Archive for the ‘Tommy Lee Jones’ Category

The Missing

24 Feb

The Missing – Directed by Ron Howard. Western. 137 minutes Color 2003.


The Story: An Apache brujo, or male witch, and his gang steal young women to be sold in Mexico, but the mother and grandfather and tiny sister of one of them track them through the New Mexico winter wilderness to recover her.


Of course, it’s a marvelous story beautifully set in that strange land. Cate Blanchette, who seems to fit into every part she is given, here leads the way as the mother. She is accompanied by her father, a fake Indian Chirhucawa, played by Tommy Lee Jones.

But the performance to behold is that of Eric Schweig as the witch – master of snakes and spells. With a strand of Cate’s hair, he can summon spirits to travel miles to kill our Cate, and he almost succeeds. His face, his bearing, his eyes – you will never forget them. At least I won’t. It’s a beautiful piece of work by a fine artist.

The chase takes place on horseback. The three year old, Dot, Cate her mother, and grandfather Jones spend most of their time on horseback riding through the land of enchantment. What a strange world!

The underlying problem in this pursuit is that Cate detests Jones, who has much to atone for that seems unatonable. So that matter clatters in every hoof beat.

The final standoff is not properly staged. The use of fire-arrows does not work. The whole session is not scary enough. Still we regard with respect the narrowing of Blanchett’s remarkable, wide-spaced eyes as she fires her rifle into the brains of the marauders.

The Missing is a big Western, like Shane and High Noon and Stagecoach. It encloses a lot of territory in its allegory. The sets and costumes are first class. Elizabeth Moss, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, and Val Kilmer fill out the cast. If you like the genre you will be happy to watch it unfold, and besides there’s Eric Schweig forever to haunt your dreams.


The Homesman

27 Mar

The Homesman directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Western. 122 minutes. Color 2014.


The Story: With the aid of a disreputable bum, a spinster must transport 3 mad women back home to Iowa,


An interesting story, and well written, but damaged by casting, costumes, and production.

Let’s get the worst out of the way, and save the best for last.

Nebraska is set in northern New Mexico, which, of course, it does not resemble one bit. The great plains do not go there, even on Sunday. What we get instead is parched earth to the horizon – although I recall northern New Mexico as quite green. This dislocation does not harm, but then the production shifts to what is supposed to be 1850 Georgia, which looks instead like an historic theme park tricked up for tourists. Since the first three fourths of the film have been earthy and stark, this is disastrous, and who suddenly appears at the rectory door but Meryl Streep all gotten up to go to a costume party. She wears a dress oh so freshly pressed and never worn before or since.

Nor does her performance overcome this, for her hold on the role is uncertain, and she moves it at once in the direction of your customary woman of good intentions, Miss Helen Hayes. Streep’s very presence overbears this part of the film and wrecks the finale, which itself is clumsily directed and shot.

None of this would be worth mentioning were not something worth mentioning more, which is that the main character is played by Hillary Swank. She is supposed to be bossy, pious, and plain as a tin can. But we see Swank is none of those things either by art or nature. In the extras everyone describes her as wonderful to work with, and I bet she is. That does not make her good in a role where she should in fact be obnoxious. And she is by no stretch of the imagination or makeup homely. Those suitors who reject her give us wonder. She seems quite acceptable, kindly, capable, never annoying, and handsome at the least. Swank’s presence denies the film its human drama. It needed Mary WIckes.

The great gift of the film is its story, which is well worth watching, and also the remarkable places the strange wagon containing the three lunatics traverse. And Tommy Lee Jones makes a brilliant old reprobate of his Mr. Briggs. It’s one of his best efforts. See Homesman. It’s different. Except you will recognize this film’s similarity to The African Queen. Jones is better than Bogey, Hepburn than Swank. John Lithgow plays Robert Morley. The three mad women play the torpedo. And Meryl Streep plays Lake Tanganyika.




16 Nov

Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg. Docudrama. President Abraham Lincoln is surrounded on all sides as he presses to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment forbidding slavery. 149 minutes Color 2012.


