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Entries in Jeff Bridges (4)

Friday
Apr192013

Oblivion

If you’ll take a moment to travel back to 2010 with me, you may remember a movie called “Tron: Legacy,” the highly anticipated sequel to the beloved 1982 classic, “Tron.” Undoubtedly, you remember the gorgeous visuals, eye-popping 3D and perfect score by electronic synthpop duo, Daft Punk. Surely, if you’re a fan of the original at least, you remember the fuzzy feeling you got when you saw Jeff Bridges back in his iconic role. What you may also remember, if you’re a more discerning viewer, is that the film was hollow. With all its flash and technical expertise, it was missing a worthwhile script to complement them. Director Joseph Kosinski was hardly to blame because he did everything he could with a film that, by and large, was narratively empty. His new movie, “Oblivion,” likewise has a wonderful score and stunning visuals, but there’s so much more to it than “Tron: Legacy.” Having written this one himself, the movie is filled to the brim with interesting themes and ideas that were all but missing from his previous directorial effort. It’s a movie that excites you and pleases your senses, but it also works your brain and gives you something to ponder over long after it’s done.

The year is 2077, five years after a mandatory memory wipe, and the Earth has been ravaged. Years ago, a mysterious enemy called the Scavengers destroyed the moon and attacked Earth and mankind did the only thing it could to win the war: it nuked itself. This, along with the changing weather patterns from the now destroyed moon, made the planet practically unlivable. Now, all remaining humans have evacuated to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Only a couple people remain back on Earth, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), and their job is to extract whatever remaining resources it has left. However, after a shuttle crash lands on the planet with a beautiful woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) in it, the very same woman Jack keeps having flashbacks of, they discover things aren’t as they seem.

To go further would be ill advised, as doing so would constitute spoilers, but not in the narrative sense that most would consider a spoiler. Sure, I could go into the mid-movie twist about the Scavengers or the revelation Jack has after traveling into the previously forbidden zone or even the big finale about what’s really been going on (though, of course, I won’t), but it would hardly matter because they aren’t the least bit surprising. Each twist is taken directly out of the big book of science fiction plot conventions, each of which we’ve seen so many times, you’d have to be a complete newcomer to the genre to not see them coming. However, doing so would give away the sense of discovery and the careful thematic unraveling the film so beautifully explores. What makes “Oblivion” feel so fresh even in the face of these sci-fi clichés is the way they’re used, not because they simply fit the conventions of a science fiction story, but rather because they’re necessary to flesh out the meaning behind the picture’s glossy veneer.

And glossy it is, an adjective used in the kindest way possible. “Oblivion,” much like “Tron: Legacy,” is a visual wonder. Director Joseph Kosinski has a keen eye and manages to capture the beauty of this ruined world in a way that makes it feel alive. The majority of the world’s oceans are now dried up, the rusted ships strewn throughout being the only hint that there was water there at all. The moon off in the background, broken apart, unlike the sight we’re used to seeing in the night sky, is a sight to behold as well. This post-apocalyptic landscape is simultaneously beautiful, scary, lonely and full of wonderment. Even if the story and themes don’t hook you, the visuals absolutely will.

“Oblivion” is one of the best science fiction movies in recent memory because it, like many of the most beloved sci-fi classics, is about the human condition, not about dumbed down destruction and chaos. It explores the beauty of existence and the necessity to preserve it. It explores the importance of identity and the need to hold onto the memories that define us. It explores the meaning of life and death, intertwining them in a beautiful finale that gives purpose to both. Despite a few minor stumbles, including an uncharacteristically sappy final shot that doesn’t necessarily fit with the sadness and desperation that came before it, “Oblivion” is a wonderful and thought provoking movie.

Oblivion receives 4.5/5

Wednesday
Dec222010

True Grit

Many claimed years ago that the Western genre was dead. It’s an easy argument to make and a tough one to refute because the sheer number of films has decreased substantially (and I’m talking about true Westerns, not simply films with Western elements like Serenity or Jonah Hex). But I would argue they aren’t dead; they’re just dormant. Along with 2007’s terrific 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers’ newest, hotly anticipated film, True Grit, proof is offered up that there is still some life breathing in those old Western lungs.

True Grit, adapted from the 1968 novel by Charles Portis (which was previously adapted to film in 1969 by John Wayne), tells the story of little Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who is seeking out revenge against the man who murdered her father, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Despite her strong personality, she is too little and weak to get the job done herself, so she hires bounty hunter and ex-US marshal, Reuben Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help. However, a Texas lawman named La Boeuf (Matt Damon) is also on Chaney’s trail, hoping to bring him in for a separate crime he committed in his home state. Although they initially agree to work together, a disagreement sets La Boeuf off on his own and a race for Chaney’s head begins.

