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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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« August 2020 »
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Interviews...

De Palma interviewed
in Paris 2002

De Palma discusses
The Black Dahlia 2006


Enthusiasms...

De Palma Community

The Virtuoso
of the 7th Art

The De Palma Touch

The Swan Archives

Carrie...A Fan's Site

Phantompalooza

No Harm In Charm

Paul Schrader

Alfred Hitchcock
The Master Of Suspense

Alfred Hitchcock Films

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a la Mod

Mission To Mars
a la Mod

Sergio Leone
and the Infield
Fly Rule

Movie Mags

Directorama

The Filmmaker Who
Came In From The Cold

Jim Emerson on
Greetings & Hi, Mom!

Scarface: Make Way
For The Bad Guy

The Big Dive
(Blow Out)

Carrie: The Movie

Deborah Shelton
Official Web Site

The Phantom Project

Welcome to the
Offices of Death Records

The Carlito's Way
Fan Page

The House Next Door

Kubrick on the
Guillotine

FilmLand Empire

Astigmia Cinema

LOLA

Cultural Weekly

A Lonely Place

The Film Doctor

italkyoubored

Icebox Movies

Medfly Quarantine

Not Just Movies

Hope Lies at
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Motion Pictures Comics

Diary of a
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So Why This Movie?

Obsessive Movie Nerd

Nothing Is Written

Ferdy on Films

Cashiers De Cinema

This Recording

Mike's Movie Guide

Every '70s Movie

Dangerous Minds

EatSleepLiveFilm

No Time For
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The former
De Palma a la Mod
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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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Friday, August 21, 2020
MELODY THOMAS SCOTT ON DE PALMA & 'THE FURY'
"BRIAN WAS VERY MUCH A 'THROW THE SCRIPT DOWN AND LET'S IMPROV' KIND OF DIRECTOR"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/brianmelodyrayamy.jpg

In her new memoir, Always Young And Restless, Melody Thomas Scott includes a chapter about her time working on Brian De Palma's The Fury, in which she played Gillian's best friend LaRue. Who can forget the film's introduction to the two best friends as they make their way along a Chicago beach and we get a taste of Gillian's psychic ability courtesy of a psychic stalker played by William Finley. A behind-the-scenes photograph from that beach (above) is included in Melody's book (pictured from left to right: Brian De Palma, Melody Thomas Scott, script supervisor Ray Quiroz, and Amy irving).

In the book, Melody Thomas Scott recalls her work as a child actor and young adult, leading up to her role in The Fury and beyond. At 8 years old, she was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, cast as the young version of Marnie in Marnie (1964). "Days with Hitchcock were long and arduous," she writes, "partly because, unlike any director I've ever worked with since, he would take excessive effort to literally push us into position."

In 1971, she worked with Clint Eastwood on Don Siegel's The Beguiled. "Clint would greet us girls each day with a gentle kiss on the cheek. He was such a gentleman." She went on to have a small part as the kidnapped girl in Siegel and Eastwood's Dirty Harry.

And although Melody never once mentions Kirk Douglas in her chapter on The Fury, she has a chapter about being called to an interview at an office in Beverly Hills, where Douglas himself, after braiding her hair, cast her on the spot in a new western he was directing, Posse (1975). "The next thing I knew, he started braiding my hair," she writes in the memoir. "I know this sort of thing would never happen in today's culture but I can assure you, it was completely innocent. Kirk Douglas braided my hair."

After the filming of a scene with John Wayne in what would turn out to be his final film, The Shootist (and again with Don Siegel directing), and then angering John Landis by refusing to agree to do a topless scene in National Lampoon's Animal House ("He says he never wants to see you in his casting office again," Melody's agent told her, followed by "And you'll never be cast in any of his films-- end quote"), the book turns to the De Palma project:

It was June 1977, and I had an interview at 20th Century Fox with Brian De Palma, the director for Mission: Impossible, Carlito's Way, The Untouchables, Scarface, and many more. Of course, back in the late seventies, Brian was mostly known for directing Carrie, the [Stephen] King book-to-film adaptation that changed the world of horror films forever. It featured Sissy Spacek and a giant bucket of pigs' blood.

