Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas Movie Madness

As is custom, the holiday's brought me home for an extended period of time which, inevitably, coincided with an increase in film consumption. You all know the drill by now.

1. True Grit


I knew nothing of neither the book upon which this movie is based nor the original cinematic interpretation starring John Wayne when I walked into the theater. What I DID know, was that The Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man) had used their two-headed super powers to conjure up yet another holiday release brimming with Oscar Buzz.

Oscar Buzz can sometimes shoot a movie in the foot, driving up viewer expectations to a point where they can't appreciate the filmmaking achievement for lack of raw entertainment value. In a way, they can't see the forest for the trees and all around them loudspeakers shout "WOAH, LOOK AT THIS F***ING FOREST!"

True Grit, however, did not disappoint and will surely land on my 10 Best films of 2010 (coming soon). It tells the story of a young girl, played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who hires a U.S. Marshal – a one-eyed Jeff Bridges – to track down her father's killer. Along they way they join forces (kind of) with a cock-sure Texas Ranger named LaBeof (pronouced, hilariously, La-Beef) played by Matt Damon.

The bones of the story are what you would expect. Three travelers in unfriendly terrain tracking down killers and encountering any number of obstacles along the way. What elevates Grit from the pack, however, is brilliant diologue that makes you wonder "did they really talk like that?" but not really care because it's just so good. The Coen brothers also weave together bits of whimsey and surrealism with tense action and a fair dose of gory violence. Steinfeld is pitch-perfect as the pushy-tenacious Matti while Bridges and Damon spar with brilliantly defined characters.

In many ways, the plot itself is merely the device that allows you to take a journey through an artistic interpretation of the Wild West. In Grit, this little history lesson in Americana takes on a form and feel so uniquely constructed that it rivals Last of the Mohicans in pure grandeour, even while it revels in its own simplicity. A-

2. Megamind



I'm not really one for cartoons. I understand and appreciate their role in our cinematic society and simply put I am not their target audience so I usually do everyone involved a favor and avoid them entirely. From a critical standpoint, the average cartoon is a contrived cookie cutter form of entertainment designed for family-friendliness and younger audiences who ask nothing more than to be dazzled for 80 minutes or less by flashing colors. Again, that's not me.

So, in a holiday spirit I joined my sister and her children for a viewing of MegaMind at the discount theater.

For every "Toy Story" that blends genres and transcends itself to provide clever refreshing entertainment to all ages, there's about 9 "Shrek the Thirds" that seem to be phoned-in box packages that come equipped with their own punchlines and provide a "satisfactory" taste in the mouth. MegaMind is the latter.

The premise is cute enough, alien kid lands on earth and is reared in a prison, destined to be the bad guy. His rival is superman (essentially) and they battle until one day superman dissapears and bad guy wins once and for all. He soon becomes bored being a yin with no yang and seeks to create a new counterpart to do battle with but in the process learns that he'd rather be the good guy blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Perfectly adequate in every way. B-

3. How do you know



James Brooks' latest is having a rather rough time at the box offices. After a fairly aggressive marketing campaign HDYK failed to find its audience and seems to have puttered out after 4 weeks with about $25 mill. For those of you who don't talk Box Office, that's not very good.

Then again, anyone who has ever seen a movie directed by George Lucas knows that success DOES NOT equal quality.

In HDYK we find George (Paul Rudd), a shlubbishly charming boy scout of a man suddenly under the strain of a large-scale fraud investigation. In a swift progression George finds himself increasingly down-trodden by fate, losing his job, his apartment and his girlfriend.

Sidestep frame, and we encounter Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) a plucky olympic-level softball player who has just been cut from the U.S.A. team, but doesn't know it yet. She begins dating a cocky, yet admirably honest baseball star (Owen Wilson) and then the world drops out from under her feet just as she meets George. He is smitten (who wouldn't be) but he's also falling apart at the seems. She's confused, and tries to navigate the changes in her life without breaking down and screaming.

I found HDYK charming. For me it was one of those rare occurences where a romantic comedy brings something fresh to the table and in the vein of reigning champion 500 Days of Summer it's humor is built on the wrenching awkwardness of everyday encounters and miscommunications rather than the cliched idiocy of contrived rom-com trash. There are many scenes where Rudd's behavior as the nice-to-a-fault George make you squirm in your seat the way that Steve Carrell's Michael Scott did in the glory days of The Office, begging the movie to end the suffering while simultaneously causing you to giggle unceasingly.

Jack Nicholson, in a supporting role, is as magnetic as ever as George's father and corporate employer. He brings just enough crazy and just enough heart to make you wonder what he'll do next and is solely responsible for the films funniest and most admirable gag: an intentional GOTCHA that winks its eye at the very genre you're watching.

I doubt this movie will be in theaters much longer, but catch it if you can, or grab it on DVD when it's out. B

4. The Fall.


It's hard to put "The Fall" into a box. It tells the quiet story of an injured stuntman in a hospital, befriending a young girl and telling her the fantasy story of 5 heroes on a quest for vengeance. The story, through her imagination, is shown in fascinating visual style via mesmerizing cinematography.

In many ways, it reminded me of Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are. Not in the actual product but in the way that the scenes seemed like thinly connected artistic segments. There's an an underlying story, one that is represented both literally and metaphorically through the story being told, and yet you get the feeling that what your seeing is supposed to represent something larger that is not expressed directly through the events.

It is a visual treat, and a beautiful film, but at times the plot seems to be sacrificed to the visuals like Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones", not enhanced by them like "Hero." The Fall is a singular film, in his review Roger Ebert worte "You might want to see for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it"

In the end I would certainly recomend it, but it left me wanting more. B

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