“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Snake Eyes

August 7, 1998

There’s this conventional wisdom I’ve heard thrown around more than once that if you notice a shot being cool then it’s not really a good shot. Which is to deny the existence of Brian De Palma. SNAKE EYES is an underrated spot on the De Palma timeline when he had just made a huge hit with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and was able to cash in and get big studio resources for a much more purely DePalmian thriller that exhibits 36 chambers of filmatistic showboating.

Why not use the suspense thriller format to explore every new or uncommon use of cinematic language De Palma was interested in at the time? Additionally, why not use every new or uncommon use of cinematic language De Palma was interested in at the time to explore the suspense thriller format? There is no why not. This movie is great.

Nicolas Cage, not long after FACE/OFF, plays Rick Santoro, not the stick-up-his-ass homophobe former GOP senator and presidential candidate from Pennsylvania, but an obnoxious, bribe-taking bad lieutenant, port of call Atlantic City, who wears loud clothes, bets on boxing matches, and is gonna have to stop fucking around and be a hero this time. See, Santoro is standing close enough to get blood on him when the secretary of defense (Joel Fabiani, BRENDA STARR) gets shot at the fight. Santoro bulldozes his way into investigating so he can cover the ass of his old war hero buddy Gary Sinise, REINDEER GAMES), who was in charge of security.

In a matter of seconds De Palma has already started setting up the dominoes that you know he’s gonna take his sweet time knocking over. The first frames show us the giant metal globe atop the Powell Millennium arena, while the sound effects tell us there’s a storm – these two things will figure heavily into the climax. Then it pans down to a billboard that shows us the boxer Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw, TRUCK TURNER, ROCKY, THE MONSTER SQUAD, also cousin of Sam Cooke!), tells us that we’re in Atlantic City (even that it’s September 10th and the match is at 10 pm, if you want specifics) and then a reporter (Tamara Tunie, RISING SUN) tells us that it’s the final event before the arena is gutted “as part of Gilbert Powell’s Millennium Hotel and Casino.” She calls the storm “Hurricane Jezebel” and then they make her do another take pretending it’s just a tropical storm (JAWS style tourism negligence).

This is all through a news camera, into a movie camera, through a TV monitor – a long take within a long take. After a minute and a half the camera moves to another monitor where we meet Santoro interrupting a broadcast, and then from the screen to the actual guy, who we follow into the backstage area as he interacts with many of the important characters, chases and assaults a guy, almost sees many incidents that will later turn out to be relevant, tries to make a bet, hits on somebody right before getting a phone call from his wife (who is never seen in the movie), walks into the crowd to talk to his friend the straight arrow Kevin Dunne, talk about the old days, watch the fighter introductions… we’re ten minutes into the movie and it’s still on the first shot.

The entire movie will take place inside or just outside of the arena without feeling claustrophobic, because the place is big and varied in design and full of so many pieces of the mystery. De Palma tips us off to many of those during this shot, zeroing in on them with whip pans and zooms. The conspicuous redhead in the front row (Jayne Heitmeyer, HAWK’S VENGEANCE, NO CONTEST II), the yelling guy who suspiciously has an earpiece (Chip Chuipka, SNAKE EATER III… HIS LAW, SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER), the lady in white (Carla Gugino, SUCKER PUNCH) who tries to talk to the secretary.

It finally cuts right before the assassination, when Santoro gets a phone call and then looks – or maybe it’s just us that look – toward the back of the stands, where the gunshot is about to come from. The sudden rush of cuts – not fast compared to ARMAGEDDON, but seemingly rapid fire after such a long take – show us the confusion right when it’s most important for Santoro to understand what’s going on.

Santoro quickly starts trying to determine what happened in those moments, to find out who’s behind the assassination. But solving the mystery is not the end game. Once he finds out SPOILER it’s his buddy Dunne, he’s forced to make a moral choice to really get involved. And that’s not easy for him. The woman in white, Julia, turns out to be a defense department whistleblower, and when she tells him Dunne is behind the assassination it goes down about as easy as trying to get Keith David to put on special sunglasses. She just assumes he’s a good guy, he’ll do the right thing, but he throws a mega-tantrum first.

You decided to have this problem, not me!”

When she asks him “Who’s side are you on?” he says, “My side.” And he’s so forceful about Dunne being “One of the most honorable dudes on the planet” that he gets her questioning what she knows she saw.

But after a painful werewolf transformation of conscience the sleazy guy that doesn’t follow the rules trades places with the honorable boy scout. We know he’s a changed man because his friend tries to pay him a $5,000 bribe they negotiated earlier in the movie and he’s forgotten all about it. He actually gets in a situation where he could take a million dollars and let everything slide, and he doesn’t do it. You know it’s killing him by how shakily he smokes his cigarette. He looks at a dollar on the ground that got blood on it in an earlier incident. That’s laying the symbolism on a little thick, but I don’t mind.

Another good one is when Santoro spits a mouth full of blood on Dunne’s ribbons. That doesn’t go over well.