Pigs' blood aside, my very first interview was with Brian himself and Amy Irving, the star of the movie. Brian was very much a "throw the script down and let's improv" kind of director, which suited me fine. Plus Brian seemed to take a liking to me right away, which also suited me fine. When he asked me to stay to read with some of the girls auditioning for other roles, I happily agreed.

I should be honest. I hadn't seen the movie Carrie, so I didn't know who Amy Irving even was. Not that it would have made much of a difference anyway. I had the sort of personality where it didn't matter who you were, I was going to be unfiltered and friendly regardless.

"So do you have a boyfriend?" I remember asking Amy during one of our audition breaks.

"I do," she said.

"Oh really? What does he do?"

"Mmm... He's a director," she said.

"Oh, really? What's he directed?" I asked nonchalantly, as if gabbing with a friend from school.

I could feel her unwillingness to answer my nosy question. She murmured quietly, "...Jaws."

Jaws? I certainly knew who Steven Spielberg was. This girl must be somebody special, I remember thinking. She's dating one of the most famous directors in the world! She would, of course, go on to marry Steven Spielberg, but that, I'm afraid, is not my story to tell.

I ended up being cast in The Fury as LaRue, best friend to Amy's Gillian Bellaver. Amy and I became fast friends during our time filming in Chicago. Or maybe she just couldn't fling me off! I stuck to her like glue, mesmerized by all that she was. Amy was sophisticated, savvy, world-traveled. Her father was a famous theater director and producer and her mother a well-known actress. Her best friend was Carrie Fisher. She traveled in circles not only with Steven Spielberg, but also Harrison Ford, George Lucas... I mean, Laurence Olivier was one of her family friends. To say she was out of my league would be a gross understatement.

In addition to forming a bond with Amy, the entire cast and crew became quite close. We'd play poker in the evenings up in Executive Producer Frank Yablans's penthouse suite where "everybody" was doing everything. I hate to dismiss the drug scene with a casual oh, but it was just the times. But... it was the times! Still, I had never experienced this scene face to face in my youth and here it was, presented to me for the first time. Not to sound like a goody two shoes, because I'm no angel, but I never did join in on that particular part of our cast bonding. No judgment for those who chose to go under the influence of drugs, though. I simply never trusted what drugs would do to me.

For more innocent fun, we could always count on John Cassavetes, who seemed to know Chicago like the back of his hand. He was always surprising us with impromptu dinners at amazing Italian restaurants. But there's one outing he treated us to that's hard even for me to believe all these years later, and i was there!

The King Tut exhibit was at Chicago's Field Museum at that time. Between our shooting schedule and the long lines at the museum, there was no way that any of us would be able to take a quick peek at King Tut. But it was a huge tour and the whole city was talking about it, and we desperately wanted to go.

One night-- I believe it was a Saturday-- Cassavetes treated us to yet another meal at an award-winning Italian restaurant. But our dinner was much later than usual, and we didn't leave the restaurant until around 11:30 p.m. After climbing into our waiting studio vans, our drives followed strict instructions on where to take us next. We were not going back to the Continental Plaza Hotel yet.

To this day I don't know how he did it, but Cassavetes had made arrangements with who knows how many museum contacts and employees. At midnight, our vans pulled up to a back entrance at the Field Museum; we got out, having been prepped in the vans to keep our voices down and do exactly as we were told. Abracadabra, and poof! We were taken into a private back hallway of the museum. Hocus pocus, and poof! We were ushered into its great public rooms by silent security guards. The next step was a bit trickier, as we had to bend down and jump over invisible alarm beams. I know! Seems preposterous, entirely made up, like something out of a spy movie-- but I was there. We did indeed see the King Tut exhibit that night, and afterwards were whisked into our waiting vans as secretly as we had arrived, then on to our hotel. Another unbelievable evening courtesy of John Cassavetes! It was certainly one of my most memorable filming experiences.

The film was coming to an end and we all worked hard to finish the location scenes in Chicago, including a sequence shot at a real high school where actual students were cast as extras. One of those extras was a young girl named Daryl Hannah. She wasn't known at the time, but years later I thought, my goodness! That's the girl who played one of the extras at the girl's school. Watch the film very closely and I bet you can spot her!

