Tag Archives: Ben Kingsley

Species (1995, Roger Donaldson)

Roger Donaldson has these great sweeping camera shots in Species. He doesn’t restrict them to the action scenes, but uses them to dynamically bring his five principals into the frame together. It’s always beautifully done and, if one could separate Donaldson’s work from the film’s content, Species would seem a lot more impressive.

Unfortunately, the fine work of Donaldson—and editor Conrad Buff IV—is nowhere near enough to forgive the film’s problems.

First and foremost, the script is dumb. An alien civilization dupes the American government into creating an emissary and that emissary will try to wipe out the human race. Now, that idea isn’t dumb, it’s just an idea. Writer Dennis Feldman’s execution of that idea is awful though. The guy can’t write. Though I might just be blaming him more so I don’t have to be so negative about the actors.

Alfred Molina gives a good performance. Marg Helgenberger isn’t bad. Michael Madsen’s awful most of the time, but fine when he and Helgenberger are flirting. It makes one wonder what she’d have been able to do with a better costar.

Ben Kingsley and Forest Whitaker make up the rest of the principal cast. Both are terrible. Kingsley’s unimaginably bad; he’s trying a Southern accent and it fails over and over again. He’s just awful. Whitaker’s problem is the script. His character’s writing is particularly bad.

Speaking of bad, there’s some lame nineties CG in Species too.

Species is a weak film. Great direction, terrible result overall.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Dennis Feldman; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Conrad Buff IV; music by Christopher Young; production designer, John Muto; produced by Feldman and Frank Mancuso Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ben Kingsley (Xavier Fitch), Michael Madsen (Preston Lennox), Alfred Molina (Dr. Stephen Arden), Forest Whitaker (Dan Smithson), Marg Helgenberger (Dr. Laura Baker), Natasha Henstridge (Sil) and Michelle Williams (Young Sil).


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Slipstream (1989, Steven Lisberger)

A lot of Slipstream plays like The Road Warrior with gliders. In this post-apocalyptic wasteland, everyone flies around because of a jet stream ravaging the surface. It’s never clear where this jet stream is located and not, in a geographic sense, because they always manage to safely take off and land… while at other times it’s so bad it blows things apart.

Lisberger doesn’t know how to operate on a small budget; the film looks awful because of his composition. It doesn’t help his cinematographer, Frank Tidy, is incompetent. Long sequences are completely incomprehensible because Tidy doesn’t give them enough light and Lisberger doesn’t know how to shoot in cramped spaces.

But the big problem is Tony Kayden’s script. How a producer like Gary Kurtz didn’t know he had a bad script is beyond me. The dialogue’s so bad, it makes me wonder if it wasn’t intended to be a kids’ movie… only one rampant with Bill Paxton’s character’s misogyny.

The acting is, similarly, bad. I suppose Bob Peck is all right. His part is terribly written, but Peck’s abilities are enough he can turn in a dignified performance. Paxton is playing Hudson from Aliens again, just with long hair. Mark Hamill is hilariously bad. Kitty Aldridge and Eleanor David are weak too. Ben Kingsley’s awful in an unrecognizable cameo.

Even the Elmer Bernstein is bad—well, half of it. The other half is actually quite good.

On the other hand, the second unit shoots the Irish countryside beautifully.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Lisberger; written by Tony Kayden; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Gary Kurtz; released by Entertainment.

Starring Mark Hamill (Tasker), Kitty Aldridge (Belitski), Bill Paxton (Matt Owens), Bob Peck (Byron), Eleanor David (Ariel), Robbie Coltrane (Montclaire), Ben Kingsley (Avatar) and F. Murray Abraham (Cornelius).


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Transsiberian (2008, Brad Anderson)

The train thriller has been a film standard for seventy years, probably longer. I can’t remember the last one, as the genre’s sort of fallen off in the last ten years. The naive American tourist is trouble genre is younger, but not by much. Transsiberian combines the two–a natural combination–but it’s far more of a character study than a thriller, as much of the film hinges on Emily Mortimer’s decision process. Accordingly, the whole thing rests on her and she really isn’t up for it. It’s kind of strange, since she’s a fine physical actress, she’s just never once believable as the recovering substance abuser who’s married an Iowa hardware store owner (Woody Harrelson). Maybe the American accent just put up a wall for her….

Brad Anderson’s approach, both to the storytelling and the direction, is very inventive and not really mainstream, blockbuster Hollywood. So the script itself being as unoriginal in its constant use of standard Hollywood thriller mores is a little strange. It starts with the mysterious, are they or aren’t they bad fellow travelers (Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara). Well, actually it starts with the first Woody Harrelson is a rube because he’s from Iowa joke. There are four or five of them and it’s kind of strange to see a film mock its ostensible protagonist. The film does start differently, however, with an uncritical churchgoers opening scene. It’s kind of nice… maybe all the rube jokes were to make up for it.

