actors, Are You Not Entertained?, authors, culture, movies, music, Read This

Are You Not Entertained?

Here continues a monthly series featuring the music, the books, and the movies that occupied my time.  

MUSIC

For anyone who likes 60s Rock and Roll music and music history in general, check out the 2008 documentary, The Wrecking Crew.  On Netflix,  it is easy to be absorbed with a unique story about the Los Angeles entourage of approximately fifteen session musicians who made groups and singers like The Mama and the Papas, Elvis, and The Beach Boys sound great. Their names didn’t make it on the album, but for fifteen-odd years, they played on hundreds of albums and created the iconic sounds we take for granted today. 4.5/5.

BOOKS 

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Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride

What does Margaret do best? She creates a cast of characters, rich with dimension, and stages each with a different perspective about the world around them. First published in 1993, Atwood adapts the Brothers Grimm story, “The Robber Bridegroom.” Three friends are connected by Zenia, who rises to monstrous proportions and wreaks havoc on their lives. My favorite character is Tony, a professor of military history who sees the world via tactical advances and retreats. Tony plays word games by spelling them backward and noticing the how the spin transforms the word into a new connotation thus expanding her vocabulary in an atypical way. This is a clever example of how Atwood drapes details around her characters to breathe originality into her creations. If you appreciate character-driven stories, you’d like this one. 4/5.

MOVIES

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After watching director David Mackenzie’s efforts in Hell or High Water (2016), I want to see his British prison film, Starred Up (2013)Taylor Sheridan has an authentic, dialogue-rich script on his hands. As regionalist American writer William Faulkner was famous for revealing the death and disillusionment of the deep south in the early twentieth century, Sheridan and Mackenzie paint a gloomy, desperate rural Texas. Add the outstanding acting by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, brothers who are a believable team, and Jeff Bridges who reprises his guttural mutterings from True Grit to play the smart, irascible Texas Ranger, Marcus. His friendship with his Mestizo partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is endearing. 4.5/5

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople(2016). The first third of the film was great. However, as the plot devolved into the ridiculous, I wondered what I was watching. Was it made for a young adult audience? The over-the-top she-cop (Rima Te Wiatta) made sense then. Was it a dark comedy for adults along the lines of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom? The violence of the animal hacking and skinning and the themes of death and hopelessness made sense then. Sam Neill performed well as the hairy, grieving misanthrope and Ricky (Julian Dennison) was at times annoying to watch with alternating moments of flatness and sincerity. The lush New Zealand landscape was a plus. 3.5/5. 

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Dr. Strange (2016). I’ve read a lot of varying reviews regarding this new addition to the Marvel galaxy. Benedict Cumberbatch, who did his best to sound just like Harrison Ford, becomes the protegee under the marvelous sorceress, Tilda Swinton. I enjoyed the relationship between Stephen and Christine (Rachel McAdams), and appreciated the new spin on Inception/The Matrix borrowings of dimensional shifting and appearance vs. reality. The time-moving-backward scene was brilliant. I was less enamored with the talk and the trap of the golem. I loved the red cape that functioned as a cool suit of armor. Overall, it worked for me. 4/5.

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Congratulations, Viggo Mortensen, on another great performance. Wouldn’t it be cool if your brilliant parents hid you out in the middle of the woods, gave you lots of siblings, and you all grew up in harmony as a cult of the Übermensch? Captain Fantastic is a heartwarming tale that satirizes everything wrong with modern society. In the end, the individual vs. society argument ends with a compromise. The freak must conform to find happiness. The conformist must break free of materialism and live pro-actively. Far-leftists and homeschooling parents will love Captain Fantastic. Survivalists and naturalists will love Captain Fantastic. There is a lot to think about with this dark comedy. Let’s all turn off the television and pick up a book. I’ll start with Chomsky. 4.5/5  

mv5bmtyxmjk0ndg4ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwodcynja5ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_ Manchester by the Sea (2016)Yes, I agree with everyone that Casey Affleck gave an outstanding performance as the passive-aggressive janitor Lee Chandler. He wasn’t the only one. His ex-wife Randi played by Michelle Williams was outstanding.  Lucas Hedges played the tossed around nephew, Patrick, yet he annoyed the heck out of me. Many people know Matt Damon produced the film and indeed, writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, created a realistic, Bostonian culture with all the profanity that you’d expect. When the reason for Lee Chandler’s despair was exposed, I wept all over my buttered-popcorn stained napkin. I am not suggesting there should have been a happy ending, but I hoped for some type of resolution or redemption. Instead, this is a tale of a man who is lost and finds no solution to his guilt. It’s one of the more depressing films I’ve seen in ages. 4/5.  