Interestingly, Dunne chooses the life of his old friend over two of his soldiers – not necessarily a good thing, but clearly a crack in his protocol. It’s just one reason why Dunne is a strong villain. He seems to be acting out of good intentions. He believes this missile shield would’ve saved the lives of his crewmates when their submarine was hit in the Gulf. But in pursuit of this legitimate goal he’s willing to murder the secretary and his own co-conspirators, to work with a terrorist, pay off a corrupt real estate prick, and endanger the very people he’s trying to save by pushing the program forward with fake test results. It’s a good parallel to some of our bad foreign policy decisions, if they truly are begun in good faith.

About that corrupt real estate prick: Gilbert Powell (John Heard, C.H.U.D.) is not buffoonish enough to play as a Donald Trump analog, but I think he’s meant as one. In 1995, Trump had started a publicly traded company called Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts to purchase from him the Atlantic City casinos he had purchased from other people using junk bonds. Trump put his stamp on the casino business with two of his trademarks:

1) plastering his stupid asshole name all over the fuckin place (Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Castle, Trump World’s Fair) and

2) somehow losing tons of fucking money. On casinos! The company filed for chapter 11 in 2004, 2009 and 2014. Eventually Trump was just licensing his dumb name to them. The Plaza closed, the World’s Fair was demolished, the Castle was renamed Trump Marina and then Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Taj Mahal recently re-opened as a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, where you can see a Michael Jackson glove, a Prince guitar, and a sweepstakes letter that was sent to Kurt Cobain (with his name misspelled).

But at the time of SNAKE EYES they were owned by Trump’s company, and according to The New York Times not only were the casino scenes filmed in the Taj Mahal, but they “even used the name of the casino’s vice president for security, Richard Santoro.” I don’t think anyone disputed the film’s depiction of the future president’s world as a place of crime and exploitation, where everyone cheats on their wives and gives or takes bribes, and previously honorable men, from soldiers to boxers, are corrupted to the core, throwing away their lives on a military-industrial complex scam to make rich assholes richer. The same rich assholes who ignore the deadly storm brewing outside while they watch men beat each other with a missile on display above their heads.

In the end Powell, like Trump, gets away with everything and just has to restructure his company.

This world is so dirty, in fact, that De Palma believes only an Old Testament God could redeem it. In 2013, De Palma told Indiewire about the original ending that the studio made him change after test screenings:

The whole idea at the end of “Snake Eyes” was deus ex machina—we were dealing with such a corrupt world that the only way to solve the problem is to have a hurricane come through and wipe it all away. That was my initial idea. And the problem is that people don’t believe in that [laughing]. They don’t believe in God looking down from above and saying, “The only way to deal with this is a flood. There’s so much corruption here, let’s wipe it all away and get an ark out and start from scratch.” But it didn’t work in the previews so we did this other ending which I don’t think is as effective. We did shoot this big wave that swept through the casino but we ultimately cut it out.

I’m pretty sure Santoro is referring to the original ending when he says during the epilogue, “I keep dreaming I’m in that tunnel, underwater, only in my dream I drown.” We never saw him underwater. We did get to grit our teeth waiting for the storm to roll the Powell Millennium globe over somebody, in the tradition of waiting for the bucket of blood to drop or somebody to get impaled on a sundial.

It’s understandable that they kept that line, because it’s in the middle of another impossibly long shot, this one maybe without cheats? The camera pans across the boardwalk to Santoro smoking a cigarette against the railing. Julia walks up and they have a four minute conversation as the camera very slowly zooms in. Behind them a construction crew is working on the arena remodel, and when their conversation ends the camera continues to zoom as the crew works under the entire end credits sequence, until it finally ends on a visual punchline to the whole story.

I mean, De Palma uses the whole bag of tricks on this. There are flashbacks when people tell their stories – sometimes they start out subjective and then switch. We see Tyler’s POV when he overhears a conversation

and Dunne’s when he’s distracted by cleavage. (Allegedly. The story turns out to be bullshit.)

We see their stories intersect with that long opening shot, so we’re inside a room looking out at Santoro looking in back then. Julia’s story even shows her witnessing something that was in the background of that opening TV shot. When we see from her POV in the presen it’s blurry because she lost her glasses during the assassination.

De Palma also uses the theatrical conceit of cross-section sets, so the camera can travel through a wall into a room or, most spectacularly, over a series of rooms looking down into them, showing couples and parties and even a little update on the secretary’s status from a TV.

Of course he has his masterful suspense sequences, cutting between opposing forces as they move toward a collision. There’s a great moment where Dunne is sneaking up behind Santoro, but he’s revealed when a flash of lightning projects his shadow on to the wall.

And yes, De Palma even uses split-screen, showing two new perspectives on an event we saw previously.

