True Grit with Jeff Bridges, Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman and some old and new treats for the holidays
The new movie openings this week are scattered across three days. I’ve evaluated all but one of them, and have included a terrific documentary coming the day after New Years. It’s the only new title arriving through the next two weeks. My ratings are:
True Grit 3 1/2 stars
Rabbit Hole 4 stars
Little Fockers 1 star
Gulliver’s Travels ----
The Two Escobars 4 stars
Also, since it’s the festive season, both the VanCity Theatre and the Pacific Cinematheque have special shows for the holidays. Read about some big screen classics, some kiddie fare and three with Marilyn Monroe.
TRUE GRIT: A year ago, Jeff Bridges was in theatres with his Academy Award-winning performance as a country singer. Now he’s back re-creating the role that 40 years ago won John Wayne his Oscar; the trigger-happy, mumbling drunk, U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, also described as “a one-eyed fat man." Fans of the original will recall how that cheap insult stirred Cogburn to bellow "Fill your hand you sonofabitch!" and charge his horse towards four bad guys.
That iconic scene is re-created exactly in this new film, which also sticks faithfully to the story but tells it in a significantly different way. It’s darker, a little meaner, with less comedy and more of the grotesque side of the old west. The Coen Brothers found those flavors in the original 1968 novel by Charles Portis. So, this is not a re-make, but a second version.
A 13-year-old newcomer named Hailee Steinfeld is allowed to steal this show as the young woman who coaxes Cogburn into helping find the man who killed her father. She’s all-business, headstrong and determined, which is nicely established early on when she bests a tough horse trader in a deal. She, the Marshall and a self-aware Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) ride off into Indian territory where they find a man hanging high up in a tree, a rider wearing a bear skin and eventually the killer they’re seeking (Josh Brolin), now with a gang that he’s joined. The film is like an elegiac tribute to the westerns of old and fans should be pleased. It’s beautifully photographed and takes us up into the snowy high country in keeping with the chilly, melancholy of its story. It’s talky with only sporadic action but the chatty dialogue is so quaintly old fashioned that it develops a poetic momentum. The original was more fun; this new one is more emotionally remote but a solid, more serious movie. (5th Avenue, Dunbar, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres). 3 1/2 out of 5
RABBIT HOLE: (opening Friday) is not what I consider a holiday film, since it deals with parents grieving over the death of a young child. But it is extremely well written and acted and has already gained Nicole Kidman two acting award nominations (Golden Globe and Independent Spirit). The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play although there were enough changes and additions that it took some people almost a third of the way in to realize they had seen it at the Arts Club last year. There are new characters written in, especially in two parent support group sequences, and the story has been smoothly "opened up". It now takes us out into the streets with Becca, the mother who’s grief becomes spookily ethereal and leads her to stalk and then befriend the teenage boy who ran down her four-year-old son. (The title refers to, among other things, a graphic novel the boy is writing).
There are emotional arguments with her husband (Aaron Eckhart) and guilt-ridden ones with her mother (Dianne Wiest) all perfectly true to the gut-wrenching ordeal people who’ve lost a child must be going through. Moving on becomes a huge struggle with different paths. She wants to get rid of the toys and the memories. He wants to cling on to them. The film takes them through a raw realization, that the grief lingers and can resurge at anytime. The film is deeply moving as it depicts all these concepts with sensitivity and occasional flashes of humor. It’s for serious-minded people only. (International Village) 4 out of 5
LITTLE FOCKERS: I’ve been hearing so much about how bad this film is, I just had to check it out myself. Yes, the reports are true. There are maybe five laughs in these tiring 98 minutes which play like a badly-written TV sitcom. The key recurring joke (you know, the one based on the family name) is consolidated into one big one and then repeated six or seven times. Talk about missing inspiration among the writers.
The film isn’t even about the children. It’s still, like in the original Meet the Parents and the first sequel, about the mistrust harbored by ex-CIA, father-in-law Robert De Niro for male nurse Ben Stiller, the man who married his daughter. When he sees him apparently canoodling with a not fully-clothed babe played by Jessica Alba, his suspicions are back in full. It’s all innocent, of course, just clumsily presented. A late Jaws parody set in a pool of plastic balls (think of the ball room at IKEA) is so badly directed it just falls flat. Barbara Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Owen Wilson and even Deepak Chopra (briefly) participate in the mirthless mess. (International Village, Oakridge, Dolphin and several suburban theatres. 1 out of 5
Opening Jan 2 …
THE TWO ESCOBARS: The new year starts off strong at the VanCity Theatre with this powerful documentary. It's one of the best I've ever seen. It has more drama, hope, tragedy and tension than most fictional films. We've all heard of one of these Escobars, Pablo, the notorious drug lord in Columbia who, until he was hunted down and shot, was a sort of a Robin Hood to the poor and a financial supporter for the national soccer team.
