TRUE GRIT: Another Instant Classic From The Coen Brothers

TRUE GRIT (Dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010)

Since they stumbled in the early Aughts with a couple of sub par offerings (INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, THE LADYKILLERS), Joel and Ethan Coen have been on a grand roll. The Oscar winning NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the comedy hit BURN AFTER READING, and last year’s critically acclaimed A SERIOUS MAN were all excellent additions to their canon, but their newest film – TRUE GRIT – may be the best of the batch.

An adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis rather than a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film, TRUE GRIT is in many ways a traditional example of the Western genre. What makes it so much more is its handling of the manner of characters that appear naturalistic yet still exuberantly exaggerated – in a way that long-time followers of the Coens will appreciate royally.

The “Dude” himself, Jeff Bridges, plays U.S. Marshall Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn – an iconic role that is considered one of the most definitive of the Duke’s. Bridges owns it here however with a drunken swagger and a grizzled gusto.

The real protagonist of the story is the 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) who recruits Bridges to help her hunt down her father’s murderer (Josh Brolin). For such a young whippersnapper, Steinfeld has a stern delivery confirming her determination and her sometimes harsh words to Bridges have a sting to them that is more than equal to Kim Darby’s readings in the 1969 version.

See? It’s hard not to compare this film to the original adaptation.

They follow the same plot progressions and the spirit of Western homage is certainly present, but the Coens saw the piece as funnier with less Hollywood sentiment and they deliver a film that lives up to their vision gloriously.

Matt Damon, who was long overdue for a part in a Coens production, has a juicy gruff character of his own in Texas Ranger Le Bouef. Damon is at first just along for the ride with Bridges and Steinfeld, but his jaded face-offs with the Marshall and the foes they encounter along the way have a hilarious bite to them as the tension builds.

As a Western in the classic mold with a body count, I didn’t expect TRUE GRIT to be as funny as it is – it’s for sure one of the Coen’s most laugh-filled films since THE BIG LEBOWSKI – just about every utterance of Bridge’s is comic gold and his fellow cast mates (including crusty turns by a deranged Brolin and Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper funnily enough) hold their own humor-wise as well.

Then there’s the magnificent cinematography by Coen Bros. collaborator Roger Deakins that fills the frame with striking shots of the blinding terrain in New Mexico and Texas as well as the extreme jolting actor close-ups that flicker with raw emotion.

Another Coen Bros. co-hort Carter Burwell, who has been with them since BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), provides a score composed of gospel hymns and effectively spare piano accompaniment.

TRUE GRIT is an instant classic. From the Coen Brothers’ ace direction to the cast’s top notch acting spouting out hilarious dialog line after line and then on to the wondrous look, feel, and heart of the film, I honestly can not think of a negative criticism of it. I can’t wait to see it again. If I find anything to dislike about it then – I’ll get back to you.

More later…

The (Many) Troubles With TRON: LEGACY

TRON: LEGACY (Dir. Joseph Kosinski, 2010)

Despite that I wrote about this project last year being one of my Top 10 Sequels To Classic Movies That Really Should Not Happen, I still secretly had hopes that it would be one of those rare follow-ups (think: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) that would right the wrongs of the furiously flawed original – that being the fanboy loved but else forgotten TRON (1982).

Well, the wrongs (glacial pacing, incomprehensible storyline, and clunky dialog) are still there in this hugely hyped high tech piece of glorified fan fiction.

You’ll see many reviews that compliment this movie for its shiny slick stylized look, but bitch about its weak and soulless plot and as much as I wish I could disagree with that – the consensus is right. TRON: LEGACY is by far the most convoluted movie of the year.

As in the first film Jeff Bridges is a computer genius who finds a portal into the world that exists behind the computer screen – “the grid” he calls it in bedtime stories to his son (Owen Best). Bridges, who appears as his younger self via CGI) disappears and leaves his son to grow up to be a rebellious motorcycle driving shareholder of his father’s corporation Encom embodied by Garrett Hedlund.

Bruce Boxleitner returns as Alan Bradley/TRON – a surragate father of sorts to Hedlund who informs the unruly roustabout that he got a page coming from his dad’s former establishment Flynn’s Arcade – a number that’s been disconnected for 20 years.

Hedlund bikes over to the arcade now in a broken down slummy part of town, switches on the power (yeah, the power is still on), and powers up his dad’s old computer.

Before long Hedlund is sucked into the computer and is designated into the games department. At first he thinks he’s found his father when he meets Clu – who again is a CGI-ed Bridges made to look like his ’80s visage – but it turns out its his father’s program now gone evil.

After a somewhat hard to follow yet still cool looking light cycle sequence, Hedlund is intercepted by a spunky Olivia Wilde and taken to his actual father – Bridges again but this time as his normal aged self with a beard and his patented laid back persona (yep, the “Dude” abides once again).

You get that? Hedlund and Bridges fight a CGI Bridges in a chaotic plot involving flashy yet plodding set pieces and something called ISOs (isomorphic algorithms).

