Monday, December 27, 2010


“TRUE GRIT” (Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon & Hallie Steinfeld)

Remaking ‘True Grit’ wasn’t a bad idea in my mind – it would be nice to see what actors that could actually ‘act’ could do with those roles – but when I saw the trailer for the Coen Brothers ‘take’ on the horribly acted 1969 western, I was unimpressed. Most of the scenes in the preview were the same as the ‘69 version – virtually word-for-word.
Still, I was assured that this would be ‘better’ than the original because the Coen’s were going to stick closer to the novel from which it came.
When the film ended, my wife said, “I don’t remember if I've ever seen the original...” And I said, “You just did.”
The trailer wasn’t misleading – this is the same story, same dialogue – Yes, the only improvement is the acting is better – but not THAT much better. With the notable exception of Bridges over John Wayne – but we all knew that was going to be significant.
What I discovered however is that I had been misguided in my harsh criticism of Glen Campbell’s performance as LeBoeuf, the Texas Ranger. In the early scenes, Matt Damon seemed just as uncomfortable as Campbell and I realized, it wasn’t just bad acting on Glen’s part - it was bad acting combined with bad dialogue. Now, something different happens to LeBoeuf mid-way thru the re-make and Damon up’s his performance in the second half of the film – but the problem with this entire project is poorly written dialogue and an unrealistic main character with 14 year old Mattie Ross (played this time by an actual 14 year old, Hallie Steinfeld)
It would be stretching it to say that a 21st century 14 year old girl could speak as eloquently and with such a wide breath of knowledge as Mattie (she knows Latin too!)
but this story is set in the 19th century which makes the character implausible. Yes, it’s cute and clever when Mattie talks over the heads of every adult she encounters but it isn’t realistic. Her droning way of speaking doesn’t lend itself to a child either. I kept wondering, ‘Are all of the children in Yell County this uber-intelligent?’
The only part that worked for me and that would make me say it’s worth seeing is Bridges’ take on Rooster Cogburn – though the character wasn’t too far removed from The Big Lebowski’s ‘Dude’ – Jeff is still fun to watch as the drunken one-eyed U.S. Marshall whose theory is ‘bringin’ ‘em in dead is much easier than bringin’ ‘em back alive’.
Josh Brolin as the ‘coward’ Tom Cheney and Barry Pepper as ‘lucky’ Ned Pepper pretty much say & do the exact same things that the original characters said & did, so why even mention them?
One thing that struck me as odd – In the original there’s a scene where one bad guy chops off the fingers of another bad guy (Moon & Quincy, but don’t ask me which was which) I remember the scene being very graphic as they showed the blade slicing off the fingers. In the re-make, 40 years later, how sad is it that they had to cut away from the ‘gory’ part of the scene in order to maintain a PG-13 rating.
This is another thing that made me leery of this version – If they were really going to tell the true gritty story using Jeff Bridges as the drunken disagreeable Marshall, shouldn’t it have an ‘R’ rating so Cogburn could let the curse words flow? Even though Bridges is entertaining in the second coming of Rooster, I felt it would have been more so if they had allowed him to be more ‘realistic’. I seem to be finding a lot of films that irritate me by not being ‘real’. Some would argue that you go to films to lose yourself in the make believe worlds of celluloid heroes, so I guess that I just go against the grain because I’m not sheep-ish. If you’re going to tell a story about real people living in the real world, then by Gawd you’d better make them believable, dammit!
Famed bad director Alan Smithee had a problem with Rooster’s treatment of Little Blackie at the end of the film – it wasn’t logical for the Marshall not to realize by doing what he did, he’d end up carrying the girl for several miles and she was more likely to die that way. But I’d argue that it made some sense because of how the horse swam across a river with the girl in tow – Blackie, like Cogburn was going to do whatever it took to get the girl to safety. Because of that, it isn’t a bad story – sure, I got emotional watching the tough as nails Marshall doing whatever it took to save ‘sister’ (as he called Mattie, completely dissing John Wayne’s Cogburn who called her ‘little sister’) but then the Coen’s added an epilogue that didn’t make any sense at all and as Mr. Smithee pointed out the ‘25 years later’ span they added meant that Matt Damon’s LeBoeouf was in his mid-to-late 40’s at the time of the ‘trek’ to bring in Tom Cheney. I didn’t mind there being an epilogue, in fact, I welcomed it as something ‘fresh’ but it was so poorly thought out it became a stupid addendum.
One of the biggest jokes in Oscar history came when they gave John Wayne the Best Actor award for ‘True Grit’. Since Jeff Bridges played the role a thousand times better than Wayne, he should be a sure thing to win back-to-back Oscars, right?


