99 Homes


These days a man's home is the bank's castle.

These days a man’s home is the bank’s castle.

(2015) Drama (Broad Green) Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown, Tim Guinee, Nicole Barré, Yvonne Landry, Noah Lomax, J.D. Eyermore, Cullen Moss, Jordyn McDempsey, Ann Mahoney, Judd Lormand, Deneen Tyler, Donna Duplantier, Wayne Pére, Cynthia Santiago, Juan Gaspard, Nadiyah Skyy Taylor. Directed by Ramin Bahrani

It wasn’t that long ago that the economy tanked in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Homes were being foreclosed upon at rates unheard of since the Great Depression. Families were displaced, the rich got richer and in essence nothing has changed since then other than the banks are being more circumspect somewhat, but none of the regulations that had kept this from happening before have been reinstated.

Taking place in 2010, the events in 99 Homes are said to have actually happened although I’m unclear whether they took place in the Orlando locale the film is set in. Dennis Nash (Garfield) is a construction worker who discovers that the builders of the development he’s working for have run out of money and that the past two weeks he’s been working are going to go unpaid.

His childhood home, which he lives in with his mother (Dern) and grew up in is underwater and he’s several payments behind. The bank isn’t terribly interested in anything but foreclosure and his trip to court has left him reeling; the judge, overwhelmed with the number of foreclosure cases, simply rubberstamps the bank’s request and sends Dennis packing. Dennis is told he has 30 days to appeal.

A few days later realtor Rick Carver (Shannon) shows up at Dennis’ door and without so much as a fare-thee-well tosses him, his son Connor (Lomax) and his mom into the street along with all their stuff. He is forced to move them into a skeevy hotel which is mostly filled with other evictees, some of them who’ve been there two years or more. He needs to find work now more than ever but there simply isn’t any to be had, the construction business hit hard by the fact that banks aren’t making business loans so there is nothing being built.

When he discovers that some of his tools are missing, he goes back to Carver to demand their return. Carver, impressed with his moxie, puts him to work doing a particularly disagreeable job on a foreclosed home whose previous owners let their displeasure be known in a rather spectacular way. Carver, admiring Nash’s work ethic, hires him on to do odd construction jobs and then to snatch air conditioning units from foreclosed homes that the banks will pay Carver money to install “new” units, which of course Carver simply has Nash reinstall the old units. Shifty, no?

Eventually as Nash continues to help Carver do his dirty work, Carver puts him to work doing the work that Nash is most wary of – presiding over foreclosures. Nash is sympathetic to the victims but soon becomes good at it and continues to help Carver with his chicanery. He even helps Carver set up a deal that will make them both unimaginably rich.

The issue is that Nash has a conscience and it’s beginning to get pricked, particularly in the case of a particular homeowner (Guinee). And when it all comes to a head, will Nash choose money or conscience?

This is a movie that captures the Great American Nightmare circa 2015 (yes, it’s still the Great American Nightmare). It’s a story that’s all too tragically common and will hit an emotional resonance that will touch even those who haven’t had money problems in their lives.

Garfield takes a role that he’s really more suited to than the teenage costumed superhero that he has been playing most recently. He’s still not the commanding screen presence that he might be but he’s a talented actor in his own right. What shines here though is Shannon as the slimy real estate agent whose greed and cynicism are palpable. He has a speech in which he talks about America bailing out winners that sounds like something Trump would say. I daresay that the orange-haired Republican Presidential candidate would probably like this movie for all the wrong reasons.

Dern, who has become one of the best actresses that is always getting notice but never getting noticed if you catch my drift, is once again magnificent here. She is the movie’s conscience and there are few actresses who can pull it off without being maudlin but Dern accomplishes it. She probably won’t be more than an afterthought for a Best Supporting Actress nomination here but that’s more because the script goes off the rails at the end.

Yeah, the ending. Let’s talk about it. What bugs me about Hollywood endings is that you establish a character, establish their credibility and then as the movie ends suddenly they change and act a completely different way than they’ve acted throughout the film. That’s not the way real people act and audiences know that. If you’re going to be charitable through the first 85% of the movie, the audience is going to expect you to be charitable the last 15% too. You have to follow your own internal logic. This movie doesn’t do that.

