A Tale of Two Grits – Wait Three Grits! And a Rooster!

I admire filmmakers who can revisit material and put their own stamp on it, making a film that has its own identity and is not simply a remake for modern audiences. Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World is a wonderful 50s science fiction monster movie. John Carpenter’s The Thing goes back to the original material and makes a movie where the monster is almost incidental to the paranoia at play. Sadly the modern remake/prequel The Thing (2011) was not very good but I digress.

Wonderfully Netflix streaming has both the iconic 1969 True Grit and the sardonic 2010 True Grit. How do they measure up against each other?

True Grit (1969) – Rated G

“John Wayne landed one of his last great screen roles as crusty lawman Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, who reluctantly helps teenager Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) pursue her father’s killer. True Grit is more a character study than many of Wayne’s formulaic Westerns. The rousing final showdown between Wayne and the villains adds to the Duke’s long list of outstanding movie moments.”

 

True Grit (2010) – Rated PG-13

“After drifter Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) murders her father, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires alcoholic U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her exact revenge. The disreputable lawman still has grit, though, and mounts an epic search. Joining the duo on their quest is a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) who’s also hunting for Chaney in this updated Western that received multiple Oscar nods, including Best Picture.”

Academy Awards:

1969: John Wayne won his only Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn. The 1969 version was also nominated for Best Music, Original Song but lost to Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head from Butch Cassidy.

2010: Nominated for a whopping 10 Oscars, it lost every single one: Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld), Best Picture, Writing, Directing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Costume Design and Art Direction.

10 is a lot of Oscars to be nominated for but history only remembers the winners so point goes to True Grit 1969.

Rooster Cogburn – The Duke and The Dude: In spite of this being Wayne’s Oscar-winning performance, it is not his best work. He is having too much fun and there is little nuance to his portrayal. His performances in The Shootist, The Searchers, and The Man who Shot Liberty Valance are better. This is also not Jeff Bridges’ best performance but it is one of his better performances and is quite a bit more nuanced.

Mattie Ross: The part of the precocious yet pugnacious 14-year-old is played in 1969 by a 22-year-old Kim Darby and in 2010 by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld. Not just for the appropriate age but also for the intensity of the performance, this point easily goes to True Grit 2010. John Wayne himself said Kim Darby was the lousiest actress he ever worked with. Of course that may have been sour grapes as he wanted his daughter Aissa to play Mattie and after she was rejected, he wanted Karen Carpenter for the role. Kim Darby really isn’t that bad – for bad we have to go to our next category.

La Boeuf: The dandy Texas Ranger is played by singer Glen Campbell in True Grit 1969 and by Oscar-winner Matt Damon in 2010. Need you ask? Point: True Grit 2010. Glen Campbell is just awful.

Villains: Jeff Corey vs. Josh Brolin, Robert Duvall vs. Barry Pepper, a very young Dennis Hopper vs. Domhnall Gleeson. I have to give the edge to True Grit 1969.

Sequels: Yes I used the plural! You probably know that John Wayne got to reprise his role of Rooster Cogburn in Rooster Cogburn, starring opposite a wonderful Katherine Hepburn. While a very entertaining film, it was obvious that it owed a lot to The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. In fact Hepburn’s character in Rooster Cogburn is not terribly different from her character in African Queen.

The part I bet you didn’t know was that there was a TV movie True Grit in 1978. It was a failed pilot starring Warren Oates as Rooster Cogburn. Neither Rooster Cogburn nor the TV True Grit are available on instant Netflix. Since Rooster Cogburn is an entertaining sequel, this point goes to True Grit 1969.

Bottom Line: You can’t really go wrong with either version of True Grit. The 1969 version is a pretty straightforward western adventure with an iconic performance by the Duke and a rousing finale. Strangely even though the 1969 version is listed as having a “G” rating, it contains plenty of gun violence, a triple hanging, a man getting his fingers cut off, a man getting stabbed, a man getting bludgeoned, alcohol use and abuse, and a fair amount of profanity. Supposedly it was an edited version that received the ‘G’ rating but I wonder how much was cut. It isn’t overly graphic but I sure can’t imagine it getting a ‘G’ rating today.

The 2010 version is better in most regards. It is however quite a bit darker even though it covers much of the same territory. While much of the dialogue is the same, Joel and Ethan Coen have given the script a verbal polishing. Much of the best dialogue is still from the original and I will say that the climactic line of “fill your hands, you son of a bitch!” packs more punch from the Duke. Cinematography is good in the 1969 version but better in the 2010 version.


