Tag Archives: Sam Elliott

The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel Coen)

There are a lot of interesting things about what the Coens do with The Big Lebowski. The foremost thing has to be how, even though the film is incredibly thoughtful and complex in its homages, the Coens aren’t exclusionary about it. If you don’t know it’s Raymond Chandler, it’s okay. If you don’t know zero budget Westerns had narrators, it’s okay.

If you do, you understand more about what they’re doing, but you don’t better understand the film. Because knowing where they’re coming from isn’t the point. The movie’s the point.

But being accepting of populist viewers aside, the Coens also do something very interesting with the dialogue. When people listen to other people, they’re hearing it for the first time, just like the viewer. Even though John Goodman’s amusing lunatic has been friends with Jeff Bridges’s character for untold years… Bridges’s reactions are in line with the audiences. He’s stunned—just like the viewer—at the stupid things Goodman says.

It’s subtle, but with the film starting in the first scene.

Bridges and Goodman are both great, as is Steve Buscemi as the third in their triumvirate. Of course, he has nothing to say, which is kind of the point.

In the supporting roles, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and David Thewlis are all fantastic.

Lebowski, now a pop culture icon, succeeds because it embraces pop culture (and assumes everyone should know LA culture). It’s excellent.

Except, however, when there’s a nonsensical reference to an as yet unestablished subplot.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes and Tricia Cooke; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Ethan Coen; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Jeffrey Lebowski), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak), Steve Buscemi (Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos), David Huddleston (Jeffrey Lebowski), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Brandt), Ben Gazzara (Jackie Treehorn), Peter Stormare (Karl Hungus), John Turturro (Jesus Quintana), Jon Polito (Da Fino), David Thewlis (Knox Harrington), Jack Kehler (Marty) and Sam Elliott (The Stranger).


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Hulk (2003, Ang Lee)

Hulk had a huge box office drop-off after its opening weekend–wow, almost seventy percent. It’s actually somewhat lucky, because I’d have thought people would have gotten up and walked out of the theater. The Hulk doesn’t show up until about an hour into the movie and doesn’t do anything interesting for another half hour after the first appearance. There’s a lot of angst in the first couple Hulk appearances, before it finally gets to him fighting tanks and such. The tank fights and the helicopter fights and the Hulk jumping all over the place–those scenes Ang Lee does all right with. The Hulk doesn’t look “real” in any of the close-ups, but given how unbelievable the acting is from the principals… ILM’s Hulk by far gives the film’s best performance.

The worst performance is–just because it’s so absurdly easy–Josh Lucas. I don’t remember him from anything else, but his big business scientist seems to be an homage to… Himmler, maybe. The actor is bad, nothing else. For all the pseudo-angst Lee and James Schamus drown Hulk in, they don’t mind one of their principal characters being shallower than a piece of newsprint. I think they even gave Lucas extra blue eyes, though I’m not sure why… It’s a horrific performance, but the terrible writing contributes.

The other two–primary–terrible performances are Jennifer Connelly and Eric Bana. Bana hurts the most, since he’s the ostensible lead (it’s really Nick Nolte). Either Bana was on tranquilizers the whole time or mastering getting rid of his Australian accent also removed all animation. Connelly–for the first half–acts with her hair. Once they change the style, though, look out. She’s incapable of doing anything realistically. A big problem with Hulk seems to be casting actors who think the project is crap. Both Bana and Connelly are abjectly disinterested in their performances.

Sam Elliot’s also bad, but that one’s not particularly surprising.

Once again, Nick Nolte shows off just what he can do with a wacky, crazed role and turns in the film’s most sympathetic character.

Lee’s stylistic choices are car wreck interesting. For example, what were the producers thinking trusting Lee with a $140 million budget (glib answer, they weren’t). Lee can’t handle the money, but the other choices he makes–the split screens meant to imitate comic book panels (doesn’t work) or using comic sans as the movie’s font (that one should get one ejected from the DGA, if not incarcerated). But at the beginning, when Lee’s zooming in on all sorts of molecules and lab animals and doing all sorts of dumb fades, Hulk actually works as a super-budget b-movie from the 1950s (the dangers of nuclear power and all). It’s interesting to look at, interesting to experience. Of course, once the Hulk shows up, Lee flushes all that stylization (but sticks to his multi-screen thing, which seems more inspired by security cameras than comic books).

Hulk is a disaster, as the lack of a definite article should suggest, but it’s a disaster caused by incompetence. How hard is it to mess up a big green guy breaking stuff? Very easy, apparently.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ang Lee; written by John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus, based on a story by Schamus and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Avi Arad, Schamus and Larry J. Franco; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Eric Bana (Bruce Banner), Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross), Sam Elliott (Ross), Josh Lucas (Talbot) and Nick Nolte (Father).


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Ghost Rider (2007, Mark Steven Johnson), the extended cut

Watching former–I don’t know, he wasn’t really an indie, so something like pre-hipster hipster–wunderkind Wes Bentley in material like this movie (where he finally finds his appropriate level, skill-wise) is kind of amusing. Is it amusing enough to get through the whole movie, especially since Bentley doesn’t show up until twenty-five minutes into it (remember, he was supposedly going to be Spider-Man at one point)? No, because it only occurred to me I should be so amused by Bentley’s plummeting when he showed up. I needed something to amuse me, since his acting and the script are both so awful.

It’s also amazing what the MPAA will give a PG-13 if the intended audience are red state voters. Ghost Rider‘s got some positively nightmare-inducing grotesque imagery (but no swearing).