Still, it’s a fine movie that for the most part covers an issue that faces all American homeowners even those who think they’re well off. Other than that 1% we’ve heard so much about, most Americans are only a single paycheck away from financial issues and once you’ve got those it can be excruciatingly difficult to climb out from under them. The game is rigged that way and nobody wants to talk about it. Thank goodness for filmmakers like Bahrani who do.

REASONS TO GO: Real life horror. Terrific performances by Shannon and Dern.
REASONS TO STAY: Inexplicably bad ending.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language including some sexual references and a brief scene of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first time Garfield has worn facial hair in a film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/15/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Margin Call
FINAL RATINGS: 7/10
NEXT: All This Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records

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Top 10 of 2010


It’s that time of year again, the time when critics both well-known and unknown create their lists of movies that were the very best of the year just ended. People seem to love these sorts of things – my top 10 for 2009 remains one of my most popular pages in terms of visits on my site. I expect that this page will probably do even better.

As I said last year, these lists are entirely arbitrary and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. For one thing, people’s tastes are different. A movie that may affect me deeply might seem manipulative to you. A movie that floats your boat may seem a waste of time to me. We all have our buttons.

The truth is, assigning a “best of” tag to anything is a highly fluid process. I’ve given these movies a position on the list but the truth is ask me what my top ten is a few weeks from now and it likely won’t be the same as it is here. It might also include one or two movies that I might have missed during the course of the year, or others that I have seen again recently and re-adjusted my opinion of. Hey, it happens – as with women, it is a critic’s prerogative to change their minds.

What gets a movie on this list? The basic qualifier is whether I liked or not. After that, I’m looking at movies that affected me emotionally, or that I thought was innovative either in its storytelling techniques, its look or its approach. While special effects continue to improve and push the boundaries, nothing this year rivaled the complete game changer that was Avatar last year, so you won’t see a lot of special effects-heavy movies on this year’s list, although Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World both came very close indeed.

Some critics limit their list to five movies; others go larger, with 20, 25, sometimes even 50 movies on their list. I’m limiting it to ten; it’s an arbitrary number, and seems to be something of a standard. Five isn’t enough and twenty is too many. Ten seems suitable for a list of movies that I think is worth honoring above and beyond all the rest.

Most of these movies are either in general release at the moment or are available on home video, on demand or on cable. You may not agree with all my choices. You may wonder why I didn’t choose, say, Toy Story 3 or The Social Network (which might be the most controversial omission) or why I did choose the ones I did. As I said, ask me again later and my mind may have changed.

This is meant to invite discussion or at least some thought. You may not agree on all of these films being the ten very best – you may not agree on the order. However, I think that we can all agree that these are all quality movies that have something to offer nearly everyone. If you’re looking to see a good movie, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t walk out of any of these feeling disappointed.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. In no particular order;

The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Inception, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, Waking Sleeping Beauty, Get Low, Love and Other Drugs, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Shutter Island, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Secret of Kells, Leaves of Grass, Warlords, A Prophet, Cyrus, The Kids are All Right, The American, Let Me In, MegaMind, I Remember, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.

Also a special shout-out must be made for Montana Amazon, an amazing little indie film that certainly would have made a good case for the top ten but is not scheduled for theatrical release until 2011. If it comes to your town, by all means seek it out. If you’re interested in reading the original reviews, just click on the title.

10.  MID-AUGUST LUNCH (PRANZO DI FERRAGOSTO)

(Zeitgeist) Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali, Grazia Csarini Storza, Alfonso Santagata, Luigi Marchetti, Marcello Ottolenghi, Petre Rosu. Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio

Released March 17, 2010 I first saw this at the Florida Film Festival and was overwhelmed by its charm and gentle nature. Here was a movie whose only aspiration was to make those watching it feel better, with perhaps a comment or two on aging in general. Genial Gianni takes on several older women along with his mother for a mid-August holiday in the oppressive heat of Rome. Gianni, chronically unemployed, is swept through life rather than sweeping through it, wanting no more than a good glass of white wine and the ability to cook a good meal.

