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Domino is
a "disarmingly
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


Exclusive Passion

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario


AV Club Review
of Dumas book


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De Palma interviewed
in Paris 2002

De Palma discusses
The Black Dahlia 2006


De Palma Community

The Virtuoso
of the 7th Art

The De Palma Touch

The Swan Archives

Carrie...A Fan's Site


No Harm In Charm

Paul Schrader

Alfred Hitchcock
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and the Infield
Fly Rule

Movie Mags


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
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De Palma a la Mod

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Saturday, July 29, 2023

Los Angeles Magazine's Julius Miller reports that "the famed outdoor cinema screening organization" Cinespia, in Los Angeles, will close out its summer season on September 16th with a screening of Scarface. Miller continues:
This summer marks the 22nd season that Cinespia has brought outdoor cinema to Los Angeles. At both L.A. Historic Park and—famously—The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Angelenos have been able to catch their favorite films.

What began as a one-time screening of Strangers on a Train for a crowd of a few hundred eventually morphed into a cinephile haven. Now, Cinespia welcomes over 4,000 moviegoers per night and brings various iconic titles back to the silver screen.

Guests are always encouraged to dress up, with photo booths often popping up at the venues. After this, Cinespia always lines its events with plenty of food and drink vendors to visit before popping down for a movie.

Posted by Geoff at 11:14 PM CDT
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Friday, July 28, 2023

"Located in America’s sixth most populous metropolitan area," begins MainLine Today's Ben Silver, "the Main Line area has experienced a healthy dose of fallout from the cultural hub that is the Philadelphia movie scene. With dozens, probably hundreds, of movies filmed in the Philadelphia area, the Main Line region is well represented in film from the classics to modern-day Oscar winners." One of the films featured in Silver's article is Obsession:
This classic ‘70s thriller stars Cliff Robertson and John Lithgow, both of whom are involved the aftermath of a kidnapping. Though none of the film actually takes place on the Main Line, it’s notable for its mention of Bryn Mawr.

While reminiscing about his late wife, Michael Courtland, played by Robertson, talks about his wife’s “Bryn Mawr walk. A Bryn Mawr walk is a kind of a glide, you know? Those girls used to wear long polo coats in those old days, long raincoats. They kind of glide, like they’re late for class. They move fast and just kinda glide.”

Director Brian De Palma was raised on the Main Line and graduated from Friends Central in 1958.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Thursday, July 27, 2023

"The 100 Best Films of the Past 10 Decades" as chosen and described by TIME's Stephanie Zacharek includes Blow Out as one of the ten best films of the 1980s:
Brian De Palma came of age working in the New Hollywood of the 1970s, alongside peers (and friends) like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola. Yet his films, though often admired, weren’t treated as great feats of artistry, as theirs were. History, shifted by the enthusiasm of younger movie lovers, has changed that in the past few years—but no matter when or how you’ve found your way to it, Blow Out has always been great. John Travolta’s Jack is a sound guy, unambitious and stuck working on B movies, who’s collecting wind noises out in the field one night when he sees a car swerve off a bridge and into a creek. He dives in after it and rescues the woman trapped inside, Nancy Allen’s Sally, a makeup artist and sometime call girl who, it turns out, was consorting with the governor—he was at the wheel when the crash occurred. The governor’s associates rush to cover up Sally’s involvement; meanwhile, Jack begins to suspect that the crash wasn’t accidental. He listens carefully to the recording he collected that evening and clearly hears a gunshot—but the closer he gets to the truth, the more Sally is endangered, and his efforts to protect her backfire. Blow Out is a film filled with mistrust, one where the ghosts of Chappaquiddick and the Zapruder film lurk in the corners. No one, least of all those in positions of power, can be trusted. (The picture is set against a fictional, and garish, celebration of the Liberty Bell, as if to underscore how far the country has strayed from its original, not-yet-cracked ideals.) Allen and Travolta are wonderful here: Allen’s Nancy, naïve but not dumb, fills the movie with light—her description of “the no makeup look” is a marvel of airhead timing. But it’s Travolta, an actor capable of great vulnerability, who breaks you. The movie’s final scene sends you off feeling that nothing is right with the world. It’s the opposite of numbness; rather, a sense of being much too alive.

