Mini-Review: True Grit

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Gray Area post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

True Grit

This film falls into the Gray Area because I only managed to see it in January though I had chances to in December. For the record, I would not retroactively include this film in my Top 15 of 2010, however, that is one of the few things I can really fault it for. The film works and it works well I could just never get as involved with it as it wanted me to be.

The other thing that is a little bothersome is that in a rather realistic and well-spoken film you get an ending that smacks of a hollywood cliché. The annoyance of false climax aside it’s two perils combined in one to add a little more running time and a quasi-tragic button to the whole affair.

Regardless of that the film is beautifully photographed by Roger Deakins and is played very convincingly by its cast particularly Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. It’s a plot that’s simple enough but also intriguing enough that it naturally becomes a character study without ever being tiresome.

8/10

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2014 Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year: Brenton Thwaites

This award is one I will present annually to the actor, writer, director or any combination thereof who has in my estimation the best year. The only real criteria is that they have multiple credits. The credits can be two responsibilities on the same film or more than one film. The idea came to me based on Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredible 2008. He was the first winner and the name stuck.

Brenton Thwaites

Oculus (2013, Relativity Media)

One of the awards in the universe of them that has always particularly bothered me are handed out at the ShoWest Convention. They are the Male and Female Star of Tomorrow. What bothers me is that usually when I see these winner announcements there is very little that the recipient has done to earn it. Seeing as how it is labeled as a “tomorrow” prize I can allow that to slide, but it gets my hackles up and gets me feeling like going on a good Dennis Green-style tirade. Even the BAFTA Rising Star Award to contrast usually has nominees who are a bit more accomplished. This roundabout lead-in is to explain the fact that at 25 years of age, yes, Brenton Thwaites is young but he had a breakout year unlike too many I’ve seen and I’ve missed one of his credited titles.

Early in 2014 he was one of four actors to give an absolutely tremendous performance in Oculus. Horror movies are both notoriously overlooked in terms of performance but also typically don’t even seem to care if there are good ones being turned in. His work as a young man who has just been released from psychiatric observation for a traumatic experience that lead to his conviction for the murder of his father is a tremendous part of the success of this film.

Then there is the small, yet significant role, that seems to need to factor into this award on an annual basis. He plays Prince Phillip in Maleficent. Now, one of the things that Maleficent did get right it is that the film was about Maleficent and Briar Rose almost exclusively, and similar to Sleeping Beauty (and other Disney tales) the prince is almost incidental, but he is cast well and carries himself quite regally.

Also in the summertime he was the face, the centerpiece of Jeff Bridges’ longtime-coming labor of love The Giver. Being the memorykeeper of his dystopian futuristic society he has to come off as the dreamer and a hero and does so in both calls to duty. He shares the screen with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep among others and does amazingly well in a film I thought to be highly underrated.

Lastly, there’s The Signal, which is far more than an “indie cred” project but a twist-heavy sci-fi tale that continuously wanders down the rabbit hole. Confused by his circumstances Thwaites’ character here is like a cross of his two other performances on the year and he has not only much dialogue to handle, but plenty of solo time in the early stages of act two where he excels.

It’s rare for a performer in one year to go from unknown to the reason to see a movie, but Thwaites certainly did that in 2014 in my estimation. If I were to place a bet on his future I would think it’s a sure thing but this award, unlike those others, is solely about the year you just had. Whereas, I had cause to nominate some actors twice like Tom Hardy, Thwaites certainly did threaten to earn individual nods, had a great year and established a cinematic presence one that I believe will both grow and linger for quite some time.

Review- Tron: Legacy

Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy (Disney)

It would be best to lead with what works with this film, which is easier to enumerate than what does not. What does work, at least a majority of the time is the visual effects, the score is kind of cool too. This film is a visual effects artists’ playground but simultaneously the enemy of narrative. You should have seen it coming as few and far between are the positive reviews that lead with “The effects were so great.” However, as impressively striking as some of the visual sequences are some are bothersome also.

Those that are bothersome are mainly the computer-generated Jeff Bridges. Granted that in the first sequence they do a good job of camouflaging the CG-ness of the younger version of Bridges but having to look at a CG Bridges under the guise of Clu is very annoying after an extended period of time.

The issues for the story, which faintly flits about behind a computer generated masquerade, begin almost from the minute that answers start being provided. The mystery of “how did Sam (Garrett Hedlund) get here, why is his father still here and why can’t he leave?” is intriguing enough until you start to get answers.

The problem with the answers is how they are written. It’s as if the screenwriters mistook being confusing for sounding smart. As a matter of fact there’s a ten minute stretch of the film wherein none of Jeff Bridges’ lines are entirely coherent.  

There’s nothing wrong with a veil of confusion being thrown over a subject matter and the film either doesn’t try to answer the questions or does it best to answer them. This film does neither. It’s neither the kind of film that relishes ambiguity of meaning like some of Bergman’s work or tells an involved narrative but explains everything painstakingly like Inception. It just sort of sits there and you stare at it because it’s there and you don’t know why you stare at it but you just do. Which is saying something, that is that it’s not boring but it is most definitely insipid.

Moving on you glean whatever you glean from half-truths and gorilla dust, to quote the late great Phil Hartman, the basic plot is that Bridges’ character created an alter-ego when he was less wise than he is now and his megalomaniacal tendencies lead Clu to rule The Grid, this video game world, with an iron fist. And then? The stakes never seem that high because Kevin (Bridges) is reticent to leave at first even though it’s quite clear how it can be done. Furthermore, there’s little incentive for us to get emotionally involved because the laser light show has to start as soon as possible and therefore the bond and the heartbreak of the separation of father and son are never really firmly entrenched except in a very superficial way.

This is the epitome of a “Hit Me Movie” in the worst kind of way. You end up bathing in slick imagery and when it’s done you don’t feel cleansed or refreshed on the contrary you feel dirty.

2/10