“HOW DO YOU KNOW?” (Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson & Jack Nicholson)

How do you know if the movie you’re about to watch sucks? You’ll know when you see ‘How Do You Know?’
How do you know when one of your favorite actors, an iconic actor’s actor has lost his touch? You’ll know when you see ‘How Do You Know?’
How do you know when a movie that’s advertised as a comedy isn’t the least bit funny? You’ll know when you see ‘How Do You Know?’

Oh, how do I loathe thee, ‘How Do You Know?’ Let me count the ways...

At first I thought perhaps I’d set my expectations of being entertained by this cast too high but when I realized more than a half an hour had gone by and I hadn’t laughed at a single line - didn’t even cracked a smile, I knew I was watching a crappy film. With James L. Brooks at the helm, it was reasonable for me to expect, at the very least, a mildly amusing film.
Paul Rudd’s likeability rating plummets here – in the past he’s had an uncanny ability to raise the bar on the material he’s given just because the guy is so darned likeable, but an even bigger disappointment is Jack Nicholson. It seems as though after being snubbed for Best Supporting Actor in ‘The Departed’, Jack has taken the stance of ‘F’ all of you, I’m not even going to try anymore! He wanders into scenes looking like he’s forgotten his lines. A possible reason for this is he remembers that the lines he was given to say aren’t humorous so he’s trying to think of something witty to say on the fly but since his character is such a bland butthead he can’t come up with anything appropriate.
The main problem here are the unrealistic characters – they all have strong ‘quirks’; which is normally a good thing, you want your characters to be unique – but none of these characters behave like actual human beings so they aren’t relatable.
Paul Rudd is George. In the opening scenes George is dumped by his girlfriend and loses his lucrative job with his father’s company because his ineptness has lead to a fraud indictment. Dad (Jack) seems torn because he wants to help his son, but can’t because he is forbidden by the company lawyers from having any contact with him.
Reese Witherspoon’s Lisa is even more pathetic; she’s a 31 year old whose ‘job’ is playing for the USA’s women’s Olympic softball team... I wasn’t aware that you could make a living by playing non-professional women’s softball. Her life is shattered when she doesn’t make the final cut and is kicked off the team. I’m sorry, but I had zero sympathy for this woman – besides the unrealistic fact that there isn’t a single woman in America that makes a living from playing on the Olympic softball team – I’m quite certain that in the real world those ladies all have actual jobs where they earn enough money to survive and the softball team is more or less their hobby - but to still be having softball as your ‘occupation’ at age 31? They could at least have shown her endorsing a product or two to make it more believable.
Owen Wilson plays Matty (not Alou) a relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals.
Lisa meets Matty shortly before going on a blind date with George. Shortly after her blind date with George, Lisa accepts Matty’s invitation to move in with him. This is a man she barely knows, yet is willing to become his live-in lover at the drop of a hat.
Even more bewildering is the blind date with George – they’re both miserable, so Lisa comes up with the brilliant suggestion that they not speak during their date – Just eat and call it a night. George ACTUALLY thinks this is brilliant and he falls hopelessly in love with Lisa simply because she didn’t want to hear about his troubles because she had so many of her own. Like I said, quirky people, but not funny nor entertaining.
The one time I chuckled was when Matty comes home to find Lisa in their apartment with George. Matty, in his boring babbling way, tells Lisa he’s not happy with her bringing strange men into ‘his’ apartment. Lisa storms out leaving the two men standing in the doorway. Matty says, “I think I just blew it.” George replies, “Not from my point of view.”
That SHOULD have been the springboard to turn this story into something interesting by developing a grudge match between the men as they try to one-up each other to impress and win Lisa – Instead they just go about their boring little lives being milquetoast pansies.
How do you know you should avoid this movie? You’ll know when you finish reading my review of “How Do You Know?” Which you have.

Monday, December 20, 2010


“The FIGHTER” (Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams & Melissa Leo)

