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“Only the Brave” Is One Big, Manly, Beautiful Ugly-Cry

In the opening shot of Only the Brave, a flaming bear — not just a bear that happens to be burning but one that looks as if it had been created entirely from fire — lunges at the camera in the middle of a blazing forest. The image returns a couple of more times over the course of the picture, a memory that fire crew superintendent Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) describes as “the most beautiful and terrible thing I’ve ever seen.” Clearly, director Joseph Kosinski has taken that idea to heart. Only the Brave is a visually splendid, spellbinding, and surreal movie that also happens to be an emotionally shattering, over-the-top ugly-cry for the ages.

It’s also quite timely, given the wildfires currently consuming much of Northern California. (If such incidents appear to be increasing in recent years, that’s because they are.) Only the Brave follows a real-life group of men from an earlier incident: the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of young wildfire specialists from the fire department in Prescott, Arizona, whose ordeal in the Yarnell Hill fire of 2013 was harrowingly depicted in a GQ magazine article, on which the film is partly based. (You can read the story here.)

“Hotshots” refers not so much to their attitude as to their actual job: It’s a term for those elite fighters who work the front lines of raging wildfires, using axes and chainsaws to cut down trees and chaparral, which they then torch to create “backfires,” in an effort to burn off a large enough stretch of land so that the real wildfire cannot get past that point. “I want you all to breathe in this beautiful vista,” Marsh tells his men early on, when they’re still training, as they look at a striking mountain view thick with lush, green trees. “Once you’ve been baptized, you’ll never be able to see it that way again. Once you’ve got a small hard taste of the bitch at work, there’s only one thing you’ll be able to see — that’s fuel.”

Much of the dialogue in Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer’s script works at that level of earnest, tough-guy poetry, like a fortune cookie you might find in a vat of Skoal dipping tobacco. (“You’ve gotta ask yourself what can I live with and what can I die without.” “I know you guys are looking for sympathy, but the only place you’re gonna find it is in the dictionary, somewhere between ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis.’ ”) The characters aren’t just familiar, they’re elemental: Marsh is the hardheaded but fair veteran fire chief who’ll do anything for his men, but whose work keeps him away from his devoted horse rancher wife (Jennifer Connelly); Miles Teller is Brendan McDonough, a/k/a Donut, a pothead and screw-up who, looking for a last-ditch gig after learning he’s got a baby on the way, finds meaning as a member of the Hotshot crew. (That makes him sound like a cliché, but Donut’s a real guy, profiled extensively in the GQ article.) Taylor Kitsch plays the mustachioed ladies’ man who initially gives Donut a hard time but grows to become his best friend and housemate.

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The loglines for these characters may sound simple, but the cast gives each new life, like they’re playing stripped-down versions of themselves. The revelation here is Teller, who has so often played mouthy, snarky types; here, gaunt and fair-haired, he nails the part of a quiet, exhausted loser who perpetually seems like he’s looking down a dead end. Suddenly it’s hard to imagine him playing anyone else. Jeff Bridges shows up, too, as a retired Prescott fire chief who helps oversee the Hotshots, and he perfectly balances shit-kicking gruffness and unfathomable vulnerability. He gets a moment near the end that is some of the most powerful acting he’s ever done.

Such performances contrast interestingly with Kosinski’s style, which is anything but naturalistic. The director previously made two big wannabe sci-fi blockbusters that I loved but few others did, the 2010 sequel TRON: Legacy and the 2013 Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion. In both those cases, his fascination with architecture and movement worked to offset the thin, one-dimensional nature of his stories and characters, who weren’t supposed to be all that real anyway. He’s working with a far more full-blooded, human subject here, but he’s brought some of the same sensibility he used when dealing with sentient video game avatars and futuristic clone-warriors. He films much of the story as ritual, as if these interactions between brave, ordinary guys were part of an elaborate tribal code that’s been passed down over centuries. And there’s also a fantastical and unreal quality to the events we’re watching. When the Hotshots practice deploying their fire shelters — one-man foil-and-silica-thread pods they need to hide out in if the flames ever actually reach them — it really does look like something out of science fiction.

Kosinski never loses sight of the strange magnificence of his subject. Birds’-eye shots follow lines of firefighters as they make their way through brush and woods. Distant embers gleam in dark patches of night like glimpses into another dimension. Burning trees fall off cliffs into blue, smoke-filled valleys. Such a controlled, elegant approach might seem counterintuitive; after all, aren’t raging fires and raw emotions defined by their very uncontrollability and urgency? But in this case, the gambit works, and it works beautifully. The regal grace of the filmmaking elevates both the fires and the men who combat them to the level of myth.

