Welcome to my column dedicated to the appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Mortal Thoughts from the After Dark Neo-Noir Cinema box set from Imprint Films. My review of Mortal Thoughts will be part one of a series chronicling each film within the box set.
I’ve spent many years picking up physical media discs, selling off a bunch, picking up more, and the cycle continues to this day. The swapping of discs in my collection happens more frequently than I would like to admit. I’m almost positive I have owned the same disc more than once during my years of collecting. While I may not remember them all, I do recall that Mortal Thoughts graced my collection at one point. The film was a blind buy, but the idea of a neo-noir starring Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, and Harvey Keitel told within a Rashomon-style flashback structure appealed to me. I watched it and, thinking back on it, vaguely remembered a bland story with unlikeable characters. The movie didn’t leave a positive impression and didn’t have me wanting to rewatch it anytime soon. So at some point, I sold it off and moved on with my life.
Cut to 2022; the Australian boutique label Imprint Films announces a physical media release for the ages: six neo-noir films from the 1990s compiled into one box set. I immediately pre-ordered the release, knowing it was right up my alley. Lo-and-behold, one of the discs is my old pal, Mortal Thoughts. It looked like I would be giving the film a second chance. Was it any better the second go-around?
Not really. Unfortunately, the same issues I had with the film many years ago still rub me the wrong way. While I did appreciate the acting, especially from Harvey Keitel, the film is a slog to get through. The seediness of the New Jersey helps set the dark mood, but the characters and script sunk Mortal Thoughts for me. The idea and look are there, but the elements did not come together to create an entertaining experience.
Just because I didn’t enjoy the film—doesn’t mean the supplemental material didn’t work either. Even for someone who didn’t enjoy Mortal Thoughts, I did find enjoyment elsewhere on the disc!
On the bonus feature side, Imprint Films did an excellent job compiling plenty of supplemental material for fans of Mortal Thoughts and those, like myself, seeking out additional factoids outside of the feature.
The first feature, “Murder Most Foul,” is an interview with executive producer Taylor Hackford. Hackford talks about how he came upon the script, the casting, the production, and his thoughts on the final product. I had read about production difficulties on the film’s set, but I didn’t know the minutiae. Hackford goes into the wacky way that the Mortal Thoughts script came into his possession and the trouble with the initial director. I don’t want to spoil what went on, but it’s a doozy and worth discovering on your own. Outside of that, Hackford speaks honestly about his production company’s woes at the time of funding Mortal Thoughts and touches on the not-so-subtle product placement of Dunkin’ Donuts. “Murder Most Foul” is an excellent interview, and Hackford makes for an engaging subject.
“Troubled Dreams” is an interview with Production Designer Howard Cummings and Art Director Bob Shaw. “Troubled Dreams” is an in-depth conversation with both men, each touching upon their background before diving into the production of Mortal Thoughts. The troubled production is brought up, along with how the change in directors affected the style of the film. This interview features a lot of “nuts and bolts” about how a movie is structured from the ground up. It might get a bit technical, but I think “Troubled Dreams” does what it should, with Cummings and Shaw offering unique voices in the production.
The last interview, “Fatal Flashback: Scoring Mortal Thoughts,” is an audio-only interview with the film’s composer, Mark Isham, produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. Isham discusses how he came to work with director Alan Rudolph while offering honest opinions on how he handled the music for Mortal Thoughts. It’s interesting to hear Isham’s thoughts regarding what he would change now versus the film’s 1991 score. As with the other interviews, Isham hints at a turbulent production sensed while working with the director. It’s interesting to hear Isham so critical of his score—I agree with a lot of his critiques—I applaud Isham for how he can stand back from his work and offer such an assessment. As with the other interviews on this disc, “Fatal Flashback” utilizes its time well and gives fans of the film enough meat to digest.
Imprint Films also included a feature-length commentary track with film scholar Adrian Martin. Martin takes a measured approach when discussing aspects of Mortal Thoughts. He touches on the director’s stylistic touches, themes running through the story, and the production history. Martin has done his research on Mortal Thoughts and finds plenty about the movie that he likes. For me, as I am not a big fan of the film, some of the sentiments offered I do not share in the final product. Even still, if you like production history and breakdowns of cinema, you can do much worse than this track.
The last feature on the disc is the film’s theatrical trailer.
And there you have it! Upon second viewing, Mortal Thoughts is a film that didn’t get better with age. There are elements of a good mystery/thriller, but the final results missed the mark for me. I appreciate Imprint Films including Mortal Thoughts onto the Neo-Noir box set—the themes of the film fit what the set offers. Hopefully, the next movie in the set I tackle sticks the landing with the film and the extra features!