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Archive for January, 2011

So here are two movies I liked so much, I saw them twice:

True Grit

Adapted and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Sure, this was filmed before in 1969 with the legendary John Wayne, but hey, it’s been 40 years and the Coen brothers wanted to film their own version of the story, based on the novel by Charles Portis.  I actually hadn’t seen the earlier film when I first saw this new version, but the AMC cable channel conveniently showed it on TV, and now I’ve seen both.  In my opinion, they’re both good films, but I liked this newer version better.  The focus was shifted in the 1969 version to the character of US Marshal  Rooster Cogburn, because he was played by THE John Wayne, and the role won Wayne his only Academy Award for Best Actor.  This version has Jeff Bridges delivering a great, very un-Wayne-like performance as Rooster Cogburn, but the focus of the film has been returned to the 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who enlists Cogburn to help her track down the man who killed her father.  Mattie was played in the 1969 version by Kim Darby, and I didn’t find her performance as annoying as some people seem to have—I thought it was a good performance, but she was noticeably an older actress (22, I think) trying to play 14 and only partially succeeding.  In this version, 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie and more than holds her own alongside established stars  Bridges and Matt Damon (as LeBeouf, a Texas Ranger who tags along with Rooster and Mattie on their journey).  It’s a much talked-about performance that I think lives up to the hype.  Her scenes with Damon (also superb) in particular are remarkable.   The rest of the ensemble is uniformly excellent, with Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin as the main “bad guys”, and Dakin Matthews as a horse trader who butts heads with Mattie in a fun scene.

The film also “feels” just right—as one (well me, anyway) might imagine the real Old West might have felt, with the stilted language and quotes from the Bible, and a haunting soundtrack based on old hymns such as “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.    I thought the epilogue-ending was a little bit of a letdown from the main story, but for the most part, I thought this was an excellent film with some truly wonderful performances.

The King’s Speech

screenplay by David Seidler, directed by Tom Hooper

I’ve always found the story of King George VI of Great Britain (father of the current Queen Elizabeth II) a lot  more interesting than that of his older brother, Edward VIII (who abdicated in order to marry an American divorcee), but more films have been made about Edward (called David by his family).  Well, now there is a wonderful film about George, whose real name was Albert and was called “Bertie” by his family.  Colin Firth plays Bertie, who suffers from a stammer and has been to many specialists without much success, until his wife Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother, played here by Helena Bonham Carter), brings him to an unorthodox Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who wants not only to treat the physical conditions that contribute to Bertie’s speech impediment, but to delve into the emotional roots behind it as well.  Bertie is resistant at first, but gradually trust is built and a friendship grows.  The film also deals with the abdication, as Bertie is forced to become King against his wishes, and also with the onset of World War II, as he is called to give a radio broadcast in order to reassure his subjects in the coming time of crisis.

This is an actors’ movie.  It hinges on the performances of its two leads, Firth and Rush, and both performers deliver.  Firth does a great job of making me forget that he doesn’t really resemble King George VI physically at all.  I believe he is the Duke of York and later the King.  He is a complex mixture of determination, duty, compassion, temper and self-doubt.  His scenes with his family are particularly touching, and every scene with Rush as Logue is a treat.  Rush delivers a remarkable performance as well, as a commoner who is called on to treat a royal patient and insists on treating him as an equal.  His Logue is every bit as stubborn and determined as Firth’s Bertie, and the growth of their working relationship into a real friendship is a joy to watch.  Bonham Carter is also excellent as Elizabeth, and she and Firth have great chemistry as a couple.  There are also very good performances by Guy Pearce as the conflicted Edward VIII and Michael Gambon as his father King George V.

Also, for trivia buffs and fans of the 1995 BBC/A&E adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this film is notable in that it briefly re-unites Firth (who played Mr. Darcy) with his Elizabeth Bennet, Jennifer Ehle, who appears here as Lionel Logue’s wife, Myrtle.  Sorry, though–there’s no lake diving or long, meaningful brooding-romantic glances in this one.

This is the time of year when I try to see as many of the “Oscar bait” films as I can.  I’m not sure how many I will get to see before the awards are presented, but I’m very glad I was able to see these two.  I think both films are very deserving of the various award nominations they have received.

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