Tag Archives: Billy Bob Thornton

Into the Grizzly Maze (2014, David Hackl)

Should Into the Grizzly Maze be any good? It’s the story of two bickering brothers who have to hunt a giant killer bear. In Alaska. With the deaf wife of one brother–the cop–and the ex-girlfriend of the other brother. And the other brother is an ex-con. Their father’s former bear hunting protege also figures into the mix.

It sounds like a really lame soap opera, not a movie about a giant monster bear. And when you consider the actors–Thomas Jane as the cop, James Marsden as the ex-con, Piper Perabo as the deaf wife, Billy Bob Thornton as the protege (and, yes, TV supporting player Michaela McManus as the ex-girlfriend). These actors used to be movie stars. If they’re going to be in a movie about a killer grizzly bear, shouldn’t it be somehow awesome?

Yes, it should. But director Hackl’s atrocious. He can’t make Maze scary, can’t do the gore–and he wastes a few really good gore possibilities because the whole thing has awful CG in awful day for night digital shooting. Occasionally, it seems like James Liston’s photography is good, but then it’s obvious he just knows how to give that impression. It’s still better than anything Hackl does.

The whole reason Perabo is deaf is so she can be hunted and the audience can know what’s coming (and maybe to pay her less) and Hackl can’t even sell that moment.

Bad acting. Bad movie. Except Scott Glenn, of course.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Hackl; screenplay by Guy Moshe and J.R. Reher, based on a story by Reher; director of photography, James Liston; edited by Andrew Coutts, Michael N. Knue and Sara Mineo; music by Marcus Trumpp; production designer, Tink; produced by Paul Schiff, Tai Duncan and Hadeel Reda; released by Vertical Entertainment.

Starring James Marsden (Rowan), Thomas Jane (Beckett), Piper Perabo (Michelle), Billy Bob Thornton (Douglass), Scott Glenn (Sully), Michaela McManus (Kaley), Kelly Curran (Amber) and Adam Beach (Johnny Cadillac).

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Puss in Boots (2011, Chris Miller)

CG animation has, much to my surprise, gotten to the point of disquieting reality. In Puss in Boots, Zach Galifianakis’s Humpty Dumpty has such real facial expressions, it makes the entire experience uncomfortable. The face, on the alien form, is too real.

Galifianakis is Puss’s weakest casting choice. In fact, he might be the only weak casting choice. He doesn’t bring any, you know, acting to the part. He’s reading lines, maybe exaggerating his tone occasionally, but he’s not acting. Everyone else is good. Except Amy Sedaris, for the same reason.

Antonio Banderas is great—but Puss is kind of perfect… it’s a cat as Zorro. Who better to do the performance than Zorro? Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, both are strong.

The film’s constantly delightful, which seems to be everyone’s goal, so picking at it doesn’t seem fruitful. But it would also be difficult.

My biggest gripe, besides the two weak performances (which aren’t bad, just not up to the film’s standard), has to do with scale. When the cast goes from the spaghetti Western setting to fairy tale setting, the two cats and the giant egg-man aren’t around any recognizable size landmarks. In fact, they’re in a giant’s castle… so the scale gets disconcerting.

But it’s a very small gripe. Puss holds it together for a difficult finish too.

By not failing the narrative, director Miller succeeds. Though the lead and the amazing CG help.

Puss in Boots is a very charming, just smart enough amusement.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Miller; screenplay by Tom Wheeler, based on a story by Brian Lynch, Will Davies and Wheeler and a character created by Charles Perrault; edited by Eric Dapkewicz; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Guillaume Aretos; produced by Joe M. Aguilar and Latifa Ouaou; released by Dreamworks Animation.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), Salma Hayek (Kitty Softpaws), Zach Galifianakis (Humpty Alexander Dumpty), Billy Bob Thornton (Jack), Amy Sedaris (Jill), Constance Marie (Imelda) and Guillermo del Toro (Comandate).


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On Deadly Ground (1994, Steven Seagal)

On Deadly Ground is about a presumably Inuit (it’s never clear) special forces guy (also never clear) killing, maiming and beating up oil company goons in a number of creative ways.

Strangely, Seagal makes the audience wait to discover the film’s true nature. The first scene is an exceptionally lame and poorly acted explosion sequence. It gets fun almost immediately following, when Seagal beats up a bunch of redneck oil workers who are assaulting a Native American. Besides a really bad spiritual journey thing in the middle, the movie’s otherwise just Seagal versus the oil company goons (led by a somewhat restrained Michael Caine).

