True Grit & Winter’s Bone

True Grit (2010)

This 2010 remake of the famed John Wayne western adapted/directed by Joel and Ethan Coen brings to mind Miller’s Crossing (1990), their Prohibition era gangster drama starring Gabriel Byrne.  Unlike most other Coen brothers films, it’s w/o any irony; the viewer needs to take it seriously.  But there is some humor here.  It took a few minutes to get used to the style of speech used, but I found it quite engaging.  The cinematography is just terrific!

The protagonist, 14 y.o. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), travels from her family ranch to a small, unnamed town to collect the body of her dead father.  She explains that he was murdered by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a former employee who stole her father’s horse and two California gold pieces.  Then Chaney fled deep into Indian territory.

Mattie, a smart/tough kid beyond her years, seeks out Deputy Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors), b/c she learns that he has “true grit.”  She raises the money to hire him by bargaining w/ a horse trader (Dakin Matthews).  But Marshall Cogburn is NOT your prototypical white knight; he’s scruffy, out of shape, cranky, and VERY fond of whiskey.

This mismatched pair is joined by a cocky/talkative Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, who gives an understated performance), who wants to capture Chaney and take him back to the Lone Star state for crimes he committed there against a state senator.  Mattie wants to kill Chaney to revenge her father.  Though they were both fought for the South in the Civil War, Cogburn and LaBoeuf DO NOT hit it off.

This is one film that truly needed a remake; the 1969 version had some good action, but it wasn’t outstanding when it came to acting.  I have to admit, it was a BIT difficult to figure out what Bridges was saying in a few scenes.  His performance was VERY different from that of Wayne.

Steinfeld’s Mattie is a HUGE improvement over Kim Darby.  To begin with, Darby was TOO old for the role of Mattie.  And we mustn’t forget that annoying voice!

Also, b/c of Darby’s feminine Mattie, there was romantic tension between her and Glen Campbell, who (badly) acted the role of LaBoeuf.  Aside from examples like Chris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton, most country singers are NOT capable actors.  Not sure why SO many of them keep trying…

Winter’s Bone (2010)

Another unflinching teen girl, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), is the main character in Winter’s Bone, a small budget indie  set deep in the poverty-stricken Ozark Mountains.  (The film was shot on location is Missouri.)  17 y.o. Ree single-handedly raises her 6 y.o. sister Ashlee and 12 y.o. brother Sonny.  She is close friends w/ Gail, a new mother who’s married to a chauvinistic young man.  She is loving, yet tough when she needs to be.

Her absent father is out on bail, but the family doesn’t know his exact location.  He cooked meth (common in their tight-knit community); her mother became catatonic a few years back, unable to deal w/ the circumstances/pain of her life.

One day, Sheriff Baskin (Garrett Dillahunt) tells Ree that if her father doesn’t show up for his court date, they will lose the house because it was put up as part of his bond.  Ree sets out to find her father, entering a world of meth, violence, and secrecy.  She starts with her meth-addicted uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and continues on to more distant relatives.  She even gathers the courage to reach out to the local crime leader, Thump Milton.   He refuses to even see her, sending his wife and other females out to warn her to leave the situation alone.

You will quickly be drawn into the (often unseen) world of this film.  Many critics have commented on its feminist viewpoint.  Also, we usually don’t see rural poverty depicted in such a natural way.  Lawrence does a SUPERB job; I can’t recall seeing a character quite like this before!  As I was watching Winter’s Bone, I kept thinking that a girl like Ree should be studying, planning for her adult life (job/college), and anticipating the senior prom.  But some girls’ lives are NOT so easy.

