A Film Review Blog

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

True Grit (2010)

The Coen Brothers' 2010 version of Charles Portis' 1968 novel "True Grit" is beautiful, well-acted, and an overall disappointment. What should be an enthralling coming-of-age/revenge tale feels like an oddly cold, technical cinematic exercise. I am going to avoid comparison to the 1969 John Wayne version of True Grit, primarily because it's one of my favorite westerns and I'll go off on a tangent, but also because the two films have absolutely nothing in common.

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a girl hell-bent on avenging her father's murder. She hires cycloptic US marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her track Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father. They are assisted by LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger with a shrewd, selfish streak. They traverse rough terrain and an even more ponderous plot that rivals "Oregon Trail" for sheer banal predictability. And yes, I have read the book--somehow, True Grit takes a fairly interesting story and turns it into a beige, never-ending landscape of mediocrity.

If I were to categorize True Grit, I would say it would fit in the "Revisionist Western" category-in good company with films like McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Little Big Man. The hallmark of revisionist westerns is an overt cynicism, and a willingness to critique American society and values. Revisionist Westerns contradict the cliches of "classic" westerns (e.g. The Naked Spur, High Noon) and "spaghetti westerns," (e.g. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). The Coens avoid the "black hat, white hat" dichotomy of the traditional American Western, choosing instead to frame youth as the hero (or heroine) of the film. Cogburn has lost what Mattie has: youth, drive, passion, obsession, a mission in life. He idles aimlessly while she plows ahead, completely sure of herself and committed to her mission. The aging, sardonic men in the film look upon her with a sneer, but also with a certain tinge of envy. True Grit is definitely cynical and verges on nihilistic-but I was hard pressed to find any deeper message. Furthermore, I found it difficult to connect with the characters. As Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges is fantastic at playing a drunken, rapidly declining lawman. But I didn't really care about him. As Mattie Ross, newcomer Hailee Steinfeld takes fantastic direction and hits every mark. But I had absolutely no investment in her mission or in her outcome. Probably the most successful, interesting character is LaBoeuf, who is just reserved and complex enough to be interesting.

The amount I would pay to see this film: $3
My apologies to my boyfriend, who paid $20 for us to see it. Meh. We learned our lesson.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Music Videos That Changed my Life

I've always been a strong defender of the music video as an art form. Some of the most progressive artists made videos before there were videos. Bob Dylan with "Subterranean Homesick Blues," Pink Floyd with "Arnold Lang," Queen with "Bohemian Rhapsody." Yes, MTV fostered ADHD in America's youth, but it also served as a forum for some great musicians, and some great directors. Michelle Gondry, Spike Jonze and McG all got their start in videos. Okay, enough with my prattling, let me get to the list. MTV was not allowed in my house as a kid, but I watched it anyway, usually when I was playing the gold-cartridge Zelda at my friend Colin's house (1988) or at my friend Wilson's house (1989) when we were bitching about getting the laserdisc player to work. That thing never worked. I then continued into the early 90s (when my parents weren't watching) and into the mid-90s (when they couldn't stop it) and eventually progressed to a point at which I could rationally defend my favorites as works of art.

Here's my top 10, in order of when I first watched them:

Michael Jackson, Bad: What can I say? I danced around the house to this when I was four. I loved it. I still love it.

Squeeze, Hourglass: As a lover of Escher and optical illusions, how could I not love this?

Paula Abdul, Cold Hearted: It's a horrible song, but the video is amazing. Say what you will about Paula in all her stoned glory, she's a damn good choreographer!

They Might Be Giants, Birdhouse in Your Soul: how many car trips were illuminated by this song? at least 27.

Metallica, Enter Sandman: Okay, Black, track one. The last bastion of Metallica. Need I say more?

Alice in Chains, Man in The Box: I just...love this song. And I had never really seen grunge on screen before this. It was, and still is, amazing.

Prodigy, Breath: This is the first music video to actually scare me. I was 15. I guess I was a wuss...but it's creepy. And it was different from everything else out there at the time, except maybe Manson's early stuff.

Bjork, It's Oh So Quiet: Wow. This video made me swoon. I know it's a cover, and it's not her purest work, but I loved the big time 30s musical feel in it...

Tori Amos, Spark: I saw this when it premiered, and I've never been the same.

Aerosmith, Pink: