Wednesday, January 30, 2013

True Grit

Written and Directed by Ethan and Joel Cohen. Starring Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf) and Hailee Stainfeld (Mattie Ross)

Bottom line: True Grit is a Cohen adventure, and a lovely, cinematic one at that, but doesn't excite me as much as their other works.

I don't know about your Dad but mine is a huge John Wayne fan. He loves almost all of his movies. Almost, I say, because he doesn’t like True Grit (1969). Why? He is a fan of the corny character that John Wayne always plays: the same lines and role no matter the nationality. True Grit is the movie where he tried to act and subsequently lost the fun of himself.

 I was never the biggest fan of True Grit either but, for me it was in part because of the fourteen year old girl, Mattie Ross. I know that she is a strong, capable female character who doesn't take no for an answer and who can wheel and deal with the adults in a male dominated world but I simply wasn't inspired. I'm sorry to say it but I found her a little annoying. The remake, fortunately, does a better job of her character with Hailee Stainfeld's performance but I can’t say I’m sold. My other problem is that this is a Western and I was never the biggest fan of Westerns. I saw The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (extended edition) and that satisfied my quota for a long time. My problem with Westerns is the same type of issue I have with country music; I have no desire for the lifestyle or the environment. I am not the biggest fan of horses or wide open ranges. I don’t even like the fashion. I have no desire whatsoever to take part in that time period. I took a couple of film classes so I know enough to know that the Western was a really popular genre of study so my objections are probably childish but what'evs.

So for this and that reason, I wasn't too excited to see True Grit (which explains how long it took me to see it, I suppose) despite the fact that it was produced by Spielberg and was written and directed by the Cohen brothers. I was pleasantly surprised by the hour and fifty minute film.
You know those actors where when you see them, your suspension of disbelief is overloaded? That is, you see the actor instead of the character. Matt Damon did that for me as he played the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Despite my efforts, I couldn't see him as a Texas Ranger. He was Matt Damon with some sort of accent with a moustache and chaps. Then again, if you take him away from those specifics, I can dig his presence. He was hot headed, proud yet capable. He is in stark contrast to the gritty, drunk Rooster Cogburn (Bridges).

I really liked Jeff Bridges in this movie. Similar to Damon, I had a tendency to see him as the actor instead of the hard headed US Marshall but it didn't spoil the fun.

Now that I've touched on the characters, let me outline the plot a bit. Mattie Ross' father was killed by a drunken murder. She has come to town to tend to his remains and the legal matters of his death. She also means to hire a bounty hunter to avenge him. She decides to hire the meanest US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn. They are approached by the Texas Ranger, LeBoeuf, who has been tracking the same man for months in regard to a murder the man committed in Texas. There is a hefty reward in the lone star state, so the ranger aims to bring the murderer there. Ross rejects the notion on principal; the villain must see final justice in the town where he killed her father. Throughout the course of the movie, we have a couple conflicts. First, Mattie must prove herself to the men in her world. Second, Rooster and LaBoeuf must learn to get over themselves and each other in order to meet with success. Then, of course, we have the whole bandit threat.

With all this going on, there is a good pacing to the movie. The initial sequences are a little slow as we are establishing all of the characters but once that is all out of the way, it is a good Western. It would've helped if I hadn't have seen the original because it takes some of the suspense away. Lastly, as this is a Spielberg movie, there is a distinctly Hollywood polish to the movie and it doesn’t surprise me that the movie won an Oscar for cinematography.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Cohens' take on True Grit considering it was a remake of a Western of which I was never the biggest fan. That said, there just isn't anything that wonderful about this movie though so if it is on TV, go for it but I wouldn't go out of my way to see it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hope Springs

Directed by David Frankel. Written by Vanessa Taylor. Starring Meryl Streep (Kay), Tommy Lee Jones (Arnold) and Steve Carell (Dr. Feld).

Bottom line: Hope Springs is full of great acting, great dialogue, pleasant costumes and settings and story. The humor was great but I wish there was more of it.

Hope Springs is a story about a marriage 32 years which has lost its spark. The monotonous routine is, for the most part, accepted by Arnold (Jones) but rejected by his wife, Kay (Streep). Determined to find hope in their future, Kay goes to a bookstore and picks up a guide by Dr. Feld (Carell) on how to have the marriage she wants. Dr. Feld is a world class marriage counselor who lives and works in Hope Springs, Maine. He offers an intensive week of sessions to help bring a couple closer together by mending or fixing marriages. Upon learning of his sessions, using her savings, Kay books a trip for two to the small town. I liked Carell's role in this movie. He is pleasant, sharp dresser who works with the couple from a distanced position. Other than learning he is a well-known expert on the subject of marriage, we don't ever get to know him that much but that's ok because we want to watch more of Kay and Arnold.

I loved Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. The pair makes a wonderfully natural feeling couple. They are what make the movie so enjoyable. I can picture, and I'm sure I've heard somewhere, a grumpy old man complaining that the price of a tuna salad sandwich. Granted, this in and of itself, isn't to most enjoyable image but Jones pulls it off. Streep's tears of frustration and confusion are perfectly timed and executed with a delicacy which only she is capable of producing.

I really liked the humor sprinkled throughout the movie but there isn't that much. At the same time, I am glad that it didn't try to be a zany comedic fun fest.

I hate to say it but I found the love making scenes a little awkward. I feel like that makes me a bad person. They are just people after all...but they are old people. I wanted to be into it emotionally and I really tried to make the heart-felted-ness of the scene felt but I couldn't quite do it.

I know a thing or two about computers so whenever I see something like the portrayal of hackers in Live Free or Die Hard I cringe. Let's enchance! I can't help it. It kills me. Yes, it is a movie but it is another example of pop culture's (often negative) preconceived notions of a subject. That said, I am not a psychiatrist but I wonder what one would say after watching Hope Springs. I'm not saying Carell was objectionable but, rather, it makes me think about my preconceived notions about a profession. I don't particularly consider a movie psychiatrist in any other way than as a construct to move the plot forward. If Dr. Feld is as offensive to a psychiatrist as movie-computing is to me, I wonder how he could be changed to be a more realistic character. After all, one of the things I like most about this movie is that it is a very natural feeling and realistic interaction between two people.

Overall, I would recommend Hope Springs for a rental some weekend. It wouldn't be the end of the world if you missed it but it does have some solid qualities making it an enjoyable experience.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

70th Golden Globe Picks

The 70th Golden Globe awards are tonight! I don't watch that much TV so I am going to stick with the movies. I indicate my pick for the winner with WIN next to the name of the nominee.

Best Motion Picture
Drama Musical or Comedy
Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Drama
Actor Actress
Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Actor Actress
Supporting Actor Supporting Actress
Best Director Best Screenplay
Best Original Score Best Original Song
Best Animated Feature Film Best Foreign Language Film