Tag Archives: Jeff Bridges

John Carpenter’s Starman

John Carpenter usually has a flair for the macabre and the darkly mysterious forces that our world and others have to offer, but such is not the case with Starman, a touching, tender science fiction story showcasing one knockout of a performance from Jeff Bridges.

When an extraterrestrial spaceship crashes somewhere in the Midwest, the being living inside wanders out and takes the form of a woman’s (Karen Allen) deceased husband to make her a little less jumpy, which is an interesting strategy. So begins a road trip to an extraction point in Arizona with her sort of held hostage but quickly warming up to this curious, childlike extraterrestrial who slowly learns what earth life is all about. Meanwhile various factions of the government including an amoral NSA asshole (Richard Jaeckel) and a pacifist scientist (Charles Martin Smith, terrific) pursue them all over the region but mostly just trip on their shoelaces. Bridges is absolutely brilliant as the alien, infusing a truly otherworldly quality into his gentle, restrained performance full of distinct mannerisms, expert physicality and beautiful subtleties. The chemistry between the two of them is so good you can practically feel it sparkling around the in the air. Allen’s performance works wonders too, beginning on a sorrowful note and eventually opening up to hope and happiness once again.

This is essentially a story of loss, and how one can deal with it. Granted there’s not a lookalike space alien out there for everyone who has lost someone but Bridges’s presence feels like an essence that could be any type of good, helpful quality that enters someone’s life following such an incident. This is the type of compassionate, heartfelt film that leaves a warm glow in the living room when the credits dim, and Carpenter blesses it with his trademark touch while giving it a slighter, brighter atmosphere than usual. The score by Jack Nitzsche is also a brilliant composition that adds to everything I’ve outlined above. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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Peter Weir’s Fearless

A plane falls out of the sky and crashes in a cornfield. Some of the passengers survive. Others do not. No one involved is ever the same after. Such is the premise of Peter Weir’s Fearless, a complicated, challenging, unconventional and altogether brilliant piece that goes a lot deeper than most Hollywood produced films are allowed to. Jeff Bridges is Max Klein, a man who emerges serenely from the wreck having saved multiple lives and undergone a personal change that can’t be made clear in a scene or two, but rather takes the film it’s whole runtime to explore. While the entire plane is in full panic, Max reaches a sort of tranquility in the face of death, and instead of freaking out he very lucidly gets up and joins a young boy who’s alone on the flight and comforts him. When they land and he survives, his relationship to those around him is affected including his wife (Isabella Rossellini), young son, a trauma counsellor (John Turturro hired by the airline) and others. Most fascinating is the time spent with Carla (Rosie Perez) a fellow crash survivor whose newborn baby wasn’t so lucky, leaving her in a pit of grief. They share something together that no one, audience included, can fully understand because they weren’t there. The beauty of it is that Bridges and Perez can’t really know either, but the magic of both their performances is that they make you believe they’re in this extraordinary situation for real. Bridges never plays it with a messianic or mystical aura like some would, he’s always straight up and kindly which works wonders for this character. Perez is a revelation, soulful and heartbroken but never cloying or panhandling for our tears, she earns them fair and square. I’m not one too get too heated about Oscar snubs but it’s a crime she got beat out by Marisa Tomei that year for fluff like My Cousin Vinny. Peter Weir is a thoughtful director whose films are always high concept stories, but are also always character driven to provide that balance. He’s interested not in spectacle or sensationalism here but the difficult questions that others might gloss over or be too afraid to think about. There’s two scenes revolving around the crash, one of the aftermath and an extended one of the incident itself playing out that reach a level that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Not an easy film to classify or describe in a review, but the rare Hollywood picture that tackles concepts well above what we’re used to seeing. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Tod Williams’s The Door In The Floor

