Jeff Bridges

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974, Michael Cimino)

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is the story of men in all their complexities. Their desire for money, their desire for women, their desire for stylish clothes. Whether a young man–Jeff Bridges–or an older man–Clint Eastwood–how can any of us truly understand these deep, complex beings.

I wish the film had that level of pretense, but it doesn’t. Writer-director Cimino has a lot of machismo issues to work out and he also wants to draw a lot of attention to Eastwood’s character’s Korean War valor. Is it a commentary on the Vietnam War? It would suggest a deeper level to the film, which is otherwise initially Bridges and Eastwood’s comedic misadventures avoiding George Kennedy, while the second half is Bridges, Eastwood, and Kennedy teaming up to rob a bank. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s Eastwood-lite second half is a sequence of questionable sight gag “comedy” and boring car chases. Oh, and the lamest heist sequence ever. Cimino’s direction is all about the Idaho and Montana vistas. He doesn’t pace well, though editor Ferris Webster does no favors.

Frank Stanley’s photography is fine. It’s occasionally too impersonal, but it’s not like a better lighted pool hall was going to fundamentally fix the film. Cimino’s script–and his resulting film–are real shallow. Kennedy’s the closest thing to a full character just because Kennedy has to contend with big contrary actions. Cimino forcefully shoehorns them into the script, complete with dialogue to foreshadow, and Kennedy manages to make them work. No one else is as lucky.

Except maybe Geoffrey Lewis. He’s the film’s comedy relief, someone everyone–Kennedy, Bridges, and Eastwood–can bully. Men like to bully. It makes them men. Bullying and knowing almost nothing about concussions, even though all implied backstory is to the contrary of the latter. Lewis actually works in the background, just because Cimino treats him like scenery. But Lewis stays busy.

Eastwood’s got a nothing character. Initially he’s just running away from Kennedy. Then he teams up with Bridges and they have cinema’s lamest bromance. Cimino forces in some exposition on Bridges, which Bridges delivers in an annoying, obnoxious, insipid fashion. Eastwood gets none. He has no character. He delivers a decent performance nonetheless, apparently able to pretend there’s some depth to not just his character, but the film itself.

And Bridges. As it turns out, Bridges maybe gives the film’s most appropriate performance. He’s doing something, it’s not working, so he just does more of it. Also the perfect description of Cimino and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

A weak score from Dee Barton rounds it out. Besides the Montana travelogue, which is gorgeous, a lot of cameos from seventies character actors, and Kennedy’s performance, there’s not much to the film. It needs a better director and a much, much better script.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Cimino; director of photography, Frank Stanley; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Dee Barton; produced by Robert Daley; released by United Artists.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Thunderbolt), Jeff Bridges (Lightfoot), Geoffrey Lewis (Eddie Goody) and George Kennedy (Red Leary).


Starman (1984, John Carpenter)

Starman’s first forty or so minutes speed by–director Carpenter gets as much information across as quickly as he can to discourage the viewer from paying too much attention. There aren’t exactly plot holes, but there’s a lot of silliness in the script. For example, Charles Martin Smith–who’s perfectly good in the film–has an entirely pointless character. He’s just there to contrive some drama in the third act.

Except it isn’t really dramatic because Starman’s narrative is exceedingly predictable. What isn’t predictable is Carpenter’s direction or the performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. Bridges gets the unique leading man role of being able to continually reinvent his performance; right up until the last scene of the film, there’s always something new he gets to do.

The script doesn’t fully acknowledge the strangeness of Allen’s character’s situation–her husband reincarnated but as an entirely different being. Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon’s script is never particularly smart or self-aware. In some ways, Carpenter just ignores the script problems and pushes forward. He matches his personal indulgences (like the massively choreographed and utterly useless helicopter sequence) with similar indulgences for Bridges and Allen. Carpenter’s showcasing, because there’s not much else to do with the problematic narrative.

Carpenter keeps the filmmaking ambitious, compensating somewhat for the script. The lush Jack Nitzsche score is initially muted, only coming through as the narrative develops. Carpenter and cinematographer Donald M. Morgan create some fantastic visuals.

It’s a glorious, gorgeous misfire.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon; director of photography, Donald M. Morgan; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Starman), Karen Allen (Jenny Hayden), Charles Martin Smith (Mark Shermin), Robert Phalen (Major Bell), Tony Edwards (Sergeant Lemon) and Richard Jaeckel (George Fox).


