Hell or High Water (B+). This is the best movie I have seen in a while–a tense little crime drama about a couple of brothers who go on a bank-robbing spree in various desolate west Texas towns. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) chews the scenery and steals the show as the grizzled old Texas Ranger (a few weeks from retirement, naturally) who is on their trail, but his Hispanic partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham, Twilight) has some memorable lines as well. The bank-robbing brothers are fine too: loose cannon Tanner (Ben Foster, The Messenger) and thoughtful, relatively honorable Toby (Chris Pine, Into the Woods). What are the brothers really after? Will the Rangers catch up with them, and what will happen if they do? It’s rather like Bonnie and Clyde, I suppose, except I liked this movie even better. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan also wrote last year’s very good Emily Blunt pic Sicario, so I think he is one to watch.
Tron: Legacy (D-). At least I had the good sense to wait to see this dog at the dollar theater. But maybe I’m being unfair. I knew going in that it was going to be a nonsensical movie about a guy getting zapped by a laser and sucked into a computer, where he would find a futuristic society inhabited by computer programs that look and act like people. Nevertheless, I felt severely let down by this movie, which was relentlessly loud much of the time and featured dialogue of sub-Star Warsian quality the rest of the time. How Jeff Bridges (True Grit) kept a straight face is a huge mystery; surely they had to use CGI magic to edit out his embarrassed giggles. Two things save this piece of dreck from getting an F: the lovely Olivia Wilde (Cowboys & Aliens), who plays a brunette computer program named Quorra who has been living with Bridges’s character for the last 20 years, and the lovely Beau Garrett (Turistas), who plays an icy blond computer program named Gem who is good at smiling enigmatically. But despite their charms, I must urge you to avoid this movie!
True Grit (A). I am unfamiliar with the book and the John Wayne version of this movie, so I had no preconceived notions–except that I would probably like this movie because I’ve liked everything I’ve seen by the Coen brothers for a long time. (I still don’t get Barton Fink, though.) Obviously, I thoroughly liked this movie. Hailee Steinfeld is wonderful as Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl whose father has just been murdered in 1870s Fort Smith, Arkansas (on the border with the Indian Territory). Smart and determined, she persuades broken-down federal marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, Tron) to pursue the murderer into the Indian Territory for the promise of a $100 reward. Matt Damon (The Informant!) plays LaBoeuf, a Texas ranger who’s tracking the same guy for a crime he committed in Texas. The dialogue is strangely elevated, almost like a Whit Stillman film, but it somehow seems right. Mayhem is never far away as they track the villainous Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, The Goonies). Good stuff!
True Grit (A-). I’ll resist the urge to compare this film to the original starring John Wayne–mainly because it’s been too long since I saw the original version. I confess, however, that I was prepared to boycott this film because it seems wrong to push John Wayne deeper into the shadows by making another movie from the book. But when I saw the cast and directors, I couldn’t resist the lure to see it.
This 2010 film is very entertaining. A big part of what makes this movie so good is the witty dialogue. One of my favorite lines is delivered by spitfire Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) after Leboeuf stakes a claim to the outlaw Tom Cheney by telling Ross that he’s been pursuing Cheney hither and yon for a very long time: “Why have you ineffectually been pursuing Cheney?” But even good dialogue needs the actors capable of delivering it, and this film obviously has that, with Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn, Damon as the boasting bounty hunter from Texas, and Josh Brolin as the outlaw Tom Cheney, who killed Ross’s father. Relative newcomer Steinfeld rounds out the cast and proves that she’s an equal to her co-stars. If there is one weakness in this film, it comes at the end when you see a grown-up version of Mattie Ross. The grown-up version doesn’t really match what you’d expect Mattie to become as an adult. But this is a minor point.
I recommend seeing this film. You’ll be glad you did. I was.
The Big Lebowski (A-). I am sorry I have missed out on the pleasure of this Coen brothers movie for so long. A plot summary can’t begin to convey how bizarrely off the wall the film is. Jeff Bridges (Starman) is an amiable California slacker named Jeff Lebowski, known to his friends simply as The Dude. He likes to drink, smoke marijuana, and bowl with his buddies Walter (John Goodman, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi, The Island). But then a couple of thugs mistake him for a wealthy old man who happens to share his name, and then when the old Lebowski’s trophy wife (Tara Reid, Josie and the Pussycats) gets kidnapped, he taps The Dude to be his ransom courier. Things quickly spiral out of The Dude’s comprehension, much less his control. Julianne Moore (Children of Men) is hilarious as the old man’s avant-garde-artist daughter. A couple of dream sequences are way, way over the top. (How does one conceive of the image of Saddam Hussein getting your bowling shoes for you?) Oh, and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers is in the movie, too. I laughed out loud several times, and I never stopped rooting for The Dude. If you like the Coen brothers’ quirky sense of humor, this cross between Raising Arizona and What’s Up, Doc? should hit your funny bone.
Crazy Heart (B-). Jeff Bridges (Starman) stars in the Oscar-bait role of Bad Blake, a washed-up country singer-songwriter who supports his alcoholism by playing tiny concerts in bowling alleys and bars across the Southwest. During his travels, he meets the proverbial Good Woman — a reporter and single mother named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Dark Knight), who interviews him for a local newspaper. We also encounter the Young Upstart (Colin Farrell, Minority Report) and the Sage Old-Timer (Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies) as Bad begins a tentative quest for redemption. It’s not a bad movie, and Bridges is probably not capable of a bad performance, but it’s all so familiar and predictable it’s hard to get too excited about it.
Iron Man (B+). I’ll have to defer to Comic Book Guy as to how faithful this flick is to the comics from which it sprang, but it stands on its own merits as a solid superhero movie. Robert Downey, Jr. (The Avengers) stars as Tony Stark, a zillionaire inventor who made his pile in the weapons biz. After some unpleasantness in Afghanistan, he comes home with a bad ticker and a worse conscience. (How he built a pacemaker-sized nuclear reactor in a cave in Afghanistan is a great mystery to me.) To expiate his sins as a munitions maker, he creates a fabulous metallic suit that gives him, basically, super powers. Good action, good performance by Downey. Gwyneth Paltrow (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) is wasted as Stark’s girl Friday, the improbably named Pepper Potts. Jeff Bridges (True Grit) plays an oily (and bald) executive in Stark’s weapons company, but I just kept thinking, “Hey, that’s Jeff Bridges in a superhero movie!” every time I saw him. There’s a tiny little extra scene after all the credits, but it meant nothing to me. Comic book fans would probably get more out of it. A very good summertime flick.
Oh, and it just happens to be the 1000th movie I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it sounds obsessive for me to know that, but my sister and I have had a contest for years to see who could see more movies, so we both keep track. Okay, she just tells me when she sees a movie; I do all the keeping track. Anyway, I’m totally kicking her butt, since she’s seen only about 950 movies in her life. But I’m about 9 years older than she is, so I guess she’s doing all right.