Archive for Jeff Bridges

Young Hopeful

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2012 by dcairns

One cute thing about THE ARTIST is the bit with Berenice Bejo trying to break into pictures — we had just watched MAKE ME A STAR the night before, which deals with a similar subject and environment (a cheap production for Paramount, who could shoot most of it on their own lot). This is a version of Merton of the Movies, a George S Kaufman-Marc Connelly play filmed previously in 1924 and remade in 1947 with Red Skelton. It also shares much of its set-up with HEARTS OF THE WEST, the charming 1975 parody of 1930s filmmaking, which starred an impossibly young Jeff Bridges. And Bridges is the one actor in the lot who can make the naive doofus role appealing.

Stuart Erwin in MAKE ME A STAR takes a slightly different route from Bridges — a capable comedy relief supporting actor in Andy Devine type roles, here he’s the leading man and is going all out for pathos. This involves a peculiar, halting delivery of lines which makes Merton seem not just slow-witted but positively learning-impaired. Seeing such a defenseless character get put upon for the whole picture kind of robs it of any potential for comedy…

The early stretches, with Merton making a fool of himself around his hick hometown are painfully slow, with only the Paramount zoom lens (as used in LOVE ME TONIGHT) livening things up. “ZOOOOM!!!” we would cry, whenever it zeroed in on a salient detail. Though Merton’s correspondence course in screen acting, with its numbered photos of useful facial expressions, was a funny idea, much more could have been made of it. Instead, we got unfocused supporting performers (the script calls for several character to flip from supportive to hostile and back for no reason) and tiresome schtick.

When Merton gets to Hollywood there’s Ruth Donnelly and Joan Blondell to hold the eye, plus guest spots by the likes of Tallulah Bankhead and Gary Cooper, taking time out from DEVIL AND THE DEEP. And the pathos takes a turn into Von Trier torture-a-kitten territory which is weirdly diverting. Erwin’s delivery grows ever more faltering. Wangling his way onto the soundstage, he is promptly fired from an extra job for blowing his single line. In the most affecting — and universal — moment, he repeats the line perfectly after everyone is left, then hopelessly looks for approval from the empty sound stage.

Reluctant to leave the studio and find himself unable to get back in, Merton takes to hiding in the shadows, scraping scraps from abandoned box lunches, a studio derelict, a studio ghost. “Taking pity” on him, Blondell sells the resident Mack Sennett figure (Sam Hardy, drily amusing) on using Merton to spoof the great western star Buck Benson, whom Merton patterns himself on. “He’s like a blurred carbon copy of Buck Benson!” So the staff and players of “Loadstone” contrive a western parody with Ben Turpin, in which Merton is made more ridiculous by some technically unexplainable sound recording trick that makes his voice go falsetto while leaving everyone else unaffected. I wonder if this was based on the false rumour that Louis B Mayer sabotaged John Gilbert’s career in this fashion? At any rate, it’s a new addition to the play, which originated in silent movie days, and it doesn’t actually make anything funnier — it actually robs Erwin of the chance to be amusingly inept on his own.

Humiliated at the premier (stuffed with more Paramount guest stars: Oakie! Ruggles! Sylvia Sydney!) when he learns he’s been played for a chump, Erwin, face aflame, repairs to a coffee shop where he hears his idol complaining about being sent up. But Buck’s agent makes an impassioned and powerful speech about COMEDY and SINCERITY and THE PUBLIC’S LOVE. It’s quite a speech — even better than the one in THE ERRAND BOY.

Erwin goes to see Blondell, who’s ashamed at the trick she’s played, and the film collapses into an Event Horizon of conflicted response, as Erwin tries to explain that he’s not angry or upset, that he was in on the gag all the time, and that he knows he’s a great comedy star because he’s got LOVE and COMEDY and THE PUBLIC’S SINCERITY — it’s a garbled version of the speech in the previous scene, just like when Stan Laurel comes up with a good plan, but then can’t remember it when he comes to repeat it a second later. But the scene, ridiculous and strange, is still played for pathos, so it has a dizzying, nightmarish feeling — supplanted by the film’s only funny joke.

As Blondell takes Erwin in her arms, his head resting between what Jack Warner called “those bulbs”, he worries about the cab he has waiting outside.

