Movies: Lions, Lambs and Old Men

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Prep for the cineplex with reviews of Lions for Lambs and No Country for Old Men.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Now opening this weekend is a film based about choices, war and consequences. It's called "Lions for Lambs." It stars Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise and Robert Redford. But they never share the screen at the same scream - screen - hello -at the same time. We'll talk about that in a moment.

In this scene though, Streep's character, an aging TV reporter grills a charismatic hokey senator played by Tom Cruise.

(Soundbite of movie, "Lions for Lambs")

Ms. MERYL STREEP (Actress): (As Janine Roth) May I speak freely? You're about to implement another new strategy, regardless of the human cost or the financial cost because you predict that maybe…

Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): (As Senator Jasper Irving) We thought deeply about the human cost when we're planning this strategy.

Ms. STREEP: (As Janine Roth) What were your estimates exactly?

Mr. CRUISE: (As Senator Jasper Irving) What I can say is that this strategy has patience and determination at its core. It ensures that it puts our fighting men in spots where they can face, fight and kill the enemy, so that we can then go about rebuilding that country. And if it takes 10 years, that's how long we stay. We do whatever it takes.

Ms. STREEP: (As Janine Roth) Whatever it takes?

Mr. CRUISE: (As Senator Jasper Irving) Whatever it takes.

STEWART: All right, she kind of looks like Barbara Starr from CNN…

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: …who meets Judy Woodruff. And he's kind of like John Edwards if John Edwards and Rick Santorum have kids.

BURBANK: Anytime he's mad, all I can think of is him chewing out Matt Lauer…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: …about Scientology. It just sounds like that now in my ear.

STEWART: Well, if that clip didn't get you excited, maybe the new Coen Brothers film will, or there's always "Fred Claus" opening up.

Bob Mondello, NPR movie critic and friend of the BPP joins us. So, Bob, the structure of this film is these three different storylines, all happening at the same time and interwoven, but you never see these people on screen at the same time. Can you give us a quick description of three storylines and if you think it works.

BOB MONDELLO: Well, it's sort of two lectures and a standoff on a hilltop.

STEWART: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: That sounds great.

MONDELLO: You could - yeah, exactly. And that's - and I think that's maybe why they didn't put them all together. It's kind of like a - well, okay. They're on - in Afghanistan, there are two guys on a hilltop and there's this standoff between them and the Taliban, basically.

That is taking place at the same time that a senator, that you just heard, is talking to a reporter - a TV reporter in Washington. There, it's 10 o'clock in the morning and on the West Coast, there's a college professor who is giving a hard time to a student who is supposed to be his best student but who is now lazy and apathetic, and who is not showing up for class. And the - I mean, you get - basically, the professor is telling the student, you've got to get off your dust and go and do things about the world. That it's important to, you know, to be activist.

Meanwhile, you're finding out how activism isn't working elsewhere. And the whole thing is just kind of dreary. I mean, I wanted it to be exciting. You know what's weird is - did you hear the way that Meryl Streep is talking in that sequence?

STEWART: Yeah.

MONDELLO: She's doing this very - I thought, would you approach a senator like that?

STEWART: Yeah, she is very tart with him…

MONDELLO: Yeah.

STEWART: …throughout the movie and very probing. And then he's kind of yelling, kind of tart back with her about you reporters sold the war in the first place, so you have some responsibility. And she's trying to decide whether she should sell this plan that he's giving her because she needs airtime and…

MONDELLO: Yeah, I mean, I - watching it, I was thinking, well I don't think the filmmakers really know how the news works.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: And I'm not convinced that they actually understand academia, either. So, why should I take what they say about the war seriously, you know? So…

STEWART: Can I ask a Hollywood question?

MONDELLO: Yeah.

STEWART: This film is the first release under United Artists, Tom Cruise and his producing partner, his management. So is this boding for the future of Tom Cruise's project where he gets lots of close-ups and he gets to flex that jaw muscle?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Well, you have to say that he is the one who looks best in this, but frankly, with Robert Redford being the one who is doing the directing, I'm not sure that's really - you can lay that at Tom Cruise's producing chops of - like there's a way to put chops at feet at - and things that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Way to go.

MONDELLO: I got - I got wrapped up in that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: But I mean, basically, I - you know what? I think this is that everybody trying to do something that is meaningful, that is important, that is, you know - this fall, Hollywood is grappling with the war, and that's an unusual thing. So I want to endorse it and everybody obviously has his heart in the right place about this. (Unintelligible) Meryl Streep has been really, you know, saying, this is a very important picture to her. But frankly, I think it just doesn't work. And you kind of think well, it's all their well-meaning.

STEWART: All right, let's move on to something that you might think works. The Coen Brothers new movie.

MONDELLO: Boy did it work.

