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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Entries in Tommy Lee Jones (18)

Sunday
Nov162014

AFI Fest's Gala Premieres: 'The Gambler' and 'The Homesman'

Margaret here, reporting from the LA festival beat with short takes on some would-be Oscar contenders.


The Gambler
Screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed), director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and star Mark Wahlberg joined forces on this remake of the 1974 James Caan movie of the same name, and the result is certainly stylish. It's well-shot, coolly assured, and smartly paced. Wahlberg leads the movie capably as Jim Bennett, a man from a rich family with a solid career who has nonetheless dug himself to rock bottom with extravagant compulsive gambling. 

The film is at its best when it engages with the question of why someone whose life is granted so much privilege so systematically pisses it all away. John Goodman, typically scene-stealing as a dangerous loan shark, makes many salient points about Jim's decisions, which are either self-destructive or indefensibly stupid.  To its detriment, the film ultimately succumbs to the impulse to romanticize its protagonist, asking the audience to cheer and respect him when he  finally makes his first sound decision.

The supporting cast is largely excellent; it will surprise no one that Jessica Lange wrings every ounce of personality, pathos, and curdled maternal affection from her few minutes of screentime. Even so, she makes little impact on the movie because, like the protagonist, it brushes her away. The Gambler can claim the dubious achievement of completing the Stock Female Character hat trick: (1) a maternal figure who exists to thanklessly prop up the male lead, (2) a pretty young thing (Brie Larson) who we're told is a stone-cold genius, but is given no development arc and has inexplicable romantic interest in the lead, and (3) a passel of nameless and faceless strippers. Slow clap. 

These are not deal-breakers for every moviegoer, but they're emblematic of the film's general reliance on familiar beats instead of showing us something new.

 

The Homesman
BREAKING NEWS: Tommy Lee Jones smiled upwards of twice when introducing his newest film at AFI Fest. He had glowing things to say about the whole cast, particularly  "the miraculous Hilary Swank", who more than earned her praise. The Homesman is a stubbornly unromantic and prickly western, but Swank anchors it with a very fine, emotionally vivid performance.

The Homesman's portrait of life in the Nebraska Territory is bleak; life is hard, and heroism a luxury. When a town meeting is called to order the transport of three mentally ill women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) back to family in Iowa, their husbands shrink from the task. The staunchly moralistic Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) takes on the assignment, knowing it will be a miserable and dangerous enterprise, because no one else will do it and she knows it must be done. Upon acquiring a traveling companion in a self-interested claim jumper who may be named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), she sets off with her dead-eyed charges.

There are many well-conceived notes in the movie. A knife fight over a disinterested captive, Mary Bee silently playing an embroidered set of piano keys for lack of a real instrument, a flashback to a passenger's slow break from sanity-- each hints at a poignancy that never feels realized in the film as a whole. The tone occasionally veers into incongruous places-- Tommy Lee Jones' introduction is oddly slapstick, and there's a vengeful sequence in the third act that would have been more at home in Django Unchained-- and while the story doesn't conform to any expected trajectory, neither does it end as strongly as it began. 

The movie didn't leave me sure exactly what story its makers wanted to tell, or at least, it never convinced me of why they were telling it. Even so, it's at times both moving and starkly beautiful, and will not be easy to forget. 

Tuesday
May202014

Cannes Diary Day ???: "The Homesman," Or How Tommy Lee Jones Failed at Feminist Storytelling

Diana Drumm is reporting from Cannes for the The Film Experience. 

 

Based on the award-winning novel (that Paul Newman was attached to for years) by Glendon Swarthout (“The Shootist”), The Homesman is a bizarre, unwieldy Western about 31 year-old spinster Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) and questionable character Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) who are driving three insane women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) back East for treatment, or at least respite from their literally-maddening frontier lives.  

