Wednesday, December 22, 2010

True Grit

True Grit

Directed: Joel Coen; Ethan Coen

Written: Joel Coen; Ethan Coen and Charles Portis (novel)

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Hailee Steinfeld

Synopsis: A tenacious girl enlists the help of the grizzled U.S. Marshall to help
find her father's killer while a Texas Ranger tags along.

True Grit- She said

I never really watched Westerns.  Ever. I haven't seen the classics like Unforgiven or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  The genre just never really appealed to me.  Honestly if it wasn't for the Coen brothers, I'm not sure I would have seen True Grit.  That's pretty awful to say, but it's the truth.  I would have probably gotten around to watching the movie eventually, but the genre is never a top my list.

Boy howdy was I wrong to go into this with any low expectations.  I loved the movie.  Now, the plot is pretty basic, and it never strays away and tries to become complex.  A young girl wants revenge on her father's death, and she enlists a mercenary to help her with that task.  However, what is brilliant from the Coen brothers is their ability to create such dynamic and interesting characters.  This really becomes a character film.  The absolute stand out star is young Hailee Steinfeld as the vocal Mattie Ross.  To be a relative newcomer and to hold your own with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon is damn impressive.  She spits out her dialogue with such honesty, wit and believability that it made me jealous.  She is fantastic in every scene she's in.

Of course Matt Damon as LaBoeuf and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn have tremendous chemistry.  You can tell there's a trust between the actors in screen.  They are able to play off each other's nuances and quirky traits with such ease. Another character I loved was Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper, the villain that has eluded Rooster for years.  It was Lucky Ned that I realized how talented the Coen brothers are at writing and creating character.  Lucky Ned could easily have been written as your standard Western bad guy with bad teeth, dirty skin, and with a drinking problem.  However, Ned has a few scenes that show he's a lot more dynamic.  I won't go any further because then we'll get into spoiler territory, but he's not exactly what you expect. 

Cinematographer Roger Deakins does a tremendous job in capturing the natural beauty of the landscape.  There are many breathtaking frames of Mattie, Rooster and LaBoeuf riding into the sunset.  The Texas landscape has never looked more gorgeous.  It made me want to ride off into the mountains, but I don't care for horses.

Overall, this movie is superb.  Usually a very generic plot bothers me; however, the Coen brothers used a simple plot to their advantage to make a movie about characters.  This is one of the Coen's best movies to date.  I actually wish they would write a play for the stage because I believe they would create something brilliant.  If anything, go see it for Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross.  Her performance alone is worth the price of admissions.

True Grit-He Said

I'm not a fan of Westerns, and I have a feeling this is very much a cultural reason.  Growing up, I was more interested in sci-fi stuff that my Grandpa showed me, and cartoons that were popular at the time.  I never pretended to be a cowboy while playing with friends in the playgroud; I was a ninja turtle or a ghostbuster.

As my appreciation for movies grew more and more, I still have yet to be interested whatsoever by Westerns. Elisabeth Rappe a writer for, could write and talk those movie for days on and end and even recommended a couple to me, yet I found no connection to them.  On the flip side, the Coen brothers are some of my favorite cliche directors, so when I heard they would be making a remake of a John Wayne Western my interest was piqued.  Then, adding in Jeff Bridges, and I'm totally there.  And True Grit does not dissapoint.

I found the movie to be really interesting; we spend a lot of time getting to know young Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), and her quick witted ways.  Young Ms.Steinfeld is the stand-out star of this movie. She plays the grieving but resolute Mattie with such a great amount of confidence that I hope that she doesn't waste her talents.  What impressed me was the way that the lines were delivered. I got the sensation that if Diablo Cody was a better writer, she would have made Juno's lines sound as great as the ones the Coens wrote for the Mattie Ross character.

I'm going to go on a limb and say that the chemistry between Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges as LaBeouf and Rooster Cogburn is some of the best since seeing Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in Black Swan.  They fight, bicker and banter in the way old friends with ridiculously huge egos would.  I would go so far and call True Grit one of the best "buddy cop" movies ever. It doesn't matter that you've seen the Straight Lace Cop and  Rouge Veteran archetypes, these two actors make them feel fresh.  The other star of the movie, the fine Lone Star State, and if my sources are correct, the majority of this film was done in the areas around El Paso. Let me tell you, I want to live in a Coen Brothers' Texas; the scenery is breathtaking, the snow has never looked so white or the sky looked so blue.  In a world full of green screen, it feels great to see that there are still very talented filmkmakers making the most out of what they have in nature.

My big complaints of this film have a lot to do with a slightly episodic feel to the movie once LaBeouf, Rooster, and Ross go hunting for Tom Chaney (Brolin).  Something happens, they walk and ride for a while, you start over, repeat and you have a lot of the movie. I won't get into the spoilers of this movie here, but I will say that there is a point of the movie that trades the momentum it had building for something out of left field.  It was reminded me of Luke defeating the Emperor and then fighting Stormtroopers for 20 minutes afterwards. 