People Watch:
In the 1969 version, Jay “Tonto” Silverheels plays one of the condemned men at the hanging. Wilford Brimley makes his film debut there too (though that’s just from imdb – I couldn’t spot him). In the 2010 version listen for J.K. Simmons as the voice of J. Noble Daggett

More CW – Supernatural & 90210 on Netflix

More TV goodies from the CW have appeared on instant Netflix. Now if only Hulu Plus would let us watch the entire current season of CW shows. I finally caught up on Vampire Diaries to the current season and only the five most recent episodes are available on Hulu Plus.

Supernatural

“Raised by their dad to fight supernatural forces, grown siblings Dean and Sam crisscross the country in their 1967 Chevy Impala, investigating paranormal activity and picking fights with deadly demons, ghosts and monsters.”

This show is most often compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and to my mind that is unfair because it comes up wanting. Buffy started off strong and just got stronger and more complex. Supernatural starts off cute but really nothing special. The first few seasons are an enjoyable monster romp and the two leads, Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) are very likeable. They wisecrack and hunt monsters and then wisecrack some more.

One of the problems with the show is actually Whedon-itis. Joss Whedon has nothing to do with the show but Joss Whedon showed in Buffy (and Angel and Firefly) that you could get a real emotional jolt by killing off a beloved character. It helped create a real sense of danger – the characters were actually in peril!

Supernatural creator Eric Kripke learned that lesson but was very imprecise with its use. Pretty much every time an interesting minor character is introduced in the show in the first couple of seasons, they die off shortly after. Usually it is long enough to find them interesting but not long enough to actually care about the character.

So the first three seasons are enjoyable in a fun Kolchak the Night Stalker kind of way. The fourth and fifth seasons however are actually wonderful. All the time invested in the show pays off with a series of complex interconnected storylines and Misha Collins joins the show as Castiel. Castiel ends up being a far more compelling character than either Sam or Dean. Kripke wisely takes time out from some of the heavier aspects of the overall story to produce a few absolutely hysterical episodes to break things up.

Kripke had originally planned to end the show after five seasons but Supernatural’s popularity was clearly too tempting. The sixth season was good but very uneven and the seventh is following suit so perhaps this should have ended after the first five.

90210

“In this spinoff of the 1990s series, aspiring actress Annie and her adopted brother, Dixon, deal with nonstop drama at their exclusive new high school, where tumultuous friendships and roller coaster romances rule.”

I have not seen this show, nor have I seen the show it is based on. I just thought I’d mention it while I was talking about the CW.

A few Netflix notes & Lilyhammer

* In addition to abandoning the Qwikster idea, Netflix is now abandoning the idea of renting videogames. Blockbuster, Gamefly, and Redbox will still rent videogames though.

* In the latest quarter, Netflix disc subscription numbers are way down but streaming customers are rising again. That’s not terribly surprising as the comprehensiveness of Netflix’ streaming catalog makes it essential once you are used to using streaming. Amazon, Epix, and Crackle look anemic by comparison.

* Netflix is replacing its chief marketing officer Leslie Kilgore. That does seem like a no-brainer, especially if they aren’t going to blame/fire CEO Reed Hastings for the many debacles of the previous year.

Lilyhammer

“After he testifies against a Mafia boss, ex-gangster Frank Tagliano enters the witness protection program and asks to be sent to Norway. Despite the peaceful surroundings, it’s not long before Frank strays from the straight and narrow.”

Netflix debuted the trailer for their first series, Lilyhammer starring Steven van Zandt. The series itself will debut on 2/6. I’ll take a look at it but I’m really waiting for Kevin Spacey’s take on the British miniseries House of Cards.

Oscar Nominees for Best Documentary

The Academy Awards nominations were announced this week. None of the nominees are available yet on Netflix streaming except for two of the movies nominated for Best Documentary. The other three nominated documentary  films are Undefeated, Pina and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. I hope Netflix adds the others soon, particularly Paradise Lost 3 as it was instrumental in freeing three accused murderers. The two nominees currently available are:

Hell and Back Again (2011) – NR

“In this unvarnished documentary set on the Afghan front line, U.S. Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris is wounded by Taliban machine-gun fire, then returns to his North Carolina home to grapple with the stress of civilian life.”

