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Saturday, 29 January 2011


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The two recent Cohen Brothers films that I've seen--True Grit and No Country for Old Men--not only stay true to the book but seem to actually use the book as the shooting script. It's the book itself, up there on the screen. Strangely disconcerting in a way. But that means you are stuck with the snake pit. Sorry.


Some of the filming was done in Granger, Texas. A once thriving now beat up cotton town. It's about a 1/2 hour drive for me and I head that way often with my cameras. A fair amount of relics from the past to photograph.


I think the nomination for Supporting is to ensure that she wins. The Leading category is bit too strong this year. Portman has the inside track fer sure. Hailee will win in this category. When it comes to the AA's I am never wrong.


I agree, a very enjoyable movie. I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I could have understood the other 80% of what Jeff Bridges said. (A Netflix repeat viewing is in my future.)

The ancillary benefit to me was, following my inevitable trip to Wikipedia (basically every experience of my life now ends with three hours of research about it on Wikipedia), the introduction to Charles Portis. There is a small but not insubstantial litcrit crowd that considers him a major American literary talent, with a couple of "masterpieces", whatever they are, in his oeuvre. I had always thought of True Grit as nothing more than another piece of John Wayne schlock -- always nice to have one's stupid prejudices overturned.

I agree on the snakepit. It's like severeal directors are into showing "how real world is" (probably trying to better "Unforgiven" only by adding more of everything) and they go completely off the edge. Only so many bad things can happen to the same person at once!!.

Thanks for the review Mike, as I do plan to see this movie. Last night on AMC they showed the original with the Duke and it was better than I remembered. John Wayne was(imo) probably at his best as Rooster and in The Shootist.

The bokeh on the picture looks good, hmm I think I will see the film then.

I didn't see the world portrayed in "True Grit" as one the Coen brothers were expecting us to feel nostalgic about. Sure, the growing affection between Rooster and Mattie gave us a little respite from the harshness. But it was over soon enough, and we see Mattie alone at the end, having never found an adult love, and having literally lost part of herself--her arm--forever.

I don't want that world back, and I'm tired of the mythologizing about it in the movies.

Beautifully made as "True Grit" was, I regretted seeing it. The Tucson tragedy was too fresh. Gunplay (what a word!) just isn't my idea of entertainment.

Steinfeld is fantastic in True Grit, but she wouldn't win best actress this year. That would have to go to Natalie Portman in Black Swan, which is one heck of a mindfreak.

Mike I generally agree with your comments on True Grit. I saw the earlier version the other day and was surprised to see John Wayne looking fitter than Jeff Bridges! The older film was better than i remembered. Also curious, the role of LeBoef was a bit more elaborate in the Wayne film. Not as well directed as Coen bros.films but Lonesome Dove has to rank right up there with the great Westerns.I'm always embarrassed when I see the westerns I loved a kid, Randolph Scott, Johhny Mack Brown, those were truly bad movies.

A SNAKEPIT ??!! LOL !! We know from Raiders of the Lost Arc that Indie HATES snake pits ... maybe the Coen brothers are trying to convince us that they are true Studio film-makers and not Indie ... ?

Thanks to you, Mike, I feel young again.

(I was young the last time I came across anyone using the word "obstreperously".)

Sounds interesting, Mike. My one problem with True Grit, Little Big Man, and other anti-western movies is that I haven't seen many westerns. I don't know the "rules" of westerns so I'm not sure I'd get what made these anti-western movies special. I think I will look into checking out the book from the library since I'm not much of a Coen brothers fan.

Visits to dining pubs, the cinema, a day off ... Mike, this ruthlessly hedonistic lifestyle's threatening to alienate your Mennonitical fan base.

"John Wayne was(imo) probably at his best as Rooster and in The Shootist."

Don't forget "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" (which in my mind is the ultimate JW film) and of course "The Searchers." John Wayne got overtaken by his celebrity image and what he represented in the then-culture of America when he was alive, but like some other matinee idols I can think of he's a better actor than he's often given credit for. He mostly improved any movie he was in, IMO. As you say, he's great in the original "True Grit"; he just plays the part very differently than Jeff Bridges does. I'm no film critic--just an average viewer, or maybe even below average--but I think part of the beauty of Bridges' performance is that he had such a considerable shadow to get out from under, and he manages the challenge admirably. (Bridges has said in interviews that he deliberately didn't watch the earlier film while preparing for his part in the new one--presumably to avoid conscious or subconscious imitation or--what would you call it--anti-imitation?)


Excellent review and comments! Just saw that movie this afternoon and if I had one disappointment, it would be the snake pit stuff. But overall it was an excellent movie. I loved the stilted, period-accurate (or at least more accurate) language. Just a great movie.

"Visits to dining pubs, the cinema, a day off ... Mike, this ruthlessly hedonistic lifestyle..."

As the women around here seem to have taken to saying recently, "I know, right?" Give me a sniff of salt sea air and I could be gone for good.


