Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

White Sands (1992, Roger Donaldson)

It’s not hard to identify the problem with White Sands. Daniel Pyne’s script is terrible. His characters often act without motivation and the double and triple crosses he writes into the plot never have any pay-off. It doesn’t help director Donaldson sees himself–and not incorrectly to a point–doing a desert noir in the vein of Touch of Evil. But Sands is too big for a desert noir and Donaldson doesn’t have any tricks, except good Panavision composition, once the desert element runs out.

There are a lot of good performances in the film–Donaldson casted a lot of fine character actors–but Willem Dafoe is an ineffective lead. A lot of that deficiency is the script’s fault, but Dafoe doesn’t bring any implied depth. It’s a casting misfire (bad guy Mickey Rourke, who’s quite good, would have been a better lead).

Samuel L. Jackson, M. Emmet Walsh, Miguel Sandoval, John P. Ryan and Fred Dalton Thompson all provide texture to the supporting cast. Walsh isn’t doing anything new and Jackson gets off to a rocky start, but they’re fine. The only other misfire is Maura Tierney, who’s absurd.

As Dafoe’s erstwhile romantic interest, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is okay. If the script were better and gave her a real part (she doesn’t even show up until a half hour in), she’d do better.

There’s excellent photography from Peter Menzies Jr. and Patrick O’Hearn’s score often makes Sands seem like a better film.

With a rewrite, it would’ve been.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Daniel Pyne; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Nicholas Beauman; music by Patrick O’Hearn; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Scott Rudin and William Sackheim; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Willem Dafoe (Ray Dolezal), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lane Bodine), Mickey Rourke (Gorman Lennox), Samuel L. Jackson (Greg Meeker), Miguel Sandoval (FBI Agent Ruiz), M. Emmet Walsh (Bert Gibson), James Rebhorn (FBI Agent Flynn), John Lafayette (FBI Agent Demott), Maura Tierney (Noreen), Alexander Nicksay (Ben Dolezal), John P. Ryan (Arms Dealer), Fred Dalton Thompson (Arms Dealer) and Mimi Rogers (Molly Dolezal).


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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991, Kevin Reynolds), the extended version

It’s sort of amazing how little personality Kevin Reynolds brings to Robin Hood. I suppose his direction is adequate, but his shots are absent any creativity. Of course, maybe the shots were very creative and then Michael Kamen’s score–a combining, for the most part, of his Die Hard and Lethal Weapon scores–came in and ruined it all.

There are strong elements to the film. Alan Rickman, in the other major Die Hard connection, takes the idea of a sinister villain and turns him instead into comic relief, while maintaining the villainous attitude. Reynolds’s best direction is of Rickman, as Reynolds seems to understand what he’s doing.

Morgan Freeman, Nick Brimble and Michael Wincott are all good. Freeman’s Moor among the Englishmen is some of the script’s sillier developments (oh, wait, I forgot Geraldine McEwan’s witch).

Christian Slater is bad; Michael McShane’s Friar Tuck is weak.

As for the leads–Kevin Costner is appealing enough, if way too old to be playing the character as written. And then there’s the issue of his hair–he’d need a hair stylist in Sherwood Forest every day to get that bouffant style going. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio disappears for long stretches (the film’s too long by about a half hour but the script’s structure needs time to play out) but she’s fine. She’s not in it enough to really make an impression.

Robin Hood’s generally a tolerable blockbuster. Better composition–and consistent photography (Douglas Milsome is all over the place)–would have helped.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Reynolds; screenplay by Pen Densham and John Watson, based on a story by Densham; director of photography, Douglas Milsome; edited by Peter Boyle; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Densham, Watson and Richard Barton Lewis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Robin Hood), Morgan Freeman (Azeem), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Marian Dubois), Christian Slater (Will Scarlett), Alan Rickman (Sheriff George of Nottingham), Geraldine McEwan (Mortianna), Michael McShane (Friar Tuck), Brian Blessed (Lord Locksley), Michael Wincott (Guy of Gisborne) and Nick Brimble (Little John).


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The Abyss (1989, James Cameron), the special edition

Running almost three hours, the special edition of The Abyss manages to be too long in an interesting way. It forgets its story. There’s about an hour there with the valiant undersea oil workers battling the psychotic military man–there’s fight scenes and chase scenes and drama scenes and all sorts of scenes… just nothing about the movie’s actual story, which is something to do with space aliens saving the human race from itself. Cameron’s thesis is incredibly naive and also a fantastic cop-out. Thanks to some newsreel footage of Americans being asked about being on the brink with the Soviets, its clear Cameron puts all the blame for xenophobia on the military. It’s a very, very goofy move… and wholly lifted from 2010 (I think from both the book and the movie).