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011) – NR

“Filmmakers Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman examine the case of Daniel McGowan, a member of the radical environmental group Earth Liberation Front who was arrested for committing arson against two Oregon timber companies. Dissecting ELF’s self-described use of “economic sabotage” to stop deforestation and other damage to the planet, the film also explores the ramifications of the FBI’s decision to classify them as terrorists.”

 

R.I.P. James Farentino 1938-2012

Actor James Farentino has passed away from a long illness at the age of 73. Farentino was more famous for his TV roles on Dynasty, ER, and Melrose Place than for his movies. Netflix streaming does have three of his movies currently available.

The Final Countdown (1980) – Rated PG

“What if a 1980s American aircraft carrier (with its modern firepower) time-warped back to Pacific waters just outside Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941? World history — and the U.S. entry into World War II — might have played out very differently. Given that scenario, should the crew prevent the disaster, or let history remain? That’s the intriguing premise in this sci-fi adventure that stars Kirk Douglas, Katharine Ross and Martin Sheen.”

The Final Countdown has a great concept but unfortunately rather poor execution. The film is worth watching for the footage of the Nimitz and Kirk Douglas, Charles Durning, Martin Sheen, James Farentino, and Katherine Ross are fun to watch. I think it is nearly impossible to watch this film without being disappointed by the choices made.

Dead and Buried (1981) – Rated R

“For years, the coastal town of Potters Bluff has harbored a dark secret. It seems that a number of strangers who have crossed through Potters Bluff have been brutally murdered, only to turn up in town as locals after being killed. Sure that there must be some explanation, the sheriff and the town mortician try to uncover the mystery and find something more shocking than they could have imagined. James Farentino and Melody Anderson star.”

This would probably be my pick for Farentino watching as he is the star here. This movie is rough around the edges and goes for the gross-out too often over the suspenseful but the story is original and I like the ending. Look for Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) in a small role.

Bulletproof (1996) – Rated R

“In this buddy crime comedy, hard feelings must be set aside when undercover cop Rock Keats (Damon Wayans) is first shot by small-time crook Archie Moses (Adam Sandler), then forced to team up with the bungling oaf when both men are targeted by crime boss Frank Colton (James Caan). Upon Rock’s release from the hospital, he finds out that Colton’s hit men are after him and Archie. High jinks ensue when the dueling duo run from the baddies.”

I haven’t seen this one but don’t tell my daughter. She’s a big Adam Sandler fan and then I’ll have to watch it.

R. I. P. Nicol Williamson 1936-2012

The brilliant but erratic actor Nicol Williamson has passed away from esophageal cancer. Sadly Netflix streaming does not have my three favorite Nicol Williamson performances – Sherlock Holmes in The Seven Percent Solution, Merlin in Excalibur, or Little John in Robin and Marian. Four of his performances are currently available:

Inadmissable Evidence (1968) – NR

“London solicitor Bill Maitland (Nicol Williamson, who received a BAFTA nod for his compelling performance) treats his clients terribly and is hated by his colleagues. He’s unfaithful to his wife (Eleanor Fazan) and cruel to children. Based on a play by John Osborne, this intriguing character study manages to turn the misanthropic Maitland into an antihero the audience roots for, revealing a glimmer of humanity underneath his unpleasant actions.”

An excellent starring performance by Nicol Williamson – this is not a legal thriller like the name would imply but more of a depressing character study.

The Wilby Conspiracy (1975) – Rated PG

“Inspired by writer Peter Driscoll’s novel about apartheid in South Africa, The Wilby Conspiracy follows the attempts of two men, British engineer Jim Koegh (Michael Caine) and activist Shack Twala (Sidney Poitier), to escape from the police, led by the menacing Major Horn (Nicol Williamson). Their only connection is Jim’s girlfriend (Prunella Gee), a lawyer who defended Shack against charges of racial agitation.”

A good if dated thriller – Nicol Williamson gives quite an evil performance here.

Black Widow (1987) – Rated R

“Director Bob Rafelson’s superbly crafted thriller stars Debra Winger as Alexandra Barnes, an inquiring federal investigator who becomes intrigued — then fixated — when she stumbles across an unusual pattern of deaths by seemingly natural causes. The common bond among the victims? They’re all rich, reclusive and leave behind the same sultry young widow (Theresa Russell). Can Alexandra crack the case without getting tangled in a web of murder?”