Once every few years (or so) an actor comes up with a performance that transcends your ‘normal’ great performances – When the screen went blank at the end of ‘The Fighter’, I asked my wife, “Do you thin we just watched an Oscar winning performance?” & her answer was, “I thought Amy was good.” - which brought me back to realizing that no one else seems to view films the same way I do. The regular commentators on this blog are much better-rounded than I am in what they look for in a film – they’ll make comments on the cinematography and the lighting of scenes – even the director matters more to them than it does to me. I can’t see the director, so why do I care who he is?
My biggest criteria are acting & story; and what blows me away is when an actor ‘becomes’ his character and yes, the further that character is from the actor’s natural persona (& voice) the more impressive it is to me. Early on in ‘The Fighter’, Christian Bale, as ex-boxer Dicky Ecklund, is seen walking the streets with his younger half-brother, Micky Ward (Wahlberg) It is clear that Dicky isn’t ‘right in the head’ as he does most of the talking and he doesn’t articulate one single intelligent thought. My wife
whispered to me, “What’s wrong with him?” I replied, “he’s Australian.”
I said that because I wanted to remind her that the man playing Dicky, the All-American crack addicted braggart speaks with a very thick Australian accent in real life.
When the film ended and she guessed that Amy gave the Oscar winning performance, I told her Amy was good – a supporting actress contender – but she spoke in Amy Adams’ voice – Wahlberg spoke in Mark’s regular voice – Christian not only became that unreliable crack head loser Dicky, he did so while using a voice that wasn’t anywhere near the way he normally spoke – that’s impressive. I heard that Christian’s performance in ‘The Fighter’ SHOULD garner him his first Oscar nomination – those people are wrong – it SHOULD net him his first OSCAR. I cannot heap enough praise upon Bale – rarely does an actor WOW me the way he did as Dicky Ecklund. An incredible acting feat from an actor that seemed to me to give up a promising career to go ‘franchise’.
When my wife remembered that Bale was also ‘Batman’, she commented, “That guy sure didn’t look like ‘Batman’.” Didn’t look, act or talk like Batman or Christian Bale... well, except for the temper tantrums.
So, what about the film? It’s good. The entire cast elevates the material (I actually thought Melissa Leo was more impressive than Adams as well) & Wahlberg fit because his character was the easiest to play from an acting standpoint (Don’t get on my case for not realizing how much work it took to get into fighting shape)
Another ‘based’ on a true story, “The Fighter” tells the tale of a family that brings a bad name to the phrase ‘trailer trash’. Micky Ward is trained by his drug addicted brother, Dicky and managed by his chain smoking, tough talking, Dicky-loving mother, Alice (Leo) And always lurking in the background are Micky & Dicky’s seven ‘lovely’ sisters... I’d like to know where they found these 7 broads – I’m guessing there was a trailer trash sale at ‘Skanks ‘R’ Us’.
Micky is the only member of the clan that has a chance to make it out of the ‘slum’ Alice has raised them in & seems very content to keep ‘the family’ together.
When bartender Charlene (Amy Adams) comes into Micky’s life he begins to yearn for a better life. Charlene pushes him into dumping his brother and mother as trainer and manager and hired ‘legit’ professionals.
This sets up a good vrs. evil scenario; on the good side, Charlene, Micky’s father George, who runs like a scared bunny every time his wife loses her temper (Which is frequently) and police officer Mickey O’Keefe – a good friend that helps Micky W. with his training.
On the bad side – everyone else in Micky’s family; Mom, Dicky & the Seven Deadly Sisters.
Still Micky is in conflict over dumping his family and thus threatens to break up the good thing he has with Charlene and his new associates.
This movie isn’t pleasant to watch (unless like me, you become completely enthralled by Christian Bale’s performance) it is gritty and hard-core (language-wise, there’s no nudity, damn it!) These are the type of people that if you were in a bar and they walked in, you’d get up & leave immediately because you know something distasteful is bound to happen with this group of sleaze-bags.
It doesn’t give you anything new as far as boxing stories are concerned - it is the relationship between Alice and her two sons that propel this film. And trust me, you’ll WANT to forget that you ever meet Alice & Dicky but I doubt that you’ll be able to do so.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


“The TOURIST” (Johnny Depp & Angelina Jolie)