Only the Brave
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Sony Pictures
Opens October 20th

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The Boy Is Insufferable, But the Grown-Ups Are Interesting in “The Only Living Boy in New York”

There is a better, more touching movie hidden somewhere inside The Only Living Boy in New York, and you can often see it creeping in around the edges. It’s not to be found in the somewhat empty coming-of-age narrative at the film’s center, which follows Thomas (Callum Turner), a precocious, snarky, and (of course) melancholy recent college grad having trouble deciding what to do with his life. The offspring of a publishing executive father (Pierce Brosnan) and a neurotic artist mother (Cynthia Nixon), Thomas likes to mope about how New York isn’t New York anymore, how everything today has lost its edge. (He’s fond of saying, “New York’s most vibrant neighborhood right now is Philadelphia.”)

At least some of the young man’s bitterness, however, comes from the fact that he’s been rebuked by his beautiful best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), with whom he once had a late-night hookup. For her, Thomas is “like the new New York… No danger, no deliverance.” Mimi can see through his emptiness.

Can the film, though? Thomas is, in a word, insufferable, and as long as the movie keeps him at its center, you may find yourself struggling to care about anything he does. Some help, however, is on the way. Moving into his new apartment, Thomas meets a mysteriously chatty, hard-drinking neighbor, W.F. (Jeff Bridges), who begins schooling him in the ways of life and love. The relationship is intriguing — Bridges does a lot of the heavy lifting here — and we may start asking questions about just who or what W.F. is, and how he found Thomas in the first place. Meanwhile, Thomas also discovers that his father is having an affair with one of his employees, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), and in turn becomes obsessed with her.

Thomas’s journey — his pursuit of Johanna, his sessions with W.F., his desire to understand what the adults around him are up to — comes across more as a narrative contrivance than a genuine quest for knowledge. But as his investigations and obsessions turn toward his own family, what he actually discovers is unexpectedly powerful. Slowly, The Only Living Boy becomes the opposite of a coming-of-age tale: a film about the mysterious sadness of adults, and the uncontainable power of the past. This is at least partly by design: Thomas’s attitudes and postures do get interrogated and undercut. But the filmmakers still clearly expect us to like this kid, and it’s hard to feel anything for a character who remains largely a cipher.

It helps, however, that much of the supporting cast is excellent — particularly Bridges, whose character slowly transforms from gruff know-it-all to someone far more vulnerable and human. In his big scene, toward the end, W.F. finally starts to make real eye contact with Thomas, and the results are breathtaking. Enough even to make you wonder if that title is meant to be ironic: The boy is but a shell; it’s the men and women around him who truly come to life in this chaotic, awkward, and sporadically moving film.

The Only Living Boy in New York
Directed by Marc Webb
Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions
Opens August 11, Angelika Film Center, City Cinemas 1-2-3, AMC Loews Lincoln Square

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Jeff Bridges & the Abiders

With over 20 years of a film career under his belt, Jeff Bridges returned to his first love, music, in 2000 with the release of his first album. Following his Academy Award winning role as a grizzled country singer in 2009’s Crazy Horse, Bridges, together with his band, The Abiders, made his major label debut in 2011 with a self-titled album on Blue Note Records produced by long-time friend and Crazy Heart collaborator, T-Bone Burnett. If you’ve never heard his soulful music before, you might reflexively think the dude should stick to acting. But that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

Fri., Aug. 29, 8 p.m., 2014

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Men in Bland: R.I.P.D. is a Movie That Exists

In actual life, bureaucratic systems are the only workable state-citizen interface we’ve developed that can handle the sheer bulk of smelly, cranky humanity. In comedies, filmmakers often render the infinite and otherworldly in the mundane, human terms of bureaucracy, with all the waiting rooms, Muzak, and impossible regulatory complexities that depiction implies. We can’t really envision an afterlife that isn’t somehow modeled on our own psychic landscape.

So it goes in R.I.P.D. After being shot in the face by fellow crooked cop Kevin Bacon, deceased detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) ascends through swirling cloud orifices into the human resources office of the afterlife’s Rest in Peace Department. Mary-Louise Parker explains that, due to his law-enforcement acumen, he’s been recruited for service in the RIPD instead of consigned to Hell, and assigns him to veteran officer Roy Pulsifer (lovable old Jeff Bridges), a lawman shot and killed — and then eaten by coyotes — in the 19th century.

Yes, it’s a purgatorial ripoff of the entire plot of Men in Black. The script reverses the principal roles, casting the experienced Roy as the wisecracking loose cannon and rookie Nick as a serious, determined lawman. Bridges endows the insouciant Roy with that voice he does, the one that sounds like he’s got an egg yolk in his mouth and he’s trying not to break it. And Reynolds does a lot of stony glaring.