In one of the movie’s only good ideas, the soundtrack is orchestrated by Daft Punk. The French electronic duo also appear DJ-ing a club party scene in which Michael Sheen appears as a bleached Bowie-esque nightclub owner whose significance in the film I really couldn’t tell you. Still, Sheen and Daft Punk’s inventive score are 2 of the only things of merit here.

Clu, Bridges’ evil ’80s digitized doppelganger is a big fail. With its creepy frozen expressions and completely unconvincing mouth movements, its a huge distraction that takes one far away from any sense of engagement. I’m a huge Bridges fan and all for more Bridges for your buck, but this conceit seriously doesn’t work. Maybe one day they’ll be able to make seamless CGI human recreations, but we’re far from there yet.

Unfortunately thats just one of many factors that make TRON: LEGACY a bad bland bomb.

The pages of soulless exposition, the lameness of the writing (Bridges actually says “You’re messing up my Zen thing here, man!”), and the overall sense that the film takes itself way too seriously all add up to a deeply unsatisfying experience.

But, then at least it’s about as good as the original.

Not that it’s easy to compare them – the first one is out of print and not available on Netflix. It’s not been shown on TV lately and DVD copies go from $90 to $200 on Amazon. It’s almost as if Disney with their home video moratoriums and all were purposely trying to make it hard to see the first TRON!

With the hundreds of millions they pumped into its sequel it looks like they didn’t want folks to get the right idea that TRON and its sequel are equals in the digital realm of empty eye candy cinema.

Maybe it’s great if you’re a geek gamer or lover of kitschy ’80s crap, but yawn inducing throwaway tripe if you’re anybody else.

More later…

Hey I Finally Saw…TRUE GRIT!

It seemed like a good time to catch up with the 1969 John Wayne western classic for a few crucial reasons. The recent death of Dennis Hopper who has a small, yet memorable role was one, but overwhelmingly it’s because the Coen Brothers next project is a remake with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin set to be released later this year. Although the Coens reportedly are aiming for their film to be a more faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’s 1968 novel than a strict remake, the original was a milestone movie that won an Oscar for Wayne’s performance as Marshall Rooster Cogburn, therefore a must see.

In the late 60’s the genre was undoubtedly winding down, but you wouldn’t know it from the opening landscape shots of TRUE GRIT in which the wide-screen western still looks alive and kicking. Henry Hathaway had the formula down as he had directed dozens of cowboy pictures, and of course “the Duke” was a hardcore veteran, but this project had a different element to it in the form of a young tomboyish girl named Kim Darby. Darby plays the fiercely determined 14 year old Mattie Ross who recruits the ornery drunken Wayne to help her hunt down her father’s murderer (Jeff Corey).

Accompanied by Glen Campbell as a Texas Ranger they ride out through dangerous Indian Territory. They encounter horse thieves, rattlesnakes, and an extremely shady Robert Duvall as Corey’s partner in crime “Lucky” Ned Pepper. Wayne says of Duvall: “Short, feisty fella. He’s got a messed-up lower lip. I shot him in it.”

That’s just one of many great line readings the Duke gives in the best performance of his that I’ve ever seen. Rooster Cogburn is an iconic role and very comic at the same time. In one scene he sees a rat in the corner of the cabin he resides in. Inebriated though still fairly articulate he declares: “Mr. Rat, I have a writ here that says you are to stop eating Chen Lee’s cornmeal forthwith. Now, It’s a rat writ, writ for a rat, and this is lawful service of same! See? He doesn’t pay any attention to me.” Then he swiftly shoots the rat.

Later the trio came across a couple of outlaw buddies of the men they’re pursuing – Jeremy Slate and Dennis Hopper. Hopper, as a character named Moon that wasn’t in the book, took 5 days off from editing EASY RIDER to do the film and appears to have been added as a concession to the kids of the hippie era. Or maybe it’s the unsettling “tweaking” manner he’s acting in that makes me think that.

Darby is very much the heart of the movie bringing a feminist factor in to re-ignite a timeworn formula. Her poise and “never back down” spirit clashes then mashes with Wayne’s rugged demeanor in many amusing blustery exchanges. Sadly as an actor Campbell is not up to par with Darby or “The Duke”. He was perhaps the real concession to the times as he had just had a hit single – “Wichita Lineman”.

It wasn’t the last western that Wayne made – he even returned to the role of Cogburn in a sequel simply entitled ROOSTER COGBURN (1975) – but TRUE GRIT was perhaps the most notable of his films in his last decade. It’s just a notch below the supreme quality of the movies he made with John Ford, yet it’s still a towering achievement and an absolutely essential work. Rooster Cogburn deserves further recognition as one of the greatest characters in the history of motion pictures. Can’t wait to see what “The Dude” will do with it.

More later…

Oscar Postpartum 2010

In the happiest moment of the evening, the Dude finally abided.

