From the moment Hailee Steinfeld enters the frame in Joel and Ethan Coen’s magnificent western True Grit an adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel (or re-adaptation — John Wayne's 1969 version got to it first) the film belongs to her. This is no easy feat especially for a 13-year-old actress making her feature-film debut but Steinfeld not only holds her own alongside such heavyweights as Jeff Bridges Matt Damon and Josh Brolin she often upstages them.
The film which is set in the 1870s stars Steinfeld as Mattie Ross a pigtailed 14-year-old sent to the frontier town of Fort Smith Arkansas to settle the affairs of her deceased father an honorable man murdered for two gold pieces by a monstrous simpleton named Tom Chaney (Brolin). Mattie also comes seeking justice: Chaney is still at large having escaped to the dangerous foreboding expanse of the Indian Territory and she intends to see to it that he is captured and brought to trial.
Frustrated by the local authorities’ ambivalence toward tracking down her father's killer Mattie turns to Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) a slovenly alcoholic U.S. Marshal renowned for his cruelty and itchy trigger finger. Were there a Miranda warning in 1870s Cogburn would have little use for it; chances are few of his perps would understand it through his grouchy guttural slur anyway.
Pleading to join their makeshift posse is LaBoeuf (Damon) a pompous upright and overly chatty Texas Ranger — the Good Cop to Cogburn’s Bad Cop — who covets Chaney’s Texas bounty which holds more value than his Arkansas bounty. Cogburn agrees reluctantly to take him on recognizing that Chaney now likely holed up with his criminal gang a vicious bunch headed by a spittle-spewing snaggletooth named Lucky Ned (Barry Pepper) is too formidable to approach alone. Cogburn and LaBoeuf are natural rivals and long rides on the trail of Chaney afford them ample time for dick-measuring contests which invariably necessitate the intervention of their teenage mother hen Mattie.
Mattie may be the most mature member of the posse but she is nonetheless still a child — eventually the job of exacting final vengeance must fall upon the men with guns. Here Mattie’s stout heart has an ennobling effect on Cogburn who after briefly giving up during a booze-fueled bout with self-doubt stiffens his resolve to see things through.
Compared to its predecessor the Coen Brothers’ version of True Grit is both funnier and less sentimental. There is little room for tenderness or romance on the Coens’ frontier but opportunities abound for the kind of black humor for which the writer-directors have become so famous. As in Fargo they have a great deal of fun with language; characters speak in a laughably rigid formalized manner almost Shakespearian in its tongue-twisting complexity. The film's ironic conceit that such codes thrive in a land ruled by violence and chaos is best illustrated in Mattie’s constant almost charmingly naive threats of legal action against her adversaries. They react to her threats with a kind of befuddled amusement; the phrase "I'll see you in court" is still several decades away from joining the popular lexicon.
Critics often bemoan the abundance of remakes in modern risk-averse Hollywood. A more productive strategy at least for the cause of quality filmmaking might be to properly exalt the better ones. This True Grit may be the best of them combining the look and feel of a classic western with a distinctly Coens brothers tone. And Ms. Steinfeld is nothing short of a revelation.
As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson) is about as average as one can get. He’s an electrician working for the Army doesn’t have any family. In other words he is perfect for playing a guinea pig in the government's new Human Hibernation Project. Joined by Rita (Maya Rudolph) a street-smart hooker who needs to hide out for a while they are to be kept on ice and revived a year later. But when they awaken they find out that they're almost a thousand years into the future. The project was forgotten and scrubbed their hibernation pods became landfill--and now Bowers is the smartest man on Earth. They meet Dizz (Dax Shepard) who's addicted to a lounge chair a bungling doctor (Justin Long) and the president/pro-wrestler (Terry Crews). Guess this means prognosticators--hoping for a better more intelligent future--are dead wrong.. Idiocracy effectively becomes a bunch of one-liners spliced together which really doesn’t do any of the comic talent justice. Still all the performers play rather believable idiots. Wilson turns on his easy-going charm as the least dim-witted bulb in the bunch (but never quite gets what Rita does for a living). The affable actor always shines brighter in a movie that doesn’t have “romantic comedy” in its description. Rudolph does her usual Saturday Night Live shtick while Long (Accepted) as the doctor who checks people in and out as if they were in a Jiffy Lube is hysterical even if the one-note hospital gag gets a tad tiresome. Crews is also pretty clever in his role as the dunderhead president who can't figure out how to save his planet from starvation. Why haven't you heard about this movie? Well that's the true Idiocracy. Fox seems to have rushed this little gem out failing to promote it in anyway much like they did with the cult hit Office Space. Ironically both are directed by Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butthead fame). Judge has put his finger on the pulse of what's wrong with this world and gives a bleak social commentary about our future. For example his version of the classic film of the future is a giant naked butt expelling intermittent gas every few minutes. That kind of fart film is the wave of this future run by live-action Beavis and Buttheads. Maybe Judge means to say that the people of Idiocracy’s future--who watch the Masturbation Channel and Fox News (yes that survives) and shop at stores bigger than small cities--are the descendants of those who run the studios today. Or maybe not.
