Hell or High Water

August 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster
Directed by: David Mackenzie (“Starred Up”)
Written by: Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”)

With the ever-increasing demand for complex narratives, there is something to be said for a film that expertly tells a basic story. It may be ground that has been treaded many times before, but very few things are better than simplistic storytelling with well written dialogue and pitch perfect performances. In “Hell or High Water,” director David Mackenzie takes a rudimentary bank robbing plotline and elevates it to truly special heights.

In order to save their family farm, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) go on a series of increasingly dangerous bank robberies to get the money. The investigation to find their next location is led by veteran Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) who uses every sense of knowhow and the input of his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) to take down these amateur, and quickly-turning-professional criminals.

Every performance in “Hell or High Water” is exceptional, led by the always underrated Foster and Pine. Pine in particular is great at playing a level of reluctance bouncing off the loose cannon nature of his brother. It’s also a really great platform for Bridges, who in recent years seems to be playing the same marble-mouthed character over and over. As a grizzled veteran, the act really works in this film, and is made even better by the ball busting, buddy-cop relationship with Birmingham.

Story-wise, the plot for “Hell or High Water” truly can be summed up in a quick few sentences. It is, at times, almost too basic. There is still, however, something really intriguing about the desperation breeds necessity elements as well as the complexities family relationships can cause. It’s a story about brothers who don’t want to let anyone down, but it’s also about figuring out what to do when your back is against the wall.

It’s no surprise that “Hell or High Water” is well-crafted, given the pedigree of director Mackenzie, whose most recent film “Starred Up” was one of the hidden gems of 2013. It’s too funny to be a pure drama and too Western to be a straight up heist movie. Whatever you want to call it, one thing is for sure: it’s one of the best films of 2016 thus far.

Seventh Son

February 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes
Directed by: Sergei Bodrov (“Nomad: The Warrior”)
Written by:  Charles Leavitt (“Blood Diamond”) and Steven Knight (“Locke”)

Since the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy came along 14 years ago, followed a decade later by HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” popular culture has had all of its swords and sorcery needs met with high-end product, media that blends imaginative storytelling with committed performances and cutting-edge special effects. But that hasn’t stopped rival studios from attempting to make a quick buck riding the fad’s coattails. Now, it’s easier than ever to throw some actors in suits of armor and cloaks, ship them off to a Canadian forest, and film them swinging swords in the air while some special effects studio digitally renders a dragon or giant or whatever it is months down the road in a cramped Burbank office park. The latest knock-off is the dismal “Seventh Son,” and the only surprise in the film is how they managed to land both Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore for what has to be the worst-ever reunion of “The Big Lebowski” cast members committed to film.

Starting, as these things do, with a mysterious evil once thought banished returning to threaten the entire world, “Seventh Son” opens with a witch named Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) transforming into a dragon in order to escape her mountaintop prison. You see, the Blood Moon is coming up, and when witches do something on the Blood Moon, they can rule the world or whatever. But she needs something? Or she’s just waiting for the days to pass until the Blood Moon rises? Frankly this plan is thinly sketched. Anyway, Mother Malkin calls upon her “Mortal Kombat” reject family of witches and warlocks to prepare for the inevitable attack led by Sir Gregory (Jeff Bridges with an accent like a bad Sean Connery impression performed through a mouth full of peanut butter), an unfortunately-named Spook, a breed of knight who specializes in hunting down supernatural creatures. Along for the ride is his new apprentice Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), a seventh son of a seventh son, supposedly seven times stronger than the average man but really just sort of okay. And his mom is a witch too, so he’s got that. Ugh, this thing is a mess. Rest assured there’s a fight between the Spooks and the witches and it is all very boring.

While Barnes and his half-witch love interest Alice (Alicia Vikander) look pretty enough, absolutely no effort is made by either one to fit into the time frame, forgoing the genre standard British accents and speaking with flat American dialects and with the speech patterns and sarcasm of modern 20-somethings. At least they fare much better than whatever the hell it is Jeff Bridges is doing with his voice, chewing every single word like a piece of bubble gum and spitting them out through a sub-Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones” over-enunciated squawk. This aggression will not stand, man.