The other one, Andres Escobar, was the star player on that team and took it to the World Cup in Los Angeles. A lot of archival clips document the team's rise, how the dream ended with an own-goal by Andres and the tragic price he paid for that mistake. A fast-moving and compelling documentary. (Jan 2, 3, 5 and 6) 4 out of 5
It's paired with another soccer film, ARGENTINA FUTBOL CLUB, all about the passions flaring between two traditional rivals at an annual game called “El Classico.” Producer Gavin Sullivan will introduce the film at the 4:20 screening, Jan 2. Also showing Jan 3 and 5.
More info at http://www.viff.org/theatre
Big-screen holiday treats at the VanCity Theatre .....
The holiday menu here has nine films that are, or are becoming classics. I mean how many times do you get to see WEST SIDE STORY on the big screen, in new prints well-projected?
The big Oscar winner has amazing street-based dance numbers (and duels) between the Sharks and the Jets, the Romeo and Juliet story transposed to New York gangs and one great song after another: “I Like to Be in America”; “I Feel Pretty”; “When You’re a Jet”; “Tonight”; “Gee Officer Krupke”; “Maria”; and more.
How about the wide-screen sand vistas of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA?
The slow but gorgeous Stanley Kubrick period piece BARRY LYNDON, the early and earthy Mark Wahlberg film BOOGIE NIGHTS, the feel-good Ernst Lubitsch comedy THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER or a super oddity called PAPRIKA.
That's a wildly hallucinatory animated film from Japan about a machine that enables intrusions into other people's dreams. Christopher Nolan says it was a major influence on his big hit Inception.
Most of these films get two screenings between Friday Dec 24 and Sunday Jan 2. You can find times, prices and film notes at http://www.viff.org/theatre/
Holiday fare at Pacific Cinematheque ….
THE RED BALLOON: This classic short film from France brings out emotional memories for many people. They might want to share it with their kids and grandchildren.
A young boy finds a balloon floating free and follows it around his neighborhood in Paris. It becomes a living thing, a guide and a friend. The two cross busy streets (key locations in a youngster’s life), wind up at school and suffer a tragedy at the boots of a bully. There’s magic in this film, almost no dialogue and a rich soundtrack. The film won an Oscar back in 1957.
You can see it in two varied double bills. One is in tandem with director Albert Lamorisse’s previous film, WHITE MANE, also a story of friendship, this time between a boy and a wild horse.
Both films are short, and together total some 73 minutes).
The other double bill could be with FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON, the homage to the original that was filmed in the same area of Paris by the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien. It played here two years ago. Juliette Binoche plays a mom who’s son is photographed by his nanny following a similar red balloon on a series of adventures.
And for adults, the Cinematheque has three of Marilyn Monroe’s best, and most colorful films.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES has her and Jane Russell as transatlantic goldiggers.
Howard Hawks directed the garish and giddy musical which features Monroe cooing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”
On a similar note, there’s HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE in which Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall try to attract rich men in a high-rise penthouse apartment they share. The second film released in the glorious new widescreen Cinemascope.
And finally LET’S MAKE LOVE in which Monroe romanced her co-star Yves Montand, both on and off screen. It also features one of her best singing performances, a sultry “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” All three films get rapturous reviews from both male and female critics.
Opening Christmas Day …
GULLIVER’S TRAVELS: I’ve also been hearing mostly discouraging words about this one, especially the opportunity it affords Jack Black to indulge in his personal style of showing off when he’s among the little people. He plays a mail room clerk at a newspaper who wrangles a travel article assignment to the Bermuda Triangle. He’s shipwrecked, washed up on the land of the Lilliputians, repairs the romance of a spoiled princess (Emily Blunt) and eventually demonstrates that war, as the final song says, “what is it good for?” I’ll be amazed if much of Jonathan Swift’s satire remains although a British reviewer noted a “naughtiness” that children will like, considerable toilet humor on Black’s part, and an easy-to-take family film. I’m told that the 3-D is ridiculously bad. (International Village and suburban theatres).
NOTE: The photos were supplied by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright woners.