But The Abyss is highly derivative. Cameron borrows storytelling techniques from all the finest sources (Irwin Allen mostly) and comes up with a rather amusing, well-acted undersea action melodrama. It’s perfectly fine. Well, except Michael Biehn. As the nutso Navy SEAL, Biehn’s supposed to be suffering from the bends and, therefore, not responsible for going insane. Except, with a few exceptions, Cameron never goes and makes Biehn anything but a nutso jerk even before the insanity sets in. And Biehn doesn’t even try to work it in as a subtext. He’s the movie villain. He’s not all together bad, but he’s not good.

Almost every performance is excellent, otherwise (except Christopher Murphy, who Cameron appears to have cast from a weightlifting advertisement). In particular, Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Both are good throughout, but it’s really at the end when they excel, when they’re acting by themselves. Harris can’t talk and does everything with his eyes, Mastrantonio can’t move and does everything in close-up with her voice. Spectacular acting from the two of them, so much so, when they finally to get back to regular scenes… Cameron’s script is a real letdown. Supporting-wise, Todd Graff, Kimberly Scott, Leo Burmester are all great in the most vocal (and funny) roles. John Bedford Lloyd is also good, in a much quieter part.

Cameron’s direction of groups is impressive, even if the editing doesn’t always match. He gives everyone something to do and, as he has lots of group shots, it makes The Abyss a congenial experience (which is why it doesn’t feel like three hours).

But the movie fails–thanks to Cameron’s goofy ending–when it should succeed. For a few moments, Cameron gets close to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then manages to screw it all up with his pedestrian plotting. He cut two scripts together–Ed Harris vs. Rambo underwater, underwater aliens make their presence known–and somehow, in three hours, didn’t achieve either.

I need to take a moment to comment on Alan Silvestri’s highly derivative (of his own work) score. There’s a lot of good material, but then there’s a lot of mediocre. And maybe even some bad.

So it fits The Abyss well, I suppose.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Cameron; director of photography, Mikael Salomon; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Joel Goodman, Howard E. Smith and Steven Quale; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Van Ling; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ed Harris (Bud), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lindsey), Michael Biehn (Coffey), Leo Burmester (Catfish), Todd Graff (Hippy), John Bedford Lloyd (Jammer), J.C. Quinn (Sonny), Kimberly Scott (One Night), Captain Kidd Brewer Jr. (Lew Finler), George Robert Klek (Wilhite), Christopher Murphy (Schoenick), Adam Nelson (Ensign Monk), Dick Warlock (Dwight Perry), Jimmie Ray Weeks (Leland McBride), J. Kenneth Campbell (DeMarco), Ken Jenkins (Kirkhill) and Chris Elliott (Bendix).


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Class Action (1991, Michael Apted)

With Conrad L. Hall shooting it and James Horner (pre-Titanic and fame) scoring, Class Action is great looking and sounding. Apted’s composition is frequently excellent. But it’s a vehicle for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and it, rather unfortunately, eventually just works on that vehicle level. There’s no real surprises, no real content… just running time with good acting, directing and production values and nothing else. Class Action isn’t even an exciting courtroom drama. There are maybe three scenes in court. Most of the movie is Mastrantonio realizing she doesn’t want to be a heartless corporate lawyer and, given how evil her bosses act, it’s not a surprise.

There is one excellent underlying detail to the movie though–with Mastrantonio playing Gene Hackman’s daughter and Larry Fishburne playing his protégé, the film actually takes the time to acknowledge (but not explore, which is realistic but not necessarily the best move in such an anorexic story) their complicated relationship. The scenes with Mastrantonio and Fishburne are her best, mostly because her other relationships are generic. She’s mad at Dad, so those scenes have to play a certain way. The scenes with love interest Colin Friels are troublesome (as is Friels’s one note performance), because it’s unbelievable she’d ever be with him.

As for Hackman… he’s great in the scenes with Mastrantonio. Her worst and his best (she’s good throughout and excellent in parts, just not those). Even though Hall’s lighting is most loving for Mastrantonio (her skin glows), he’s very soft on Hackman too. The other Hackman scenes are somewhat standard Hackman material, but in the scenes with Mastrantonio, he’s exercising some of his other acting muscles.

The supporting cast–besides Jonathan Silverman (his performance in this one is indistinguishable from, say, Weekend at Bernie’s)–is solid, Jan Rubes, Fred Dalton Thompson and Matt Clark being the standouts. And Fishburne, of course.

Class Action is fine, but had it definitely gone either way–legal drama, family drama–it would have been in better shape. But for a movie written by a couple “Growing Pains” writers, it’s pretty good.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Apted; written by Carolyn Shelby, Christopher Ames and Samantha Shad; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Ian Crafford; music by James Horner; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Ted Field, Scott Kroopf and Robert W. Cort; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Hackman (Jedediah Tucker Ward), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Maggie Ward), Colin Friels (Michael Grazier), Joanna Merlin (Estelle Ward), Laurence Fishburne (Nick Holbrook), Donald Moffat (Fred Quinn), Jan Rubes (Alexander Pavel), Matt Clark (Judge R. Symes), Fred Dalton Thompson (Dr. George Getchell), Jonathan Silverman (Brian), Joan McMurtrey (Ann) and Anne Ramsay (Deborah).


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