Jan 14, 2011

Viewing Log #3.4

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
True Grit (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2010). Although toned down from their usual, ironically detached style, this distinctly un-ironic remake/retelling of the original Charles Portis novel is every bit as assured and idiosyncratic as the Coens' other (albeit more subversive) western, No Country for Old Men. Never stepping on the toes of the original 1969 adaptation (an okay film elevated by at least one wonderful lead performance; the presence of the Duke never hurt anyone, either), theirs sticks closer to the reported darkness of the original novel, most notably in a touching denouement that amplifies the existential trappings of the film without literalizing them. As the young heroine Mattie Ross, relative newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is a tour-de-force of whiplash verbosity and razor-sharp wit, a maturity of character that sees her determined to avenge the murder of her father by the cowardly drunkard Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). As her hired bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges is at least as appropriate and iconic in the role as John Wayne was four decades ago. More proof for the usefulness of remakes by great talent (if anything, the '69 original is now a better film that it can stand alongside this one), the Coens' True Grit also functions as an equally somber and hilarious criticism/correction of racism past. As a nearly-definitive cinematic representation, one doubts it will ever be contested. [Rating: 4.5 out of 5]

Tangled (Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, 2010). Disney's postmodern retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Rapunzel" certainly doesn't lack for archetypal recognition; more often than not, the film is suffocated by it. Seemingly an attempt to board the Shrek bandwagon without the excessive smartassery, this, the 50th animated production from the studio (and the most expensive animated movie ever made, at an unadjusted budget of $260 million), gets at least as much right as it does wrong but the final effect remains one of a barely-triggered gag reflex. Narrative abbreviations curtail much in the way of accruing emotional resonance as the film rushes through back story to the present where Rapunzel remains locked in a tower, convinced by her evil faux mother (who, at several hundred years old, needs the girl's anaconda-like hair for its life-giving qualities) that the outside world is too dangerous to venture. As a singer, Mandy Moore's pop voice is pleasant enough, but her ability as a voice actor is too limited, perhaps simply inexperienced, to lend much in the way of characterization to the lead role -- the princess remains firmly less than the sum of her parts. The guys aren't much better off, and frankly, I found the songwriting terribly shrill and annoying, and this coming from someone who once wore out virtually every Disney VHS through The Return of Jafar. When Tangled does work, however infrequently, the results are often breathtaking, sometimes among the finest in the studio's canon. Leave it to Rapunzel's sidekick chameleon, Pascal, to pick up the slack the rest of the time. Someone give this little guy a movie all his own. [Rating: 2.5 out of 5]

Tron: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, 2010). These eyes didn't glimpse 1982's Tron until adulthood, so it isn't through the rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia that I say I believe that film to be very nearly a masterpiece, a Metropolis-esque utilization of technology fused with a technologically-slanted narrative that is at least as important to the evolution of digital cinema as later behemoths like Jurassic Park and Terminator 2. This long-gestating sequel recognizes that relationship and capitalizes on it in the form of a pseudo-philosophical recalibration of the original concept that owes as much to the past two decades of video games as it does to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jeff Bridges reprises his original role, now trapped inside "the grid" as an exiled Zen master betrayed by one of his own creations: Clu, made in his own image and named after the departed program from the original film and whose purpose to create the perfect world turns malevolent as he attempts to weed out the impure from his digital domain. The recreation of a younger Jeff Bridges is at least as startlingly realistic as the young Arnold Schwarzenegger's digital cameo in Terminator Salvation but his lingering presence quickly triggers the uncanny valley effect to sublime (if not necessarily deliberate) results; the photo-realistic nature of the character (with the exception of his mouth, which never seems quite as spot-on as the rest of him) suggests something too good to be true. Musings about science and religion never transcend lip service but a plot development involving naturally occurring digital life is plenty to chew on amidst the surreal neon images, less revolutionary (and trippy) than the 1982 effects but never lacking for imagination or visceral thrill. The climax, involving something not unlike a reverse big-bang, is a masterstroke. If only Disney could always be this kinky. [Rating: 4 out of 5]


  1. Anonymous1:32 AM

    Your Reviews sucks dude, and Shrek TOO. Obviously you don't like Disney movies, and you gave them no credit. "Tangled" is very funny unless you are a person who forgot you were a child once. Tron gave us great visuals. I admit the story is quite simple, but you got a good experience.
    And your reviews came too late, come on, almost two months after the realize. Thanks to you Tangled has now 88% at rotten tomatoes, it hold the 89% for a while, but you didn't have the time to go to the movies or you think too much when you write these uninspired words???

    DG Dann-E Meneses

    PS Your blogspot needs new design, we cannot see a black word on a black background....

  2. Thank you for this. You have no idea.

    P.S. It's light gray on black and everyone I know who knows how to adjust their monitor has been fine.

  3. Rob what happened to the ratings??? You know that I'm too shallow to discern whether a film is good or not unless there is a numerical indication of some sort to help me along....

  4. Stefan: I'm never really sure if I prefer using ratings or not, as drawbacks exist both ways. I am, I think, going to experiment with something a little more visually engaging, so you can expect to see something in the way of a quantifier on the way soon.

  5. Anonymous9:23 AM

    Rob, one can barely read your Oscar Snubs choices. We shouldn't have to adjust our monitors to see your blog... you're the one trying to capture viewers. Scott

  6. @11:56 - The black on black text is the default of the widget's template; I've poked about the blogger editing features and haven't found a means of changing it. That I was able to adjust the main text of the site to pure white was a triumph in itself; all of my html knowledge was learned the backdoor way.