As is often the case, my friendship with Amy came to an end as soon as the shoot did. But the thrill of working with Brian De Palma became one of the highlights of my career. Boy, what a talented director. He is such a master collaborator that he manages to not only make all cast and crew comfortable, but compels them to bring their absolute best to the table, in order to assist him in his ultimate vision. Not an easy feat to pull off. I was disappointed that The Fury didn't do very well with the critics or the box office. But I wouldn't have given up this wonderful experience for all the gold in the King Tut exhibit!


Posted by Geoff at 10:00 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, August 21, 2020 10:11 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 15, 2020
DATE NIGHT MOVIE PODCAST LOOKS AT 'UNTOUCHABLES'
AND 'LOST IN TRANSLATION' COLUMN LOOKS AT THE FILM'S HISTORICAL ACCURACY
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/untouchablesgroupshot.jpg

Another husband and wife movie podcast? You got it-- the latest episode of the Date Night Movie Podcast has hosts Ashley and Patrick Russell discussing two films: Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, and the recent Josh Trank film, Capone. The episode runs just under 30-minutes in length, and after discussion of each film, they say whether or not it would make a good date movie.

Meanwhile, Scott Delahunt's "Lost In Translation" column at Psycho Drive-In takes a brief look at the historical accuracy of The Untouchables:

The film focuses on the Untouchables’ pursuit of Al Capone. Ness’ first outing in Chicago goes as it did historically, a lot of notice and no whiskey; Capone’s men had been tipped off by someone on the Chicago Police Department. Despite the headlines, Ness pushes on. He gathers a core group of men he can trust – former beat cop Malone, rookie cop Stone, and IRS accountant Wallace, who was assigned to help Ness with an eye on nailing Capone for tax evasion.

The point of view remains on Ness and his men for the bulk of the film. Capone is kept removed from the day to day operations of his mob, making it difficult to pin him on any crime. The mob boss does keep his own men in line, with force if needed. The choice is be loyal to Capone or die. Ness, however, earned the loyalty of the Untouchables. The difference between the mobsters and the law enforcement agents is wide. Capone has an expensive home, has staff who will serve the finest dinner on silver plates and wine in crystal glasses. Ness has a simple house, crammed in between two similar houses, a wife and child, simple furnishings. When Ness goes out with his team, they go to a cheap diner.

Ness’ investigation includes a raid on a smuggling convoy along the Canadian border with the RCMP’s assistance, where he manages to arrest Capone’s bookkeeper. With some persuasion, the bookkeeper helps Wallace to decode the ledgers. Capone doesn’t take the news well. Nitti is sent to make sure the bookkeeper doesn’t testify, resulting in both the bookkeeper and Wallace dead. Capone ups the ante by having Malone killed as well.

Undaunted, Ness continues the fight. In his dying breath, Malone tells Ness about Capone’s other bookkeeper being sent out of town by rail later that night. Malone and Stone stake out the railway station, leading to one of the tensest scenes in cinema history. The clip below doesn’t show the tension building as Ness watches people arriving and trying to figure out who could be part of Capone’s gang. The shootout is the release of that tension.

With the bookkeeper, Ness is able to build a case for tax evasion against Capone. Despite an attempt at jury tampering, Capone is found guilty, is fined $50 000 and is given 11 years in prison.

The movie takes a few liberties. Some were needed because of the nature of the medium. Ness had ten men initially, all under thirty and idealistic. It’s harder to corrupt a young man full of idealism than an experienced man who has seen how the world works. The TV series could bring in different members through the use of a rotating cast of supporting actors. A film doesn’t have that luxury, so Ness has just Malone, Wallace, and Stone. Frank Nitti didn’t die during Capone’s trial from a fall from a building; Nitti took over Capone’s mob when Capone went to prison and died by his own hand in 1943. However, the film did keep the focus on Ness’ investigation of Capone.

While some of the historical facts were loose, visual details were accurate. Chicago landmarks were used, and the fashion of the era for men and women, for high class and for working class, was accurate. Visually, the film is lush. The 1959 TV series didn’t have the luxury of colour, so couldn’t be anywhere near as lush. The advantage of movies is budget, and The Untouchables made the most of this advantage.

