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True Grit with Jeff Bridges, Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman and some old and new treats for the holidays

Western fans get the classic showdown and the iconic landscape in the Coen Brothers’ new take on True Grit.

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 …

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