Unfortunately, the interesting drabness of the afterlife’s police department is paired with the colorless paucity of the film’s heavies — rubbery, monstrous “deados,”deceased souls who have refused the call of the afterlife and linger on Earth with auras of bad karma causing decay and unhappiness among the living. The menagerie of aliens in Men in Black was usually funny and engaging. The deados, unmemorable CG brutes, spout generic bad-guy dialogue undistinguished by humor or characterization.

Parker’s charisma shines through all the uninspired banter. There’s one pretty funny Steely Dan joke. And the Boston RIPD precinct is staffed with dead cops from hundreds of years of Boston history, all wearing the uniforms of their eras: The existential white of the office bustles with Victorian mustaches, bobby helmets, ’40s-era snap-brim fedoras, close-quarters SWAT gear, and cowboy hats. It’s the real world that seems strangely under-populated, the film’s climactic apocalypse unfurling in empty Boston streets, unwitnessed by anyone who isn’t already dead. How scary is the apocalypse if there’s nobody around for it to scare?

A word to cinematographers: If you know in advance that the studio will push your two-dimensional film through a shitty postproduction 3D conversion, please turn the fucking lights up on set. The bottom-shelf techniques here exhibit all the worst traits of the format: obvious, View-MasterÐlike image layers with noticeable dimness and low contrast. On the other hand, R.I.P.D. does offer a pretty good idea of what the afterlife might look like to someone suffering macular degeneration.

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THE DUDE BEHIND THE DUDE

Just how memorable was Jeff Bridges as the SoCal slacker “The Dude” in the Coen Brothers’ classic The Big Lebowski? So memorable that Two Boots Pizza named a spicy Cajun bacon-cheeseburger pie in honor of his character. On Thursday, shuffle over to Tompkins Square Park to score a free slice at this outdoor screening of the 1998 comedy. For even more Bridges appreciation, mark your calendar for Wednesday, August 15, when 92YTribeca screens Against All Odds (1984) as a part of its ongoing series “Jeff Bridges, Before the Dude.” Taylor Hackford’s drama concerns a crazy love triangle in which Bridges, in his prime, looks dashingly hot.

Thu., Aug. 9, 8 p.m., 2012

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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Dir. Michael Cimino (1974) Clint Eastwood’s name may have been above the title of writer-director Cimino’s first feature, but the movie, about two drifters who team up for one last heist, belongs to Jeff Bridges, working extra hard in drag in one scene.

Wed., June 13, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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Tron Legacy

Dir. Joseph Kosinski (2010).
Jeff Bridges is God and, as image-captured from the original 1982 Tron, he’s also the devil in Disney’s intermittently stupendiferous mega-million-dollar 3-D reboot. Eye-catching and brain-numbing, although the best action scenes have a cosmic pizzazz worthy of vintage Doctor Strange or the original Silver Surfer.

Mon., April 18, 2:30 p.m., 2011

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Tron: Legacy and the Joys of the 3-D CGI Head Trip

Jeff Bridges is God and, as image-captured from the original 1982 Tron, he’s also the devil in Disney’s mega-million-dollar reboot, Tron: Legacy. The notion of a tragically split persona might have been scripted to give the new movie a measure of emotional gravitas, but why bother with writing when Tron: Legacy is so intermittently stupendiferous in its 3-D sound-and-light show?

In the original Tron, Bridges’s game inventor Kevin Flynn hacked his employer’s computer to defend his intellectual property rights, then somehow found himself “in the grid” and obliged to save the world from the tyranny of an operating system run amok. In the reboot, Flynn’s game self, an entity “programmed for perfection,” has become the resident cyber tyrant with the middle-aged flesh-and-blood Flynn his unwilling prisoner. Years pass, and young Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), abandoned as a child when Dad was sucked into the game, gets lasered into the computer (don’t ask) and finds himself transported to the floor-lit disco dives of neon-limned Tronland. The Eurythmics are crooning “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This,” and a boring tale of corporate chicanery gets a blast of ’80s nostalgia.

For the most part, Tron: Legacy takes place inside a computer, a geometrically severe domain somewhere between black-light Oz and Rollerball Wonderland; extending into cyberspace the logic of the old Disney “Silly Symphonies,” many of the characters are anthropomorphized bits of computer code. However ridiculously literal-minded the premise, the idea of a game programmer vanishing into his creation is still an apposite allegory, and the setting is more than appropriate, as just about everything worthwhile about Tron: Legacy is computer-generated.

The original Tron was the first movie to make extensive use of CGI. The elegantly simple mise-en-scène was a factor of the cost and the technology; back in the summer of ’82, audiences were far more enchanted by E.T. (and sci-fi cinephiles impressed with Blade Runner). Tron lost $10 million, a failure credited with precipitating a regime change at Disney and even setting back the development of CGI. Eventually, the movie achieved cult status as the basis of a video game, perhaps the first time that particular tail wagged the Hollywood dog.

Disney has let the first Tron lapse out of circulation, but Legacy’s neophyte director Joseph Kosinski shrewdly maintains, even while enhancing, the original’s streamlined look. Not just the perfect arena for radiant Frisbee wars and zappy bumper bike contests in which the losers shatter like glass and drop into the pit of infinity, Tronland distills the first few seasons of MTV. The primary colors are midnight black, deep blue, and electric orange. The screen is filled with glazed fembot dancers and sinister myrmidons in form-fitting body suits; pasty-faced Michael Sheen appears as the epicene master of revels. “Come away from these primitive functions,” he coaxes Sam, who’s hoping to cross the Sea of Simulation back to reality.

When not delighting the eye, Tron: Legacy, which required at least four humans to script, baffles the brain with mumbo-jumbo, including the promise of “a digital frontier to reshape the human condition.” Cast as a self-described “bio-digital jazzman,” Bridges gets the least felicitous lines. “You’re messing with my Zen thing, man,” he cautions headstrong Sam, after explaining that, just when he thought things “couldn’t get any more profound,” his game program began spontaneously producing humanoid “isomorphic algorithms.” The last of these so-called ISOs is his handmaiden, a vinyl-sheathed dolly (Olivia Wilde) with hair bobbed à la Louise Brooks. The Weimar reference is apt. Legacy’s production numbers have a Langian pulp grandeur and even include a tasteless homage to Triumph of the Will.

After one particularly harrowing escape, the comely and compliant ISO turns to Sam and asks, “What do we do now?” A less noble hero might have replied, “Get a room,” but Sam is vague—this is, after all, a Disney flick. And now that the Mouse Factory owns Marvel’s library, it’s worth noting that Tron: Legacy’s best action scenes have a cosmic headiness worthy of vintage Doctor Strange or the original Silver Surfer. Given the movie’s graphic pizzazz, the best hippie wisdom Bridges might offer the viewer is: Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.

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The 2010 Grammy Live Blog: Where Puns Happen

As we tend to do for various events crucial to the pop diaspora, we’ve asked expert critics Sean Fennessey and Ryan Dombal to sit in at SOTC for the evening and live blog the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards. Perhaps you remember their 2009 MTV VMA work? They really do this. Gentlemen?

Pop music, in one single photo.

8:00pm
Ryan: First thing: #teamkanye
Sean: Obvs.
Ryan: I wonder if they’d be better off just airing Gaga’s Radio City show a week and a half later.
Sean: I’m excited about her decision to not wear leggings. We are nearer to thine crotch.
Ryan: They said it couldn’t be done.
Sean: Elton John, donning bejeweled glasses to match Gaga.
Ryan: This set looks like that board game Mouse Trap.
Sean: “Speechless” is the best song she’s ever written. There I said it.

8:05pm
Sean: “How wonderful that felt with Gaga in the world.”
Sean: Ace, Elton.
Sean: By the way, if there’s a lull, not to worry, Ryan’s just eating a sandwich DURING THE OPENING SET.
Ryan: Priorities.

]

8:09pm
Ryan: Stephen Colbert doesn’t realize pop stars are barely “celebrities” in 2010.
Sean: They make at least $74,000/year.
Sean: “Goodbye sexy, we’re going with really good singing this year” = the best rock criticism of the aughts.
Ryan: The Grammys w/o Boyle and Kanye is like Oscars w/o Avatar.

8:12pm – Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” wins Song of the Year
Sean: The-Dream(!) and Tricky Stewart win the first Grammy of the night, with Beyonce for “Single Ladies.” Justice?
Ryan: Dream wearing sensible leg wear, for the record.

8:14pm

Ryan: I like how Green Day are trying to cover every aging rock ‘n’ roll cliche in record time– they’ve already got a musical!
Sean: Nothing says relevant like a musical starring people you’ve never seen before.

8:18pm
Ryan: This makes “Rent” look like “True West.”
Sean: The girl leaning on Mike Dirnt has the worst skin ever. Pro-Activ, girl, you’re on CBS.
Ryan: Avril is officially more “punk” than Green Day.
Ryan: So is Fergie.
Sean: That was an abortion.

8:20pm
Ryan: Btw, Grammys are pretty relevant now — “grammys” was one notch ahead of “#picofmycock” on trending topics earlier today.

8:22pm

Sean: When In Rome stars Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell – the height of musical exploration.
Ryan: How was When in Rome btw?
Sean: Best comedy of the last 6 minutes.

8:26pm – Taylor Swift wins Best Country album for Fearless
Sean: I hate her.
Sean: How do you feel?
Ryan: Zac Brown wuz robbed.
Ryan: Is there a Kanye signal they can throw up…
Sean: Maybe she can wring a few more clichés for all their worth?

