Friday, December 31, 2010

Cinema Freaks Presents: The Observer's Top Ten Movies of 2010

Well, it is the end of year and everyone movie reviewer is revealing their favorite films from the last twelve months. So...I am going to do the same thing. The usually rules apply: these are my own opinions, not anyone else's, and I have not seen every film that come out this year, including ones that were really popular and/or have gotten a lot of praise, so try not to get worked up if some of them are not on here. That being said, here is my list:

1. Shutter Island - Another winner from Martin Scorsese as this thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio examines the dark side of human nature and the paranoia that comes when begin to question your very sanity.
2. Kick-Ass - A different kind of superhero movie, it combines action, hilarity, humanity, and Nicolas Cage to make itself one of the genre's best. (
3. Inception - There is nothing that I can say about this film that has not already been said. (
4. The Book of Eli - A powerful post-apocalyptic drama starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman that has both action and a great story about the struggles of maintaining one's faith while defending it against those who wish to exploit it for evil purposes.
5. The Ghost Writer - Whatever you think of Roman Polanski as a person, there is no denying that he is a fabulous filmmaker, as can be seen in this "Chinatown"-like thriller with great acting and sharp dialogue.
6. True Grit - The Coen Brother's take one of John Wayne's most famous movies and make it better with and their trademark humor and good storytelling. (
7. Winter's Bone - The story of a girl living in a dangerous town in rural Missouri takes a number of dangerous turns in this low-budget but well-acted and disturbing picture.
8. Machete - Robert Rodriguez's violent revenge flick with a large cast and even larger laughs.
9. The Expendables - A good-old fashion action film from Sylvester Stallone with lots of action, humor, and special cameos that will surely entertain. (
10. Hereafter - Clint Eastwood proves once again to be a master director as he takes a glimpse into the afterlife in this though provoking film with excellent performances by Matt Damon and others. (

Feel free to leave questions, comments, death threats, etc. in the comments selection below. Have a Happy New Year.

Review: The Last Airbender (2010)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz

This review was co-written by my friend Tony Collazo, who hated this movie with a passion, as he is a huge fan of the Avatar cartoon series. Hope you enjoy.

I was going to come up with something big to celebrate the end of the year, but I don’t really have anything. So we’re just going to review The Last Airbender instead!

Man, and I mean man, did this film cause a stink. Everybody hated this one! Me, I never cared much for the original Nickelodeon series it was based on, and I never liked director M. Night Shyamalan one wink, but apparently a lot of people missed the memo on that and were actually surprised when Shyamalan botched this film up. Here’s some news for you, people. He has always sucked. He has sucked in copious amounts ever since he started out. This is not the first time he has released a film that falls below expectations – that should be old news to everyone. But since it isn’t, I figured I might as well give this film a piece of my mind.

Our first scene starts with two pasty white kids walking around aimlessly in the middle of the snowy wastelands when the brother, Sokka (pronounced Soak-a, like a water gun made for three year olds or something), hears something in the ice. Logically he decides to start bludgeoning the ice right under their feet with his tool, because THAT’S not dumb, right? Then his sister Katara breaks this big ball of ice that comes up through the ground like a big old pimple, releasing…a tiny Asian kid with tattoos on his head! Uh, well…at least you can’t call them unoriginal, right?

"The arrow on my head points where my career is going after this..."

They take him back to their ice village where they establish no character development before the Asian kid is stolen by a bunch of guys who say that if he doesn’t go with them, they’ll destroy the whole village. Their leader is Zuko, played by that kid from Slumdog Millionaire because I guess he really was out of cash after the Indian government didn’t let him have any of the proceeds from that film. His character is basically angry all the time, with little other emotions at all. It’s revealed that he’s the son of the Fire Lord and that he’s been looking for a mythical figure called the Avatar all along.

Meanwhile, our two ice zombies, since they have about as much personality really, have a vapid talk about responsibility, saying that the kid was their responsibility all along even though they knew him for less than 5 minutes. Their grandmother comes in and seems to have been created solely for the purpose of spouting exposition. We get a lot of backstory here about spirits and the different tribes and legends and all sorts of meaningless mumbo jumbo that would probably water-bend the kids’ brains into mush by the time it was over if this film was at all realistic. I mean seriously, lay off the exposition! It’s not a college course!

While that’s going on, the Asian kid escapes the Fire tribe so quickly that I wonder why they even had that plot in the movie to begin with, and finds Katara and Sokka riding his giant flying pet water buffalo – hey, don’t look at me, I didn’t write this movie. Apparently this monstrosity of nature is called a Sky Bison in this world, and although it’s never really explained how it exists or anything, I guess it’s the Asian kid’s companion or something. They go to this other place that is apparently an Air Temple, where the kid reveals that his name is Aang, and that he was an Airbender. Apparently Aang used to live here, and thinks that he’s only been gone a little while, and that his monk friends are all still there waiting for him…cue tragic pay off in 3, 2, 1…

Yup, he’s actually been in the ice for centuries, whodathunkit? He goes through the usual tragic stuff and all, although you’d be hard pressed to tell, as his acting is so wooden that I think the actual trees do a better job. Also, while we’re on him, what the hell is up with the pronunciation of his name? It’s very clear in the cartoon version that his name is pronounced Aang, with a long A. But here it’s like Ung, with a U. How do you mix that up? Did these people even watch the original version at all?

But it’s OK, we’re interrupted by a random gender ambiguous Asian child running onto the set! He’s being chased by some Firebenders, but since this movie is allergic to character development – like, even the most simple, basic version of it like telling us a character’s name – we just learn that he is being arrested because he threw rocks at them. Oh no.

They then go to a village full of Earthbenders held captive, who for some reason do not fight back…and the stupidity of this is even noted by Aang himself; isn’t it lovely when even the characters don’t buy your shitty writing? He reveals he’s the Avatar, but this one dude doesn’t believe him and asks him if he can do other kinds of Bending and use other special powers. This prompts Katara to go push him down and shout at him about being rude to poor Aang. This scene is just ridiculous because…well, it’s actually a legit question! Why should anyone believe he’s the Avatar anyway? It’s not like there’s been any real proof yet and…oh, wait, I don’t really care. We then go through a very tepid, confusing fight scene in which we see wondrous special effects that I’ve seen done better in several early 1980s movies.

So Aang goes to this other temple where he meets a monk who leads him into this open area and then betrays him. Even though he’s supposed to be the savior of this world, he gets betrayed anyway. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Totally ungrateful.