Well, my biggest prediction this year was that I was going to get more wrong than the last few years and I was right about that. I got 13 of 24 which is pretty poor although I did get all the major categories correct (BEST PICTURE, BEST DIRECTOR, BEST ACTOR, BEST ACTRESS, and both of the SUPPORTING ones). I was way off in all the tech awards but hey it was fun throwing those darts just the same. The ones I got wrong:

AVATAR. What I predicted: SHERLOCK HOLMES. I really thought they’d throw HOLMES a bone. Just one.

COSTUME DESIGN:THE YOUNG VICTORIA. I said COCO BEFORE CHANEL because it seemed like the most costumey. I haven’t seen either movie actually.


ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: PRECIOUS. I said UP IN THE AIR. Seems like a no brainer now.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: MUSIC BY PRUDENCE. I had picked CHINA’S UNNATURAL DISASTER: THE TEARS OF SICHUAN PROVINCE. This resulted in one of the only surprising moments on the entire telecast: Elinor Burkett pulled what many are calling a “Kanye” Oscar moment mash-up.

MAKEUP: STAR TREK. I thought STAR TREK was going to win one of the 4 awards it was nominated for just not this one. Still it seems deserved.

SOUND MIXING and SOUND EDITING: THE HURT LOCKER won both of these which I really didn’t expect. Last year I also chose wrong but made the statement that I should’ve have known not to vote for the same movie in both sound editing and mixing. Since that’s what happened here I guess I really learned nothing.


BEST FOREIGN FILM: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (Argentina) Another I haven’t seen. I’m brobably going to see THE WHITE RIBBON, which I wrongly predicted, this week since it just came to my area.

As for the show itself, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin had their moments. I agree with Jon Stewart that Martin had the best line of the evening:

“Anyone who has ever worked with Meryl Streep always ends up saying the exact same thing: ‘Can that woman act? And, ‘What’s up with all the Hitler memorabilia?”

Some other highlights included a tribute to John Hughes by way of a snazzy montage and a bevy of the actors who came of age in his films: Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Macaulay Culkin, Anthony Michael Hall, Jon Cryer, Ally Sheedy, and Matthew Broderick.

Shouldn’t she be wearing pink?

Ben Stiller had a great deadpan presenter bit – he was made up like one of the Na’vis from AVATAR. Pretty funny stuff.

“This seemed like a better idea in rehearsal.”

Okay so I’m pretty Oscar-ed out. Stay tuned for more new movie reviews – a slew of DVD reviews and some major new releases (HOT TUB TIME MACHINE!) that are coming your way.

More later…

Hey Kids – Funtime Oscar Picks 2010!

This is an incredibly obvious statement, but when it comes to Oscar predictions there are 2 paths to take – what one thinks will win and what one wants to win. Sometimes a gut feeling is difficult to differentiate from a personal preference so on a few I’ve decided to denote the ones I’m the most up in the air about (no BEST PICTURE pun there – really).



My gut has been sayng, no, shouting AVATAR, but I just have to go with my personal preference *. Many critics have been saying that it’s a coin toss between the 2, while others say that the vote will be split and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS will pull a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and shock everybody with its dark horse win. Despite recent controversy, I intensely hope the modestly budgeted, little seen THE HURT LOCKER gets the gold Sunday night.

* Of those 2 front contenders that is – my favorite film of the year – A SERIOUS MAN – was nominated, but in this particular race it’s by far a long shot.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow – Roger Ebert said of Bigelow on Oprah Tuesday: “If you vote against her , you’ll be going against years of precedent that say the winner of the Director’s Guild Award will win the Oscar.” So there’s that, but since even her ex-husband James Cameron thinks she should win she really is a shoo-in.

3. BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges

Everybody I see online seem to be calling it for Bridges – consider me among them. It would be so nice for the 5 time nominee to abide this time.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Sandra BullockTHE BLIND SIDE was the only one of the 10 BEST PICTURE nominees that I didn’t see so I admit I’m jumping on the bandwagon here of all the folks who say its Bullock’s year. It does really feel like she’s got the momentum and support so like Bridges it’ll really be surprising if she doesn’t get it.


A personal preference AND a gut feeling. Although he had relatively little screen time, Waltz’s cold blooded yet sophisticated Nazi was as cutting and memorable as a supporting part can possibly be.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mo’Nique – Walking out of PRECIOUS last year, my first thought was that Mo’Nique was definitely going to get an Oscar. That thought has never waivered.

And the rest:






16. ORIGINAL SONG: “The Weary Kind” from CRAZY HEART


It would be easy to just go with Wallace and Gromit sight unseen, but after viewing all the animated shorts last night at the Carolina Theater in Durham it’s impossible to deny that it’s infinitely the most superior offering. LOGORAMA is kinda cool too though.

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE NEW TENANTSMy gut feeling is the Cheronobyl tragedy THE DOOR, but I’m pulling for the dark comic THE NEW TENANTS. It has a great absurd edge to it and great turns by its spare cast including David Rakoff, Jamie Harrold, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Kevin Corrigan.