8:28pm
Ryan: Keith Urban is so much prettier than Nicole Kidman it’s depressing.

8:29pm
Sean: Beyoncé not so much singing as she is giving birth orally these days.
Ryan: A nice by-product of Gaga/RiRi edginess — Beyonce has snapped out of her “Ave Maria” trajectory.
Sean: No better evidence than an Alanis Morrisette cover at the Grammys. WTF?
Ryan: As if on cue.
Ryan: This is weirdly “Idol”-esque.
Sean: Hear hair-spin was positively Linda Blair-ian.
Ryan: Alanis comeback starts here.
Ryan: Kinda wish she came out.
Sean: Missed opportunity.

8:40pm

Sean: Seal?
Ryan: Heidi cutaway.
Sean: Honoring Leonard Cohen, obvs.

8:41pm
Ryan: Is Pink just a really good sport? Her presence at every award show boggles me. In a world of Gaga and Katy Perry we do not need Pink.
Sean: She has a great ass. End of story. On a scale of 1 to “Why did you do that?,” how would you rate Pink’s attire?
Ryan: Um, 34.
Ryan: This acrobat shtick is really not that cool the fifth time around.
Sean: Also, what song is this?
Sean: I’m lost.
Ryan: If you’re gonna do circus shit two award shows in a row there needs to be a ring of fire involved.
Sean: LL Cool J was very impressed. So what do you know?
Ryan: I think I just saw Sugar Ray selling cotton candy in the aisles.
Sean: Burn.
Ryan: The whole band.
Sean: From Leonard Cohen to Pink to Loretta Lynn. Segue!

8:48pm – Zac Brown Band wins Best New Artist
*CRICKETS*

8:50pm
Ryan: Saw a girl knitting Zac Brown’s cap on the subway yesterday.
Sean: Was it Alanis?
Ryan: I think it was Michelle Branch actually.
Sean: Homewrecker, that Branch.

8:52pm
Ryan: Only way to save this show is for Kanye to close w/ a new song primarily influenced by Kraftwerk and/or Zac Brown.

8:53pm

Sean: So, “The Big Bang Theory.” That’s a successful program.

8:55pm
Ryan: “Imma Be” is a fucking problem. will.i.am out Gaga-ing Gaga!
Sean: My contention that Fergie is the most important artist of the decade remains intact.
Ryan: Phantom of the i.am + Damien Hirst shoulder pads + “Imma Be” is the highlight so far.
Ryan: No contest.
Ryan: “Imma Be” into “I Gotta Feeling” annihilates Diplo’s entire career.
Sean: THIS IS WHAT JOY TASTES LIKE!
Ryan: I just got chills.
Sean: apl.de.ap is a multimillionaire, FYI.
Ryan: Taboo’s hair conditioner game is off the charts.

9:06pm
Sean: JoBros, son.
Ryan: Joe is stepping up his Tom Ford.
Sean: Kevin is still working that Aeropostale.
Ryan: Can we get a Nick+Costello brain warp, plz.
Sean: They just introduced Lady Antebellum, AKA maybe I should go take a shit.
Ryan: Sugarland, come back.
Sean: Let’s not lose our heads here.
Sean: Lady Antebellum Guy, Blake Lewis wants his haircut back.
Ryan: So is the party line on Antebellum “charmingly trite” or just “trite”? Is Jody Rosen in the house?
Sean: Delightfully mediocre, I think.

9:11pm – Stephen Colbert wins Best Comedy Album (That just happened in primetime.)
Ryan: They never show Best Comedy — Colbert is a lock.
Sean: Patton Oswalt wuz robbed.
Ryan: Real talk, that Colbert special was not funny. Even w/ Toby Keith.
Sean: I was too busy not watching Conan on “The Tonight Show.”
Sean: Too soon?
Ryan: [Leno wins Best Album joke here.]
Ryan: Colbert’s daughter is biggest breakout of the night.

9:16pm

Ryan: Even the commercials are sad: Oxi Clean w/o Mays hurts my soul.

9:18pm

Sean: Norah Jones and Ringo honoring Bobby Darin. No joke here.
Ryan: Ringo presenting and Sean’s imaginary child is like, “Hey dad, that’s the guy from Beatles Rock Band!”
Sean: My imaginary child is an Aerosmith Guitar Hero kid, actually. That’s why he lives with his mother.

9:19pm – Kings of Leon win Record of the Year for “Use Somebody”
Ryan: Me and Jay-Z are rooting for “Use Somebody” … yes!
Ryan: Kings of Leon are super boring drunks.
Sean: “We have the best fans in the world.” Kill yourself, Kings of Leon guy.