So it’s a De Palma vehicle first, but it’s also a good Cage showcase, that weird thing where you accept him as an action hero while he acts nothing like an action hero. He gets to be mega on occasion, and the character has that unique Cage humor. I love the scene where he interrogates Tyler, who threw the fight and admits it because he’s so embarrassed about having to go down to a guy who “fights like a bitch.” Santoro tells him it’s fine if he pays him back the $10,000 he lost betting on the fight “plus 500 for shaming the ring.”

The two characters share another great scene when Tyler has sold out again and, in his capacity as somewhat reluctant muscle, has to give Santoro a beating. I love that Santoro’s patheticness makes Tyler feel bad.

“Why don’t you at least try, man?” he asks. But he is trying.

Because he’s Cage, we sympathize with this goon who probly has a bunch more good deeds to do before we can consider him a good person. Maybe Ricky Santoro should be a role model for Trumpworld’s cast of flippers and informants, the compromised weasels who have been cornered into an opportunity to help make some of this right. Michael Cohen’s never gonna be this charming, but he doesn’t have to know that.

 

Signs that this is a normal blockbuster type movie: It’s written by David Koepp (JURASSIC PARK, SPIDER-MAN, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL). It won “Favorite Actor – Suspense” at the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards.

Sign that it’s not: the score is by Ryuchi Sakamoto,

Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum shot several other De Palma films beginning with THE UNTOUCHABLES. Other visually interesting movies on his resume include RUMBLE FISH and THE SHADOW. I would like to mention that he also shot UNCOMMON VALOR and the dull slasher movie DEATH VALLEY.

SNAKE EYES got mostly bad reviews at the time. Roger Ebert gave it one star and called it “the worst kind of bad film: the kind that gets you all worked up and then lets you down, instead of just being lousy from the first shot.” He goes on to mostly make it sound good, which is accurate.

It made about $103 million worldwide, but the budget was $73 million, so it was not a big success. Too bad, because imagine a world where it becomes a franchise like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. I would love to know what John Woo’s SNAKE EYES 2 would’ve been about.

Summer of ’98 connections:

As in OUT OF SIGHT, Luis Guzman plays a low-level criminal who gets comedically roughed up by an officer, though in this case it’s for corrupt reasons – something about him owing Santoro money. (And of course Gugino would go on to play the TV version of the character who roughed him up in the previous movie.)

Kevin Dunn, the dad from SMALL SOLDIERS, Colonel from GODZILLA and Hidalgo from un-reviewed ALMOST HEROES, plays an interviewer from the pay-per-view broadcast who, like characters in both DEEP IMPACT and GODZILLA, sees the tragic circumstances as a scoop that he can use to become an on-air reporter.

And we also revisit THE most important theme of Summer of ’98 cinema. As in DIRTY WORK, DR. DOLITTLE and BASEKETBALL, there is a Mr. T/ROCKY III reference when Tyler’s agent tries to stop Santoro from calling the boxer by his first name.

“You know what, I think it would show my client more respect if you call him Mr. Tyler.”

“I’ll call him Mr. T!” Santoro weirdly taunts. “And now he can beat Rocky Balboa if he wants.”

I’m telling you, ’98 was the most ROCKY III summer since ’82.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 5th, 2018 at 11:47 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

56 Responses to “Snake Eyes”

  1. Super fun movie! The belief that style should always be invisible is weird and absolutist. I suppose I get it from the perspective of viewers who only care about getting lost in a story. The same train of thought exists in a lot of the rules of writing that people take as a given without ever asking Why not? And it’s even happened to film scoring over the past 15 years (there’s a roundtable discussion where Elfman complains about it), where studios stopped wanting anthemic scores even to anthemic movies.

  2. I first watched this one on the tempestuous eve of my nineteenth birthday, and I still get the itch to watch it come late September.

    This movie was the first to trule introduc me to De Palma, Carla Gugino, Luis Guzman, and, most importantly, the music of Ryuchi Sakamoto. The score CD is still one of my most prized possessions.

    I always felt that this one got unfairly criticized. The excitement that oozes from the screen does let up, but that is only reflective of Cage’s character arc of seeing the curtain being peeled back. I guess many viewers did not like that.

    Funnily enough, this is not dissimilar to the Trump administration opening people’s eyes to structural problems that existed long before November 2016.

  3. Always liked this one and didn’t understand why it was so hated when it came out. Now it’s also mostly forgotten. I also noticed this one kinda started the whole ‘Brian DePalma is washed up’ trend I see a lot of (at least it’s where I first started noticing it but it probably started before post-UNTOUCHABLES).

    Also what is up with film nerds hating directors and/or shots with tons of style? What’s wrong with being show-offy? Especially when it is in service of the tone/story as DePalma always uses it for. Those guys are the first to get labeled ‘style over substance’ (like that’s an insult) sight unseen. Now if it’s in a foreign or arthouse movie then that’s something to celebrated but a big spectacle movie it’s a sign of a hack (unless they shoot on 70MM or something).