“Do yuh have to pay taxicabs, just for waiting?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Oh. Well. It’s worth it.”

And he nestles back into paradise.

MAKE ME A STAR is kind of a bad film which turns out to be good almost by accident — it certainly doesn’t land on any of the accepted squares denoting quality or success, but it persistently winds up in strange, unfamiliar zones of discomfort, oddity, sadness or head-scratching peculiarity. I recommend it to the curious.

Go a go-go

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by dcairns

Felicitations to Guy Budziak for supplying me with a copy of THE YIN AND THE YANG OF MR GO which refused to play, breaking up into mosaic pixillations of Francis Bacon flesh-smear, sound stuttering in digital orgasm — a vastly improved experience from the actual film, which I subsequently watched.

I’m now ready to draw two conclusions from comparing this with Burgess Meredith’s previous outing as director, THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER — firstly, that a top-notch cinematographer like Stanley Cortez can work wonders for a no-talent director; secondly, that the classical Hollywood style covers a multitude of sins. Freed of its conventions, BM lets it all hang out with this would-be-sixties super-spy farrago, and the results are audio-visual atrocity. Shonky hand-held lurching, unmotivated angle-changes, jagged transitions and incoherent storytelling, and that’s before we get to the dialogue scenes rendered inaudible by “background” music.

If the film were at least professionally made, there would be more pleasure derived from its random casting and insulting stereotypes. The first scene features Meredith himself as oriental herbalist “Dolphin” practicing acupuncture on James Mason, cast against type as a Mexican-Chinese gangster. The dialogue has a certain fey wit, which barely registers through Mason’s grotesque false teeth and the sloppy shooting, but some degree of freakshow promise is conjured up. The fact that the screenplay, seemingly written in vanishing ink, such is the perplexity of its cast, is narrated by Buddha, who has the plummy English tones of Valentine Dyall, also endeared it to me.

Soon, however, it becomes clear that this movie has the power to nullify everything in its orbit: an athletically built young newcomer named Jeffrey Bridges is cast as a James Joyce wannabe living off his girlfriend in Hong Kong (where better to write the next Dubliners?). Bridges’ natural charm is utterly negated by the character’s total prickishness, as he betrays his country, patronizes his girlfriend and hits Jack MacGowran in the face with a kettle. He can just fuck off.

MacGowran’s physical body tries hard to inhabit the role of an FBI agent pretending to be a publisher, but his mind is clearly elsewhere, as evidenced by his dead-eyed stare, boring into our souls in a manner not entirely conducive to the traditional goals of wacky comedy. As his boss, Broderick Crawford is dropped into the film like a collapsing pudding, his scenes entirely shot in one fussily-wallpapered boardroom, as the rhinocerosian thesp numbly reprises his J. Edgar Hoover turn.

Even more uncomfortable is Peter Lind Hayes, cast against type as a closeted gay military scientist (Mr Zabladowski, what are you doing?), queer-bashed by Bridges and blackmailed by Mason before vanishing from the movie in a cloud of shame and bewilderment. The film’s unsympathetic approach to same-sex love is heightened by a performance by Mason’s real-life wife, as a butch villainess named Zelda, who tries to rape Bridges’ girlfriend, Irene Tsu.

But why stop there? The film has so much more to offend us with, beginning with the casting of pasty white thespians in yellowface — somehow much worse because it’s 1970, not 1940, and because it’s so badly done! Mason’s hair is brown. The actual orientals do well to play their scenes without resorting to mutinous violence: Tsu is joined by famed martial arts filmmaker King Hu, playing Japanese about as convincingly as Mason plays Chinese, as a banker named Suzuki (and the film is sufficiently dumb we can assume he’s named after the motorbike, not the filmmaker).

My suspicion is Meredith probably drew “inspiration” from THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST, another seeming free-for-all of wackiness, but actually a tightly-controlled, slyly acted and beautifully shot and scored movie, to which MR GO cannot hold a scented candle. Theodore J Flicker’s pop-art meisterwerk is actually tightly controlled, drawing nearly all its zany tropes from the combination of psychoanalysis and spycraft — had Burgess M used Chinese mysticism and industrial espionage as his lynchpins and tethered the plot tightly to both, having fun with the collisions, he might have had something — but lazily, the moviemakers assume that just throwing a bunch of random shit at the screen will in some way hold our interest. It sort of does, because the choices are so erratic and obnoxious, but all respect is forfeited.

