From KHTS’s very own intrepid TV/movie/sports/ComicCon/life commentator, Chauncey Telese
As the year winds down, TV shows are on vacation, the NFL Playoffs are taking shape and people get ready to make resolutions that they may or may not keep. During this time, studios try to roll out their last big blockbuster or award bait movie. I’ve had the pleasure of covering both in the past five days and both coincidentally star a favorite of mine, Jeff Bridges (who by the way, did good work on the final “SNL” of 2010).
One has been looked at as a colossal disappointment (not by me) and one is being called a new classic (maybe). So let’s get to it.
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Wait. I must digress…
Actually, I’ve saved my last rant of the year for my last review of the year. “Dexter” had its fifth season finale a week ago and I didn’t like the episode prior but thought for sure that the finale would be good. I was wrong because apparently the writers of a show that revolves around a serial killer are too scared to shake up the status quo.
REALLY? YOU CAN’T LET DEBRA FINALLY FIND OUT ABOUT DEXTER? REALLY? YOU CAN’T LET LUMEN STICK AROUND BECAUSE DEX NEEDS TO BE ALONE? IT’S NOT LIKE STILES HAS A MOVIE CAREER SHE’S PUT ON HOLD, AND THE FLIMSY WAY YOU PEOPLE HAVE HELD THE STATUS QUO IS UNFORGIVABLE! I HOPE ONE OF YOUR SHOWRUNNERS GROWS A PAIR OR ELSE PEOPLE WILL CEASE TO SEE YOUR SHOW AS EDGY AND AWESOME! IF YOU WANT TO PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE, TWO WEEKS AGO SAM BRADFORD THREW A PICK TO ROMAN HARPER OF THE SAINTS. HARPER WAS GOING TO SCORE BUT BRADFORD CAUGHT UP TO HIM AND TACKLED HIM, LEAVING HARPER TO SUCK WIND ON THE SIDELINE. THIS WAS A METAPHOR FOR “DEXTER” BEING CAUGHT BY A YOUNGER SHOW IN “BOARDWALK EMPIRE.” THAT’S YOUR FATE “DEXTER.” IF YOU KEEP COPPING OUT AND HOPE FOR CONVENIENT LAPSES IN FORSENSICS TO AVOID THE STAKES BEING RAISED ON “DEXTER,” PEOPLE WON’T WATCH!
Whew, okay just felt like I needed to get that out there. Let’s move on to Jeff Bridges.
“Tron Legacy”: Flynn Lives in Glorious 3D
Last year, I wrote that “Avatar” was the LeBron James of movies, and only a year later I realize that the comparison was actually quite apt. You see, at first people’s jaws dropped at the groundbreaking visuals (like LeBron), then the movie became a global phenomenon (like LeBron), even though there were critics, people would still defend “Avatar” to the death (like LeBron). Then around Oscar time people started to turn on it, realizing that James Cameron was a blowhard, and once the visual magic and hype wore off, we saw what the movie was (like LeBron during the 2010 playoffs and “The Decision”) and they both became cool to hate.
This year we get another shot in 3D blockbuster except this time the stakes were higher because a beloved nerd classic was being given the budget to do great things. I was excited when test footage was shown at ComicCon 2009 and was dismayed at missing the panel at this year’s ComicCon. As the reviews were coming out, people were either disappointed or flat-out angry (seriously, comparing it to “Star Wars Episode I” is a little mean). I went into the midnight show concerned that I was going to walk out pissed but I’m pleased to say that, while the crowd may have been annoying and unpleasant, the movie was not.
I must admit while I’m not a “Tron” zealot, I still saw a lot of potential in a sequel done in 3D with a massive budget in order to encompass the world of the grid, and on top of that, the return of Jeff Bridges to the fold and a score by Daft Punk (which was excellent as was their nightclub cameo) and there was a lot to like. This movie really hinges on two things: are you blown away by the grid and does the acting make up for whatever deficiencies that exist in the story? Both are a resounding yes and yes.
Our story begins in 1989 with Kevin Flynn (a digitized to look like he did at 35 Jeff Bridges) telling his son Sam about the grid, about Tron, and about Clu. Flynn rides off to work and suddenly disappears and through a montage we learn how his company Encom is handling his disappearance and how they claim he was crazy but Sam just feels abandoned.
He is 21 at this point (and played by Garret Hedlund) and refuses to take responsibility for the company, yet can’t help himself from keeping them from selling inferior products and pulling his annual company prank. He is told by his dad’s number two that he received a signal from his dad’s office underneath the arcade and Sam at first doesn’t want to check it out but inevitably does and then gets sucked into the grid.
This is where the movie opens up, once Sam gets sucked in, he is picked up by a recognizer and forced to play in the games. He uses his wit and knowhow to survive and is then called up to meet Clu (though Sam thinks it’s Flynn because he looks the same, yet seems emotionless and detached). Sam offends Clu and then must compete in the Cycle games (awesome scene, almost worth the price of admission alone). He is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde who plays Thirteen on “House”) who takes him to the actual Flynn (Jeff Bridges as he looks today). Flynn is in constant Phil Jackson-style meditation and through a series of conversations tells Sam about the world Clu has created and how they need to stop him from leaving the grid and controlling the world.
