Dwight Yoakam

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005, Tommy Lee Jones)

People really started noticing Tommy Lee Jones fifteen years ago, with The Fugitive. He was recognizable, given his long career to that point, but it was after The Fugitive, people started talking. Since then, Jones has done some good work and some bad work. He’s not usually bad in that bad work, but come on… he’s made some really stupid movies.

So, twelve years after he “broke out,” Jones finally got around to doing something really worth noticing. As a directorial debut, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is one of the finest. Given how many good directors Jones has worked with, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but Jones’s direction doesn’t really resemble any of them. It’s a particular, but traditional Western. They’ve modernized the story, but the essentials are classic.

Jones’s composition is both striking and anti-iconic. Chris Menges shoots in high contrast, emphasizing the visual beauty of the settings. Even the mobile home yard looks beautiful, even as the unhappiness drowns its residents. But Jones keeps his shots–he uses the full Panavision frame perfectly–close and personal. The shots are for the actors and their characters to inhabit more than for the viewer to admire. Jones hammers away at the idea of any sentimentality or hope for the characters.

In the lead, Jones is fantastic, but unimpressively so. He never gets flashy–the only area where he really could is with his romancing of married waitress Melissa Leo and the film avoids it, though it probably shouldn’t have. Barry Pepper is great. January Jones is great. But Leo’s the real surprise. She’s astoundingly good.

But where Three Burials has problems is with Leo and Jones. Leo is comic relief for the first half, which the script cuts to awkwardly. The story itself is linear and about Jones and Pepper, but the script jumbles it up. For the first thirty minutes, the narrative is fractured. Flash forwards, flashbacks. Lots of cute contrived relationships between characters, lots of coincidences. It’s cute instead of serious. The film’s legitimate until the end at least–the cuteness can be overlooked–but at the end, Three Burials forgets itself. It wants to be a film with an actual first act, instead of a bunch of cute edits. There’s nothing wrong with the first act and those cute edits, except they belong in a different film. Once the film really gets moving… it’s hampered with them, as it is with January Jones and Leo–who form just an interesting a relationship as Jones and Pepper, except the film ignores them.

They’re women… and it is a Western, after all.

But it’s a fine film with some excellent performances. Jones’s direction is amazing and he needs to get back behind the camera. Another big surprise is former Dimension Films horror movie composer Marco Beltrami, who does a great job here.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tommy Lee Jones; written by Guillermo Arriaga; director of photography, Chris Menges; edited by Roberto Silvi; music by Marco Beltrami; produced by Michael Fitzgerald, Luc Besson and Pierre-Ange le Pogam; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Pete Perkins), Barry Pepper (Mike Norton), Julio Cedillo (Melquiades Estrada), January Jones (Lou Ann Norton), Dwight Yoakam (Sheriff Frank Belmont), Melissa Leo (Rachel), Levon Helm (Old Man With Radio) and Vanessa Bauche (Mariana).


Crank (2006, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor)

I don’t usually see films released by Lionsgate. I wouldn’t say I boycotted them, but I don’t take them seriously enough to bother. I started watching Crank because the trailer looked amusing and I do like Jason Statham, whose career goal is apparently never to be in a film funded by a major film company. Statham’s a reasonable enough actor and he’s a good action star. Except Crank is actually the worst made film I can remember seeing. It beats everything in terms of incompetence. But I guess it really isn’t incompetence, because if the filmmakers intended to make a video game into a movie (something David Fincher once said he was trying to do, I think about Fight Club), they’ve sort of succeeded. It’s just an incomprehensible video game.

Crank opens with the title in old video game–arcade days–font, then moves into Statham’s point of view for a few minutes while it establishes its story. This film uses Google Maps (with the Google Maps tag onscreen) as a story-telling device. It has multiple frames on screen at once, but then attaches these frames as textures to walls in other frames. It’s incoherent and stupid. Every third word is a expletive, not for any good reason, but because the writing is so laughable.

