At the Movies: True Grit, Little Fockers, All Good Things

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, something gets left out. Sadly, this week it was “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Oops, got me again. No, I’m not the least bit sad about missing out on giant-sized Jack Black IN 3D. He still owes me time lost for “Year One.”

Two movies are opening today — one is among the best movies of the year while the other is one of the worst. See if you can figure out which is which.

True Grit

I can’t imagine too many people were crying out for a remake of this 1969 Western starring John Wayne. I know I wasn’t. But then I heard it was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and suddenly my interest rose considerably.

My faith in the Coen brothers has wavered in recent years, but “True Grit” finds them at the top of their form. It’s witty, compelling and fun with terrific performances by veteran Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.

Based on the novel by Charles Portis, this is the story of young Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) and her dogged pursuit of justice — as well as vengeance — on the no-good Tom Cheney (Josh Brolin), a hired hand who shot her father dead.

Although only a teen, Mattie has a wit and determination far beyond her years. But she can’t track down a killer on her own, so she seeks the aid of U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). Rooster is rough and crude and often drunk, but Mattie wants him on the job because she feels he has “true grit.”

They are joined in their pursuit by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). It turns out Cheney has a long list of crimes to his name. He won’t be easy to bring back, either, since he’s hooked up with a band of outlaws.

“True Grit” boasts wonderful performances, smart dialogue, lovely cinematography, humor, shootouts and a snake. What’s not to love?

Bridges does a fine job filling John Wayne’s boots but it’s Steinfeld who steals the show. Her demeanor and ability to tackle some formidable dialogue — particularly when she’s haggling — is impressive.

Did it work for me? “True Grit” is one of my favorite films of 2010.

Little Fockers

I’m confident that the reason this movie is opening today instead of the traditional Friday is because Santa didn’t want anyone thinking he’d put this lump of coal in anyone’s stocking.

Where to begin? How about the beginning, where Jessica Alba and Ben Stiller appear to be getting sexually stimulated while giving a fat man an enema. Or how about the projectile vomiting? Or the fart jokes? Or the erectile dysfunction gag?

Maybe my memory is slipping but I don’t remember the original Focker film — “Meet the Parents” — relying so much on crude humor. But then, when you take out all the crass comedy, you’re just left with an uninspired rerun of the Focker family story.

Faced with his own mortality, patriarch and control freak Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) decides he needs to pick his successor. His first choice recently divorced one daughter, so he’s left with Greg Focker (Stiller). Greg feels he’s ready to be the “God Focker.”

But when Greg’s former rival — the near-perfect Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson) — shows up, Jack starts having second thoughts. Especially after he becomes convinced that Greg is having an affair with a drug rep (Jessica Alba) he’s been working with.

“Little Fockers” plays the same, now tired, games — Jack doesn’t trust Greg; everybody loves Kevin; misunderstandings galore; physical humor — including a ball pit gag that was much funnier on “Big Bang Theory.” And did I mention all the crass, low-brow comedy?

I’m not sure why the film is named after  Greg’s kids, as they contribute very little to the story. Oh, I get it — “Little Fockers” is supposed to be funny.

It’s about the only thing that is.

Did it work for me? I’d rather have Jessica Alba give me an enema.

All Good Things

We conclude with a bizarre mystery inspired by the true story of Robert Durst, a wealthy businessman whose wife Kathie disappeared in 1982.

Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki’s version doesn’t leave much room for doubt. Ryan Gosling stars as David Marks, a well-meaning young man living in the shadow of his powerful, domineering father Sanford (Frank Langella). David meets and falls in love with Katie (Kirsten Dunst), a young woman of lower social standing.

Sandford doesn’t approve, which is all the more reason for David to marry Katie and run off to the country. When their health-food business fails, David reluctantly goes to work for his father.

Work pressures and underlying mental issues take a toll on David and he takes it out on Katie. Eventually she wants out of the marriage but Sandford’s legal maneuvers have made it certain that if she leaves she’ll have nothing. Things become heated and Katie…disappears.

With no body there’s no crime, so life goes on for David. But a few years after Katie’s disappearance the authorities decide to reopen the case and David runs away. At which point the story gets even more bizarre.

“All Good Things” is an intriguing and disturbing movie. It features a trio of strong performances — Langella is cruel and forceful, Gosling is suitably creepy and Durst is tragically sympathetic. The film does feel emotionally detached.

Did it work for me? I found it flawed but compelling. If you like murder mysteries it’s a decent one.

 

 

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