Thursday, December 30, 2010

True Grit and no-grit De Niro: A Hollywood two-fer



I just saw one of the most talked about and critically praised movies of the year this week, and am mystified that one of the year’s most critically panned movies did smashing box office business.
Each is worthy of thoughtful commentary.
If that’s what you’re after, please look elsewhere.
This is a holiday week, a time when people with paychecks relax.
But that has nothing to do with blogging, which is sort of like a hobby in that it earns no money and distracts from actual wage-earning endeavors. Combine those factors with someone like me, a blogger who cherishes laziness, and you’re not  going to get something thoughtful or structured.
I’m not going to labor to form tedious transitions, mine wit or seek deeper meaning from popcorn matinees.
Instead, I’m going to take the lazy way out and write about them in two distinct sections.
I don’t think anyone’s going to mind. I apologize if you feel cheated and promise to come back next week with more cerebral stuff and maybe with a new blog motto for 2011:
“Now nearly three years without a price increase!”
• “True Grit” is more dud than Dude. The Coen Brothers have done so much marvelous work that herd critics are reluctant to say when they miss the mark, which is becoming more common.
I was disappointed. Worse, I was bored.
As I mentioned, I saw this with five buddies earlier this week. We sat in three different rows, two to a row, spread out with buffer seats between each of us. We were so intent on ensuring no one in the theater mistook us for the chipper gang from the Bravo show “Queer Eye for that Straight Guy” that Ronnie kept saying very loudly, “Gee, when do you think the girls will get here?”

I was really looking forward to this and, as with the last three or four Coen brother movies, I felt let down. It was a decent western and that’s something I always appreciate, but I expected more.
It must be nice making a movie about an obscure book and remaining faithful to its intent. That lets viewers and critics say of flaws, well, it’s just like that in the flawed book. 
C’mon. “True Grit” isn’t heirloom Americana. This isn’t grandpa’s old fire house chili recipe. If the book needs spice, throw in some cumin, dice up a pepper, add some Tabasco. Breath some fire into the old beast.
That’s what they did with the John Wayne version and it was great campy fun.
I just kept waiting for “True Grit” to kick into a higher gear that was never engaged. Jeff Bridges is becoming one of our best actors, and he was as  entertaining as expected. But the role wasn’t broad enough.
Much is being made of the sassy and opinionated 14-year-old star, Hailee Steinfeld, and her mouthy composure.
From what I understand, mouthy sass is something every 14 year-old girl who’s ever tuned into Disney shows like “iCarly” can instinctually summon.
The movie could have used a little literary license from the Coens who made things like “Fargo,” a movie that begins with an on-screen deception proclaiming what viewers are about to see really happened.
Why the lie? Here’s what Joel said.
"We weren't interested in that kind of storytelling fidelity,” he said. “If an audience believes that something's based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept.”
Well, nothing in “True Grit” ever really happened.
And that’s how I felt about the afternoon walking out of the theater.
• What on earth can we as a concerned nation do about Robert De Niro? With the release of “Little Fockers,” I think we’ve reached a crisis situation.
He’s become on of those rarest of actors whose career trajectory has reversed. His best work was 30 years ago and he’s becoming increasingly unwatchable.
How the man who played Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull,” Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” Michael Vronksy in “The Deer Hunter” and Vito Corleone in two monumental Godfather epics could allow his prestige to be diminished in not one but two Focker sequels is appalling.
It’s as if Paul Newman starred as Butch Cassidy and Cool Hand Luke in his 20s and concluded his career flirting on the Lido Deck with cruise director Julie McCoy on the “Love Boat.”
De Niro, 67, hasn’t made an important movie since “Casino” in 1995. He turned down great roles opposite Clint Eastwood in “In the Line of Fire” (the John Malkovich role) and again in “The Departed” (the role that went to splendid Martin Sheen).
Critics panned the fock out of this version and some even took unkind shots at the original “Meet The Parents,” a movie I find hilarious.
But everyone involved in these sequels has disgraced themselves, none worse than the once-great De Niro.
He’s capable of great comedy, as he’s shown in the uproarious 1988 film “Midnight Run.”
Tom Hanks understands his popularity is based more on his likeability than his acting ability. He’s very wise and selective in the roles he plays and he stays below the radar.
De Niro is ubiquitous for all the wrong reasons. He’s in too many bad movies and seems intent on ridiculing all that made him great (“Analyze This/That,” “Shark Tale” and the “GodFocker” bits in the current nonsense).
Isn’t anybody offering Robert De Niro good roles?
Unless he does something good -- and it better be good and bloody -- he might as well go off and toil in unpaid obscurity doing something he enjoys doing for free.
I’d urge him to consider blogging.
• Happy New Year! Resolve in 2011 to overcome your fear of being lazy.

1 comment:

glasseye said...

Meh. De Niro's just a merc. And really, Malkovich was perfect in "In the Line of Fire" – he's got that odd, over-enunciated, Alan Rickman sort of cadence. It was exactly what that movie needed.

Did you see Malkovich in Secretariat, by the way? It's a good movie to see with the family, and he's hilarious in the golf scene.