WHY IT IS HERE: Gianni Di Gregorio wrote, directed and starred in this highly personal project which was based on his recollections of caring for his own elderly mother in the last years of her life. He also filmed it in his own apartment and utilized personal friends in the cast. The end result is a film that feels more like you’ve been invited to lunch by Italian friends, and are sitting around the table talking about this and that with them. Who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Aunt Maria decides to run away and have a glass of wine or three or more. Drunk off her ass, she makes a pass at Gianni when he retrieves her but not before displaying a vulnerable side that comes out of left field.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $675,299 domestic (as of 1/6/11), $9.3 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

9. 127 HOURS

(Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clement Posey, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan, Treat Williams, Sean Bott, John Lawrence, Rebecca Olson, Pieter Jan Brugge, Jeffrey Wood. Directed by Danny Boyle

Released November 5, 2010 Danny Boyle won an Oscar with his previous movie Slumdog Millionaire and is in serious contention once again with this movie. He could have gone with a big budget film as his follow-up, done any one of dozens of projects but this was what he chose to follow-up his Oscar party with, the story of a cocky type-A personality who gets into a pickle and has to resort to extreme measures to get himself out. These types of true-life stories may be inspirational on paper but they don’t often translate to Hollywood box office gold, so choosing this project was a brave move in and of itself.

WHY IT IS HERE: Most of the movie takes place in a narrow canyon with Aron’s arm pinned to the wall with a boulder. It’s almost all Franco for the bulk of the movie and Franco delivers with a memorable performance that has to be a major contender for the Best Actor Oscar this year. Nominations for director and screenplay are probably not out of the realm of possibility either. The film takes essentially one person in a confined space for about an hour of screen time and makes it riveting, making this as good a piece of filmmaking as you are ever likely to see.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Aron imagines himself as a guest on a talk show, in which the host asks him some pointed questions is humorous and poignant simultaneously.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $10.6 million domestic (as of 1/5/11), $10.6M total.

BUDGET: $18 million.

STATUS: Theatrical run has been completed for the most part; you may be able to find it in second run theaters. Home video release is tentatively scheduled for March 2011.

8. TRUE GRIT

(Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Mathews, Jarlath Conroy, Elizabeth Marvel, Roy Lee Jones, Ed Corbin, Leon Russom. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Released December 22, 2010 I was none too pleased to find out that one of my all-time favorite westerns was being remade. I’m a big believer that if something ain’t broke, you don’t need to fix it. Most Hollywood attempts to remake classics had ended up in disaster – ask Gus Van Sant about his fling with Psycho sometime. On top of that all, Westerns haven’t been in vogue since, well 1969 when True Grit was first released. I had plenty of misgivings all right – and then I heard it was the Coen Brothers that would be directing it. Sigh. Everything is going to be all right.

WHY IT IS HERE: While this is still the basic plot and the same characters, the whole feel is different. The movie is said to be more in line with the Charles Portis novel the original was based on, and certainly feels more authentic to the time period of the original. The language is very much in line with the way people spoke during that time in history. That said, it isn’t The Duke and it isn’t the original and it will never really replace them, but given that Bridges turns in a performance that is as good as any actor turned in this year, it stands on its own.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Mattie in the pit. ‘Nuff said.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $95.4 million domestic (as of 1/6/11), $95.4 total.

BUDGET: $38 million.

STATUS: The movie is still out in general release in the United States and Canada; overseas release is planned for the early part of 2011. Home video release is tentatively scheduled for May of this year.

7. ALICE IN WONDERLAND

(Disney) Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman (voice), Timothy Spall (voice), Stephen Fry (voice), Christopher Lee (voice), Michael Gough (voice), Michael Sheen (voice). Directed by Tim Burton

Released March 5, 2010 From the beginning I thought this was a perfect match. Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll are much like peanut butter and chocolate; two great tastes that taste great together. Burton is one of the few modern directors that has the vision that is even in the same ballpark as Carroll’s.  

WHY IT IS HERE: This is one of the most visually impressive movies of the year. The vision of Underland is whimsical to be sure, sort of like an English garden as seen through a kaleidoscope while smoking a hookah. However, the thing to remember about this Alice is that this isn’t Lewis Carroll’s Alice. This is a different story based on Lewis Carroll’s characters. I guess they decided to keep the name for marketing value.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The Mad Hatter’s victory dance. You’ll know it when you see it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $334.2 million domestic (as of 1/8/11), $1.0 billion total.

BUDGET: $200 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

6. THE WHITE RIBBON (DAS WIESSE BAND)

(Sony Classics) Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Burghart Klaussner, Ursina Lardi, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Leonard Proxauf, Susanne Lothar, Rainier Bock, Branko Samarovsky. Directed by Michael Haneke

Released December 30, 2009 Although this was released in 2009 in New York and Los Angeles, most of the rest of the country didn’t get to see this until January of 2010. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, this movie looked at the nature of evil and how it can appear in the most innocuous of places. Filmed in black and white, the movie never really attracted much of an audience which is a shame. It deserved better.