STEWART: Yeah, it's called "No Country for Old Men." When I think Coens, I think hilarious or horrifyingly brutal, sometimes both. I've only seen the trailer. Where does this film fall?

MONDELLO: Well I'd say hilarious and incredibly brutal at the same time. And it works perfectly for this one. This is a lot like "Blood Simple" and "Miller's Crossing," the two great pictures with which they started their careers as filmmakers. It's really, really creepy.

It's three guys in West Texas and one of them is a sheriff, Tommy Lee Jones. One of them is a guy who comes across a bunch of people who have done something terrible in the desert and he finds $2 million there. That's played by Josh Brolin. And the third one is Javier Bardem who is absolutely amazing as this psycho killer who is using a very unusual weapon.

STEWART: All right, let's listen to a little clip. This is Tommy Lee Jones's character talking about a murderer. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie, "No Country for Old Men")

Mr. GARRET DILLAHUNT (Actor): (As Wendell) A lab report from Austin on that boy by the highway.

Mr. TOMMY LEE JONES (Actor): (As Ed Tom Bell) What was the bullet?

Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Wendell) There wasn't no bullet.

Mr. JONES: (As Ed Tom Bell) Wasn't no bullet?

Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Wendell) Yes, sir. Wasn't none.

Mr. JONES: (As Ed Tom Bell) Well, Wendell, with all due respect, that don't make a lot of sense.

Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Wendell) No, sir.

Mr. JONES: (As Ed Tom Bell) You said entry wound in the forehead, no exit wound.

Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Wendell) Yes, sir.

Mr. JONES: (As Ed Tom Bell) Are you telling me he shot this boy in the head and then went digging around in there with a pocket knife?

Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Wendell) Sir, I don't want to picture that.

Mr. JONES: (As Ed Tom Bell) I'll act.

Unidentified Woman: Can I freshen that there for you, sheriff?

Mr. JONES: (As Ed Tom Bell) Now, Noreen(ph) you better had.

STEWART: All right, Tommy Lee Jones, always, you know, he's kind of sort of menacing and quiet onscreen. You got Javier Bardem who, by his own admission, doesn't speak English particularly. Well, he said not perfect English when he went - first went to the casting of this. So I'm wondering, is the casting good? Is it effective?

MONDELLO: Oh, it's amazing. I - that's the one thing that the Coen Brothers always do really well, it's the casting. And in this case, I mean, you know, you've got Tommy Lee Jones doing that thing he does. You could hear it there. I think you better had other - had better…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Do you feel like in real life, Tommy Lee Jones lives in a dusty town in Texas?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: And eventually, they just go shoot him for a while and then put it in a movie.

MONDELLO: Right, wasn't he Al Gore's roommate…

STEWART: Roommate.

MONDELLO: …in college, though? I mean, he's a really bright, wonderful guy who is just one of the smartest, you know, filmmaking talents there is. And Javier Bardem, I - there is something about him that he's - he's got that chiseled face and he is really ominous-looking. And in this, they given him a sort of Buster Brown haircut.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Yes.

BURBANK: Yeah.

MONDELLO: He's the strangest-looking man, and as he's walking around with a - I mean, just everything about him. At one point, he's in the suburbs and two kids come up to him, and you'd think, oh my God, they would run screaming.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: It's really eerie. But the Coens - the Coen Brothers are just so - they're amazingly controlled when they're doing it right. The last couple of pictures they did, "The Ladykillers" was not very good. But with the other one, "Intolerable Cruelty" or something.

STEWART: Yeah.

BURBANK: Oh, yeah.

MONDELLO: They just - they didn't - those pictures just did not work. And this one is so effective. And it's effective because it's so controlled. There's this great moment in it where, you know, you've been building to this moment of horror and there are so many out them in the picture that it's just really creepy. And the way that it's conveyed is simply by having somebody look at his shoes. And there - blood has been pooling in so many places in this picture. You know exactly what he's looking for.

STEWART: Oh.

MONDELLO: And it's just - it's so understated and so controlled. And the imagery of the thing is just beautiful. Can you tell I'm excited? This is a…

STEWART: I was about to say. I think out of the two films, you're saying spend your money on the Coen Brothers.

MONDELLO: Oh man, yeah.

STEWART: Maybe not for "Lions for Lambs."

MONDELLO: Only it's not in very many theaters yet, but it should be.

BURBANK: Well, speaking of blood pooling the shoes, maybe we can get you to give us a special blog post on Fred Claus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Because we don't have time for that, but we want to find out your thoughts on his film.

STEWART: I do want to hear your thoughts. Maybe Monday after number one, we'll get you to weigh in.

MONDELLO: Oh God. (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Bob Mondello, NPR's movie critic. Thanks, Bob.

MONDELLO: Take care.

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