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Views for Your New Year

Bramwell (Series 2)

There are MANY surprises and fresh guest stars in the 2nd series of this smart, gritty show starring Jemma Redgrave as Dr. Eleanor Bramwell.  Well-born lady doc Eleanor, while struggling to keep her “baby”–The Thrift (a charity hospital in London) going–is still at odds w/ her protective dad and fellow doc, Robert (David Calder).  Romance comes into Eleanor’s life (FINALLY!!!) in the form of handsome, charming Dr. Finn O’Neill.  The Irish researcher may be her equal in brains and talent.  But love is NOT easy for this pair, thanks to their conflicting natures and ambitions.  And, of course, Robert is NOT happy of his “little girl’s” choice.

 

The House of Mirth (2000)

No, this film isn’t about Brits; the characters are American (as seen through the eyes of novelist Edith Wharton and screenwriter/director Terence Davies) from the turn of the 20th century.  If you liked The Age of Innocence, you’ll definitely find this film (w/ a much lower budget) quite absorbing!  Canadian Gillian Anderson (Bleak House) lifts this movie onto her narrow shoulders and carries you away into the life of beautiful, charming, yet cash-poor, Lily Bart.  Like many singletons before and after her, New York debutante Lily likes nice clothes, having fun (vacations, theater, fine food, etc.) and hopes to marry someday.  But she MUST marry a rich man to maintain her lifestyle!

At the start of the film, Lily has an ambiguous relationship w/ a bachelor of her circle, lawyer Lawrence Seldon (Eric Stoltz).  They speak their minds to each other, but never directly confess their feelings.  One day, a maid sees her coming out of Seldon’s apartment- a VERY scandalous thing at that time.  A married friend, Gus Trenor (Dan Ackroyd), says he’ll help Lily invest her small income in the stock market, but he has more than that in his (creepy) mind.  Then one of Lily’s close friends, the worldly Bertha Dorset (Laura Linney in a wickedly fine role), turns against her.

Lily tries to stay true to herself and her personal morals.  She can’t force herself to marry for money alone.  Lily is not “world smart,” as my mom says; she thinks that people are pretty much what they portray themselves to be.  The director uses a lot of mirrors, keeping w/ the theme of appearance.  It was interesting to see Oz star Terry Kinney portray a cuckolded hubby.  Also, pay attention to the performance of Australian Anthony LaPaglia; it’s low-key, yet very effective.  The soundtrack, compiled by Adrian Johnston (Becoming Jane) sets just the right mood.

 

Miss Julie (1999)

   

Statuesque Brit Saffron Burrows (a former model; Nan in Circle of Friends) and her (shorter) co-star, Scotsman Peter Mullan (The Claim) are captivating in Mike Figgis’ film version of August Strindberg’s play.  Irish actress Maria Doyle Kennedy (one of he main reasons to see the first season of The Tudors) makes a fine contribution as well.  On Midsummer’s Eve in the late 1800s, the servants at a Swedish country estate are cutting loose w/ drinking, joking, and dancing.  The mistress of the manor, Miss Julie (Burrows), joins them in their revelry rather than going w/ her father, The Duke, to visit relatives.  This doesn’t sit well with the footman, Jean (Mullan) and his intended, the head cook Christine (Doyle Kennedy).

Miss Julie gets tipsy and keeps asking to dance w/ Jean, to his embarrassment and annoyance.  She comes into the kitchen and angrily asks why he’s still wearing his “livery” (uniform) when it’s time to cut loose.  Appearance is VERY important to Jean; he takes GREAT pride in his work for The Duke.  He’s well-spoken, has seen some of the world, and doesn’t take stuff from just anyone. 

Eventually, Christine goes upstairs to sleep, leaving the main players together.  Jean and Miss Julie basically go at it- a power struggle between genders and classes ensues.  There is also the latent physical attraction between them.  Clearly, Miss Julie is an angry, depressed young woman.  We learn that her fiance recently broke up w/ her.  She longs for change- to be free from her “cage;” a little bird sits in an actual cage in a corner of the sparse kitchen set.  In one crucial scene, Jean exclaims that HE could take her away!  Though he is of a low class, he could (in time) make her a duchess; she could never make him a duke (being a powerless woman w/o her father’s status/protection).        

More about the play:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Julie