Skip to main content

We’re Americans. We read your emails.

Domino
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Brian De Palma essentially appears to have disowned his unhappy latest motion picture encounter (“I never experienced such a horrible movie set”). He opined that he came in on a script that wasn’t of his own devising (by Petter Skavlan of Kon-Tiki) and did his failing best to apply his unique vision to it. And you can see that vision, occasionally, but more than that you can see unaccustomed cheapness and lacklustre material that likely wouldn’t play no matter how much cash was thrown at it.

It was initially reported that the picture was taken off the director and reedited by the producers, but De Palma later said that wasn’t the case, that there was no fabled 148-minute cut. The less glamorous truth was that “I was not involved in the ADR, musical recording sessions, the final mix or the colour timing of the final print”. Certainly, you’d like to think he wouldn’t have signed off anything that frequently looks this threadbare, but Passion, his last collaboration with Almodovar cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, also often looked on the spare side.

There are moments here where you see glimmers of the old De Palma, though; a split diopter here, a split-screen (on a video monitor) suicide bombing there. He even attempts to ramp up a classic suspense sequence for the bullfight climax, which half, well, maybe a third, works, but also ends on a ludicrous impaling by drone.

I mentioned a suicide bombing, and the problems with the picture begin with its subject matter. No one seems to have learnt – even cash-strapped Danish producers, apparently – that War on Terror movies are box office poison. Worse than that, they very rarely elicit challenging or cogent material. You just can’t expect to tell such stories in any kind of classical antagonist-protagonist narrative sense and get away with it, any more than you could with Nam. Not only is no one buying it, but also to do so smacks of cynicism in a manner that essentially invalidates the project.

Here, there’s ostensibly a dodgy CIA guy (Guy Pearce, who at least appears to be providing a smidgeon of attitude) manipulating an ISIS member (Eriq Ebouaney) to do his dirty work in tracking down an ISIS big cheese. So yeah, they’ve got the de rigueur dodgy American government operative/agency element checked, but that simply isn’t enough.

Problems are compounded by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Danish cop being essential at the start and the climax, while the intervening section is all about Ebouaney doing the hard graft. The former’s insufficiently integrated to the degree that you feel this should have been all about the latter’s character. There’s also a frankly ridiculous subplot whereby we’re seriously asked to believe that deceased partner Søren Malling (Borgen) was having an affair with Carice van Houten. The mind boggles; it’s little wonder Waldau thinks she must have been making it up.

It’s no surprise the reviews for this suggested De Palma was all washed up and past it. Very few directors of his generation are still putting out decent work, if they can get a movie made at all. This is only his second in a decade, and they’re both a long way from even the relative polish of the patchy previous one. His plan to make a movie based on the Weinstein scandal may be a headline grabber, but the only thing likely to get it made any sooner than Coppola’s long-vaunted Megalopolis is that it’ll be cheaper.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.