  4. Great review, Vern, of a really great movie.

    What is sad here is not so much that we never got the SNAKE EYES franchise (though I’m totally signed up for John Woo’s SNAKE EYES 2), but that it opens a window onto a universe where De Palma and Cage made a whole bunch of movies together, only for that window to snap shut on us at the end. Cage was, and probably still is, the best fit actor to De Palma we have ever had – this side of John Lithgow anyway, and his star was never so bright. A lot of actors have over the years been overwhelmed by De Palma’s De Palmatism – Tom Hanks, Michael Caine, Kirk Douglas spring to mind – but Cage just cranks it up and matches showy off acting to showy off direction. If they’d made more movies together, it would’ve been fun to see how far past 11 they both could’ve dialed it.

  5. They must have had a good experience working together, too. De Palma suggested Cage to Scorsese as the lead in BRINGING OUT THE DEAD.

  6. Can’t wait for Permanent Midnight review!

  7. Wait, there’s a character named Kevin Dunne not played by actor Kevin Dunn, who appears in this movie as someone else?

    Mind blown!

    (Fun fact: aforementioned Mafia/Baseketball double feature occured after an all night visit to Trump Marina in Atlantic City. Always thought it was a cool casino because they served me booze when I was underage. Sorry for the randomness)

  8. I remember being baffled by this one when it came out, but I caught it on Showtime or someplace really recently and enjoyed it a lot! It’s pretty much The Nick Cage Show from start to finish, but it’s also really fun to watch Gary Sinese get more and more frustrated by the failure of his friend to just act like he’s supposed to.

    De Palma is actually a director that I always thought was kind of overrated until a few years ago when I saw Phantom of the Paradise for the first time and loved it so much that it made me reevaluate his whole career. If he could make a movie I liked *that much*, well, there must be something to him.

    Also, that hurricane ending sounds amazing, honestly. Like the end of A Serious Man.

  9. You’ve been getting a little political here lately Vern, I understand it’s hard to resist the temptation when something in an old movie reminds you of Trump not to bring up Trump, but it’s unhealthy to let him occupy your headspace like that.

    I’ve seen a lot of people become flat out obsessed with the guy to the point where he’s all they talk about and think about, once again, I don’t think it’s healthy.

    And if we are gonna get political I feel the need to drop a big old perspective bomb, this isn’t something you may like to hear but let me preface it by saying that this is in NO way a defense of Trump or the political movement surrounding him.

    But…. part of the reason we’re in such hot water right now is because the left wing allowed problematic ideas and attitudes to flourish, do you think really think it was just business as usual and whoops, along comes a huge right wing backlash? I’m afraid not, a lot of people on the left wing started to become very radicalized over the last several years and it in turn fostered a backlash that has helped lead to Trump.

    If you don’t think there’s an extremist element to the left wing these days you simply aren’t paying attention, maybe they’re not as big a deal as the extremist right wing but they exist and they’re not helping.

    What’s going on today is there’s an ideological arms race where the left and right wings become more and more extreme in response to each other, the only way we’re going to survive the Trump era is to start backing off on this, start getting some perspective, otherwise things are going to go very wrong.

    It’s just something to keep in mind, try not to let the Trump era radicalize you too much, I’ve seen a lot of people around the net give into resentment and obsession to a degree that’s frankly frightening.

  10. Griff, we need some examples here. What extreme left wing ideas are you talking about? And bear in mind that “extreme left wing” in the US is centrist at best in the rest of the world.

  11. I wont say I haven’t ever resented someone for being “too political”, even though I know it’s wrong; I see affluent YouTube “content creators” who can barely get a video out with twitter feeds full of nothing but random GOP comments and retweets and I essentially think they’re short changing their fans.

    Vern is not one of these people; assessing what SNAKE EYES says about the perception of the current president or current political positions is not just relevant, surely part of the whole point of a 1998 (or any year) retrospective is to analyse it through a modern lens, and ponder what that says about both today and 1998.

    But more than that you’re objecting to the 10% of this review that could be considered political and then turning around and basically inviting Vern/us to turn the thread into a political debate!

  12. Oh, I don’t think Vern is that way at all yet, I just don’t want to him fall down that rabbit hole in the future.

    I don’t know why, but I seem to have an easier time tuning this shit out than most people, maybe it’s the muscle memory of the Bush years, maybe it’s because my number 1 hobby, video games, is so immersive it’s easy to get lost and forget your troubles.

    But I don’t want to start some long winded debate, just wanted to throw my two cents and warn against falling too far down the nightmare rabbit hole that is modern day politics and it IS a fucking nightmare don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bury my head in the sand, but because it’s so fucked up is precisely why it’s dangerous to dwell on it too much.

    An example of what I’m talking about by the way is the film critic Nathan Rabin, I had to stop following him because it got to the point where almost every single thing he wrote was just a thinly veiled or not veiled excuse at all for him to talk about Trump, the guy I used to be a fan of is gone and I believe in Rabin’s case he’s also been going through some personal shit and I know Vern is at the moment too, I just don’t want to see another good man fall to these trying times.