WHY IT IS HERE: The realization of a pre-World War I Germany is one of the best I’ve seen from a modern movie. It captures the nuances of a different era, from the politeness of the children to the monstrous discipline imposed on them. The last vestiges of feudal society are shown in this very chilling and very thought-provoking film.  

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene when the Baroness discovers the ruined cabbage patch is priceless.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.2 million domestic (as of 1/11/11), $19.2 million total.

BUDGET: $18 million

STATUS: Available on DVD/Blu-Ray at most online and local home video outlets.

5. WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN”

(Paramount Vantage) Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, Anthony Black, Daisy Esparza, Bianca Hill, Bill Strickland, Randi Weingarten, Bill Gates, George Reeves, Davis Guggenheim (voice). Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Released September 24, 2010 Guggenheim came into prominence after directing the acclaimed documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Although some decried it, it did bring global warming into national consciousness and made Al Gore hip (briefly). Now, Guggenheim turns his attention on the American public school system, noting that almost everyone agrees it is badly in need of fixing.

WHY IT IS HERE: The movie shows the importance of education and suggests some means of fixing the public school system. While I don’t agree with all of the film’s conclusions (I think that the problem is much more complicated than blaming it on the teacher unions’ refusal to get rid of tenure), it certainly opens up the opportunity for dialogue and hopefully, focuses the attention of more Americans on the problems facing our students who at this point are going to be competing in a global economy insufficiently prepared for it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The interweaving lottery results as the students being followed throughout the movie await their fate on which their future hangs in the balance.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.4 million domestic (as of 1/24/11), $6.4 million worldwide.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home DVD/Blu-Ray release on February 15, 2011.

4. THE FIGHTER

(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O’Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate O’Brien. Directed by David O. Russell

Released December 17, 2010 Six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (Adams and Leo) show the members of the Academy were high on this movie and critics gave it high praise as well. The story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward resonated with everyone who’s ever had to struggle to get out of a family member’s shadow.

WHY IT IS HERE: Great performances (Wahlberg didn’t get a Best Actor nomination but many felt he should have) and a terrific story made this one of the year’s highlights. Casting is definitely the key, as the chemistry between the various characters is authentic and compelling. Is it as good as classic boxing films like Raging Bull? No, but it’s damn close!

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The catfight between Amy Adams and the sisters. Classic!

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $72.7 million domestic (as of 1/23/11), $73.4 total.

BUDGET: $25 million.

STATUS: Currently in wide release.

3. WINTER’S BONE

(Roadside Attractions) Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt, Lauren Sweetser, Shelley Waggener, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Isaiah Stone, Tate Taylor, Sheryl Lee, Ronnie Hall, Ashlee Thompson. Directed by Debra Granik

Released June 18, 2010 Every year at the Florida Film Festival, there is always one movie that just seems to capture my attention and imagination, and one that just is so good that it cannot be ignored. This year, even Oscar didn’t ignore it – the movie wound up receiving a nomination for Best Picture, as well as Lawrence for Best Actress and Hawkes for Best Supporting Actor. This is as high-quality an indie film as you are ever likely to see.

WHY IT IS HERE: In some ways, this is a grueling movie to watch. Ree Dolly, as played by Jennifer Lawrence, searches for her wayward drug dealing dad who has put her home at risk. With her mother suffering from mental illness, Ree is it when it comes to her younger siblings and it has cost Ree plenty. She yearns for a normal teenage life, one she knows she will never have. It’s heartbreaking, it’s compelling, it’s a look at the dark side of the mountain people to whom loyalty is a given but truth isn’t necessarily so.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where Ree crashes a party where the people there are singing; it is both awkward and eloquent at once.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.3 million domestic (as of 1/23/11), $7.8 million total.