Against All Odds (1984, Taylor Hackford)

If Against All Odds had just a few more things going for it, the film might qualify as a glorious disaster. There are a lot of glorious elements to it, even if there aren't quite enough to make it worthwhile. Or even passable.

Hackford's direction is outstanding. He's fully committed to Eric Hughes's terrible script. It doesn't matter if it's plotting, logic or characters, Hughes can't do any of them. Odds is three films stuck together–Jeff Bridges as an injured football player (an absurdly old one) who has to figure out what to do with his life, Bridges and Rachel Ward's travelogue romance in scenic Mexico, and then a good old fashioned L.A. city corruption story. Actually, the first and last tie together somewhat; it's the lengthy Mexican sojourn where Odds uses up most of its goodwill.

It gets that goodwill partially from Hackford, who's got great photography from Donald E. Thorin and outstanding music from Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton. Odds always looks good and sounds good. But there's an excellent supporting cast–James Woods is phenomenal, Richard Widmark's great, Jane Greer, Swoosie Kurtz, Saul Rubinek–they're all good. The problem's the leads. Ward is awful. Sure, Hughes writes her as an object and can't figure out her character motivation, but she's still awful. Bridges isn't any good for similar reasons; silly writing, nonsense story arc. But at least he's likable.

There are a couple moments where all the good things collide and Odds is sublime.

There needed to be more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by Eric Hughes, based on a film written by Daniel Mainwaring; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton; production designer, Richard Lawrence; produced by William S. Gilmore and Hackford; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Terry Brogan), Rachel Ward (Jessie Wyler), James Woods (Jake Wise), Alex Karras (Hank Sully), Jane Greer (Mrs. Wyler), Richard Widmark (Ben Caxton), Dorian Harewood (Tommy), Swoosie Kurtz (Edie) and Saul Rubinek (Steve Kirsch).


The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel Coen)

There are a lot of interesting things about what the Coens do with The Big Lebowski. The foremost thing has to be how, even though the film is incredibly thoughtful and complex in its homages, the Coens aren’t exclusionary about it. If you don’t know it’s Raymond Chandler, it’s okay. If you don’t know zero budget Westerns had narrators, it’s okay.

If you do, you understand more about what they’re doing, but you don’t better understand the film. Because knowing where they’re coming from isn’t the point. The movie’s the point.

But being accepting of populist viewers aside, the Coens also do something very interesting with the dialogue. When people listen to other people, they’re hearing it for the first time, just like the viewer. Even though John Goodman’s amusing lunatic has been friends with Jeff Bridges’s character for untold years… Bridges’s reactions are in line with the audiences. He’s stunned—just like the viewer—at the stupid things Goodman says.

It’s subtle, but with the film starting in the first scene.

Bridges and Goodman are both great, as is Steve Buscemi as the third in their triumvirate. Of course, he has nothing to say, which is kind of the point.

In the supporting roles, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and David Thewlis are all fantastic.

Lebowski, now a pop culture icon, succeeds because it embraces pop culture (and assumes everyone should know LA culture). It’s excellent.

Except, however, when there’s a nonsensical reference to an as yet unestablished subplot.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes and Tricia Cooke; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Ethan Coen; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Jeffrey Lebowski), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak), Steve Buscemi (Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos), David Huddleston (Jeffrey Lebowski), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Brandt), Ben Gazzara (Jackie Treehorn), Peter Stormare (Karl Hungus), John Turturro (Jesus Quintana), Jon Polito (Da Fino), David Thewlis (Knox Harrington), Jack Kehler (Marty) and Sam Elliott (The Stranger).


Tron: Legacy (2010, Joseph Kosinski)

Tron: Legacy is a little better than the first one (though the first one is so bad, it would be hard not to be). It does, however, share a very common trait–it’s best when the music is blaring. The Daft Punk score is wondrous and when the music’s going, Tron: Legacy works. Another asset is director Kosinski. His sense of composition is excellent and he incorporates the big special effects beautifully.

The smaller CG effect–slapping a young Jeff Bridges face on some stand in–fails. It looks like a rubber mask. They might have been better off with a rubber mask, actually.

Two more strong elements. First, production designer Darren Gilford. The film looks amazing. It might get a little less amazing for the finish, but the last scene has that other strong element. Olivia Wilde is fantastic. Her role is difficult (because it’s silly) but she turns in an easily likable performance while suggesting a lot of depth.

Lead Garrett Hedlund starts weak but gets better once Bridges shows up. Bridges is clearly cashing a paycheck here. Then there’s Michael Sheen… Kosinski apparently told him to play a cartoon character.