By the way, I don’t consider myself any kind of expert – I’m just a guy who loves movies and loves to write about them. My biggest prediction this year is that I’m going to get more wrong than usual. Tune in Monday to find out how many.

More later…

The Ballad Of Bad Blake

CRAZY HEART (Dir. Scott Cooper, 2009)

Early this week Jeff Bridges scored his fifth Oscar nomination for his role as Bad Blake, a crusty Kris Kristopherson-ish country music artist on the comeback circuit. Surprisingly, at least to me, not one of those nominations was for “The Dude” – the iconic Coen Brothers character in THE BIG LEBOWSKI that completely reshaped Bridges’ career despite the fact that he had done much major work in the 30 years before that.

When Bad Blake shows up to perform at a dive bowling alley early in CRAZY HEART, one can’t help but sense the shadow of “The Dude”. It’s felt again when Blake fishes his sunglasses out of a trash can he just puked in, and then there’s the way he passes out when he’s inebriated – yep, there’s a man for his time and place.

But make no mistake – Bad Blake is not “The Dude”. He’s played by the same scruffy aging actor, sure, but Blake is not a comical creation. He’s a hybrid of country music clichés that somehow become a living breathing believable entity – a singer songwriter trapped in one of his own hurting heart songs. He lives gig to gig, bottle to bottle, groupie to groupie, etc.

Maggie Gyllenhall also picked up an Academy Award nomination with her fine though transparent part as a journalist doing a story on Blake. She has a kid (Jack Nation) which the grizzled journeyman bonds with on a morning after the mismatched pair sleep together. Gyllenhall knows Blake is bad for her, but she’s touched by his affection and the idea that he writes songs in her presence.

If you want to go the Western route in this synopsis you could say that as an old guitar slinger Blake has to contend with a young hot kid on the scene; a Keith Urban-esque former protégé played by Colin Farrell. Farrell’s handles his role with aplomb (he provides his own vocals like Bridges) and it’s nice that he doesn’t turn out to be a cutthroat adversary – that would’ve been way too predictable. Sadly, way too predictable describes the rest of the narrative arc.

Nothing happens in CRAZY HEART that you wouldn’t expect with this material. Every element is measured out in a sensible quantity and every set piece falls into its predetermined place, yet the film has a raw appeal. That credit goes completely to Bridges.

Whether character actor or unlikely leading man, Bridges has a charisma that goes deeper than just “The Dude” abiding. His smiling eyes light up his face even when his mouth is agape in a hopeless expression of not quite processing what’s just happened in front of him. When Gyllenhall comes to her senses about having Bad Blake in her life and tells him not to come around anymore, the look on his face alone should win him the Oscar.

Robert Duvall shows up seemingly to remind us of the similar character he played in TENDER MERCIES. Duvall, who seems to be living cameo to cameo these days (see THE ROAD), is a father figure to Blake and has one of the film’s best moments singing a sweet acapella version of Billy Ray Shaver’s “Live Forever” in a tranquil fishing scene.

That’s where the movie really soars – music-wise. T. Bone Burnett, along with Ryan Bingham and Stephen Bruton (a former Kristopherson band mate who died last year) crafted an authentic batch of songs that often made me forget the film’s story shortcomings. There’s also well chosen songs like Waylon Jennings’ obvious but apt “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” and Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed Someone” to round out the mix. Maybe it’s a great soundtrack in search of a great film which doesn’t quite materialize, but it’s a sturdy set however you cut it.

So, CRAZY HEART or, as I call it, “The Ballad Of Bad Blake”, contains an Oscar worthy performance, good songs, and an incredibly predictable yet still endearing premise. I can abide with that.

More later…

The Terry Gilliam Repertory Role Call 1977-2009

In anticipation of the new Terry Gilliam film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS opening wide this Friday here’s a listing of Gilliam’s stupendous stock company. This is excluding the Monty Python films, because Gilliam only co-directed one of them (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL). So let’s get right to it:

Jeff Bridges (THE FISHER KING, TIDELAND) 7 years before “The Dude”, Bridges abided as pony-tailed radio shock jock Jack Lucas who finds redemption by way of a crazy homeless Robin Williams (see end of list). Bridges’ fate was less rosy in TIDELAND (2005) – he plays a crusty old rocker reminiscent of Kris Kristopherson (a foreshadowing of CRAZY HEART?) who dies of a heroin overdose and spends most of the film as a rotting corpse sitting upright in a chair in a rustic farmhouse. Also notable: Bridges narrated the excellent heartbreaking documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA that focused on Gilliam’s aborted 2000 production of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE.

Jim Broadbent (TIME BANDITS [1981], BRAZIL [1985]) The small but juicy role of a sleazy Compere of the game show “Your Money Or Your Life” was one of Broadbent’s first film roles. He appeared again in Gilliam’s next film, the bizarre but brilliant BRAZIL, as Dr. Jaffe – a plastic surgeon for one of the other notable cast members on this list (Hint: skip ahead 2).