Posted by Geoff at 10:17 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 26, 2023

At TIME, Stephanie Zacharek chooses ten films from the past ten decades, for the list titled, "The 100 Best Films of the Past 10 Decades." Carlito's Way makes Zacharek's list of ten best films from the 1990s:
There are a million stories about criminals sprung from jail who vow to go straight. And then there’s Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way. Al Pacino—swaggering, streetwise, lovesick—gives one of his strongest, most fine-grained performances as convicted drug felon Carlito Brigante, whose crooked lawyer (played, fabulously, by Sean Penn in a perfect approximation of a ’70s man perm) somehow gets him freed after just five years of a 30-year sentence. Carlito’s post-prison dream is to buy into a car-rental joint in the Bahamas—all the better if he can persuade the love of his life, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller), to join him, though he broke her heart before going up the river. Few movies give you pretty much everything—exhilarating action and diamond-hard violence, doomed romance, bitterly funny dialogue—in such a compact package. But there’s something else: movie craftsmanship can be deeply pleasurable, but not by itself. In adapting a duo of novels by Edwin Torres (the script is by master screenwriter David Koepp), de Palma works in a style both economical and luxurious. There’s not a single superfluous shot; you’re entreated not just to look, but to see. The visual logic of a sequence involving a poolroom shootout is so gorgeously precise, it’s like a calculus equation written as a sonnet. Carlito’s Way is De Palma’s warmest film, so meticulous, so lyrical, so operatic in scope and pitch that it leaves you feeling both wrecked and deeply satisfied. It’s perfection that breathes.

Posted by Geoff at 11:55 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 22, 2023

"An Experience With Al Pacino (Scarface 40th Anniversary) (MIAMI)" is scheduled for Saturday, December 9, 2023, at Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Here are the event details:

'An Experience With' are delighted to announce in association with BleauLive and Capture Studios a true unique once in a lifetime event with the one and only Al Pacino at the stunning FontaineBleau on Miami Beach, 9th December 2023!

This man needs no introduction! One of the greatest actors of ALL TIME with an Oscar winning career spanning 50 years!

Pacino will discuss his amazing career and extensive movie back catalogue with a special focus on one of the most iconic movies ever produced 'SCARFACE'.

We decided what better place to celebrate the 40th anniversary then Miami itself. Not only this we have chosen the stunning Fontainebleau Hotel which was an actual filming location for the film.

Interesting fact - did you know that the 9th of December 2023 is EXACTLY 40 years since the cinematic release of Scarface!

To make the event even more memorable we will be working hard behind the scenes to get some of the original cast members from the film to the event.

A LIVE EXPERIENCE WITH not to be missed!


What to expect...

***An exclusive live on-stage interview with the man himself Al Pacino

***High-quality 3-course dinner (selected tickets)

***Live music and band' with Rat Pack singer playing throughout dinner

***Exclusive auction with bespoke signed Pacino memorabilia

***HUGE production with unseen Pacino videos and photos which will be shown throughout the interview on giant screens


To see the different price levels, including for photo and Q&A opportunities, see the event page.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, July 21, 2023

At A Fistful of Film, David Alkhed writes about The Untouchables:
When I was young, my brother and I were introduced to many films by our parents. It was mostly movies from their youth, like The Blues Brothers and the Indiana Jones series. Some of these films you will notice do not exactly feel suitable for child’s viewing. One such film was Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime classic The Untouchables.

Right off the bat (pun intended), the film felt distinct with its title sequence, where the long shadows remind one of bars from a prison cell, supported by Ennio Morricone’s tense and foreboding score. Then came the way the film was shot, the God’s eye view overlooking Al Capone now etched into my memory forever. What I remembered most though, was the violence. It was shocking as a child to see a kid get blown up in such a matter-of-fact way in only the second scene of the film. Another memorable scene came in the form of Al Capone bashing one of his subordinates to death with the aforementioned baseball bat. The image of the aftermath, the pool of blood surrounding the dead man’s head stayed with me for a long time, even as my parents covered my eyes during it. As you can understand, the film made quite an impression on me, but even greater in retrospect as it was most likely the work that introduced me to Brian De Palma’s filmography.

The story of The Untouchables is a fairly simple one. There is a basis in fact, though one needs not concern themselves with the history behind the real-life characters since the screenplay, written by famed Chicago playwright David Mamet, is mostly a work of fiction. The Untouchables takes place in Chicago during the year 1930, when Prohibition was in practice and usurped by ruthless gangsters who ruled the city. The person truly in charge was Alphonse “Al” Capone, portrayed by Robert De Niro. Touting himself as an innocent businessman, Capone reigned with terror and violence, a point the film makes very early in on. Assigned to stop him is Treasury Agent Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner in a star-making performance. Unlike his bought-out contemporaries, Ness believes in justice and aims to bring Capone down, no matter the costs. However, there is little he can do as a majority of his partners in the police department are in the pocket of Capone himself. That’s when he hatches the plan to form a small unit of handpicked cops, cops who cannot be bought by a cheap bribe, cops who are “untouchable.”

