Tag Archives: Michael Mann

The Last of the Mohicans (1992, Michael Mann)

One of the particularly amazing parts of The Last of the Mohicans is how quietly director Mann lays out big pieces of the film. The relationship between Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Means and Eric Schweig–Day-Lewis as adopted son to Means and adopted brother to Schweig–is complex and moving and Mann spends almost no time establishing it in dialogue. Certainly not the heavy lifting. The heavy lifting is the choreography of how the men hunt together in the first scene. Later, when they're battling the French or their Native American allies, their movements show the relationship.

For the romance between Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe, however, Mann goes the other route. The directness moves Stowe from third tier–behind Steven Waddington as her suitor and Day-Lewis's annoyance–to first. Hers is the film's most difficult role because she's the only one in the film making a huge journey. Mann establishes her character through dialogue in quiet scenes and in louder ones, it's all Stowe. Expressions, movements. It's a phenomenal performance.

And it needs to be to go up against Day-Lewis. He's transfixing.

Great supporting work from Means, Schweig, Wes Studi, Maurice Roëves and Patrice Chéreau. Jodhi May's good too, but doesn't have the same depth of material. Though she handles the implications of hers well.

The editing–from Dov Hoenig and Arthur Schmidt–the music–from Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones–and the photography–from Dante Spinotti–are all magnificent. Spinotti and Mann create expressive moments out of still shots of the scenery.

Mohicans is a truly wondrous piece of work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann and Christopher Crowe, based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper and a screenplay by Philip Dunne, John L. Balderston, Paul Perez and Daniel Moore; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dov Hoenig and Arthur Schmidt; music by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Mann and Hunt Lowry; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Hawkeye), Madeleine Stowe (Cora Munro), Russell Means (Chingachgook), Eric Schweig (Uncas), Jodhi May (Alice Munro), Steven Waddington (Maj. Duncan Heyward), Maurice Roëves (Col. Edmund Munro), Patrice Chéreau (Gen Montcalm), Edward Blatchford (Jack Winthrop), Terry Kinney (John Cameron) and Wes Studi (Magua).


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The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

For almost fifty percent of its run time, every shot one of Michael Mann and Alex Thomson’s shots in The Keep is extraordinary. Mann’s seems more concerned with precise composition than he does narrative and Thomson’s photography perfectly complements it. So, while the film isn’t much good in its first half, at least it’s wondrous to watch.

Then there’s the second half, after Ian McKellen (as a sickly historian) and Alberta Watson (as his daughter) show up. Maybe The Keep is supposed to be a metaphor for Watson losing her virginity and abandonment and loss or something, but it’s not. It’s a complete mess and a soap opera between Watson and Scott Glenn (as a savior figure) doesn’t help simplify it. Worse, their romance–and McKellen’s decision to, as a Jew, to side with a demonic evil against the Nazis–confuses the things Mann’s able to do right in The Keep.

Except the German army is about all Mann does right. He’s ripping off Das Boot–with Jürgen Prochnow as the sympathetic Wehrmacht commander who doesn’t care for the Nazi stuff. It’s a decent enough rip-off and not uninteresting (Nazis versus demons). Gabriel Byrne shows up as the S.S. guy and bickers with Prochnow before they both disappear so Mann can focus on McKellen.

Prochnow’s okay, Byrne’s great, McKellen’s awful, Watson’s weak, Glenn’s unintentionally hilarious. Mann’s dialogue and plotting is terrible. There’s nothing good about the film except the special effects and Thomson’s photography.

At least it’s relatively short.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, John Box; produced by Gene Kirkwood and Hawk Koch; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Scott Glenn (Glaeken Trismegestus), Alberta Watson (Eva Cuza), Jürgen Prochnow (Captain Klaus Woermann), Robert Prosky (Father Mihail Fonescu), Gabriel Byrne (Major Kaempffer), William Morgan Sheppard (Alexandru) and Ian McKellen (Dr. Theodore Cuza).


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Thief (1981, Michael Mann)

With Thief, Mann leaves plain an American standard–the gangster movie. Halfway through the film, I wondered how it fit, as the energy the film opens with is gone. The film moves these awkwardly handled scenes without much flare. These scenes are presented as the standard dramatic scenes, but with something not quite right about the storytelling in these very familiar scenes. Then it becomes clear.