With the exception of Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers are yet to make a movie I dislike. With No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and the oft forgotten, but all the same terrific, Blood Simple (all of which they wrote the screenplays for as well), the two siblings are one of the strongest forces in Hollywood. True Grit only reaffirms that statement. It’s a rough, tough, mean and entertaining romp through the wastelands of the old West, a vision we rarely see in our modern cinematic society that is too busy looking forward to remember where it's been.

This is how movies used to be made. Unlike 3:10 to Yuma, which more or less caved into the pressures of a modern audience that calls for action packed extravaganzas, True Grit takes its time. It’s about the characters and story, not how high the body count can reach. The Coen brothers may not always seem to know what movies audiences will flock to, but they know what makes a movie good and that is all that matters.

And part of making a good movie, of course, is assembling a talented cast. Jeff Bridges, collaborating with the dynamic duo for the first time since 1998’s The Big Lebowski, gives an award worthy performance as Reuben Cogburn. What with this and the much anticipated Tron: Legacy, he’s having quite a week. Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Berry Pepper all show up to lend their considerable talents as well, the latter of whom is so good it almost makes me want to forgive his annoying performance in one of this week’s other (not nearly as good) releases, Casino Jack.

The weak standout is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who sometimes recites her lines as if she’s standing on a stage. While not a bad actress, she has a tough time working opposite Bridges and Damon. Whereas their dialogue flows naturally, hers is a bit stilted at times. She speaks with a matter-of-fact attitude, which suits her quick talking character, but there is a refusal to speak in contractions that brings the dialogue to a halt. Regardless of whether or not it was for authenticity’s sake, it didn’t work and became a major distraction.

That predicament isn’t limited only to Steinfeld, however; it’s a mass problem among every character. Contractions are used liberally, seemingly only when a line wouldn’t have been funny otherwise. This inconsistent approach is what bugged me the most about True Grit, but the wonderful direction, otherwise great performances and beautiful cinematography make it easy to forgive. This is the Coen brothers' best movie since No Country for Old Men. It's a must see.

True Grit receives 4/5

Friday
Dec172010

Tron: Legacy

The original Tron was a groundbreaking film. It wasn’t particularly good, but it did something no other film had done before. It created an entire living digital world. It was basically Avatar for 1982. It had great visuals (for its time), but it had no soul. Its sequel, Tron: Legacy, which sported one of the most promising trailers to be released this year, is much the same. It’s a beautiful piece of eye candy that is as hollow as films come.

The story begins in 1989. Kevin Flynn (a young digitized Jeff Bridges) is tucking his son, Sam (played at this age by Owen Best), into bed and telling him a story about Tron, the grid and the so called “miracle” that is about to occur. Afterwards, Flynn heads off to work, but never comes back. He has disappeared and nobody knows where he has gone. Twenty years later, Sam (now played by Garrett Hedlund) is all grown up and living alone. His father’s company, Encom, is being run by others because he refuses to head it himself (which is of little significance to the movie). When one of Flynn’s old friends, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), who still rocks a pager, receives a page from the number of Flynn’s old rundown arcade, which hasn’t been in operation for many years, Sam goes to check it out. There he stumbles on his dad’s old workspace and, after tinkering around with the controls, accidentally transports himself onto the grid, a digital space where an evil program called Clu (also played by Jeff Bridges) rules and forces programs to compete in a series of games.

At its best, Tron: Legacy is a visually arresting world of fancy and wonderment. At its worst, it’s a superficial piece of nonsense that lacks emotion and an engaging story. Unfortunately, visuals only get you so far. What this movie needed was a different script because the one it has is just awful. The entirety of the film is smothered in boring exposition that drags on for far too long and when it isn’t talking in technological psychobabble, it comes off like a really bad melodrama, taking the already ridiculous dialogue and littering it with over emotional gushiness. In a movie wishing to be fun, that's the wrong road to take.

Similarly, the action is boring and uninspired. Its visuals may be state-of-the-art, but its action certainly isn't. Most of what you see here was presented in the original movie. There’s a disk battle, a light cycle race and more, but the only thing separating it from its predecessor is its shinier coat of paint. And in close combat, it does nothing countless other films haven’t done, merely replacing swords with data disks.

There are some big problems with Tron: Legacy, but there are a myriad of smaller ones as well. As stated, the visuals are very impressive, but its digital recreation of a young Jeff Bridges comes at a price. Because his face is covered by computer effects as Clu, the physical emotion and facial expressions in his performance—which is underwhelming to begin with—are hidden. When he’s acting as the aged Flynn, the effect isn't much better. At times, the Dude from The Big Lebowski surfaces, which is funny if you’re familiar with that movie, but it’s contextually inappropriate and shatters the illusion that you’ve been transported to another world. Likewise, Michael Sheen pops up in a small role and at one point seems to channel the spirit of Charlie Chaplin, which is, again, unfitting in this universe.