Apparently, critics at the time dismissed the film as a vanity project, but I’m having a hard time thinking of another movie icon at the height of his or her career who’s made something along the lines of this film. There’s even a line comparing Alaska to a third world oil producing country… presumably since the governments are so easy to buy.

As a director, Seagal’s bad. His composition is on par with any other crappy action movie director and he’s awful with actors–though he apparently recognized Billy Bob Thornton’s abilities and showcased him–but he’s not so bad there’s any point in vilifying him.

Joan Chen is weak as the sidekick (her character is along so Seagal can tell her all the “MacGyver” stuff he’s doing) and John C. McGinley is awful.

It’s too long, but it’s vicariously fulfilling so it passes reasonably fast.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Seagal; written by Ed Horowitz and Robin U. Russin; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Don Brochu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, William Ladd Skinner; produced by A. Kitman Ho, Julius R. Nasso and Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Forrest Taft), Michael Caine (Michael Jennings), Joan Chen (Masu), John C. McGinley (MacGruder), R. Lee Ermey (Stone), Billy Bob Thornton (Homer Carlton), Richard Hamilton (Hugh Palmer), Mike Starr (Big Mike) and Sven-Ole Thorsen (Otto).


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Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)

Dead Man is not a strange film. I haven’t seen it in ten years and I’ve probably seen the majority of the Westerns I’ve seen in that interim. So the opening, as Johnny Depp watches the familiar Western trappings pass from a train window, probably didn’t resonate on my last viewing. What Jarmusch doesn’t get enough credit for–though I really don’t know, it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to have a conversation with someone about Jarmusch–is his dialogue. IMDb doesn’t list it as such, but Dead Man is great comedy. It’s one of the funnier films I’ve seen lately. Besides Gary Farmer, who maintains funniness throughout the film (even when he and Depp’s relationship gets poignant), Jarmusch has his two trios. In the first, there’s Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott and Eugene Byrd. Dead Man might feature Wincott’s finest performance; he’s phenomenal as a motormouthed assassin. Byrd plays the straight man, with Henriksen the unknowing butt of the jokes. This interplay lasts the majority of the film, until Henriksen becomes the knowing butt of Wincott’s joke. The second trio–Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop and Jared Harris–only have a scene, but it’s an amazing one. Thornton’s gift for delivery is clear here, but it’s Pop who steals the show (it isn’t hard, since he’s the only one wearing a bonnet).

The humor–down to Robert Mitchum’s cameo–is all relatively straightforward, presented in dialogue and visuals. Even Farmer’s funniest scenes are because of his dialogue. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp’s trip through Dead Man is tonal. It’s Robby Müller shooting black and white like a Frenchman from the 1930s, the film clearly filmed on location, but still infused with a hyper-reality. The skies are too dark or too bright to be real. Neil Young’s score sometimes becomes the focal point, as it’s the only clue into what Depp’s experiencing. Depp’s character is a genre standard, a quiet man forced into violence by circumstance. Jarmusch’s added ingredients–Depp’s death is inevitable from the start (due to a bullet near the heart) and Farmer as a Native American guide–really aren’t unprecedented. Where Dead Man‘s different is in the presentation of the story.

There’s also the politics of Dead Man–the Western is probably the most political genre. From the opening slaughter of buffalo to the smallpox-infected blankets at the end (even if blankets couldn’t carry the virus), Jarmusch indicts Manifest Destiny with Dead Man. But he escapes propaganda by wowing with the beauty of the untouched American landscape. Discovering the beauty of the natural world is part of Depp’s trip in the film. The viewer’s too.

Jarmusch–through Farmer–neatly sends the viewer home at the end of Dead Man after privileging him or her to particular journey. Back when Dead Man came out, I remember a friend of mine always wanted to know what color Depp’s suit really was, figuring Jarmusch had to make him wear something wacky (and Mitchum’s line about the clown suit really does encourage speculation). I really want to know what, in the dramatic vehicle, Gabriel Byrne brought for Mili Avital. I hope it was silk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Robby Müller; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Neil Young; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; produced by Demetra J. MacBride; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Johnny Depp (William Blake), Gary Farmer (Nobody), Crispin Glover (Train Fireman), Lance Henriksen (Cole Wilson), Michael Wincott (Conway Twill), Eugene Byrd (Johnny ‘The Kid’ Pickett), John Hurt (John Scholfield), Robert Mitchum (John Dickinson), Iggy Pop (Salvatore ‘Sally’ Jenko), Gabriel Byrne (Charlie Dickinson), Jared Harris (Benmont Tench), Mili Avital (Thel Russell) and Billy Bob Thornton (Big George Drakoulious).


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