BUDGET: $2 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

2.  FLIPPED

(Warner Brothers) Madeline Carroll, Callum McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca de Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Weisman, Ashley Taylor, Israel Broussard, Cody Horn, Ruth Crawford. Directed by Rob Reiner

Released August 6, 2010 First love is very special, very frightening and unforgettable. We remember it our entire lives and yet no movie has captured it so beautifully and as touchingly as this one. Director Rob Reiner makes his best movie in years, aided by a wonderful supporting cast (particularly Mahoney) and a pair of juvenile actors who are as good as anybody out there.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that flew below everybody’s radar. Critics missed it and audiences certainly did, as the studio gave it a microscopic release. It missed out on major award and fell between every crack that Hollywood has. That makes this a hidden gem just waiting for audiences to discover it. No movie left me feeling as good when I left the theater this year. I highly recommend you seek this one out – you’ll thank me for it later.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The conversation between Juli and Chet…or the one between Bryce and Chet…or the uncomfortable dinner scene with the Loskis and the Bakers…Oh hell, any scene that has Mahoney in it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $1.3 million domestic (as of 8/6/10), $1.8 million total.

BUDGET: $14 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video.

1. THE KING’S SPEECH

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall, Eve West, Roger Parrott, Anthony Edwards, Patrick Ryecart. Directed by Tom Hooper

Released November 26, 2010 The Royal Family is much in the news and on the silver screen lately, with the Royal Wedding set for this year as well as films such as The Queen showing the human side of the family which has often been de-humanized by their status, not entirely of their own doing. Here, we see the courage of habitual stutterer George VI (father to current monarch Elizabeth II) who learns to overcome his affliction with the help of unorthodox Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue. Rush, who plays Logue, was a producer on the film which received more Oscar nominations (12) than any other this year. Firth has a Golden Globe for best dramatic actor already on his mantle; he’s an odds-on favorite to add an Oscar to his collection.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that displays unusual courage and charm, given the subject matter. Some movies just grab your attention from the moment the projector lights up the screen and keep it until the theater employees come in to clean up the theater. This is one of those films. Every performance here is nothing short of amazing, led by Firth and Rush, as well as Carter – all of whom will be competing for acting Oscars in February. Director Tom Hooper brings you into the Royal Family’s boudoir and you feel like a fly on the wall in the palace halls, and that works for me. This is a quality production, from the set design to the costumes to the score and especially to the acting performances. I honestly thought the top three movies this year were very close in terms of quality – I could have been just as happy with either #2 or #3 in this spot – but at the end of the day, if there was one movie from 2010 that you should see for sure, this is it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Some have mentioned the climactic scene where the King gives his radio address, but I much prefer the scene when George and Elizabeth are revealed to Myrtle Logue as her husband’s clients; it’s charming and shows as much heart as any scene in the movie.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $59.0 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $108.8 total.

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Currently in wide release.

True Grit (2010)


True Grit

Not bad for a one eyed fat man!

(2010) Western (Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Matthews, Jarlath Conroy, Elizabeth Marvel, Leon Russom, Ed Corbin, Candyce Hinkle, Bruce Green, Peter Leung, Don Pirl. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

When you remake a movie that most would consider a classic, you had better know what you’re about. Not only must you retain the essence of the original, you need to add something significant to it; otherwise, what’s the point?

Maddie Ross (Steinfeld) has come to Ft. Smith, Arkansas from her farm in Yell County. Her father has been brutally gunned down by a hired hand, Tom Chaney (Brolin). Nobody in Ft. Smith seems particularly interested in pursuing Chaney who has fled into the Indian territories. The Sherriff (Russom) has no authority there and recommends a U.S. Marshal. There are several choices, but the Sherriff recommends Rooster Cogburn (Bridges).

Mattie tries to track down the Marshal but is unsuccessful at first. He’s obviously drunk and refuses to come out of the outhouse – and it’s not as if she’s about to go in after him. In the meantime she goes to Col. Stonehill (Matthews) to settle her father’s affairs with him. He’s a horse trader who meets his match in the 14-year-old girl. When after being bested in the first session she means to initiate a second, he moans “Oh God we’re not going to haggle, are we?” He knows a superior negotiator when he sees one.

Finally when she meets Marshall Cogburn he is at first unimpressed but when Mattie shows up with $50 he takes her a mite more seriously. She insists on accompanying him, not trusting him to do what he says he will. He is reluctant to allow it but at last gives in.

However, Mattie isn’t the only one looking for Chaney. There’s a Texas Ranger by the name of LaBoeuf (Damon) who wants to collect the reward for a murdered State Senator and has been tracking Chaney (who was called Chelmsford in Texas) for months. He entreats Mattie to go home but she is obstinate. This won’t be the first time she displays that trait.

