Tag Archives: Emily Mortimer

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996, Stephen Hopkins)

There are two significant problems with The Ghost and the Darkness. Its other primary problem corrects itself over time.

The score–from Jerry Goldsmith–is awful (he basically repeats his terrible Congo score). It makes the film silly, like a commercial. A great deal of the film is about the wonderment of Africa, something Hopkins and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond certainly capture… only to have Goldsmith ruin it.

Second, writer William Goldman thinks it needs narration. It doesn’t. Goldman’s able to get away with a dream sequence here (Hopkins and Val Kilmer sell it) but the narration’s too much. It brings the viewer out of the film, especially at the end; the credits are a disconnect from the film’s final narration.

The third problem is Michael Douglas. When he shows up, he’s basically doing Romancing the Stone, only with an occasional Southern accent. He gets better, but it takes about fifteen minutes and some of it is rough going.

The real draw–besides Hopkins and Zsigmond–is Kilmer (he never screws up his accent). He has an epic character arc in this film and his performance is brilliant. It’s especially interesting to see how he acts opposite Douglas, whose initially bombastic, silly presence should derail Kilmer’s performance. But it doesn’t. Again, some of it has to do with Hopkins, who knows how to shoot these scenes.

Good supporting turns from Tom Wilkinson, John Kani and Om Puri.

The film has some problems, but they don’t come close to overshadowing its achievements.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Hopkins; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Roger Bondelli, Robert Brown and Steve Mirkovich; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; produced by A. Kitman Ho and Gale Anne Hurd; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Val Kilmer (Col. John Henry Patterson), Michael Douglas (Charles Remington), Tom Wilkinson (Robert Beaumont), John Kani (Samuel), Bernard Hill (Dr. David Hawthorne), Brian McCardie (Angus Starling), Emily Mortimer (Helena Patterson) and Om Puri (Abdullah).


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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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Redbelt (2008, David Mamet)

I was apprehensive about Redbelt–mostly due to the awkward trailers–but it was totally unfounded. The film’s story, Mamet’s narrative, resists being abbreviated or advertised. It’s all very gradual, very quiet, which each scene building on the one previous. It’s probably Mamet’s finest film as a director, his widescreen composition is wonderful–there’s this one shot where Emily Mortimer’s head, in profile, sits in the center of the screen while she talks and it’s exceptional. Also because he forces himself to shut up. Instead of letting characters talk, he brings up Stephen Endelman’s essential score and lets the body language do the work. It’s a David Mamet film where silence is key.

Instead of being a thoughtful, intellectual approach to the karate movie (that long moth-balled genre), Mamet tells a story where the cost of the philosophy–paid so much lip-service in the genre–often outweighs its rewards. Actually, for much of Redbelt, it’s hard to see where there’s any reward, but Mamet manages to show it and does it in an amazing, big, booming Hollywood way and turns in it in perfectly. Redbelt, at times, reminded me of Ghost Dog, but told straight.

Mamet does get to do the rousing fight scene here and it might be, given the importance in the story and for the protagonist, the best fight scene ever in a film. It’s not the most visually dynamic, but the gravity of it… the following will sound a little glib, but Mamet also might have made the best superhero movie ever here too.

The cast hurts nothing. Obviously, Chiwetel Ejiofor turns in an outstanding, amazing performance, but he always seems to turn in those performances so it’s no surprise. There’s a great scene, Mortimer’s first class at the jujitsu academy, where Ejiofor just sits there for a moment. It’s a quiet scene, played from Mortimer’s confused perspective, but Ejiofor’s expression alone tells the viewer the answer to her question, before she even asks it. Mortimer’s good too, with Mamet giving her three great big scenes. Alice Braga is also good, even though Mamet intentionally doesn’t give her big scenes. The Mamet Repertory Actors–Ricky Jay, Joe Mantegna and Rebecca Pidgeon–are all good in smaller roles. Tim Allen’s turn as a burning-out Hollywood star is excellent, but it’s some of the unknowns who turn in the most affecting supporting performances. Max Martini has a vocal role and he’s great, but Jose Pablo Cantillo–in a nearly silent role–is almost as good.

Mamet, at his best, can make anything excellent (I always forget he’s a far from prolific director), can turn a genre film into an essential. Redbelt is Mamet at his best.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Mamet; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by Stephen Endelman; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Chrisann Verges; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mike Terry), Emily Mortimer (Laura Black), Alice Braga (Sondra Terry), Tim Allen (Chet Frank), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Snowflake), Rodrigo Santoro (Bruno Silva), Ricky Jay (Marty Brown), Joe Mantegna (Jerry Weiss), Rebecca Pidgeon (Zena Frank), David Paymer (Richard), Max Martini (Joe Collins) and John Machado (Augusto Silva).


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Match Point (2005, Woody Allen)

Woody gave an interview in “Entertainment Weekly” of all places and talked about how he’s gone through so many critical ups and downs, he’s not phased by Match Point‘s good press. It’s certainly his most commercial film in recent memory… probably since Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex … But Were Afraid to Ask. Really–it’s incredibly commercial. Thrillers are always commercial, even when they’re impeccably cast, written, directed, and scored. Match Point is really good, sure, but it’s not some amazing “return” for Allen.

I realized that–that Match Point and its praise, from people considered with box office potential–really early into the film, actually. Something about the pacing of the first act, maybe that it was set in London. It’s beautiful to see Allen do films in London, since he got to use some great actors–Ewen Bremner and Colin Salmon showed up for Alien vs. Predator reunion, for example. For all the great press Scarlett Johansson is getting, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is better. But I read once, I think in a review of Curse of the Jade Scorpion, that Woody makes the most profound observations about the human condition when it wouldn’t seem like he was trying… when he was most comfortable. Obviously, there are some flaws in this theory (yes, Broadway Danny Rose is profound, but so are September and Interiors), but Match Point isn’t a comfortable Woody Allen. The narrator isn’t Woody or even a facet of him.

As good as Match Point turns out–it owes a lot to Ealing comedies, I won’t spoil anymore–it’s not a better made film than Melinda and Melinda, which had story problems, but was the best filmmaking Allen’s done since… well, not that long. Sweet and Lowdown was a beautifully made film.

Match Point‘s only a revelation to people who think Woody’s gone somewhere. He hasn’t… so it’s just another good Woody Allen movie.

There are twenty-five other good ones too.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Letty Aronson, Gareth Wiley and Lucy Darwin; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Chris Wilton), Scarlett Johansson (Nola Rice), Emily Mortimer (Chloe Wilton), Matthew Goode (Tom Hewett), Brian Cox (Alec Hewett), Rupert Penry-Jones (Henry), Colin Salmon (Ian), Ewen Bremner (Inspector Dowd) and Penelope Wilton (Eleanor Hewett).