Aang gets kidnapped a second time, chained up, and then saved by a mysterious masked man who wants to save him. Who could it be? We get a fight scene outside with some guards where Aang bravely and heroically sets up shields around him to pick off the bad guys one by one, letting his savior fight off all the rest of the guards by himself. They escape, split up and the whole scene was completely pointless!

I really just don’t get it; was this really how these scenes were written? It’s like they just threw them in at a random order, no coherence at all. There’s no flow between these scenes. They just sort of…happen, one after another, without anything really feeling connected. Did Shyamalan’s dog just eat the script and then by the time he shat it all out, it was time to film already?

Okay, so he meets up with his buddies again and they go to this ice kingdom place where we get more special effects and Sokka hooks up with a Barbie doll. I’m sure she has a name and all, but really she’s just a giant talking Barbie doll, nothing else. As Aang is meditating, Zuko comes in again and fights with Katara, knocking her out and kidnapping Aang again. Man, this kid gets kidnapped a lot! Is he like a little Asian version of Princess Peach or something? But he escaped quickly again, making the whole thing pointless, more padding for this worthless cinematic carcass. Meanwhile, and here’s a surprise, THE FIREBENDERS ARE ATTACKING AGAIN, because I guess they got bored doing their knitting and croquet for the afternoon, and because they haven’t attacked or invaded anybody in the last five fucking minutes. They get antsy when they don’t do that!

"This is why I'm hot."

So because the Firebender general guy wants to kill the moon spirit, who is in the form of a common fish in the pond…just smile and nod your heads, audience…he goes to the cave and stabs the fish! I guess Occam’s Razor wins the day. But seriously, the all powerful spirit of the moon is in the form of a little fish? Even if I was going to sit back and assume that everyone in the known world will leave it at peace and not disrupt the space-time continuum, what if some random natural disaster happened that killed it? What if some unknowing little kid whose parents just forgot to tell him about it cooked it and ate it? This is stupid!

And check out those action scenes, man. I have never seen such pointless, gratuitous slow motion use in a film. I mean, at least 300 had them used consistently. Here we get banal sequences where it alternates between slow-mo and regular speed in the same sweep of motion, like Aang is sweeping a kick to another guy’s head, and it goes from slow-mo to regular about three times in that one kick. Am I supposed to be enthralled? It’s like riding a roller coaster and having it jerk and stop at completely random points. Does that sound fun to you?

The Barbie doll goes to the cave with Sokka and tells him she has to sacrifice herself to revive the dead moon spirit, or…something like that. This leads to some of the most contrived, passion-starved romance scenes ever. They last for all of a second and a half. Shyamalan then decides mid-scene that he’s bored already and dissolves to a shot of her already walking through the water. She lies down in the water and everything starts glowing…hey, it’s the new soup menu: girl-and-fish stew, everybody! Have some. It’s good for ulcers.

"There, there, now; even if the movie bombs, they will at least make cheap action figures of all of us. Don't worry. The future is bright."

Aang eventually gets up and summons a huge tidal wave to scare all his opponents in the water. It just kind of hangs there, not doing anything, like Shyamalan fell asleep before he could tell the special effects guys what to make it do. The movie then ends with the leader of the Firebenders telling his daughter that she is the most powerful secret weapon they have and that it’s her turn now…and that’s how the movie ends, with a fucking cliffhanger. I wasted two hours watching this shitfest and you’re telling me you don’t even have the balls to PROPERLY END IT?! That’s…asinine! You can’t be serious! All that wasted time and we don’t even get a real ending? How incompetent are you?

But it’s not like I really care too much, because I was never invested in this pile of lard to begin with. There’s no character development, a hackneyed plot, shithouse acting and no sense of direction. It’s just a shitty film from beginning to end. And the fact that they got so much from the show wrong is just unforgivable, and although I’m not a fan, many people are. I can really understand all the anguish from the fans of this show, as M. Night Shyamalan’s version is just a big slap in the face. A crap film from a crap director, it should come as no surprise that The Last Airbender is the cinematic version of a ride on the short bus to school. Purely incompetent and disgustingly worthless. Do not ever waste your time, money or energy on this slop.

Well, that was 2010, people. It's been a great year and I hope you all have a good festive end of year party and avoid movies like this one! Happy trails and I will see you in '11!

Review: Rambo: First Blood (1982)

Director: Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna

"I could have killed 'em all, I could kill you. In town you're the law, out here it's me. Don't push it. Don't push it or I'll give you a war you won't believe. Let it go. Let it go."

I am not predisposed to talk about war, and I often feel guilty for doing so, like one of those horrid bleeding-heart liberal fanatics who talks about things he doesn’t really know about first hand. It makes me feel slimy. But I do like talking about movies, and Rambo: First Blood, even though it’s about war and one of the rawest and most heartfelt tales about such that I have seen. It’s not a tale from the front-lines, which is unusual enough, but rather from the dust of the aftermath. This is a tale from the Back-Home, after war, the effects of a war that didn’t really end well for anyone. Or so I’m told, as I wasn’t there myself.

Sylvester Stallone portrays Rambo, a Vietnam vet who is back home and searching for one of his old army buddies, who he’s told passed away from the cancer spread by Agent Orange. He travels down the countryside some more until he reaches a little country bumpkin town run by perhaps the most intense sheriff and police force ever to exist in the deep south – I mean, these guys take it so personally, the events that transpire in this film. It’s downright scary to think I could go through a small town and be harassed and abused like this by the lawmen. What are you even supposed to do in that situation?

Rambo is abused because he was in Vietnam. That alone was enough. The cops were a bunch of small town rednecks looking to impose their small-brained vendetta on someone and Rambo was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is perhaps the most interesting and dynamic element of the film; that a chain reaction starts from this abuse. Whatever the cause of Rambo’s war – and I will get to that later – he fights back, and he fights back hard. The film that started as a case of a bunch of guys whose fathers probably never loved them beating up on this poor guy ended up turning into an explosive microcosm of the war in this Southern town (and man was it cool – but that’s also another paragraph). It is the definition of a chain reaction, and watching it unfold, growing larger and larger in the magnitude of its conflict, like a blossoming rose of fire. Beautiful in its own dirty, rough way.

When I first saw the movie, I said that Rambo had reverted to some primal instinct, a thought guided by the flashbacks he had when the guys were cornering him in the police barracks. He simply snapped and started fighting back exactly as if he were in ‘Nam again. There is another scene where the General, Trautman (Richard Crenna), talks to him over the radio just like he would have in ‘Nam, giving him battle orders and everything. But really, he was completely lucid the entire time, and knew exactly what he was doing. This is a reactionary film, with one guy sick way beyond his capacity of all the crap he’s taken just because of the war, people blaming him for it and putting him down. He’s bringing the war back to the place where it went unsaid, where it needed to be fought for different reasons. First Blood is really not a subtle movie. It hits with the force of a jackhammer to the face. But it is raw – to use that word again; it so very much fits – and the passion really shines through so much that it doesn’t matter how subtle the message is.

