzu VehiCross that had gone on sale the prior year. The two-door 4x4 was a wildly styled take on the automaker’s mainstream Trooper and engineered with a conventional body on frame construction and V6 engine, the sound of which the effects folks replaced with electric motor noises on screen. (In the script posted on IMSDB, it’s described as a Jeep with a capital J. Ouch.)

Isuzu had introduced the VX-02 at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show a few weeks before the film’s premiere, pitching it as the world’s first Off-Roadster, but the market didn’t take a swing. Given the limited interest in the regular VehiCross – with just over 4,100 sold from 1999 to 2001 – it never made it into production and Isuzu left the U.S. altogether by 2009.

Nevertheless, the VehiCross has become a cult classic that has spawned the #VehiCrossTag on Twitter to accompany photos of sightings of the increasingly rare machine, and the VX-02 did predict the future in one small way.

At the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, Nissan unveiled the similarly oddball Murano CrossCabriolet convertible crossover, which went on sale the following year but was a commercial flop that was discontinued in 2014.

There was one more car at the party in “Mission to Mars” that is the antithesis of the VX-02. It’s a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette driven by Robbins' character Woody Blake that crewmate Luke Graham, played by Cheadle, suggests he should donate to a museum.

Blake’s response?

“Internal combustion, boys, accept no substitutes.”

Well, one person has: Elon Musk. And he's not only planning to go to Mars someday, but says he'll be bringing his electric Cybertruck along for the ride, which was inspired by 1982's "Blade Runner."

Who knows, maybe the VX-02 will finally go into production in 2038.



Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
Updated: Monday, January 6, 2020 12:13 AM CST
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Saturday, January 4, 2020
PAUL SCHRADER RETRO IN PARIS INCLUDES 'OBSESSION'
SERIES RUNS JAN 8 - FEB 2 AT FORUM DES IMAGES, SCHRADER TO ATTEND
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/obsessionposterdream2.jpg

Forum des images in Paris will host a full-on Paul Schrader retrospective, "In the mind of Paul Schrader," January 8th through February 2nd. Schrader will be on hand for several of the screenings. The program includes films Schrader has directed, as well as films he has written for other directors, such as Brian De Palma's Obsession, screening January 15th (Schrader is not scheduled to attend that one). Also included are films that inspire Schrader, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, which screens on the 15th right after Obsession.

Schrader spoke by telephone to someone in Paris (the interview is credited to DRBYOS), and the conversation, posted today at ArchyW, includes an interesting exchange in which Schrader discusses how his films are in constant dialogue with other films. He also talks about meeting De Palma and Martin Scorsese:

Because of your Calvinist education, you saw your first film at 17 years old. Having lived a childhood without cinema, does it make you different from filmmakers of your generation, early film lovers like Scorsese, Spielberg or Lucas?

I too have been influenced by films that have influenced my cinema, but these are not films discovered in childhood. This is my big difference from the filmmakers you are quoting. I started directly by loving Antonioni, Truffaut, Godard, Resnais, Rossellini, Dreyer … And you never forget your first love. I have never been seduced by films about children or directed at children. What interests me is to make the public think, to treat them as adults.

After having been deprived of cinema for a long time, how did you become a movie buff?

It started with my discovery of Bergman when I was studying at Calvin College (Protestant private establishment located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, editor's note), because he was preoccupied with the same spiritual issues that we discussed in the seminary. From there, I got interested in European cinema of the 60s and I fell in love with it. Then I went to study cinema at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).

In 1972, you just wrote a book that combines spirituality and cinema, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer.

I wrote this book because I realized that there was a connection between my spiritual past at Calvin College and my secular present at film school. But the idea of ​​the book is that this relation of cinema to the sacred is a question of style, not content.

Apart from the obvious influence of Pickpocket and Diary of a country priest by Robert Bresson, of whom you have written or produced several variations, you do not seem to be a filmmaker who refers a lot to cinema…

I do not see what allows you to say that. Have you seen First Reformed ? It’s a film that is constantly in dialogue with cinema: the protagonist is inspired by that of Diary of a country priest, the decor by Communicants, the end by Ordet, the levitation scene by Tarkovski… And in Strange Seduction, filmed in Venice, there is a plan directly inspired by Last year in Marienbad and another oneOrpheus. There are references like that in all my films, but they are not necessarily obvious.

You seem to have been very marked by Japan. There are many references to this culture in your films, and not only in Mishima. It also shows in your taste for simplicity and refinement.