The Wrong Man(1956) This American docudrama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock starred Henry Fonda as Manny, a poor musician from New York, who is in love with his wife Rose and his two sons. He is a sincere man, who cooperates with detectives who claim he has held up various stores and an insurance company. His wife, Rose (Vera Miles), cannot handle the scandal and upheaval of her life. Bernard Herrmann‘s score is a chisel to the brain. Hitchcock includes ingenious camera angles like the simulation of Manny’s panic in his cell by shaking the camera in a circle or the appearance of the real thief transposed over Fonda’s face. I expected something more from Fonda who felt wooden to me. Did you think it was suspenseful? 3.5/5.

 

actors, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies, oscars

Jeff Bridges: The Lucky 13 Film Club

0001-60259980Hello, friends! My appreciation goes to Aussie movie buff, Lloyd Marken, for co-hosting April’s Lucky 13 Film Club. Please, check out his site found HERE and start following. We began a dialogue discussing our mutual admiration for Jeff Bridges. Trying to whittle down ten, top performances is a subjective list, so we invite you to discuss which characters or films he has starred which left a lasting impression.

Lloyd’s picks: 

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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

 

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot: Jeff Bridges is on fire here whether dressing up in drag, gradually revealing the extent of his inexperience and vulnerability or sporting a big smug smile on his face around the opposite sex. While the young actor is unafraid to reveal more about his character as the film goes on, I can’t help but go back to his first scene talking to Eastwood. Jeff plays it movie star cool like Clint with very short clever remarks as the two men feel each other out but the grin on his face says it all, he’s itching to make a friend. What do you think? Did Bridges steal the movie from right under Eastwood?

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Starman

Starman: My favourite scene in this film may be where Bridges’s alien conveys the feelings he has developed for Karen Allen. I’ve got to hand it to his first scene though which shows his alien getting used to moving in this newly formed human body, reacting to Karen Allen and his surroundings while mute and with no facial expressions. The lighting and Bridges’s performance is so spot on in this moment at making him seem expressionless that it almost looks like prosthetics were used. At one point after Allen comically passes out when he recites the UN Secretary General’s message, the alien goes over and mimics Allen’s deceased husband who is playing on a family Super 8 movie. Bridges as the alien playing off Bridges as the husband-it’s a bravo moment. Did you find Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges had believable chemistry as an alien and Earthling in love?

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The Fisher King

The Fisher King: Bridges is well known for his generosity to his fellow performers, each one of my five films whether he gets star billing or is in a supporting role feel like he cedes the films to the other actors, such as Hailee Steinfeld or Karen Allen. In The Fisher King he is undeniably the lead character and has the most arc but again he plays the straight man to Robin Williams who is allowed to go big under Terry Gilliam’s direction. Bridges alternatively is the audience surrogate coming out of depression bewildered by the world of his new-found friend but growing to care more and more in spite of himself. Unlike a lot of his films what I recognize in his performance here is a great deal of rage. Whether it is cast away lines shared with a homeless man receiving change “He didn’t even look at you.”; hostility towards Williams to leave him alone; or redirecting the anger at himself. A modern-day fairy-tale told with big emotions, The Fisher King sports Robin Williams at the height of his powers but it is held together by Bridges. Was Jeff Bridges’s performance understated to you or larger than life? Is The Fisher King still a classic because of the performance by Jeff Bridges or Robin Williams?

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Iron Man

Iron Man: Laugh all you want but his Oscar win for Crazy Heart and his nomination for True Grit come after he plays the villain in this comic book movie. Unlike RIPD, Bridges can be loud here in a good way–check him out railing against Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark in their climatic fight. It’s the little bits though that enrich the movie like the way he holds a tumbler of whiskey while threatening Gwyneth Paltrow or snatching some pizza in a wonderful riffing scene between actors or riding around on a Segway smoking a cigar. When menacing, he’s suitably dialed down and restrained and a million miles away from The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Don’t dismiss his performance here because it’s a Marvel comic book movie. He’s seldom played villains and never on such a large-scale production and it deservedly put him back on the world stage. Have I made a strong case for Iron Man’s inclusion or what wild card would you like to see him receive more praise for? Jagged Edge? Against All Odds? How about his villainous turn in The Vanishing?