Unfortunately, the script’s dumb; the plot twists are idiotic and contrived.

Much of the action is lifted from old blockbusters (lots of Star Wars and even the original Burton Batman). Kosinski might not be original, but he executes his plagiarism effectively.

I’m loathe to say it, but Tron: Legacy is worth seeing. If just to look at it and hear.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Kosinski; screenplay by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, based on a story by Kitsis, Horowitz, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal and on characters created by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird; director of photography, Claudio Miranda; edited by James Haygood; music by Daft Punk; production designer, Darren Gilford; produced by Sean Bailey, Lisberger and Jeffrey Silver; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Kevin Flynn / Clu), Garrett Hedlund (Sam Flynn), Olivia Wilde (Quorra), Bruce Boxleitner (Alan Bradley), James Frain (Jarvis), Beau Garrett (Gem) and Michael Sheen (Castor).


True Grit (2010, Joel and Ethan Coen)

By doing a faithful adaptation of the source novel, the Coen brothers ignore what True Grit does really well. It’s the incredible adventure of a girl, told without any gloss and at times rather harsh. It features one of those great child actor performances (from Hailee Steinfeld). And with their faithful adaptation, the Coen brothers take the role away from Steinfeld and give it to Elizabeth Marvel, playing the role as an adult.

Even worse, they end the film with way too thoughtful narration as a coda. It serves to establish True Grit as a “serious” Western instead of just a Western, something the rest of the film doesn’t really do. There’s nothing profound about the film’s narrative, it’s just what the Coen brothers do–they make really good films.

Their composition here is fantastic. With Roger Deakins shooting Grit, I don’t think there’s a single bad shot in the film (until the overlong third act, which also gives the viewer time to calculate story implausibilities and contrivances). There are many wonderful shots.

Bridges is good but his essaying of the role is a little abrupt. Matt Damon has less to work with and does more. The film’s mostly Steinfeld for the first act, the trio for the second, then the third introduces Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. Again, Brolin’s got the showier role and ostensibly more material, but it’s Pepper who shines.

It’s very well made and very entertaining. They just didn’t make the profound film the ending suggests.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, screenplay by the Coen brothers, based on the novel by Charles Portis; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jess Gonchor; produced by the Coen brothers and Scott Rudin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney), Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper), Bruce Green (Harold Parmalee), Roy Lee Jones (Yarnell) and Elizabeth Marvel (adult Mattie).


Tron (1982, Steven Lisberger)

It’s easier to stomach Tron if you think about it as a video track to Wendy Carlos’s score. While there’s some technical innovation (shooting actors on green screen, now a norm, got some of its starts with Tron, not to mention the endless CG–except in Tron, at least it was for effect and not some attempt at reality), it’s an almost utterly useless motion picture.

Jeff Bridges probably deserved an Oscar for this one, for keeping a straight face. He’s actually really engaging and entertaining. It’s kind of like Jeff Bridges if he couldn’t act; he’s just playing a grinning, charming guy. He’s really never done any other roles as bland.

However, he’s the one good main performance in the film. If you like Bruce Boxleitner, you might say his Tron performance is earnest. If you’re realistic, you’ll say it’s bad. Same goes for Cindy Morgan, though she’s nowhere near as bad as David Warner, who’s just silly.

Dan Shor’s actually real good. But he’s not in it enough.

Back to the music. Carlos’s music creates this … world in the imagination a lot more vast than the CG nonsense. It’s a mature score, able to be both profound (it’s incredibly passionate, something Tron lacks in terms of narrative and so what if the effects are passionate?) and playful. Far too good to be in something like Tron.

As far as filmmaking innovation–so what? There’s no storytelling inventiveness here, much less innovation, and without that factor, what’s the point?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Lisberger; screenplay by Lisberger, based on a story by Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird; director of photography, Bruce Logan; edited by Jeff Gourson; music by Wendy Carlos; production designers, Syd Mead and Dean Edward Mitzner; produced by Donald Kushner; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Kevin Flynn/Clu), Bruce Boxleitner (Alan Bradley/Tron), David Warner (Ed Dillinger/Sark/Master Control Program), Cindy Morgan (Lora/Yori), Barnard Hughes (Dr. Walter Gibbs/Dumont), Dan Shor (Ram/Popcorn Co-Worker), Peter Jurasik (Crom) and Tony Stephano (Peter/Sark’s Lieutenant).