Check out some of the writer's( Charles Portis) other books.
I really enjoyed "Dog of the South" and "Norwood". Worth a read.

It's top of my list to see. I'm surprised to see that display ads in the Australian press only name Hailee Steinfeld in small print. Bridges, Damon and Brolin get marquee size.

I haven't seen the Wayne film, nor read the book, but I thought the kid was the key to the whole story?

Now if Ms Steinfeld acts as well as Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone"...

Sorry to burst your bubble about evil Hollywood. It looks like - the info come from Chicago Sun-Times Ebert/Emerson site - it was the studio courting actors to vote her in Supporting. Eventually it turned out that she had more votes in that category than in more prestigious but less easy to win actress cat, which, going by the Academy's rules, means she gets to be nominated as Supporting Actress.

The reasoning from the studio makes perfect sense, at her age and experience she has a better chance to win Supporting than Leading. And in my experience those nominated and winning Supporting have had a much more lasting effect, they are remembered for their acting chops not their box office draw and star power.

Frank Rich's NYT column about this movie (and how it relates to other things America) last week. "The one-eyed man is king".



I, too, enjoyed this movie. What hooked me was how the girl negotiated with the person who bought the ponies.
No, wait! What hooked me was, "You may kiss him if you wish." That undertaker was the real hook. Truly grave and funny at the same time.
No, haven't seen the John Wayne version. Just wonder if those negotiation scenes were there.
Don't remember if you ever discussed movies like this before. Love it.

I saw the Coen Brothers True Grit a few weeks ago and the John Wayne version last night for the first time. I had heard the latter came a poor second. It does, but even as one of three American who have never come to appreciate John Wayne, I have to say his acting was good. I was happier to see Robert Duvall as Ned Pepper and Colorado as the principal location. If you are going to make a watered-down version of a book, you might as well frame the scenes with real beauty.
As for snake pits, the two films allow us to see the difference between a pit with a snake and a Snake Pit.

Pity you didn't write *Spoiler Alert*.

I just happen to have seen True Grit last night. Even my wife loved the movie and she usually avoids all (as my father used to call them) "shoot 'em ups". It was the inclusion of the character Mattie Ross that made the difference for her.

I too figured it was Mattie who had the "true grit". I wish I could mention the scene when I decided that, but don't want to ruin it for those who haven't seen the movie. It was the scene when I also realized that Rooster was a man of real character.

But, especially in the end, we also saw that Rooster was a man of true grit, as well as true character.

Hallie and Jeff Bridges were superb. I can't say the same for Matt Damon, who (IMHO) was poorly picked for the role.

Peter F.

Had a date with Mrs Plews Saturday night and went to True Grit. Loved it. Highly recommended.
Not quite O Brother Where Art Thou or Fargo but a stunner none the less.
Maybe we are going to see a comeback for westerns. There was a trailer for something called Cowboys and Aliens which I suppose does not exactly count.

My favorite anti-western movie was Arthur Penn's "Little Big Man". I also really enjoyed Altman's "Buffalo Bill and the Indians".

I think the snake pit is in the book

There is interesting free iPad application with Jeff Bridges' photographs: http://itunes.apple.com/app/true-grit/id414129380

"John Wayne got overtaken by his celebrity image..."

The roles he played may have, and there were things about his public persona I think he personally believed in, but John Wayne the man wasn't overtaken by anything, I think. I met him briefly in about 1970--he had a house down the street from where I lived at the time, and my little sister knew him well, as she was often at his house to play with his children (grandchildren?, can't remember). My impression, from what she said, and my brief encounter, was that he was simply a nice man, comfortable to be around.

This foolishness regarding "Supporting" roles is not new and is not limited to child performers. A similar situation occurred with Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects... like Hailey, he narrated his film, appears in it more than any other character, and was nominated for (and won) Supporting Actor. It is an idiotic combination of studio politics and poorly-conceived rules.

Also: I can't imagine what motivates your ire towards Matt Damon, an actor that I've always found brings life to the roles he portrays and who, to my knowledge has never worn a fedora for a role (and who makes at least as many straight dramas as he does action movies...). He's fantastic in the wonderful Bourne movies, he's hilarious playing third wheel to Clooney and Pitt in the Ocean's films, and he's terrific in films like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Syriana, and The Informant! Add in his silly cameo on 30 Rock and I can't imagine what you find so disagreeable.

A Coen Brothers Rio Bravo next? Day off? Shouldn't you be moderating comments with your phone, even when in movie/toilet/moving vehicle?

