July 2011

True Grit (2010)  •  True Grit (1969)  •  Beastly  •  The Company Men

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


True Grit (2010)

the rite

It takes a giant pair of spurs to remake a John Wayne movie, even if that movie was actually based on a book. When the Duke is involved, everything else disappears.

That fact made the 1969 version of True Grit a terrific showcase for Wayne, but not much more. When Joel and Ethan Coen decided to make their own version in 2010, they moved closer to Charles Portis’ novel. Now, it’s less about aging cowboy Rooster Cogburn (now played by Jeff Bridges) and more about the story’s real central character, young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who enlists Cogburn’s aid in tracking down her father’s murderer. With arrogant Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joining the hunt, the pair head out across Indian Territory on a righteous western quest for justice.

Much has been made of the odd, deliberately stilted language, which viewers either find wonderful or irritating. It certainly takes getting used to, but at least the Coens cast actors who could handle it. Damon is both hilarious and heroic, and Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper get vivid supporting roles. Steinfeld is especially impressive, making her film debut at 14 without being overwhelmed by the material or her costars.

But the real question is whether Bridges can carry the role that one a late-career Oscar for a bona fide cinematic god. The answer is yes, because his Rooster Cogburn has no godlike qualities. He’s a washed-up alcoholic with unexpected reserves of courage and decency, not an icon doing a slightly drunken impression of himself.  Bridges may not own every frame of the film, but he gives exactly the right performance for a literary adaptation, Coen Brothers-style.

Extras: Features on the cast (especially Steinfeld), costume design, weaponry, cinematography and the recreation of Fort Smith; a 30-minute doc on author Charles Portis and his work. (PG-13) Rating: 5 —LL


True Grit (1969)

Henry Hathaway’s True Grit is the only movie for which John Wayne received an Oscar, which is a shame.

Of course, the Duke is terrific as one-eyed U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, who has been asked by a determined young woman named Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) to hunt down the man who murdered her father.

Having cast one of the screen’s most iconic images, it’s sad that Wayne’s formidable talent was unrecognized simply because he usually played a cowboy. His mesmerizing turn in The Searchers, for example, demonstrates that he had a range to match his charisma, and it’s just about impossible to think of another actor viewers would tolerate in such a despicable role.

True to form in True Grit, Wayne projects a sense of authority and integrity that Jeff Bridges lacks in the newer film. This is actually a drawback because Bridges plays Cogburn as more a loose cannon. The newer take has more tension because it’s hard to determine if Cogburn will act in an upright manner or if he’ll simply take the money and run.

Nonetheless, Wayne is still a magnificent focal point for the film. Kim Darby is solid as the headstrong Mattie, but singer-guitarist Glen Campbell quickly proves why his acting career was so short-lived. His blandness as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf makes one believe his primary weapon against outlaws is boring them to death. It is, however, fun to see then unknown actors Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall in a couple of memorable supporting roles.

Hathaway’s direction emphasizes scenic beauty over narrative drive. The Colorado locations, while gorgeous, are a poor match for Oklahoma. Still, Charles Portis’ story is relatively intact, and the Duke is the Duke.

Extras: A commentary track and some featurettes, including one on working with Wayne, who was apparently an agreeable costar. (N/R) Rating: 3.5 —DL


Beastly

Blue Valentine

This high school version of Beauty and the Beast is like the unholy spawn of Twilight and Gossip Girl, without the intellectual nuance. Based on Alex Flinn’s young adult novel, Beastly features Alex Pettyfer as Kyle, a preening jerk who gets turned into a “beast” by his prep school’s resident witch (Mary-Kate Olsen). He can only break the spell by earning the love of a woman who can see past appearances — and he has to do it in a year.

Pettyfer is incapable of being ugly (or the filmmakers are afraid to make him so, given the target teen-girl demographic), so he ends up looking like more of a punk rocker than a monster. Since he lives in New York City, that shouldn’t really be a problem, but the storyline demands his shame and isolation, so he hides away with his housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and a tutor (a scene-stealing Neil Patrick Harris).

Hudgens has enough charm to make up for Pettyfer’s blandness, and writer-director Daniel Barnz manages to keep the story moving. There’s nothing new or particularly interesting here, but it might appeal to bored kids who can’t find anything else at the video store.

Extras: An alternate ending; deleted scenes; a making-of doc; a feature on the make-up effects; a music video by Kristina and the Dolls. (PG-13) Rating: 2 —LL

The Company Men

biutiful

There’s an interesting conundrum behind the casting in The Company Men. Freshman director John Wells, who usually writes and produces for quality TV shows like The West Wing, works with some of the best actors in the business in The Company Men. All of these folks do fine work, but it takes some suspension of disbelief when these A-listers are playing men who’ve recently lost their jobs.

It’s hard not picturing the performers heading back to their limos after they’ve played their wrenching scenes.

Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper star as three executives at a once thriving Boston shipbuilding firm who get downsized during the 2008 economic meltdown. Cooper’s character, a company lifer who simply can’t adapt to the changing job market is only slightly better off than Affleck’s stubborn salesman who attempts to project a success he can’t pay for any more. Even though he’s younger, changing course isn’t any easier for him.

Once you get past seeing Kevin Costner as a Beantown carpenter, the story gradually becomes more convincing and involving. Wells corresponded with people who’d lost their jobs over a 10-year period, so the scenarios depicted in the film ring true. Even those who can resettle their lives run into other troubles as they change careers. So much of our lives are defined by our professions that any adjustment will have major consequences.

Wells also poses some interesting questions about how a company should be run and if the shareholders needs should be considered over those of the workers.

Fortunately, Wells wisely places his sympathy with the workers. It’s hard to cheer for a stockholder; even these folks are necessary for a company to run.

Extras: A commentary track by Wells, a making of featurette, deleted scenes and an alternate ending. (R) Rating: 3.5 —DL

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.