Also, it’s not exciting. Jason Statham drives around a lot and yells at people on his cell phone (which gets really good reception). I know the guy’s inevitably going to die–it’s part of the agreement for watching the film–but if you want him to die, well, it doesn’t quite work… shock of shocks.

Unfortunately, Crank didn’t totally tank at the box office and it’s doing well on video (which signals the end days more than a nuclear holocaust would), so it’s possible the morons who made it will make some more films. But they’ve really achieved something with Crank–it’s probably the most worthless action movie I can think of.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor; director of photography, Adam Biddle; edited by Brian Berdan; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Jerry Fleming; produced by Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Richard S. Wright, Skip Williamson and Michael Davis; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Jason Statham (Chev Chelios), Amy Smart (Eve), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Verona), Efren Ramirez (Kaylo), Dwight Yoakam (Doc Miles), Carlos Sanz (Carlito), Jay Xcala (Alex) and Keone Young (Don Kim).


Sling Blade (1996, Billy Bob Thornton), the director’s cut

I’m going to assume Sling Blade was a labor of love for actor/writer/director Billy Bob Thornton (remember how much of a big deal he used to be?), just because it has all the trappings of a labor of love. I watched the newish director’s cut DVD, which runs twenty-two minutes longer than the theatrical version at 148 minutes, and–to be fair to the theatrical cut, which I’m sure was a labor of love too–the film should be about ninety-eight minutes.

I kept thinking of a phrase while watching the film: “poorly executed.” Sling Blade has a lot of poorly executed scenes and sequences. There’s one particularly offending montage that I won’t go into, just in case anyone isn’t familiar with the conclusion. But the film has some beautiful, beautiful moments. Moments where tears came to my eyes (but didn’t escape, I’d be a lot more positive if they’d gotten away). Thornton creates these beautiful relationships–not just his character and the kid, but his character and everyone (except Dwight Yoakam’s character). It’s just when he fills in the moments with a lot of useless talk… a lot of labor of love moments.

Now, I was going to wait to talk about Dwight Yoakam, but I’m afraid I’ll forget the adjective for his acting if I do. Dwight Yoakam is atrocious. For the most part, Sling Blade looks like a “normal” motion picture. Miramax did not pay for it–it is from before Miramax paid for all their films–but it’s shot on 35 millimeter and the print doesn’t change film stocks or any other tell-tale signs… Except Yoakam. I presume Thornton and Yoakam were friends, because there’s no other reason someone would saddle down his or her film with such a crappy performance. Yoakam probably gets off six lines that aren’t cringe-inducing. Atrocious. That’s the right word….

Unfortunately, it’s also the right word to describe the musical score. A score doesn’t necessarily have to weigh down or improve a film, except Thornton relies on the score a few times for his terrible montages. Thornton holds shots too… there’s movement in them, but the shots hold for a long time, maybe even a minute. Hitchcock rarely went over twenty seconds. These lengthy, useless montages, with the terrible music–especially the end, after the character relationships have just produced this beautiful feeling in the viewer–are unspeakable. It’s a travesty.

I haven’t seen Sling Blade since 1996, when it came out in the theater, and I dutifully went and saw my “indie” movie. I read the screenplay previously and the screenplay, I remember, was better. The film doesn’t work, emotionally, for the same reason the Sixth Sense doesn’t work. The story is about this family and the filmmaker forces the story to be about an external force. It’s a loose comparison, but in the end of both, we’re cheated of the emotional impact, left instead with a gimmick–a nice little bow. With a nice pair of editing scissors, though, someone could Sling Blade into something really impressive.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton; director of photography, Barry Markowitz; edited by Hughes Winborne; music by Daniel Lanois; production designer, Clark Hunter; produced by Brandon Rosser and David L. Bushell; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Billy Bob Thornton (Karl Childers), Dwight Yoakam (Doyle Hargraves), J.T. Walsh (Charles Bushman), John Ritter (Vaughan Cunningham), Lucas Black (Frank Wheatley), Natalie Canerday (Linda Wheatley), James Hampton (Jerry Woolridge) and Robert Duvall (Karl’s Father).


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