By Ezra Stead
True Grit, USA, 2010
Written and Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Based on the Novel True Grit by Charles Portis
If I were going to direct a Western, I wouldn’t even consider any other cinematographer than Roger Deakins. A frequent collaborator of the Coen Brothers, Deakins shot two of the best films of 2007 – the Coens’ No Country For Old Men and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (quite possibly the best Western ever made) – and it was his painterly eye and excellent use of light that created the mournful, elegiac and distinctly American feel of both those excellent films. Now he has reteamed with Joel and Ethan for their first true period Western, True Grit, and more than their wonderfully dry humor or the excellent performances by Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, it is his work that makes the film as good as it is.
Don’t get me wrong – the Coens have created a truly classic film here, a real Western with all the best parts of the 1969 original intact and amplified, and with a much stronger sense of the other characters besides Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn (whereas the original was mainly a vehicle to showcase John Wayne’s finest performance). Bridges is utterly believable and likable as the irascible Cogburn, and Steinfeld is a talent to watch in the coming years, imbuing young Mattie Ross with a steel resolve that makes me think the 14-year-old could probably beat me in a fight. As mentioned above, the script is full of wonderfully dry humor and startlingly realistic violence (I can’t imagine what they had to cut to whittle it down to a PG-13); there is much to praise about all aspects of the film, but for me it is definitely Deakins’ work that shines the brightest. Read More
By Jason A. Hill
TRON, USA, 1982
Written and Directed by Steven Lisberger
TRON: Legacy, USA, 2010
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
TRON: Legacy has its moments and I admit it is entertaining, but the film falls flat on a weak plot that is little more than a facsimile copy of the original. The original TRON had interesting characters to carry its plot, but Legacy‘s characters will need the 3D dressing to un-flatten these performances. If you saw the original, nothing in this film will surprise you. It seems to be playing on old TRON fans’ curiosity of what they can do with the new CGI, whose best achievement is a young Jeff Bridges’ face. As for new viewers to the franchise, it may entertain but this film plays more like an all-night rave than a plot to save the world from digital oppression.
When the original TRON was released in 1982, computers were still a new thing in pop culture and video games were enchanting a new generation of gamers. It was able to capture a wave of interest in the new technology, as well as the culture, of imagination and the possibilities of technology. The film invented a new form of special effects and took CGI mainstream in a way that didn’t exist before. People often wonder why a film like TRON, with its fairly pedestrian plot, became such a cult phenomenon, but the original TRON was well ahead of its time in every way. Read More
By Jason A. Hill
The Big Lebowski, USA / UK, 1998
Directed by Joel Coen
“The dude abides” is the credo that has led this cult classic for more than ten years running now, and it wasn’t until just this past July that I finally sat down to The Big Lebowski. Now, after reading this one may get the sense that I really have something against the Coens; I mean, after all, my first article bashed the film that gave these indisputably talented filmmakers their first Oscar. However, I have to call ’em like I see ’em, and this film was either over my head or I need a pot brownie to fully appreciate it.
Let me mark off what I did get from this film. Many critics and viewers say that this film isn’t about its plot, it’s about attitude, that attitude being that no matter what happens to a person in life, there is always a silver lining. The Dude never lies, steals, or cheats, but when someone pisses on his carpet he sets out to do what’s right for himself. He’s the free American who lives on the fringes and is more than content with life with a White Russian in one hand, an occasional fling in the other, and maybe a roach in his toe. Read More