Jeff Bridges

Iron Man (2008, Jon Favreau)

Iron Man is a qualified success. Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic throughout–the movie’s greatest strength is how much screen time he gets–and Jon Favreau does really well with the Iron Man scenes and the action scenes in general (he does terrible with almost everything else). But, while it also moderately succeeds as a romantic comedy–Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow’s performances in their absurdly written scenes are great–it fails dramatically. There’s no friendship between Downey and Terrence Howard (the movie doesn’t even need him) and here’s no father (figure) and son relationship between Downey and Jeff Bridges. Bridges is necessary to the movie, from a plot standpoint, and he’s far better are turning in a solid performance in a poorly sketched role than Howard. It also fails as any kind of commentary about war profiteering or weapons manufacturing. It pays lip service to the idea of Downey rushing off to save people… but he only gets around to it once. (Hey, it’s kind of like Rambo… except Stallone doesn’t wimp out of showing suffering).

Basically, it’s all about enjoying Downey’s performance and the Iron Man sequences. Downey’s got a gift for comedy and, even though Favreau can’t frame a comedy shot, he does get the tone right. Favreau’s best part is actually the Afghanistan sequence, which seems like it goes on too long, but then when he can never match it, it’s clear it was too short. Shaun Toub makes an impossible character work really well in that sequence.

The movie’s also something of a narrative mess, with the ending more appropriate for a less serious film. The end’s supposed to be goofy and fun, which Downey can do, but the movie doesn’t set itself up for that kind of conclusion. (I won’t mention the asinine post-credit “teaser,” which is embarrassing).

The special effects are mostly good. There’s some really bad CG and a few of the flying sequences are boring, but they’re solid. Favreau tends to get way too excited during action scenes and shoot in close-up (for budget reasons?) and it’s hard to tell what’s going on. He lifts some of the action directly from Robocop and Robocop 2, but it looks good and no one’s ever going to accuse Favreau of originality or innovation, so it’s harmless.

There are some major hiccups–the movie is occasionally way too long, like when Paltrow is off in the poorly directed industrial thriller with Bridges, or Ramin Djawadi’s warm to frozen score or Leslie Bibb’s terrible performance. She’s supposed to be playing a Vanity Fair reporter, but she doesn’t even seem suited for Soap Opera Digest. And Favreau’s filling the movie with cameos–including himself–kind of make it seem like Casino Royale, not a real movie.

But for what it is–a timid but reasonably self-aware attempt at a “real” superhero movie–it’s decent, even if Favreau’s lack of a visual tone for the movie is somewhat alarming. Mostly, it’s just really nice Downey will have some career security for a bit.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Terrence Howard (Jim Rhodes), Jeff Bridges (Obadiah Stane), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Leslie Bibb (Christine Everhart), Shaun Toub (Yinsen), Faran Tahir (Raza), Sayed Badreya (Abu Bakaar) and Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson).


Nadine (1987, Robert Benton)

There’s got to be some kind of story behind Nadine, one explaining why it makes no sense in its plotting, why the ending makes no sense and why it only runs seventy-eight minutes. Unfortunately, I can’t find any reference online to those issues, so I guess they’ll remain a mystery.

As it stands, Nadine is a couple great characters in search of a story. Well, not even a story–the characters have a story. They’re separated and they get back together. It’s everything around that story. Benton’s script moves real fast–without a lot of bridging scenes; it’s frequently confusing–and he spends some real nice time on the couple, ably aided by Howard Shore’s score.

But the rest of the film–involving a land deal, Rip Torn as a lame villain (he’s Rip Torn, no other explanation for villainy needed apparently), Jeff Bridges’s dumb bar and Kim Basinger hating the dumb bar–is a mess. The bar in question barely appears in the film, but everyone’s always talking about it or mentioning it–at least as much as something can be talked about in seventy-eight minutes.

Bridges and Basinger are both fantastic, whether together or apart, but together’s a lot more fun. But I really don’t know what Benton thought he was doing with the film. There’s a visible lack of content, even if there were bridging scenes in place, because–well, it appears he’s trying to tell the romantic comedy equivalent of Chinatown, which isn’t even necessarily a bad idea (I guess), but there’s no setting beyond the cars and the title announcing the time and place.

There’s three action set-pieces too. There’s a car chase, which isn’t bad and is somewhat amusing, but it’s not a movie with car chases… then there’s a suspense sequence, then there’s a gunfight.

Oh, no, I think Benton was trying to do a non-traditional traditional Hollywood comedy here… argh.

If a movie could float on Jeff Bridges’s considerable charm, Nadine would certainly be a candidate. Except, it’s disqualified, because Basinger’s really appealing and the two of them are wonderful together.

Glenne Headly has a bit part and is great, big shock, as is Jay Patterson. Jerry Stiller is in it for a minute and a half, but it seems like keeping him around would have been a better idea.

I just wish I knew the “making of” of Nadine.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Robert Benton; director of photography, Nestor Almendros; film editor, Sam O’Steen; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Arlene Donovan; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Vernon Hightower), Kim Basinger (Nadine Hightower), Rip Torn (Buford Pope), Gwen Verdon (Vera), Glenne Headly (Renee), Jerry Stiller (Raymond Escobar), Jay Patterson (Dwight Estes), William Youmans (Boyd), Gary Grubbs (Cecil) and Mickey Jones (Floyd).