Winston Dennis (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN 1988) A couple of bit parts as “Bull-headed Warrior” who battled King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) in TIME BANDITS and “Samurai Warrior” in BRAZIL led to an actual character name for Dennis, actually 2, Bill/Albrecht, an intertwined duo in Gilliam’s overblown but still incredibly charming epic comedy: THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988).

Johnny Depp (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, ) A Hunter S. Thompson adaptation is not a characteristic project for the dogged director, but with the demented Depp as the Gonzo journalist, Gilliam found his fantasist footing in the trippy terrain. Depp lent a hand famously filling in for Heath Ledger as “Imaginarium Tony #1” in the upcoming IMAGINARIUM… and is slated to be Sancho Panza (a role he was unable to complete in 2000) in THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (2011). Barring any unforeseen incident, mind you.


While she’s best known for her US television sitcom work on Soap, Who’s The Boss, and Everybody Loves Raymond, Helmond has an almost alternate reality film career in the alternate realities of Gilliam. In TIME BANDITS she’s fittingly named Mrs. Ogre as she’s the wife of “Winston the Ogre” (Peter Vaughan), in BRAZIL she’s Ida Lowry – the mother of protagonist Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), and in FEAR AND LOATHING… she’s “Desk Clerk at Mint Hotel” – a study in uncomfortable disapproving scowling. You’d think she’d be used to Gilliam’s grotesqueries by that point.

Ian Holm (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) To go from the legendary Napoleon to the lowly office boss Mr. M. Kurtzman in just a few years is quite a demotion. And perhaps it’s adding insult to injury that neither role has any positive light shed on them but Holm puts in perfect performances that actually provoke sympathy. Incidentally Holm would go on to portray Napoleon again in THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES (2001).


Jeter died in 2003 leaving behind an eclectic career that stretched from musical theater to television comedy to the silver screen and back again. His parts in 2 of Gilliam’s finest films as “Homeless cabaret singer” and “L. Ron Bumquist” are as memorable as character acting can be – especially when he belts out a medley of show tunes in drag to Amanda Plummer in THE FISHER KING.

Simon Jones (BRAZIL, TWELVE MONKEYS) These are pretty blink and miss them cameos (as an “Arrest Official” and “Zoologist” respectively) from Python pal Jones best known as Arthur Dent on the BBC TV version of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1981).

Heath Ledger (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) Of course, the tragic death of Heath Ledger in 2008 deprived the world of an amazing young talent, but a blossoming Gilliam leading man is how he’ll remain frozen in time as “Tony” in his last film: THE IMAGINARIUM… Ledger was reported as being close to Gilliam beginning with their work on BROTHERS GRIMM, so it’s not so far-fetched to imagine them collaborating often had he lived.


McKeown has been on hand to fill in random bit player parts in these 4 films simply because he co-wrote them with Gilliam. His work as “Theater manager”, Harvey Lime, Rupert/Adolphus, and “Fairground Inspector” may go majorly un-noticed but such a solid player should at least get a shout out from this blogger.

Christopher Meloni (TWELVE MONKEYS, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) Before he was Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, or criminal Chris Keller on Oz for that matter, Meloni played Lt. Halperin in TWELVE MONKEYS then “Sven, Clerk at Flamingo Hotel” in FEAR AND LOATHING…

Derrick O’Connor (JABBERWOCKY, TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) According to Wikipedia: “Terry Gilliam, who has directed O’Connor on three films, has noted in his audio commentaries that Derrick seems to have a habit of taking away most of his dialogue in favor of physical character humor. Notable examples include TIME BANDITS, in which his characters’ dialogue was resorted to simple grunts while the Maid Marian character ‘translated’ for him and in BRAZIL , in which Derrick scrapped all of his character’s dialogue and simply repeated the dialogue of Bob Hoskins‘ character.”


Gilliam’s former Python mate Palin was his first leading man as Dennis Cooper – dragon slayer in JABBERWOCKY (1977). Palin went on to co-write TIME BANDITS and appear in it as Vincent, who shows up in as Shelly Duvall’s lover in 2 different time periods. His last role for Gilliam was as the devious but dapper Jack Lint in BRAZIL.


In TWELVE MONKEYS, the venerable Plummer played Dr. Goines, a world-renowned virologist and father to a crazy radical Brad Pitt. He has a larger role, the title role, in Gilliam’s latest offering. In an interview on Gilliam spoke of the collaboration: “It’s wonderful trying to create a little family group. At one stage I’m taking Christopher Plummer, one of the greatest actors of a few generations, and having him do these different double acts; one with a model with little acting experience, one with a two-foot-eight man and one with Tom Waits, America’s greatest musical poet. And it all worked out!”

Jonathan Pryce (BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, THE BROTHERS GRIMM) As protagonist Sam Lowry in BRAZIL, Pryce provided an ingratiating everyman. He had smaller but still memorable parts in MUNCHAUSEN as “The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson”, and BROTHERS GRIMM as “Delatombe” – a conniving French General.