9:21pm
Sean: Jamie Foxx begins his performance of “Blame It’ with an opera intro. Best moment of the night. Aside from Miley’s extensions.
Sean: Jay is feeling this!
Ryan: Jay-Z does not know what Auto-Tune is.
Ryan: Jay: “What is that effect on those vocals? Sonically pleasing!”
Sean: Is it too late to diss himself?
Sean: Ty Ty clearly confused by T-Pain.
Ryan: T-Pain’s AutoTune app > Blueprint 3.
Sean: Slash, besmirching the “November Rain” solo so bad right now.
Sean: THIS SONG IS ABOUT BLAMING RAPE ON ALCOHOL.
Ryan: There goes the G’n’R reunion.

9:27pm
Sean: “Beyonce’s just always on my mind. Sorry, Jay!” — Justin Bieber
Ryan: Doesn’t Bieber have to get trampled at Walt Whitman mall later tonight?
Sean: He’s going to look very, VERY strange in about 8 years.

9:32pm
Ryan: Katy Perry is too good for canned Grammy copy.
Sean: I want to share an arepa with her.

9:33pm – Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown wins Best Rock Album.

Ryan: GrooGrux wuz robbed.
Sean: Butch Vig wins again.
Sean: Billie Joe Armstrong can’t hold his liquor anymore. Not like Chris O’Donnell.

9:38pm
Sean: I guess we’re just singin’ “America The Beautiful” at the Grammys these days.
Sean: #leonrussellsbeard
Sean: #zacbrownbandsfiddler
Sean: #thisfuckingperformance
Ryan: #ifgandalfwasacowboy
Sean: I mean, that’s the guy who wrote “A Song For You.”
Sean: And they’ve got him up there with Zac Brown’s Beard.
Ryan: I smell a Slash walk on.
Ryan: Zac Brown fiddle player is happy to be here.
Sean: We’re not getting paid enough for this.

9:43pm

Ryan: My brain just skipped ahead to Kanye’s Grammy recap.
Ryan: FRESH KID: COLBERT’S DAUGHTER

How we spent the commercial break.

9:46pm
Sean: Oh good, the blond giant.
Ryan: Taylor Swift knows how to play guitar and wear the shit out of a shawl.
Sean: What must it be like to sing for a living when you can’t sing at all?
Sean: “Today was a fairy tale”? This is what we’re celebrating?
Ryan: Stevie is better than this.
Sean: The hairs in Stevie Nick’s coke nose have more talent than Taylor.
Ryan: Can we get a “Bootylicious” while we’re at it?
Sean: Nope, just another banjo-driven Taylor song.
Ryan: Stevie singing “You Belong to Me” is like your mom singing “Party in the U.S.A.” Excited to see Taylor apologists explain this one tomorrow.
Sean: Seriously, such a train wreck, followed by a plane crashing into a riverboat casino.

9:57pm

Ryan: So Grammy assumes everyone stole their Avatar 3D glasses I guess.
Sean: The Usher, Celine Dion, Sigourney Weaver collabo we’ve all been waiting on.
Ryan: Would be cool if that asshole general came out in the two-story robo suit right now.
Sean: “That’s how you scatter the roaches.”
Ryan: “That is one big damn tree!”
Sean: will.i.am just changed the game.
Ryan: 3D > real life (duh).

9:59pm – Michael Jackson’s children, Paris and Prince, are presented with an Honorary Grammy
Sean: Exploitation time.
Sean: Paris Jackson = nerd glasses.
Ryan: Actual nice moment: Beyonce rooting for Prince.
Sean: Prince Jackson broke my heart twice in the last six months.

10:07pm
Sean: Doug Morris, who will buy and sell us if I make an inappropriate joke, is being honored.

10:08pm
Sean: Grammy rule: Always save Bon Jovi for hour three.
Ryan: Bon Jovi: also prettier than Nicole Kidman.
Ryan: Sugarland heard me.
Ryan: Jennifer Nettles’ outfit is positively Rihanna-esque. A good look.
Sean: Get out of Nettles’ light, Jovi.
Ryan: Seriously, she likes this song more than Jon…or anyone else on earth.
Sean: The fans vote for Bon Jovi to perform “Livin’ On a Prayer” with Sugarland.
Sean: Was hoping for “Blaze of Glory.” Young Guns II, fuck with me.

10:18pm – Jay-Z and Rihanna win Best Sung/Rap Collaboration for “Run This Town.” Kanye wins in absentia.

Sean: Mos Def and Placido Domingo are presenting together. So Martha Stewart and Busta Rhymes, you guys!
Ryan: Mos Def = Best Dressed
Sean: Grammys working with the same Windows-themed buffers as the 1999 VMAs.
Ryan: Jay-Z in total dad mode tonight.
Sean: Kanye in total having-Amben-sex-with-Amber-Rose mode tonight.
Ryan: He’s polishing his robot backpack.
Ryan: Kanye is so much bigger than the Grammys it’s not funny.
Sean: Three nominations, and he ably demonstrated how I feel about Taylor Swift at the last major awards show. A damn shame.