The first to be recruited is veteran Irish cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery in his Oscar-winning performance). Through Malone, Ness learns the “Chicago way,” using the same tactics as the crooks to put them behind bars. The other two recruits are both new to the field in their own way: marksman George Stone (Andy Garcia) proves his worth to the other members, both as an Italian-American and as a dedicated officer of the law. Fellow Treasury agent Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) is formally an accountant, but inexperienced when it comes to field action. However, it’s his knowledge of accounts and bookkeeping that helps bring the most crucial piece of evidence against Capone: income tax evasion.

To me, The Untouchables feels like a perfect storm, a film made by the right people at the right time. By the time he agreed to direct the film, De Palma had almost thirty years of filmmaking experience to guide him, and had mastered the art of visual storytelling, as seen in such brilliant films as Sisters, Carrie, and Blow Out. I think his style brings a freshness to the period gangster film that would otherwise feel rather quaint at this point. For his stab at the genre, De Palma pulls no punches and brings all his cinematic tricks: long takes, unusual camera angles, split diopters, steadicam, POV-shots; all in the name of Hitchcockian levels of suspense.

He also brings a grand, operatic sense of scope to the film that feels at times like a perfect blend between the majesty of David Lean with the American mythology of John Ford. And of course, we cannot discuss The Untouchables and its relationship to classic and foundational cinema without mentioning the train station shootout, an outright salute to the Odessa Step sequence from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. A superb sequence and a perfect filmmaking lesson in building tension, establishing geography and dramatic payoff, made even more impressive when one realizes it was added fairly late in the production process as a replacement to a more logistically elaborate train chase.

Read the rest at A Fistful of Film

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Monday, July 17, 2023

I happened upon a Scarlett Johansson interview from 2006 that I seem to have missed back then, written up and posted at Garth Franklin's Dark Horizons upon the release of Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia:

Johansson: Luckily I had what a lot of actors don’t have which is the source the book. I mean, you read a script and you interpret the character’s emotions through their actions and their words, but I had the perspective of Bucky’s character looking in on Kay. So I really used that as the beginning source the character.


Johansson: We filmed it in L.A. and we filmed it in Bulgaria as well.


Johansson: We shot most all of the interiors there. Dante Ferretti had built the sets and he actually built the Chinatown set there. He had built the apartment there that they find. He built the interior of the house there and the boxing ring and the police station. A lot of it was just there.


Johansson: Well, when I had become involved with the project, and I was originally excited just hearing that Brian had a film that he was directing with two female roles. I’ve always wanted to work with him and have been a huge fan of his. I met with Brian. I had read the script and was very attracted to the character of Kay. So, I met with him and I tried to convince him that I could play this character that I’m completely physically wrong for and he bought it. So that was good. I never have any preconceived notion of people because I find that they always prove you wrong or are surprising. I expected a certain kind of darkness about him, a certain kind of roughness about him I guess, and I was surprised to find out that he’s a very funny guy. He’s very funny. One thing that didn’t surprise me about Brian is that he’s really cut and dry. He’s never going to beat you around the block regarding anything and he’s never wishy-washy about anything, which is such a relief. As far as my own theory, I had read ‘The Black Dahlia’ and that seemed like a palpable (note: maybe she means plausible?) story. I don’t know though. I mean, that seemed to be – I felt that was interesting and was definitely a candidate for the truth, but who really knows.


Johansson: I never thought that actually the character was a femme fatale and she didn’t go out there to ruin someone’s relationship or steal the man or anything like that. She’s not trying to seduce him into this dark kind of relationship or torrid affair or anything. She likes him and she falls for him, but of course I have a pretty good film history for someone my age too. I’ve seen a lot of those noir films. It’s fun to watch them too. Films like ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘Third Man.’ But I always liked film noir, but some of those films are too kind of cops and robbers for me. I like the more melodramatic Bette Davis films of that period, and stuff like that. But there wasn’t anyone that I really based the character off of. I wasn’t trying to copy someone’s performance or something like that, but it was interesting to see that. And well, of course as a modern actor we have this movement that sort of started in the ’70’s of realism and the gritty kind of natural – whatever you can bring to the table, that kind of technique. So it was interesting to pair that with the dialogue. The dialogue is so stylized and impossible [Laughs] and impossibly unrealistic. It was interesting and it was a challenge to try and keep the integrity of that with ease and the realness of it while also saying things like, ‘How could you, Dwight? How could you?’ I mean, you never say those things. It was so dated, that kind of dialogue. It was a challenge to make that not such a film type dialogue.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Sunday, July 16, 2023