Jack Purvis (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) A dwarf who appeared in all 3 of the original STAR WARS trilogy, Purvis was Time Bandit Wally, Dr. Chapman in BRAZIL, and Jeremy /Gustavus in MUNCHAUSEN. Unlike his roles as Jawas and Ewoks for Lucas, in Gilliam’s films he at least got to show his face and have a few lines. Purvis died in 1997, leaving behind a brief but fascinating filmography.

Peter Stormare (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) The only actor to appear on both Gilliam’s and the Coen Brothers’ repertory role calls, Stormare is a towering intimidating stonewalling actor who seems to fit into whatever skewed scenario visionary film makers come up with. His roles in these 2 films couldn’t be more different: he’s the thug “Calvadi” and in BROTHERS GRIMM he’s credited as “The President”. Well, maybe I have to wait to see if they’re really so different.

Verne Troyer (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) Troyer, best known as Mini-Me from the AUSTIN POWERS films, seems to be the go-to little person since the original Time Bandits are too old or deceased now. Maybe Gilliam should give Peter Dinklage a call next time out.

Peter Vaughn (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) As a medieval creature who complains of a bad back, the Pythonesque “Winston the Ogre” was wonderfully played by Vaughan: “You try being beastly and terrifying… you can only get one hour sleep a night because your back hurts, and you daren’t cough unless you want to pull a muscle.” In BRAZIL he had a crucial bit part as the ironically named Mr. Helpmann.

Tom Waits (THE FISHER KING, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSAS) Waits steals the show in THE FISHER KING as “Disabled Veteran” with a monologue in which he declares: “I’m what you call kind of a “moral traffic light”, really. I’m like sayin’, “Red! Go no further!” Looks like he may be set to steal the show again in IMAGINARIUM… in what may be the meatiest role on this list: Mr. Nick/The Devil. Also between these 2 roles his song “The Earth Died Screaming” appeared in TWELVE MONKEYS.

The wild wacky fast talking Williams looked at the time like he might become a Gilliam mainstay but alas that so far was not to be. In MUNCHAUSEN his manic “King Of The Moon” (“I think therefore you is”), whose head detaches from his body, hurriedly floats off with the movie for a few priceless moments, but it’s his touching role as Perry in THE FISHER KING that stacks up there with Williams’ best work.

Okay! Is there anyone I missed?

More later…

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Grant Heslov, 2009)

“More of this is true than you would believe” so says a disclaimer of sorts at the beginning of this film. Also the film isn’t “based on” it’s “inspired by the book” which is another nifty indicator that this is as loosely based on real events as possible. So in their adaptation the film makers decided to follow John Ford’s advice and “print the legend” with this absurd exploration of a secret paranormal army program based on hippy New Age concepts that most likely didn’t exist. “Or did it?” they want us to ask as we leave the theater but it doesn’t dig deep enough to actually bring that question to mind for the project just skates on the surface of craziness, never cracking the ice.

Not to say it isn’t a worthwhile movie – it’s well crafted with good performances by Ewan McGregor as a down on his luck journalist who stumbles upon these psychic spies, George Clooney as one of the top men of the unique unit who considers himself a Jedi warrior (we get to see him kill a goat with his mind – hence the title), and, best of all, Jeff Bridges as a very Dude like intelligence officer who may have taken his training too far. As an adversary Kevin Spacey has a one-note role but it’s a necessary well played note that happily won’t bring smug crap like K-PAX (also with Bridges) back to mind – ‘cept that I just did because I’m sadistic like that.

McGregor forms an unlikely friendship with Clooney crossing the desert of Kuwait as frequent flashbacks fill in the convoluted back-story. There is a busy narrative but it’s not very strong as the film seems to go in circles in its second half. Regardless Clooney crony Heslov (he co-wrote GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK) gets a good visual vibe going with amusing Wes Anderson style montages and swift set pieces. With stronger material Heslov is sure to hit a home run on a future project.

Funny but not hilarious, THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS is a likable lark that won’t make my best of the year list but I can see stopping on it when clicking through cable channels sometime down the line. I bet I’ll think the same then – that Clooney and Co. were shooting for DR. STRANGELOVE and they got SPIES LIKE US. They should still rejoice though for there are far worse fates.

More later…



“Friday we watch the movie, on Saturday we become the movie.” – Will Russell (Founding Dude, Lebowski Fest)

First released to bad box office and mostly critical indifference, over the last 11 years THE BIG LEBOWSKI has grown a following of fans so large that they regularly meet for conventions all over the country called “Lebowski Fests”. This documentary, made from modest means, tells the story of how these events celebrating “the first cult film of the internet era” came together – from such ramshackle beginnings as an impromptu party at a bowling alley with 150 people to large lavish venues attended by thousands with appearances by actors from the film, rock bands, and all sorts of special guests usually in costume.

