Archive for Jeff Bridges

Dog Scoop

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2020 by dcairns

I have this heap of unwatched Woody Allen films dating back decades — I’ve only seen two films he’s made after DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. Which makes it seem like at some level I believe the accusations against him and lost my desire to look at his work around that time. Which isn’t CONSCIOUSLY true. I don’t believe or disbelieve. What went on in that attic is like the inside of Schroedinger’s maybe-lethal cat-box to me. I can’t know.

But DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, which is quite a strong film, almost feels like a confession, Allen plays such a loathsome character. Around that time, he said that he could play two characters and be accepted by the public, an intellectual (“even though I’m not one”) and a low-life. Harry is both. And the low-life thing really emerges in the wake of the divorce acrimony, as if Allen intuited that a new characterisation had been fortuitously opened up for him.

So I have this suspicion that subconsciously I’ve been put off Allen even without accepting his guilt as fact. I’m not interested in relitigating it. I can’t CHOOSE to believe one thing or the other. But for some reason, I stopped watching his films. I had become a bit erratic at the time of BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, but looking back at it, that’s a good one too. Mysterious.

Anyhow, I pulled SCOOP off the shelf in a fit of perversity, having heard nothing but bad things about it. Boyoboy were those bad things on the money. But not very specific.

Overall, the typical “this is a dire comedy” type reviews are basically correct. But dire how? Well, it’s sloppy at nearly every level. Scarlett Johansson is introduced as an over-her-shoulder on some other guy and then we cut to a clean single of her ~

I guess it ought to work as his POV, but it’s impossible to express how wrong it feels in motion — you are completely convinced that the two characters are not in the same time, space or movie.

They must have been, though, because a couple of scenes later, they’ve slept together. In a clueless bit of writing, she’s talking quite lightheartedly about having been plied with drink and being unable to remember anything, the kind of development that wouldn’t have seemed worrisome maybe, oh, fifty years ago? Hard to imagine any modern woman NOT being seriously concerned at such an outcome.

But then, little seems to bother Johansson’s character — at the end of the film, the man she loves has turned out to be, not Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent, but Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE, merely played by Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent. But she’s not downhearted. If Woody Allen were her neighbour in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, her lack of emotional response would spark his suspicions.

But instead, Woody Allen is the Great Splendini, a stage magician. OK, the name made me laugh, and some of his crummy gags cracked me up through sheer exertion, though his timing seems a bit off. He used to have this strange gift for delivering jokes in a halting, stumbling way, while still nailing every moment that needed to be nailed to make the joke land. Here, his ums and ahs sometimes take the joke off at the knees.

Worse, his character is given no reason to tag along with Johansson, another instance of simply lazy writing. He’s against the whole thing. But he’s there. Participating. The thing is crazy. Hugh Jackman cannot possibly be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE. A scene later, when the evidence looks shakier, he’s certain that Hugh Jackman must be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE.

Running through the story is the on-paper amusing plot conceit of Ian McShane as a deceased reporter stumbling across a scoop while on the ferryboat to the afterlife, and apporting into Johansson’s presence to pass on the story. It’s the kind of charming fantasy Allen has succeeded with in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and some of his short fiction. But the relationship goes nowhere, maybe because Allen has shoehorned himself into the story and is using all the oxygen.

Everybody seems under-rehearsed, most of all McShane. ScarJo is fairly adorable and has learned her lines well enough to say them fast, which wins her major points in this creaky affair.

A shaggy dog with alopecia.

SCOOP stars Black Widow; Fielding Mellish; Wolverine; Lovejoy; Cassandra Mortmain; Grand Maester Pycelle; Rupert Giles; and Truman Capote.

The Mildreds

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2016 by dcairns

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OF HUMAN BONDAGE is, I guess, the first kind of classic John Cromwell film, in that it’s well-remembered and has a classic source (Somerset Maugham) and iconic stars. And it’s compelling. Leslie Howard plays the mug of a hero beautifully, and Bette Davis, who invents the Dick Van Dyke cockney accent, gives a fearless, fiercely committed performance free of vanity. Though her attempt at being a Londoner is somewhat hilarious, it’s detailed enough to contain hints of Mildred Rogers’ social aspirations.

Cromwell was brought to Hollywood for the talkies, his theatre experience judged useful to help with actors who hadn’t been on the stage — for his first movies, he was paired with Edward A. Sutherland, the former Mr. Louise Brooks, who was judged in need of dramaturgical support. Those early movies fairly creak — VICE SQUAD is all but unwatchable, DANCE OF LIFE seems to have been photographed from the stalls (but worth it to glimpse a nubile Oscar Levant) and CLOSE HARMONY has been lost, for now, apart from its Vitaphone disc soundtrack. But somewhere in there, maybe making THE WORLD AND THE FLESH as an excercise du style with Karl Struss lighting and framing for expressionist values, Cromwell became more visually sensitive, and OHB is full of slick effects and interesting approaches. Not all of them come off — the phantasmal visions of Bette that plague Howard are hammy and stoopid — but on the other hand the Ozu-like dialogue delivered straight down the lens is extremely effective. Maybe he got that from Mamoulian’s DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, but if so, he refined it.

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“I think she’s the worst woman I’ve ever seen,” said Fiona, adding that she felt she SHOULD be able to find some redeeming traits in the “contemptible and ill-natured” Mildred, but she just couldn’t. Davis plays it to the hilt as only she could, and Howard makes you believe in his masochism. There are lovely turns from Kay Johnson (a Cromwell favourite — his first wife) and Frances Dee as the other women in his life. This Mildred creature is one of a small regiment of monstrous women in Cromwell’s pics — usually the story resolves with the beastly female being found out by those she’s deceived about her true nature (THE SILVER CORD, THIS MAN IS MINE, IN NAME ONLY) but here, Howard is fully aware of her perfidy from the start. It’s his own masochism he has to wise up to.

