True Grit

Swanner: I’m always hearing people complain, “Why would you remake a classic?” Now when I hear that I can make reference to True Grit. Of course when you have Joel and Ethan Coen writing and directing, and a cast that includes Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon … you can’t go too wrong. I’m not much of a western fan but this was an easy watch.

Judd: I enjoyed the first True Grit, but like most movies of that time it was sanitized. It felt very clean, almost lighthearted. John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn was a loveable old codger. The Coen Brother’s True Grit had plenty of just that – Grit. Everything was cold and hard. Rooster and Mattie’s quest wasn’t a spring ride through the budding prairie. It was a cold journey into a frozen land. The two movies are essentially the same, but very, very different.

Swanner: The production design was really well done and the cinematography was extraordinary. I loved the scene towards the end where they have a stationary camera and Rooster rides across the screen. On that wide screen it was breathtaking. It was also a very funny movie. We’ve seen quite a few “comedies” this month and this was by far the funniest. I liked the way all the characters were funny in their own way. Don’t get me wrong … it wasn’t Blazing Saddles funny but I laughed more watching True Grit than I did in Gulliver.

Judd: Oh stop. Using Gulliver’s Travels as a base line to movie comparison is like using a freshly laid turd on a plate as a starting point for a restaurant review. “The food made me wretch, but it wasn’t as bad a Gulliver’s Travels, so …” Anyway, True Grit did have its funnier moments, but it’s still a dramatic Western. The performances were all top notch, the biggest standout being young Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. She struck a brilliant balance between hardened and childlike. She took the character to new depths.

Swanner: Agreed. She was exceptional. There was also a terrific supporting cast including Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. The whole film was brilliantly cast but the film really belongs to Steinfeld and Bridges. This is the kind of remake that will have people going back to watch the original and it also opens up this story to another generation. Stories this good should be experienced by the masses and not locked away in a . It worked with Willy Wonka and thanks to the Coen Brothers it worked here too

Judd: I was actually talking with someone the other day who didn’t know this was a remake. Granted, he’s not a huge Western fan, but I was surprised. After seeing the Coen’s True Grit I recommended both. Both movies are worth watching; neither one overshadows the other which is a testament to the quality of both.

Swanner: ½

Gulliver's Travels

Swanner: If you remember the cartoon version or even some of the live action versions then you are a familiar with Jonathan Swift’s story of a man who washes up on an island only to find he’s a giant to a world of little people. That’s what the new Jack Black movie is based on. So now that you know that you don’t have to see this movie. Director Joe Stillman obviously let Jack Black do whatever he wanted to do, because so much of the movie was silly over the top grandstanding by Black.

Judd: Jack Black is not something I think studios should use as a selling point. Rather, I feel it’s something they should apologize for and 20th Century Fox ought to be begging my forgiveness after having to sit through Gulliver’s Travels. The plot, which barely exists, is about how Gulliver has to save a colony of little people from another colony of little people, all whilst helping Jason Segel get laid – I mean, woo the princess. Why are the two colonies fighting? Who cares! Because Jack Black gets to pee on them! Oh, the hilarity!

Swanner: That urinating scene sure did clear out some of the people during our screening, didn’t it? I think that Jack Black is an asset but like with Will Farrell a good director should be able to pull him in and not let him run with it. Both the director and the two writers (Joe Stillman & Nicholas Stoller) have either worked with animated features or Jim Carrey … which explains the over the top handling of Black. Stillman was the screen writer of Shrek which would also explain the horrible song and dance at the end. Did anyone realize this is a live action picture? I really think this was probably going to be animated at one point and no one thought to alter the script once the decision was made to go live action.

Judd: My problem was that the movie is just downright unfunny. It’s juvenile, broad slapstick is designed to appeal to kids, yet the script constantly refers to pop culture kids aren’t going to be aware of. The ties to Stillman come as no surprise. Just as the Shrek franchise had gotten increasingly stale, Gulliver’s Travels feels like it could have been a 5th installment. Dumb jokes that rely on a, “Hey! I recognize that!” reaction from the audience as part of the punch line. I call it the Family Guy-ification of lazy writing.

