Sunday, January 23, 2011

True Grit - bold talk with a one-eyed fat man

True Grit - (4 1/2 Stars)
Remakes, sequels and reboots. It seems that about 90% of everything Hollywood puts out is one of these, or maybe even a "re-imagining." With that in mind, the Coen brothers (directors of movies such as Fargo or No Country For Old Men) try their hand, but don't call it a remake or a reboot  with any venom in your tone. The Coen's "True Grit" goes back to the source material for its inspiration: the novel.

True GritHaving not read the novel myself, I can't say whether or not this version is closer than the John Wayne version. It's also been awhile since I've seen the older version of the movie. So, I'm mostly going to speak about how the movie stands on its own. It is important to always do this when it comes to any "re-movie," so that you aren't viewing the movie from a biased standpoint or expecting too much (or too little). How does the movie stand up? Very well. The Coen brothers have crafted an excellent western that the fits among the best of the genre and includes fantastic performances from many of its stars.

When her father is murdered, stubborn young Maddie Ross seeks vengeance by hiring a grizzled, old U.S. Marshal by the name of "Rooster" Cogburn to lead her after the murderer. Jeff Bridges brings his own surly take on Rooster, without trying to do a John Wayne impersonation and Matt Damon continues to demonstrate his versatility as an actor as LaBoeuf, a dandy of a Texas Ranger. Even Josh Brolin delivers in his relatively short screen time. But the real standout is Hailee Steinfield as the young avenger, Maddie Ross. She exudes a confidence and ease that would be expected of someone more than twice her age. This is spectacularly displayed early on when she negotiates (as she does so well throughout the movie) over some animals her deceased father had previously purchased. Steinfield was unfortunately snubbed (as was the entire movie) by the Golden Globes. It would be a crime against movies everywhere if she isn't at least given a nod at the Oscars. That being said, I fully believe she deserves to win.

Besides the phenomenal casting, almost every other aspect of the movie is executed perfectly. The scenery and cinematography are perfectly bleak and fitting of any of the best westerns. The dialogue is also funnier than most comedies I watched all of last year, without detracting from the overall seriousness of the movie. All in all, "True Grit" is the complete package and one of the best movies of 2010.
(110 minutes - Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images - 2010) (Netflix)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Social Town

The Town - (3 Stars)
The TownBen Affleck stars and directs this predictable but enjoyable crime movie where, once again, we are tasked with following and tend to find ourselves rooting for the bad guys instead of the good guys. . Of course, this isn't really the kind of movie where good and bad are black and white anyway. "The Town" felt like shades of "The Departed" meets "The Outsiders" meets any movie about robbing banks. It didn't blow me away, but I enjoyed it. This was mainly due to the fact that despite it doing nothing new, everything, from the acting to the writing to the directing, is executed really well. The movie gets bonus points for featuring some scenes at Fenway Park (and tons of wicked awesome Boston accents).
(125 minutes - Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use - 2010) (Netflix)

The Social Network - (4 Stars)*
Everyone and their mom seems to be using Facebook these days. I'm not trying to exaggerate (well, I'm slightly exaggerating). But what's the story behind "The Facebook?" Well, David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin have the strange, sordid (well, slightly sordid), and partially fictitious answer in their movie, "The Social Network."

The Social NetworkThe movie is an engrossing, character driven tale that follows Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) from a messy break-up, through Harvard and on to the eventual founding and expansion of the most popular social networking site currently online. The movie doesn't have a lot of action, since it revolves around the founding of a website, so some won't find much appeal. However, Fincher really has a gift for pacing his movies and keeping things moving.

In all honesty, I was reminded a lot of the little seen "Shattered Glass," with its focus on an interesting, but not well liked main character and the people in his life that he interacts with. Most of these interactions are not very positive. In fact, most will sympathize with his best friend and co-founder Eduardo (Andrew Garfield, who everyone will get to know soon as the new Spider-man) who slowly finds himself less and less a part of Facebook.

The biggest theme to me that resonated throughout the movie was a sense of tragic irony. Mark founds Facebook, at least according to the movie, as a way to get back at a girlfriend who dumps him. Along the way he alienates himself from many people and loses friends. Mark eventually finds himself the creator of the biggest social networking tool whose sole purpose is keeping up with and making friends, and yet he doesn't seem to have any friends of his own.
(120 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language - 2010) (Netflix)

Note: I highly recommend checking out Shattered Glass if you haven't seen it: Netflix

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ramona, Knight and St. Cloud (Attorneys at Law?)

Well, finally a batch of movies in which I can recommend every one. Each one was enjoyable in its own way and I even brought back my * to denote my must watch movie of the batch. I haven't been using it because lately it's been pretty obvious which ones to watch and which ones not to (as in they mostly stunk). I haven't updated in a bit as I still feel like I'm catching up from the holiday season and not quite in a rhythm yet. Hopefully things should get going again soon.