    And ok, I will provide one example though so you don’t think I’m talking smack, I’ve gotten called a misogynist on The AV Club for trying to even have some discussion and debate about the #MeToo era, that uncompromising attitude the left nowadays is one of the real big issues, it’s surreal to me that so many “liberals” these days absolutely cannot handle any form of levelheaded discussion about certain topics that isn’t 100% agreement with the general consensus, who gets to decide what’s the “right” away to think?

    If we’re not talking, it’s only a matter of time until we’re fighting and many people already are, in fact I see a lot on the left saying fighting is the only answer, do they not realize how that shit’s going to escalate fast if it’s keeps up?

  13. Um, first, De Palma has always been a political filmmaker, and other than the backlash to, and ongoing reputation of, DRESSED TO KILL it’s probably something that hasn’t been discussed enough. His films are full of conspiring politicians and businessmen. The politics may seem more obvious in BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES than in SCARFACE, or BLOW OUT, or SNAKE EYES, but surely that’s a reason to talk about it.

    More specifically to modern times and SNAKE EYES, here we have a film that asks questions about perceived truth. I’m sorry to be the person to drag up RASHOMON in this talkback, but in talking about De Palma it’s always interesting to think about how he is engaging with earlier films and filmmakers, and RASHOMON is a key influence here. Now, my reading of RASHOMON is that humanity, in both senses, has to continue in the absence of objective truth. SNAKE EYES argues that in a world overloaded with self-serving stories and subjective truths, the possibility of objective truth does still exist – it’s just that it might be a bit more painful than we’d like. If that isn’t a prescient political message in a supposed post-truth world, where you can shout down uncomfortable facts as fake news, what is?

    Tell it like it is, Vern!

  14. On second thoughts, I’ll take SCARFACE back; it’s politics are obvious.

  15. This whole city like one big chicken, just waiting to get fucked?

  16. Ah, pluck it! That’s an interesting TV edit, Griff. I’m not sure I’ve seen that one.

  17. But if it’s the politics of SCARFACE you want try this:

  18. Vern, let your left wing freak flag fly, my friend. And ignore any and all pearl clutchers who may be offended. America got itself into this mess by being too concerned with the sensitivities of a bunch of racist right wing assholes and their “economic anxiety”. For a silent majority, I sure wish they would shut the fork up.

  19. Brian De Palma would probably find Griff’s thoughts on the so-called “extremist left” pretty amusing. I don’t want to go too hard on Griff, but what we have in our culture right now are two “extremes”: a reactionary right that is essentially the Nazi Party 2.0, and… most of the rest of the country that just doesn’t want a hospital visit or a college degree to put them in severe debt. That we’re even talking about the latter as an extreme is proof of the former’s resilience in framing this debate. Also, and this is by no means a reflection of my views on #metoo which I support, but don’t go to AV Club looking for intelligent conversation, it’s a dead end.

    Back to De Palma though, I highly recommend this book. It’s among the most in-depth stuff on his work I’ve ever read (apparently the French have been going deep on him for years but there are no translations and my French is terrible). It doesn’t go too much into his later stuff that I really like (Mission Impossible, Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale) but there’s a ton of great stuff about his 60’s-80’s films, mainly Greetings, Hi Mom, Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, Body Double, and a little bit on Raising Cain. His main thesis is that De Palma’s major films are all addressing a fundamental failure of progressive, leftist action in American politics, to the point where failure is even a foregone conclusion. It’s been about a year since I read it so I’m a little hazy but it feels essential to any big De Palma fan.

    Amazon.com: Un-American Psycho: Brian De Palma and the Political Invisible (9781841505541): Chris Dumas: Books

    Amazon.com: Un-American Psycho: Brian De Palma and the Political Invisible (9781841505541): Chris Dumas: Books

  20. Oh no, I posted my real name. I’ve been compromised lol.

  21. I can understand not liking this movie as a whole. De Palma doesn’t have a lot of empathy for viewers who can’t operate on his level of operatic post-modernism, and it can be alienating. But if you don’t like that first shot, you don’t like cinema. End of story.

    People don’t want style anymore. They want mush. Mushy cinematography. Mushy drama. Mushy storytelling. Mushy acting. Mushy scoring. Mushy editing. Just a big nondistinct mush that they can put on in the background and don’t have to pay attention to.

    De Palma don’t do mush. De Palma does sharp. His dad was a surgeon, you know. So is he.

    Great movie. As dryly hilarious and inhumanly precise as anything my man BDP has done. I might watch it again.

  22. The people, who say that shit about cool shots, are most likely the same shit roosters, who believe that a comedy isn’t funny, if the jokes are too random and lack a proper setup within the story. Y’know, when a horse walks into a bar, they wanna know first where the horse came from and why the horse picked that bar, or they can’t appreciate whatever the barkeeper will say to the horse.

  23. CJ: That’s just writing workshop bullshit. I saw it all the time in grad school. Just take a piece of work, discern with glaring obviousness that which is not present, then smugly declare that it’s a mistake and not an artistic choice. Repeat for two years and many thousands of dollars. I vowed never again to subject myself to that kind of blinkered thinking but it’s the whole world now.