Plus, the lack of subtlety is actually one of the film’s strongest points, because the bluntness gives way to some of the BEST ACTION SCENES EVER LAID DOWN. They are unbelievably tense, gripping masterworks of heart-pounding, jugular-tearing adrenaline. The atmosphere in the scenes where the police hunt Rambo in the woods is so thick it’s malleable – by none other than a cast-iron sledgehammer. The ways Rambo picks off the officers, including breaking bones, shooting them and even a row of spikes to the crotch area. That’s just harsh. But the execution…is flawless. Fake lightning and all, it’s just flawless. The shadows and contrasts are stunning, the setting horrific and the attacks actively surprising and chilling. The whole sequence puts most every slasher ever made to shame, bar maybe Halloween. And even then, it’s a close call.

The other great action scene in this movie is the last one, in the city. Rambo takes his guns and just…goes to town on the town, for lack of a better expression, cutting off every lifeline they have and rendering them totally helpless. His plan is to cut off the town’s light sources first, which he goes about doing quite efficiently, soldierly, as is to be expected. Plunging the town into darkness, he intends to give the cops a war just like Vietnam, a miniature portrait, and to finish what they started. I just really like how orchestrated and methodical Rambo is at executing this whole plan. It’s just so surreal and yet so visceral at the same time that it’s like nothing else I have ever seen. The final outcome is so chaotic and yet it’s set in a very familiar looking 1980s city setting. I found myself wondering how this whole scenario played itself out in Rambo’s head. The wiring of his brain really fascinates me here, and makes me want to read his thoughts and find out what the process was. Such chaotic militance – a strange oxymoron – is something to be admired.

Another thing that works really well here is the interactions between General Trautman and Sheriff Teasle, played by Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy respectively. The two serve as semi-narrators to the film, providing the bulk of the dialogue and exposition with their excellent tradeoffs, negotiations and arguments while Rambo lurks in the shadows. They have a mutual acquaintance in Rambo from very different angles, and while Dennehy wants him brought in, Crenna is more of a silent cheerleader. He wants Rambo brought in too, but he understands the situation more than Dennehy, and isn’t surprised at all that Rambo snapped, given his training and the circumstances. He wants to help but at the same time seems secretly proud of his old protégé. Crenna and Denehy make an excellent on-screen team and their acting is another reason why the film is as immediate and intense as it is. A good story is only as good as the people that tell it, after all, and these two guys are sort of telling the story of this film with how they play off one another.

Well, that’s Rambo. It’s incredibly raw, incredibly powerful, incredibly action packed and just all around incredible. It’s an action flick with a message, and one of the more somber and solemn you’ll see compared to a Lethal Weapon or a Die Hard, coming from one of the Big 80s Action Dudes nonetheless. Rambo is an artful, visceral film that doesn’t pull any punches and works well as a social statement and a blow-‘em-up action flick alike. Check it out if by some miracle you haven’t already, or die! That’s an order, private! March as fast as you can to the nearest video rental store!

Review: The Santa Clause (1994)

Director: John Pasquin
Starring: Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson

With all the countless movies made for families about Santa Claus, with their jolliness, holiday cheer and just a little bit of risqué jokes for extra measure…this film is another one. The Santa Clause, starring Tim Allen, tells a heartwarming story of a man who became Santa Claus and was briefly estranged and alienated by his family and friends before becoming accepted…as being Santa Claus…okay, okay, it’s a weird-ass, schmaltzy flick without much common sense, sue me.

This film does have some problems. I mean, the whole idea is that whoever puts on the Santa suit after Santa is dead or incapacitated in any way becomes the new Santa, right? Well what if a Jew or a Muslim or a Scientologist became Santa? I guess the elves would make due, but all I’m saying is, they should be grateful that Tim Allen was so reasonable about it. Hell, what if nobody put on the Santa suit in time for Christmas? Seems like that’d be a pretty big fucking deal. Maybe they have some secret back up plan that the movie isn’t telling us about?

But fortunately for the elves, Tim Allen puts on the suit and although he’s initially suspicious and apprehensive, he grows very quickly accustomed to the idea and makes a 180 turn in terms of morals and thoughts about it. Too fast, I think. I mean we’re barely given any time to accept this whole thing in the first place, and yet with the movie’s quick editing it seems like Allen barely has a second thought about it, going straight from Scrooge-esque disgruntlement to immediate acceptance in the bat of an eye. Not really convincing, movie.

After Allen’s rendezvous to the North Pole, along with his incredibly annoying little boy, the kid starts to tell everyone about his dad’s new job. Why does Allen keep letting him though? This is the kind of thing I’d like to call the Idiot Effect, a snowballing of events that propel the film’s plot forward, but could have very easily been avoided if the characters just had a little more intelligence. Why does Allen keep letting the kid blab to everyone and thus flush his self image down the drain? It could all be solved by just one sentence of dialogue: “Hey, listen, don’t tell anybody about what happened last night.” That’s it. That is all that is needed. Then none of the problems in this movie would have happened, and maybe we could have spent our time better actually delving deeper into the whole Santa mythos that this movie obviously put time into. It seems like the film has a priority issue here, that’s the main problem.

My last issue with the film is that it’s just resolved all too quickly, the whole entire thing. Allen comes to term with his being Santa and decides to give it his full effort, but his ex wife and her new husband are afraid of him and think he kidnapped their son. He brings the kid back, escapes the police with the help of his James Bond-style elves (I know, just go with it) and everything is pretty much fine, resolved quicker than you can count to three on one hand. Give us some more conflict! This just is not enough, and I know there could have been more effort put into it.

Really, this is just a decent film. There are a lot of little plotholes and things they could have fixed if they just tried harder, but it is a charming film. I like the way the elves have all that futuristic technology and I like the way they set up the Santa mythos. Tim Allen does OK, even though the kid playing his son pretty much sucks. But what can you expect? It’s a kid’s movie, a dime-a-dozen family flick from the 90s that pretty much went through the motions. It’s fun, but it’s unspectacular.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Littler Fockers (2010)

Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Owen Wilson
Director: Paul Weitz

Why was this movie made? Sure, there are, and have been, weirder sequels out there, but I just do not understand why they keep trying to milk this particular series to death. "Meet the Parents" was a funny film that showed the problems of having difficult in-laws and having to come to terms with them in order to make your loved ones happy. "Meet the Fockers" was a mediocre sequel that drowned itself with unfunny gags and bathroom humor. So now we get this. Let's see how it goes...