8 Million Ways to Die (1986, Hal Ashby)

About halfway through 8 Million Ways to Die, I realized–thanks to a boom mike–my twenty year-old laserdisc was open matte, not pan and scan. The widescreen zoomed suddenly made the shots tighter and crisper, regaining Ashby’s usually calmness. I suppose I should have stopped and went back to the beginning to see if it made any difference, but I doubt it. The first forty minutes of 8 Million Ways to Die suffer multiple plagues–summary storytelling, sometimes good but Jeff Bridges’s wife in the movie doesn’t even have a line when she’s on screen it’s all so fast; Alexandra Paul, who’s supposed to be playing a “wuss,” so maybe her crappy performance is intentional; and Rosanna Arquette. At the halfway point, moments after I saw that boom mike (it actually was a mike for Arquette), she changes. Goes from being bad to being good (sometimes great) in the rest of the film.

8 Million Ways to Die is a Chandler-esq “mystery” where the detective forces his way through the case instead of actually detecting anything. It’s solved because the bad guy comes shooting for the detective. But once the film gets going, the problems with the story fall away. Throughout, Jeff Bridges is absolutely amazing. It’s probably his best performance. Watching it, I wanted to rewind and watch him think about what to say next again. Amazing performance. And once Arquette takes off, Bridges is in good company. Supporting suspect slash good guy Randy Brooks is good and has some nice moments, but Andy Garcia’s great as the bad guy. It’s a wild, eccentric performance and Garcia doesn’t do these things anymore. He’s crazy; he’s great.

So Bridges and some Ashby’s real nice stuff in here–the studio the movie away from him but whoever cut it did a nice job fitting the music and sound (some shoddy cuts here and there though, lack of coverage and such)–but the really amazing thing about 8 Million Ways to Die is this five minute scene between Arquette and Bridges when they talk. They have coffee and wash dishes but they mostly talk and very naturalistic and it’s unlike most scenes in every other movie ever made. To say there aren’t scenes like it enough doesn’t go far enough, because seeing it suggests maybe all scenes should be like it. It’s beautiful.

I actually found 8 Million Ways to Die in a box of other unreleased-on-DVD laserdiscs I didn’t know I still had. It’s a shame it’s not out, but I can’t control Lionsgate or whatever likely lousy company owns the rights. But I did lose track of this film somewhere in the last eight or nine years and I really shouldn’t have.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hal Ashby; screenplay by Oliver Stone and David Lee Henry, from a novel by Lawrence Block; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Robert Lawrence and Stuart H. Pappé; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Michael D. Haller; produced by Stephen J. Roth; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Matthew Scudder), Rosanna Arquette (Sarah), Alexandra Paul (Sunny), Randy Brooks (Chance), Andy Garcia (Angel Maldonado), Lisa Sloan (Linda Scudder), Christa Denton (Laurie Scudder), Vance Valencia (Quintero), Vyto Ruginis (Joe Durkin) and Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (Nose Guard).


Fearless (1993, Peter Weir)

I try not to concern myself with the Academy Awards these days. I scoff at the thought of them actually awarding quality, but I’m still pleased when someone like Clint Eastwood wins and perplexed when something like Crash does too. So I’m a little surprised at my reaction to Rosie Perez in Fearless. I’m enraged she didn’t win back in 1994, absolutely enraged. Not only is she outstanding, amazing and… oh, what was the word I banned from The Stop Button for overuse. Oh, incredible. Not only is she all those things, Peter Weir gave her the direction for an Oscar-winning role. He shines a light on her and says, “Look how great she is.” And she didn’t win. And she disappeared into direct to video (at best) obscurity by 1997.

As for the rest of Fearless, it’s probably Jeff Bridges’ finest work. The film shifts from being all Bridges to being all about Bridges by the end and, since some of the shift gives time to Perez, it’s not bad, but the film never really establishes what’s so wrong with him. There’s a big revelation towards the end and it’s not particularly effective, nor does it make much sense. It’s a case of a T-intersection and the story took the one leading toward an affirming ending, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not as interesting in this particular story. Some of the problem comes from the lack of emotional backstory on Bridges and his family. Isabella Rossellini plays his wife and it’s impossible to imagine them together outside the film’s present action. Any successful scene with Rossellini, all the work comes from Bridges, Perez, or the music. Her performance is the film’s biggest handicap.

The music–I thought it was Gabriel Yared, but it turned out to be Maurice Jarre, which surprised me since Jarre tends to have a (classy) “cool” sound–makes the last act work. Peter Weir loves his symbolism, but in the last act, he really gets going and there are a couple times he hits the audience over the head so hard, they’re seeing stars. For the rest of the film, he does a great job. But, since it’s Weir… well, I got worried he might Owl Creek Bridge the film. I actually was worried about it from the beginning, something on the back of the laserdisc set off the warning light. I’ll ruin it for everyone–no, it’s not an Owl Creek Bridge. Instead, it’s a rewarding experience.

The writing’s excellent in spots, but Weir’s getting such great performances out of his cast, except Rossellini, it doesn’t really matter. Tom Hulce is great as a slimy lawyer and Debra Monk and Deirdre O’Connell are particularly good. A young and only okay Benicio Del Toro shows up for a bit too. Obviously it was before discovered his niche of the grumble-talk.

I’ve been waiting thirteen years to see Fearless. Back when it came out, I liked Jeff Bridges for some reason. Maybe because my mom likes him. I never got around to it on tape, then it came out pan and scan on DVD. I got the widescreen laserdisc on remainder back in 1999 or 2000 and just now got around to watching it. Even with Rossellini, it was worth the wait.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Weir; written by Rafael Yglesias, based on his novel; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by William Anderson; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, John Stoddart; produced by Paula Weinstein and Mark Rosenberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Max Klein), Isabella Rossellini (Laura Klein), Spencer Vrooman (Jonah Klein), Rosie Perez (Carla Rodrigo), Tom Hulce (Brillstein) and John Turturro (Dr. Bill Perlman).


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