Overall, this one of the Coen's best works. It's a fine story that is a thrill and joy to watch.  There's not much point in really writing about the story because the characters are the biggest draws in this movie.  I will say I wish that if they had kept the character moments while crafting a more complex plot.  Overall, I encourage anyone that is even remotely curious about this movie to go watch it, and anyone that wants to see a thinking man's action/Western movie to go see it.  It will definitely be in my top movies of this year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Written by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Garrett Hedlund, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen, and James Frain

Synopsis: Sam Flynn is transported into the computer world where his father, Kevin Flynn, has been trapped for the last twenty years.

Tron: Legacy Review

Jonesy: To start off, I was disappointed by this movie overall. I did not care for the script whatsoever; however, I was very impressed with the visuals. They were perfect. How about you?

Javi: I liked it, despite its many flaws. I didn’t come in with a lowered expectation, but I also didn’t come in thinking there was going to be snappy dialogue. I had the biggest problem with the clunky way that the lines were delivered and the inconsistent way that the actors were acting.  But I honestly liked it. I think it touched in on a lot of themes but never got a chance to develop, which was a shame. It looked pretty. They only worked with 3 or 4 different colors but made it look better than Avatar in my opinion.

Jonesy: Aesthetically, what they did was amazing. What I thought was interesting is how they use shapes and geometry to create a very specific world. About the dialogue, I didn’t expect great dialogue either, but with all of the time and money they spent on making the movie look good, you should make me care for the story and characters, which I didn’t.

Javi: Going into story, it honestly felt like a natural continuation of the original, which you haven’t seen. It upped the ante. In the first movie, the main characters fight so one evil program wouldn’t take over a company, and in the sequel, the “real” world might be affected. I will say, what I call “The Daft Punk” scene was the most useless part of the movie.

Jonesy: But it introduced the best character in the movie for me, Zuse (Michael Sheen). But yes in the grand scheme of the movie, it was a very unnecessary scene

Javi: It was the one point of the movie where the momentum stopped. And fine, it propels the movie into its climax, but it could have been done in a more efficient and snappy way. Once you get into the logistics of it, why the hell do programs want to get drunk?

Jonesy: Then you could get into the philosophical questions of are they programmed that way or did they evolve?

Javi: No they’re programmed like that, they didn’t develop those feelings. The only ones that evolve are the ISOs, such as Quorra. All of the others are Flynn creations.

Jonesy: Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) or CLU? Or are they the same?

Javi: They’re technically the same. The other programs that aren’t ISOs are all programmed in a specific way.

Jonesy: Well Flynn created CLU in his own image, just like God. Whoa deep.

Javi: And who fell from grace? Just like humans?!

Jonesy: Did we just get to another level where it’s a Jesus allegory like in the Matrix?  Anyways, a big issue I had was I didn’t like Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund). I understand what they were trying to do with him because it felt like he had seen Transformers too many times and tried to copy Shia LaBeouf, where he’s a rebel without a cause, riding a motorcycle to look cool, and has a bunch of snarky one liners. He came across as a dude bro, and when finally meets his dad (Kevin Flynn), I didn’t really feel anything.

Javi: See, I felt something because I had seen the first movie, and I was invested in the characters already, so I was able to feel more for Kevin than Sam for that reason.

Jonesy: I could have forgiven the fact that I didn’t feel anything because I hadn’t seen the first movie, but since Disney went out of their way to make sure that the audience knew they didn’t need to see the first one to understand this one, those emotions were lost.

Javi: My favorite character in this movie was Quorra (Olivia Wilde), not only was it because she was Olivia Wilde, but she was the most consistent. She acted naively and spoke with a juvenile demeanor with child like wonder. Whereas, Jeff Bridges sounds like The Dude half of the time; it was bugging me! “Oh you’re blowing my Zen, Sam!”

Jonesy: There were too many The Dude references.

Javi: Yes, Bridges’s tone was very reminiscent of that character. But how was Bridges going to play Flynn, like a hippie meditating? Or this slacker dude? And the same goes for Sam he was inconsistent in the way he was played. First he was a badass daredevilish-superhero dude, then the angsty kid, and then The Reluctant Hero but none of them felt like they were parts of the same character.

Jonesy: I liked the portrayal of Jeff Bridges’ CLU. I thought that was really well done.

Javi: Just the way they use his voice…I’m not sure if it was modified, but Bridges seemed to be doing a younger version of his voice. I hope those were his vocal skills, and then maybe he can have a career with voice acting in Pixar movies.