Or for a convoluted, reference-laden way to generalize it all, think of The Homesman as an inverse of the Robert Taylor-starring not-quite-classic Westward The Women (1951) meets the Glenn Close-starring made-for-TV movie Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991) with the madness and mismatches of Quills (2000, Briggs being the less couth, toned down subversive Marquis) divided by the stunning Western cinematography of Brokeback Mountain (2005, via Oscar nominee Rodrigo Prieto). Apologies, my brain is flooded with movies. 

Scale of Tommy Lee Jones orneriness, gender politics, and star cameos after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Sunday
May182014

Cannes Diary Day 4 Pt 2: Hilary & Tommy Promote "The Homesman"

Diana Drumm reporting from Cannes for The Film Experience

 

At today’s The Homesman press conference, Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank lived up to their public personas, the former as a well-meaning curmudgeon and the latter as diplomatic would be sweetheart. This dynamic was evident when Jones made the off-putting comment that editing is time consuming but “it’s not hard work” and Swank, spotting the possible faux pax in front of a room of international movie press, swooped in by clarifying maybe not for someone like him with his great mind and thoughtful vision, but she’d be lost and that editing is indeed hard work.

Well-trained in the art of dodging cringe-inducing questions, Swank managed to pivot from a meant-to-be-complimentary question about the disparity between her beauty in person and her plainness onscreen to an empowering impromptu speech about the subjectivity of attractiveness. She shared that some people have told her that they found her characters Maggie (Million Dollar Baby) and Mary Bee Cuddie (The Homesman), to be attractive because of their strength. Considering that the film tackles the issues of female subjugation and objectification, it was all the more uncomfortable when multiple professional journalists either commented on her physical appearance or prefaced their question with a comment on her physical appearance.

What did these reporters expect? She’s a movie star at Cannes promoting a film, the very definition of a glamorous day's work. And isn’t that a pretty tired narrative for Swank, dating back over a decade?

To Swank’s left, Jones bordered on ornery, not understanding a number of questions (giving unrelated answers or asking reporters to rephrase) or speaking in vague, sometimes dismissive, terms about cast and production (“The difficulty was the weather.” … “It’s not real research, we’re not curing polio.”).  As for both directing and acting on this film, he deadpanned:

As a director, I can tell you that I do everything I tell myself to do.”

Dodging the more thematic  and film-specific questions, Jones repeatedly answered “The movie speaks for itself,” without further explanation. On a rare upbeat note, Jones did spark to a question about the film’s music (plugging his son, the film’s music consultant) and went into a long-winded explanation about finding era-appropriate tunes and building wind organs.

In response to a HuffPo reporter’s line of questioning about women’s issues in the 1800s (when the film is set) relating to those of today, Jones said,

 I don't think there's a woman in this room that has never felt objectified or trivialized because of her gender. There's a reason for that and a history of that, and I think that's an interesting thing."

A smattering of applause. Jones won back a few of the hearts he may have lost.

 

Day 1 Arrival & Opening Night | Day 2 Grace of Monaco | Day 3 Mr Turner & Timbuktu  | Day 4 Amour Fou & The Blue Room |  Day ??? The Homesman Review 

Sunday
May042014

Podcast: Cannes Preview

On this week's podcast Nathaniel R (The Film Experience) grills Cannes enthusiast Nick Davis (Nick's Flick Picks) on the difference between the competitive slate, un certain regard, and director's fortnight. We discuss the complete competition lineup for 2014 and answer reader questions, too. 

00:01 Jane Campion and her jury
04:30 Un Certain Regard vs. Director's Fortnight 
08:00 Camera D'Or & The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby 
13:00 Ronit Elkabetz & Ryan Gosling's new films
16:00 Olivier Dahan's Grace of Monaco troubles 
18:00 The Competition Lineup
With sidebar chat on Olivier Assayas, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Mike Leigh, Dardenne Bros, Xavier Dolan, and Mike Leigh
37:30 Which directors should Cannes take a break from?
39:45 Hilary Swank and Best Actress
42:45 Nick and Nathaniel name least favorite Palme D'Or Winners
46:00 Juries of yore: Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Sally Field, Kathleen Turner, Quentin Tarantino

Who could have ever imagined this trio? Cannes 2004

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. As always you should continue it in the comments so we can feel you out there in the dark. What's your favorite Olivier Assayas? Your favorite Dolan? And which Palme D'Or win baffles you?

