Sean K. Cureton

Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

“The Dude” for the “The Duke”

In Movie Reviews: 2010 on December 31, 2010 at 2:40 pm

True Grit
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
3 ½ out of 4 stars

The new Coen Brothers film, True Grit, a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film, is one of the best Coen Brothers movies made to date. Based on the novel by Charles Portis, the Coen Brothers have made a film that is both true to its source material and original in its own right. Where the John Wayne film seemed clean and held back, the Coen Brothers film is unrelenting, and more true to the title of the film.

Based in 1870’s America, True Grit tells the tale of Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld, a young girl out for vengance against the man who killed her father. In order to confront this task, Mattie enlists the help of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, played by “the Dude” himself, Jeff Bridges. Along the way, Mattie and Rooster grudgingly accept the assistance of Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, played by Matt Damon, who is both a help and a hindrance. By the end of the film, Mattie finds and captures the man she is after, named Tom Chaney who is played by Josh Brolin, and the three heroes go home with heads held high.

The sheer mastery that is this film does not stop with its timeless Western story, but is enforced by its stellar cast, breathtaking cinematography, and dark humor, that could only be provided by the Coen Brothers. Jeff Bridges gives another phenomenal performance of his entire career as Rooster, the one-eyed fat man, as he stumbles along the screen shooting a pistol in one hand, drinking whiskey with the other, and cracking wise all at the same time. Matt Damon is also in top acting shape in this film, and gives LaBoeuf life where Glen Campbell’s 1969 performance was lacking to say the least. And Hailee Steinfeld delivers her big acting break in a performance of a lifetime as Mattie Ross.

Beyond the stellar cast, True Grit has some of the best looking shots of any film this year. Cinematographer Roger Deakins really gives the American West life in this film, and his beautiful shots offset the darker content of the narrative of the film. And beyond that, the Coen Brothers’ new film is also just as funny as any of their other films. Despite the fact that this film is about murder and vengeance in blood, the Coen Brothers still manage to find something to joke about in their True Grit, with laughs coming mainly from the usage of dialect and their own comments on the narrative’s various situations.

Come Oscar time, True Grit will no doubt be nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, as it should be.

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Black Swan

In Movie Reviews: 2010 on December 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
3 ½ out of 4 stars

The opening shots of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan features actress Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, a beautiful young ballerina, performing as the Swan Queen in the classic ballet “Swan Lake.” These opening shots are striking, in that they seem to evoke the emotions and themes of the rest of the film in a matter of minutes through the use of minimal lighting, and the contrast between Nina and her co-star, a large black male swan, of a monstrous quality. Both white and black, or fragility and power, seem to emanate in this opening scene, and the rest of the film.

Throughout the film, black and white colors are used to heighten the contrast evoked by the first scene, and to strengthen this contrast’s importance in relation to Nina. The film focuses on a production of “Swan Lake,” where Nina is cast as the Swan Queen, and is ultimately overtaken by the role and her need for perfection within it. The way in which Aronofsky is able to show Nina, in both her beauty and her madness, is both beautiful and horrifying. As Nina becomes more and more obsessed with the role, and starts to lose more and more of her grip on reality, the things Nina sees and thinks become increasingly disturbing, until the point where Nina is completely devoured by the production.

Beyond Aronofsky’s own directorial brilliance, this film also shines because of every actor in it. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career as a young woman having a traumatic psychological breakdown. Mila Kunis makes an unexpectedly brilliant turn as the rival dancer Lily, who may or may not be as dangerous as Nina thinks she is. Beyond that, Barbara Hershey plays the overbearing mother exceptionally well, Vincent Cassel is effectively disgusting as the choreographer, and Winona Ryder makes a surprise appearance as ex-dancer Beth Macintyre.

In summary, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is one of the best films of this holiday season and this year. Come Oscar time, there is no doubt that this film will be in the running for more than one award. With a Golden Globe nomination already, Natalie Portman has without a doubt given her most Oscar worthy performance, and has again proved herself to be one of the best actresses working in Hollywood today. With its startling imagery and spot on performances, it would be a grave mistake to miss seeing Black Swan.