Watching Peter Fonda and Bentley “act” opposite each other… someone out there–presumably Mark Steven Johnson–thought they were doing a good job. He thought he’d written a good scene even, instead of something so laughable, it plays like a joke commercial on an episode of “Family Guy.” Worse is Johnson’s attempt to make Ghost Rider a story about fathers and sons, which is a bit like he did in Daredevil, only Daredevil seemed like a real movie, various absurdities aside. Ghost Rider seems like–given Nicolas Cage has been in it for three minutes thirty minutes in–a bunch of live-action video game cut-scenes.

In one neat thing, maybe unintentional, Cage’s friend, played by Donal Logue, resembles Cage’s (filmic) father, Brett Cullen. Cullen’s only in it in the flashback but he’s sturdily good, giving Johnson’s lame dialogue some life.

Cage’s unsteady Southern accent. I don’t know what to say about it. Other than someone should have noticed and had him loop his lines.

Johnson’s actually a Panavision throwback–he shoots it in 1950s and 1960s-style (pre-Leone?). He uses the widescreen to fill it with as much information as possible, instead of actually composing meaningful shots. I don’t even mean that one as an insult.

I’m trying to figure out why I’m still watching Ghost Rider, almost forty minutes in. Maybe because Ghost Rider hasn’t shown up yet.

Johnson treats the romance between Cage and Eva Mendes like a romantic comedy, something for Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Cage almost achieves charming, but Mendes is terrible. Not just in the romantic comedy attempts either, but on every possible level. I hope there’s a scene with her and Bentley though, just because it’d be so bad I can’t even imagine it.

Anyway, forty-two minutes and still no flaming Ghost Rider. I’m not turning it off until then–which I think Johnson considered, since he slaps two flashbacks on the front of it, taking up fifteen or twenty minutes.

His face burns off. PG-13.

And there it is. At forty-eight minutes, Ghost Rider shows up. At fifty, I turn it off. I can’t believe I made it. (I do need to point out, even though Ghost Rider’s smaller than Nicolas Cage because he’s just a skeleton, he still fills out the clothes like he’s got skin and muscles).

Leaving Las Vegas. Bringing Out the Dead.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson; screenplay by Johnson, based on the Marvel Comic character created by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog; director of photography, Russell Boyd; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Steven Paul, Michael De Luca and Gary Foster; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze), Eva Mendes (Roxanne), Wes Bentley (Blackheart), Sam Elliott (Caretaker), Donal Logue (Mack), Peter Fonda (Mephistopheles), Matt Young (Young Johnny), Raquel Alessi (Young Roxanne) and Brett Cullen (Barton Blaze).


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Shakedown (1988, James Glickenhaus)

Shakedown is such a terrible film, I’d have to go through it line by line to adequately catalog its deficiencies. The big action climax features Sam Elliot hanging onto landing gear of a jet flying over the World Trade Center, then dropping into a river. This climax–from take-off to dropping into the river to the plane landing–takes about thirty-seven seconds and features some of the worst special effects I have ever seen. So why did I sit through Shakedown? A few reasons. First, it’s Peter Weller from his “prime.” I’m not sure Weller’s any good in Shakedown, but the role’s different for him–it’s a poorly conceived character, but Weller brings some respectability to it (enough you occasionally forget the quality of the film, then the dialogue reminds you). Second, I’ll probably never see another James Glickenhaus movie and the guy has a great name. His movie’s absolute trash, but he’s got a great name. Finally, Shakedown was filmed on location in New York City. Today, there are a few blocks in Los Angeles where movies set in New York do most of their filming. Back in the 1980s, movies like Shakedown could afford to film in the city and today, eighty million dollar superhero movies cannot. Fourth–I know I said finally, but I wasn’t sure I was going to admit to this one–Shakedown is a document of an era past and, to some degree, forgotten. An era I mostly missed.

I know little about the cheap action film genre. Something happened in the late 1980s, when big companies (Warner and Fox) started producing this dreak. While I never saw that crap… well, some of the Seagal’s, but never the Van Damme’s (until he hooked up with Peter Hyams and, wow, had Hyams ever nose-dived). Had I seen Shakedown growing up, before I could just dismiss it out of hand, maybe I’d feel different about it. It’s an awful film. Its ideas are kind of scary–it’s offensive to women, blacks, intellectual whites, ignorant whites–the only real people of merit are Texans and Jimi Hendrix devotees. I certainly wouldn’t want to know anyone who thought it was good, but it is so absurd it was mildly amusing. I didn’t have a bad ninety-six minutes, especially not after the Universal logo at the beginning took up a whole minute as they tried to stretch it above the ninety minute mark.

There are also a lot of familiar faces in the film. There’s one scene with a parking lot attendant who has a very familiar voice and it turned out to be Harold Perrineau. Richard Brooks has a decent-sized supporting role and he’s actually pretty good. He probably gives the best performance in the film.

But seeing it on location was the most compelling aspect of the film. Not even movies shot in New York today use it to the extent Shakedown used it. Otherwise, it’s a piece of garbage. It’s so stupid, one would have to watch it to believe it. But, somehow, as a film, it’s not offensive. It’s not poorly made–besides those end special effects–though Glickenhaus does love low-angle shots. The writing’s awful. Maybe because it wasn’t a hit. But Weller, coming off Robocop, couldn’t find anything better to do?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Glickenhaus; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Paul Fried; music by Jonathan Elias; production designer, Charles Bennett; produced by J. Boyce Harman Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Roland Dalton), Sam Elliott (Richie Marks), George Loros (Officer Varelli), Thomas G. Waites (Officer Kelly), Daryl Edwards (Dr. Watson), Jos Laniado (Ruben), Richard Brooks (Michael Jones), Blanche Baker (Gail Feinberger), Shirley Stoler (Irma), John C. McGinley (Sean Phillips) and Patricia Charbonneau (Susan Cantrell).