"I started with classical theater, and it’s rare that you get to say some of the stuff Kittridge gets to say in a genre film," Henry Czerny tells The New York Times' Kyle Buchanan. Here's more from Buchanan's article:
Mission: Impossible” is a franchise known for its big-budget, death-defying stunts, but sometimes there’s nothing more suspenseful than a good old-fashioned, face-to-face staredown.

That’s what the actor Henry Czerny brought to the first film in the series, released in 1996. As the officious Kittridge, director of the Impossible Mission Force, Czerny sneered at star Tom Cruise with such delicious condescension that their tetchy tête-à-tête in a Prague restaurant — shot at deliriously canted angles by the director Brian De Palma — became one of the film’s highlights.

Six films later, in the new “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One,” Kittridge has returned to sneer and spar some more with Cruise’s superagent, Ethan Hunt. Christopher McQuarrie, who directed the last three movies in the franchise, said he had long intended to have Czerny return to the fold.

“Henry’s Kittridge is not a villain,” McQuarrie wrote in an email. “He’s not even an antagonist. He’s a worthy adversary, walking the line between a guy we love to hate and want to like. He’s a bastard, but he’s a bastard we want on our side.”

When the 64-year-old Czerny boarded the new film, he was surprised at how fluid the production was: McQuarrie and Cruise knew the action set pieces they wanted to include, but the scenes stitching them together were still up for grabs. Much of the exposition that would set up those sequences eventually fell to Czerny, who can deliver stakes-setting information with musical grace.

If that’s the distinctive flavor that Czerny can provide, he’s happy to deliver it. “I binged on ‘The Bear’ last night,” Czerny said during a video call last week, “and this image of ‘Mission: Impossible’ keeps coming up as a beautiful French dish, in that everything has been reduced so the flavor is profoundly intricate, unique, separate.”

Here are edited excerpts from our conversation, held before SAG-AFTRA went on strike.

Chris McQuarrie has said that ever since he took over directing duties on this franchise, he’s been looking for the right time to bring you back. Were you aware you were under consideration?

I had no idea. As a matter of fact, when I got the call, it was 25 years almost to the day when Brian De Palma and Tom decided I was going to be their Kittridge. In January 2020, McQ wanted to talk to me about bringing Kittridge back. I thought it was a little bit of a joke, and he said, “No, seriously.” So I spoke to him the next day and he said, “We’re not sure what we’re doing with the script yet.” I thought, “Yeah, you’ve got a script in the bottom drawer somewhere. Come on, you’re just not telling me what you want to do with the guy.” But the script is very fluid.

What did they tell you about why they brought you back?

I think he was brought in as a burr that we remember in Ethan’s shoe. The original idea was that he represented the bureaucracy — the C.E.O. or whatever — that doesn’t like the asset to be human. So with Ethan, he’s the world’s asset. And the American people who Kittridge, to a certain extent, believes he represents, they’re his shareholders. He doesn’t like that there’s one person they’re beholden to. However, who else are you going to call?

How has he changed since we saw him in the first film?

I asked McQ, “OK, what do you think he’s been doing for 25 years?” It wasn’t really bothersome to McQ that there wasn’t an answer for that, and I was somewhat taken aback. At the same time, McQ has such a wide focus, and those particulars are allowed to be brought to the screen by the actor: “You do your homework, you let me know and we’ll sort it out, and we’ll actually do several versions of what you think he’s been doing.”

So before I arrived in London for my fitting on a film that really had no script at the time, we had an idea of what we were going to do. I figured Kittridge got schooled by Ethan 25 years ago, so he figured, “OK, I’m going to work in all the other agencies in Washington because I don’t like being schooled by somebody who’s younger than me.” So I think he’s worked everywhere he could at as high a level as he could, and came back to run the Impossible Mission Force a great deal more edified. He has a sadder but wiser knowledge of how the American intelligence machine works and who it’s working for.

How did things evolve with the character?