  24. Griff- I can relate to an extent because, despite one very tense/stressful family situation earlier this year, on the whole I’ve been having a better time in 2017 and 2018 or at least feel better about myself than I did in 2016 and the back-end of 2015, even as the world turns in a direction where I wish I’d appreciated the relative calm of the early 10s while they lasted. Should I feel guilty about this? I don’t know. I am sure some people didn’t find there to be any relative calm in the early 10s whatsoever.

    As for Rabin I always felt he mostly wasted great concepts on his own writing. Many writers could make gold of concepts like “My Year of Flops” or a hip-hop fan trying to immerse himself in country music, or trying to explain the appeal of Phish and Insane Clown Possie(sp?) to the uninitiated, but he always seemed to want to anchor his writing in ensuring you understand that while he may be writing about some “goofy shit”, don’t you worry for a second that he himself is “cool”, if by “cool” you mean in possession of every other opinion you’ve ever heard by anyone else writing for “hip” companies. He’s also painfully unfunny. But to inject some positivity he seemed perfectly pleasant when he turned up on a podcast I listen to.

    To keep this on topic and even more positive De Palma rules, Cage rules and I only saw SNAKE EYES once ten years ago and don’t remember much bar that I enjoyed it. Did the original ending turn up in the DE PALMA documentary a few years back, or was that a rumour?

  25. I meant “that he himself is not “cool”” (I think)

  26. Isn’t the workprint on the DVD?

    I seem to remember preferring the theatrical ending.

  27. Regarding Trump, in De Palma´s unproduced screenplay “Ambrose Chapel” (1994) the rich corrupt prick, equivalent to the John Heard´s character, is an unconventional presidential candidate who comes from big business and wants to build a wall to keep the mexicans away.
    De Palma describes him as “a small man with an ego ten feet tall, he used (sic) to getting what he wants. Even the presidency of the United States”.

  28. Always considered this a really solid movie, highly rewatchable too. Reading this review I was surprised how many moments from the film instantly came back to me clear as day, and it’s not like it’s a particular favourite of mine. That’s gotta be a positive.

  29. Yeah, that conventional wisdom is kind of like the “show, don’t tell” one in writing. Always funny to hear that one still chugging along, insofar as it was definitively skewered by Wayne Booth 60 years ago.

  30. Every time I hear that “Show, don’t tell” bullshit, I counter with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Go tell Dickens he fucked up, you sanctimonious poseur. The ability to tell is one of the strengths of prose over other mediums. Telling is one of the most powerful tools in the writer’s kit when employed judiciously. Definitely don’t overuse it, but to throw it away arbitrarily is foolishness. Vonnegut told constantly and he’s considered one of the greatest American writers, while tons of talentless potboiler word monkeys spew out reams of useless “cinematic” drivel.

    That’s the secret, really. Hacks follow rules. Artists use them when they work and ditch them when they don’t. “Whatever works” is the only real rule there is.

  31. I’ve never been a massive Gary Sinise fan, outside of FORREST GUMP, and I’m not crazy about his performance in this movie. I feel like some other actors would be more memorable in the role, which is actually a strong role when you think about it.

  32. Sadly Ebert did not listen to his dictum, it’s not so much what it’s about, it’s HOW it’s about it. This De Palma is a motherfucker of how it’s about it.

  33. I don’t think it’s terribly fair to demand that art criticism ignore politics just because we happen to live in an unusually politically awful time. All art is political in some way, so discussing how it intersects with the real world is both valid and necessary.

    Also, all the talk of the AV Club is kinda bumming me out. I used to be a regular there and really enjoyed it, but then they lost all the good writers and got bought out and now it’s just a mean, sad imitation of its glory days, full of empty sarcasm and sneering.

  34. RIP Burt Reynolds. I’ll be watching THE LONGEST YARD tonight.

  35. On a related topic, De Palma just co-authored a novel in France based on an abandoned political thriller project of his:

    De Palma a la Mod

    A blog featuring the latest news about Brian De Palma and related subjects.

  36. I’m sorry Griff, but I don’t see myself ever not writing about the politics of movies. I write about what interests me, and that’s one of the things that interests me. It’s what I’ve been doing since the beginning, it’s why I wrote Seagalogy, and for the record there have been people telling me not to do it since the beginning (though usually less politely than you).

    When I was writing for The Ain’t It Cool News and doing the self-published version of Seagalogy, there was an unjust war going on and for the most part pop culture ignored it. I felt like it was my responsibility to encourage people to think about it through my chosen medium. I don’t feel that way now, but instead I feel like I have a duty as an American who believes the things I do to pay attention and care about what’s going on. This is no judgment of your approach, but I just don’t believe in trying to ignore it. For myself that would be wrong and I would feel terrible about it.

