Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oscar Nominations announced and WAY too much snow

In case ya'll have been hiding under a rock, the Oscar nominations are in! Check it OUT!

I, for one, am extremely excited about both Black Swan and True Grit getting into the Best Picture category. I have a long review in my head for Black Swan that will be coming to this site soon. In the meantime, I have been dealing with this:

Oh yes. That is my car under all that. And that was from the FIRST round up. Far too much shoveling and not enough blog and movie time, for my taste. I feel like I'm living in the Yukon, not New England, U.S. Anyway, I'll be back soon as I dig out and make up for lost time at my full-time job.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oscar Watch: True Grit earns its name

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

When I get tired of looking out my window at the frozen tundra of snow the Northeastern portion of the U.S. brings this time of year, I long for the West. And since I have neither the time nor the means to go out there, I do the next best thing: see True Grit.

First off, is there nothing that Jeff Bridges can't do? He's the rare breed of actor who chooses his parts carefully and once chosen, becomes them. Bridges plays the trigger-happy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, and under his cowboy hat and eyepatch, I could barely recognize him, which is ideally the spell you want to cast on the audience. Too many actors just play themselves in films, but the sign of a true professional is when you can be watching them for about 15 minutes and suddenly say to yourself, "Oh, right! That's Jeff Bridges."

The Coen Brothers have had their ups and downs in my book, and often the sort of films I've enjoyed by them have been the least popular in the eyes of critics, such as The Ladykillers (still one of my absolute FAVORITE roles Tom Hanks has ever done), whereas O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which was lauded profusely, is still only so-so in my book. But something about True Grit really touched my spirit in a way that no other Coen Brothers film has been able to do.

This is probably due in a large part to Hailee Steinfeld, playing 14-year-0ld Mattie Ross who hires Rooster to hunt down her father's killer. Steinfeld is the right combination of persistent and headstrong without managing to be a total bitch. Some of the female pride in me, and perhaps the fact I love my own father very much, caused me to become very much taken with Mattie. Maybe it was also the fact she didn't lose her accent or any of her character's attributes at any point in time, which, I hate to say, couldn't be said for some of her co-stars.

There were parts of the film that I thought were a little sloppy in terms of consistency. For instance, Matt Damon, playing a fully-outfitted, fringes and all, Texas ranger named LaBoeuf (pronounced "LaBEEF," extra drawl included) gets seriously injured at one point by being hogtied and dragged through the ground. His chin is cut and bloodied and supposedly his tongue has been mangled, but the next day there is not a trace of a cut on his face and his speech impediment, caused by the tongue injury, comes and goes. That was disappointing because beyond that Damon does a pretty solid job with the role.

The film moves fast in a sun-baked, dusty haze relieved only by occassional flurries. By the time you get to the end it's hard to believe it's actually over. And yet the evolution of the relationships between the main characters, particularly between Rooster and Mattie, are not rushed at all. Through tough times and hard experiences, both Rooster and LaBoeuf come to respect Mattie despite her youth - not unlike what might happen in the real world. And seeing Rooster's drunken, fat, bloodthirsty self turn a new, fatherly corner is one of the finest movie-going experiences I've ever seen. That's really what the story is about -the retribution plot is just the vehicle. The Coen Brothers have learned a tough technique in film storytelling - how to create a believable, evolving relationship between two hearts in a limited period of time.

In the end, you realize that the term "True Grit" is really earned by Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Mattie, as justice is served the only way it can be in the old Wild West - at the end of a pistol.

Also, if you check out the movie's website you can enjoy a rather well-done rendition of the folk tune, "God's Gonna Cut You Down."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tron Legacy: Never has cyberspace been so much fun

Image courtesy of Disney Studios.

Doing follow-ups to films made almost 30 years ago is always a challenge, so when I first saw the trailers for Tron: Legacy, I was a little nervous. This was a film that I grew up with as a child since every time I turned on the Disney channel it was either Tron, The Neverending Story, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, or The Flight of the Navigator playing. I had not seen the original in perhaps 12 years, and I made it a point to not see it again before seeing Legacy because I did not want this review to be a comparison piece - I wanted to view this in its own right.

And wow, was it a whole lot of fun. First off, this is one film where it is definitely worth shelling out the extra cash to see in 3D. It fits the Tron universe so perfectly it's a shame the technology wasn't around for the first. From the motorcycle races on the nefarious "Grid", set in a new-age Colosseum-type atmosphere, to the high-speed jet chase, the film takes every possible opportunity to swing it's way out at you and make you part of the cyberscape.

The first 15 minutes of the film are not the best. The opening is left with much to be desired, however Garrett Headlund, who plays Flynn's son Sam (Flynn is the creator of the world Tron, played by the inemitable and timeless Jeff Bridges) strikes the right chord between being the cocksure hero and the relatable decidedly human trait of not really knowing what the hell is going on. Too often in action/scifi adventures, the hero character can become really bland and is only colored by the characters he interacts with (I'm looking at you, Luke Skywalker.) But Sam is really likeable. He's not the prodigy like his Dad, but he's got enough street smarts to be the only one who can take care of business. Perhaps I can relate more because Sam is probably supposed to be my age - a kid that understands the 80s from a child's perspective, when videogames were the new kid on the block and Journey ruled the airwaves. Once in the world of Tron, the film starts getting its sea legs. There is a moment when Sam first enters his father's old store right before getting sucked in that literally sent a rush of anticipation down my spine. It was at that moment I knew the film really had me locked into its world.

That is the biggest success of the film - immersing you into the world of Tron. It's a pale, sleek, stark landscape that suggests a cleaned-up Matrix - indeed, some of the action sequences purposefully give a nod to it. And the cerebral, synth-cyber music of Daft Punk is the perfect accompaniment that finds its way into your blood stream. It would be so easy for the actors to cave in and give performances as cold and shallow as the filaments of light on their body suits but instead, everyone - down to the all-too-brief performance of Michael Sheen as the urbane Zuse- takes their roles to their maximum potential.

There are flaws of course - those not having seen the first Tron might get a little confused as to the relationships between the "users" and the "programs", and the digitized younger Jeff Bridges still looks a It is scary to see how close they are getting with merging the digital with the real in films. Also, there could have been more development on how the world of Tron has evolved since the rise of a little thing called the Internet.

But I always evaluate my movie experience by how I feel at the end of it, whether it be indifferent or angry that a film did not achieve its full potential. Tron Legacy left me feeling like I just got off Space Mountain-exhilarated and addled, my heartbeat pumping to the electonica bass and my inner 80s child grinning from ear to ear.

I also highly recommend downloading the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. Daft Punk pays the film the ultimate tribute by incorporating the latest in electronica while maintaining the very 80s-esque tunes.

Now, where can I get one of those cool light-striped suits??!