During the big jewel heist–which Mann could play as an audio and visual feast, but doesn’t–instead he sucks the romance out of the cinematic glitz. In the dystopian bleakness of Thief, nothing matters (not a philosophy Mann could hold on to for long), not friends, not family.

As protagonist James Caan moves through this mobster’s house, even though it’s a crime figure’s home, it’s lived in, versus Caan’s, which looks like a photograph. Seeing Caan in that setting, it’s clear how his presence in that house, in everyone else’s lives too, reveals it all to be a complete illusion. Anything not as bleak and empty as Caan is false.

Caan is great. Tuesday Weld is great. James Belushi’s really good, which is odd, as is Robert Prosky. Willie Nelson is good in his two scenes.

In the second of Nelson’s scenes, it’s clear Caan’s not a reliable narrator and Mann forces a barrier between the audience and the film. The film exists on its own. The characters aren’t beholden to the viewing experience of the audience. Thief‘s contemptuous of such a relationship.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay and story by Mann, based on a book by John Seybold; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Ronnie Caan; released by United Artists.

Starring James Caan (Frank), Tuesday Weld (Jessie), Willie Nelson (Okla), James Belushi (Barry), Robert Prosky (Leo), Tom Signorelli (Attaglia), Dennis Farina (Carl), Nick Nickeas (Nick), W.R. Brown (Mitch), Norm Tobin (Guido) and John Santucci (Urizzi).


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Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann), the director’s cut

Michael Mann’s director’s cuts are sometimes large and sometimes small. They usually include music changes. In the case of Miami Vice, he adds an opening, changes some music and does a few little things. It’s too bad, because even though it having an opening works out nice, neither of these major choices seem to be good ones. The opening introduces the cops’ speedboat racing team. They later use the same boat while undercover. It’s got their team name on the side. The change of music at the end starts out all right, but leaves the big shootout with some terrible scoring after the song runs out.

Watching Miami Vice on HD-DVD, it almost looks worse than it did in the theater. The DV makes it look like a sitcom. This viewing made it crystal clear what the big deal is about Mann using the DV. The actors have to work two or three times harder–only Colin Farrell manages it with any dignity–while Mann gets to cop out and do whatever he wants with the DV. There are some cool sequences in Miami Vice, but they never look good in high-def. They look like CG or the new “Grand Theft Auto.” The only time it ever looks good is the night shooting, when the sky is visible and the DV actually can photograph the differing colors well. I’ve seen DV well-lighted–from art school students no less–and it is not well-lighted in Miami Vice. Dion Beebe is an exceptionally unimpressive cinematographer.

The real problem is Mann’s script. He makes everyone in the movie, when he’s not borrowing his Manhunter lines, talk like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro do in Heat. Farrell can manage, so can Jamie Foxx to some degree (it’s sort of amazing how little Mann gives Jamie Foxx to do in the film), but when Naomie Harris starts doing it? It’s silly. There’s lots of bad acting in Miami Vice too. Barry Shabaka Henley stumbles through Mann’s dialogue, while Li Gong tries but just doesn’t work. It’s not believable her character wouldn’t speak English better.

John Ortiz’s evil villain starts out okay, but Mann reduces him to comic book status later on and it’s just bad.

I don’t know if I was expecting the director’s cut to help much–there’s still absolutely no partnership between Foxx and Farrell in the film–but I was expecting hi-def to make it look better.

I also don’t know how I feel about Mann always screwing up the music in his revisions. He kills the momentum at the end of Miami Vice and doesn’t even bother saving it from a jarring cut between the final shot and the credits.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the television series created by Anthony Yerkovich; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell; music by John Murphy; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by Mann and Pieter Jan Brugge; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Colin Farrell (Sonny Crockett), Jamie Foxx (Ricardo Tubbs), Li Gong (Isabella), Naomie Harris (Trudy Joplin), Ciaran Hinds (Agent Fujima), Justin Theroux (Zito), Barry Shabaka Henley (Lt. Castillo), Luis Tosar (Montoya), John Ortiz (José Yero) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gina).


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