The Giver

August 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites
Directed by: Phillip Noyce (“Salt”)
Written by: Michael Mitnick (debut) and Robert B. Weide (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”)

As we become more and more removed from our days in the classroom, the passage of time withers away and degrades our sense of detail and we’re left with general remembrances of our learning experiences. A dozen years ago in 7th grade, I read the dystopian young adult novel “The Giver.” I can recall enjoying the book, but reflecting back on my days in middle school and especially walking into the theater to see the film adaptation, I remember nothing about the plot or content. I can only hope that the movie is just as easily forgettable.

In a seemingly utopian society, everyone is given pre-determined jobs and their place within a family. Unbeknownst to the citizens, they also live in a society without feelings, emotions, or even color. The only connection to the previous world is a man known as “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges), who has memories of life in the past. As he is on the precipice of becoming an adult, 16-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected to be “The Receiver” and have the memories transferred to him. But when what starts out as discovering a whole new life turns into something different as Jonas discovers the darker parts of society he decides that everyone needs to know.

Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but in order to buy into “The Giver,” you have to ignore a plethora of absurd plot holes, most of them big enough to ride a standard issue futuristic-looking bike through. Details about climate, injections, and a general sense of how the citizens are stifled are completely murky and hard to follow.

The citizens of this buttoned-down and manipulated community are meant to be lacking in feelings and emotions, which gives it some leeway in the sense of almost vacant performances. The problem is, the line delivery in “The Giver” is so bad that one might think that the teenagers in the film accidentally stumbled onto the set after filming an infomercial. Equal blame should be put on the screenwriters whose pedestrian and simple screenplay contains a lot of dialogue in the form of questions in a way that would make Alex Trebek proud. It’s extremely difficult to keep a straight face as a character, with complete seriousness and no irony poorly delivers the line “what is love?”

The character design is also particularly awful. Thwaites as a lead has nearly negative charisma and if you’re going to introduce a character as the funny guy who could always make everyone laugh, you might want to have him say something remotely funny a minimum of once in the film, or at least make him more personable than a bag of hammers. Bridges and Meryl Streep are pretty much the only members of the cast who show any semblance of acting, though they seem generally disinterested throughout.

Loyalties to the source material aside, the premise is only mildly intriguing, with exactly one truly interesting plot line and image that is quickly done away with and wasted. Everything else feels completely trite, as director Philip Noyce searches to find deeper meaning and a way to tap into emotions and finds nothing. The one saving grace of “The Giver” is that at times it is so bad that you can have some laughs at its expense. Whether it is faithful to the book or not seems to be a moot point as “The Giver” is a completely unmemorable slog with no personality, no interesting characters, and no real reason to exist.

A Place at the Table

March 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tom Colicchio, Ken Cook
Directed by: Kristi Jacobson (“Toots”) and Lori Silverbush (“On the Outs”)

The statistics are staggering in “A Place at the Table,” a documentary that explores the core reasons Americans are going hungry today. According to the film, 50 million Americans are considered “food insecure,” which means they do not know where they next meal is going to come from.

Imagine that. I can literally walk downstairs into my kitchen right now and make myself a sandwich or wash a handful of grapes or pour a glass of milk, but in 2013 there are 50 million people in a country considered the richest in the world who cannot do the same. And it isn’t because there isn’t enough food to go around. There are dozens of other factors. How hungry does Rose, a little girl from the small town of Collbran, Colorado, have to be when she daydreams her teacher and classmates are pieces of fruit during school? The obstacles, like many that American faces today, start at the top with decisions made by the U.S. government.

“A Place at the Table” isn’t shy about pointing the finger, although it would’ve behooved directors Kristi Jacobson (“Toots”) and Lori Silverbush (“On the Outs”) to also confront some of the individuals and powerful organizations who are contributing to the hunger epidemic. Instead, the filmmakers are comfortable enough doing 84-minutes of interviews with hunger campaign leaders and families who are experiencing their own personal food shortage. It’s an effective way, of course, to put a face on the problem, but it’s also one that needs someone to be held accountable for in a more meaningful way. Asking tough questions to those who are sustaining the problem (or even getting a few doors slammed in their face) would’ve answered so much more.

Still, as a call-for-help and hunger-awareness documentary that presents complex problems like farm subsidies, agribusiness, food stamp eligibility, and governmental funding for food in U.S. schools, “A Place at the Table” is a slap to the head of viewers who are unaware that hunger is not only a third-world issue. As Oscar-winning actor and founder of the End Hunger Network Jeff Bridges says in the film, “If another country was doing this to our kids, we’d be at war.” “A Place at the Table” has taken some of the first shots. It’s time for others to step up to the frontlines if they really want to make a noticeable difference in the way America takes care of its own.