The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009, Grant Heslov)

The Men Who Stare at Goats, as a film about men–their relationships with each other, in an Iron John sort of way–comes up lacking. There really isn’t any personality in the friendship between Ewan McGregor and George Clooney and there would have to be for it to work. In a lot of ways, Goats is McGregor’s worst performance. He’s totally and completely passive. There might also be something about a Scot playing an American in a movie about Americans torturing people. And goats. Can’t forget the goats.

But as a smart comedy, the film’s fantastic. Clooney turns in a great comedic performance, this time retaining some of his charm (in a non-ironic way). Jeff Bridges does some great work in one of the smaller roles, as does Kevin Spacey. Spacey’s something of a surprise, because he apparently found the sense of humor he so desperately needed as Lex Luthor. It’s his best performance in many years.

There’s a sort of running meta-joke of McGregor having played a Jedi in a film where they call the good guys Jedi. It’s never really funny because it’s impossible to think of McGregor in those terms. He’s not iconic from the Star Wars prequels. In fact, I kept wishing Clooney had played Batman like he plays these roles.

Heslov’s a good intelligent comedy director. It’s a little unfortunate there’s nothing else to it, but who cares? It’s a thinking person’s popcorn movie, which is fine. It’s a genre in need.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Grant Heslov; screenplay by Peter Straughan, based on the book by Jon Ronson; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Tatiana S. Riegel; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by George Clooney, Heslov and Paul Lister; released by Overture Films.

Starring George Clooney (Lyn Cassady), Ewan McGregor (Bob Wilton), Jeff Bridges (Bill Django), Kevin Spacey (Larry Hooper), Stephen Lang (Brigadier General Hopgood), Nick Offerman (Scotty Mercer), Tim Griffin (Tim Kootz), Waleed F. Zuaiter (Mahmud Daash), Robert Patrick (Todd Nixon) and Rebecca Mader (Deborah Wilton).


King Kong (1976, John Guillermin)

In 2001, the Academy awarded Dino De Laurentiis the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial award. The clips ran from the beginning of his career to the present–I can’t remember if Body of Evidence got a clip–and I kept waiting to see how they’d deal with Kong. The De Laurentiis produced remake is either forgotten or derided, probably most well-known as the background clips at the Universal Studios attraction. When they got to Kong, they used the scene where Kong attacks the elevated train. They used a pan and scan clip. I was mortified, but only because it was stunning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was going to not only use a pan and scan clip… but pick a mediocre scene to showcase. It was, I suppose, a clip on loan from the Universal Studios attraction.

John Guillermin’s King Kong has one bad sequence. When the island natives kidnap Jessica Lange off the ship, it doesn’t work. It’s not the writing, it’s the visual. Guillermin shoots it wrong (which seems impossible, given the rest of his direction in the film). It just doesn’t work. It seems too hackneyed. Otherwise, Kong‘s filmmaking is impeccable. There’s some iffy composite shots, but also some amazing ones. The editing for the scenes with miniatures is fantastic–whenever it’s a little doll standing in for Lange, the shot cuts about a frame before it’s too much.

The film’s a little strange in its uselessness. It’s not a remake intending to improve on the original or even retell it. This Kong is just a modernization–the whole oil company angle all of a sudden relevant again–and Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script is deceptively good. There’s some great dialogue in the film, particularly from Jeff Bridges, particularly during his scenes with Lange. The film’s approach to their pseudo-romance is fantastic.

There’s also a bunch of jokes in the script–apparently written to be of the “wink-wink” variety (Semple did script the Adam West Batman movie after all). Except every one of those lines goes to Charles Grodin and Grodin’s playing a jackass oil executive; in other words, all the lines work coming from Grodin, especially given how well he plays the jackass. The character is never likable, but he’s never entirely unlikable either–though he’s always despicable.

The supporting cast is solid–Rene Auberjonois, John Randolph and Ed Lauter especially. Bridges’s assured leading man performance is almost an anomaly in his career. Not many actors can make the giant monkey movie seem real, but Bridges does.

As for Lange, she’s real good. She got a lot of flack for the role–I remember reading somewhere All that Jazz saved her career and she only got that part because she was dating Fosse–but she’s good. She’s playing a narcissistic twit who turns out to have some emotional depth (but not enough to overpower the egoism). Lange’s even got one of the film’s great monologues and she delivers it well.

It’s strange to think of this Kong as having great monologues, but it does have a few. Semple’s a good screenwriter.