Like the 1959 series, the 1987 film lets drama outweigh historical accuracy in a few areas. However, the strength of the cast, the writing, and the filming lets audiences ignore differences until well after the film is over. The Untouchables is a crime drama, a war between law & order and criminal enterprise, and is well worth viewing even if it isn’t 100% accurate.



Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, August 14, 2020
FROM THE RAFTERS - 'VERTIGO' & 'DOMINO' SIDE-BY-SIDE
POSTED ON INSTAGRAM YESTERDAY BY CINEMASTERLY
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/vertigodominorafters.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 7:27 AM CDT
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Thursday, August 13, 2020
TRAILER - JUSTIN SIMIEN CITES DE PALMA FOR 'BAD HAIR'
REVIEWS FROM SUNDANCE SPECIFICALLY MENTION 'BODY DOUBLE' & 'CARRIE'

Hulu premiered the "teaser" today (see video above) for Justin Simien's new film, Bad Hair. According to Indiewire's Ryan Lattanzio, when Bad Hair premiered at Sundance this past January, Simien, who wrote and directed the film, said, "I follow my obsessions down the rabbit hole, and this one began with some conversations about, particularly a sub-genre of Korean horror films that deal with hair horror. I felt like there was a uniquely American story there. I’m obsessed with the ’70s and ’80s psychological thrillers, satirical mashups, Brian De Palma movies, Body Snatchers, Rosemary’s Baby, all those kind of movies."

Lattanzio's article continues:

Simien took from his favorite horror movies to tell a uniquely black story that he feels is missing from the horror genre. “I felt like I haven’t really seen anything that’s pulling from all those different traditions, but is also black, and is using those sort of cinematic techniques to interrogate and make us look at the absurdities of what black women specifically, but what all marginalized people go through,” he said.

“It’s a movie about a killer weave — spoiler alert — but the weave itself burst onto the national scene in 1989, specifically through the popularity of Janet Jackson, the ‘Pleasure Principle’ video first but then ‘Rhythm Nation’ and all those amazing Ebony covers,” Simien said. “I thought it would be an interesting way to look at ourselves but through a fantasy kind of lens. It’s easier sometimes to digest some of this stuff if we can be in a dream world, and I felt like I could make a dream world out of 1989.”

“Let’s not forget music and fashion at that time in black culture was alive and thriving. It’s really when it became rich,” star Kelly Rowland said.


Sharing the trailer at Deadline today, Dino-Ray Ramos states, "The teaser reflects Simien’s affinity for ’80s and ’90s horror pics and gives off some serious Brian De Palma energy as it follows Anna Bludso (newcomer Elle Lorraine), who had a traumatic experience during her childhood when her scalp was burned from a mild relaxer perm. Fast-forward to her adult life in 1989, and she is working at a music video TV show called Culture, which is the epitome of hip hop and New Jack Swing style. Her life is turned upside down when her dreadlocked boss is replaced by Zora (Vanessa Williams), a vicious ex-supermodel who looks to switch things up. When she warns Anna about her natural hair, she goes out and gets a weave from a bougie yet mystical hairdresser (Laverne Cox). She looks good and starts excelling at work with her new hair, but after a while, it begins to have a bloody mind of its own — literally."

Ramos adds that Hulu will release the film on October 23, "with a to-be-determined theatrical date," so I guess the takeaway there is that it will be streaming on Hulu October 23rd, with a possible theatrical release beforehand.

Two reviews of Bad Hair from that Sundance premiere specifically mention De Palma's Body Double:

Monica Castillo, The Wrap

Bad Hair” is shot on film in a way that captures the movie’s throwback look and allows Simien and his cinematographer Topher Osborn to play with color and lighting. The night scenes practically sparkle from blue moonlight, yet dark alleyways and overpasses look even more foreboding with less light. In some scenes, colorful neon signs and lighting fixtures heighten the intensity of the moment.