10:26pm

Ryan: Props to Wyclef for not plugging his 2009 album, From the Hut, To the Projects, To the Mansion, while sending a message about the devastation in Haiti.
Sean: What Wyclef said in Creole: “My re-imagining of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ was the shit.”
Ryan: “Lauryn, call me.”

10:27pm
Ryan: Andrea just shut it DOWN.
Sean: At least they’re keeping things low-key this year. You know, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with the ferocious R&B siren and blind opera singer. Whatevs.
Ryan: Where’s Ezra?
Sean: Andrea just took Mary to church. AND HE CANT SEE.

10:36pm
Ryan: I’ve come around on Portnow, he reminds me of Bush in his lame duck prime.
Sean: He reminds me of McKinley. We’re just moments away from the most inconsequential assassination of all time.

10:41pm

Sean: Adam Sandler was great in Funny People.
Ryan: Can Eminem and Sandler redo that FP scene instead of “Forever” plz.

10:43pm
Sean: It’s amazing how little Dave Matthews has grown as an artist since I last cared about him 12 years ago.
Sean: And yet, GrooGrux King!
Ryan: Studdard lost five lbs. Pretty sure.
Sean: Did you know this album is a tribute to deceased saxophonist LeRoi Moore?
Sean: He was the GrooGrux King.
Ryan: He’ll always be the GrooGrux King.

10:47pm – Beyoncé and her cleavage win Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Sean: Beyoncé says she is so nervous. We know better. Androids don’t get nervous.

10:49pm
Ryan: I just realized how much I want Black Eyed Peas to win Album of the Year.
Sean: Is AnCo nominated?
Ryan: They came in sixth.
Sean: Where did Meercaz finish?
Ryan: Definitely glad the New Indie has not infiltrated the Grammys yet b/c “Stillness Is the Move” w/ special guest Solange is a downgrade from even this.
Sean: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Easy.

10:56pm
Sean: So I don’t care about this Maxwell album at all, it’s all you from here.
Ryan: Maxwell is like a gift to the Grammys and humanity.
Ryan: Listen, we’re all disappointed that Jaheim didn’t put out an album last year but stop hating.
Sean: Roberta Flack, reading from a teleprompter.

10:59pm
Sean: Dead People Montage.
Sean: Ryan, who was your favorite dead person of 2009?
Ryan: I want to say Haley Joel Osment.
Sean: Les Paul tribute, who is also dead.

11:10pm

Ryan: Tarantino and Gabe T — separated at birth?
Sean: Quentin just ruined rap for white people all over again.
Ryan: New Wayne!
Ryan: “Drop the World”!
Ryan: Monster jam here!
Ryan: So censored!
Sean: Rebirth, February 2!
Ryan: Can’t explain how much I love the idea of literally dropping the world on somebody. That’s some Galileo shit.
Sean: Surprised they bleeped Em’s “buttfucked” lyric.
Ryan: This is great. Dude rocking the Made Decent app for Drake’s intro is a check plus.
Ryan: Drake is focused.
Sean: Drake, much more famous than the most famous rappers in the game.
Ryan: Taylor Swift fucking up the lyrics — not her night.
Ryan: Wayne killing it; Drake smiling like a damn fool. This is better than it should be.
Em still comatose but whatever.
Ryan: This stadium rock arrangement is bananas.
Sean: Big night for Travis Barker.
Sean: Somewhere Tom DeLonge is saving the music industry.
Sean: Of this 210 second song, we heard 48.

11:20pm
Ryan: So, necessary: 1) BEP 2) Jamie Foxx/T-Pain/Slash 3) Drake/Wayne
Sean: Shout out to Juanes.
Ryan: Honorable Mentions: 1) Gaga/Elton 2) Beyonce 3) Dave Matthews
Sean: Dave Matthews Band definitely, for being better than Taylor Swift.
Ryan: Best Presenters: 1) Downey 2) Mos Def/Placido 3) White Boi QT
Ryan: Best Cutaway Victim: Shawn Carter
Sean: Also, let’s not forget 3D Glasses Will.i.am

11:27pm – Taylor Swift wins Album of the Year for Fearless

Ryan: Taylor Swift believes in Grammy, bless her.
Sean: Cue Kanye.
Sean: When we are 80 years old, if I hear shit about Taylor Swift I will murder my grandkids.
Ryan: PS: FUCK YOUR COLORING BOOK

How we spent the commercial break.
Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Country Music, Faded Stardom, Liquor, and Age in Crazy Heart

Yesterday’s honky-tonk hero, Bad Blake, arrives at a Clovis, New Mexico, bowling alley. It’s another in a string of low-paying, low-turnout gigs with pickup bands half his age, grinding the Greatest Hits out of an old Fender Tremolux, including his breakout—with the chorus, “Funny how falling feels like flying . . . for a little while.” Bad’s not flying these days; he’s dying slowly on a bourbon diet, holed up in motels watching Spanish-language smut.

