Tag Archives: Brian De Palma

Mission to Mars

It was the year 2000: my skirts were short. Practically microscopic. And the little shirts I wore hardly bridged the gap. I thought I was hot shit, and presumably so did the two boys treating me to a Sunday night movie (a school night!). Notably, we’d hit up the hip new restaurant in town, Wendy’s, just minutes before. Oh, you’ve heard of it? Well I grew up in a teeny little town that celebrated the coup of a luxurious chain restaurant. It was glamorous to eat at a place we’d seen commercials for on American cable! So I ate the meal that a real foodie had recommended: the spicy chicken sandwich. And then the guy I was currently fucking and the guy I’d fucked roughly 2 months before at the New Year’s party to end all New Year’s parties (remember, it’s the year 2000) decided we’d see Mission To Mars.

I’ll get to the “review” part of the movie in a minute, although caveat: I’ve never seen it. Why haven’t I seen it, despite having been to the movie, as it played in theatres? Shut up. I wasn’t making out. Or not much. The truth is, I feel asleep. Which has happened to me approximately never. I’m a crazed insomniac who struggled to achieve sleep in her own comfy bed. I never sleep anywhere else. Except this one time I fell asleep while sitting between two men who were each touching various parts of my body suggestively under the cover of darkness in a dingy small town cinema. Later I went home and threw up undigested spicy chicken sandwich. I’ve never attempted to eat Wendy’s again, nor have I revisited Mission to Mars. Turns out I had mono. Yes, the dreaded kissing disease.

Anyway, in 2000 we were apparently obsessed with Mars, this being the first of two movies about that particular planet released that year (Red Planet is the other – I haven’t seen it either. co12Probably). Neither did well commercially or critically. Mission to Mars is set in the distant future – 2020. Oh wait, that’s only a few years away? Fuck me. Well anyway it seemed like the very distant future at the time. A future in which I’d be so improbably old that I might even wear skirts that entirely covered my snatch. Hard to imagine, I know. And in this future, there’s a mission, and it’s to Mars. Don Cheadle goes on this mission along with, you know, other, expendable astronauts, and weirdly enough, Don Cheadle is the only one to survive it when a “freak” storm hits. So then his real buddies, who had stayed back due to grief and whatnot, come to rescue him. And they learn that there’s a “face” on Mars that’s causing some weird shit. So as you can tell from this brief, befuddling synopsis, you really haven’t missed much.

The movie cost a lot of money and didn’t make it back. I’d like to know the exact dollar amount Brian De Palma okayed on the  14,000 gallons of paint used to spray the soil of a Vancouver sand pit “Mars red.” I’m guessing $toomuch. The actors wore $100K space suits for filming (Tim Robbins complained that he could always hear  himself breathing) which seems like a lot of money on outfits, except the real NASA space suits actually cost more like $12M. Maybe NASA should talk to them about this knock-off version? Well, maybe not. De Palma wanted Cheadle’s space suit to look dirty after the storm, so the costumers eschewed real space suit material – teflon – because it never looks dirty.  They used 10 massive 350-horsepower wind machines to blow dust on the poor guy, forcing the crew into gas masks, even though we all know THERE’S NO WIND IN SPACE.

Anyway. Fast forward a dozen years or so. Now I’m at Disney World with a husband who is neither of the men from the movie theatre, two thirds of my sisters, one third of my brothers-in-law, and my one-year-old nephew. The sisters have stayed at our rented home to swim with the baby. The brothers-in-law were out playing golf. And I was for some reason at EPCOT standing in line for a ride I did not want to go on. Gary Sinise was welcoming us to Mission-space-epcotMission: Space, an attraction that needs several strongly-worded warnings. Just when you get your courage up, Gary Sinise starts talking you out of it. Not that I needed any help from Gary Sinise. I am a chicken shit. I knew damn well this ride wasn’t for me. It simulates an actual spacecraft launch, complete with g-force, and a pretty rough landing. There are barf bags in this ride AND THEY GET USED. Each spacecraft holds 4 “astronauts” and we’re each given a specific role – navigator, pilot, commander, or engineer – and tasks to perform during the mission. This is a hilarious example of misplaced optimism. I don’t think I pushed a single button the entire ride because I was too busy TRYING NOT TO DIE. The thing about simulations is that your brain (not to mention your stomach) doesn’t know the difference. It believes! Lots of props from this movie are in display in the queuing area for this ride. I didn’t really appreciate them because I was busy sweating through my socks. I lived through this ride but I cannot and will not say that I enjoyed it. I bore it. Almost stoically. But you know what’s funny? I didn’t need the barf bag. I didn’t throw up, not even a little, not even just in my mouth, which as we all know, is more than I can say for the movie Mission To Mars.


Blow Out

Two college students are riding the bus together in Ottawa. One says to the other “I had to read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in French class this week and I was so bored because I couldn’t understand a single word. The only word I understood was ‘narcotique’ and I was like ‘Oh, that’s cool at least. They’re doing drugs'”. Her friend replies “Are you sure it wasn’t ‘narcotic’? Like ‘You’re so narcotic’?”

This is one of many conversations I couldn’t help overhearing between strangers that I’ll probably always remember. I’ve got a million of ’em. I like watching people, listening to them, and speculating about them. Like that guy who used to mysteriously sit and wait in our office’s reception area every morning an hour before we actually opened. What his deal was we’ll now never know but Jay and I sure did toss around a lot of ideas.

Rear Window

I’m coming off as a little creepy I’m sure but I really don’t think I’m alone here. Don’t you ever wonder about the people you see ride the bus with you every day or the girl who serves you your Starbucks every morning? It can’t just be me and Rachel, the obsessive alcoholic who carefully observes the young couple living in a house that her train passes every morning in Girl on a Train, one of my favourite books lately. She starts to think of them as the perfect couple and even makes up names for them. Eventually, of course, she starts looking too closely and, after seeing something she shouldn’t have, winds up badly beaten up and in way over her head.girl on the train

I thought of this when watching Blow Out today, Brian De Palma’s 1981 thriller that this post started out as a review of. In the film, John Travolta plays a sound effects guy who goes to the park in the middle of the night to record some wind. He can’t help taking advantage of his powerful recording equipment to listen in on a conversation between two lovers. Before he knows it, he’s witnessed himself a murder. A lot of De Palma’s style hasn’t aged well and it would be hard to get away with making Nancy Allen’s female lead so insultingly dumb if it were made today but I realized, while watching it, that I like movies about people watching people (Coppola’s The Conversation, for instance, or The Lives of Others). They’re a useful reminder that if you keep watching you may Blow Outsee something you wish you hadn’t.

That’s why Rear Window is quite possibly my favourite Hitchcock. James Stewart is in his apartment recovering from a leg injury with little to do but stare out his window and observe his neighbors from across the street. He too thinks he’s witnessed himself a murder, putting himself in some jeopardy. Of course the cops don’t believe him, nor did they believe Travolta or Rachel. Because people who watch people are weird and are unreliable witnesses.

This is what the movies are there for. To remind people like me that eavesdropping- like skinny dipping, ripping off the mob, getting inolved with a woman who you can’t take your eyes off of but who smells like trouble, asking “what could go wrong?”, investigating a suspiscious noise, and showering in a motel room- can be a lot of fun but it can also get you killed.