Saturday, June 18, 2011

True Grit and Other Mysteries

Last weekend the Sound Unseen Duluth International Film Festival finished off its second season here in the Northland. On Sunday the weather was too nice for being inside a theater, yet I made the theater my home for one more afternoon and evening, catching half of a Greek film called Attenberg, most of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, and Monte Hellman's Road to Nowhere. Then, to top off, when I got home I balanced our checkbook and did paperwork while watching the Coen Brothers' True Grit.

Here's a quick summary of impressions.

The critics raved and I was told this was a must see. Supposedly Greece is counting on this one to bring home an Oscar next year for Best Foreign Film. It's an off-beat coming of age film and I guess I wasn't getting into it and slipped back over to Midnight In Paris where I'd watched the first ten minutes which strengthened my desire to see more.

Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen, despite whatever personal issues one has against him, is still a master story teller and screen writer. The dialogue here is wonderful and the story magical. In fact, that's exactly what it is.

Owen Wilson (Gil) and Machel McAdams (Inez) are engaged to be married. They go to Paris with her rich parents and Gil, a writer, falls in love with the aura of Parisian history, impressed by all the great people and places memorialized there. Through some quirk Gil experiences more than the charm of present-day Paris. He ends up being transported back in time to the Twenties of Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Hemingway, Dali and the surrealists. It's heady stuff for Gil, especially when he begins to fall in love with someone there.

I don't want to spoil it for you, so just know that this film is witty and fun.

Road To Nowhere
The movie is about the making of a movie about a murder and a missing fortune. The director, for the sake of accuracy, is filming this film in the same places the actual crime took place. It is sometimes difficult to decipher what is real and what is not, and because I missed one clue in the early part of the film I kept asking myself how a certain key part of the movie came to be.

There were echoes of Chinatown in it for me, but this film was nowhere near the masterpiece Roman Polanski assembled starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. But it held together for me and had some nice moments.

True Grit
The title is good. Who's the character with true grit? This remake of the John Wayne classic has Jeff Bridges in the feature role of Rooster Cogburn. Matt Damon replaces Glen "he-never-shoulda-been-cast" Campbell as LaBoeuf (The Beef) and Hailee Steinfeld as the gritty Mattie Ross.

I've been waiting six months to see this film so I for one was glad when it was finally released into Blockbuster. Bridges got an Oscar nom for this role, the Duke's last hurrah, I believe. Since I was never a real John Wayne fan to begin with, I would have bet money that this re-make for once would be better than the original. That being said, I do have one complaint about it.

First, the good stuff. It wasn't till I started writing this up that I realized that Matt Damon was in the film. I mean, LaBoeuf was a great character in this version of the story, and a guy who did show true grit. I was half wondering who the actor was but not enough to go check, I guess. Damon is certainly good. And so was Jeff Bridges as that grizzled veteran gunfighter with a lot of tough bark on him.

I guess all the big chatter was about how great a young actress Hailee Steinfeld was. She was fine and I'm sure that being coached by the Coen brothers and working with stars like Damon and Bridges will have a beneficial impact on her future, if she manages to keep it all in perspective.

Now, my own beef. Personally, I disliked the stilted manner in which the characters talked. The diction frequently struck me as unnatural. I am sure the director had his reasons for going that route, maybe imagining that people 120 years ago were more formal in their speech, but I don't reckon I quite agree with that notion.

It's a small complaint, and it didn't ruin the film for me. I just needed to make the point.

Meantime, better get outside and enjoy the weekend.

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