A fun thriller but not really a showcase for Nicol Williamson.

The Advocate (1993) – Rated R

“How far jurisprudence has come! This medieval court drama is set in the days when humans and animals were believed to harbor the devil. Courtois, an educated lawyer (Colin Firth), leaves the big city to find peace in the countryside but soon discovers acts of murder and mayhem that are holding a small hamlet in fear. To the townsfolk, Courtois’s intelligence is nearly as mysterious as witchcraft.”

This is the only one of the four I’ve never seen though it sounds intriguing.

Carolina Cinemas & The Thursday Horror Picture Show

Well time again for my monthly pitch for Carolina Cinemas. I’ve always wanted to go to the famous Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas but my favorite Asheville movie theater is no slouch when it comes to special screenings.

Every Thursday night at 8 is the Thursday Horror Picture Show in the cinema lounge. Arrive early though as the serial starts at 740 (currently finishing up Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars – not sure what the new one will be). Admission is FREE though it’s certainly appreciated if you pick up some snacks or even a meal at concessions. My wife adores the Blue Cheese Chips – fresh fried potato chips covered in bacon, chives, tomatoes, and blue cheese dressing. They’ve just announced February’s line-up.

1/26 Scanners (1981) – Timed to celebrate Cronenberg’s latest release A Dangerous Method. Ironically I will be missing Scanners which I love in favor of seeing a screening of A Dangerous Method for Asheville Film Society Members.

2/2 Murders in the Zoo (1933) – with Lionel Atwill and Randolph Scott. I’ve never seen this one so I’m looking forward to it.

2/9 Phantom of the Paradise (1974) – This camp classic from Brian De Palma was played last year – I’m not sure why Ken and Justin are bringing it back.

2/16 Mr. Vampire (1985) – I have never even heard of this film by Ricku Lau but judging from the year and that it is from Hong Kong, my guess is that it will be a mix of martial arts, slapstick, and general weirdness.

2/23 The Invisible Man Returns (1940) – Definitely not one of his best films but I’m always down for watching Vincent Price (or in this case listening to him).

 

Asheville Film Society & A Dangerous Method

The Asheville Film Society is certainly one of the best bargains in the Asheville area. Membership is only $10 for a year and you get $1 off all admissions at Carolina Cinemas Asheville as well as FREE popcorn refills of any size. They also have a number of other perks with several partners – $1 off any pizza at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company, $5 off a subscription plan at Orbit DVD, and 10% off used vinyl, CDs and DVDs at Harvest Records.

A Dangerous Method (2011) – Rated R for sexual content and brief language.

“In this David Cronenberg-helmed biopic, Viggo Mortensen stars as Sigmund Freud, whose relationship with fellow psychology luminary Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is tested when Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), one of the first female psychoanalysts, enters their lives. This World War I-set drama also stars Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross, a disciple of Freud, and Sarah Gadon, who plays Jung’s psychoanalyst wife.”

The Asheville Film Society is presenting a FREE showing of A Dangerous Method for MEMBERS ONLY Wednesday 1/25 at 7:30. So for just a single quarter more than the price of an evening ticket, you can get a yearly membership and go see A Dangerous Method for free before it opens in Asheville this weekend.

The Asheville Film Society also presents a FREE movie every Tuesday night at 8 in the Carolina Cinema Lounge. The Tuesday movie is FREE for all – you do not need a membership to see it. They just announced their February line-up:

1/24 Tommy (1975, Ken Russell)

1/31 Lisztomania (1975, Ken Russell)

2/7 Excalibur (1981, John Boorman)

2/14 History is Made at Night (1937, Frank Borzage)

2/21 The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)

2/28 The Docks of New York (1928, Josef von Sternberg)

 

The Artist & Silent Movies

Last Friday, to celebrate the release of the acclaimed silent movie The Artist, Carolina Cinemas Asheville played a marathon of silent movies in their Cinema Lounge. Normally I love when Carolina Cinemas runs a marathon of movies but the only silent movie I had ever watched in its entirety was Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1974). I love older movies but the thought of a movie without dialogue or sound effects sounded boring.

Once I realized it was outside my comfort zone, I decided I would give it a shot. I had the whole day off and was going to Carolina Cinemas anyway that day because I had a FREE ticket to see Underworld Awakening (from a Blu-Ray purchase) and they were doing an ActionFest promotion for the 7:50 showing of Haywire.

