Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

True Grit (2010)

I think it was Roger Ebert's review that said what the Coen Brothers did in remaking "True Grit" was make a really good Western.  I have to agree with that.  The first time after watching this On Demand it surprised me just how straightforward the plot was.  No real twists or turns or much out of the ordinary.  Just a simple, straight ahead Western.  For a Western it might be really, really good but since the closest to a Western I've watched all the way through is "Dances With Wolves" I really wouldn't know.

The straight ahead plot starts first with a murder.  14-year-old Mattie Ross's father is killed by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and he promptly skips town to light out for Indian Territory.  Mattie refuses to take this lying down, so she hires US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to follow Chaney.  Before they can set out, Mattie is visited by Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon), who has also been pursuing Chaney for shooting a Texas senator.  He wants to take Chaney back to Texas so he can collect a reward, but Mattie refuses, wanting Chaney to die for killing her father, not for killing a Texas senator.

Without her knowledge though Rooster and LaBeouf set out together and agree to share the reward.  Mattie catches up to them, nearly drowning herself and her horse in the process.  This leads to a falling-out between Rooster and LaBeouf when Rooster refuses to send his employer home.  So Rooster and Mattie go off on their own to search for Chaney.

As you'd expect there are some gun battles and really everything except a tribe of Indians in war paint to attack them.  Though it's mostly through dumb luck that they eventually find Chaney for the final showdown.  Is that a spoiler?  Well, what kind of Western would it be without a final showdown?

Anyway, as you'd expect from the Coen Brothers, this is a well-made film that intersperses violence and humor in about equal doses.  The acting is all top-notch, as you'd expect from this all-star roster.  What it reminds me of mostly is "Road to Perdition" which combined a violent gangster movie with a coming-of-age story.  Only it's here on the trail in Indian territory in the 1880s or so that Mattie comes of age.

My main complaint, as I mentioned in the beginning, is that this is all so simple.  Mattie is the spunky girl coming of age.  Rooster is the gruff loner with a heart.  LaBeouf is the noble Ranger.  The only real non-archetype is the outlaw Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) who is the villain and probably evil but not really TOO evil.  Maybe it was just me but I couldn't help thinking if they'd cast someone a little younger for LaBeouf they could have had a little romantic thing going on with him and Mattie.  It seemed towards the end like it could go that direction, but a guy in his mid-30s and a 14-year-old girl would probably have made people too uncomfortable.

Anyway, since it's finally on DVD (which for some reason took six months when most movies go from theater to DVD nowadays in about half that) it's a good rental.  It's not as good as other Coen Brothers movies like "No Country for Old Men" or "Fargo" but it's definitely better than most of the schlock on the New Rental shelves.  If you're someone like my dad who grew up with the John Wayne version you might not care for it much.  I mean, come on, Jeff Bridges is not The Duke.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)
Metacritic score:  80/100 (3 stars)

PS:  In the credits I noticed Buster Coen played "Mr. Damon's Abs Double."  What the heck is that?  A stunt double for his midsection?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Green Hornet

I think the best backhanded compliment I can give this is that I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would.  I've hated just about everything Seth Rogen has ever done except his supporting role in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and the Green Hornet always seemed like a third-rate hero to me.  So I was prepared to find this unwatchable.  But it wasn't.

That's not to say it's anywhere near the level of great superhero movies like "The Dark Knight" or "Spider-Man 2" or "Iron Man."  It is a small step above the truly awful ones like "The Spirit" and "Jonah Hex" though.

I think what makes the movie bearable is that it's in on the joke.  Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is presented as a complete buffoon.  In a flashback, we see that young Britt tried to stop some bullies from picking on a girl. 

When he fails and gets in trouble, he's taken to his father (Tom Wilkinson, previously in "Batman Begins") who tells him that trying doesn't matter if you fail.  So Britt just stops trying.  He becomes content to fritter away his life partying.

That is until his father is killed by a bee sting.  A moment where you have to suspend disbelief is that Britt's father, who finds him to be a total disappointment, gives him his entire estate, including control of The Daily Sentinel.

Britt has no interest in running a newspaper until he and his father's mechanic/coffee maker Kato (Jay Chou) go to the cemetery to chop the head off his father's statue.  In the process Britt and Kato (mostly Kato) foil a mugging--and possibly worse.

From there they decide to become heroes.  This is where Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) comes in.  Though she's working first as a temp and then as Britt's secretary, she has a degree in criminology.  Britt and Kato use her knowledge in order to find some criminals for them to beat up.  As well they use the newspaper itself to publicize their vigilante actions to bring more attention to themselves, kind of the opposite of the Spider-Man movies.

And actually I have to say I found the whole idea of the hero posing as a villain to be a good twist on the concept.  As they say, if the criminals think you're a hero then they know there are certain lines you won't cross.  If they think you're one of them, then everything is on the table.  Kind of a play on the Batman's philosophy.

All of the criminals in LA pay tribute to Chudnovsky (Christoph Waltz of "Inglorious Basterds" fame), a criminal who becomes insecure about his name, his clothes, and how scary he is after visiting an upstart rival played by Rogen buddy James Franco.

From there Britt and Kato take on Chudnovsky with the help of a really sweet ride called the Black Beauty that has machine-guns, missiles, flamethrowers, and lots of other goodies.  And in the process Britt has to grow up a little bit, though not too much since this is a Rogen picture.

Anyway, as I said earlier, this might have been unbearable if the movie weren't in on the joke.  Kato is clearly the real hero and Britt the sidekick.  Everyone but Britt realizes this.  The gas gun the Green Hornet uses in this movie comes about because Kato is afraid of Britt having a real gun, so he gives him something nonlethal.  The movie knows that not only Britt but the whole film itself is supposed to be stupid fun and it never really betrays that by getting too serious.

There are of course a number of problems with it.  For one thing, about half of Rogen's "acting" seems to be expressing "Wow!" sentiments at Kato and the Black Beauty, who are the real stars of the movie.  The film slows down in the second act, after Britt and Kato first take on Chudnovsky.  And as at least one of my Gather "friends" noted, the Lenore character doesn't make much sense.  She has a degree in criminology and she's working as a temp secretary?  In this economy that is slightly believable, but not a whole lot.  They probably could have solved that problem by giving her a kid and saying she had to take whatever job was available to provide for him/her.  That could also have provided some comic fodder of Britt interacting a kid who's clearly smarter than him.  I'm just saying.

Anyway, this isn't a great movie by any means, but it's not completely terrible either.  Now that it's on DVD and On Demand, it's an OK rental.

(And really I love the ingenious solution at the end of what to do when Britt gets shot.  The old killing two birds with one stone thing.)

That is all.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)
Metacritic score:  39/100 (1.5 stars)