True Grit (2010)

If You Would Like to Sleep in a Coffin, it Would be Alright

Today’s movie was a request by me.  For a while now I’ve talked about Jeff Bridges and how, though I respect him greatly as an actor, the greater majority of the movies I’ve reviewed with him in it seemed very similar in their performances, often resembling his character of The Dude from the Big Lebowski.  But, while I’ve said these things, I’ve usually mentioned them along with a certain movie I’ve seen where his performance had little to nothing in common with The Dude, and that is today’s movie.  It’s also a movie that I believe I originally saw in the theaters and fell completely in love with.  When it came out for purchase, I got it on BluRay and renewed my love for it.  I’ve been putting off my review for no particular reason, but no longer.  The time has come to review the second film adaptation of the novel True Grit, written by Charles Portis, written for the screen and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Elizabeth Marvel, Ed Lee Corbin, Dakin Matthews, Domhnall Gleeson, Leon Russom, and Joe Stevens.

The father of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is gunned down by one of his hired hands, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), for two California gold chips and a horse.  Her brother being even younger and her mother being unqualified for the task, it falls on Mattie’s shoulders to arrange for the body to be transported back home.  But, when she gets to the town, she sets about the task of revenge.  Realizing that it’s not a top priority for the law to find Chaney, she decides to hire U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to seek him out.  He refuses her at first, but when she raises enough money, he relents, even though she demands to accompany him on the task.  But, when Mattie shows up to join Rooster, she finds that he’s already left, having had no intention of allowing her to follow.  She races down to the river to find Rooster on the other side of the river with Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is looking for Chaney on another bounty.  Since Rooster has paid the ferryman to keep Mattie on the other side of the river, she hazards the river on horseback to join them.  Rooster and LaBoeuf are not pleased, but the three set off to find Chaney and bring him to justice.

This is such a good movie!  I love the hell right out of this movie.  It’s set itself amongst my favorite westerns, and even amongst my favorite movies.  Though I’m not sure where it came from, I’ve had a predisposition for loving westerns for as long as I can remember.  So when a really well-written one comes along (which I find fairly rare nowadays), I love it that much more.  And this movie is, indeed, well-written.  The story is really interesting, often funny, and heavy with some badassdom or, as they would call it, “grit”.  And, in my opinion, the movie dwarfs the original movie in every conceivable way.  I liked this version of True Grit so much that I decided I should buy the original, sight unseen.  You can imagine my disappointment.  The original seemed to have very little respect for the source material (as best I can gather from the source material’s Wikipedia page) and changed parts of the story with great emotional impact at will.  But it seems like this Portis guy knew what he was doing when he put pen to paper, because the much more accurate new movie renders the original movie unwatchable.  The dialogue that the Coen brothers bring to the movie is very endearing, though I did find it to be in poor taste that Mattie decides to name her horse “Little Blackie” right in front of the little blackie stable boy, but perhaps that’s just my racism reading things the wrong way.  The action that they bring to the movie is also very satisfying, and pretty great in a very real way.  They build up a lot of tension in the interrogation scene when Rooster is casually trying to get information out of two guys they come across in a cabin, and the ensuing gun fight was pretty cool and very realistic.  I really liked the courageous ride that Rooster takes against the gang at the end of the movie as well, especially the part where a guy gets shot off his horse and smashes his face on a rock for good measure.  I have conflicted feelings about the ending of the movie though.  ::SPOILER ALERT::  I thought the part of Rooster courageously riding to get Mattie to medical attention was very emotional and fantastic, but the bit after that confuses my feelings.  It was sad that an aged Mattie was trying to reconnect with Rooster but finds him dead by the time she gets to him.  It was nice that she gets his body moved closer to her so she can visit him, but sad again that she lost her arm and never married because she was too business minded.  I thought the ending was great, but a part of me always wants the ending to be a happy one, and you don’t get that here.  The original movie breaks from the book to give the audience the happy ending they usually want, but I don’t like that they did that.  So you can see how conflicted I am about this.  I don’t like them changing the ending to appease me, and the ending was fantastic and emotional, but that nagging part of me always wants that happy ending.  ::END SPOILERS::

Contending admirably with the high quality of the script is the performances in the movie.  Every single one of them is enjoyable.  Hailee Steinfeld is the real breakout performance of this movie, even amongst heavy competition.  No one has seen anything from this girl before this movie which just makes her that much more impressive.  She delivers heavy and complicated dialogue as if she’s smarter than everyone in the room, and in most occasions she is.  Take, for instance, when she’s negotiating over the sale of some horses with Colonel Stonehill (Dakin Matthews) and she completely outwits him.  She also delivers some real emotion to further impress.  And she was not above showing the innocence of youth, like when she tried to break the tension caused by a fight between LaBoeuf and Rooster by offering to tell a story by the campfire.  I envy her for her early showings of talent, but I assume I was not given such ability because of how heavily I would rub it in the faces of all of my peers at school.  “Look what I’ve accomplished while you guys were doing each other’s hair and talking about Justin Bieber!  I was nominated for an Academy Award!”  Although, for some reason she was nominated for supporting actress.  What’s that about?  As awesome as Bridges was in this movie, this wasn’t the Rooster show.  Mattie was the main character of the movie.  And Jeff Bridges was indeed awesome.  John Wayne fans must be pissed ‘cause this guy makes the Duke look like a pile of duke.  He plays Rooster very funny, intelligent even though he’s semi-constantly drunk, absolutely heroic in a part or two but still very flawed in others, and outright awesome.  My favorite thing about the character was that he wasn’t a cliché.  Most heroes in western movies are the best at something.  They’re the best tracker, they’re the toughest, they’re the most heroic, they’re the best shot or the quickest draw.  Rooster was none of these things.  He just had grit, and he was more awesome for it.  Matt Damon was also very good as LaBoeuf.  You dislike him for the bulk of the movie because of his ego and the vague air of pedophilia he gives off in relation to Mattie.  In the middle, he’s more of an amusement because of his nearly severed tongue.  But, by the end, he’s also a very heroic character.  Josh Brolin is also pretty great.  He’s this sinister character throughout the movie, but only in what people are saying about him because you haven’t actually met him yet.  When you meet him, he comes off as an idiot and in no way intimidating.  He’s almost laughable in how put upon he is.  But when he decides it’s in his best interest to rid himself of Mattie, he makes an awesome turn from almost goofy to pretty intimidating.

True Grit is an amazing accomplishment of a movie.  Fantastic story, sharp dialogue, and some amazing performances.  This movie has all of the ingredients to be considered one of the greatest westerns ever, and it’s already become one of my favorite movies ever.  And the original that was already regarded as a classic becomes a mess in comparison.  I don’t only recommend you watch this movie; I want you to watch this movie.  It’s not only worth a rental; it’s worth going out and purchasing it outright.  Go find it and watch it.  You can thank me later.  True Grit gets “Well, if it ain’t loaded and cocked, it don’t shoot” out of “If them men wanted a decent burial, they should have gotten themselves kilt in summer.”

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Double Dragon (1994)

I’m Not Good Enough

Things had to go pretty wrong for me to reach the decision to watch today’s movie.  My original plan was to watch the sequel to yesterday’s movie.  I put the DVD in my computer and it would not play.  I tried to update things, do a virus scan, a registry cleanup, and every other thing I could think to do to fix my computer just enough to watch the Chronicles of Riddick.  I failed.  So I reached the “fuck it” conclusion and went to Netflix to see what was streaming.  A momentary touch of dementia and a few clicks later and I was watching Double Dragon.  I perhaps acted rashly…  Anyways, I watched Double Dragon, and now you can read about it.  Double Dragon was directed by James Yukich, and stars Mark Dacascos, Scott Wolf, Robert Patrick, Julia Nickson, Alyssa Milano, Kristina Malandro Wagner, Nils Allen Stewart, Leon Russom, Al Leong, and Michael Berryman, with cameos by Vanna White, George Hamilton, and Andy Dick.

Linda Lash (Kristina Malndro Wagner) has found half of a magical medallion called the Double Dragon for her boss, Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick).  The other half of it is around the neck of Satori Imada (Julia Nickson) who stays in a dystopian Los Angeles, training two brothers of inexplicably different ethnicities.  There’s the Asian one, Jimmy Lee (Mark Dacascos), and the White one, Billy Lee (Scott Wolf).  On the way home from a martial arts tournament, they get on the wrong side of a gang lead by Abobo (Nils Allen Stewart).  Cornered, they’re rescued by a good guy gang called the Power Corps, lead by Marian Delario (Alyssa Milano).  Shuko hunts down the medallion’s other half and destroys the Lee’s house, killing Satori in the process.  The brothers team up with Marian to take down Shuko while trying to figure out how to gain magic powers from their half of the medallion as Shuko has.  They defeat him, join the halves of the Double Dragon medallion, and get matching outfits that were rejected from Earth, Wind, and Fire, and the movie ends.