We don’t get enough widely released films that show how blunt, frank and confusing life can be. Every day is another hilarious tragedy wrapped in unpredictable instances of comedy, enigmatic human behaviour that can’t possibly stick to script and complexities that defy explanation. Tod Williams’s The Door In The Floor is a criminally underrated masterpiece that sort of defies description in the sense that it’s about nothing other than the lives of several people over the course of one New England summer, and what that entails. Is there sadness? You could say that. Is there comedy? Briefly, yes. It’s tough cinema, a film that deals in truths, but they are hard truths, half truths and hidden truths, ambassadors of the film’s slogan on the poster: ‘The most dangerous secrets are the ones we’re afraid to tell ourselves.’ Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger give the best work of their careers as Ted and Marion Cole, a couple haunted by the worst kind of tragedy, both unable to move on in their own way. Ted is a passive aggressive, alcoholic manipulator, Marion is an emotionally shut off shell. These are two people who in another film would absolutely have not been sympathetic characters. Not here. Ted hires sixteen year old college kid Eddie (Jon Foster) as his assistant for the summer, mainly because he lost his driver’s license. Truthfully, he does this on purpose for reasons I won’t impart here, but soon the boy and Marion are having a torrid affair with sex scenes the film doesn’t gloss over, glance away or back down from. The eerie thing is watching how the passage of time has traumatized two people not only to the point where they have become their worst selves, but also are completely unable to recover or continue on with their lives properly anymore. What’s worse, they have a four year old daughter (Elle Fanning, brilliant in an early role) who is swept up in this storm of malcontent, bitterness and broken lives. It’s not easy to watch but it never gets overly sentimental or cheats you by drip feeding emotional work that it itself hasn’t worked for or earned, there’s a naturalistic way these events play out that had me full well believing this was real, and investing everything I had into these characters. Bridges is fucking devastating here in what has to be his finest and most overlooked performance. Ted is a children’s writer (“I’m an entertainer of children, and I like to draw”) who injects pain into his work, a petty egotist whose light for life is slowly dimming. Basinger too brings us her best, she’s uncomfortably opaque yet somehow sweet and soulful, Marion is a seemingly unforgivable character that we come to feel for despite her actions, like a fallen angel. Foster is a find, it’s interesting because his brother Ben, now something of a star, was originally casted but purposefully relinquished the role to his brother as he thought him better suited. Intuitive move because he nails the roiling hormones and confused pining of adolescence to a T while still somehow appearing astute beyond his years. The supporting cast is fleshed out by great work from Mimi Rogers, Bijou Phillips, Louis Arcella and an adorable cameo from Donna Murphy, but really it’s the Bridges and Basinger show. The New England setting is a beautiful misty coastline dotted with vast country estates and windy bluffs, a picturesque yet oddly mournful locale for this tale to play out, inhabited by Marcelo Zarvos’s score that captures the grief and suffering without obviously highlighting it. David Lynch once noted in his autobiography that when approaching a character in writing, directing or performance, it’s important to remember that a person is not all one thing, there’s a multitude of emotions, feelings and impulses at play simultaneously and this results in confusing, contradictory, often self degrading and destructive behaviour that we aren’t meant to understand, but is there for us to see all the same. Williams and his actors keep that squarely in mind here and work to create human beings that feel like people in the real world, imperfections and all. I would tell you to bring a box of tissues but this isn’t the type of drama that elicits tears in an obvious way, but rather slowly, steadily and without a predictable blueprint, but bring that box anyway. Can’t recommend this highly enough.

-Nate Hill

Stephen Hopkins’s Blown Away

As far as mad bomber movies go, Stephen Hopkins’s Blown Away has to be one of the finest, a personal favourite of mine and a scorching, atmospheric thriller that has aged like fine wine. It had the unfortunate luck of being released the same year as fellow bomber flick and mega-hit Speed which kind of eclipsed it, but for my money this is the better film. Some suspension of disbelief is naturally required to enjoy this story of a psychopathic former Irish radical (Tommy Lee Jones) on a wanton path of destruction as he employs a personal vendetta against an old alliance (Jeff Bridges), who is now a hotshot in the Boston bomb squad division. After a disagreement years ago that led to hellish destruction and Jones’s incarceration for nearly two decades, the two face off in an incendiary game of cat and mouse set against the Boston backdrop, with everyone Bridges has in his life serving as collateral damage in his ruthless adversary’s sick game. Jones clearly had a dialect coach to say certain phrases and his accent slips generously here and there, but he plays his super baddie role with gleeful menace and steals every scene. Bridges always shines in any role and his caged animal intensity fires up the dire situation he finds himself, his family and colleagues in. Lloyd Bridges is fantastic as his old Irish uncle, Suzy Amis nails crucial scenes as his wife who gradually learns about his violent past, while Forest Whitaker does a fine job as the bomb squad’s rookie officer. Hopkins always does well in thriller territory (check out The Ghost & The Darkness for another brilliant outing from him) and the direction here is big, bold but never too far over the top, despite some theatrically elaborate set pieces involving the bombs. Alan Silvestri cranks up the orchestral grandeur for a thunderous, rousing score that’s nearly half the fun of the film. All involved do excellent work in not only making this a gorgeous film to look at but to create genuine suspense for more than one sequence, which isn’t easily achieved in this desensitized viewer. There’s probably a Blu Ray floating around out there and that’s fine, but there’s a smoky ambience and atmospheric 90’s feel to this film that I feel lends itself a bit better to the loving grain of DVD, the format I own it on. I remember watching bits and pieces of it on TBS Superstation back when I was younger and loving it, it’s a great film to keep revisiting.