Full disclosure: though I’ve never attended one of the fests, THE BIG LEBOWSKI is one of my favorite films of all time. I loved it from the beginning, seeing it in the theater in its original theatrical release more than once. I dragged a few less than excited friends to see it – trying to recruit converts before I even considered a cult was possible I suppose. In the years afterwards I saw it many times recognizing over and over that it was one of the funniest and one of the most quotable movies ever made. It’s undoubtedly up there with DR. STRANGELOVE, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, and THIS IS SPINAL TAP.

Obviously I wasn’t alone in this thinking as people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds started convening for these Dude loving festivals running around in bathrobes or dressed as giant Creedence tapes, severed toes, red suited nihilists with over sized scissors, girls in viking gear, and scores of gun toting Walter Sobcheks who all come to bowl, drink White Russians, and to see yet another screening of the film.

This documentary, named after the moniker message board forum member Lebowski fans gave themselves which comes from dialogue in the movie (“The Little Lebowski Urban Achievers – and proud we are of all of them.”), introduces us to founders Scott Shuffitt and Will Russell who are ecstatically surprised at the ever growing turnouts. Russell: “All my nerdiest dreams are coming true.” They’ve been organizing these fests since 2002 (the first one was in Louisville, Kentucky) and through past footage and photographs we get all the, you know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.

Definitely a highlight is when The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, shows up to thunderous applause at a Fest in Los Angeles and with his band performs Dylan’s “The Man In Me” (which I guess is The Dude’s theme song). Bridges in a later interview in Rolling Stone refers to his reception walking on stage as his “Beatles moment”. They cut away from his performance but that’s okay since they later have a much better version of the song (sorry Dude) done by My Morning Jacket at a Fest in 2004. Also resonating are the book ending bits (which also thread through) focusing on a young woman (Stormy Lang) who’s passionately determined to win 1st place at a Lebowski trivia competition.

With a looser structure than the similarly themed TREKKIES and perhaps too dependent on interspersed and often punctuating clips from the original movie, this plays more like a glorified bonus featurette than a film in its own right. Indeed one of the most recent DVD editions of the THE BIG LEBOWSKI had a 14 minute excerpt from this documentary so be sure to look for it on 15th and 20th anniversary editions in the future. Not that that’s such a bad fate but at 70 minutes with 25% film clips it’s not gonna have the same rewatchability factor as the film it’s paying homage to. Also it should be noted that the DVD has no special features itself – not even a proper menu and it’s one track with no chapter breaks so we’re really talking bare bones here.

Still for Lebowski fans it’s worth a rental with one good concentrated viewing. To see the creative costumes, to hear the anecdotes (especially one I won’t spoil involving a friend of Joel and Ethan Coen’s: USC Professor Peter Exline), and to feel the vibe from everybody involved is a touching testement to what the Coen Brothers created but then left behind (The Coens do not appear in THE ACHIEVERS nor have they commented on the film’s appeal or cult in any recent interview). I may yet go to one of the Lebowski Fests so it’s nice to get an idea of what to expect and it’s also good to know that there’s all these dudes out there takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.

More later…

10 Sequels To Classic Movies That Really Should Not Happen

Okay, I know it’s the nature of the film business beast to repeat successful formulas ad nauseum with remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings galore; and I don’t want to be another one of those movie bloggers that complain that ‘Hollywood has officially run out of ideas’, but dammit these sequels are really bad ideas. A few are just talk, a few are in production, and the rest have nothing happening but an announcement with a corresponding IMDb page but they are all scary sobering possibilities on the horizon. So just to put my 2 cents in here’s 10 projected sequels of classic movies that I truly hope are axed:

1. BLADE RUNNER 2 (Dir. Ridley Scott? 20??)

Scott has batted around the idea of a sequel to the seminal 1982 cult sci fi movie for the last decade. The most recent news, in 2008, was that EAGLE EYE writers Travis Wright and John Glenn were tackling a screenplay for a sequel. More recently Scott and his brother Tony Scott announced that they were going to produce a prequel in the form of 5-10 short “webisodes” called PUREFOLD. Webisodes are fine, but the idea of a full length sequel is an awful one; BLADE RUNNER was a flawed yet contained story that created a convincing world pre CGI ‘n all. A sequel would be indistinguishable from the over 25 years of bleak neon-lit dystopian future imitators. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Scotts just leave it with the webisodes.

2. MONEY NEVER SLEEPS AKA WALL STREET 2 (Dir. Oliver Stone, 2010) The plot description on IMDb is: “As the global economy teeters on the brink of disaster, a young Wall Street trader partners with disgraced former Wall Street corporate raider Gordon Gekko on a two-tiered mission: To alert the financial community to the coming doom, and to find out who was responsible for the death of the young trader’s mentor.” Oh so it’s supposed to be all timely! What’s worse is that the young trader is set to be played by Shia LeBeouf (God, I hope it doesn’t turn out he’s Gekko’s son – see #3 below), which I guess makes him this generation’s Charlie Sheen. Michael Douglas is in place to reprise his Oscar winning role as Gordon Gekko who had the famous line: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Well, there is no better word and this time, greed is very bad.