Actor turned writer-director Scott Cooper adapted Crazy Heart from Thomas Cobb’s 1987 novel (the title is a Hank Williams B-Side). Cobb wanted Waylon Jennings for Bad Blake; Jeff Bridges finally got the part, though the now deceased Waylon and Bad’s other inspirations hang over it. Jennings’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” gets soundtrack play; Bad’s shabby-romantic look recalls Kris Kristofferson, his perpetual hangover, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” The movie never specifies but seems to take place around ’87, before cell phones eliminated distance, with the sad orneriness of country music more evident than it is today. It’s easy to forget, as Billboard’s Country charts fill with faintly twangy pop and lazy paeans to dogs and trucks, that this music has an atavistic darkness. Cobb wrote while Jennings was just detoxing from decades of storied self-abuse and Johnny Paycheck was serving time for a barroom shooting.

Bad has just about bottomed out when a small-time journalist, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), meets him for a rare interview—and sticks around. Crazy Heart follows the slow recovery of atrophied emotional responses that starts when Bad gets involved with Jean and her young son.

Cooper knows exactly when a scene’s over, fills his movie’s margins with distinct bit players (Beth Grant’s middle-aged groupie, Rick Dial’s pudgy part-time keyboardist), and is a smart custodian to Bridges’s Bad Blake. The part is a vindication of Bridges’s unaffected talent and is his best in years. He’s as good a reactor as actor, so patient and sedentary that his performance’s quiet ache sneaks up on you when he’s doing nothing more dramatic than settling onto a barstool. Bad recites his age as a refrain—”I’m 57 years old”—and it seems Bridges has lived them all. It’s in the habitual gestures, the way he negotiates with a mic stand and passes a drink from his chest to the bedside table with a coil of the wrist—for Bad is usually sprawled and splayed.

The physical effects of Bad’s drinking are almost luridly seen, lingering over his dry heaves, the soft, pale torso, his gut spilling out of his often unbuckled pants. The spiritual attrition feels harsher, as Cooper contrasts huddled, dank interiors with the big sky outdoors, and shows that the saddest thing about being a drunk is the memories that go missing. Jean worries she’ll disappear in a blackout, too. Gyllenhaal, usually badly used and badly lit, doesn’t make a false move here. Their June-November relationship works because of her lucidity and Bridges’s easy-come charm. (An improbably virile career alcoholic, Bad is used to drifting into women and doesn’t have to bully.)

Bad’s other love—estranged—is Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a former sideman, protégé, and surrogate son who has eclipsed his old boss’s fame, selling out amphitheatres. You expect a showbiz grotesque, but when they reunite, Sweet is deferential toward Bad, embarrassed by their switched fortunes and maybe what the old man thinks of his cheesy-rakish Nashville makeover (he rather daringly wears a pair of dangly earrings). The duet, a spiritual-conversational tradition in country music, gives them one great, anxious scene. Having hired Bad as an opener, Tommy sneaks onstage to sing with him. He thinks he’s supporting the old man; Bad resents having the biggest stage he’s seen in a while being stolen and hates himself for envying the younger man. No one says any of this. It’s all implicit in their exchange of glances, and epitomizes the movie’s double-sided look at the relationship between private feelings and public performance.

In its attention to stage dynamics, Bad’s dickering with sound guys, and the distinct personalities of his different pickup bands, Crazy Heart shows a rare knowledge and respect for real, played music. Robert Duvall’s interest in country is long-standing—his first directorial outing, We’re Not the Jet Set, was named after a George Jones–Tammy Wynette song. He plays Bad’s hometown bartender and confessor with casual perfection, and is among the producers. Another is T-Bone Burnett, who wrote and arranged the film’s songs with Stephen Bruton, a longtime Kristofferson collaborator who died this year. They sound like feasible hits; Bridges and Farrell sing their own parts—and well.

Made with Country Music Television money, Crazy Heart‘s winding road to Sundance avoided the superficial novelty of the “indie” market. The subject, rehabilitation, is old and resonant. (Says Waylon: “We’ve been the same way for years/We need to change.”) No scene feels obligatory, and Crazy Heart shows a pragmatic but tender understanding of the relationship between physical breakdown and the discovery of morality. It’s merely a well-done, adult American movie—that is to say, a rarity.