I was thrilled, stirred, gripped.

I thought beforehand I would not be, for the coming attractions are ill advised.

But, once there, everything about this film surprised, entertained, informed, and moved me.

My first fear was that Daniel Day-Lewis would simply dress himself up in a top hat and shawl and, in the voice of Henry Fonda, perform The Lincoln Memorial.

But what Daniel Day-Lewis has done with Lincoln, is to give him a posture which is stooped, which we know he had, and a short gait, which we couldn’t know he had, but which keeps him in the contemplative present when he moves.

Day-Lewis’s figure is tall and thin, as was Lincoln’s, and his face is long, as was Lincoln’s. He has, as Lincoln had, cold eyes. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice, and that is what the actor contrives for us. The impersonation is beyond exception.

The actor also has the ability to negotiate Lincoln’s remarkable diction, so he is able to manage Lincoln’s speeches and his raconteurism –– everyone said Lincoln was a most entertaining individual, and folks gathered around him to hear him tell jokes and stories –– and this is given full play as is his play with his little son. But the weight of the matters that concern and confront him and how he faces them are the story.

The political shenanigans environing the passage of the 13th Amendment are the setting here, and in this he is beset by his foes and friends alike. Among the foes is Lee Pace, an actor of signal clarity of attack, who leads the Democrats of the day who, like the Republicans of our own, have no agenda but to oppose, in all matters, the person who holds The Presidency.

The complex backstairs bargaining and bribery and bullying to get the amendment through is exciting and involves a lot of first class actors to bring off. Kevin Kline as a wounded soldier, Jared Harris as U.S. Grant, Bruce McGill as Secretary Stanton. We have James Spader as the foul-mouthed operative sent to influence the undecided with sinecures and cash. Hal Holbrook as the peacenik operative whose truce-making might arrest the entire effort. John Hawkes as Robert Latham.

But the big difficulties at the time were two people who were in favor of the amendment. The first was Mary Lincoln, unbalanced by the loss of a previous child and exhausting and distracting Lincoln by indulging herself in grief because of it. This is an astonishing piece of work by an actress who has grown over the years: daring when young, even more daring now: Sally Field.

The second problematic character was Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist so radical his extreme fundamentalism bid fair to upset the applecart. A formidable politico and vituperator, it required an actor no one could out-wily, out-cunning, out-sly. And such an one we have to hand in the person of Tommy Lee Jones. He’s killingly funny and powerful in the role. It’s one of his great film turns.

The filming of story and the direction of it are exactly right, established at once by Janusz Kaminski with a Brahmsian color palette and a scenic arrangement that gives us a view from under the table of the White House goings-on and political dealings that never fall into the staid tableaux of Historical Documentary or the expected or the pat.

But the great credit of all the great credit due is to Tony Kushner who wrote it. He alone of modern playwrights could negotiate the elaborate rhetoric of 19th Century invective, without which the telling of this material would be incomprehensible. Instead of taking out your gun and firing at an insult, you had to stand still to hear it long enough to mount a more suitable riposte than a bullet. Congress in those days was messy, rude, and volatile. We see it all.

Kushner frames the picture with two speeches, and each one is given to us in a surprising way. Historical events with which we are familiar are gestured when they are not integral to the strife within. He knows how to write a scene with lots of words, and the material needs them and welcomes them. You have to lean forward and keep your ears alert, just as these men and women did in their day. You want to. It’s part of your engagement, your learning, your joy, and your satisfaction.

Up close and personal with Lincoln, if you ever imagine yourself so lucky as to be, you sure are here. You give full credence to this actor’s Lincoln. You watch Lincoln, yes, he is available. You still admire him, you are touched by him, you know him as well as you ever will, save you read his letters. A man of great depth of reserve and great humor. Torn, pure in two, but one. Because fair and honest and kind. Smart because he understands human language from aint to art. When has his party put forth for president a person of one tenth his character? Will they ever do so again?


Hope Springs

12 Aug

Hope Springs – directed by David Frankel. Drama Lite. A husband and wife enter marriage counseling at cross purposes. 100 minutes Color 2012.