She wakes up to discover that Cogburn has already left. Nonplussed, Mattie follows on her pony Little Blackie who turns out to be a helluva horse. She is surprised to discover that LaBoeuf has thrown in with Cogburn but after LaBoeuf takes a switch to Mattie that partnership disintegrates. Truth be told, Cogburn admires the determined young girl deep down.

Cogburn believes that Chaney has taken up with Lucky Ned Pepper (Pepper, ironically enough) who is an outlaw operating out of the territories. He goes in search of information to confirm it and winds up deep in the Indian Territories, going up against hardened outlaws…and the frailty of his employer…of himself.

It is inevitable that the new version will be compared to the old. Let’s first establish that Jeff Bridges is no John Wayne. Quite intelligently, Bridges doesn’t even attempt to be Wayne. His Rooster Cogburn is allegedly closer to the character in the Charles Portis book both films are based on (I can’t say for certain because I haven’t read it). He’s a drunken reprobate with a past that for one or two wrong turns may have turned out just like Chaney or Pepper. He dances just this side of the angels and has one foot on the side of the devils.

This isn’t a typical Coen Brothers movie. Gone are the quirky characters, the off-kilter sense of humor that pervades. In that sense, this is more like No Country for Old Men; the storytelling is more linear, more direct. The Coens are very particular about the language they use; the language here is more authentic than the original True Grit. In that sense, again this is closer to the Portis novel which was known for utilizing authentic idioms of the era. The 1969 movie was made for audiences of that time who weren’t looking so much for authenticity as much as adventure, and to a certain degree, of the Duke although by that time he had fallen out of favor to a large extent, having grown old and less imposing than he once was; he was also battling cancer at the time which was less known.

Wayne and Bridges aside, this is Mattie’s story and once again we are left to compare Kim Darby, 20 when she filmed the 1969 movie and Steinfeld, 13 when she filmed this one. Darby is spunkier than anything and while she talks like a bookkeeper, she is less convincing as a 14 year old. Certainly Steinfeld gets points in that regard and she has the inner strength that the character possesses, as well as the intelligence and fortitude. She also has the singularity of focus; Steinfeld certainly is impressive in communicating all these things. She is a gifted young actress who may very well get a Best Actress Oscar nomination this February. 

Damon plays the Texas Ranger role that Glen Campbell played and here is where this movie gets better. Damon gives the Ranger much more depth than Campbell was able to deliver and to be fair Campbell was more or less stunt casting. Damon makes the Ranger much more dangerous than the Campbell version which was more or less comic relief. You can believe that LaBoeuf is quite capable of killing from distance and efficiently here.

One of the issues I have here is the ending and this is where the filmmakers teach us a valuable lesson; not everything that is in the book is necessarily as good as the first movie. This movie adds the epilogue that was in the book, showing Mattie 25 years later (Marvel) but the coda is a bit anti-climactic and really adds nothing to the story.

However, this really is a much different movie than the first one and in some ways judging one against the other isn’t real fair but is necessary – after all, the first won the Duke an Oscar and is a bit of a standard among westerns. This has already become the largest-grossing movie in the Coen Brothers 20 year career and comes about it honestly, without a 3D or IMAX upcharge to artificially inflate the numbers. This is serious entertainment and proof positive that even though Westerns are no longer a guaranteed box office draw that when done right they can still be big hits. This is deserving of the success and is one of the must-sees of the holiday season.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeous cinematography adds to strong performances throughout. While Bridges is no Duke, he holds his own. Damon makes a great LaBoeuf.

REASONS TO STAY: While it is very good in its own right, this is still not as good as the John Wayne version. Much grittier than the original, sometimes too gritty in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence, a few disturbing images and some peril for 14-year-old Mattie.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Bridges and Brolin have portrayed Wild Bill Hickock, whose Wild West Show is the setting for the movie’s epilogue.

HOME OR THEATER: If you watch it at home at least you can get up and leave without bothering anybody.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Little Fockers

New Releases for the Week of December 31, 2010


 

 

December 31, 2010

Have yourself a merry little Jihad.