Jonesy: I loved the motorcycle fight, and it was probably my favorite scene. I felt like I was in Mario Kart. I loved how they used the levels and colors; it was so innovative, and is probably one of the best actions scenes I’ve seen this year.

Javi: After seeing both movies, it did seem a little ridiculous how LEGACY mimicked TRON in terms of the sequence of events. It was almost verbatim to how in the original Kevin gets captured, is confused as hell, gets set up in the world while questioning what’s going on, he gets forced to do a disc fight, and eventually has a light cycle race followed by escape. The only difference is the actors and the updated visuals.

Jonesy: I have issues with movies like these, where the main character gets thrown into another world. I hate how they have to fight, and somehow they automatically know how to do everything? Like how did Sam know what to do with the disc in the arena? I know he saw his opponent do it, but what if there was a certain way of throwing it? Or the light cycle stick… how did he know to jump to make it appear? I know you learn the control schemes in video games, which button does what, but it takes time to learn these things, and you always have to die a few times to get the hang of it.

Javi: I will say the excuse for the light cycle is that he saw the other guys doing it plus he already was a motorcycle expert apparently.

Jonesy: It’s just an annoying aspect, where everyone is an expert for anything all of a sudden, or that the main character isn’t ever scared. If I was him, in that situation, and I didn’t know what would happen, I’d be frightened, and not making dumb one liners like, “let’s play.”

Javi: I guess it’s supposed to be more believable because he’s supposed to be crazy, like when he jumped off of the building in the beginning.

Jonesy: What was your favorite scene?

Javi: The army scene a.k.a. “The clone wars scene”. I kind of dug the movie from when they get to Clu’s command ship till to the end; it was very non-stop. I’ll say in terms of the story, Tron was horribly underused. His role is one we have seen before in many fantasy and sci-fi stories, but his particular pay-off was lackluster. I understand that the first movie was named TRON for a reason, and  they have to keep the name in order to create a franchise.

Jonesy: Since I haven’t seen the first movie, I wouldn’t know why the movies were called TRON and TRON LEGACY. The significance was not explained.

Javi: They sacrificed a lot just so it could be open for a sequel, and that bothered me. There were little aspects that felt open ended, but at the same time, it did have a beginning, middle, and end. The attaching LEGACY to the title makes me feel that if there are more Tron movies, then the LEGACY name will have greater meaning. Even though you didn’t believe the father/son relationship, I loved their banter, and the dinner scene is appropriately awkward. It does reinforce your point which makes Sam more dislikeable because he just seems like a bratty Bruce Wayne going “Oh no Daddy went missing, so instead of training with ninjas I’m gonna get a rescue dog!” Let’s go ahead and bring that most of the aerial ships looked like Star Wars ships. There were ones that looked like an Imperial Shuttle, and Clu’s command ship looked like the Tentative IV Blockade Runner at the beginning of A New Hope.

Jonesy: The fact that I could tell which ships they seemed to be ripping off was troublesome, but then I had a bigger issue with the lightsaber-type sticks.

Javi: As a side note, since this has been such a big part of the movie, what did you think of the soundtrack?

Jonesy: I really enjoyed it. I loved the music with the visuals. It reminded me of movies like The Social Network and How to Train Your Dragon which had great soundtrack, and added with the visuals, just adds to the experience. Your thoughts, since I know you’ve wanted to write a piece on the soundtrack?

Javi: Here are two different thoughts. As a standalone soundtrack, I didn’t like it as much; not because it was bad, but because it was disappointing. You do get all of these great tracks that are very moody, electronic, and cool, but the biggest fault is that the songs needed to be longer. I also feel if you had given any of the awesome composers we heard this year the instructions to take a standard orchestral score and add some synthesizers and drum machines, you would still end up with the same soundtrack. It’s just that there’s a stigma to it because of Daft Punk, and their name is the biggest reason for it getting attention. With the soundtrack coupled with movie however, I felt it was very well integrated. Big problem  was that it was very up front and pronounced in the mix. I wouldn’t put it as one of my favorite soundtracks of this year only because of the latent disappointment.

Jonesy: Overall impression is TRON LEGACY the prettiest and best looking movie this year. I don’t like the story and dialogue whatsoever. I won’t be seeing this movie again. I would recommend this to people that are interested in seeing how it looks. This is a movie to see in the theater. But if you’re on the fence, then I couldn’t recommend this to you. Oh, and I did like the 3-D once they were in the grid world. I thought it was used well, but I will say that it sucks the “real world” part wasn’t in 3-D. It would have been fun to have a cheesy message to put on your 3-D glasses in the middle of the movie instead of having a message at the beginning.

