Tag Archives: Barry Pepper

Battlefield Earth (2000, Roger Christian)

If only someone involved in Battlefield Earth realized they should be making fun of the story instead of being earnest, it might have some camp value. Instead, between Barry Pepper’s humorless protagonist and John Travolta’s ludicrous villain, Earth is an exasperating affair. No one noticed Forest Whitaker looks like the Cowardly Lion? Really? He looks just like him. He just needs a tail.

I expected Earth to be far worse. Travolta’s bad but not spectacularly (for him). Earth just shows having a movie where most of the characters are giant stupid-looking space aliens is a bad idea. It doesn’t help director Roger Christian isn’t competent enough to direct a Downy Fabric Softener commercial. He tilts his camera all the time and apparently instructed editor Robin Russell to use a lot of Star Wars style transition swipes. But Earth has little in common with Star Wars. Battlefield Earth is hard sci-fi; it’s exactly why I snicker when I hear that phrase.

Well, Roman DeBeers notwithstanding.

Additionally terrible things about Earth include Giles Nuttgens’s photography, Elia Cmiral’s music (especially) and the writing. But it’s hard to say whether the dumbest elements are from the script or the source novel. The aliens, it turns out, never shut off the United States’s apparently infinite power grid… after a thousand years of occupation.

But the special effects aren’t bad and Kim Coates is actually good in his sidekick role.

And Earth does move somewhat briskly. The stupidity and wholesale ineptness make it interesting.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Christian; screenplay by Corey Mandell and J.D. Shapiro, based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard; director of photography, Giles Nuttgens; edited by Robin Russell; music by Elia Cmiral; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Elie Samaha, Jonathan D. Krane and John Travolta; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Travolta (Terl), Barry Pepper (Jonnie Goodboy Tyler), Forest Whitaker (Ker), Kim Coates (Carlo), Richard Tyson (Robert the Fox) and Sabine Karsenti (Chrissy).


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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).


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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).


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