    I also strongly disagree with your assessment of both left and right getting too extreme. The extreme right is that there are actual literal Nazis working in the White House helping to push white nationalist policies, banning Muslims and deporting citizens for being brown and locking kids in cages while deporting their parents, to name just a fraction of the despicable shit that we know about. The extreme left is that we want affordable health care and for rapists and racists to stop or stop getting away with it. I’ve been accused of getting too moderate and mellow as I age and I cannot find it in me to be worried about that stuff.

    I’m sure George Wallace or somebody was elected as a backlash to the civil rights movement. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have had the civil rights movement. I want to stop Trump, but giving up our progress and values because they offend assholes like him is not my idea of stopping him.

    But I will say that while I don’t necessarily regret them I do feel embarrassed about many of the columns I wrote in the Bush years. So I try not to fall down rabbit holes even if we don’t agree on the definition. I think I’m more thoughtful about it now and I think I tend to bring up issues that are relevant to the movies, as is 100% the case here. This is a movie where one of the villains is specifically based on Trump, and it’s filmed in his actual casino, and it’s about how his business corrupts and degrades everyone who comes near it. It would be shameful to do this series and come to this movie and just let that go.

    I also feel it’s my mission to put more joy, kindness and positivity into the world, and many times that involves not talking about that asshole. So you will get plenty of not talking about that asshole here. But it will never be a politics free zone unless I retire and sell the name to some dipshit who has no business writing about SNAKE EYES.

  37. I’m happy to see the love for this movie, which was so underrated when it came out and probably unfairly forgotten these days. The opening scene, even allowing for the trickery, is just brilliant, in-your-face, I-will-not-be-ignored moviemaking.

    Strangely, I have always kind of tied this movie with Van Damme’s Sudden Death, even though I just looked it up and was surprised to see it came out three years earlier. I don’t know if it’s fair to compare them, but, to the extent that one could, I’m going to describe Snake Eyes as a fine filet mignon to Sudden Death’s Quarter Pounder, by which I mean I kind of enjoyed Sudden Death, but this movie is the real deal, and it’s awesome.

    Even lesser DePalma movies, like the somewhat recent Passion, tend to have something worth seeing, even if it’s just a so-called “overly cinematic” or theatrical sequence, or an unlikely plot twist. Maybe not Mission to Mars, though. Or maybe that just wasn’t my cup of tea.

    I hate seeing these titans get old, not because I ever give up hope that they still have another great one in them, but that they may not be giving us anything at all soon enough. Happy birthday to DePalma, who, I see, turns 78 next Tuesday. May your next one be your best one.

  38. Johnny – I think the Van Halen scene in Mission to Mars is pretty fantastic. I’m struggling to find anything redeeming to say about The Black Dahlia, however, but since I’ve become a De Palma-head I’m sure I’ll rewatch it and find something to like. As for Snake Eyes – I think time has been kind to its most-discussed “problem”. The “twist” about Sinise being the bad guy will never not be obvious, but then again the twist is almost always easy to see in every De Palma movie, but usually just a small part of the enjoyment. Plus I think they get around that problem by having the reveal takes place abnormally early in the movie – it’s almost Psycho-like how the early twist kinda changes the tone of the rest of the movie, making it a cat-and-mouse game instead of a whodunit. On another note – I remember Will Smith was supposed to be Sinise’s character at one point – gotta wonder if they would have kept the same structure or kept Smith as a good guy until the very end.

    Other than that, this is big-budget summer movie-making like we’ll never see again – arty, playful, full of style but light on action or violence (this could have been a PG-13 pretty easily). It’s Die Hard (or yes, Sudden Death) by way of Blow Out. The ending is still kind of a mess but the first 90% of this movie ranks among De Palma’s (and Cage’s) best.

  39. “It can be said with certainty that any reviewer who pans [MISSION TO MARS] does not understand movies, let alone like them.” – Armond White, with maybe the most contentious quote in film review history. I’ve grown to really like the movie, although I didn’t respond to it at first.

    THE BLACK DAHLIA is a tough one. I think De Palma is struggling a bit with fitting the source novel into his own cinematic playground. THE FURY also has this problem a bit. TBD almost needs to be viewed with subtitles if you want to keep all the characters straight, but like FEMME FATALE, it feels as though it’s made for students of the filmmaker, who can pick up on its metacommentary about his canon. In other words, I’m not surprised almost no one likes it, but it isn’t uninteresting.

  40. I thought the casting gave away who the bad guy was (didn’t help that I had my suspicions confirmed when I was walking into my screening) and the particular display had the villain in the top left corner wielding a pistol with a suppressor/silencer on it. In the movie universe, only bad guys have those. Also, the air defence system that was supposedly the root cause of the whole mess was pronounced just like “Aeroguard”, which in Australia is an insect repellent.

    Not that I thought it was a bad film or anything, it was just a couple of odd things for me personally that I noticed at the time (liked the opening long take and the postscript which showed Cage’s character’s rise and fall was something you don’t often see in movies).

  41. The whole left/right thing as pertains to US politics is just a bit odd to us foreigners, especially when you look at the people with the actual power in each major party as opposed to others who might be the loudest.