There’s one particularly striking scene of two actors in mid-kiss backlit with a bright blue light, and carefully composed moments like this add to the film’s suspense – things can’t be this pretty all the time in a horror movie.

Costume designer Ceci also deserves a round of applause for recreating the vivid fashions from the start of her career in the late 80s and early 90s. The gamut of costumes range from professional office wear at the TV channel to casual clothes when visiting family to the fashionable excesses of performers and TV personalities. Many of Ceci’s ensembles also tell a nuanced story of cultural identity and class.

Simien dives into his love of horror movies and peppers references to some of his favorites throughout “Bad Hair.” For instance, there’s a split diopter shot as an homage to Brian De Palma’s “Body Double,” an axe that harkens back to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and many other allusions to such movies as “Carrie,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Bad Hair” references itself often, repeating scenes and clues to the story in flashbacks, which can sometimes get in the way of its own momentum. The movie is front-loaded with exposition, but once the action gets going and the narrative pieces fall into place, “Bad Hair” is a creepy movie with thoughtful political twists and thrilling supernatural turns.


Eric Kohn, Indiewire
The plight of black women and their hair has birthed enough cinematic investigations to yield its own subgenre, from Chris Rock’s astute 2009 documentary “Good Hair” to the 2020 Oscar-nominated animated short “Hair Love.” These endearing cultural explorations are mere preludes to the exuberance of “Bad Hair,” a rambunctious, overindulgent comedy-horror excursion from “Dear White People” director Justin Simien. Equal parts vintage Brian De Palma thriller and race-centric corporate fashion satire in the spirit of “Putney Swope,” Simien’s ludicrous ’80s-spiced supernatural B-movie doesn’t know when to quit, much like the demonic weave at its center.

With 2014’s “Dear White People,” Simien became one of the most exciting writer-director voices in black cinema, merging scathing and satiric observations with genuine insights into contemporary African American frustrations. “Bad Hair” turns the clock back to 1989, elaborating on the thorny issues surrounding black women in popular culture, and may as well be a prequel set in the same snarky universe. However, “Dear White People” managed a tricky balance between snark and genuine social commentary, but even the most acrobatic screenwriting can’t bear the weight of everything Simien tosses into “Bad Hair.” Working overtime to wring substantial insight from a deranged premise about a killer hairstyle with a thirst for blood, the movie’s alternately trying too hard and not hard enough.

At least it’s a substantial mess: “Bad Hair” opens with a James Baldwin quote, digs into the contradictions of the nascent music video industry, and bemoans the sexism of late-’80s workplace — all before tackling the specter of slavery that frames the entire premise. At the same time, it’s a riotous genre pastiche filled with shrieking music cues, canted angles, and shadowy encounters galore. Simien crams the wild psychological thrills of “Body Double” into the framework for wry anti-capitalist humor, and that’s appealing enough in fits at starts. At 115 minutes, however, “Bad Hair” struggles to make its disparate elements click; there’s just enough potential strewn throughout to make it clear the movie could have benefited from a shearing of its own.


Posted by Geoff at 6:44 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 9, 2020
'YOU SHOULD SEE THE EXPRESSION ON HER FACE...'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/rcexpression1.jpg


Posted by Geoff at 1:15 AM CDT
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Saturday, August 8, 2020
'Don't you wanna see the expression on Mr. Castelo's face when he sees these tickets?'
"LET'S GO!"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/wiseguysface4.jpg


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 9, 2020 12:56 AM CDT
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Friday, August 7, 2020
DE PALMA TELLS STORIES ABOUT THE STORIES WE TELL
HUSBAND & WIFE GO DEEP, DISCUSS 7 DE PALMA FILMS ON LENGTHY WAGES OF CINEMA PODCAST
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sistersfinleysecrets.jpg

"William Finley is one of the great untapped resources of American cinema," Korey Hughes says to her husband, Jack Gattanella, at one point during a discussion about Sisters on episode 151 of the podcast The Wages Of Cinema. "I am so angry that no other director besides De Palma has fully tapped the amazing wealth of William Finley."

