Sunday, January 09, 2011

Considering the Hot Holiday Flicks, Part I

Like millions of others across the country, we spent a fair amount of time in movie theaters during the holidays. Below are some random thoughts on what we were able to see:

True Grit. I’ll start off with a confession – I’ve never seen the original, starring John Wayne and directed by Henry Hathaway. But from what I’ve heard, the 2010 version compares favorably, even after taking American icon Wayne into account. But that’s not a surprise – it’s not as if Jeff Bridges is a slouch, and it’s hard to imagine that Glen Campbell could have matched the performance of Matt Damon.

But as anyone who has seen either version of the movie knows, the key to the success of “True Grit” is in the casting of Mattie Ross, because the story really belongs to her. And the story is fairly simple – 14-year old Mattie’s father has been killed by a bad man, and she is looking to bring that bad man to justice. She’s wise and mature well beyond her years, and single-minded in her pursuit of Tom Chaney (well played by Josh Brolin). In Hailee Steinfeld, the Coen Brothers hit the jackpot, because Ms. Steinfeld is totally believable – though hardly more than a little girl, you don’t doubt it for a moment when she stands up either to Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) or the Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Damon).

Anyone who’s seen classic westerns also knows that sometimes, the searching is just as important and meaningful as the finding. And that is the case with “True Grit,” as Mattie, Rooster, and LeBeouf all learn something about each other, although never in a sentimental, heart-tugging way. The movie is faithful to its time, and faithful to the language of that time.

The Coen Brothers already have a place in the pantheon of American filmmakers, and “True Grit” will just add to that stature. There aren’t many people who would have the stones to take on a remake of the Duke. It makes one wonder what might be next – a remake of “Casablanca?” In the Coen’s hands, it might just work.

Tron Legacy. I’m going to say something that makes it sound like I hated this movie, so let me state upfront that I did not. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the very first trailer for “Tron Legacy” – which was released way, way back in July 2009 – was a much more effective piece of art than the movie that was released in December 2010.

Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie – because it’s not. Seen in 3D at an IMAX Theater, it’s quite a spectacle, and something that well qualifies as entertaining holiday fare. The special effects are terrific, and the pulsating score by Daft Punk is appropriate. The acting is fine, although the acting in a movie like this is mostly irrelevant unless it’s so bad that you feel the need to respond to the screen. And with Jeff Bridges on board, of course nothing sinks to that level. Garrett Hedlund is fine as the son, it’s nice to see Bruce Boxleitner again, and Olivia Wilde looks terrific in her skin-tight suit. Of everyone, Michael Sheen probably takes the honors in a small but entertaining role as Castor/Zuse, all decked out in basic early 70s era David Bowie pale.

So yes, it’s worth seeing on the big screen. But it never quite makes that leap to something that you feel like you just have to see again.

To be continued…

No comments: