Archive for Tommy Lee Jones

Eyes Of Laura Mars – Irvin Kershner – 1978

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by bookofdread

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One of my two favorite types of stories are stories about the effect of art on its’ audience. It is an incredibly delicate tale to spin but there are some great little gems out there if you know where to look. Take for example Irving Kershner’s Eyes Of Laura Mars. Stemming from a superb John Carpenter script, the film is expertly molded by Kershner into a thrilling mystery that is enriched with multiple viewings.

Faye Dunaway stars as Laura Mars, a famous photographer who takes her inspiration from visions of graphic violence she experiences. Laura sees through the eyes of the killers. She then re-creates these things in photographs. So far this reads as the artist, (Carpenter, Kershner), examining the reason guys like them put these violent images in films. We see violence in the world and we reflect it in our art. Simple enough.

Faye is very good as a troubled artist, who is possessed to create the images in her mind. She delicately treads between unnerved and displaced. It’s hard to call her a strong female protagonist, as she is in intense terror for much of the film. Her character is basically the artist under attack.

So then the story goes that someone begins to kill those around Laura in her circle, terrorizing her world. Tommy Lee Jones plays the policeman who decides (?) to protect her?

Jones has the crazy haircut sported by Javier Bardem in No Country but plays a down the line New York cop. He’s as compelling as he always is but plays as subtle a truth as I have ever seen without ever betraying his character.  As you watch the film over and over his character never lies, yet never spoils the truth.

I have to spoil the film to really talk about it so go watch the film and then come back.

 

 

Awesome right? Tommy Lee Jones is the killer. So when you watch this film a second time, his every line re-enforces this truth. When Laura asks him who would want to kill her, he replies someone who thinks what she does is sick and puts sickness into the world.

So then, the story goes that the two of these characters fall in love! This seems improbable, but, hey, Tommy Lee Jones is charming.

The art of Laura Mars drives Tommy Lee Jones to murder people. But after he gets to know her he re-evaluates his position on her art. While being a compelling narrative this thread clearly posits that maybe large portions of the public misinterpret many artistic endeavors. By making the killer a cop the writers are suggesting that authority figures are first and foremost those who misunderstand these violent and sordid stories.

So the film is a comment on the inability to see more clearly the inspirations and reflections present in tales of carnage. Furthermore, Laura takes her inspiration, and even draws her occupation from a type of voyeuristic vision. Like the audience watching the film, Laura’s eyes take in and re-process the visual information present in these scenes of death. Just as Tommy Lee Jones character re-evaluates Laura’s motives, the audience should also re-evaluate their view of the motives of horror filmmakers.

It is rare that a horror film makes the case for the existence of horror films in the world, but few do it so gracefully and with such entertaining punch. The pace of the film is hot, moving quickly from twisted set-up to gruesome payoff, while constantly raising the stakes, always making it seem like Laura could be the next victim. And since the audience sees through Laura’s eyes, they are Laura. If she feels the threat, so too should they.

In the end, authority and the artist end up in bed together and where the lust for one another begins, integrity as an artist or serial killer goes out the window. Does she thwart his plan, or is it only by virtue of his getting to know and falling in love with the artist that Tommy Lee Jones is changed?

Clearly nutbags are going to be crazy no matter what types of films they see, but films such as a Clockwork Orange and Videodrome, remind us of the incredible power the visual medium has over our brain. Eyes Of Laura Mars is the brave horror film that risks negating its purpose in an exploration of its own morality to astonishing effect. 

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Lincoln – Steven Spielberg – 2012

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , on November 24, 2012 by bookofdread

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Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is rarely moving and I would categorize it as one of the most understated and restrained works of his career. He does not go for dazzle or spectacle here, despite two scenes of carnage, for the most part he sticks to the academic. The film is mostly about the passage of the 13th amendment and how Lincoln delayed the end of the Civil War so that he could end slavery.

So how is it?

Most of the time it was very dry. The sets looked musty and dark and the actors were often clouded in shadow. I understand the slavishness to the available light at the time, but sometimes the picture was dull to view. The images aren’t terribly dynamic.

The opening scene, where the soldiers repeat back the Gettysburg address was silly and absurd. Dane Dehaan is cool, but this bit had me rolling my eyes right away.

Daniel Day Lewis is fine and good as Lincoln, and gives him a respected air of authoritarian paternity. However, by the pictures end, Lincoln was as much an enigma to me as he was before I saw the film. Spielberg never gets us very close to the man, and perhaps that is why he was such a successful diplomat, because no one could ever guess his heart.

Sally Field is also only fine and good. The way the film deals with her madness is actually quite perfect and were Field not acting so sane, I might have really enjoyed this aspect of the film, but her performance might be called subtle, but I wish they had taken her just a bit more to the extreme.

JGL as the junior Lincoln is forgettable as is the father’s relationship with his youngest son. These scenes are in the story to humanize the president, but one gets the impression that Lincoln had very little time for his sons and they were not a priority, at least during this session of congress. I did really like the scene where JGL sees all the severed limbs dumped in a pit though.

The supporting cast of the film is fun and funny in a 10th grade history class sort of way. David Strathairn and James Spader had me chuckling from time to time, but this is really Tommy Lee Jones film. His Thaddeus Stevens is a remarkable character and Jones’ granite features perfectly embody Stevens’ radical and gruff demeanor. This character is funny in nearly every scene of the picture and when you give the best performance in a film starring Daniel Day Lewis that’s really saying something.

The dialogue is beautiful if very dry and the atmosphere is quite transporting, but Lincoln never quite moved me. I was waiting for a moment of heroism or some type of narrative catharsis, but the point of the film is that democracy is a slow, backhanded process that can sometimes yield positive results. But in order to really feel that, you have to look at all the backroom handshaking and blackmailing and pleading that it feels like a miracle that it works at all.

The film goes on about twenty minutes too long. We could have ended there with Stevens in bed, but oh no, we have to go all the way to Lincoln’s death, and even then it is an absolute cop out to not stage that scene given the opportunity to put us there in the theater. Like I said, I’d have been satisfied with an ending earlier, but if you are going to go there at least do it with some respect. That could have been a terrifying, tragic, heart-breaking moment, but nope, it’s glossed over with a crap scene, and one shot of the man on a bloody pillow.

If this film were about lionizing Lincoln or the democratic process, I’d say it mostly succeeds. Lincoln is destined to be shown in government classes across the country. I’m just not sure it’s engaging enough to keep a teenager from falling asleep at his desk.

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