That's just one of the fine moments in this two-hour-and-forty-minute podcast discussion between Gattanella and Hughes of seven Brian De Palma films. The podcast episode runs about the length of De Palma's Scarface, yet that film is not one of the ones included. The films the pair watched and then discussed on this episode are Sisters, Phantom Of The Paradise (Hughes remarks that she admires and appreciates how De Palma made Phantom a tight and lean 90-minute film), Dressed To Kill, Body Double, Raising Cain, Snake Eyes, and Femme Fatale.

During the discussion on Raising Cain, Hughes has a bit of an epiphany:

Korey: I was saying when we first started this, that a lot of De Palma's movies, like Tarantino's movies, are obviously made by someone whose life revolves around movies. Like, I feel like De Palma's life on a personal level, is dominated by the pop culture he's consumed. And one thing I was thinking is that he has all these movies about multiple personalities, and they're all highly entertaining, and not even remotely psychologically plausible. And I think the reason for that is De Palma is filtering multiple personalities through pop culture. So he's not engaging with actual research on this condition in actual people. His movies address how pop culture addresses multiple personality disorder. So I feel like he's riffing on how we as a culture process this concept. Not the actual concept itself.

Jack: Well, in the case of Raising Cain, I watched an interview with him, and he said that he had a friend who was a child psychologist, and was trying to do tests about how children respond to this or that, and trauma and stuff like that. And I think in his head, he then bounced off that into what this movie became. So he starts from a very basic place, and then...

Korey: Yeah, I think that's what makes them so melodramatic and heightened, is that he's not telling a story about multiple personalities. He's telling a story about the stories we tell about multiple personalities. And I'm thinking that's what I think really unites his treatment of this concept in Sisters, in Dressed To Kill, in Raising Cain, is he's telling a story about the stories we tell.


Posted by Geoff at 7:59 AM CDT
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Monday, August 3, 2020
MR. PEEL REVISITS 'MISSION TO MARS'
LONELINESS & ISOLATION BRING A NEW FOCUS TO THE FUTURE DEPICTED IN THE FILM
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/m2mcoffee2.jpg

"In our real 2020 it feels like loneliness is unavoidable," states Mr. Peel, aka Peter Avellino, in a post last Friday about Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars, "but this is a film that wants to reject that through the pure love it portrays and even the way Don Cheadle compares the union he creates with the plant life on Mars to a marriage, that companion who gives you oxygen."

Here's the start of Avellino's lengthy post at Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur:

Well, we didn’t know this was going to be the future. Stuck like this, away from the people we’ve known and care about. But even now they stay with us as we close our eyes, wishing we were back with them. It’s the naiveté of youth, I suppose, the dream that you grow up and as the future appears the world will grow with you, eventually turning things into that life one dreams of. But the real future, the one we’re going to get, is always closer than we think and those people just get further away. So by the time we actually get there, it’s too late to do anything about it. That’s when we realize there’s no one else around.

Brian De Palma’s 2000 film MISSION TO MARS is set in what was then the future. But revisiting this film during its 20th anniversary is not simply about addressing when it opened but how it actually begins in the year 2020, on June 9th to be exact although the preciseness of the date serves little purpose. It’s still a pretty familiar looking future except that people appear to be drinking boxed beer at a crowded barbecue which, boxed beer aside, hasn’t been happening or at least it shouldn’t—I was going to add that we’re also not going to Mars anytime soon but there’s actually a mission happening, go figure, even if there won’t be any humans onboard. Living in this actual time as we are, if you call this living, we already know that the 2020 of this film has little to do with the reality we currently know even if the film doesn’t spend much time on Earth. My main recollections of seeing this film opening night way back in March of that year at the El Capitan on Hollywood Blvd. are that the packed house violently booed when the end credits rolled and someone threw what looked like a Snapple bottle at the screen. But time changes things. For one, this is a film where a character gets marooned all alone and who the hell knew back then that the very idea of isolation would turn out to have the most to do with what life in 2020 really is. Like many films that have been loudly rejected on opening night, MISSION TO MARS is more interesting than that initial response indicated and even though it does still have more than a few issues, it’s a film striving to be about hope and connection in a way that makes me think a little more fondly about it these days. There’s a lot to figure out right now about the way things are going and even if there aren’t any real answers in the film I’m watching, there’s always the dream that maybe something can still be found there.

