Tag Archives: Natasha Henstridge

Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)

Ghost of Mars has a lot of earnestness going for it. Director Carpenter needs quite a bit his cast and he supports them even when they’re clearly not able to succeed–especially lead Natasha Henstridge. He takes the project seriously, his cast takes it seriously. Sure, it doesn’t exactly work out, but it’s not from lack of effort.

Some of the problem is the editing. Carpenter and editor Paul C. Warschilka do these crossfades, which might be an attempt to obfuscate the low budget. And Carpenter pushes with the crossfades at the start. Then he drops them once the action gets going. They’re only for the lead-up to the action, when Ghosts is more horror than action. At least in terms of strange creatures lurking in the night and Carpenter trying to disturb the viewer instead of enthrall them. In a strange turn, instead of tasking cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe with hiding the low budget and instilling mood, Carpenter relies on Warschilka.

It actually might be for the best, given the acting.

So Henstridge. While she’s not good and she’s sometimes bad, she tries hard at playing her part. She’s a badass future cop on Mars who has to save the day, teaming up with Ice Cube’s outlaw. Cube’s all right. He maybe gives the best lead performance, but he doesn’t have much competition. Jason Statham isn’t any good, though he eventually becomes likable. Clea DuVall is in a similar situation. She’s not good–her part is even worse than Statham’s–but she’s immediately likable. Thanks to the editing. Joanna Cassidy’s probably the best performance and she’s very supporting. Pam Grier sort of troopers through it. She knows how to do the material, she knows how to direct attention.

But then there’s the narrative construction. Carpenter doesn’t waste time establishing the characters as sympathetic, instead he uses a framing device to interest the viewer in the story. Again, it’s somewhat effective just because it covers Henstridge’s acting failings. It also shakes up the narrative a bit. Carpenter’s not as interested in being interesting as encouraging interest. Not just in terms of the rising action, but in the ground situation. Ghosts of Mars goes out of its way to be unique, even when it doesn’t help the narrative or the character development. The setup for the Mars society is all unnecessary filler. It distracts and just gives the actors problems.

Overall, Ghosts of Mars isn’t a success, but it’s a decent enough diversion. Carpenter and the cast put enough into it to get over the many bumps in the production. It’s more of an accomplishment, given its constraints, than anything else.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Larry Sulkis and Carpenter; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Paul C. Warschilka; music by Carpenter; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Sandy King; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Natasha Henstridge (Lieutenant Melanie Ballard), Ice Cube (Desolation Williams), Jason Statham (Sgt. Jericho Butler), Pam Grier (Commander Helena Braddock), Clea DuVall (Bashira Kincaid), Liam Waite (Michael Descanso), Joanna Cassidy (Whitlock) and Rosemary Forsyth (Inquisitor).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 4: THE MUNDANE YEARS.

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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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Deception (2008, Marcel Langenegger)

Here’s a surprising one. I was ready to say director Langenegger was a music video director who learned how to calm it down for a theatrical, but it appears he’s just a commercial director. For most of Deception, I was just letting myself enjoy the technical. Langenegger’s composition, Dante Spinotti’s photography and Ramin Djawadi’s music (Djawadi is an essential for the formula) made Deception one of the better looking modern films I can remember, certainly coming out of an American studio. Langenegger takes traditional montage techniques and applies them to regular scenes and makes everything work. Oh, the sound–great sound design.

The story’s pretty simple. First it’s Fight Club only with a sex club, then it’s conned protagonist unraveling the web movie. Mark Bomback’s script is middling, with the occasional bad dialogue exchange. The beauty of Deception is how little the script matters, given Langenegger’s direction.

But the direction apparently did not extend to the hiring of Ewan McGregor’s dialect couch. McGregor’s American accent in this one sounds like Woody Allen. Really. I kept waiting, in the first half, for there to be some reason for it to sound like Woody Allen, as it’s set in New York (and beautifully shot there). But there’s no reason. McGregor being good, he manages not to let the accent get in the way of his performance. It doesn’t hurt the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. I suppose Charlotte Rampling has the largest of the smaller roles, but even Margaret Colin, in her minute and a half, lends the film some really acting credibility. The direction, these smaller roles, they give Deception a credibility the general lameness (it’s all been done before) of the script saps. Not to mention McGregor’s goofy accent.

For the majority of the film, the three other principals are solid as well. Hugh Jackman toggles nicely between creepy and charming. Michelle Williams is fine as the object of McGregor’s affections. Lisa Gay Hamilton is good as the police detective.

Then the film enters the third act and everything changes, not so much for the story, it’s a natural narrative development, but what the film achieves. The end finally incorporates the actors into that filmmaking euphoria and Deception skyrockets (Williams is fantastic). Bomback doesn’t even go for the cheap ending, which I’d been expecting the whole time too.

Good acting and good filmmaking will often improve a weak script, but, comparative to what Deception was achieving (being a diverting lower budget studio thriller) to what it finally does achieve… I think Henry Fool‘s the last one with such a bump. Fool‘s was a far higher boost, but–as a lower budget studio thriller–Deception‘s is no less significant, given its ambitions.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Marcel Langenegger; written by Mark Bomback; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Christian Wagner and Douglas Crise; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Arnold Rifkin, John Palermo, Hugh Jackman, Robbie Brenner, David Bushell and Christopher Eberts; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Wyatt Bose), Ewan McGregor (Jonathan McQuarry), Michelle Williams (S), Lisa Gay Hamilton (Detective Russo), Maggie Q (Tina), Natasha Henstridge (Wall Street Analyst), Lynn Cohen (Woman), Danny Burstein (Clute Controller), Malcolm Goodwin (Cabbie), Dante Spinotti (Herr Kleiner/Mr. Moretti), Bill Camp (Clancey Controller), Lisa Kron (Receptionist), Margaret Colin (Ms. Pomerantz) and Charlotte Rampling (Wall Street Belle).


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