Wednesday, June 27, 2012

True Grit

The film opens with a Bible verse: The wicked flee when none pursueth,... Proverbs 28:1. Then a dark, snowy shot of a man lying dead on the ground as his murderer gallops away with his horse, and his two California gold pieces. The dead man's daughter, and our heroine, Mattie Ross explains that the killer could've walked the horse out of town, because no one could be bothered to chase him. At fourteen years old, she must take matters into her own hands. She does this by hiring the meanest US Marshal available to help her track down the half-witted killer Tom Chaney, and have him hanged to avenge her fathers murder. Rooster Cogburn is the Marshal of her choice because she heard he had grit. A Texas Ranger, LeBeouf, a rather ridiculous man who jingles when he walks, wants the fugitive too, and eventually, the odd trio set out together on an adventure that would forever change the lot of them.

Let me just go ahead and say right now; I'm having a very hard time thinking of something I didn't like about this movie. This is the sort of movie I decide to watch for whatever reason, but once it's over, I only want to watch it more than before it began. I  know it's strange, but it's true, and mildly annoying. And for me, this almost magical and annoying feeling qualifies a movie as great, then I just have to figure out why. This is for sure one of those movies. The why? Well, everything. From the usual things like acting and cinematography, to details like costumes, and every individual line, True Grit has my official stamp of approval. And there's no way I'll be able to list all the little details that are included in why I like it so much, but I'll see what I can do.

The first thing that strikes me about this movie is the wonderful acting and the deep characters it creates. Every time I watch this movie I notice, or discover something different, or go a little deeper into the characters and plot. One thing I've always known though, is that Mattie is the one with the true grit. Cogburn looks and acts like it, and LeBeouf brags about it, but Mattie's truly got it. And Hailee Steinfeld does a perfect job conveying exactly that. Her honesty and pure determination is amazing, but you always believe she's a fourteen year old girl, however remarkable. Rooster is gritty in his appearance, always dirty and scraggly, drunk, and bellowing out witty insults or mumbling on about nothing. He's good at what he does and probably thought something of himself until Mattie came along and showed him up. But he's got a heart of gold underneath... somewhere. Jeff Bridges was of course, perfectly cast for this part, and is hilarious in it. Who would have thought they'd ever enjoy watching a drunk one-eyed man stumbling around and shooting things at random? The Texas Ranger, Lebeouf, is seriously puffed-up, and thinks he's all that, but really doesn't have a clue. He gets put in his place several times by his companions, but somehow always manages to recollect his pride again, until the next put-down. Matt Damon here is playing a man who only thinks he's as cool and suave as Damon's usual characters, like Bourne, and that is rather fun to see. I'd like to mention two more people briefly, the first being Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney, who doesn't have much screen time, but is quite satisfactory, most certainly a dim-wit, and I appreciate the time he gets. And the other is Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper, leader of the group of outlaws Chaney falls in with, who is great, and has the most amazing teeth. I really enjoyed watching spittle fly from his mouth and he yelled too.

I haven't seen many of the Coen brothers' movies, but I have a lot of respect for them as directors and writers. Especially as a team, they always seem to create something that is at the very least worth watching. Their style is a very specific kind of strange, and usually thought-provoking with just the right kind, and amount of violence and humor for the particular film. And True Grit is no exception. The realistic violence is shown without shame, but at the same time it isn't blatant; it's there because the story requires it, and I appreciate that. And the humor is wonderfully dry, and worthy of a real laugh, but sometimes has a interesting serious side to it. I love that about the movie; it's entertaining on the most shallow level, but if you want, you can look deeper and deeper, and see some really great truths about life, and the human character. Which, in my opinion, only makes the movie better every time you see it, and find something new buried there.

Also making the movie better, each in their own way are the smaller, but by no means less important details. Like LeBeoufs ridiculous outfit. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking too, I especially liked the first shot, and of course the scenery. And the score is lovely, but appropriate, regularly going back to the theme of the hymn, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."

As I said, I liked the first shot of the movie, where Mattie's father lies dead in the newly falling snow, the frame ever so slowly moves toward him as she begins to tell us the sad tale of his murder, at the appropriate moment, said murderer breaks through the shot, sending snow flying, and making his getaway, however temporary. This pairs wonderfully with the last shot. A now much older Mattie stands alone by her avenged fathers grave, as she finishes telling us her story, she turns and walks away. A western-accented woman gravely sings the theme hymn, as we watch our heroine slowly shrink into the distance. Successfully wrapping up this beautifully gritty film in a neat, re- and re-watchable package.

