Tag Archives: Jeff Bridges

My 10 Favourite Coen Characters

10. Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), Burn After Reading: We don’t often get to see Brad Pitt being funny, but as Burn After Reading’s dumb blond, he’s hysterical. He’s charming, his enthusiasm is infection, and he’s dumb as rocks. But that little dance of his isn’t a meme for nothing.

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9. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), O Brother, Where Art Thou: Clooney feels loose and slick in this movie, with slightly wild eyes and patter to match. This one is crowded with memorable characters, and so many have juicy moments, but Ulysses is the beating heart with a zest for oral hygiene, and you have to love a man for that.

8. Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The film’s opening chapter draws us in with horseback song and fancy gun slinging. The two combined are a sight to behold, so well-choreographed you can only whistle along in admiration. But when sudden violence hits and the tone shifts astronomically, it’s a signal to us all that this film is going to take us for a ride.

7. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis: Llewyn is a gentle creature, writhing with pride, jealousy, determination, dejectedness, and so much more, always evident in the crinkles around Isaac’s eyes. It’s a heartbreaking movie in many ways, and less an ensemble than many Coen films, but Isaac, a relative unknown at the time, carried it, and sang like honey, so you’d want to curl up at his feet and purr yourself into sweet oblivion.

6. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), Hail, Caesar!: Hobie Doyle was Ehrenreich’s breakout role, playing a successful western movie star just starting to transition to more dramatic roles. His wide-eyed cowpoke ways are refreshing and unexpected in Hollywood, and Hobie feels guileless and forthright. He’s a genius with a lasso but it’s his signature flubbed line that every single person found themselves repeating as they left the theatre – “would that it were.”

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5. Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), The Big Lebowski: I challenged myself to pick only one John Goodman role, or else he easily could have taken over half this list. But Walter will always be near and dear to my heart. He’s a self-righteous, judgmental, controlling moron with a passion for rules without ever overthinking them. What’s not to love?

4. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo: Undeniably an asshole, Macy makes us feel sympathy for Jerry, and even more amazingly, he keeps him funny, despite the fact that he just keeps digging and digging until he’s so far deep in the hole he can’t even tell he’s in a hole anymore. Jerry is riddled with anxiety, desperate to be more than he is, and just can’t seem to understand that you can’t be only a little bit bad. Once you crack the door, violence comes barreling in, and Jerry is laughably unprepared.

3. Edwina McDonnough (Holly Hunter), Raising Arizona: I just love how Hunter can swing between wild emotions in this – nurturing to violently defensive, ecstatic to complete meltdown. It’s emotionally exhausting to watch so I can only imagine how intense it was to play such a character, but that’s what makes Edwina so iconic. Raising Arizona is such a fun and funny film, but Hunter has the skill to keep Edwina’s need and her love pure and honest and painfully apparent.

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2. Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski: Lebowski is a philosopher at heart. So many wild and zany characters bounce off him in this film, memorably so, and in other hands, Lebowski may have been overwhelmed. But along comes Jeff Bridges, and he’s perfectly laid back, unflappable really, but still engaged in the world around him, still curious and questioning. It was so note-perfect a performance that it was instantly iconic, eminently quotable, and beloved to this day. What could possibly top it?

1.Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), Fargo: Thank you holy cheeses for giving us this backwards-talking, nine-month-pregnant, slow moving, fast thinking, admirable as shit character. The world needs Marge Gunderson, and we’ve been doubly blessed having Frances McDormand to play her. Is anyone else even worthy? Marge sees people on their blackest day, the world at its worst, but she does her part to make it just a little better, and then she comes home to dinner with her husband, cozy and domestic as all get out.

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Bad Times at the El Royale

The title promises “bad times” and that’s exactly what this film delivers.  In saying that I am not criticizing Bad Times at the El Royale.  It’s a well-made variation on the multiple perspective crime genre (think Pulp Fiction) and it will keep you guessing until the end as each character is introduced and additional information is gained from each new perspective.  But while Quentin Tarantino mixed a fair bit of humour into Pulp Ficton’s dark brew, writer-director Drew Goddard’s El Royale is a long row of tequila shots without a chaser.  It starts slowly but even then, right from the start, the tense atmosphere tells you that a lot of bad shit is coming.

__5b18c1af51a71The main events in Bad Times at the El Royale unfold over the course of one rainy night on the Nevada-California border.  The El Royale is literally split in half by the state line, so the first challenge for each guest is to decide in which state they’d like to stay.  Unfortunately, things have gone downhill at the El Royale ever since it lost its Nevada gaming licence, so the hotel is essentially deserted.  Ringing the bell doesn’t summon the desk clerk; it takes several seconds of beating on the “staff only” door to wake him.  Once he’s up, the guests are able to check in – there are four at first, and two more will show up before the night is done.  Hardly any of the guests are what they seem, and only a couple of them will live long enough to check out in the morning.