This is graham cracker sherbet; it should not have been brought into being by any of its practitioners. It is a piece that lies its way towards a significance it ought never have pretended to. It is no better than the cheapest television bunk, gooey, prefabricated, and lost. Meryl Streep plays a woman who has married young thirty years go, but Meryl Streep is in her 60s, and so is Tommy Lee Jones. Why they cannot play their ages is a mystery. Why don’t they say it was 40 years ago, which it would have had to have been for them to have married young. The folly of whose vanity is in play here? And nothing can carry it, since Meryl Streep overplays her part, so that I was shocked by her telegraphed opening moves, where you immediately know not just what sort of empathy is being prescribed by her for you to feel, but, worse, what sort of pity. As for Tommy Lee Jones, his work is uneven. No. Incoherent. He begins by playing Mr. Gruff with Streep or playing Mr. Blatantly Rude when confronted with Steve Carell who plays the MFC therapist, but Jones plays anger the same old way he always has done, which is not just to say that he does not bring anything new as it is that what he brings is wrong, unimaginative, unthinking, uncreative. There is nothing, I suppose, he could do anyhow against the foregone conclusion of Streep’s performance. Anyhow, Streep is a leading actress but she is not a leading lady; she does not have either the personality or the ruthless charm for that category. She is an actress of milky consistency who needs to be poured into a foreign recipe into which she can be lost. Here she is just playing some sort of nice lady, the supposition being that only some sort of nice lady would ever put up for thirty years with the cruddy crabby Jones. In the last half of the film Jones comes up with some comic quirks which serve to throw the part off track but also onto the track along which it should have originally been run. What could these film-makers have wrong with them? Not only are Streep and Jones miscast as married, the two characters have never been intimate, except when the word “intimate” is used as a euphemism for fucking. They have nothing in common. They are temperamentally inconceivable together. So the standard  by which not the resumption but the initiation of “intimacy” in this marriage is not that they have an ordinary meaningful conversation but that they fuck. A marriage with no intellectual, spiritual or congenial mutuality is regarded as triumphant if they are able to get off together? Well., that’s all the writer and director have to offer us. But why bother to even be impatient with this American junk?  It’s the same old routine franchise-art Hollywood has foisted towards us for since the 1950s.


Batman Forever

07 Nov

Batman Forever –– directed by Joel Schumacher –– the caped superhero is beset on all sides, of course. ––122 minutes color 1995.

* * * * *

“Was that over-the-top? I can’t tell,” utters Jim Carrey, and one wonders at the question. Has Jim Carrey ever been under over-the-top? Certainly not in this film. He is clearly a great film creature, and give him a gilded cane and stand back. The picture itself is overloaded with focal possibilities. First we have Tommy Lee Jones miscast as someone who is not a genius and therefore cannot be played by him. All Jones can do is howl with gruesome laughter. He plays a petty thief running a covey of red capped robbers, but he is at once supplanted by Nicole Kidman, whose blond hair brings the only daylight into the night-owl doings of the Batman milieu. God helps anyone who commits a 9-5 crime in Gotham; Batman only saves the night, never the day. Kidman, no matter how ever-glorious, is soon supplanted by Jim Carrey as a sedulous inventor employee of Bruce Wayne. Carrey consumes every scene he is in, with his brilliant physical comedy and hyperbolic acting style and range of invention. He’s wonderful of course. But his Niagara turns everyone around him into a trickle. He is followed but not supplanted by Chris O’Donnell who enters as a fledging Robin. The whole film is all quite lovely, and gives full satisfaction to one’s longing for midnight draughts. Val Kilmer is Bruce Wayne, and why not? The part is cast for the mouth showing under the mask. He is a very good actor and perfectly at ease in the role of the adult orphan. Complaints are irrelevant. So is praise. Who could critique a mud bath at a spa or champagne fountain at a wedding? Not I. Over-indulgence is at times the only proper rule of law. All I can say is that Jim Carrey fifteen years ago was at the perfect age to have played Hamlet, and should have done so. He had the antic temperament, the innocence of eye, and the pain.


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