Friday, December 31, 2010

True Grit

The Film: True Grit

The Actors: That Jeff Bridges fella, Haillie Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, etc.

The Dealio: Stepping into John Wayne's venerable boots, Jeff Bridges portrays Ruben 'Rooster' Cogburn, a dipsomaniacal, eye-patch-wearin' law man, hired by Steinfeld's Mattie Ross to find the man, (Brolin's Tom Chaney), who kilt her daddy. Damon is put forward in what is widely referred to as 'the Glen Campbell role' (though, thankfully, Damon is not required to sing), Texas ranger LaBoeuf- or La Beef, as he prefers. Trotting through Indian territory, this trio of constantly bickering rugged individuals parts ways, makes up and rejoins the hunt and, along the way, learn that how they feel about the bigger issues in life are more alike than not- although their individual methods of pursuing their goals could not be more different. Each also discovers more than they probably cared to about what it takes to survive in the rough and tumble, and then, to go home and live, at peace, with what they had to do to earn that survival.

The Grading Session: Well, if you are looking for a head-to-head taste test of this version against the original, you are bound to be disappointed. I did not see the original, and could not get past the Glen Campbell part when I got it from On Demand. So- for this version, and strictly as a stand alone: 4.81 pengies out of 5. In my book, you just can not get any better than Jeff Bridges, who, most assuredly, will not score a statuette for playing a drunken cowboy two years in a row. But he surely was great. Haillee Steinfeld made a staunch, sassy and somehow, very modern Mattie Ross and was a delight to watch. Hope to see more of her. Damon is always reliable and puts a dandyish, pompous and yet, touchingly vulnerable spin on his officious and vain Texas ranger character. If there were some fractions of points deducted, this was probably because Brolin's Chaney did not make any sense, and remained a blank slate throughout the flick. That, plus the fact that Prendie claims there would not have been enough time to reload a gun in a certain scene. And who would know better than he? So...debit there, Coens. But, otherwise, loved this movie.

Lessons Learned: Hire someone who knows arms to counsel you when you make a movie involving these, so that you can get it right. Also- man! do Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin have horrible teeth! Here's hoping this was effect. Lastly: when have the supreme efforts of two (single) cowpokes ever been a match for one wily, determined 14 year old girl whose mind is made up on something she feels she simply has to do? Well...that'd be, like, never.

The Fighter

The Film: The Fighter

The Actors: Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Christian Bale, and an assorted melange of colorfully authentic local peeps.

The Dealio: Micky Ward (Wahlberg) works repairing roads in Lowell, Mass. His real calling, though, is as a fighter. What is referred to as 'a stepping stone'- his in-the-ring encounters result in him kissing canvas while his triumphant opponent moves up a notch in the rankings. His older half bro, Dickey Eklund (Bales), AKA "The Pride of Lowell", is a meth-head brawler and ne'er-do-well who scored one glorious moment by knocking out Sugar Ray (or, as some claim, sharing the ring with Sugar Ray when he slipped and fell). He is also Micky's trainer- when he can pull himself away from the dope and his similarly occupied buddies. Into the mix comes an HBO crew, filming a special. Dickey and his mom believe the subject is the comeback of Dickey to the ring What it actually is, is a cautionary doc about what meth addiction does, not only to the addict, but also to his family- and the small, working-class town that sees him as a chance to spruce up their spotty public image. Adams plays the bartender with some college education, but as messy a past as Micky's present circumstances. Into this highly volatile mix, throw Micky's six sisters, all squarely in Dickey's corner and united in their dislike for 'MTV girl' Adams, (who responds to their label with the pungent rejoinder, 'What the eff does that even mean?'), committed to her man, but also able throw an efficient punch herself, if the occasion calls for it.

The Grading Session: 5.12 pengies out of 5. Based on a true story, this one hits all the benchmarks of a really well-crafted film. It is anchored by outstanding work by Bales- not even recognised by Prendie until the end of the flick- and Leo. Bales amps up the whoo-who! I'm a nutter! side of the character, but also sneaks in touching, tiny grace notes. His quiet persistence in whispering his brother's 'theme song' in his ear as they approach the ring-to choruses of boos from the hostile crowd-was remarkably moving, but so subtle that you could easily miss it if you weren't paying attention. This sort of modulated performance only comes from a truly great actor. But no one here puts a foot wrong; all are riveting and stunning in their turn. And the music is good, too. You should see this one.

Lessons Learned: If HBO shows up at your doorstep, wanting to follow you for a 'special'...find out, first, what, exactly they are documenting. Also- moms really, on average, do not make great managers (Hello? Paging Dina Lohan!). Lastly- do not pick a fight with a fighter's sisters or his girl. Cuz, I promise you this, my friend, you are so goin' down for the count!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The King's Speech

The Flick: The King's Speech

The Actors: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Eve Best, Anthony Andrews, Timothy Spall.

The Dealio: After decades of being regarded as the son with no possibility to inherit the throne- and something of an embarrassment, due to his stutter- "Bertie" assumes the throne of England (very reluctantly, and with the utmost dread) upon his older brother-David's- abdication. Cue "The Woman I Love" speech, which always struck me as being ever so slightly self-indulgent and selfish. Did I say that out loud? My bad.
This is a story with something for everybody. For those Anglophiles, glom on to loads of minutae about the Brit monarchy and richly textured bits and pieces about the jealousies, insecurities, indulgences, and unspeakable-literally-histories of the royals. The entire situation unfolds, very rapidly, at the knife's-edge of WWII. I also like the slyness of the title. Very well done, indeed.