Related Articles
Cannes Line-Up | Meet the Jury | Jessica Chastain in Vogue | Nathaniel's review of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Parts 1 and 2 


 

Cannes Preview 2014

Monday
Apr142014

Yes No Maybe So: "The Homesman"

I've been anxiously awaiting this trailer so let's hitch our Yes No Maybe So wagon to Hilary Swank's as she transports three crazies across the country to Iowa in the western The Homesman. We knew from interviews and a cursory knowledge of the novelist Glendon Swarthout only a handful of things before seeing this trailer.

Oh nos. Nathaniel is talking about me again.

1. Six of Swarthout's other books have been adapted for the screen, most famously the ür spring break girls-gone-wild movie Where the Boys Are (1960) and The Shootist (1976) starring John Wayne
2. "The Homesman" refers to the job title that Swank's farmer character Mary Bee Cuddy signs on to perform, carting insane women across the country 
3. Meryl Streep's role is small and she has no scenes with Swank (according to Swank herself) but her character has some part in collecting the three women in the wagon
4. It's directed by Tommy Lee Jones and shot by Brokeback Mountain's cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto
5. It takes place in the 1850s. 

The trailer and the breakdown after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jun052013

Yes, No, Maybe So? "Malavita"... Which is Now "The Family"

It's not every month, hell, it's not every year when we get the trailer to a new Michelle Pfeiffer movie so naturally we have to talk about Malavita again. Or, I guess, The Family as it's been rechristened before release. It's always a pity when a movie ditches a really specific title for one that could work for thousands of movies and thus stakes no claim on personality whatsoever.

Perhaps the trailer itself has personality. Let's watch and discuss.

[watches]

Okay. Only watch that if you're the kind of person who doesn't care about spoilers. IF you are this kind of person i envy you because the movie studios don't care about them either - they love shovin' them into trailers. I get the sense you're basically seeing the whole movie here.  But we gotta break it down anyway as we do because...

LA PFEIFFER IS BACK

YES

  • Michelle Pfeiffer saying "merci"
  • This might be funny. It's kinda tough to tell in the trailer because so much of comedy depends on good editing and trailers never have a sense of that since they're cutting entirely different scenes and dialogue together for their specific 2 minute effect
  • The return of Michelle Pfeiffer's Married to the Mob accent "we're not in Brooklyn anymore"
  • Michelle Pfeiffer driving that car with those sunglasses
  • Tommy Lee Jones has been on a real roll lately. Does this end the party or continue it?
  • and Michelle Pfeiffer as fire starter. Bring it bitch. 

NO

  • After Silver Linings Playbook, I'd like to believe that Robert DeNiro is back to acting rather than cashing in but a mob comedy is probably not the place to believe that.
  • Whenever trailers show this much of the wink-wink laughs and action, I worry about "those are all the best parts" and there's a lot of ways in which this might be super offensive (xenophobia, "hurting people is hilarious!" immaturity and so on) rather than funny. 

MAYBE SO

 

  • Luc Besson, in the director's seat, isn't totally reliable.
  • The casting of the kids looks great visually but Dianna Agron coasts a lot on her looks and when you're playing Pfeiffer's daughter... well, she better take it up a notch. Pfeiffer never did that and good lord she could have coasted for decades with the ones she got.
  • Also: Can you believe my restraint that I only used one photo of Pfeiffer to illustrate this?

Here's the trailer if you don't mind spoilers.

Are you a Yes, No or Maybe So?