Sometimes there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. Case in point; the final scenes of ‘The Tourist’ – I’m sure the three screenplay writers thought they were being witty with their surprise twist of an ending, but I thought it totally ruined an otherwise pleasurable film. I shan’t reveal the twist, of course, but now you know there is one & it’s ridiculously stupid & ruins the movie.
I liked ‘The Tourist’ up until the final scenes – in that way it’s akin to ‘Inglorious Basterds’, except that it wasn’t nearly as much fun as ‘I.B.’ leading up to the disappointment.
One thing that was odd about the pairing of Depp & Jolie – very little chemistry develops. Yet, I liked Depp as the Wisconsin math teacher on vacation in Italy & Jolie as the love interest of the mysterious Alexander Pearce; a man that embezzled over 2 billion euros from a ruthless drug dealer. Together they worked when Depp’s naive Frank Tuppalo was obviously awe-struck by Jolie’s Elise Ward. With the exception of her fat-assed lips, Jolie is dazzling throughout ‘The Tourist’ – whether walking solo thru the streets of Venice or in a crowded fancy ballroom, Elise stands out, not just from the other humans but from the scenery as well. Depp, on the other hand, looks disheveled most of the time; & not at all like someone the glamorous Elise would find the least bit interesting.
Her reason for approaching him in the first place made sense, but when she checks into a luxurious hotel with him as ‘husband & wife’, it starts to look a little fishy. It’s when they start to make it appear as though Elise isn’t just ‘using’ Frank, but desires him that they just don’t mesh. It was weird. They had chemistry when chemistry wasn’t called for & had none when it was needed.
‘The Tourist’ starts off interesting; gains momentum with Frank’s arrival and then peters out to a sputtering, idiotic climax.
It starts with Elise going out for her morning coffee being watched by every possible surveillance device known to mankind. When she receives a letter from a courier, those spying on her go nuts; arresting the kid that delivered the message and saving the ashes from the note after Elise burns it, as instructed.
The letter is from A. P. who tells Elise to catch a certain train and then find someone with his height & build and then make ‘them’ believe he’s me. Naturally Elise finds Frank and the wheels of an intriguing entertaining tale of mistaken identity is set in motion.
Unfortunately the wheels go flat with the appalling finale.
There are some whimsical lines, mostly Frank’s, but it wasn’t nearly as funny as I hoped it would be. The best line was revealed in the preview; “No, when you downgrade murder to attempted murder it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when you upgrade it from room service it becomes quite serious.” & Frank’s continual use of Spanish, thinking it’s close enough to Italian that the inhabitants should be able to understand him bring a few chuckles = but there aren’t any, & I hate to use this expression, ‘laugh out loud’ moments. It was enjoyable, but a fun ride that ends with dissatisfaction is worse than a slow ride that ends with a bang – because as I walked out of the theatre I felt cheated by the writers for making me think I was going to enjoy their show and then performing a cheap, seen-it-a-thousand-times before card trick that sent me home feeling disappointed.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


“NEXT THREE DAYS” (Russell Crowe & Elizabeth Banks)

Russell Crowe is losing his ‘sure thing’ quality – Not that I didn’t like ‘Robin Hood’, but I can’t remember the last time he made a movie that REALLY impressed me. This one, is probably his lamest effort since ‘Beautiful Mind’ (Sorry,Oscar voters, but it stunk)

I would say that if you like the TV series ‘Breaking Bad’, you’ll like this film – it is just as absurd; here, a mild mannered English teacher becomes a criminal mastermind with the ability to murder practically overnight.

Comparisons have to be made to ‘Conviction’ and I wondered why they didn’t hold off releasing ‘Next 3 Days’ for another 3 months or so since ‘Conviction’ was still fresh in my mind. In ‘N3D’ Russell Crowe’s John Brennan studies to become a notorious criminal capable of breaking his ‘wrongfully convicted’ wife out of a maximum security prison instead of taking the long way by taking 12 years to become her lawyer.

Although it was cleverly executed with some believable touches (i.e., picking up the elderly couple on their way to Buffalo) the script was holier than my favorite pair of underwear. Undermining all the ingenious details John preps for is the fact that he’s an English teacher – a humble, law abiding, loving husband & father that should have never put his wife & son in the dangerous position he puts them in.
That thread kept me from ‘going along for the ride’ – the character John Brennan,
as laid out for the viewer, never WOULD have done the things that adapted- writer/director/producer Paul Haggis has him do. When John buys the gun he needs to break his wife out of jail he picks it up and asks, “Show me where the bullets go.”
That alone tells you this guy is too naive to pull off a caper of this magnitude. Yet, there’s John a few scenes down the road, murdering drug dealers and threatening to kill innocent doctors & nurses that were actually trying to help his wife... To quote South Park’s version of Johnny Cochran, “That does not make sense!”
If they had made John an ex-prison guard turned English teacher, I’d have bought the premise, but it was too far-fetched to believe.

Elizabeth Banks continues to not impress after a promising start in ’40 Year Old Virgin’.
Her character, John’s wife, Lara, should be memorable, but instead she’s quite bland and forgettable – or maybe it’s just because her hair gets darker with each subsequent scene she’s in & I’m partial to blondes so that irked me...

Liam Neeson... boy, talk about bland, unbelievable characters – he’s become the king of those recently – but in ‘N3D’ he only has one scene & he pulls it off nicely. As the ex-con expert at breaking out of prisons, his instructional speech to John is probably the best part of this film.

Then there’s Nicole (Olivia Wilde) an unmarried mother that clearly likes John. Nicole is beautiful, friendly and her daughter & John’s son are best buddies. Personality-wise, Nicole is the complete opposite of the hot tempered, bitchy Lara. Any sane man would have rejoiced that this gorgeous woman entered his life, but not John – he uses her in his attempt to break his convicted murderer wife out of prison. Of course, if he had done the sane thing and dumped Lara for Nicole, it wouldn’t have been much of a story would it? Unless, the insanely jealous, fiery-tempered Lara breaks out of prison by herself and comes after the happy couple... at least it would have made more sense that way.