While the movie doesn’t quite reach “classic” status, the solid premise and excellent cast still make this film worth watching.  It’s absolutely packed with talent, as demonstrated by the always-excellent Nick Offerman being relegated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss it role (though he does get to do some woodworking, of sorts, so that was probably reason enough for him to sign on).  Bad Times at the El Royale gave me a tense, suspenseful night chock full of hardboiled twists and turns, and that’s all I could have asked for before the sunrise.

Actors-Cum-Singers

I had heard she had some sort of music career fallback, but I didn’t really understand that I’d been hearing her on the radio consistently for quite some time. Hailee Steinfeld: you may know her as the little girl from True Grit, or else the young woman in The Edge of Seventeen, but a whole lot of young folk know her as a top 40 pop artist. She “broke out” after appearing in Pitch Perfect 2 and just like that she had a record deal and a music video.

Of course you may know that Pitch Perfect alum Anna Kendrick also landed on the Billboards with her annoying song, Cups. The music video, which I’ve neglected to see before today, is a bit aggravating since she’s play some working class baker in a horrid little diner that apparently refuses to sell drinks. Anyone else start bleeding from the eyeballs when this comes on? Anna Kendrick’s gotten singy in a whole bunch of her movies, including Trolls and Into the Woods, so it seems unlikely that her vocal stylings are going anywhere soon (god help us all).

Kendrick’s not the only co-star of Hailee Steinfeld’s to have music on the radio. Her True Grit co-star Jeff Bridges is super musical too. Of course you were likely blown away by his performance in Crazy Heart, but that’s not a one-off. He studied piano as a kid but now he’s usually seen with one of several guitars in hand, on set and everywhere else. In 1980, while filming Heaven’s Gate, he’d often jam with his co-star, singer\songwriter Kris Kristofferson, between takes. Kristofferson helped inspire Bridges’ Crazy Heart character, Bad Blake, who is described as being the fictional 5th Highwayman, alongside Willie Nelson, Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

A bunch of actors tour with bands in their down time. Steve Martin’s bluegrass sound isn’t surprising to anyone who’ll recognize his banjo from his stand-up comic days. He’s put some real time and effort into his second career as a musician, and he’s picked up some Grammy awards to show for it. Billy Bob Thornton has released music with The Boxmasters and Tres Hombres. Michael Cera plays bass in Mister Heavenly. Kevin Costner’s band, Kevin Costner and Modern West, tours the NASCAR circuit. Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar reportedly gave Weezer their first touring gig opening for them in the early 90s. Kevin Bacon makes music with his brother in (you guessed it) The Bacon Brothers. Russell Crowe started out with 30 Odd Foot of Grunts before he was super successful over here, and then graduated to Russell Crowe & the Ordinary Fear of God once he did. And perhaps most famously (or at least most successfully), Jared Leto formed alt-rock band 30 Seconds to Mars the minute he was done with My So-Called Life and has always gone back to it between film projects, ensuring the stability of the black eyeliner industry.

Jamie Foxx revealed his musical talent in the movie Ray, and then followed it up with a convincing Ray Charles impression in Kanye West’s song, Gold Digger. Foxx has also been feature on a Drake track (another actor turned musician; Canadians will never let him forget that he got his start on the Degrassi reboot). Solo, he’s released 4 R&B albums since Ray. His most commercially successful single, the heavily auto-tuned Blame It, has a music video that weirdly “stars” Jake Gyllenhaal, Ron Howard, Forest Whitaker, and Samuel L. Jackson. Never mind the Grey Goose sponsorship deal. Feel free to check it out and let me know what gives.

One of my favourie actor crossovers is Zooey Deschanel, who has a good thing going with M. Ward called She & Him. She’s pretty legit – she plays keyboards, percussion, banjo, and ukulele – and M. Ward lends a lot of blues\folk credibility. We know she can sing from her duet with Will Ferrell in the movie Elf, but she’s also appeared on a Coconut Records album, a band by fellow indie actor Jason Schwartzman. In this She & Him video, she’s helped out by her 500 Days of Summer co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

In case you doubted that Ryan Gosling was singing (he was a Mousketeer alongside Justin Timberlake you know!) and playing the piano long before La La Land ever existed, here’s a pretty raw video of him and his band Dead Man’s Bones. The sound’s not great because it was recorded live, but you’ll get the gist.