Fans of skin-crawling embarrassment should check this out.

What the movie does have is an arresting title — in fact, two, since it alternately goes by the name of THE THIRD EYE. That’s SUCH a good title — it draws in psychic and mystical elements, as well as suggesting private eyes and THE THIRD MAN, working as a multi-layered evocation of genre-mixing ingenuity… none of which is to be found in this dog’s breakfast.

Screenplay is co-credited to Meredith and a few other guys, including soft-porn/exploitation producer Dick Randall, described in his IMDb entry as “jolly and colorful” — I haven’t a doubt it’s true, but he sure kept it off the screen. His credits include the intriguingly titled EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, which I like to imagine consisting of ninety minutes of solo masturbation by a man in a progressively lengthening fake beard. Don’t disillusion me.

Tron Curtain

Posted in FILM, Interactive with tags , , , , on December 23, 2010 by dcairns

Fiona dragged me to see TRON: LEGACY, out of some kind of nostalgic feeling for the attractive but narratively cumbrous 80s original. And she got exactly what she was expecting, so that was nice. And I didn’t hate it, either.

The opening is kind of nice — luminous green gridlines forming into a city, while Jeff Bridges murmurs some poetic-sounding stuff in VO. Then we get a scene of a digitally-rejuvenated Bridges putting his kid to bed — they keep his face hidden until he starts to leave and turns back for one line — and for that one line, they sustain the illusion, and it’s pretty spooky. Uncanny Valley here we come.

And then we have to flash-forward to the present day and there’s a bunch of TVs sitting on a black glass plain while the news broadcast on their screens fills us in on some expository stuff, and somebody’s artfully added some bars rolling up the TV screens, the way they used to do in movies before anyone figured out how to deal with the camera shutter and the whole 24fps/25fps thing, or whatever it was that did that. So that showed attention to detail and a puckish sense of humour somewhere. So I thought, let’s really give this a chance, and see where it trips up…

And there’s not exactly a moment where it does, just a slow slide into banality. Leading man Garrett Hedlund struck me as wooden, but look what he’s got to work with: every line a stultifying cliche, every damn line! And his character doesn’t go through much actual growth or change, God knows.

We do get two Jeff Bridgeses for our money, and the old grizzled one has been written with some Dude Lebowski speech patterns to make him entertaining, and the young digitally-facelifted one is creepy to look at, in a Robert Zemeckis way. After that first, surprising shot, you get a chance to look him over and note how his lips don’t behave like human lips and his eyes don’t seem to have any expression — it kind of works for a humanoid computer program character, I guess, but it suggests there are still limits to this technology.

We also get Michael Sheen in a cameo as a camp bad guy, and this is the genuine highlight, acting-wise. Nine-parts David Bowie to one part Tim Curry, with one line delivered as Bruno for good measure, this is literally a masterclass in queeny ham, with Sheen using props as if he was in a drama workshop with a gun at his head. Very nice indeed. I rather wanted him not to be a villain and not to die, but alas, cliches reign…

And then there’s Olivia Wilde, whose charms surpass mere acting: her catsuit and bobbed hair look had Fiona turning “lesbionic” whenever she was onscreen. She’s very beautiful indeed, hypnotically so, and she even has a character to play, a naive cyber-person who’s interested in the world beyond the virtual reality universe she inhabits. She does two things that I liked: when she’s seen driving a sci-fi vehicle through the digital landscape, her hands are on the wheel making little turns every second, as if she’s driving through a slalom (the road doesn’t curve that much) — I like to think this is just the actress taking the piss out of the whole thing.

And at the end, liberated from the shiny computerverse, she buries her face in Hedlund’s scarf, and I thought, “Yeah, I bet they don’t even have smells in that streamlined artificial world. Their bowel movements probably look like Pac-Man’s pac-dots.” But that’s a good bit of acting, you see — it opens up a whole universe.

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