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Another Mildred turns up in THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS, played by another Bette, this time Jane Greer (AKA Bettejane Greer). Her first scene with the parole board has you rooting for her as she pleads with her big, doll-like eyes — then we find out her parole officer is Lizabeth Scott, which seems like an interesting concept — what if your parole officer was a noir femme fatale? But we quickly learn that Greer’s innocence is an act, while Scott is a caring professional who wants the best for her. Things take another turn when Greer sets her sights on Scott’s man, Dennis O’Keefe — and gets him.

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It’s a highly unusual drama, scripted by the interesting lady noir specialist Ketty Frings. Cromwell made it right after the masterful CAGED, and it could almost be a sequel.

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Picked up when a fellow parolee is nabbed for stealing, Greer endures a night in the cells and a humiliating police line-up which have the same noir-sadeian tint as the earlier film, aided by chiaroscuro cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST, CAT PEOPLE) and a fierce bunch of co-stars including Theresa Harris, uncredited again (see Wednesday’s post).

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The Lizabeth Scott view from the floor again (see yesterday’s post): not literally, this time, but pleading Greer’s case before a swarm of unfeeling authority figures, she might as well be flat on her back.

The particular aspect of Cromwell’s talent in operation this time, asides from his steady hand with actors, is his compositional gift — the parole board scenes are particularly sharp. Maybe it’s because I haven’t slept in 72 hours, but I think this one is a little masterpiece, and ought to be better known. Eschewing overt melodrama, making strong use of real locations in the manner that was just coming into fashion at the time, and giving Greer probably the meatiest and realest role of her somewhat truncated career, it’s mature, unpredictable and impressive on all levels (down to the unusual score by the underrated Leigh Harline).

Also: Kathleen Freeman as a young woman, and Jeff Bridges as a baby!

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“Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Knight Aberrant

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2015 by dcairns

 

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The Red Knight is a Rorschach blot!

To the Cameo, where celebrity guest programmers are introducing favourite films. My friend, actor Gavin Mitchell introduced THE FISHER KING, which I hadn’t seen since it came out. I recall Terry Gilliam saying the access to real human emotion he was permitted by Richard LaGravanese’s script made him feel his previous films were kind of superficial. I didn’t agree, but I liked this one too.

Then I remember a couple of friends criticising Gilliam for the way he films extras, specifically those cast as the homeless and/or mentally ill. He seems to use them as compositional elements rather than human beings — perhaps a consequence of his love of medieval painting. There’s clearly both a visual excitement and a social commentary in the way Gilliam creates a medieval atmosphere in modern New York here, and when the figures are active it works great. But the bad quality reaches a climax with the catatonic patient whose job is to hold a newspaper and then get wheeled out of shot, a combination of expositional device and visual gag, depending for its effect on the dehumanization of the individual. This unexamined tendency crops up again in TWELVE MONKEYS a bit and DR PARNASSUS a lot.

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Serious bit over. I enjoyed the film, and Gav’s intro, which was a whole show in itself. Gavin met Robin Williams on BEING HUMAN, Bill Forsyth’s ambitious, career-trashing reimagining of INTOLERANCE, and became friendly with him — he spoke hilariously and touchingly about the pressure he felt when Williams wanted to riff with him. Gavin can do great impersonations — and is possibly the funniest person I know — and found himself roped into an impromptu Mick & Keef crosstalk.

“Bobby Carlisle had been given the job of getting some Scottish actors, so he found fourteen of us. Fourteen actors — two wankers. That’s not bad going.”

Makes me think I need to give BEING HUMAN another try.

THE FISHER KING works great when Williams is around. There’s a real danger in the film’s presentation of the homeless man as redemptive plot mechanism, but Williams skirts the troublesome areas and somehow defuses the risk. It’s not so much that the performance is free of the sentimentality that was a Williams weakness, it’s that he has enough mania and rawness to compensate and make the character seem credible.

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Jeff Bridges is playing one of the most obnoxious characters of his career, and to his credit commits absolutely. Still, there’s a drop in interest whenever the film has to do without Williams. The satire of talk radio and TV is sometimes ham-fisted, and one particular moment, when Bridges is pitched a TV sitcom about the homeless, is eggy in the extreme. The script is so tautly structured it just can’t resist making this scene, which is about Bridges becoming disgusted with his former success and rejecting it, also be about the Williams plotline. Something less on-the-nose would have served better: It’s a big coincidence in a script already brimming with them, and one can’t help feeling that some of the TV exec’s odious pitch could apply, with slight modifications, to the film we’re watching. Using issues like homelessness and mental illness in an entertainment is such a delicate thing.

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The film’s secret weapons are Michael Jeter, delivering a to-the-edge-and-beyond showstopper melding pathos and grotesquerie, and Amanda Plummer, who has never, it seems, been exploited so well. The energy released when she and Williams eventually get together is… quite considerable. Mercedes Ruehl is also awesome (best line: “If I had to live with my mother I would stab myself six times,”) but she’s a wide shot actress and Gilliam gets too close too often. I flinched a few times when her eyes opened wide.

The BBC, I believe, did a fine documentary on the making of this movie, which Gilliam didn’t like — this may be why it’s not available. Gilliam didn’t appreciate the way it took the producers’ view, which had a sense of “taming the beast” — redeeming Gilliam after BARON MUNCHAUSEN and getting him to make a film on budget. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating doc and deserves to be seen.