The film starts off with Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his wife Pam (Teri Polo) living in their apartment complex with their twins Henry and Samantha (Colin Baioochi and Daisy Tahan respectively). They are expecting the arrival of Pam's parents, Jack and Dina Byrnes (Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner) who are coming to celebrate the twin's upcoming birthday. Before this happens, Jack, who has secretly suffered a minor heart attack, tells Greg that in case something happens to him. Uh, didn't Jack have a son in the first movie? Or are we just going to pretend he never existed? We are. Fine. Anyway, despite his new agreement with Greg, things start to go airy when Jack begins to micromanage the couples affairs, such as how they try to decide on a new school for the kids and fix up a house they are moving into. Things get even more complicated when a sexy pharmaceutical representative named Andi Garcia (Jessica Alba) enters the picture.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is extremely predictable. You can see the situations and jokes coming from a mile away. As soon as I saw Jessica Alba in the opening credits, I knew she was going to be used as someone who people would suspect Greg would be having an affair with. In another scene...okay, before I get to that, I have to explain what happens right before that because to show how low this movie goes. Jack takes some medicine that ends up giving him a boner. Yes, Robert De Niro gets a boner in this movie! Thats...just... terrific! Thank you "Little Fockers" for giving us this great moment in cinematic history! Then again, "Meet the Fockers" showed us Dustin Hoffman on the toilet, so I guess it was only a matter of time wasn't it? Anyway, Henry walks in on Greg and Jack as the former is trying to inject a needle into Jack's annnd thats all you really need to know. The following day, he has some tests done, in which he needs to draw a picture that corresponds to the word "family". Guess what he draws? Bingo!

Even when the movie tries to be clever, it fails. When Jack names Greg as his successor, he designates him as "the Godfocker" just as he had previously named his now ex-son-in-law Dr. Bob as "the Bobfather". Umm, I'm guessing this is supposed to be an inside joke because Robert De Niro was in "The Godfather, Part II". I mean, otherwise that would just be a really stupid thing to call someone. There is also another instance where it is pointed out that Alba's character's name is very similar to that of actor Andy Garcia. This might have been intended as a running gag, but it has so little traction from the start that even the film itself seems to give up on it after a while.

There are also some problems in terms of plot holes and the nature of the characters involved. Besides the whole thing with now nonexistent Byrnes son that I mentioned above, there is the matter of Jack's feelings toward his daughter's ex Kevin Rawley, played once again by Owen Wilson. Why would Jack, as conservative and uptight as he is, be more impressed by Kevin, who has gone really hippy-dippy since we last saw him, than Greg? Sure, Kevin has a lot more money than Greg which is always a big factor when it comes to these things. However, I would think that Jack would still have doubts about ditching someone who is generally "down to earth" and the father of his grandchildren than a spacey guy who is "trying to find himself". Shouldn't he also be a little weirded out by the fact that Kevin has a tattoo of her on his back and carries a photo of her around? I wouldn't want my daughter to break up her marriage so she can spend the rest of her life with a guy who is border-line creepy and so emotionally needy. This would be an opportune time for me to make a joke about Owen Wilson playing a guy with serious emotional issues, but I have a feeling that it will come across as being highly inappropriate and insensitive, so I am going to have to take a pass. Sorry folks; have to draw the line somewhere.

Now, you probably want me to crucify this film, which I sort of already have. That being said, I have to be completely honest: for all its flaws, it is not that bad. The acting is pretty good, even as far as the kids are concerned. The bathroom humor but it is more toned down, probably due to the fact that Hoffman and Barbra Streisand have reduced roles compared to the previous "Fockers" movie, though when they do show up they are fairly pleasant. There were also a few parts of it that were mildly amusing, like when Jack want to brainwash his grandson and the physical confrontation between Greg and Jack at the end. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Jessica Alba in this picture; she allows her peppy character to be really fun and full of energy, even if she is a little on the crazy side. And she strips down to her underwear at one point, which from Alba is always welcomed. It almost makes up for the De Niro boner segment. Almost. I think probably the best part of the movie was the fact that after years of being subjected to Jack, Greg finally starts to show a little bit of backbone when he is around. While he still hopes to gain his in-laws approval, it is not a necessity like it used to be. He has finally taken command of his family and his life, and (perhaps) this will finally allow Jack to fully accept him into the family...and leave him the hell alone.

Overall, the film was...okay. I will give it that much. I was not ecstatic after watching it, but did not feel like I completely wasted my time either. It is certainly not as good as "Meet the Parents" but it is better than "Meet the Fockers". It is not a must-see film by any means, but if you have a desire to see it for some reason, it is possible you may enjoy it. Just keep your expectations in check and be aware of what you are going into.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

True Grit (2010)

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

They got it right this time. Remakes are usually frowned upon by critics and the general public, and for good reason: they have a tendency to either fall short of the standards set by the original films or are just seen as a waste of a film altogether. However, there are occasions when they turn out well, especially when the said original film needed to improvements in the first place ( So how did the Coen Brothers manage to take on a western made famous by John Wayne himself? Like this:

Once again based upon the book of the same name by Charles Portis, the story starts out with a young girl named Mattie, who's father is murdered and she goes on a quest to find his killer. The character of Mattie as played by Kim Darby was the part of the original movie that I really hated above anything else, but the Coen brothers thankfully helped change that around. First of all, she actually looks like a real girl from the 1870s, as opposed to a weird Justin Bieber clone. Secondly, the actress who plays her, Hailee Steinfeld, can actually, well, act. She comes across as a girl who is tough and certainly able to hold her own. While she has a bit of a self-righteous streak and a prim-and-proper manner that can turn people off, Steinfield is still able to reveal Mattie's warmth and personal conviction, making her very likable character. This is in stark contrast to Darby, who acted more like a monotone robot trying to give the illusion that she was tough but ends up looking like a deer in headlights.

Anyway, Mattie eventually comes across a one-eyed U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn, played by Jeff Bridges, whom she asks to help her capture her father's killer. Bridges does a great job as Cogburn; he is gruff and is not afraid to take on the bad guys when necessary, even if some complain that he over does it. At the same time, he is shown to have some flaws due to his age and alcoholism. Fans of "The Big Lebowski" may notice some hints of The Dude when Cogburn is a little...disoriented, but as much as I love that character, I think Bridges and the Coens were smart not to try and force their creation into this particular film; it would not have be right. My complaint is that his accent is so thick that I could not understand about half of the stuff he said, but I am willing to give that a pass because I get the idea of what he is saying and I guess that it makes Cogburn more memorable.