Swanner: Stop making up words by bashing Family Guy. I watch Family Guy and this, my friend, is no Family Guy. You are right about the unfunniness of the film. I’m still trying to figure out why some of those people were clapping for the movie after some really awful scenes. I really felt bad for the other actors in the movie. Amanda Peet, Jason Segel and Emily Blunt must be firing their agent after hooking them to this craptastrify. Actors of their caliber should be in Oscar nominations not the golden raspberries guarantee nomination

Judd: You’re going to yell at me for making up words while you bastardize a word I made up for Skyline? Weak, Dude, weak. The people in the audience that were clapping looked like hipsters, and I’m sure they were just being “ironic” – at least that’s what I hope. As for Segel and Blunt – their scenes with Gulliver were all shot on green screen. Maybe they didn’t know they were in a Jack Black movie? Maybe they thought that Gulliver was being played by someone classy like Robbie Coltrane or Brendan Gleeson?

Swanner: I did want to mention that the best part of the movie was the short before the movie started Scrat’s Continental Crack-up based on the character from Ice Age was one of the few real laughs I had last night.

Swanner: No Stars ( for Scrat)
Judd: No Stars

How Do You Know

Former Olympic softball player Lisa Jorgenson (Reese Witherspoon) finds herself off the team for the next games and now she’s trying to get her life together. Unfortunately she finds herself in a triangle between a star baseball players (Owen Wilson) and a man being investigated (Paul Rudd) for bad business dealings. Who to choose right? I really wanted to like this movie more. It’s written and directed by James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment/Broadcast News) who created two of my favorite movie and even helped develop The Simpsons. So you have a great director/writer and a terrific cast which also includes Jack Nicholson and Kathryn Hahn in supporting roles but something just isn’t working.

One big problem for me was the characters. I’ve been thinking they weren’t fleshed out enough but the more i think about it the more I think it was the casting. Witherspoon is playing 27 which barely works but Wilson is suppose to be a top of his game baseball pitcher…really? I also found Witherspoon’s character to be not so bright which is something she doesn’t do very well. When i see Reese Witherspoon on screen i see a sharp savvy woman (think Election) so her playing a bit of an airhead seemed like poor casting. The one lead that worked well was Rudd. He’s quick and charming, which he does well, but many scenes with him and Witherspoon seem like pieces were missing. Maybe it was a bad edit job or maybe i just expect too much from Brooks.

Early I mentioned Nicholson who I think was under used but always a pleasure and finally the bright spot in this film Kathryn Hahn. She always the friend or assistant and usually steals the scenes. Let this woman work more. I’d love to see her get her chance with something meaty. Every time she’s on screen the movie got better.


Black Swan / Tron

Swanner: Just like Christmas you never know what you’re going to get when you see a movie during the holidays. It maybe for the kids, laughs or and Oscar contender, but no matter what…the studios are banking on them. Last night we split up and Brian went for Oscar contender while I went for special effects 3D fun. I saw Tron: Legacy, the sequel to the 1982 film that followed Jeff Bridges into cyberland. Bridges is back trapped in cyberland and only his now grown son can rescue him.

Judd: Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Pi) and starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis (That 70s Show), is about the mental breakdown of a ballet dancer who is given the roles of a lifetime — to dance both the White and Black Swan from Swan Lake. One role is about technical perfection, the other is about unabashed passion. Can Portman, a young, sexually repressed yet technically brilliant dancer with a habit for wounding herself, play both? The answer: Not without some fantastically tragic consequences.

Swanner: Black Swan seems to have a bit more intricate plot than Tron. The one thing that both films have in common is they are both costume dramas. Tron had a budget of 13 million for costumes and it really showed. The production value was beautiful as well but I think the 3D would have worked much better if the film was brighter. 3D is more effective in a well lit film…just a little hint for the filmmakers for next time. Jeff Bridges plays two roles in the movie, one is Kevin Flynn and the other is CLU, a copy of himself from 1982. To make this happen they used the same technique they used in Benjamin Button to make Bridges, who is 61, look 33 again. It’s an amazing effect.