3. INDIANA JONES 5 (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 2012) Now I was one of the few in the film geek blogosphere that actually liked INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM… (I didn’t like the title however) yet I strongly feel this would be one trip too many back to the well. The 4th film had the ring of one final trip through cliffhanger clichés for old times’ sake, but a 5th one would be really pushing it. All Harrison Ford franchises have to end sometime, how about now? Now sure works for me.

4. REPO CHICK (Dir. Alex Cox, 2010)

Cox has not been able to leave his beloved 1984 punk oddity alone – in the 90’s he wrote a “semi sequel” entitled “Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday” which was later adapted into a graphic novel and just recently he announced REPO CHICK, an actual proper sequel produced by David Lynch. Emilio Estevez opted out, telling the Austin Decider: “I remain proud of “Repo Man”, but my focus is on what’s ahead of me, not what’s in my rearview mirror.” This film is in the can so it can’t be axed but still some sensible soul could see fit to shelve it and save the reputation of a genuine cult classic. Here’s hoping.

5. FLETCH WON – This has also been in development hell for ages. Over a decade ago, Kevin Smith was tapped to write and direct what would be a prequel based faithfully on the Gregory McDonald novel, with either Jason Lee or Ben Affleck as the iconic character, but major disagreements (particularly about the level of Chevy Chase’s involvement) squashed the project. After that, in 2005, Scrubs writer/director/producer Bill Lawrence was on board with his Scrubs star Zach Braff, but neither is attached or listed (nor is anyone else) any more on the film’s IMDb page. Looks like the project has been certified dead…or extremely sleepy. Let’s hope it never wakes up.

6. NOBODY #*$%’S WITH THE JESUS (A THE BIG LEBOWSKI spin-off) Now, I just made up the title but, hey, it’s a much quoted line and it falls right in line with Adam Sandler’s YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN so I think it works. This is just talk, mainly John Turturo’s, about a spin-off film written by the Coen Brothers and directed by and starring Turturo. In a 10th anniversary article in Rolling Stone last year (“The Decade Of The Dude” Sept. 4th, 2008) Turturo relays that the story will deal with Jesus landing a job as a bus driver for a girls’ high school volleyball team. “It will be like a combination of ROCKY and the BAD NEWS BEARS. At the very least we’d have to have a Dude cameo.” Uh, no thanks – methinks this idea reeks as bad as Walter Sobchak’s “ringer” suitcase filled with his dirty underwear.

7. PORNO (The sequel to TRAINSPOTTING) This is another project that’s probably dead or just resting quietly at the moment. Director Danny Boyle has said he’d like to do this follow-up in the future when the original actors have aged appropriately because the book sequel takes place much later but it’s been a while since he said that now. Ewan Macgregor though has nixed the idea that he’d reprise Renton with these remarks about Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel “Porno”: “I didn’t think the book was very good. The novel of ‘Trainspotting’ was quite fantastic … and then I find that the sequel … it didn’t move me as much.” Like when Rodney Dangerfield bowed out of doing CADDYSHACK II because he hated the script, Macgregor just earned some major integrity points there.

8. BEVERLY HILLS COP IV (2012) This one is pretty likely to happen. Whatever your feelings on Murphy he is still huge bankable star (albeit in crappy family films these days) and it has been a lucrative franchise so I bet this one is in the cards. Maybe reprising Axel Foley will bring back some much needed edge to Murphy, but I doubt it. No matter how you slice it this is an unnecessary and uninspired attempt to cash in where there most likely will be insufficient funds. I mean, it’s not exactly BOURNE or even the DIE HARD series we’re talking about here, is it?

9. TRON 2.0 Working title: TR2N (Dir. Joseph Kosinski, 2011)

This is a sure thing too, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it away. TRON wasn’t exactly a treasured part of my childhood, in fact I found it more than a little dull, but it had its charms as a dated ode to the world of video gaming before the rise of the internet. Now 29 years later with Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner returning, a sequel is poised to come win over the fan boys. That’s just the problem – who else but fan boys will be lining up for this? Unless I hear it’s a major re-imagining that smoothes over the shortcomings of the original, I surely won’t be in line.

10. GHOSTBUSTERS 3 (Dir. Ivan Reitman?, 2012) This has been a buzzing on the internets for a while now with all of the principals set to return (even Rick Moranis who, except for some cartoon voice work, hasn’t been onscreen since 1997) joined by fresh meat: Seth Rogen, Steve Carrell, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and every other Apatow player and crude comedy regular working today as Ghost Buster trainees. Actually that last bit is just rumored (as is Moranis being present) but it is true that Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (writers on the US The Office) are writing a 3rd film and most of the original cast is set to come back except Sigourney Weaver who recently said: “I don’t expect to have anything to do with it, although I wish them well.” Well, I wish them well too, but I have a sad feeling that G3 will be a sticky pile of ghost goo.

Okay! Ten sequels I’d rather not see come to fruition. Any others out there you’re dreading? HEATHERS 2? JURASSIC PARK 4, the UNTOUCHABLES prequel?!!?

More later…