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True Grit

True Grit: The Dude from The Big Lebowski will always be synonymous with Bridges, but for me, with his second collaboration with the Coens, he creates a performance just as iconic. Often framed as larger than life with a glorious accent and booming voice, pay attention and you’ll see he is powerfully silent in many scenes like watching Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie cross the river. His last words onscreen are “I’ve grown old.” There’s a fatalistic aspect to the character who has lived the type of life where he should’ve died long ago and he’s seen plenty, too.  With no family and nothing to do except get older, he’s happy to drink where he can and take the easy way out whether it’s shooting first or not burying corpses in the hard winter ground. Yet when the time comes, Cogburn rides forth against four men–old, fat and blind–partly because he is hurt by their words about his eye and partly because he’ll die like he always lived-without fear. This is a ‘real man’ but there’s a softness there, too, like when he tells Mattie to look away before he cuts her hand to suck out the snake poison. Did his performance in True Grit make you fall in love with Rooster Cogburn? Was it too broad for your tastes? 

Cindy’s thoughts: 

Jeff Bridges has a natural acting style that combines a winning smile with bemused expressions. As a child television star (Sea Hunt) he transitioned from television to films and has glowed with star power for over forty years. Since 1971, his early films show the exuberance of the athletic youth. In his middle years, he stretched his range to include all genres and a variety of characters with varying degrees of success. Now he is 66, and his talent and popularity has had a resurgence caused by recent roles as older, complicated men. He has enough accolades from the film industry to retire as a Hollywood legend. Fortunately, he is in no hurry to retire.

A major theme exists with all his characters and might define why he has been a success for decades–even when the film is a mediocre one, and there have been several, his characters portray the bewitched, bothered, or bewildered. They search for the truth. They are on a quest to solve a puzzle or find salvation. As a protagonist or anti-hero, we hope he succeeds when it seems impossible to do so. 

Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart

In his 2010 Oscar-winning performance, not only is it one of Jeff’s best, it’s a great film overall because of the performances by the ensemble cast, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal. Did Bridges think of Kris Kristofferson when he created Otis “Bad” Blake? He looks and sounds like the salty country-folk star. I remember living in Northern Virginia and sightings of Robert Duvall were common because he resides on a huge farm at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, and he frequents local diners. Here comes newbie writer/director Scott Cooper who befriends Duvall, and he agrees to produce the film. Reminiscent of Tender Mercies (1983), and Robert Duvall’s only Oscar win,  Scott Cooper’s script and direction have me wondering why we don’t see more of him.

Bad Blake: [Lying on bed strumming guitar lightly] You know that song? Hmmm?
Jean Craddock: I can’t remember who did it.
Bad Blake: That’s the way it is with good ones, you’re sure you’ve heard them before.
Jean Craddock: You wrote that?
Bad Blake: Yes, ma’am, just now.
Fat City
Fat City 1972

Speaking of Kris Kristofferson, who set the mood with the opening song, Stacey Keach gave a memorable performance as Tully, the destitute boxer in Fat City. John Huston directs and captures the Californian forgotten like a visual version of a John Steinbeck novella. The supporting efforts by Oma (Susan Tyrrell) and baby-faced Jeff Bridges are perfect.

The Last Picture Show, 1971
The Last Picture Show, 1971

One of the best films of the 1970s and the best from director Peter Bogdanovich and writer Larry McMurtry, this male coming-of-age story about a depressed Texan town and the inhabitants who are dying to leave it or might as well be, is really about the performances of the ladies: Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, and Eileen Brennan make it an exceptional film. Still, Jeff Bridges’s Duane, full of testosterone and whine, earned him his first Oscar nomination and set him up as a shirtless heartthrob for years to come.

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American Heart 1992

Jeff Bridges plays, Jack, and ex-con who waffles to establish a life and figure out how to be a dad to his son Nick, played by Edward Furlong. The two were a great team and their performances were authentic and heart-wrenching in American Heart. 

The Coen Brother's 1998 Cult Classic
The Coen Brother’s 1998 Cult Classic

Twisted, clever, and endearing and stuffed with a great cast and one-liners I still hear today, I can’t walk past the half-and-half in the grocery store without thinking about Kahlua. A bowling alley is the perfect place to meet Jesus. Yes, definitely, “The Dude, abides.”  Here are 21 facts you might not know about The Big Lebowski found HERE.

For me, Jeff Bridges playing down-and-out characters leave a lasting impression. There are so many films Lloyd and I haven’t talked about. Do you like him as the lover? As an anti-hero? Or the laid back loser? 

"Sincerely, your favorite fan", actors, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

Lucky 13 Film Club: Jeff Bridges

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Welcome! Join Australian movie buff LLOYD MARKEN and I as we steer April’s discussion to the ten best films of one of the more charismatic actors since 1971–Jeff Bridges. How do you narrow down his ten best performances? Lloyd will feature five nominations and I’ll provide five. Then you tell us your favorites and why.

All you need to do is pledge to watch a Jeff Bridges film you HAVEN’T seen and revisit one you have. Then, stop by on the 13th of April and join the discussion. Everyone is welcome.