As the first ever crew on the surface of Mars explores the red planet, they discover the possibility of water which would allow for earth colonization. But when they try to investigate, the entire team except for Commander Luke Graham (Don Cheadle) is wiped out by a mysterious vortex of massive size leaving the lone astronaut remaining stranded there. When news of this reaches the World Space Station via a message that indicates Luke is still alive, plans for the next ship for Mars are changed to turn it into a rescue mission which will include Commander Woody Blake (Tim Robbins), wife Terri (Connie Nielsen), Phil Ohlmeyer (Jerry O’Connell) and Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise), who gave up his own shot at commanding Mars One when his wife Maggie (Kim Delaney) fell ill and soon died. But months later when their ship begins to orbit Mars things immediately don’t go as planned and once the team reaches the ground to search for Luke, they soon discover the existence of a massive stone face which may lead to the answer of what sort of life once existed on that planet and what may have really happened to it.

For one thing, it’s definitely the second best Brian De Palma film with the word “Mission” in the title but this is of minor importance. Even after all this time MISSION TO MARS is still a tough one to figure out, a film which on the surface doesn’t seem to be anything other than a showcase for spectacular digital effects but somewhere deep down feels like it has other goals in mind that it hasn’t entirely worked out. Maybe it wants to be more of an interior journey into outer space but even with several big names in the cast the characters are never interesting enough to warrant this approach so what’s left becomes the focus on those effects and the way De Palma builds his own visual methods around them. Right from the very first moment as the title flashes onscreen a rocket blasts off, only to be revealed as a toy in a suburban backyard giving the impression the film wants to play with our expectations, finding a way to turn kid stuff into the adult regret of lost dreams and back again, to understand what the dream in those toys meant in the first place. It’s an idea that doesn’t feel entirely formed and the film is forced to pay more attention to all that hardware while still looking for ways around all the expected tropes, like how in place of the expected spectacular launch sequence is a simple transition to the surface of Mars done with a cut from a playful footprint in a backyard on Earth. This is an attempt at hard science fiction which at times seems more interested in finding unexpected ways to tell the story rather than acclimating us to the drama at hand and plays at such a distance that it’s a little too easy to check out early on. There’s no mission control populated with familiar character actors, no cutaways to worried loved ones back home, no bogus conflict between the astronauts played by big names and even an early sequence involving cross cutting that plays with notions of time within the narrative for reasons that still seem a little hazy.

A few plot points, like how Cheadle’s command will presumably be joined at a later date by Mars II commanded by Robbins, seem vague in the way they’re casually discussed but I’m not sure it matters and I’m not sure the director really cares about making such generalities clear. Complicated exposition gets doled out in a way that hasn’t taken into account what anyone watching the film doesn’t know so not enough of it registers, lost to whatever De Palma is actually interested in focusing on. Even when the film opens with one of his patented endless Steadicam shots it’s not about the technology surrounding a Mars launch but the simple act of the astronauts socializing at a farewell barbecue, giving us more info about the relationships than the actual mission which is fine but the mundane setting doesn’t seem to warrant such a complex visual approach (which features a cut partway through as if a decision was made in editing to rush things along) and it also makes the film feel unexpectedly small with the interactions never registering all that much as the camera swirls around them. There’s so little drama in the friendships of the main characters which means right from the start we’re facing a Brian De Palma film where everyone gets along, no ominous foreshadowing in the air, so earnest that the scenes barely seem about anything.