The story is a tad flimsy and the dialogue is not exactly Coen Brothers-esque but that is almost okay because Bridges makes it work. He plays Flynn in a way that reminds me of The Dude even though I realize Flynn came first. I love the laid-back-yet-tortured nature of Flynn and how he makes us believe he loves Flynn.
Wilde plays essentially a program who is curious about the real world and does it quite well. Her almost childlike curiosity to me was kind of cute and really, with the exception of Hedlund, I thought it was well acted for what it was. Also I loved the over-the-top performance of Martin Sheen’s Zoos and the end battle sequence.
Having said that, I still left the theater feeling like the movie should’ve at least been a half hour longer so that everything that preceded it didn’t feel so stilted and rushed. That is the real problem of the movie is that it doesn’t budget its time adequately enough so you don’t really have a chance to invest in the characters. We do understand how Clu feels betrayed by Flynn because Clu can’t evolve like Flynn does, so their ideas of perfection differ over time, nor do we care about Sam that much or really understand the reasoning behind Flynn’s imprisonment in the grid because of his discovery.
Also a longer movie would’ve given us just a little bit more action which I thought was lacking. Complaints aside though, I had a great time watching it but feel like it sold itself short. It will probably win Best Visual Effects and should contend for Best Original Score but unlike some people have said, won’t cost Bridges a nomination for Best Actor in “True Grit”. Speaking of which…
“True Grit”: The Coen Brothers Improve a Western Classic
Unlike my film school classmates I don’t worship at the altar of the Coen Brothers because, while they have made some awesome movies (“Fargo,” “Miller’s Crossing,”, “The Big Lebowski,” “O Brother Where Art Thou” and the first three quarters of “No Country for Old Men”), they have also made some movies that are either awful or overrated (“A Serious Man,” “Intolerable Cruelty,” “The Ladykillers,” “Burn After Reading,” and last 15 minutes of “No Country for Old Men”) and always have my full attention when they announce their latest project.
The Coen Brothers have chosen to do a more faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel “True Grit” than the movie that came out in 1969 which earned John Wayne his long-overdue Oscar (ironically the man replacing Wayne also won his Oscar in a movie for which he didn’t deserve it. Wayne should’ve got it for “Rio Bravo” or “The Searchers” and Bridges for “The Big Lebowski”), and is hailed as a western classic (a tad dubious as far as I’m concerned, but that’s just me).
Anyway, the Coen brothers cast Jeff Bridges to play U.S. Marshall Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn and Matt Damon to replace Glen Campbell as Texas Ranger LeBeouf (pronounced Le Beef), and Josh Brolin to play Tom Chaney, but their most inspired bit of casting is that of newcomer Hailee Steinfeld to play Mattie Ross. This is her first job ever and at the tender age of 14 she plays Mattie with the toughness and resolve that rivals actresses twice her age.
For those unfamiliar with the story (by the way, to prepare for this I read the book in about two days and DVR’d the original from TCM on Saturday night), “True Grit” is about 14-year-old Mattie Ross trying to avenge the death of her father at the hands of the cowardly Tom Chaney. She seeks out Marshall Rooster Cogburn after seeing him in court (a hilarious scene by the way) and at first he is reluctant to take her because he just sees her as a 14-year-old and an obstacle.
Also in pursuit of Chaney is Texas Ranger LeBeouf who is cocky and dismissive of Mattie. Her steely resolve keeps her riding with them and eventually Cogburn begins to like her and care about her. That is the basic story and really that’s all it needs to be. It doesn’t need to examine macho bravado in the west or anything it’s a classic revenge story told through the eyes of a tough as nails girl.
The acting is flawless throughout, Bridges plays Cogburn as a drunk old man with a lot of regret, Damon plays LeBeouf with enough false bravado to play for Rex Ryan, Josh Brolin while only in the movie briefly is a tormented coward, and Barry Pepper in a limited role is unrecognizable and fascinating as the Outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper. However, as I previously stated, the highlight of the movie is Hailee Steinfeld who, assuming isn’t a one-hit-wonder and assuming her parents or agent don’t lead her down the wrong path, could have a Jodie Foster-esque career. She does wonders (as does everyone else) with the well-written script by the Coens (seriously, the dialogue seems to pop off the screen), and plays Mattie as tough as she’s written in the book.
Also, this movie is well shot with cinematography by Roger Deakins, who creates some of the most beautiful images I’ve seen all year. He’s a slam dunk to win Best Cinematography and if he doesn’t, it’s a crime. “True Grit” is also the most mainstream movie the Brothers Coen have made to date, it is low on the violence (well the blood anyway) and doesn’t try to hard to be edgy or gritty it just is. Some have called this a new classic and I am inclined to agree. This movie plays out more like an old school Disney adventure film which is a compliment considering that Disney is afraid to make movies like that anymore. The Coens have almost outdone themselves (“Miller’s Crossing” is still my favorite) here, though “Unforgiven” is still the best modern western ever made.
Thank You for reading and stay tuned as my first reviews of 2011 will include “Rabbit Hole”, “Blue Valentine”, and “The Green Hornet”.
Remember you can see these and other wonderful films at your local Edwards.