The rest of the story is pretty straight forward: the two of them, along with a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Matt Damon), begin their journey as they come across a pair of outlaws, a hanged body, and a man dressed as a bear. Okay, it is not entirely straight forward, but come on, its the Coen brothers, you got to expect a little weirdness! Anyway, generally speaking, the film moves at a productive paste and keeps you intrigued to until the end, using both action, humor, and good dialogue.

I did not have to much to complain about, but if I have to nit-pick...There is a part at the beginning when Mattie is arguing with the man her father had sold horses to before his murder. I disliked this part in the original movie because I thought that it was a pointless scene that did not need to be done on-camera, and while the Coen brothers make it a tad better, it still seems like a time waster. The film also has a tendency to marginalize its supporting characters. Damon does well with his role, but he is mostly absent from the picture; he just has his little bouts with Bridges (which are pretty amusing), but then gets annoyed and leaves not once but twice. James Brolin is good as the murderer Tom Chaney, someone who is somewhat stupid but can be intimidating when he needs to be. However, he is on screen for barely five minutes and his impact is lacking. A nearly unrecognizable Barry Pepper also does a decent job as the outlaw Ned Pepper, but is also underused. To be fair, these characters were not on-screen that much more in the 1969 version, but I guess they were so unimpressive in that version that it kind of did not matter. By making them interesting, the Coen's have been hurt by their own success. Another part of this may have to do with the 110 running time, about 18 minutes shorter than the original. Overall, I am glad this was shorter because it made the movie more concise, but it was not without its draw backs.

Despite that admittedly bloated paragraph I just wrote, it is still a very enjoyable film that shows that not all remakes turn out bad, and I recommend it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Review: King Kong (1933)

Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, King Kong, Island Natives

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive - a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World."
-Carl Denham

In the 1930s, the public eye was captured by a wild, untamed beast, savage in depiction and unruly in nature. He lived on an island full of dinosaurs – the Island Lost in Time – and he was hunted by brave souls risking their lives for the sake of romance and fame. You simply can’t get any more classic then this film, people. King Kong is it, man. The very definition of a classic film. King Kong has that old style adventurous spark that you just don’t see any more.

It’s sad. To think movies like this were once the norm and then just kind of died out is tragic, as it really is a great formula. This was a movie from a very different time period, where everyone wanted to explore the unknown and find out what every dark crevasse in the Earth had to offer – and often, they were scared of such things. Fear of the unknown never stopped them from exploring it in fiction – which is really the best medicine for fear. King Kong is based on the idea that there was an island where dinosaurs still existed and where a giant ape reigned as an idol and cast fear over natives that wore loincloths and war paint. It is idealistic and fantastical like many films from the time were. It’s an escapist piece, but it brings the danger close enough to home to make the audience gasp, to make the ladies clutch their husbands’ arms a little tighter and to make everyone edge a little closer to the screen, hands clenched, brow getting hot.

It’s this kind of formula that never gets old. You put a woman in danger and the men will come and save her. These days you get a lot of feministic ramblings that tell you that women shouldn’t be objectified or viewed as helpless or weak at all, but I don’t really agree. Just because a woman is put into a dangerous situation from which a man has to save her doesn’t mean anything about women in general. Men can be put into those situations, too. It’s not about the gender of the person being put in danger; it’s just about the danger bit. We like to see people put in danger, only to be rescued by someone who loves them, in the nick of time. And being a guy…well, I can relate to just about EVERY OTHER GUY IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD when I say it’s easy for a guy to put himself in the shoes of the hero swinging on that vine to save the chick from imminent doom. But it could easily be a girl saving a guy and probably wouldn’t lose much in translation. But I digress, anyway.

King Kong is also just so black-and-white morally. Kong saves Ann from the clutches of those bad old dinosaurs, but he is never really given much humanity aside from the few brief glimpses here and there, rare occasions when you do get a spark of intelligence behind his monstrous visage. He’s more of a sad, misshapen aberration; you feel for him in the way you feel for a dog that’s about to be put down. In the end he’s an animal, a show piece for Mr. Carl Denham, who really, really needed that last push to stardom. I mean…he really needed it, you guys. And there isn’t much of a dilemma about it. Kong isn’t humanized enough for us to see him as anything more than a captured animal. Which puts the focus more on Ann and Jack, who are almost ready to put the past behind them and get married until Kong strikes again, the bastard. There you go – unless you’re some kind of PETA associate, Kong won’t be the emotional core of this picture for you.

Have I mentioned how much I like Jack Driscoll? He’s a man’s man; an old school sailor who embodies every old cliché and makes them all absolutely wonderful. He’s initially pretty demeaning towards women, but then, he’s really just trying to cover up his soft spot for pretty Ann. Everything he says is delivered with his chin jutted a little bit out and a suave layer of confidence in his voice. He’s the kind of guy you’d expect to be sitting on his porch 30 years later talking about how things just ain’t the same, bitter because everything’s so much easier than it was in his day. And I always like guys like that. They have good work ethic. They know what it’s like to bust your ass every day and soldier through the hard times, and that’s why Jack Driscoll rules. Plus, the guy went through a jungle and battled DINOSAURS to save the girl he loved. That’s hardcore.

Carl Denham is a man who I wouldn’t trust with my children. He’s got a twinkle in his eye like he can come up with a plan at any time, and when that one fails, he’s got another one. I don’t think he really saw any of this – the bloody, savage natives, the prehistoric creatures that by all logical means shouldn’t exist anymore, the giant mutant ape that takes young women as sacrifices – for what it was. He just saw dollar signs and gold bricks in their place. When his first plan to make a movie failed, he turned right around and found a different way to make money. He won’t take no for an answer, and that’s how you get famous. Although I doubt Denham was very popular anymore after Kong ravaged the entire city and put countless lives in danger. But that’s a different can of worms. Denham has personality, with the added italics to boot. He can convince you to do all the crazy stuff he wants, because he’s charming, well mannered, manly and doesn’t seem insane at all. And that’s downright horrifying when you consider the events that transpire in this film.

This movie rules. The scenes in the middle with the group sailing through the lake on the island with dinosaurs all around them prove it. It’s pure adventure and old-school, classic excellence. One of the films everyone needs to see before they die. Five giant man-slaughtering apes out of five.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) (2005)

Starring: Benno Furmann, Guillaume Canet, Daniel Bruhl
Director: Christian Carion

"Joyeux Noel" (or "Merry Christmas" in English) is a 2005 French film about the real-life World War I Christmas truce. It focuses on a number of German, French, and Scottish soldiers who in December of 1914 lay down their arms in order to put a stop to the fighting, if only briefly, and fraternize with each other.