McQ has a process that can be really intimidating for actors who haven’t done this before. What I’m used to after working on a show [he has appeared in several series, including “Revenge”] for a few years is you’ve got two takes, maybe, because we’ve got 12 pages to do today. You’ve got to pick a couple of things and we’ve got to move on. But with McQ, something will come out based on what you’ve packed and he’ll start adjusting it. He’ll allow you to go in a certain direction. And then you’ll go back and reshoot it if you want.

So what he was after, we realized, was this kind of older-brother thing going on between them. Kittridge is clearly trying to keep Ethan in line, doesn’t want to let him have all the marbles, but there’s a profound respect for him as well. And McQ was allowing those flavors to show up in plenty of takes so that when he got into the editing room, he can hone the scene and it’ll have those flavors distilled.

What do you think makes your face-offs with Tom so delicious?

When you’re working with Tom, there’s a focus that’s available to you, and you can disappear. You just can open the tap and see what comes out. Kittridge and Ethan obviously are coming at the issue from different sides. Kittridge believes that he’s operating on behalf of his shareholders, as is Ethan. But Kittridge’s personal investment in success is deeper than Ethan’s: Ethan’s idea of success is that we all are better off, Kittridge’s idea of success is that we are better off.

You seem to take such delight in his lines.

Oh God, right? Like, why wouldn’t you? It’s luscious stuff. I started with classical theater, and it’s rare that you get to say some of the stuff Kittridge gets to say in a genre film. Some of the stuff is beautifully written. And there’s a cadence that comes out that apparently is somewhat unique to Henry Czerny, I found out.

Over the course of your career, you’ve played your fair share of exposition-delivering characters. How do you make those lines juicy?

By finding the absolute elemental flavors in the intent. What am I trying to convey? What are the stakes if I don’t convey it? And what am I going to do to convey it clearly and as quickly or as profoundly as I can? And that creates the cadence.

A perfect example of that is your centerpiece scene from the first “Mission: Impossible.”

I will tell you, and Tom will corroborate me on this, some of these scenes show up a day or two before, so you don’t have a lot of time to go over it 200 times and have it be part of your system in a way that you would like. But with that scene, there wasn’t a word change at all. I don’t know why, but that day, De Palma was very on me about commas and periods: “No paraphrasing here.”

Are you good at pretending that the camera’s not there when it’s as close as De Palma likes to put it?

I wasn’t so much then, but I am now. That’s why the scenes are so interesting, I think, between Ethan and Kittridge: There is an intimacy there that I try and maintain.

In the new film, your very presence in a scene seemed to make the camera angles more dramatic.

Oh, yes. Vanessa [Kirby] and I shot the train scene, and then we shot the scene between Ethan and Kittridge — a reshoot, because they’d added a character. We went and shot some of it, and they were shooting from the De Palma angles, we’ll call them. Then they looked at each other and thought, we’ve got to go back and reshoot the train scene.

Really? They reshot the whole train scene with more canted angles?

It worked thematically. The intent begot the form. It wasn’t an add-on, it was, “Oh, that’s right. Let’s go back and do that.” That’s the way they put these things together.

What do you remember about being cast in the first “Mission: Impossible”?

I didn’t want to do it at first. I was in Brazil and I was not in a good frame of mind, I didn’t speak the language, I hadn’t slept in weeks, and we were shooting nights [on a Brazilian film] — it was a disaster. I got a call from my rep, saying, “Brian and Tom want you to do their Kittridge.” I said, “I don’t think I can do it.” He said, “Henry, you’re doing it. I don’t know what the hell you’re thinking, but in three weeks’ time, you’re going to be back here and you’re going to be doing that.”

OK, fine. I went to the C.I.A. for a couple of days and I chatted with the people. I thought, “How does this work? They’re not going to tell me everything, but I want to have some juice in there.” When I went to do rehearsal for “Mission,” the first one, I had all these ideas: “You know, what actually happens is blah, blah, blah.” Brian said, “Good to know, but we’re not doing a documentary.” However, that research helped ground the character a little more for me. After the first film, did you expect to continue with the franchise?

Oh, there’s a story there. At the end of it, I thought I would have a lunch with [producer] Paula Wagner because I was optioned for the second one. We discussed what Kittridge could have been doing in the first one, what I think you should be doing in the second one. Paula Wagner listened very politely, paid for the lunch, and that’s the last I heard from her. I burned the bridge with all these notions of what Kittridge should be doing. It was my highfalutin idea about what I had to offer Hollywood after only my second film there.

It must be very full circle to come back to this franchise with a director who’s actually welcoming every thought you’ve got about the character.

