Radha Mitchell

Surrogates (2009, Jonathan Mostow)

So they take Bruce Willis and de-age him, but then they put Rosamund Pike in old age make-up? That one doesn’t make much sense.

Surrogates is another modern future concept movie–like iRobot or Minority Report–the future comes crashing down because of the movie star hero, there’s some kind of conspiracy involving the new technology, on and on it goes. Surrogates has a lot of potential, but it’s like Mostow doesn’t get it–they can throw people around and have them break, they can have this extensive chase scenes (robot vs. car), but Mostow only uses such devices sparingly.

The film runs less than ninety minutes and barely has time for one subplot, let alone any texture. The script’s, on a scenic level, okay; the film needed a firmer hand, kind of a mainstream Tati approach (the end reminds of Play Time, visually, for just a moment). Oliver Wood’s fantastic photography helps.

Surrogates doesn’t take any time to delve into the film’s society either–the concept of people piloting beautified versions of themselves around is incredibly interesting, but where are the broken down models people can’t afford to have repaired or the old ones. The logic only works when these robots equate to cars and the American devotion to them. But these aspects aren’t pitfalls, they’re missed opportunities. Instead of making a mainstream Play Time, it’s a Bruce Willis movie. And a short one.

It would have been amazing with Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange, for example.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Mostow; screenplay by Michael Ferris and John Brancato, based on the comic book by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Richard Marvin; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Max Handelman; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Bruce Willis (Tom Greer), Radha Mitchell (Peters), Rosamund Pike (Maggie), Boris Kodjoe (Stone), James Francis Ginty (Canter), James Cromwell (Older Canter), Ving Rhames (the Prophet), Michael Cudlitz (Colonel Brendon) and Jack Noseworthy (Strickland).


Phone Booth (2002, Joel Schumacher)

IMDb doesn’t mention it, but I thought one of the problems with getting Phone Booth made (it went through countless potential leading men) was the script and screenwriter Larry Cohen’s contract–i.e. no one could be brought in to make it, you know, good.

The film’s a piece of crap and it’s too bad because some of the acting is amazing. Colin Farrell’s great until he says he’s from the Bronx, then that image falls apart–Cohen’s script, not surprisingly, is set in the seedier 1980s New York, but with some updates for modernity. It’s almost exactly like it would have played out if Cohen had made it himself on a hundred thousand back when he was making his own pictures for theatrical release. I don’t know how many Larry Cohen movies I’ve seen, but all of a sudden, I remembered his schlock when watching Phone Booth.

Schumacher doesn’t bring anything to the picture except mediocre composition and annoying split screen shots. He knows he’s getting a great performance out of Farrell and he lets him run with it. Unfortunately, none of the other principals are any good. They aren’t bad, but it’s the kind of role Forest Whitaker has been playing since The Color of Money, only without the reveal of the hustle. Radha Mitchell and Katie Holmes have both done much, much better work (it’s the atrocious writing).

However, John Enos III gives a spectacular performance in a small role.

At least it runs less than eighty minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; written by Larry Cohen; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Mark Stevens; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Andrew Laws; produced by Gil Netter and David Zucker; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Colin Farrell (Stu Shepard), Kiefer Sutherland (the Caller), Forest Whitaker (Captain Ramey), Radha Mitchell (Kelly Shepard), Katie Holmes (Pamela McFadden), Paula Jai Parker (Felicia), John Enos III (Leon) and Ben Foster as the Big Q.


Thick as Thieves (2009, Mimi Leder)

Maybe ten years ago, Thick as Thieves wouldn’t be a direct-to-DVD release (it’s actually a hit, which is kind of scary). Ten years ago, Mimi Leder hadn’t bombed out with Pay It Forward, Antonio Banderas movies–most of them–were still opening in theaters. Morgan Freeman usually gets even a limited release out of his more vanity projects.

But Thick as Thieves (or The Code, the also inexplicable title for DVD) isn’t a vanity project. It’s an attempt at a heist movie with a couple film personalities in it, putting it in the same sub-genre as films like Desperate Measures and, I don’t know, something else with Andy Garcia in it after it was clear he wasn’t going to break through.

Leder’s a terrible director. She was always bad–her positive buzz was based entirely, as I recall, on her “ER” experience–but now she does fast-forwarded shots and all sorts of other malarky for a movie with seventy-two year-old Freeman and forty-nine year-old Banderas. The film doesn’t acknowledge their ages, but since one is supposed to watch it with them in mind as actors not characters, it’s inevitable.

The script’s dumb. Ted Humphrey’s script’s desperate for flavor and has none.

The acting’s fine. Freeman is solid (is he ever bad? I didn’t see those Ashley Judd movies), Banderas is fine. Radha Mitchell is okay. Rade Serbedzija and Robert Forster both pretend they’re in a real movie.