There are many more besides who tried to sing and probably shouldn’t have, and I’m not even sure if William Shatner belongs on that list. He’s released so many albums at this point that I have to take him at least semi-seriously, or as seriously as the Shatner spoken-word singing can be taken. Which is still better than Cory Feldman sing-ranting about the pitfalls of being a former child actor. And I can only begin to imagine the highs and lows contained on an album by Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, or David Hasselhoff, and apparently there are 18 of those in existence! Can you even believe it? Well believe it:

 

Who is your favourite actor-musician?

Hell or High Water

This movie is more high-noon western than high-octane thriller, but there is indeed a heist at its heart.

Two brothers, Toby, tall and handsome (Chris Pine), and Tanner, short and surly (Ben hell-or-high-water-chris-pine-ben-fosterFoster), have little in common except for the rough past they come from, which they are both desperate to escape. Toby has spent the last few years caring for their mother while the family ranch slips away. Tanner has spent the past year since he’s been released from jail tempting the fates to put him back. Now they’re working together to save the family ranch from default – and will do so by robbing a bunch of Texas Midland bank branches, and paying the bank back with its own stolen money.

The only catch: sheriff Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is close to retirement but not keen to go, and this one last case is not going to be the blemish on his career. He chases the brothers all over Texas until he pinpoints the next branch they’re about to hit, and lies in wait.

Hell Or High Water is superbly acted. You can’t even say with certainty which of the three leads steals the film, but they’re all making the right choices, the quiet choices that make for the most interesting of character studies. That said, the secondary characters – and hell, even the one-liners – are all praise-worthy here. And I am obliged, once again, to worship at the altar of Jeff Bridges, chronically underrated but truly one of the wonders of the world.

The pace helps set this movie apart. It’s not fast or furious: it blows by at about the speed of a tumbleweed in a gentle breeze, which means you have time to get to know everyone, 97178_044and in getting to know them, maybe you actually care. There is a certain sympathy accrued for both the cops and the robbers. It’s the kind of movie that made the car ride home extra engaging, as we figured where they all stood on the Bad Guy Scale. Toby, for example, is robbing the bank that robbed him. He’s doing it to give his kids a future. But he’s using a gun, which means people could get hurt. So is he good, bad, or somewhere in between? 49% good? 51% good? 75% relatable? 100% justified?

One thing’s for sure: the blackest hat of all is reserved for the banks. The Big Short was last year’s testament to the American Dream’s foreclosure, and although my hat’s off to Adam McKay for making a narrative film out of a nonfiction book (and I don’t mean a biography – this baby was characterless, plotless, and read more like a textbook, by which I mean full of facts and figures, but not remotely dry or boring), it never really resonated with me. Hell or High Water puts a name and a face to poverty, and calls it a disease. An epidemic, even. Director David Mackenzie has accomplished something significant here, dragging the good old Western into the 21st century, a time of economic anxiety, where the little towns look even more derelict and neglected than they did in the wild, wild west. There’s an ache to this film cultivated by fantastic dialogue and scenic shots, handily catapulting itself into my top 5 of 2016.

The Little Prince

A little girl has a bright future ahead of her. How do I know? She and her mother (Rachel McAdams) have her whole life planned out. A life plan so intense she’s more like her mother’s Senior VP than her daughter. Her mother’s best compliment: “You are going to make a wonderful grownup.”

But the crazy old man (Jeff Bridges) next door draws her out of her mature little shell with his fanciful inventions and his beautiful story-telling. His stories and drawings come to life in animation within the animation: the story of The Little Prince.

Growing up it was always Le Petit Prince to me, but even en anglais, the timeless story warms the heart. The main story, starring the little girl, and the crazy man’s story, starring the little prince, are distinguished with different styles of animation. The little girl is done in familiar CG style; the little prince is stop-motion, done not in clay but in paper. Both are lovely, 210b0b20-a7ab-11e5-88e2-828a3e695a05_1280x720but I confess a fondness for the nostalgia and simple loveliness of the latter.

The voice cast is incredible: Jeff Bridges, Paul Rudd, Albert Brooks, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, and more. It’s a real testament to just how cherished the book is, around the world. The Little Prince is a sweet children’s book but it can be read and enjoyed by adults, with many layers of themes to interpret. The same goes for the movie, faithfully and lovingly adapted from its source.

The little girl, too grown up for her own good, rediscovers childhood lp-garden-rgb-5kthrough friendship with the batty old guy next door. But anyone who knows the story knows that along with sweetness, there is also sorrow. The first half of the movie is all poetry and imagination. The second half falters a bit when it gets further away from Saint-Exupéry’s ideas and ideals. The movie is a little less fanciful than the novella, a little more down to earth. But The Little Prince has always been the stuff of dreams, too good, too ethereal for Earth. It’s still lovely though. It’s still one of the loveliest things I’ve seen all summer.