True Grit

December 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld
Directed by: Joel Coen (“No Country for Old Men”) and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
Written by: Joel Coen (“No Country for Old Men”) and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)

While the Coen brothers have dabbled with western themes in a few of their past films including “The Big Lebowski” and “No Country for Old Men,” the duo has finally tightened up their boot straps and given us their own dusty, old-fashioned take on the genre with such craftsmanship you would think they’ve been doing it for years. Without comparing the film to John Wayne’s original of 1969, the Coen’s version stands on its own with noteworthy performances by Jeff Bridges as a marshall out to get his man and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who steals just about every scene she is in.

Crazy Heart

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell
Directed by: Scott Cooper (debut)
Written by: Scott Cooper (debut)

Place an entire narrative on the shoulders of four-time Academy Award nominated actor Jeff Bridges (“The Last Picture Show”) and good things are bound to happen, especially if you ask him to sing, too.

Despite a fairly safe and conventional screenplay by first time director and writer Scott Cooper, the music drama “Crazy Heart” is Bridges’ closet shot to winning Oscar gold since earning his last nom for his supporting role in 2001’s “The Contender.”

While “Crazy Heart” is rich with familiar themes, Bridges doesn’t disappoint. He stars as “Bad” Blake, a down-on-his-luck country and western singer who finds himself in the twilight of his career fighting to stay a significant part of the music industry he helped build.

All the gigs Bad can book, however, are in small-town bowling alleys, run-down watering holes, and places where his fan base – although faithful – isn’t as significant as it once was during his glory days. Years of alcoholism have taken their toll on Bad, who is now flat broke. His agent want him to sit down and write new material, but Bad’s just not interested in writing songs for other performers anymore. This includes working with his former protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a young and popular singer who epitomizes the new generation of country music.

Instead, Bad seems comfortable doing his touring across the Southwest in his 1978 Chevy suburban, staying at ratty motels and drinking the cheapest whiskey he can find. When Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a Santa Fe reporter, asks for an interview during one of his tour stops in New Mexico, Bad agrees and is immediately stunned by how much he likes the young writer. Jean, too, is oddly drawn to the Merle Haggard-type star as he tries to sober up and kick-start his life and career.

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Thomas Cobb, “Crazy Heart” – as cliché as it sounds – actually feels like the cinematic version of a country song. All the ingredients are there from love to heartbreak to redemption and Cooper follows the recipe without burning the biscuits (Bad’s specialty in the kitchen). Sure, a few bites may be a bit dry, but Bridges is riding a gravy train.

As Bad, he gives an effortless performance as a man who wants a second chance to do something memorable with the talent he has. As we watch Bad fiddle with his guitar throughout the film (pieces of the Ryan Bingham/T-Bone Burnett-written “The Weary Kind” can be heard), it’s evident that there is something amazing waiting to be revealed before it’s all said and done.

Whether he’s on stage singing songs from the film’s exceptional soundtrack (“The Weary Kind” is Oscar bound) or holding a sweet conversation with Jean’s little boy, Bridges knows no bounds when providing us with his subtle and sensitive character. “Crazy Heart” is his latest dream role and we’re all singing his praises.

Men Who Stare at Goats

November 9, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges
Directed by: Grant Heslov (“Par 6”)
Written by: Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”)

Everything unravels pretty early on in “Goats,” the dry comedy directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter/producer Grant Heslov (“Good Night, and Good Luck”). In the film, George Clooney, who has done satirical characters well before, plays Lyn Cassady, a psychic spy for the U.S. military who teams up with a reporter (Ewan McGregor) to go on a quirky adventure through Iraq. Based on an actual secret military program, the story behind “Goats” is one of mystifying science fiction that never gets passed the idea that all these characters are just darn so kitschy. It would have been nice to delve deeper into what makes all of them actually tick, but instead screenwriter Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”) and Heslov decide the funniest thing they could do with “Goats” is get McGregor, who played Obi Wan Kenobi in the most recent “Star Wars” prequels, to overkill Jedi jokes while Clooney caricatures the heck out someone that should have been ten times more fun.