-5/5 stars

Monday, June 18, 2012

Men in Black III

Who would have thought they'd ever make another Men in Black movie? Sure, we all loved the first one, and were disappointed in, but still watched the second. And the premise is just so original, and J and K work so well together at catching creepy aliens and being hilarious. So it does make sense. But I confess, I was surprised when I saw they were making a third one. A good surprised though. And when I watched the trailer...

... I honestly thought that was Tommy Lee Jones at the end. For second I thought they must have pasted his face on a younger person, like Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy. Then I saw Josh Brolin was cast as Young Agent K. Then, of course, my mind was blown, and I was incredibly impressed.

For the third round of this extra-terrestrial action comedy a very evil, and appropriately ugly alien Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from prison and time travels back 40 years to the day he was captured, where he helps himself kill the MiB agent who would arrest him; Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones older, and Josh Brolin, younger). Agent J (Will Smith) in the present is somehow the only person who notices something is wrong. He remembers K being alive just yesterday! Now, he must travel back in time to save the life of his grumpy partner, and kill Boris instead of arresting him, setting everything back to the way it should be.

But with Brolin playing everyone's favorite deadpan Man in Black, for at least half the movie, will we feel cheated out of seeing Tommy, the man who made the character so lovable in the first place? Lets see... that would be a no. Josh Brolin does do an amazing Tommy Lee Jones impression, but that's not what he's doing in this movie. He plays K. Just as well as Jones did I might add, spot on every time, and exactly how anyone would've imaged he'd be as a young man. With a little help from the make-up and prosthetic department (his ears and nose at least are fake) he turned out a totally real and round performance that blended perfectly with Jones' K, He even manages to have the same chemistry with Will Smith. And that is what makes the movie.

But that doesn't mean it was the only good part. Quite the contrary. Will Smith is as good and funny as ever, but no one would ever expect him not to be. He and Mr. Jones have still got it. I also enjoyed the addition of Agent O (older and younger, Emma Thompson, and Alice Eve respectively) And the baddie, Boris, is just as original, and just as classic as he ought to be. Speaking of original and classic, the plot was that as well. When in doubt, always go for time travel. It is a little cliched, but they pull it off, connecting it with the first one almost as if it was planned all along. And the time traveling aspect wasn't confusing like so many other time-jumping films, that fry your brain as you try to make sense of it all.

It's funny, it's action-packed, it has plot, it has visuals, it keeps you on your toes, er, the edge of your seat, and it's full of fine performances, with Brolin outstanding. A fun ride that respects, and brings you back to the original, while still going it's own way. If you're a fan of the franchise, it's a must-see, and even if you're not... everybody except nobody can appreciate a good Tommy Lee Jones impersonation, and that alone is worth the ticket price!
- 4/5 stars

Friday, June 1, 2012

Man on a Ledge

In a world... where you do something to prove you didn't do it, Sam Worthington will fail yet again to lead a really good movie after Avatar. He must be getting desperate; he spends half of this one threatening suicide. "LIKE MY MOVIES OR ELSE!!"

Not that it's his fault that Man on a Ledge skipped on common sense while assembling it's plot. A plot that casts Worthington as NY cop Nick Cassidy who is accused of stealing a huge diamond, and sent to prison. With a little help, he escapes, climbs out a hotel window, and demands to see Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) a police negotiator, all to prove his innocence. How does that work? Well Nick is just being a distraction. His brother Joey (the amazing Jamie Bell) and Joey's girl Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are doing the heavy lifting, across the street, on a mission to find the diamond right where it belongs, and really steal it. Thus proving that our bad guy David Englander (Ed Harris of course!) framed Nick for the insurance money. How can they prove Englander had it before, if they have it now? I don't know, don't bother me with tedious details!

