Thursday, December 30, 2010

True Grit

True Grit, 2010
Dir: Coen Bros.

I think the Coen Brothers natural proclivity for quirky characters and dialogue really hurts them in a Western because it basically reveals the whole thing to be paper thin at best. All the characters do their thing and that's it. Considering how they bucked the trend in A Serious Man (2009), I had some higher hopes for this. The set-up is pretty Western standard, which is fine, and there are some fun scenes, but only one character reveals himself to be more than meets the eye (possibly?). As I've said about Westerns before, plot and story are pretty irrelevant, and good, complex characters are everything.

There is some debate over whether this is grim or actually pretty light, and honestly, I don't even think the Coens know. Maybe that's the whole point. How funny everything is can get lost in the language, but I think I laughed a few times. In terms of "villains", was Josh Brolin supposed to be laughed at 'cause he actually turned out to be pretty stupid? For a character supposedly known for his deviousness, he turned out to be something a lot less than that. In a different situation it might have been a good thing, but here it's decidedly underwhelming. Everyone else in Barry Pepper's gang has no chance to stand out, and the one guy that did made fucking animal noises.

The three main characters we have to follow offer some good acting, if not a whole lot of character depth (Bridges' ramblings about his ex-wives seems to be the epitome of irrelevant. Is that why you drink, or what? Does it reveal anymore than kicking Indians? Or is that just a funny "that's just how things were" moment). I was actually kind of impressed by Hailee Stanfield as Mattie Ross, but it's hard for a kid to externalize all the emotion a great character has. She only reveals herself to be a kid a few times ("Do we really need him, Marshall?") but it's never really enough to make her something more than just her dialogue suggests. On the other hand, I thought Matt Damon's La Boeuf was great probably because I didn't know what the hell his deal was. He's quick to to defend the honor of himself and the Texas Rangers but it belied a sensitive, uncertain side, and he might have been a closet pedo. I mean, the "sneaking a kiss" line at the beginning could have been a throw away, but then the unnecessary, over-the-top spanking and then some of the looks he gives Mattie sort of sealed it for me. Of course, it's all very ambiguous, but that's why I thought he was a good character.

Roger Deakins is a pretty good cinematographer but I don't know why everyone is flipping out over this. I thought the only really nice canvasy, Western shots were done in traveling montage rendering them pretty pointless. And the whole whole scary snakes ending. What was that? And the epilogue made it out like the whole movie was about how time passes us by, which is not the impression I got at all.

There are better Westerns. Just check earlier in this blog.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy
Dir: Joseph Kosinski

Woah. Watching this on the gigundo IMAX screen in 3D was a trip, and one hell of an experience. And if it were all about insane, state-of-the-art visuals and electronica scores by Daft Punk, it would be perfect. But as a movie, it's pretty unoriginal in it's execution, and down right predictable. It's The Matrix (1999) by Disney, so a lite version. In fact, the similarities are staggering, not even to mention the same puedo-religious bullshit that's pretty much both their philosophies ("The One"= "The Son of the Maker" in the same messianic vein). This badassery accounts for a lot of dues-ex-machina "wtf" moments, particularly the fact that Sam just comes into "The Grid" and can kick ass, sans training montages, which at least Neo had to do. Even better, during the climax, there is an ultimate "need-to-wrap-this-up" moment, involving none other than TRON ("I fight for the Users!" Oh right. Glad that happened in half a second...), which could take the cake for many an illogical plot device in all the best/worst movies you've ever seen. Also, if you are interested in characters and/or character development, this has very little of it, except that maybe Jeff Bridges' Kevin Flynn is not only a tech genius but also a hippy-zen master, which was funny for maybe a line or so ("You're really killing my zen thing, man!"). But I'm guessing the target audience of this really doesn't give a shit about any of that. So in conclusion, as an experience this is first rate; as a movie, not so much. But you may have guessed as much just from the trailer.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 2010
Dir: Michael Apted

You really have to have some strong children actors to pull off a movie that revolves around them, and unfortunately, that actors that play Edmund and Lucy are lacking (s0 no real progression from Caspian), even if they try hard enough. The big surprise for me had to be Will Poulter, who plays Eustace as a great British brat, and the writers even give him some witty one-liners which could zing straight out of the BBC. Definitely the bright spot of the film. Dawn Treader's main failing as a story has to be its silly religious undertones (like all Narnia books) and the references in this movie were the most heavy handed in franchise yet. So, I guess I can look forward to The Silver Chair in two years time and give you another half-hearted review, and that will be followed up by The Horse and his Boy, which is probably the best book in the series for its lack of religious nonsense (or so I remember). I like The Magician's Nephew too, obviously not because it's a Genesis metaphor, but because it's the most supremely weird book in the series. The Last Battle kind of blows (though Susan not getting into Heaven always made me laugh). So there's my thought on the film and possible future releases. Personally, I think the BBC with their dwarfs in mouse suits did a better job at capturing the spirit of the book, but that's probably besides the point.