Kong‘s a prototype genre event picture, but it’s not a genre picture. It’s pre-genre. Guillermin doesn’t make a single reference to the original and the script only makes a couple, both early on. The sweeping, lush John Barry score frequently saves the picture. It makes scenes work.

But King Kong is sort of lost. It’s a Panavision event picture made before event pictures were released–pan and scan–on VHS to buy. It’d be another twelve years (Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade kicking it off) before event pictures became home video attractions too. Kong is meant to be a theatrical, uncontrolled by remote control, viewing experience. It’s peculiarly paced, deliberate and assured and visually stunning. Even when the composites are bad–it’s inexplicable why they didn’t shoot the final scene, with Kong versus the helicopters, with miniatures–the film still works.

King Kong will never get its due. For whatever reason, derogatory remakes get better notices than respectful ones. But it’s a fine night at the movies (about ten minutes in, I had to kill all the lights to get the experience going fully–with an overseas HD-DVD no less) and it’s great looking.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on a screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose and an idea by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by John Barry; production designers, Mario Chiari and Dale Hennesy; produced by Dino De Laurentiis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Jack Prescott), Charles Grodin (Fred Wilson), Jessica Lange (Dwan), John Randolph (Captain Ross), Rene Auberjonois (Roy Bagley), Julius Harris (Boan), Jack O’Halloran (Joe Perko), Dennis Fimple (Sunfish) and Ed Lauter (Carnahan).


The Morning After (1986, Sidney Lumet)

The Morning After is an awkward combination of thriller and adult drama. As a thriller, with Paul Chihara’s enthusiastic and bombastic score, it’s frequently annoying. Jane Fonda can scrub a crime scene of every thread of evidence, but the simple things–like dropping a succeeding lie or leaving all her personal belongings for the police to find–escape her. Lumet’s direction, which makes full use of the frame in a somewhat unique three dimensional manner (Fonda hides on the right, out of sight from the pursuer on the left or hiding behind truck on the lower right, unseen by the pursuers above her), is competent while unsuccessful. It can’t surmount the script’s absurdities or that awful music.

There’s also the matter of the frequent extreme long shots, featuring Fonda walking from one side of the frame to the other, usually in front of a building. Those I can’t even begin to understand.

The adult drama angle of the film, alcoholic failed starlet Fonda finds the hint of a human connection with friendly bigot (he’s friendly in his bigotry) Jeff Bridges, works considerably better. Lumet’s direction of those scenes, when they aren’t doubling for suspense, is quite good and rather effective. I spent a lot of The Morning After marveling at Fonda’s ability to overcome the material. She and Bridges have a decent chemistry, but her drunk scenes are bleak and wonderful. One of the few things the script gets right is its detail to her (drinking-related) behaviors and the logic she operates under.

The script’s major conceptual problem (besides the wrong-headed–it’s got that L.A. corruption angle too–cobbling of two incompatible ideas) has to do with the script’s ambitions. The Morning After is practically a concept film–the opening titles only credit three actors, Fonda, Bridges and Raul Julia, and they aren’t kidding. It’s practically a stage play. It might even work better as a stage play, as the constraints would make it more interesting. But as a thriller, the constraints just make it weird. While the cops are after Fonda and she’s worried she’s a killer or there’s a killer after her, she takes the time to put on make-up and flirt with Bridges. The movie wastes about eleven minutes on this scene, which is only there for developing that adult drama aspect.

Another big problem is understanding what Fonda’s doing. The viewer can’t understand what she’s thinking because he or she is supposed to be considering the possibility Fonda killed someone, but it frequently gets to the point where her actions are baffling. Fonda’s character is a clumsy drunk; it’s always clear when she’s been drinking. So her relatively sober actions tend to make less sense than her drunk ones. A strange dichotomy.

But it’s worth watching for Fonda’s performance, even if Bridges is just along for the ride and Julia can’t make his poorly written character work. Fonda gets through all the absurdity, making it all palatable, and comes out great at the–similarly goofy–ending.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; written by James Cresson; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Joel Goodman; music by Paul Chihara; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Bruce Gilbert; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jane Fonda (Alex Sternbergen), Jeff Bridges (Turner Kendall), Raul Julia (Joaquin Manero), Diane Salinger (Isabel Harding), Richard Foronjy (Sergeant Greenbaum), Geoffrey Scott (Bobby Korshack), James ‘Gypsy’ Haake (Frankie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Red) and Don Hood (Hurley).


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