Judd: Black Swan was a dimly shot as well, but I’m going to blame that on an old projector bulb at The Tower. Black Swan was much more than costumes. It was bold costumes, brash soundtrack, frantic editing, and in-your-face characters. Black Swan draws on some of the best movies ever made and some of the best characters in some not so great movies, and plays them with balls to wall fervor. I saw flashes of Rosemary’s Baby and Gaslight; I saw flashes of Neely O’Hara from Valley of the Dolls and Pieper Laurie in Carrie. There is absolutely nothing subtle about Black Swan.

Swanner: OK Brian … pull back on the gay. What, no Bette Davis reference? Garrett Hedlund plays Flynn’s son and Olivia Wilde is Bridges cyber companion. I did really like Michael Sheen who plays the gayest program one might find in cyberland. It was directed by first timer Joseph Kosinski and written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz both scribes from Lost. Fans of the original should be happy with this sequel even though I’m sure there are things that were left out. The kids are going to have a blast with the amazing look of the film a the exciting action sequences. Tron was a lot of fun, a great popcorn movie for the holidays.

Judd: Bette Davis reference – GO! Mila Kunis’ Lily could be considered an Eve Harrington character, and while there have been critics that have alluded to that, I don’t think Lily was after Nina’s (Portman) role. Black Swan is an incredibly gay horror/drama/thriller – there’s even a graphic lesbian sex scene. However, for as much as I loved the movie, I have suspicious feeling that all the critics that are fawning over it now, will disavow it later. It is very tense, very stylized and very well done. It is also overblown, clichéd, and subtle as a fire alarm. If Black Swan had been made about anything other than ballet, I don’t think the critics would be so enamored. After all, ballet is an art form that no one likes and is boring as fuck, which means obviously means it’s classy.

Swanner: 1/2 (Tron: Legacy)
Judd: (Black Swan)

The Fighter

Judd: This holiday season, when most audiences will want to see light comedies or maybe a romance, there will be a select few that will want to spend time watching depressing stories about sports figures, drug addicts, and trash from the wrong side of the track. Luckily for those select few, “The Fighter” has all three in spades. Mark Wahlberg is a down and out boxer, who just can’t win. An emaciated Christian Bale, is his crack addicted brother and an ensemble cast of some of the ugliest women you’ve ever seen play the poor white trash family.

Swanner: The whole cast looks like they need to bathe. It was all I could do to sit through this stinky movie. Sure the acting is good and the characters are well developed but Christine Bale was loosing teeth as the film went along. I know not every movie can be a pretty as Tangled, but this one seems to go out of it’s way to really make it foul. I also think it’s odd that Mark Wahlberg is a boxer in this movie yet his shirt is rarely off … he didn’t even wear a shirt in date night.!

Judd: Director David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees), brings the best out of the whole cast. The movie strongly reminded me of Ben Affleck’s recent offerings as director, but in this Russell has a much stronger female presence as both antagonists and protagonists. However, I had a hard time relating to this movie. Its very family focused, and a lot of the decisions the characters make are based on the family – even when it’s the family that’s dragging them down.

Swanner: The script, which I thought had an awful lot of rambling, was written by Scott Silver (8 Mile) Paul Tamasy (Santa Buddies) and Eric Johnson. I have to agree on the whole family situation in the film. If that was my family I would have moved far away a long time ago. Mickey (Wahlberg) was way too family oriented, so as I’m watching the film it makes me think our main character is as big of a loser as the rest of the family and therefore severing any love I had for his character. The third act or the “Rocky” act couldn’t have come fast enough for me

Judd: I liked the script and the rambling was that of uneducated, blue collar crack addicts. I liked the first act, when we met Mickey’s family and his set up as a loser. However, the second act got a little long with the focus turning on Bale’s addiction and prison time, and the budding relationship between Wahlberg and Amy Adams. The third act was way too long, as they are in all sports movies, because apparently we need to see whole fight, even though we know how it ends.

Swanner: I thought the movie was a bore. I didn’t like the characters even though the story has a nice Rocky feel to it. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and by the end (which was so sickeningly sweet) I just wanted to throw my hands up a bolt out of the room. I’ll give props to the acting, especially Bale and Leo, but I can guarantee you I’ll never watch that movie again.

Swanner: 1/2