    For starters, you have what we’d call a conservative right wing party if they were in many of our countries. In the US, they’re called the Democratic Party.

  42. Lol I felt a little ashamed of myself for my Mission to Mars take for three lines, Palermo, until I saw Armond White’s name, at which point I immediately doubled down on my negative take, even though I haven’t seen the movie in 15 years or longer!

    (Not serious. I mean, it’s DePalma. I realize the flaw is at least partly mine, even if I can’t dig the movie. I should rewatch. The point is, I’m pretty sure I can never take White seriously, even if he sometimes —or god forbid, always — is trying to be serious. Which I doubt more than I doubt most anything in this world!)

  43. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Armond White for being the only critic to loudly champion Mr. 3000. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful and sensitive character piece that everyone unsurprisingly dismissed as a dumb comedy. (It also has one of the best sports movie endings since Tin Cup.) Plus Mr. White put Femme Fatale as his #1 movie of 2002; I mean, c’mon – that’s my kind of guy.

  44. Leonard Maltin also championed MR. 3000, and not just in his guide book; I remember when it came out he included it in a list of recent recommendations saying “finally a comedy for adults”. I do think White is worth having around for all his trollish inclinations; I bought his book of Prince essays after hearing him discuss SIGN O’ THE TIMES on an excellent episode of The Cannon.

  45. Not to be political but Trump is a moron.

  46. Remember when DePalma was apparently in talks to direct PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2?

  47. No? What?

  48. Pacman – Is that Prince book good? I have long thought White was ridiculous but I also heard that episode of The Canon and realized that at least on that topic he has some good insights.

  49. White was inspirational to me for a while. I agree with a lot of his general feelings on what movies can aspire to be. He’s lost me politically in recent years and is (imo) too easily dismissive of a lot of movies I like. But as well as being a more strict aesthete than most critics, he tends to prioritize art when its messages are hopeful and humanist, and views it as a waste of his time if they go against this. So I understand why he’s not for everyone, but I’m sympathetic to that approach.

    What’s cool is that there was a long time where he was one of very few film critics analyzing works through a lens of “the othered.” Now a lot of people try to do that (but they often make the mistake of also striving for consensus approval). There’s still a lot to learn from his older stuff. His writing on the importance of PURPLE RAIN is great.

  50. Vern- I don’t regret buying it. It’s short and consists mostly of contemporary articles which may or may not also be available elsewhere, so maybe don’t spend too much on it, and yes it’s full of typical White provocations, but his musings on (as Palermo says) PURPLE RAIN and similar movies of the time as a rebirth of the Hollywood musical, or how the BATMAN soundtrack and videos are a more meaningful tribute to the subversive pop spirit of comics than the Burton film are very interesting, at least to me. Put it this way; it made me want to read his article on Michael Jackson circa DANGEROUS (titled “The gloved one is not a chump”), which I haven’t been able to find yet.

    It’s amazing, and a little odd, how well behaved he is in that CANNON episode. He must really like Amy Nicholson, or maybe was just please to find a kindred spirit RE: LA LA LAND

  51. Vern, thanks for the levelheaded response and the fact that you responded that way shows you’re ok.

    I wasn’t saying you can’t talk politics, just don’t become unhealthily obsessed as some people have.

  52. @Palermo – I’ve never been an Armond White. But your post maybe me some insight into why. He’s one of those critics that probably argues for THE OX BOW INCIDENT as a top 20 film. When frankly, it’s not good and messaging approval rating is mostly what it’s got in in its favor. (Admittedly, I’ve probably only read like 30 or so of his reviews, and then just stopped because his taste was so radically different than mine.)

  53. Watched the DEPALMA documentary; the alternative ending is only shown briefly and in poor quality (and I can find no evidence that the workprint was ever released either). Certainly an interesting documentary worth watching for Palmaheads, although for a cinematic event like “legendary director interviewed by modern auteurs” it could easily pass for a standard TV retrospective.

  54. Guys I just watched Mandy and I don’t know if this is the right place for it but the last time I got a contact buzz that intense, I was in the dimly lit back of a van in a muddy cornfield turned campground on the side of I-69, watching a guy start to trip balls at the same time he began to realize he may have just lost a significant amount of drugs, while a tornado touched down in the distance and winds started battering the van. That bathroom scene was like personal catharsis for the past year or so. One of the people I went with said it was the worst movie he’s seen, I very much disagree, I can’t wait for the sequel.

  55. Yeah, despite all the buzz MANDY gets now from festivalgoers and nerdbloggers, it’s obvious that the mainstream audience will totally reject it or, if they like it, pretend it’s some “so bad it’s good” camp, judging by the trailer and what I’ve heard from it.

  56. I’m super-psyched to see MANDY but will probably have to wait for home video to see it. In other news I saw THE PREDATOR last night and enjoyed it. No, we still don’t have a great PREDATOR sequel but there is more than enough in it (for me at least) to recommend it.

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