Still, an inoffensive time killer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mimi Leder; written by Ted Humphrey; director of photography, Julio Macat; edited by Martin Nicholson; music by Atli Örvarsson; production designer, Nelson Coates; produced by Randall Emmett, Avi Lerner, Danny Lerner, Johnny Martin, Lori McCreary and Les Weldon; released by First Look International.

Starring Morgan Freeman (Keith Ripley), Antonio Banderas (Gabriel Martin), Radha Mitchell (Alexandra Korolenko), Robert Forster (Weber) and Rade Serbedzija (Nicky).


Rogue (2007, Greg Mclean)

Rogue isn’t just hard to describe, it is–as I try–impossible. While the box cover (it didn’t get a U.S. theatrical release) certainly identifies it as a giant crocodile movie, it’s a lot more. Starting with that description–the giant crocodile movie–Rogue‘s already unique. It’s the only movie of its type (the larger than previously believed possible man-eating animal) where no one ever comments on the size of the animal. It’s visibly monstrous and the people are too busy being terrified–Rogue has a short, pseudo-real time present action–to ponder the animal’s dimensions.

The terror is another strange feature of Rogue. Lead–the movie opens with him, so he’s got to be the lead–Michael Vartan has the most atypical character arc I can remember. He actually assumes the traditional role of a lead female protagonist in a horror film. He kept reminding me of Jamie Lee Curtis in the third act. He spent the first two thirds terrified (though still masculine, but calm among the panicking machismo) to eventually overcome that fear with his intelligence. It works.

Writer and director Greg Mclean’s approach to the material is also what makes Rogue so peculiar. Much of Mclean’s approach is realistic. He populates the film with an interesting disaster movie cast of people–the somewhat bickering married couple, the cancer survivor and her family (including the young daughter who–shockingly–isn’t put in empty peril time and again), the annoying camera junkie and the widower out to spread his wife’s ashes. Mclean handles all of them subtly and respectfully–in some ways, it’s hard to believe the shark–sorry, croc–attack is coming.

Vartan fails in these scenes, since he’s not really on par with the excellent character actors Mclean cast as the fellow bait. Radha Mitchell does quite a bit better, but Sam Worthington’s the big surprise. Not just because Mclean’s script does very well by Worthington’s character, but also because he’s able to convey so much in a few lines. And eventually Vartan gets better.

But back to Mclean’s approach. Rogue‘s very referential to genre standards–particularly the Jaws films, especially with the introduction to the characters and then various little things–and the film is aware of them and is aware the viewer is aware of them. But there’s a barrier. The characters are never aware of their place in a film standard, but Mclean also manages to be incredibly hokey–super-earnest about the fantastic premise–and get away with it. It’s a sublime move and makes the whole experience all the more engaging. It’s impossible to dismiss the film.

Mclean’s also an amazing technical director. For the first two thirds of Rogue, every one of Mclean’s shots is perfect. He shoots with a deep focus, Will Gibson’s cinematography mesmerizingly vibrant. The film is a wonder to behold. Between Mclean’s river boat tour to the long night time sequence where the cast tries to escape the crocodile, there isn’t a single false step. Mclean knows what he’s doing.

Rogue–the title has nothing to do with the content, at least not in any of the content presented to the viewer–is a great little big movie. Understanding how it works would require a lot more viewings, because there’s just so much to the film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Greg Mclean; director of photography, Will Gibson; edited by Jason Ballantine; music by Frank Tetaz; production designer, Robert Webb; produced by Matt Hearn, David Lightfoot and Mclean; released by Roadshow Entertainment.

Starring Radha Mitchell (Kate Ryan), Michael Vartan (Pete McKell), Sam Worthington (Neil Kelly), Caroline Brazier (Mary Ellen), Stephen Curry (Simon), Celia Ireland (Gwen), John Jarratt (Russell), Heather Mitchell (Elizabeth), Geoff Morrell (Allen), Damien Richardson (Collin), Robert Taylor (Everett Kennedy), Mia Wasikowska (Sherry) and Barry Otto (Merv).


Mozart and the Whale (2005, Petter Næss)

I’ve only been looking forward to this damn movie for two years. It missed its theatrical release date, but there’s probably a DVD on the way (which would have been the source of my illicit copy). It’s perfectly understandable why the film missed the date… it lacks any relatable center. My fiancée just said she wants a movie that shows the real difficulties of autism–Mozart doesn’t, because you can’t center a movie around someone operating on such a different level. The result, for Mozart and the Whale, is that Josh Hartnett isn’t really that bad… neither’s Rahda Mitchell. Their problems aren’t autism problems, they’re romantic drama-lite problems….