Who would have thunk it? Be patient, keep honest. Lo and behold, really cool stuff will show up.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, July 15, 2023

Vox's Alissa Wilkinson suggests that Dead Reckoning makes it clear what the Mission: Impossible movies have always been about:
In the very first scene of the very first Mission: Impossible film, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is interrogating a Russian guy. We don’t know it’s Hunt, though, because — in perhaps the most iconic running bit in the M:I universe — he’s wearing an extremely lifelike rubber mask. Two minutes into the scene, he walks over to the Russian, drugs him till he passes out, and then pulls off the mask, dramatically revealing the face of a slightly flushed and rumpled Cruise. (It’s hot under all that latex.)

Shortly after that first reveal, the walls of the room fall outward into a warehouse, which makes for a bigger reveal: The whole scene was faked. Not only was the now-immobilized Russian hoodwinked, but the audience was tricked into believing their senses. For us, the moment is delightful; for the laid-out man, not so much.

That opening parry for Mission: Impossible, created and produced by Cruise as a spy-action franchise for himself, showed up in movie theaters in May 1996, with Brian De Palma (of Carrie and Scarface) in the director’s chair. Compared to the latest installment in the franchise, frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, the 1996 version is much sweatier, darker, and kind of erotic. (A Brian De Palma movie indeed.)

The omnipresent unmaskings, of which there have been at least 15 or 20 by now, are still a mainstay of the films. What’s so great about those reveals, in particular, is that you’re rarely actually expecting them. Dead Reckoning Part One plays with this a little, but for the most part, through all the films, any guy at any time could rip his face off and you’d still be like, “Wow, I did not see that coming.”

The new version is like its predecessors, employing a trope borrowed from the TV show that spawned the film: trickery around every corner, a sense that you can’t quite believe what you see. Dead people turn out to be not-dead people. Walls of rooms keep falling apart to reveal they’re constructed in some warehouse somewhere. Everyone could be a rogue agent or maybe not, and the movie sure isn’t going to wink at you about it till it’s good and ready.

That those twists and turns keep surprising us seven movies in points to what’s truly delightful about the Mission: Impossible franchise, and what makes it, in my opinion, both the most inventive and the most satisfying long-running franchise in Hollywood. On one level, M:I is wonderful because the convoluted plots are pretty much beside the point; if they can be said to have a consistent theme, it is “Tom Cruise likes almost dying on camera.”

And yet once you’ve watched them all, you can detect a kind of meta-theme to the M:I movies. It stems from a simple moviegoing fact: Most of us believe that what we are seeing in a movie is how things actually happened in the world of the movie. It’s why a movie like A Beautiful Mind or Big Fish or The Irishman is so memorably affecting; we are trained to believe our narrators, and when it turns out that what we’ve been watching is not quite what actually happened, it’s thrilling. New meaning emerges from the mismatch.

Mission: Impossible plays on this expectation, though there’s no specific perspectival narrator. The thrill comes from occasionally discovering that what we’ve been watching is an elaborate fake-out. Sleight of hand is everywhere. Don’t trust your senses, Mission: Impossible exhorts us — they’re easily manipulated.

This is underlined, in another meta-heavy way, by what makes the films so distinctive: Cruise’s incredible, literally death-defying stunts, every film seeming to take them to a new level. He climbs up sheer rock walls, leaps across rooftops, fights cliffside, and hangs off the side of a flying Airbus A400M. Each time a new Mission: Impossible movie is released, it’s accompanied with marketing material that mainly leans on explaining that yes, Tom Cruise did actually climb the Burj Khalifa. Personally I, and I suspect Cruise, will not be satisfied until Ethan Hunt is in outer space. (Oh, he’s doing it.)

Why emphasize that he’s actually doing these stunts (albeit with cables and nets — you could never afford to insure the production otherwise) as the lynchpin of the M:I marketing? First, of course, because it is pretty badass. But the second reason is obvious: While action is a mainstay of American cinema, particularly in superhero movies, we all know they’re flying around on soundstages and are CGI’d within an inch of their lives. It’s all spectacle, but with no reality.

With Mission: Impossible, however, our deceiving eyes don’t quite extend to the stunts. Yes, there are tricks of the camera and computer going on. But Tom Cruise is actually driving a motorcycle off a cliff and then plummeting down. That’s real — real enough to gasp and hold your breath and get a little shaky. It’s as much a mainstay of the movie as the mask trickery, and that subtle play with what we’re seeing, with the real and the unreal, suggests the movies might be doing this very much on purpose.

The rest of Wilkinson's review carries a "spoiler" alert, and can be read at Vox

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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