FOUR LIONS

(Drafthouse) Kayvan Novack, Nigel Lindsay, Riz Ahmed, Adeel Akhtar, Preeya Kalidas, Mohammed Agil, Craig Parkinson, Karl Seth, William El Gardi. Directed by Christopher Morris

This British comedy envisions a Jihadist cell made up of four of the dumbest human beings ever who carry on the War against Terror completely unarmed. While they aim to strike a decisive blow for the Jihad, mostly what they wind up doing is only striking a decisive blow….for comedy.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language throughout including some sexual references)

My Dog Tulip

(New Yorker) Starring the voices of Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini, Brian Murray. This animated feature chronicles the 16-year relationship between author J.R. Ackerley and his four-legged friend as stated in his own memoir of the same title. A distinguished man of letters in British society back in the 1950s, he was anything but a dog lover until this outgoing and somewhat intolerable beast came into his life. Beautifully hand-drawn utilizing paperless computer technology, this feature is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: NR

New Releases for the Week of December 24, 2010


December 24, 2010

The thorough emasculation of Robert De Niro continues.

LITTLE FOCKERS

(Universal) Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, Teri Polo, Barbra Streisand, Harvey Keitel, Laura Dern. Directed by Paul Weitz

Greg Focker and Jack Burns return to torment one another in the third installment of the comedy series. Now married ten years and with two children, it seems that Greg has finally earned his place in the circle of trust. However, cash problems lead to Greg taking a second job for a drug company, leading to misunderstandings with his father-in-law who uncharacteristically goes overboard. With Pam’s ex-flame still in the picture, can the Focker family withstand the machinations of the parents?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content)

Gulliver’s Travels

(20th Century Fox) Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet. The Jonathan Swift classic is given a Black attack as the comic actor takes on the title role in this modernized version. A mail room clerk with tons of ambition and zero conscience gets swept away in the Bermuda triangle to a strange land of people no bigger than his finger. He becomes the national hero although he is just kind of skating through. Eventually he has to stand up for those smaller than himself, learning in the process that the hero inside is often bigger than the person outside. For those who love the Ice Age movies, there will be a Scrat short accompanying this film.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Comic Fantasy

Rating: PG (for brief rude humor, mild language and action)

I Love You, Phillip Morris

(Roadside Attractions) Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro. A successful Texas businessman and pillar of his community has an epiphany; he’s gay, and he intends to live the rest of his life to the fullest. In order to support an extravagant lifestyle, he turns to crime – con games, as a matter of fact. While in prison for one of his attempts he meets the love of his life, a soft-spoken man named Phillip Morris. He determines to free his new-found companion and organizes brilliant cons and escape plans to do it. Ah, ain’t love grand?

See the trailer and a news clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content including strong dialogue and language)

The King’s Speech

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce. Although most people are familiar with the current English monarch, not many Americans know much about her father who ruled before her. Even fewer know that he was afflicted with a terrible stammer. Desperate to conquer this impediment, he seeks out an Australian speech therapist with unusual methods. The two race against time to give the King of England a voice as the country is swept into World War II. This is considered one of the odds-on favorites at Oscar time.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for some language)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jorma Tomilla, Jonathan Hutchings. A Finnish archaeological team digs up Santa Claus – the real one…and he’s nothing like any of the legends say. As the local children begin to turn up missing, an enterprising reindeer hunter and his son bag Santa and try to sell him back to the CEO of the multinational corporation sponsoring the dig. However, nobody thought of the elves who will stop at nothing to get jolly St. Nick back. This is what I call holiday entertainment.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Horror

Rating: R (for some nudity and language)

Tees Maar Khan

(Hari Om) Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Sanjay Dutt (voice), Anil Kapoor. The greatest criminal in all of India – indeed, in all of the world – is given an impossible job; to steal a load of priceless antiquities from a moving train. It will take all his skills, the unwilling help of his actress girlfriend and the participation of a vain but stupid Bollywood star to help Khan and his crew pull this one off.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Heist Comedy

Rating: NR

True Grit

(Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld. The Coen Brothers take on not so much the 1969 Oscar-winning John Wayne movie but the Charles Portis novel that inspired it. 14-year-old Mattie Ross seeks to bring to justice Tom Chaney, the man who shot her father down in cold blood. To that end she recruits Rooster Cogburn, a mean drunken U.S. Marshall who shoots first and then forgets to ask the questions later. They are joined by a vain Texas Ranger who has his own agenda.

See the trailer, promos and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Western

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of Western violence including disturbing images)

New Releases for the Week of December 17, 2010


December 17, 2010
“What do you mean click your heels three times and you can go home?”

TRON: LEGACY

(Disney) Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen, Cillian Murphy, Daft Punk. Directed by Joseph Kosinski

It’s finally here! Sam Flynn investigates a signal that could only have come from his father, once the world’s leading video game developer who had disappeared 20 years earlier. His investigation finds him beamed into an incredible digital world that his father helped create only it has advanced a great deal in 20 years. Behind the scenes is an evil force that will do whatever it takes to keep both Flynns trapped in the electronic landscape.