The way the writing credits read (screenplay by Jim Thomas and John Thomas & Graham Yost, story by Lowell Cannon & Jim Thomas and John Thomas) along with the very nature of the project (presumably inspired by the Disneyland ride that closed back in ’92 but it has the Touchstone Pictures logo) one imagines many, many drafts of various scripts written but the story still feels either not quite smoothed over or maybe had whole sections deleted for whatever reason. One major plot point is even relayed via news delivered remotely at another location and there’s something to be said about how the film seems more interested in dwelling for a long moment on the sight of Armin Mueller-Stahl silently drinking a cup of coffee than the spectacular landing we didn’t get to see. But the question is are there really plot points to this film or just several specific events leading up to the final revelation. So much of what appeals about films directed by Brian De Palma more than the necessities of story structure is his portrayal of the madness that surrounds the main characters as they try to make sense of this increasingly insane world while the plot happens around them. The characters in this film are all good and pure, which makes sense since they’re astronauts, but the earnestness doesn’t feel all that fleshed out as if he doesn’t quite know how to make it ever seem genuine. They can each be described simply via who means the most to them, nothing more; Woody and Terri are the happy couple, Jim is sad because his wife died, Luke misses his son back on Earth and Phil is the joker who constructs the DNA of his dream woman using M&M’s in zero gravity. There’s no real conflict between the characters at all beyond how to address whatever any given immediate issue might be, saying things like “Let’s work the problem” as they get to it, all of them so idealized as heroes that there isn’t much else to them beyond the perfection. These are the types who normally get sacrificed, if not totally destroyed, in the cruel world of De Palma films so maybe in being forced to portray people without flaws it removes all the fun and doesn’t replace it with anything particularly interesting.

This has never been a director known for showing much interest in healthy relationships between men and women (maybe with the exception of Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness and Patricia Clarkson as “Ness’ Wife” in THE UNTOUCHABLES) which makes it feel like there’s not much to portray here beyond the simple idealization. Tim Robins and Connie Nielsen are played as being totally devoted to each other, such a mirror image of Gary Sinise and his late wife played in flashback by Kim Delaney that it almost feels a little confusing as if husband-wife missions have somehow become a NASA requirement in the future. But even if the perfection plays like a neon sign that something bad has to happen, this is still a rare Brian De Palma film with next to no cynicism, no irony or real sense of the fates conspiring against all the goodness in the universe. Even when a sacrifice has to be made, even when an American flag is planted upon arrival at the new planet, it seems to insist on holding onto some kind of optimism so the movie is never embarrassed by its own inherent dorkiness coming out of the science fiction technobabble or how much these people love each other as if it wants to actually believe in this dream of everything being ok.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Sunday, August 2, 2020
MORE 'DRESSED TO KILL' - PODCASTS & POSTER ART
"JACKBOOKS" HAS SEVERAL DE PALMA-RELATED ALTERNATIVE POSTERS
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/jackbooksdtk2.jpg

The alternative poster above was designed by jackbooks, from Brisbane, Australia. "I used to just create book covers," jackbooks states in the artist profile, "now I do movie posters as well but can’t change my profile name, so… ?" There are several other alternative versions of posters for De Palma films at jackbooks' Redbubble shop.

Meanwhile, there have been quite a few podcasts focusing on Dressed To Kill of late. Two more podcasts that popped up this week mention "plot holes" and things like that, but let's face it... although these podasts produce some valuable insights into Dressed To Kill, they are full of "plot holes" of their own-- it can be tough to listen sometimes without wanting to jump in with a bit of info that the participants seem to have missed. At The Unaffiliated Critic, Michael G. McDunnah, who, for context, doesn't like Casualties Of War nor Femme Fatale, chooses to watch and discuss Dressed To Kill with his wife, who is known as "The Unenthusiastic Critic," which is the name of their podcast. It's a fun discussion, as you might imagine.

The "Sordid Cinema Podcast" at Goomba Stomp features some insightful discussion, as long as you don't get too squirmy listening to the two participants talk about how Michael Caine gives a supposedly boring performance, how the whole character of Betty Luce is "unnecessary" and could have been taken out of the script, and also some confusion about exactly where the climactic dream sequence begins (and then listening to one of them talk about how it could have been "fixed" -- when really, it sounds like he just needs to go back and watch it again). As I said, despite these sort of "plot holes" in the podcasts, there are interesting discussions and insights.


Posted by Geoff at 3:26 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 2, 2020 3:29 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 1, 2020
'THE FIRST GREAT AMERICAN MOVIE OF THE EIGHTIES'
-DENBY... AND THEN CANBY - "THE DE PALMA CAMERA APPEARS TO HAVE AN INTELLIGENCE OF ITS OWN"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/24framesnytimesaug011980.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 10:05 AM CDT
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