Now, like I said, it's not really Worthington's fault this movie doesn't work. He's just as convincing --or, unconvincing, as the case may be-- as everyone else. Even the for-sure actors like Bell and Harris have characters that are plagued by the script and directing, rendering them less than par. Alone, all the aspects either fizzle, or totally crash and burn, but added together, the miraculously make a movie worth watching if you were to go about it right, by realizing, and accepting the ridiculousness in all it's glory. With all it failings, I found it enjoyable, if mostly in a it's-so-bad-it's-good sort of way. I even had fun listening for when Worthington's natural Aussie accent would sneak through his "American" one. And did you know it was all actually filmed on a NY high-rise? Just thinking about that made me nervous. The intense thrill of being so high and possibly falling may be one thing done right... perhaps just by comparison.

If you think about the plot and it's numerous holes much more than your average mindless drone, you risk watching the movie shrivel into a senseless puddle around your feet. So don't think about it. Lower your expectations, and just enjoy the thrill of the action, and whatever else you can salvage from the wreckage. Man on a Ledge may be a mess, and absolutely ridiculous, but somehow, it manages to be fun, and that, in a pinch, makes it a ridiculously fun mess.
-3 and a half/5 stars

We Bought a Zoo

Apparently based on a true story, this drama centers on a family, minus mom, who need a fresh start, so, they buy a zoo. Lots and lots of drama of all kinds ensues. It's actually supposed to be a family dramedy, but never achieves comedy - or even drama for that matter - to satisfaction.

Benjamin Mee (a slightly older, slightly fatter, but good as ever Matt Damon) is an adventure-seeking writer, who just can't get over his wife Katherine who recently died. He stays home with his two kids as much as possible, avoiding everything that reminds him of her. Multiple pans of lasagna sit untouched in the fridge, given to the family by hopeful new additions. They eat peanut butter and jelly instead. Benjamin's well-meaning but often too practical and realistic brother Duncan, (Thomas Haden Church) adamantly encourages him to make a change; try dating one of those lasagna cooks; start over. So when his 14-year-old son Dylan (Colin Ford) is expelled for stealing from his school, Ben decides then is a good time to move. He goes house-hunting with daughter Rosie, (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) who is seven. She picks out a house that's perfect, but the Realtor says it's complicated. They fall in love with it before he tells them; it's a zoo. Ben decides to buy it anyway because he's not one to pass on an adventure. The zoo hasn't been open in years, but a small staff led by Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) keeps it from falling apart. Mee hopes they can get it up-to-standards and running in time to open in July, just six months away.

This is probably one of the most predictable movies I've ever seen. Absolutely nothing surprised me. The conflict wasn't in the zoo plot though, (for older people anyway) it was the movie's relationships. Nothing surprised me there either, but let's dig in...
Benjamin and Kelly. They have a few romantically "sweet", (painfully awkward!) conversations, but he needs to move past his wife first. And he takes his time. The movie spends almost as much time with Ben and Katherine as it does with Ben and Kelly, with no real end, (or beginning, as the case may be) to the relationships.
Benjamin has no idea of what to do with his bitter son, who refuses to respond to his attempts to soothe their relationship. To be fair to Dylan though, his dad's attempts are pathetic and misguided, and usually end with Ben not listening, and another unresolved argument. If only he could treat his son with the same understanding he shows his daughter, there would be no conflict! ... Oh... right.
And then there's Dylan and Lily, (the very talented Elle Fanning) who is Kelly's 12-year-old cousin. The homeschooled, wildlife-loving girl obviously has a crush, and perfectly matches the ridiculous picture Hollywood has of homeschoolers. Awkward, and un-socialized, she apparently has no friends besides animals. She sits too close, and smiles way too much. He likes her, but still ignores her at first. She happily sticks around him anyway, until he carelessly says one thing that hurts her feelings. Then, of course, she won't talk to him anymore.

Silly attempts to make you think they won't fix the zoo in time, or won't pass the inspection or something equally obvious, made me think this movie was targeted toward young kids, but then the serious content was heavier than I honestly expected. While trying to create a movie for everyone, somebody got seriously lost and ended up with a movie for no one. It wasn't totally ruined though. I enjoyed it after all. Although, it was mostly by chuckling at bits I'm now thinking weren't actually supposed to be funny. Okay, so there were some good bits too, but I just don't understand this movie. In fact, We Bought a Zoo is one of the most senseless movies I've ever predicted with total accuracy. I can't seem to get a ... "handle" on it.
-3/5 stars