Mike, thanks for pointing out that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the ultimate John Wayne western, though I'd place The Searchers on the same level.
Regarding the "anti-western" angle: I never tire of emphasising that Liberty Valance and, in several key aspects, The Searchers, are the prime anti-westerns. The deconstruction of the legend, the cold-blooded execution of the villain in Liberty Valance; the dark-hearted racist hatred of the hero in The Searchers, the revisionist details of the paraphernalia (suspenders, JW wearing a sombrero, tackily sheathed rifles, and so on): these presumedly iconic westerns still defy western conventions.
Both Mattie Ross and James Stewart's "Ransom Stoddard" lawyer character (in Liberty Valance) are quoting law-books. But John Ford's ambivalent movie shows how thin the veneer of civilisation is, how shaky its foundations are; whatever the romantic legend, you are not allowed to forget the fact: that right is also built on might, murder, and myth.

Darin Boville had an interesting observation about how close the new True Grit is to the novel on which it is based.
Back in college I read an essay on the relationship between source material and finished films.
If memory serves it was by Andre Bazin and he argued that the best film ever made of Macbeth was Kurosawa's Throne of Blood even though there is not a word of the bards poetry in it.
I like the idea that movies, books and plays are different and need to be treated as such. That said it is clear that the latest version of True Grit shows that some books do lend themselves to being transferred to the screen largely untouched.
Now on to Forbidden Planet...

My favorite anti-westerns:

Dead Man,
Black Robe,
and perhaps my favorite of all:
The Grey Fox.

Well, as I saw the John Wayne TG on Friday night, and the remake on Saturday night, I feel compelled to comment. I am no John Wayne fan (and am a Coen brothers fan, every since Blood Simple), and my memory of the original, last seen over a decade ago, is that is was over the top and ridiculous, a trifle, and very much of its era.

However, taken through the lens that all the characters are speaking in the girl's voice, as recounted in her memoirs, it was amusing and made me reevaluate my opinion of Mr. Wayne. I thought the role suited his mannerisms, which he exaggerated deliciously.

The best I can say about the remake is that it made me appreciate Kim Darby for the first time, in a role that I had never liked before. I even preferred Jeff Corey's Tom Chaney to Josh Brolin's, an actor I normally like a great deal. In fact, the whole cast of the remake is full of actors I like, and yet I didn't enjoy any of the performances. Jeff Bridges was largely unintelligible; what a waste.

Ah, well, perhaps in a decade or two, I'll grow to enjoy the remake. I'm won't be watching it again any time soon.

"obstreperously", "unregenerately", and "exegesis" in one paragraph? Seriously?
Cut that out. Although, I did appreciate "peregrinate".

I will vote for The Cowboys as the best John Wayne movie, in which Bruce Dern should have won not only Best Actor but evilist man ever.
This True Grit is definitely worth a second viewing! And the score was great ( I went out and bought the CD ) imho maybe the best modern movie score since Pat Garret & Billy the Kid,, and done with just a handful of notes!
Mike if you continue in your wanton ways you will have to come to Austin, where you can go to the Alamo Drafthouse, watch films projected perfectly, and drink and eat at the same time- good food & adult beverages! Oh and they will kick you out for talking, texting, or cell phoning-- you can laugh, cry, or applaud!

Thank you Siskel & Ebert :)

Found this kinda humorous:

Weeelll, I call them strong words from a one-eyed fat man - not that you're, um, you know. MIke, I enjoy everything about your site, including your jazz peregrinations, but now you're straying into my area pardner, and dammit if you ain't knowledgeable there too. Yes, Hailee's nomination as support is silly, but so is Geoffrey Rush's for The King's Speech, a role which is in every sense a co-lead with Colin Firth (and Christian Bale's for The Fighter). And yes, the two John Ford roles are among Wayne's best, especially The Searchers, which makes for an interesting parallel beside this role. Ethan wants to kill the young girl in The Searchers, but in True Grit he falls in love with her - albeit a fatherly kind of love. Each is an expression of its time, I guess. Garry Wills' book on Wayne is fantastic if you haven't read it (John Wayne's America). Explained a lot to me, as a non-American. I think Bridges is different, not better. He hasn't got Wayne's humour, and it's true that he chews his words. That dialogue is too good not to hear. Thanks for another fun OT Sunday.
Here's a link to my review for The Sydney Morning Herald, fyi: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/true-grit-20110121-19yhg.html

I saw "True Grit" today and was impressed.

The 3 male leads got individual designer typeface credit cards, Ms. Steinfeld had her own, too, but prefaced by "With..."

I understand that the practice for mainstream US films is that the lead actors' agents negotiate the manner and presentation of their clients' credits for each production, perhaps Ms. Steinfeld's wasn't tough enough.

For what it's worth: in raw screen time Mr Brolin was way behind Ms Steinfeld (and I suspect Mr Damon).

Ms Steinfeld handled the antiquated dialogue with great skill, for that alone I believe she deserves plaudits; it was something akin to delivering Shakespeare with aplomb.

And on the way home the penny dropped regarding "Leaning, leaning in the arms of the everlasting Lord":

Robert Mitchum in "Night of the Hunter"

(although I expected it to turn into a Charles Ives "set" at any moment.

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