-Nate Hill

SBIFF: Glenn Close on The Wife, Fatal Attraction, and Bill Hurt.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Glenn Close
Roger Durling, Glenn Close, and Leonard Maltin. Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF.

 

Bounding across the stage during Leonard Maltin’s marvelous career-spanning discussion with Glenn Close was Sir Pip Close, the most adorable Havanese you have ever seen who, without question, stole the show. He also has his own Instagram account. Moments prior Sir Pip and Close draped in a crimson coat spent their time with each member of the press, speaking of her current film The Wife which bestowed to her numerous awards (the Golden Globe, SAG) and her seventh Academy Award nomination. Both on the carpet and with Malden, she spoke fondly of her bountiful career that is richly stocked with colorful and daring performances.

“Babe, I’m a whore,” Close giggled while recounting what Michael Douglas said to her when she lobbied for the original ending of Fatal Attraction to not be reshot and screamed at him; demanding to know what he would do in her situation. The film, but more importantly the character of Alex Frost, is important to her. She spoke at length about the deep backstory of abuse and incest that Close created for Frost, not only explaining but sympathizing with the characters motivation.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Glenn Close
Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF.

The World According to Garp was her first “big break”, which led to her being instantly cast in Lawrence Kasdan’s magnificent The Big Chill. There, is where her relationship with Bill (William) Hurt grew into an everlasting friendship (Close would later seek Bill’s counsel regarding the ending to Fatal Attraction being reshot) and made note of how she had dated Kevin Kline, and how he was then dating William Hurt’s ex-wife, Mary Beth Hurt which led to the reason for her not getting cast in the role of Sarah, Kline’s onscreen wife and central hub of the film. Most of the cast had been friends prior to filming, but she said it was Kasdan’s month-long rehearsal where the entire cast shared a house in Atlanta is what truly attributed to the ensemble’s chemistry.

She has always believed in the medium of television, stating it was something that Judi Dench and Maggie Smith took seriously in the UK, appearing on numerous BBC specials. Sarah, Plain and Tall (her first behind the scenes production), The West Wing, The Shield are all miniseries and television shows that she had appeared on, but it was not until FX’s Damages where Close made her mark. It not only was a show with two female leads but also reunited her with Bill Hurt. The show had a rabid fanbase, and when FX canceled it after the third season, diehard fans petitioned and then the series found a second life as a DirectTV exclusive for two more seasons.

Albert Nobbs was her passion project, taking nearly twenty years to get off the ground and for cameras to start rolling. Same can be said for her current film, The Wife co-staring Johnathan Pryce, but the limbo period wasn’t as long for her personally, she had only been attached to the project for five years. She absolutely loved working with Pryce, called him one of her finest acting partners, and how much he believed in the film.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

As she accepted her Maltin Modern Master Award from Roger Durling, an admirable stand-in for Jeff Bridges who could not make the event, gave an impassioned speech that touched Close in a beautiful moment of many that night. As Close accepted her award and was midway through her speech, Sir Pip Close once again found his way to the middle of the stage and began to roll around and scratch his back. Close began to laugh and said that Sir Pip did the same thing during the filming of the Nobel Peace Prize scene in The Wife. As the final days of Oscar season come to a close, Glenn Close is on her way of finally taking home the gold on the seventh nomination for a performance that is very quiet, very subdued yet it is a wonderful showboat of a performance from one of cinemas finest actors.