This movie kind of has an unfair advantage. I say this because it was probably going to be good no matter what anyone did to it just because it is such an amazing story. Well, then again, anything is possible, especially in the realm of film making; I guess we should be thankful that this was a foreign film as opposed to one created by Hollywood. Anyway, whatever the case, it turned out very well. It did a fantastic job of showing the difficulties of fighting a war against those with such a similar culture and who under normal circumstances would be your friendly neighbors instead of the people who you are being ordered to kill. While there are strands of uneasiness and animosity, the troops genuinely want to be at peace with their counterparts, as they drink together, exchange information about themselves and their living conditions in the trenches, and even play soccer against one another (okay, they're European, so its technically football).

You know how when you are a little kid (or even as an adult) you get really depressed when Christmas comes to an end? do you think these guys must have felt? Almost needless to say, the soldiers on both sides find it very difficult to go back to the bloodshed after two days of harmony. They refuse to shoot the enemy, and even go so far as to hide them in their respective trenches during artillery bombings. Eventually, however, the military leaders intervene and the inevitable realities of war rear their ugly heads. Still, the extraordinary peace that these men experienced during those few days remains with them, if only in mind and spirit.

I know this review seems more like a summery than an actual critique, but that is mostly because the story itself does reveals most of the emotion and power involved in the movie. As I mentioned, there was the small possibility of that it would fail, but this was far from the case. The performances are excellent, there are a number of great lines exchanged between the characters and the music that is sung or played throughout the picture is fantastic. All of these factors make it a really wonderful and inspiring film to watch anytime of the year, but especially over the holidays, and I strongly recommend it.

This review, while a little short, seems like a fitting one to post on the site on Christmas Eve, though more reviews will be featured before the year comes to a close. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gremlins (1984)

Starring: Hoyt Axton, Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates
Director: Joe Dante

Don't you hate it when all you want for Christmas is this...
...and you end up with this?
Well, that is pretty much what happens in "Gremlins," the 1984 classic produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus of later "Home Alone" fame, that introduced everyone to the fury little creatures that become a big problem.

The movie starts off with Randall "Rand" Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) shopping around for a Christmas gift for his son in a sketchy area of Chinatown (I guess Macy's is closed at that hour). He ends up in a shop where he finds a strange creature called a Mogwai. He is told that there are three important rules that must be followed in order to care for the creature:

1) It cannot be exposed to bright light
2) It cannot come into physical contact with water
3) Most important of all, it cannot be fed after midnight

Gee, I don't see any of these rules being broken during of the course of the movie, do you? He nicknames it Gizmo and the cute creature is a hit with his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan). However, when Gizmo is accidentally exposed to water (what a shock), five new Mogwai are formed from him and are much more devious in nature. Using sneaky tactics, they manage to get a hold of food after midnight (double shock), and multiply into a whole army of Mogwai, now called Gremlins, who go about terrorizing the town.

The movie is, in short, fun. While technically classified as a horror comedy, it is more the latter than the former. The Gremlins are not so much scary as they are obnoxious (in a good way). While they do attack people and cause a few deaths, they spend most of their time trashing the places they go to and partying. For instance, they sabotage a local bar by drinking, smoking, throwing things around, shooting each other (yes, they have guns, don't ask me why), and acting generally very rowdy. It is actually more of a dark comedy than anything else, with the Gremlins and their victims dying in several gruesome yet funny fashions (which are fair tame by today's standards). I think my favorite part is when they tamper with the stairlift of the Scourge of the town, Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holiday), sending her flying out the window of her house. Yes, that sounds a bit cruel, but believe me, its funny when you see it.

The most stark example of this type of format is the now infamous scene where Billy's love interest, Kate (Phoebe Cates) tells about a tragedy from her past that explains why she dislikes Christmas. This scene was very controversial, with apparently both studio executives and even Spielberg himself being very unhappy with it, but director Joe Dante fought to keep it in and that is where it remained. To be honest, I thought the scene was a little out of place; most of the humor comes from cartoon violence, not from a girl's childhood trauma of losing a parent. But I guess that is why it works: it comes almost out of nowhere to hit you over the head and then it is never spoken of again. So even though it is a rather bizarre scene to include in a movie about creatures that look like an 80s version of Furby dolls, I am glad they kept it.

Despite the viciousness, the movie also has a bit of heart to it. The characters are all generally very likable; I especially liked the mom (Frances Lee McCain) for her ability to take out three of the little bastards all by herself. And the innocent Gizmo helps bring a level stability to the madness as the one Gremlin who tries to stop his evil counterparts. Despite his problems with the "Kate scene," it becomes quite clear upon viewing that Spielberg had influence over the making of the film. It has a strong "E.T."-like atmosphere, and at least two scenes make a referencing to that particular Spielberg picture. Overall, I say the movie does a good job of juggling the different emotions of happiness, creepiness, and hilarity all within a single story.

Well, I can't think of anything else to say, so I'll just leave it at that. It's a good movie, for the holidays or otherwise, and I recommend it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)

Director: Lee Harry
Starring: Eric Freeman, James Newman

"Red CAR. Good POINT."

Remember the first Silent Night, Deadly Night film? It was great. It was a total shlockfest of slasher clichés and it was absolutely wonderful at using them to create an entertaining cult horror film. Sure, it was stupid, but it was a fun kind of stupid. It was the kind of thing that was absolutely perfect to throw on and laugh at and have a ton of fun with. Unfortunately…it had a sequel.

Yes, the brilliantly titled Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 doesn’t even try to distinguish itself from the first film, and for good reason, as it really has nothing at all to offer besides a cheap ass internet meme that gets old after about 5 seconds. What a sack of shit, people; what a sack of shit! Let’s dig in and find out what makes this suck-tastic pile of Santa-droppings tick.

Our film starts off with our main character played by Eric Freeman, named Ricky, who is the brother of the guy from the original movie who killed everybody. He’s just…sitting there. This big black orderly comes in and starts setting up a tape recorder, doing everything as slowly and elaborately as possible. The first few minutes of the film are just the black guy setting the machine up while Freeman stares ominously at him. Gee, it’s almost like they were creating useless padding because they had no original material to use in their vapid, uncreative void of butt-clenching shitmongering that they just had to draw out every scene a lot longer than it should have been. Oh wait. THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE DOING.