Mozart and the Whale was going to be the comeback of Ron Bass, who got a lot of work from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, when people finally got sick of him. He probably shouldn’t have staked it all on a Demi Moore vehicle (Passion of the Mind). It’s a shallow film, weighing in at ninety minutes. Many of these minutes are filled with music montages (not score, unfamiliar, but pleasant, songs). I spent the first half of it waiting for something to happen (hoping that Gary Cole was going to be Hartnett’s father and there’d be some more meat to the conflict)… but no. There’s no real conflict in Mozart, which would have been fine, it’s just that there was an attempt at it. A weighty attempt at it. Bass is famous for empty, dramatic endings and Mozart is no different.

It’s too bad, because Næss is an interesting director. Mozart doesn’t look like anything except itself, which is a lovely thing to be able to say about a newish director. He’s from Norway, so maybe that played a part… Oddly, for a film without a US theatrical release and a ninety minute running time, Mozart actually shot in the US. You can tell it throughout (I didn’t know where the location was–it’s Spokane) and the film has a nice feel.

The acting in the film is difficult to discuss–my fiancée gleefully pointed out I’d no longer be able to say Hartnett’s his generation’s finest actor, but he gives a great supporting performance in Mozart. If Mozart and the Whale had been about Billy Crudup banging his autistic brother’s girlfriend or something, Hartnett’s performance would have been extraordinary. It’s a character part in the lead… Mitchell (who I was really looking forward to seeing after Melinda and Melinda) ranges. The film misses her character’s best opportunity.

I wonder if there is a longer, better version of the film out there–there are a few moments, jumps in visual continuity, that certainly suggest it. But I’m not sure it would make much of a difference.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Petter Næss; written by Ronald Bass; director of photography, Svein Krøvel; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin and Miklos Wright; music by Deborah Lurie; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by James Acheson, Bass, Boaz Davidson, Frank DeMartini and Robert Lawrence; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Donald Morton), Radha Mitchell (Isabelle Sorenson), Gary Cole (Wallace), Sheila Kelley (Janice), Erica Leerhsen (Bronwin), John Carroll Lynch (Gregory), Nate Mooney (Roger), Rusty Schwimmer (Gracie), Robert Wisdom (Blume), Allen Evangelista (Skeets), Kelly B. Eviston (Dr. Trask) and Jhon Goodwin (Rodney).


Melinda and Melinda (2004, Woody Allen)

Woody Allen has written around thirty films, probably thirty-four. Ten of these films are some of the finest in the last thirty years, give or take. But he tries something new in Melinda and Melinda and it doesn’t work.

Of his recent work, his post-Miramax period, Melinda is the second strongest–Curse of the Jade Scorpion holding the title. His work hasn’t been astounding, but it’s still good work. Melinda and Melinda had the potential, the writing, and the cast to be his best film in twelve years or so. Wait, I forgot about Sweet and Lowdown. Anyway, when I said Woody tried something new, he screwed up his narrative and ruined the film’s effectiveness.

Melinda and Melinda has three concurrent stories. The reality one: two playwrights, one comedic, one dramatic, at dinner and then each playwright’s story of the titular Melinda. Since neither of these stories is real, but are told with lovely care for their characters, the effect is something annoying (unlike the similarly afflicted, but unmoving The Usual Suspects).

And it’s too bad, because Woody’s got his best cast in years in this film. A bunch of people who, shockingly in some cases, turn in great performances. Chloë Sevigny is great, but we all know that–but Jonny Lee Miller? I had no idea. Amanda Peet continues to impress (her turn in What Women Want starting this run) and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I’ve never seen in anything much less heard the name, is quite good too. Will Ferrell does a couple too many Woody impressions but is fine otherwise. Touching, even, in some parts.

As the eponymous Melinda, Rhada Mitchell occasionally loses her American accent, but is rather good. Melinda isn’t the protagonist, however. Ferrell is in one story, Sevigny in the other. Melinda isn’t the subject either, instead, Woody uses her as the catalyst, which would work great if the stories had weight. Worse, one story ends before the other, jarring the viewer into realizing the uselessness of his or her investment in the film.

Still, the film is beautifully directed, with amazing Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography, and is still quite good overall. I haven’t seen a Woody Allen film in about a year and watching one always produces a nice feeling. A feeling that the world isn’t empty of art. (Except maybe Bullets Over Broadway or Another Woman).

Narrative device warts and all, he’s just so damn good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Santo Loquasto; produced by Letty Aronson; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Radha Mitchell (Melinda), Chloë Sevigny (Laurel), Jonny Lee Miller (Lee), Will Ferrell (Hobie), Amanda Peet (Susan), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Ellis), Wallace Shawn (Sy) and Josh Brolin (Greg).


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