It comes from the fact that I was raised in a very austere Calvinist environment. Our churches are made up of four white walls decorated only with a cross. When I rebelled, I went to a culture that was basically very close: I fled Calvinist austerity by falling in love with Japanese austerity! It is a very human psychic mechanism: we believe we are freeing ourselves from the limits in which our education has locked us, but we are only changing cage!

Your cinema is also very marked by religion.

Yes, it's inside me, I was programmed with this software …

Are you still a believer?

I go to church every Sunday. Do I have faith? I'm not sure … Albert Camus said that you don't believe, but you choose to believe. The nuance is very interesting.

In First Reformed, you denounce a corrupt use of religion, for intolerant political ends or capitalist profits.

Spirituality and the church are two very different things. Spirituality is an intangible human need, while the church is a material organization, with rules, uniforms, dogmas … The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential corporation in the world, it is a fact.

Many people associate your name with Taxi Driver of Martin Scorsese, that you wrote, rather than the films that you made. Does it annoy you?

Not at all. It is an immortal film, which entered American popular culture and which continues to be a reference almost fifty years later. I am not sure why and how we managed to hit the bull's-eye, but we got there. It was very liberating to start my career with this film, it immediately validated my work. You know, there are artists who work without ever being recognized, I was very quickly and that is what helped me to continue, and which still helps me.

How did you meet Martin Scorsese?

After studying at UCLA, I became a film critic in Los Angeles. One day I interviewed Brian De Palma. We met again to play chess, then we became friends (Schrader will write the screenplay forObsession, directed by De Palma in 1976, editor's note). He was the one who introduced me to Marty.

By the time you met him, had you ever written the screenplay for Taxi Driver ?

Yes, it dates back to when I was still a film critic. I wrote this screenplay out of personal need, not to sell it. It was like therapy: I realized that if I didn’t write this boy’s story, I would become like him.

The character of Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, is the matrix of many of your characters: solitary beings, divided between the search for purity and the temptation of violence.

There is a character who often returns in my scripts and my films. Let's describe it this way: a man sitting alone in a room, wearing a mask and waiting for something to happen, for life to manifest … This mask is his job, but whether he is a taxi driver, gigolo, dealer or priest, the same type is below. He's like a dead man waiting to be finally alive. Everyone finds their own way.


Posted by Geoff at 9:20 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, January 9, 2020 10:17 PM CST
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Friday, January 3, 2020
ARMOND WHITE - 'DOMINO' > 'KNIVES OUT'
DE PALMA DEPICTS "THE WAR ON TERROR IN A SWIFT, EFFECTIVE GENRE EXERCISE"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/dominoguns.jpg

Today at National Review, Armond White presents "The 15th Annual Better-Than List." White chooses Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory over the Safdie Brothers' Uncut Gems, and he chooses Brian De Palma's Domino over Rian Johsnon's Knives Out:
Pain and Glory > Uncut Gems Pedro Almodóvar’s gorgeous emotional autobiography showed wisdom while the Safdie Brothers’ ethnic carnival was callow. Antonio Banderas’s expressive regret and grace-filled recollections went deeper than Adam Sandler’s deliberately ugly, unfunny self-reproach.

Domino > Knives Out Brian De Palma reexamines his Millennial politics — depicting the War on Terror in a swift, effective genre exercise. Rian Johnson’s crass, pseudopolitical whodunit can’t tell where citizenship or humanity begins.


Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
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Thursday, January 2, 2020
CBR - OF FILMS SET IN 2020, 'M2M' CLOSEST TO REALITY
AND FLASHBACK REVIEW FROM 2006 - ERIC HENDERSON'S AUTEURIST READING OF M2M
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2mspacewalkmars.jpg

Today at Comic Book Resources, Anthony Gramuglia asks, "What Do These Sci-Fi Films Tell Us About Life in 2020?" After looking at 2020 predictions in films such as Annihilation Earth, Terminator: Dark Fate, Real Steel, A Quiet Place, Reign of Fire, and Edge of Tomorrow, Gramuglia turns his attention to Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars:
While most of cinema's predictions for 2020 rely on extremely advanced technology or outlandish creatures, one assumption about the future seems tantalizingly in reach with modern technology: a journey to Mars.

Mission to Mars is an almost forgotten 2000 sci-fi film that's loosely based on the defunct Disney attraction of the same name. In the Brian de Palma feature, scientists travel to Mars, only for something to go wrong on their first manned mission, which requires a second team to investigate what happened. Along the way, the scientists make first contact with alien life and learn where the aliens went after Mars became inhospitable.