Javi: It's very misleading to advertise that the whole movie as being 3-D, and I feel if people pay for a full 3-D price, then they should ask for their money back. Overall though, I enjoyed it even with the flaws, and I’m very aware of the bad dialogue and weird acting. With the story, we have seen this movie before, but that’s not a legitimate complaint as long as you’re creating a great version of the same story. I’d recommend it as long as people know what they’re getting into. If you go in with right expectations it should be a good time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Black Swan

Directed by Darren Arnonofsky

Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin

Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, and Barbara Hershey

Synopsis: An aspiring prima ballerina lands the title role in Swan Lake.  She deals with being jealous of her understudy, relationship with her mother, demanding director, and discovering the dark side of herself.

Black Swan

Jonesy- What was your gut reaction?

Javi- My gut reaction was I liked it a lot, but I still had some problems.  I will say that the last 20 minutes of the movie exemplified the word intense for me.  I don’t think I’ve ever left a movie theater with my legs shaking.

Jonesy- My reaction was very similar to yours; I was finding myself not breathing because the last 20 minutes were so intense.  Of course, I knew I was going to be biased because I love movies that involve dance.

Javi-But it almost feels like it’s bigger than that. 

Jonesy-It is bigger than that, and the more I thought about this movie, the more I find I can go deeper with it.  It’s a great discussion piece.

Javi- It’s definitely a complex and densely layered story; it reminded me of very complex electronic music, with all of these little layers that can be accentuated depending on which way one listens to it.   There are a lot of contradictions about the movie.  There is a very lose and almost documentary feel throughout, but then we see how each shot is very symbolic in obvious and deliberate ways.  That was my biggest problem with the story; it wears its symbolism and themes on its sleeve. 

Jonesy- Like I said earlier, Black Swan is such a great discussion movie.  You can break down this movie simply as a ballerina wanting to prove herself, getting the part in Swan Lake, and getting lost in the process.  Thing is the story is so deep and smart that you can take so many things from it. I really felt like I wanted to have the script and have a round table discussion to pick it apart like, “What does this scene mean? What does this clothing symbolize in the first part of the movie and in the end?” There’s so much to study about it.

Javi- I really enjoyed the different themes in the movie: the concept of perfection and if that’s something to strive for, or letting loose and going out of your comfort zone and seeing how that can have an effect on you.

Jonesy- I like the four main characters of the Nina, Lilly, Nina’s mom, and the director because they’re so dynamic, and even though this whole story is about Nina, the few points of dialogue the others do have can tell you so much about their history that you never even considered, which makes them so unique. 

Javi- Out of the supporting cast, the mom was my favorite.  There’s a lot of things to consider when you talk about her.  For example, the Mom in my head, was having an affair with a director when she was a dancer which is why Nina was born, and you, Jonesy, didn’t interpret that. There’s a huge nurturing side, but if you really want to onecan read into a more sinister and jealous side for the mom.  There’s such resentment between the mom and Nina, and that’s the way that I saw Nina relating to Lily.  That relationship is also an interesting one because you can tell that Lily was very much in awe of Nina, and she seem to want to protect her and take care of her, even if it was a little misguided. Whereas Nina sees Lilly as a threat, and yet wants to be with her.  And that’s not a sort of interaction that you see in a lot of movies. 

Jonesy- That relationship is very real to life, and all girls have had that sort of relationship before, where you work your ass off to prove yourself, and someone just swoops in and is better than you.  Then we twist everything around to always make ourselves the victim. 

Javi- What did you think of Natalie Portman's performance?

Jonesy- I’ve seen this said about her before, but I feel her performance was really brave and fearless.  First of all, she had to train for a year to dance professional ballet, and then to portray be a seemingly weak character, make the change that she does, and be completely believable throughout without her performance being too overtly dramatic.  

Javi- I will say that her performance was never bad, but it was really repetitive. I guess it’s in the nature of the story; I just wanted to point that you will see her sad. A lot.  However, it’s very necessary for this story.

Jonesy- Her meekness completely pays off in the end, especially when you see her dance the black swan part, and you can see the change in her demeanor.  That takes a badass actress to do that. 

Javi- You see that intensity at that point, which is why I left the theater shaking, and I have never seen her deliver a performance like that.  I felt like I needed a cigarette after this movie, and I don’t smoke. 

Jonesy: So, what was your overall impression?

Javi- Horror fans would be a good audience for this movie, but only the open-minded ones. I’m not actually sure who would like this movie; it feels like you have to be a movie freak.  I never feel anything in the movie is gratuitous; it always feels like there is purpose.  Anyone who wants to see a great, original movie will see this. 

Jonesy- I think you hit it in the head. If you want to see an original movie that makes you think and is kind of out there, then this is for you.  It’s a movie lover’s movie. 

Javi- It’s a movie where you can look at it in so many ways, and if you want to, you can see the most simplistic interpretation; however, if you want to poke around the movie, you will feel very satisfied and rewarded. 

Jonesy-I concur

Javi- Wholeheartedly?

Jonesy- Wholeheartedly.