The Grading Session: 5.27 pengies out of 5. If this movie was only enjoyable because of the intriguing-and true- story, that would be plenty. But there is so much more here- not the least of which is the sumptuous joy of seeing Firth and Ehle together on the same screen, where once they caught fire as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.But there is so much more here: the complexities of the post-Victorian British royal family, the push and pull of heart-felt emotions and what the law would permit (most definitely NOT marriage of the next king of England to a twice divorced American!). And, has Rush ever played a boring character?
This movie was a delight from start to finish- wry and sweet, touching on the bonds- and strife- of father and son, the tenterhooks of class distinction and the tenderness of parental- and spousal- love. The casting was absolutely spot on from start to finish- I especially appreciated the great attention to detail in the casting of the children. Wondrous!

Lessons Learned: First that yelling at someone does not necessarily help cure a stutter...but that, oddly, the stutterer yelling-even cussing- at someone- does help minimise the stammer. Next: that I would not have enjoyed life in the limelight of the run-up to WWII. At. All. Lastly: that it is possible to be a loving parent and an excellent king- although, apparently, few have tried both. Lastly: it is touching and yet oddly encouraging to see a man of action, a potential king, feeling uncertain and questioning his ability to lead- even as he steps into the breach and manages to calm a country and lead them with the energy and resolve most people never felt confident he even possessed. Stay calm and carry on; this was the message and it was gorgeously conveyed in this film. You should see this.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


The Watch: Faster

The Perpetrators: Dwayne Johnson (he who used to be The Rock and has since graduated to his real-reel?- name), Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino and a whole bunch of other peeps of varying fame.

The Dealio: Our 'hero' is a guy who is being released from prison after ex number of years. His bro and a motley group of his usual miscreant buds decide to rob a bank and need a wheelman. Bro asks Dwayne- famed, apparently, near and far for his wheel skills- volunteers to help a brother out. Unfortunately, several slimeoid types twig to the plan and boost the haul and, upon the orders of 'the boss', elect to kill off everyone of the original gang. That would be the 'good gang' as opposed to the 'bad gang', or, as I would prefer to call them, 'the scavenging gang'. Intersperse this whole gloopy melange with the flimsiest of plots, and pepper with oodles of gun violence (and some-from a medical standpoint- totally impossible recoveries) and high speed races/chases/escapes/tails, the entire motorised vehicle encyclopedia of mayhem. If you do not figure out who the boss is, and what is going on within the first 15 minutes, I would be shocked and dismayed. I just kept waiting for those who actually participated in the film to cotton onto what was going down. But, no!
OK, so, to sum up, now, out of jail, Driver is bent on revenge and tracks down all the participants in the post robbery bloodletting and elimination of our 'good gang'. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The Grading Session: 1.73 pengies out of 5. There, that's not too terrific, is it? The flaw is not in Dwayne's acting- it is at least on par with Aahnold's and this bonbon , seems, at first blush, custom-tailored to his unique talent-set. The soundtrack was negligible, the characters rife with cliches and stereotypes. No new stuff here. Not even a new twist or spin on the old stuff. Simply a paycheck, I'm guessing.

Lessons Learned: Well, the obvious one would be not to take recommendations from this particular person any more. And also to assure that she gets out more to see, like, some actually good flix.
Next: if early on, someone announces that they have reached the peak with their present employment opportunity and need to look for something that offers a bit more of a rush...and that person is, like, 25 years old: watch out! You are either in the theatre watching The Social Network (wish!), or you are looking at a bad guy who is on shaky territory re: his own personal future. Run out of the theatre, because, with this very self-assessment, I spy yet another yawner of a cliche skimming along the horizon.
Lastly: Dwayne Johnson is, I believe, a capable actor who has done some fine work in the past (Get Shorty, anyone?), but he needs better material and more opportunities to flex his acting versatility, not just his guns. Pronto.

Friday, December 3, 2010


The Read: Atlantic

The Writer: Simon Winchester

The Dealio: OK...I admit it: I have got this huge cerebellum-crush on Simon Winchester. Pretty much everything he writes turns me into cream cheese (exception: The Man Who Loved China). This time, his attention, which is ferocious, is turned towards the mama of all oceans: the Atlantic. Although Winchester cruises through the history of the ocean, and gooses it to life with some lovely 'insider stories' about its misspent youth, this is a tale fully realised. Drama, warfare, the sciences, the arts: it's all there. And I dare you to fine a boring passage throughout.

The Grading Session: 4.91 pengies out of 5. This is a wonderful tale- what I am used to expecting from Winchester: solid research into the historicity of the story, plus the romance, adventure and surprise of what we absolutely think we know about this familiar topic...and do not! PS-The soundtrack is terrific. Kidding. Just checking to see if you are still awake!

Lessons Learned: Numero Uno is that we, humankind, all of us, are totally messing up our natural resources, starting with the Atlantic. Then, too, is the sitch involving the desperation with which our governments are willfully turning a blind eye on our folly. Lastly this: would you go for a lovely fillet of tooth fish or slime head? No? How about Chilean Sea Bass and Orange Roughy, respectively. Never was an advertising campaign waged more effectively to get people out of their seats and buying fishes which were in abundance, but, for some reason, got mis- and unappealingly- labelled.