Tag Archives: Levon Helm

In the Electric Mist (2008, Bertrand Tavernier)

In the Electric Mist is a perfect example of how not to adapt a novel into a film. The source novel is the sixth novel in a series and the film–in a seemingly bold but utterly misguided move (much of it would be incoherent if I hadn’t once read the novel)–assumes the viewer is going to be familiar with all of the previous novels. There’s absolutely no introduction to the characters who aren’t related to the mystery–the film’s reliance on implying past knowledge is actually pretty cool, because it only relies on someone listening. But there are a bunch of characters who go without any explanation. It’s a film for fans of the novel series, which hurts it.

It’s a shame, because Tommy Lee Jones has a good role here. It allows him to do his more mannered performance, but mix in a little of that pseudo-action hero thing he does. Not a lot of it, but enough someone could cut a teaser trailer with it in there. In the Electric Mist doesn’t seem to be putting itself out there as a franchise starter, but the approach to the adaptation implies otherwise. There’s nothing particularly significant about the events in this picture–Jones meets movie stars, played by Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald, and he says he’s familiar with their work… but it’s never touched on. At no time does he seem like someone who goes to the movies a lot or sits back and watches the CW. There’s a bevy of supporting characters–John Goodman’s goateed mobster and Pruitt Taylor Vince as a cop sidekick–who don’t have any real weight. It’s impossible to imagine these characters interacting together off screen.

The film also has an incredibly silly voiceover gimmick. Jones narrates his adventure, in the past tense, simply because the film doesn’t want to have a lengthy run time. Sometimes he narrates transitions, so there don’t have to be scenes. It’s obvious and annoying.

And the mystery isn’t particularly engaging, maybe because it’s really not a mystery the way the film presents it. Jones is having hallucinations of a Civil War general advising him (these sequences are handled terribly) and they move the story more than any thought processes.

Bertrand Tavernier is a fine director. His Panavision framing–I think he went wide so it wouldn’t seem like a TV movie–is excellent. There’s some bad focusing, but otherwise the visuals are solid. Marco Beltrami’s score gets repetitive and annoying pretty quick though.

Jones is good, Goodman’s okay, Vince’s okay. Sarsgaard’s amazing–I’ve seen him before, but never turn in anything like this performance. It’s just fantastic. Macdonald’s good. Ned Beatty’s not good though, which is depressing. James Gammon’s amazing. Mary Steenburgen and Justina Machado are both good–though neither have anything to do and they really ought to. John Sayles shows up for a cameo, essaying the kind of Hollywood director who’d do a Civil War movie. He has a lot of fun.

In the Electric Mist has a bad ending. It’s already got the disadvantage of being narrated by the protagonist, but the end goes and changes the protagonist for a cute fade out. It’s an awful move.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bernard Tavernier; screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski, based on a novel by James Lee Burke; director of photography, Bruno de Keyzer; edited by Larry Madaras and Roberto Silvi; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Merideth Boswell; produced by Frédéric Bourboulon and Michael Fitzgerald; released by Image Entertainment.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Dave Robicheaux), John Goodman (Julie ‘Baby Feet’ Balboni), Peter Sarsgaard (Elrod Sykes), Kelly Macdonald (Kelly Drummond), Mary Steenburgen (Bootsie Robicheaux), Justina Machado (Rosie Gomez), Ned Beatty (Twinky LeMoyne), James Gammon (Ben Hebert), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Lou Girard), Levon Helm (General John Bell Hood), Buddy Guy (Sam ‘Hogman’ Patin), Julio Cedillo (Cholo Manelli), Alana Locke (Alafair Robicheaux) and John Sayles (Michael Goldman).


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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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