Knight and Day - (3 1/2 Stars)
Knight and DayAfter watching the trailer for "Knight and Day," I wasn't too thrilled to see it. I usually enjoy Tom Cruise, but Cameron Diaz is a completely different story (I mentioned my dislike for her briefly in my previous review of The Green Hornet). However, I was pleasantly surprised with the over-the-top action/thriller. The movie from the start seems to wink at the audience and acknowledge that it's going to be a goofy, but action-packed, ride which is why it works. A movie that purposely attempts being ridiculous is always better than a movie that doesn't try and ends up that way due to poor writing or acting. This is a great example of a good popcorn movie that you know not to take too seriously and just enjoy.
(109 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language - 2010) (Netflix)

Charlie St. Cloud - (3 Stars)
Charlie St. CloudWent into this one with an open mind and I was rewarded with an enjoyable experience. The movie, though starring Zac Efron, is not a romantic comedy or teen romance movie. There are elements, very slight, but overall the story focuses more on loss. Overall I found "Charlie" to be pretty likable and engaging. Granted, at some parts it got a little strange or overly sappy (and one or two "suspend your disbelief" moments as well), it was still definitely worth watching.
(99 minutes - Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality - 2010) (Netflix)

Ramona and Beezus - (4 Stars)*
I remember (vaguely) reading and enjoying the Henry Huggins books, and in turn, the Ramona books. I was also a big fan of the Ramona TV series that ran in the 90's starring Sarah Polley as Ramona. So, I had some lofty expectations for this new incarnation of Ramona and I was not disappointed.

Ramona and BeezusFrom the start, if you were a fan of the old TV series, you need to distance the two and not try to make comparisons. It's the same with any remake/revision: don't try to compare it with the old one, just watch it and judge it on its own merits and not how it stands up to its predecessor. With that being said, I really enjoyed Joey King's Ramona. She was funny and quirky and definitely brought to life the character very well (with many memorable lines). Selena Gomez, who I was really worried they'd use too much because of her star power, gets about as much screen time as Beezus should. The books were written awhile ago so the movie takes some liberties with modernizing which I think is probably shown most in Beezus' casting.

"Ramona and Beezus" is basically what one would expect: a funny, sweet and enjoyable family film. But it also delivers more than that as a solid retelling of the classic Ramona stories with a solid cast. The movie is genuinely funny as well, not just for kids, but for adults as well. For some it might seem sappy or sentimental. But those who find it to be too much for them, probably aren't the people who enjoy this type of film anyway (or they are just trying to exude a little too much machismo).
(103 minutes - Rated  G - 2010) (Netflix)

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Green Hornet - or the Green Bee if you think that sounds better...

The Green HornetThe Green Hornet - (4 Stars)

When first we meet Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) he is a spoiled playboy. While his father operates the respectable and integrity filled newspaper "The Daily Sentinel," Britt parties and acts the all-around fool. However, when his father dies, everything changes for Britt and he becomes the Green Hornet in order to seek vengeance. At least, that's how you'd expect it to go if this were a typical superhero movie. Instead, Britt is shaken up but not particularly sad. In fact, instead of trying to honor his dead father he seems to go the complete opposite direction. Green Hornet is not your typical superhero movie.

Hornet plays mostly against genre norms by changing our expectations for things such as the hero's origin, his motivations and even his skill level. In fact, for the most part, Britt Reid starts out as a very selfish "superhero." Bruce Wayne he is not. But this is why the character works so well.

Co-written by Rogen and directed by Michel Gondry, Hornet is the funniest movie I've seen all year* and contains some of the better actions scenes as well thanks to Gondry's direction. Rogen brings his usual type of humor (minus the drug references) but instead of being the likable loser, he's more of a selfish jerk. Think Tony Stark, but not as capable. Jay Chou complements Rogen extremely well as the sidekick Kato and the two play comically well off of each other. After his fantastic performance in Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz is once again playing the quirky villain. Chudnofsky is shades of Hans Landa, but a little less secure in his ability to make an impression. Cameron Diaz is the only casting misfire. I really wish they had cast someone else. I've never been a fan of her, and her role here didn't change my mind any.

The movie is a great example of an action comedy as it balances the line between serious and ridiculous perfectly, keeping the story interesting and the jokes natural. The fighting and action is over-the-top, but it fits the film and it's not the blatantly fake, obvious green screen type of action where it looks like actors in the middle of a computer game. With all this being said, don't go into the movie expecting to be cinematically blown away like "The Dark Knight," but rather enter on the prospect of simply having a fun time with a movie that is equal parts humor and action.
(108 minutes - Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content - 2011) (Netflix - Estimated for May) (Release Reminder - VideoETA)

*I saw this in 2010, remember, so I'm not trying to make a joke relating to the beginning of the year.