See the trailer, clips, promos, interviews and music videos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG (for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language)

All Good Things

(Magnolia) Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella, Philip Baker Hall. The movie is loosely based on the story of Robert Durst, the notorious scion of a wealthy New York real estate family. His wife Kathie disappeared back in 1982 and has never been found. Durst has been accused of the crime (as well as others afterwards) but was never convicted. Here in Orlando you can see this exclusively at the Enzian Theatre.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Mystery

Rating: R (for drug use, violence, language and some sexuality)

Black Swan

(Fox Searchlight) Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey. A ballerina in an elite New York City ballet company is finally getting the break she’s been waiting for as the lead in Swan Lake. However, the arrival of a new dancer who is far more sensual than she complicates matters and puts her ambition in jeopardy. She will need to get in touch with her own dark side which leads to frightening complications. This was originally not scheduled for wide release until January but the limited release did so well that it was rushed into theaters this week. It is also considered a leading Oscar contender next year, with Portman pretty much a lock for a Best Actress nomination.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use)

The Fighter

(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo. The true story of boxer Irish Mickey Ward who overcame incredible adversity to become a champion. All four lead actors were nominated for Golden Globes, as did the movie itself for Best Drama. At this point it is considered one of the leading contenders for Oscar gold at next year’s ceremony.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: R (for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality)

How Do You Know

(Columbia) Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson. Director James Brooks (Terms of Endearment) returns with a comedy centered around a love triangle between a businessman with integrity who is about to be indicted for fraud, a narcissistic professional baseball player and a softball player recently cut from her team and having to redefine her identity. Sounds like a busy afternoon.

See the trailer, promo and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and some strong language)

New Releases for the Week of December 10, 2010


December 10, 2010
She’s Queen of the World with no sign of James Cameron or icebergs.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER

(Fox Walden) Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Bruce Spence, Liam Neeson (voice), Ricky Gervais (voice), Gary Sweet. Directed by Michael Apted

As the beloved C.S. Lewis fantasy series franchise shifts to a new studio, two of the four Pevensie children – Lucy and Edward – return to Narnia, this time dragging along terrified cousin Eustace as they re-team with Prince Caspian and Reepicheep on a voyage to the Lone Islands to find the Seven Lost Lords.

See the trailer, clips and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy violence)

Heartbreaker

(IFC) Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis, Julie Ferrier, Francois Damiens. Alex breaks up relationships professionally. This Parisian hunk has only one rule; the woman must be unhappy in the relationship otherwise it’s no go. However, he can’t resist the fee that a wealthy businessman is offering to break up his daughter’s impending wedding and Alex needs some financial relief from his creditors. Seeing as this is a French romantic comedy, you can guess who is about to fall in love.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

No Problem

(Eros International) Anil Kapoor, Sonjay Dutt, Kangana Ranaut, Akshaye Khanna. A pair of small time crooks goes from robbing the bank of a manager who is falsely accused of the crime to being accused of murdering a minister. On the run from a ruthless criminal and a bumbling police detective, the two try to prove their innocence, turn over a new leaf and find love. Sound like too much? No problem!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: NR

The Nutcracker in 3D

(Freestyle Releasing) Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane, John Turturro, Charlie Rowe. The classic Christmas tale is given a new vision by acclaimed Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky. This beautifully filmed depiction of a young 9-year-old girl’s magical Christmas in 19th century Vienna is presented in 3D for the first time ever.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Family Fantasy

Rating: PG (for thematic material, scary images, action and brief smoking)

Tamara Drewe

(Sony Classics) Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Roger Allam, Luke Evans. The return of a beautiful, sexy girl to a small English village throws it into an uproar. This is based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Posy Simmonds which in turn was originally a collection of comic strips published in a daily newspaper in Manchester, which in turn was loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd.” That’s a whole lot of turns.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some sexuality)

The Tourist

 (Columbia) Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton. An American on vacation in Europe after his heart is broken meets up with a mysterious beautiful woman and before long (as usually happens when mysterious beautiful women are involved) gets swept up in a tangled web of intrigue, mistaken identity and crime. Something tells me that being pursued by Russian mobsters and Interpol don’t usually come with the tour.

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and brief strong language)