Those small problems, which also include random, unnecessary interjections within certain scenes, add up to much more than a mild nuisance and contribute in breaking up the flow of the film. No matter how you cut it, Tron: Legacy just isn’t very good. It’s a shallow, heartless, empty movie with snazzy special effects and little else.

Tron: Legacy receives 1.5/5

Friday
Jan082010

Crazy Heart

There are few actors working today who can captivate an audience like Jeff Briges can. No matter whether he's playing a quirky Army soldier (The Men Who Stare at Goats), an evil weapons manufacturer (Iron Man), a carefree bowling enthusiast (The Big Lebowski), or voicing a long thought dead surfer penguin (Surf's Up), he can come across in a big way, hitting a multitude of emotions and endearing himself to the viewers. He is a top notch talent and always hits a home run in his roles, even in movies that are fairly terrible (How to Lose Friends & Alienate People). This time, he tackles a film that is already worthy of consideration for an end of the year "best of" list and finds himself in a role guaranteed to include a few "Best Actor" nominations, including the already announced Golden Globes nod. Yes my friends, Crazy Heart is a special movie.

Though I love all genres of film, I'm a person who finds himself stubbornly staving off any type of music other than good old rock n' roll. Put some country music on around me and my ears start to bleed, so imagine my skepticism when it came to this film about a washed up country music performer. What Crazy Heart proves, even to this jaded head banger, is that music can be beautiful regardless of what genre it's in. I was tapping my toes to the music and reveling in the discovery of how each song came to be, all of which came from the singer's own life experiences. Jeff Bridges plays the singer in question who for years has gone by the moniker of Bad Blake and as he tells a seductive journalist named Jean, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, nobody will know his true name until the day he dies, where it will be written on his tombstone. She remarks, "That's a long time to wait," and he replies with what can essentially be paraphrased as, "Maybe not."

His response comes with a few caveats. Despite the humorous nature of it, we later find out that Bad is in trouble. He is in danger of having a stroke due to an unhealthy lifestyle, which includes excessive smoking and drinking. He used to be the biggest star around, but now he is a nobody and his former band mate, Tommy, played by Colin Farrell, has gone off on his own and wrangled his own fans. Naturally, Bad is depressed and bitter, finding himself playing small shows in worn down bars and bowling alleys just to make a buck.

After the aforementioned interview, Bad begins to fall in love with Jean and this is where the story really starts to take off. Bad has been miserable since his falling out an unspecified number of years ago and we assume it's all for legitimate reasons. Who wouldn't be miserable playing in small bars after your former band mate left you? Well, later we find out that Tommy didn't leave in hate and still respects Bad tremendously. He remarks to him how he'll never forget that it was him who gave him his start. Throughout the movie, Bad is heard spewing verbal hatred at Tommy and we simply take it as his way to deal with Tommy's crippling betrayal, but it simply isn't the case. He has no real reason to be mad at Tommy. He is merely confusing his jealousy for anger. After he reluctantly opens for him at a big gig, we finally discover this and realize there's something more brewing underneath Bad's seemingly hardened veneer.

The reason he takes the gig in the first place is because of Jean, not because she urges him to, but because he starts to find happiness in her and starts to dismiss those feelings of hate. However, when everything finally seems to be turning around for the better and he finds himself getting his love for Jean returned to him, he ruins it with bad decision making. His alcoholism controls him and although he is asked by Jean to not drink in front of her young son, he stops inside of a bar one day while out with the little tyke and loses him due to his drunkenness.

To continue on discussing this terrific story would be taking the pleasure of seeing it unfolding yourself away. However, it's the underlying message that really hits home and makes this movie something more than the sum of its parts. It shows a man emotionally and physically crippled from a number of problems, some external and some self inflicted, but finds hope in his cloud of depression. It says that it's never too late to turn your life around. No matter your age, your nasty habits or the turmoil you're going through, you can change yourself and become someone better, somebody who looks at life through a fresh perspective.

Much more is revealed about Bad in this nearly two hour movie, but my adulation for Crazy Heart has already kept me rambling for far too long. Bad is a multi-layered person, simple on the surface, but hiding secrets within him and he summarizes his entire character arc with one lyrical line from one of his country songs where he sings, "I used to be somebody, but now I'm somebody else."

Although there isn't much going on behind the camera, largely due to first-time director Scott Cooper, and the story is overly familiar—it's basically The Wrestler with more heart (as my friend Kevin "BDK" McCarthy put it)—it's done with such splendor and dedication that one can't help but be impressed with the finished product. It's a shame Crazy Heart wasn't released in DC a couple of weeks back so I could rightfully place it on my 2009 best of the year list. Oh well. I guess 2010 will have to do.

Crazy Heart receives 5/5