This movie is currently rated at 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and boy did this movie earn it.  It sucks out loud.  One could say that they stuck close to the video game that they based themselves on by having no story, just like the video game.  Actually, there’s a very good chance that the video game had a better story.  It’s set in a dystopian world that has been done better in other movies.  The story itself is juvenile and ill-defined.  To my recollection, it’s never described how this really white guy and this really Asian guy became brothers, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just in a metaphorical sense.  The powers granted by the Double Dragon medallion are also ill-defined.  Shuko can, as it becomes helpful to the story, turn into a shadow, walk through walls, inhabit bodies, choke people, anything that is necessary at that point in the story. The other half of the medallion doesn’t show it’s power until the very end of the movie and basically just seems to allow the holder to take a beating.  It doesn’t seem to make the holder any stronger, you can just get your ass kicked and survive it.  When the brothers finally get their Earth, Wind, and Fire outfits – in a whirlwind transition reminiscent of the Mask – their first order of business is to beat the crap out of a depowered, defenseless Shuko.  I realize he did some messed up things, but it’s a less than heroic end.  And they top it off by taking control of Shuko’s body and making him slap himself in the face.  Now you’ve killed your heroism and your maturity.  There’s also smaller parts of the movie that don’t make sense, like their ultra-futuristic cars with high-tech computer devices in them, but the cars are powered by burning trash, the music in some parts adds in tiny noises that sound like farts, and the main characters high-five about 87 times in the movie, sometimes while still in the middle of a fight.  The only thing I found cute in the writing was that Alyssa Milano and Kristina Wagner break the fourth wall and exchange insults like “generally, I put people in the hospital” and “who’s the boss now?”, referencing the fact that Wagner was on General Hospital and Milano was on Who’s The Boss.

You might assume that a movie with poor story based on a beat-’em-up video game would have decent fight scenes.  You’d be wrong.  And stupid, if you actually expected good things out of Double Dragon.  Best I could tell, there was one, maybe two people in this movie that could even pretend they could fight.  Scott Wolf was awful at it.  So much so that it seemed the choreographers stopped having him fight and instead made him do things for comic relief instead in the fight, such as throwing basketballs, breaking a gumball machine to trip the enemy, and trapping the enemy’s hair in a suitcase.  Mark Dacascos was one of the only people that could fight that was a member of the main cast.  His fights were the most interesting.  Julia Nickson was the person who trained them in martial arts in the movie, but she was even worse than Wolf.  I assume there was some racism involved in hiring her.  Someone probably thought “She’s Asian, of course she knows Kung Fu.”  Generally speaking, the fights ranged from bad to laughably bad.

The performances are as poor as you would expect.  I can’t think of a decent performance in the entire movie, so I’ll just talk about them in general.  Mark Dacascos was the most interesting fighter in the movie.  Scott Wolf took more of a comic relief side, but when you can’t fight and aren’t funny, it’s a failed endeavor.  Robert Patrick is great at looking sinister, but the hair they gave him in this was ridiculous.  It was pure white with black tips and it was like a tall buzzcut.  Find a picture of this if you want a laugh.  And speaking of ruining great looks with bad hair, they made Alyssa Milano unattractive to me in this movie by giving her a lesbian haircut.  It was bleached blonde and about as short as my hair.  It was shorter than Robert Patrick’s.  Kristina Wagner was attractive and was actually able to pull off a really subtle craziness that seemed just barely restrained below the surface.  Nils Allen Stewart has a goofy look to him at first, but then that is blown way out of proportion when Shuko injects him with some experimental steroid making him look, if I may quote the movie, “like the Stay Puff Marshmellow Man”.  It’s horrible looking.

I have probably said far too much about this movie.  I may have spent more time writing this review than they did writing the movie.  There’s nothing really good to witness here.  Not look, not story, not comedy, not fighting, not nothing, not no how!  It’s not painfully bad though, so it is good joke fodder.  If you’re in to mocking movies, you can watch this.  If not, why are you even considering it?  I give Double Dragon “Ug Lee” out of “Home Lee”.

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