The film didn't impress audiences, nor did it make much money at the box office. Still, of all the films that take place in 2020, it's the closest to reality. The human race has the technology to reach Mars within the next few years, and we may very well actually make our way to the rusty fourth planet from the sun. We have far more of a chance making it there than blowing up continents, after all. Mission to Mars might've been nominated for Razzies in its day, but it wins in regards to scientific possibility.


And so then... how does Domino fit in with this version of 2020?

Speaking of Domino, I happened upon a review of the Mission To Mars from 2006 (six years after the film's release), in which Slant's Eric Henderson argues for an auteurist approach to reading the film. Henderson's review of what he suggests is the start of "De Palma’s already richly rewarding 'old man cinema' period" seems to anticipate the back-and-forth views of Domino as "a De Palma film" these past few months:


Is Mission to Mars an auteurist litmus test for the Y2K generation in the same sense that Baby Face Nelson or The Girl Can’t Help It were in the theory’s salad days? Or is Mission To Mars the ultimate in hackery? Is De Palma etched into every CGI-loaded frame? Or can’t his personality overcome a budgetary tidal wave in the shape and magnitude of $80 million? While it’s tempting to shrug such questions off with a “go fiddle with your Hatari and jerk your Steel Helmet somewhere else, there’s formalism to be seduced here” (yes, even in this context of a critical appraisal of a singular talent), the impulse would rob an already gravelly underrated movie of its context. It would suck the air out of Mission to Mars like space robs Tim Robbins of his every last droplet of essential moisture. Leave a movie like Mission to Mars to fester among the slaves to the genre, and you’ll wind up with a bloated and laughably irrelevant Web page of technical gaffes over on IMDb. So while an auteurist reading of Mission to Mars might invite self-involved chatter over whether the movie or the viewer is supplying the meaning, at least you won’t find yourself sharing an oxygen mask with a caste of Trekkie outcasts. And Trekkies can’t dance in outer space.

Buena Vista undoubtedly conceived of a very different film than the Mission to Mars it released in theaters. Its once and future pie-eyed protagonist is played by Gary Sinise, revealing executives’ intentions; this was meant to be a space movie aimed at those for whom Apollo 13, in which Sinise brooded and kicked clods of dirt while everyone else got to board the Good Ship Patriotism, was just a little bit too dark. Why they hired De Palma is beyond me, but they must’ve felt intensely pleased with themselves when the movie earned a kid-friendly PG rating. But Mission to Mars isn’t only a warm, up-with-people sci-fi actioneer in an Event Horizon era. It’s also a fearless twist on the sadly still controversial theory of evolution, a completely anti-James Cameronian epic with a blockbuster budget and a completely becalmed man at the helm, and maybe the first chapter in De Palma’s already richly rewarding “old man cinema” period. And did I mention that De Palma gets the chance to redux Fiona Lewis’s gothic pirouette of death from The Fury, only this time the limbs actually fly off?

Sure, De Palma may have been able to direct movies with an AARP card in his back pocket since 1992’s Raising Cain, but without Mission to Mars and Sinise’s haunted memories of Kim Delaney, De Palma could’ve never found it within himself to make Femme Fatale, his answer to that immortal one-two “old man cinema” punch of 1964: Hitchcock’s Marnie and Dreyer’s Gertrud. While the obvious connection between these three films won’t necessarily win over feminists for whom auteurism is another way of saying “no girls allowed,” all three mark a decisive point of psychological capitulation on the part of otherwise resolute personalities.

Mission to Mars’ redemptive coda opened the door for the subsequent film’s continuing figurative and literal sanguinity. There are few sights more disturbingly beautiful in the De Palma canon than Jerry O’Connell’s miniature globes of blood dancing in the air as they drift toward a hole in the Mars-bound shuttle’s structure. At once referencing bodily danger and assisting the crew and allowing them to repair a potentially greater danger, the fluidity of the film—from its blood to its serpentine cinematography—testifies to its elegance. Not to say there’s not a little hardening in De Palma’s heart even at this stage. It’s more a reflection of our culture’s reactionary values than of De Palma’s radicalism that this film airs on the Disney-owned ABC television network without its poetically direct 3D diorama of Earth’s evolution, suggesting the redolence of a corporation in hysterical self-censorship mode. But even De Palma turns the majority of the film’s saintly NASA heroes away at film’s end, leaving them to turn around and return to a planet of genetic inferiority. A planet where gravity makes it awfully difficult to dance through air.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, January 3, 2020 7:42 AM CST
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