This bald doctor guy comes in and tells the black orderly to leave, probably because his five-minute contract in the movie was up and the filmmakers couldn’t afford to pay him anymore – he is very adamant that the orderly leave the room. The doctor starts talking to Ricky about his crimes, telling Freeman that his time is very valuable, which I guess is ironic because this movie is a huge waste of said time, for anyone with half a brain at least.

Oh, yeah, and how about Ricky’s acting? For those of you who are unfamiliar with Eric Freeman’s performance, well…it’s special. That’s the best way to put it. He constantly over-emotes and adds emphasis to lines that don’t need it, constantly moves his eyebrows up and down like he’s being electrocuted and randomly laughs and grins to himself for no apparent reason. It’s just downright insane, a true cinematic trainwreck if there ever was one. He makes Tommy Wiseau look like…well, any respectable actor…by comparison. His performance is just unsalvageable in every respect.

The doctor asks Freeman if he remembers what happened when he was a kid, to which the movie kindly interjects with a flashback of the entire scene from the first film where the Santa suit guy mugged and killed the kids’ parents. They just play the whole thing exactly as it was, except with dull narration and shittier music. And brace yourselves, audience, because this is what you’re in for in the next 40 minutes of movie! Nothing but flashbacks! You have got to be FUCKING kidding me, movie. I mean really? If I had paid money to see this in theater back in the day, I would have been livid! This is simply the pinnacle of phoned in, drooling-monkey filmmaking. It’s purely asinine.

After that we get, surprise, another flashback, this time of the incidents at the orphanage where the boys were tormented by Mother Superior, again with nothing but footage of the original film. Okay, what, did this kid just not have ANY memories of his own? Half the time we barely even see Ricky; it’s just about Billy from the first film. But this is a flashback told from Ricky’s perspective. Why would he remember some of this stuff that Billy went through? A lot of it doesn’t even have Ricky in the scene! What sense does that make?

Oh, and what’s next? MORE FLASHBACKS. It’s like they’re taunting me with how bad they can be. Did they just assume nobody coming into a movie titled “Silent Night, Deadly Night 2” had seen the previous film? I know this movie is a pile of ass scum compared to the original, which already was no prize-winning piece of cinema itself, but c’mon, at least give us something substantial…okay, okay, that’s not fair, I admit. Expecting too much from this movie is like expecting Shakespearean poetry from that kid who sat in the back of your Kindergarten class and ate paint chips off the wall instead of paying attention.

But seriously! They show a flashback of that scene from the original where the police almost opened fire on that suburban father dressed up as Santa, sneaking into his own house. Even Billy wasn’t there to see that; how would Ricky know about it in order to tell it in a flashback? Was he just like…supremely omniscient? Is he secretly a Lovecraftian-styled entity who can see all that has to do with killer Santa Clauses? Is he Yogth-Santa-Clausethoth the Great? Did he have bugs planted with the police to hear and see everything that went on that night? It’s seriously mindboggling. There’s so little actual human thought put into this movie’s construction that it becomes absolutely fascinating how inept it is at doing anything correctly.

So after the movie FINALLY decides to get off its ass and show us some original material, we see that Ricky grew up with a nice family and was A-OK. We see him watching another couple in the bushes and he sees that the guy attempts to rape her, because he’s drunk, I guess. Ricky’s response is completely natural and logical: He runs the douchebag over with his own red car, backs up and does it again about three or four more times. Of course the girl thanks him after that, because…I guess she wouldn’t run away screaming at the prospect of a guy brutally murdering her boyfriend, no matter how much of a piece of shit he was. Huh. I would have thought she would at least be scared out of her mind that there was a murderer there in the first place, but…okay, fine, I’m dropping it; expecting too much again.

We see another scene where Ricky comes across what looks like a fat version of Robert DeNiro beating up on this other guy who owes him money. Ricky says, overdubbed, that it sounded like a squirrel getting its nuts squeezed – what, does he know what that sounds like? He kills the guy with an umbrella through the chest, in what I think was the inspiration for the Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil. At least something good came of this.

Then Ricky meets his girlfriend Jennifer, or something or other, and they hit it off because…well, you got me there. Maybe she’s attracted to his moving eyebrows; they’re the best actors in this fucking movie, anyway. They go to the movies where Jennifer expresses her concern over the loudmouthed asshole in the back who is impatient for the movie to start. She says "Are we going to have to listen to that for the next 2 hours?" Hey, bitch, don’t you give me that. I had to sit through 40 minutes of flashbacks to even get to this half-assed slop. Don't you give me any lip today.

While Ricky goes to take care of that guy – with the rest of the theater not noticing him as he murders the guy – a random new character with hair that looks like the rear end of a duck appears out of nowhere. He sort of springs out of the ground as if through a trap door, or like he's a new puppet introduced in a finger puppet show. Which would still be deeper and more enjoyable than this crap. And no, in case you were wondering, nothing about this character's appearance is ever really explained. Quell your disappointment now.

Apparently this is her ex-boyfriend, who wants her back even though he stood her up, cheated on her AND RUINED HER FAVORITE SWEATER! How heinous. One of those things doesn’t quite match the rest…do you think he did those three things in that exact order? Like she just came home and he was there with some other chick and…eugh, don’t really want to think about the rest of that one, especially if it has to do with “ruining a sweater.”

So he’s a douche. And Ricky kills him the next day by electrocuting him to death with a car battery…charming. He then kills Jennifer, too, because I guess he didn’t like how she had sex with another guy before him.

Then he pretty much snaps and goes on a rampage as he steals a gun from a cop with the aid of very, very poor editing. He shoots one guy for no reason other than because he shouted at him, and then moves onto the next house, where we see the birth of an Internet phenomenon. You can’t have a review of this movie without it, so let’s just get it over with:

Yeah, yeah, laugh it up; let’s move on. He lights a car on fire just by shooting at it a few times and then comes to this barricade of police, because I guess they really couldn’t handle one psycho with a gun without getting a whole roadblock of cars to stop him. Dumbasses. He threatens to shoot himself – foreseeing the reactions of people who would watch this movie – and the cops all freak out and start telling him not to be a fool, and not to take his life. Even though they were going to shoot him anyway. What a bunch of indecisive pussies.

So we go back to the mental hospital where it’s revealed that Ricky killed the doctor in the middle of his story? What? So he killed the guy but kept on talking anyway? That’s…really strange! He escapes, steals a Santa costume from some Salvation Army worker and goes to kill Mother Superior, who lives at apartment number 666. Isn’t a nun living in an apartment numbered ‘666’ kind of like a Buddhist living in a mansion full of money and women? He stalks around the house for a bit and rips off The Shining by axing through a door and grinning through it. Mother Superior uses the brilliant escape tactic of hiding behind a second door even though hiding behind the first one worked so well just seconds before. He throws her down the stairs but his axe gets stuck in her wheelchair. This raises the question of, why does he need that axe to kill this decrepit, wheelchair bound 90 year old woman anyway? It seems like he'd be able to do that just by flicking her with his index finger or something.