Harrelson barely resonates in the film (his character is so one-note), with Noriega dominating the first half as the male presence. Noriega isn’t even particularly good, he just isn’t supposed to be mind-numbingly boring… which is exactly what attracts Mortimer to him.

Here’s where Transsiberian is so interesting–Mortimer’s not at all a good person, which makes her an interesting protagonist. Except the script saddles her with all this unbelievable backstory and it’s all very simplistic. Without the backstory, the film would probably run ten minutes shorter and be a lot less expository.

The script splits the film into two halves–the naive tourist thriller and the train thriller (even though the train’s in the whole movie)–and it works toward making the film more interesting as Mortimer has a lot more to do on her own in the second half and she really just doesn’t cut it.

Ben Kingsley’s got a decent part. Kate Mara isn’t bad. Thomas Kretschmann’s good in what should have been an uncredited cameo.

Alfonso Vilallonga’s score is so good it gets its own paragraph.

As Mortimer essayed the big revelation scene (the first big revelation scene, the last one is actually very quiet as the film excuses all of Mortimer’s actions in the end so she can have a Hollywood ending), I wondered if she was bad or the script was bad. Then I imagined Rose Byrne in her role and Transsiberian would have been excellent. Or really good anyway (Byrne would have been great). Anderson’s always been a competent, cute filmmaker and this one is no different. He usually just casts a little better.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Anderson; written by Anderson and Will Conroy; director of photography, Xavier Giménez; edited by Jaume Martí; music by Alfonso Vilallonga; production designer, Alain Bainée; produced by Julio Fernández; released by First Look Studios.

Starring Woody Harrelson (Roy), Emily Mortimer (Jessie), Kate Mara (Abby), Eduardo Noriega (Carlos), Thomas Kretschmann (Kolzak) and Ben Kingsley (Grinko).


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Bugsy (1991, Barry Levinson), the extended cut

It’s amazing what can be done with cinematography and makeup. In Bugsy, specially lighted and caked with makeup, fifty-something Warren Beatty can play late thirties something Ben Siegel, albeit specially lighted and caked in makeup. The lighting is incredibly distracting, particularly in the scenes where Beatty is the only one getting the attempt at age-defying light. It gives the film a bright orange hue and it really doesn’t need any further attention drawn to Levinson’s almost indifference to its place as a period piece. There’s no texture to Bugsy‘s early 1940s Hollywood. It seems like there should be–had the film been shot on sound stages, it would have added a lot.

The problems are pretty simple. It’s boring and unrewarding. Not in the conclusion, but minute-to-minute. Bugsy is about someone who’s a little nuts and his romance with someone who’s either a little nuts, a lot stupid or deceptive and manipulative. The pair–Beatty and Annette Bening–do not make for a charismatic pair. Bening is mediocre at best. Beatty’s best scenes are with Harvey Keitel (who probably gives the film’s best performance as Mickey Cohen), Ben Kingsley (also mediocre, but his writing is better than Bening’s), Joe Mantegna and, in particular, Elliott Gould. I’ll partially retract my Keitel statement–Gould gives the film’s best performance. As Siegel, Beatty really doesn’t have much to do. When the film tries to give some weight to his suffering, it’s desperate.

The real problem, then, is the script. James Toback, little shock, doesn’t write interesting people and he doesn’t write interesting historical fiction. With such unappealing character arcs, all Bugsy has going for it is the chance at being really good historical fiction. It isn’t. The whole film is based on the premise the movie stars are going to make the uninteresting story–I mean, really, a paragraph could summarize the pertinent action in the film–interesting. It’s also based on the premise, but only at the end and somewhat ludicrously, the audience is supposed to be upset mobster Siegel got a raw deal from the mob. Whoop de doo.

If Levinson had pushed and given the film some visual flare… it wouldn’t have done much good. The Ennio Morricone score, which sounds a lot like all of his other scores from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties, is a poor fit to the material. It’s distracting and goofy.

Still, it’s a competently made Hollywood vanity project (I don’t know who’s vanity, Beatty’s I guess). But it’s an excruciating two and a half hours.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Barry Levinson; screenplay by James Toback, based on a book by Dean Jennings; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Stu Linder; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Levinson, Beatty and Mark Johnson; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Warren Beatty (Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel), Annette Bening (Virginia Hill), Harvey Keitel (Mickey Cohen), Ben Kingsley (Meyer Lansky), Elliott Gould (Harry Greenberg), Joe Mantegna (George Raft), Richard C. Sarafian (Jack Dragna), Bebe Neuwirth (Countess di Frasso), Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi (Count di Frasso), Wendy Phillips (Esta Siegel), Stefanie Mason (Millicent Siegel), Kimberly McCullough (Barbara Siegel), Andy Romano (Del Webb), Robert Beltran (Alejandro), Bill Graham (Charlie Luciano) and Lewis Van Bergen (Joey Adonis).


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