The first film was The Mark of Zorro (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks. I got to see all of this. It was quaint and mildly enjoyable for the first two acts but the third act had all kinds of derring-do and stunts from Douglas Fairbanks and was a lot more fun. I watched the beginning of Beyond the Rocks (1922) with Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. I was struck not only by how attractive Rudolph Valentino was but also by how I didn’t find Gloria Swanson attractive at all. I guess standards do change over the years – certainly I hate the frizzy hair look of the late 70s/early 80s. After Underworld Awakening, I caught Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) starring John Gilbert. Like Zorro, this was a swashbuckler but it was somewhat light on the action and was interesting but nothing I’d watch again.

This was followed by It (1927) starring Clara Bow. It is currently available on instant Netflix.

“This 1927 silent film features Clara Bow as Betty Lou, a sweet and sassy clerk at a department store who decides she has found Mr. Right when she meets the store’s owner (Antonio Moreno). One thing: She must convince him that she’s Ms. Right, too. As Betty Lou strives to catch his attention, she also tries to help her roommate, who has recently become a mother.This classic silver-screen tale is inspired by a short story written by Elinor Glyn.”

This was easily the most frustrating of the movies I saw. I say frustrating because someone came up and sat in the back row and proceeded to clack something repeatedly (balls?). This annoyance was superceded by the gentleman who came in later and sat near me with his wife and mother (a guess). He proceeded to make up his own dialogue for the film (in a loud voice naturally) and asked if I wanted to as well. After telling him that I was there to watch the film, the two women accompanying him whispered to him and they left (yay!).

The film was absolutely fascinating in its depiction of the era. Not only was the depiction of a department store fascinating but so was the apartment living – Betty Lou shares a tiny apartment with a single mom who almost loses her child because of her unemployment. Clara Bow did indeed have “It” and commanded her scenes.

I had only one more silent movie to sit through. So far I had found all of them to be mildly entertaining (rude patrons aside) historical curiosities. Safety Last (1923) starring Harold Lloyd was my final film and it blew me away. I was chuckling through most of the film and laughed out loud at several of the gags. This movie is incredibly visually inventive and features a climax where Harold Lloyd has to scale a 16-story building. I will definitely be looking to see more of Harold Lloyd’s films when I have time.

While none of Harold Lloyd’s films are on instant Netflix, It with Clara Bow is available as are several of Douglas Fairbanks’ films: The Thief of Baghdad (1924), The Iron Mask (1929), and The Black Pirate (1926).

Creep – Christopher Smith

Creep (2004) – Rated R

“After accidentally dozing off, Kate (Franka Potente) awakens to discover that she’s missed the last train from London — and that she may be trapped in the subterranean station for the night. But little does she know that she’s got company. Set in the bowels of London’s Underground and sewer system, this creepy tale of public transportation will make you think twice about snoozing on your next commute to work.”

“I don’t think any knight in shining armor is going to come and rescue you Kate”

With the subway being such a ubiquitous part of big city life, it is no wonder that there are a brace of films set there. Perhaps the deserted subway chase scene in An American Werewolf in London inspired Christopher Smith to set his first feature film as a director and writer here. While not as polished as his later efforts, Black Death and Triangle, Creep shows a lot of Smith’s potential.

Smith does make a daring choice of having his protagonist be a rather unlikeable young lady. Kate doesn’t care about anyone but herself and treats other people very shabbily. Franka Potente plays the lead here after her engaging star turn in Run, Lola, Run and she is quite good but apparently didn’t fit in with Hollywood. She went back to Germany after the two Bourne films she did.

Sean Harris (Micheletto in The Borgias) plays the pivotal role of Craig and is not seen clearly until the halfway point of the film. He is heavily covered in makeup but does a good creep-y job just the same. Next up for Harris is the role of Fifeld in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

In spite of numerous cliches, Smith is able to make this seem fresh. Of course no subway film would be the same without the ohmigosh-the-train-almost-hit-me scene or the don’t-step-on-that-rail-or-you’ll-be-electrocuted scene so those are thrown in here (and just as quickly thrown out). The final scene is thankfully not the usual for horror films and is quite funny in a low-key way.

People Watch: Look for Vas Blackwood (Rory in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) as a maintenance worker named George.