After the police finally arrive again, this time sobered up and not weeping over him, we get this great scene with the most fearsome utterance of any horror slasher ever:

Isn’t that just BONE CHILLING?!?!

Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is awful! Truly awful in every sense of the word! There’s no logic to anything here, half of the film is made up of flashbacks and it fails to live up to any of the campy awesomeness of the first one, as really all it has going for it is the over the top acting, and, here at least, that’s a one-note joke if there ever was one. Granted, there was a reason for the excessive flashbacks, as the filmmakers had little money or sponsoring at all, but that doesn’t make this movie any better. It’s got its appeal to those fans of really, really bad movies, but…trust me when I say this movie isn’t worth your time. Even if you had seen every other movie in the history of the world besides this one, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 would still be a steaming pile of suck with a side-dosage of lame to boot. Wretched beyond belief.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

True Grit (1969)

Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby
Directed by Henry Hathaway

The Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit" will be coming out in theaters shortly and I hope to be able to see it (and possibly review it for this site). In the meantime, since I try to make it a habit to see the original films first, I decided to check out 1969's "True Grit", starring the legendary John Wayne. So how does this classic hold up? Well, let's just say that the Coens should feel free to make improvements on it, because that is what this film badly needs.

Based upon the novel of the same name by Charles Portis (no, I am not reading the book as well; there is all some much I can do to judge one story), the movie starts off at the home of a young girl named Mattie Ross, played by Kim Darby. Mattie is the main reason why I ultimately did not like this film. First of all, take a look at her:
[Insert lesbian/Justin Bieber haircut joke here]

Okay, looks aside, her character is awful! All she does is complain and boss people around, not so much in a bitchy way, but in a way that comes across as really uptight and overly precocious, like a little kid who thinks that she is always in the right and that anyone who disagrees with her is somehow not thinking properly and is uncivilized. To make matters worse, Darby simply cannot act; she reads her lines (keyword being "reads") in a monotone voice that has no conviction in it at all. Well, at least she got better as her career progressed and she did not end up playing a put-upon mother in a crappy "Halloween" squeal, right?.....right? (

Anyway, she soon learns that her father has been killed by a man named Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) whom the family was looking out for (no, he is not related to Dick Cheney, though that would be fun, wouldn't it?). She travels into town, acting overly precocious to everyone she meets, before she eventually converses with the Duke himself. And guess what?! He plays a cowboy in this movie! But this is not like the other cowboys that Wayne has played in the past. This one has an eyepatch. Don't you love diversity?! Okay, to be technical about it, he actually plays a deputy U.S. Marshall named Reuben "Rooster" J. Cogburn, an abrasive alcoholic who has a tendency to kill the fugitives he hunts. Hey, I am starting to like this movie now! Mattie decides that he is the right man for the job to track down Chaney. Cogburn is uninterested at first, but after getting some compensation and the promise to settle an old score with another outlaw, he agrees. They are joined by a Texas Ranger named Le Boeuf (singer Glen Campbell), and no, he has no connection to Shia LaBeouf...thank god. Granted, Le Boeuf is mildly annoying at the beginning, but he ends up getting really pissed off with Mattie, so I found a soft spot for him, even though that is a little unfair given that every character gets rightfully pissed off with Mattie at some point or another.

Besides Mattie, my other problem with this movie is that nothing really happens in it. There are these scenes of Mattie arguing with a guy (Strother Martin) in order to get him to pay her money which could have been done off-screen. Along with this, the first half of the film mostly consists of the three main characters negotiating prices with one another, Mattie acting annoying, and Cogburn and La Boeuf butting heads with one another, though Cogburn seems to dismiss his younger traveling companion for the most part. I can't really blame him; it's not really a contest when you have the official "Man" of cinema going against a country music singer who looks and talks less like Chuck Norris and more like Jon Voight's Joe Buck character from "Midnight Cowboy" (strangely, both this movie and "Grit" were released in the same year; coincidence?). My point being is that there is little action and the dialogue between the characters is for the most part disengaging.

The second half of the film improves a little bit, but not much. They finally find Chaney (shock, he is annoying as well), along with the posse that he was seeking refuge with, lead by the outlaw that Cogburn was looking for named Ned Pepper, played by a young Robert Duvall. I...don't get Duvall's character in this movie. He is built up as this really dangerous outlaw, but when we see him, he seems more like a negotiator than a deadly enemy. God damn, why does everyone keep negotiating in this film! It's a John Wayne movie, somebody shoot someone! Eventually, there actually is a big shootout between Cogburn and Pepper's posse. I admit that it is pretty also comes across as illogical and recklessly dangerous, but still fun. The rest of the film deals with plot holes and a rattlesnake and some other stuff that I will not bother going into.

There were some parts of the film I liked. The visuals are nice-looking and Elmer Bernstein's main theme is reminiscent of his earlier work in The Magnificent Seven, which if you have ever heard will know that it is awesome. And despite everything I have already mentioned, I also liked John Wayne. True, Cogburn is not that much different from some of the other characters he has played in the past, but this one somehow appears to be more charming and upbeat. It might be perhaps that Wayne was at the point in his career where he knew what the audience had come to expect from him, and he had learned enough to know how to do it. I also like his last scene in the movie...mmm I will keep quite about it in case you still want to see it for some reason. It is therefore unfortunate that this good performance has to be pigeonholed into this disappointment of a movie.

So is this a bad movie? I wouldn't go that far. I would just say that it is a mediocre one. There are some elements that work, but the lame supporting characters and a slow plot combine to make it so that even the Duke cannot save the picture. Obviously, this is a supposed to be a classic and a lot of people have a great deal of respect for it or are interested in seeing it, which is fine, but if you are only a causal film fan, I do not recommend it. Coen Brothers, your turn. You already disappointed me with your own "classic" (I recently watched the overrated "Miller's Crossing"), so you better make this new version of "Grit" a more enjoyable experience than the original was able to offer.

P.S. By the way, for those of you who are frequent visitors of this site, you will be horrified to know that Dennis Hopper is in this film as well. Wow, he really did used to show up everywhere! That being said, he is only on screen for about five minutes or so, during which he complains about being shot in the leg and rats out Ned and his posse before he gets his fingers chopped off and stabbed, dying from his wounds not long afterward. Was he the real reason the picture failed? Sure, why not? Better than having to complain about Mattie all the freakin' time!