Rod Lurie’s The Contender

I like examining films about political corruption from decades ago that, if anything, were somewhat ahead of their time and are more potent these days in the age of the internet and social media. Rod Lurie’s The Contender is no exception, and looks at abuse of power by those with a lot of it to wield, and the frequently used and very bratty tactic of bringing up events from people’s past to run smear campaigns on the eve of elections, a dirty trick used heavily by both sides of any power struggle. Joan Allen is fantastic as a US Senator who is a strong candidate for Vice President until a fiery, amoral asshole of a rival played by Gary Oldman digs up dirt from her college days and threatens to derail the whole thing. This is a political drama and as such the script (courtesy of Lurie himself) has a whole truck of bells, whistles and supporting characters to give the film flourish, but at heart it’s a fascinating moral dilemma revolving around Allen and Oldman. The attack on her is vicious, below the belt slander and although not unfounded, it’s unwarranted by someone who is supposed to represent and uphold integrity with their position. The plot thickens when she discovers secrets of her own regarding his character and past, and struggles in herself whether to use this information to bring him down like he did to her, or rise above it and use other less sensationalist strategies to beat him. Her quandary culminates in a decision that many, including myself, would find fairly frustrating given the gauntlet of degradation she’s forced to walk through as a result of Oldman’s actions. That decision may not be what we want to happen emotionally as an audience based on what we’ve seen and felt, but it’s easy to remove ourselves and see why she does this, and view the example she has set for peers by making the hardest of calls. It’s mature, difficult storytelling and I’d forgotten what a thoughtful, prescient film this is. Many people from both sides of America’s divided masses and political parties could learn a thing or two from this story. Allen never overplays the role and uses that quiet observance she’s so good with to bring us closer to her character. Oldman is decked out in a strange curly wig and looks nothing like the sneering shark he becomes when he opens his mouth, it’s an interesting visual character choice. Jeff Bridges plays the President (I’d vote for him IRL) and the cast is stocked with excellent talent including Sam Elliott, Christian Slater, Saul Rubinek, Philip Baker Hall, Mariel Hemingway, Kathryn Morris and William L. Petersen. Great film, and gets more important as each year passes.

-Nate Hill

Drew Goddard’s Bad Times At The El Royale

Although not quite the dense, delicious narrative feast I envisioned based on marketing, Drew Goddard’s Bad Times At The El Royale is an impressively mounted period thriller with gorgeous late 60’s production design, fantastic performances from a variety of players and a hard boiled, ultra violent storyline loaded with equal helpings of melodrama and pulp. Somewhere along the Nevada/California state-line lies the ornate El Royale, a retro pop funhouse with a giant chandelier, soda jerk sensibilities and and a jukebox that doesn’t quit. The rooms in California cost an extra dollar a night than those in Nevada because of course they do. A handful of strangers show up one fateful day in 1969, the motives, pasts and true temperaments of which are slowly revealed throughout the rainy night via an elliptical tale that weaves forward, backwards and flows past many perspectives and angles to show what is actually happening. Jeff Bridges is the salty preacher with memory issues, Jon Hamm the chatterbox salesman who moonlights as a clandestine federal agent, Lewis Pullman the dodgy hotel clerk, Dakota Johnson and a scary Cailee Spaeny two hippie sisters on the run and Cynthia Erivo in the film’s best and most human performance as a fledgeling singer just trying to survive the crazy night. Alliances shift, flashbacks sometime prove reliable and sometimes not, people are killed graphically, the rain pours down, intentions are laid bare and that jukebox keeps on keeping on. The soundtrack they’ve amassed is something else here, an old time collection of Mo town, sun n’ surf and heartfelt solos by Erivo that give the film a vibrant personality. And yes, Chris Hemsworth is in it too, playing a volatile, Manson-esque cult leader with a short temper, long hair and a button down shirt that conveniently never gets buttoned down (anything to fill those seats). The character is a bit much and sort of takes over the wheel in the third act, but Chris is too young to pull something that magnetic off as well as others could and I couldn’t help feeling like he was miscast. The film sort of suffers from what I call Hateful Eight syndrome a bit; when you have an Agatha Christie sort of tale to tell, the setup is always a tantalizing mystery that, once unravelled, has to feel worth the build and earn its revelations along the way. The payoff here is better than Hateful Eight and the film overall is stronger too, but I felt just a smidge underwhelmed once everything was laid bare and the wrap up rolled around. Nevertheless, this is a surefire piece of thriller entertainment with many elements that work terrifically, namely acting, dialogue and production design. Erivo seems to have come out of nowhere and also impressed me in Widows earlier this year, she grounds the film in reality and serves as the moral compass of sorts in this miasma of reprehensible human behaviour, I hope to see more of her and hear more of that singing voice in the future. Spaeny too was excellent, playing a pitch perfect acolyte with an unbalanced edge and a dead eyed stare that was truly chilling and definitely reminiscent of what I’d imagine a freaky ass flower power cult chick would have come across as back then. A fine piece of entertainment that wasn’t as deeply plotted as it could have been, but blasts by with admirable energy and streamlined ambition.

-Nate Hill