For a few years in the '60s and '70s producer Gerry Anderson made "supermarionation" all the rage in the world of British children's television. His stop-motion puppets starred in a number of sci-fi adventure series most memorably Thunderbirds which followed the exploits of International Rescue -- a team comprised of ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his sons. Based out of their secret fortress on Treasure Island the Tracys (aided by lovely secret agent Lady Penelope) used their amazing rocket-powered vehicles to prevent disasters and save lives around the world. Now 40 years after Thunderbirds' TV debut Star Trek vet Jonathan Frakes has brought Anderson's characters to life on the big screen. Front and center is youngest son Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) who dreams of the day he too can pilot one of his family's fab ships and lead missions. But first he has to prove himself to his father Jeff (Bill Paxton). That opportunity comes sooner than either expects when mysterious villain The Hood (Ben Kingsley) strands Jeff and the older Tracy boys in space and attacks Treasure Island. With only his friends Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and Fermat (Soren Fulton) to help him Alan has to grow up quickly if he wants to save his family ... and the world!
It would be easy to mock several of the performances in Thunderbirds-- to chide Paxton for his earnest seriousness as Tracy patriarch Jeff to dismiss Corbet's angst-tinged eagerness as Alan to roll your eyes at Kingsley's over-the-top mystical fierceness as The Hood and to wince at Fulton and Anthony Edwards' nerdy stuttering as science whizzes Fermat and his dad Brains. But actors are only as good as their script and the one Frakes has given his cast (courtesy of screenwriters William Osborne and Michael McCullers) is weak and clichéd at best filled with after-school-special-worthy lessons for Alan to learn. "You can't save everyone " Jeff tells his son somberly and even Tintin has a moral for her crush when he's feeling selfish and indulging in self-pity: "This is hard on all of us Alan." Talk about insight! What makes it even more frustrating is knowing that the actors are capable of much more even the kids: Both Corbet and Hudgens did well with supporting roles in Thirteen. Thunderbirds' only real bright spot is Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope. A cross between Reese Witherspoon's Elle in Legally Blonde and Jennifer Garner's Sydney on Alias Myles' Lady P doesn't let her pink couture wardrobe prevent her from coolly kicking ass when the situation demands it. Attended by her droll driver/man-of-all-trades Parker (Ron Cook) Lady Penelope is a fresh feisty heroine with all of the film's best lines -- and the coolest car to boot.
Frakes cut his directorial teeth on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and his first feature film was Star Trek: First Contact so he would seem like a natural choice to bring a cult sci-fi TV show to the big screen. Unfortunately while he does an admirable job re-creating (and improving on) the original Thunderbirds' mod sets cool ships and special effects (which are fine if a bit more TV-sized than summer blockbustery) Frakes can't seem to decide who his audience is. If he was aiming at grown-ups who remember the show fondly from their own childhood he should have embraced the source material's campiness (à la Starsky and Hutch) rather than restricting it to the Tracys' plastic Barbie-like furniture and Lady P's bouffant hairdo. If on the other hand Frakes was hoping to entertain today's kids he should have really reinvented the show for a 21st-century world (à la Stephen Hopkins'1998 Lost in Space) rather than clinging to the '60s references As it is he's stuck somewhere in the middle leaving adults bored during the kids-on-an-adventure bits and children mystified by the handful of jokes aimed at their parents.
CBS won the first week of the May sweeps, powered by its hit reality show Survivor II: The Australian Outback and its coupled drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The two shows scored second- and third-place finishes respectively, behind an episode of NBC's E.R., which saw the return of Sally Field. CBS averaged an 8.4 household rating for the week with a 14 share. NBC, no longer feeling the drag of ratings for its XFL football telecasts, was close behind with an 8.2/14. ABC, which placed two editions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the top ten, was third with a 7.1/12, followed by Fox with a 5.7/10. Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw set a modern record by maintaining the lead among network newscasts for 52 consecutive weeks.
The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. E.R. NBC, 17.5/29; 2. Survivor II: The Australian Outback, CBS, 16.6/27; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 14.4/22; 4. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (Sunday), ABC, 12.0/18; 5. West Wing, NBC, 11.9/19; 6. Millionaire (Tuesday), ABC, 11.7/20; 7. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.4/17; 8. Law and Order, NBC, 11.3/19; 9. The Practice, ABC, 11.2/18; 10. Friends, NBC, 10.9/19.
TALKS BETWEEN WRITERS, PRODUCERS CONTINUE PAST DEADLINE
Negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers stayed at the bargaining table for nearly three hours past the 12:01 a.m. expiration of their contract, then announced that they would resume their talks at noon Wednesday. Although spokespersons for both sides said that the current contract had not been formally extended, the fact that the WGA negotiators did not call for a strike authorization vote appeared to represent a de facto recognition of a day-to-day extension. It also suggested that the two sides may be nearing an agreement. Each side, however, declined to say whether progress was being made. "We are working very hard to reach an agreement," Writers Guild spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden told reporters at the end of last night's (this morning's) session.
NBC CHIEF QUERIES PRODUCERS ABOUT "THE SOPRANOS"
In what was regarded by executives at HBO as a slap at their most successful program, NBC President Robert Wright has written to several top producers asking for their views about the impact of The Sopranos -- "a show which we could not and would not air on NBC because of the violence, language and nudity." The letter was accompanied by a tape of one Sopranos episode that included sex scenes and a violent beating of a prostitute. HBO Chairman Jeff Bewkes told the New York Times, "I take exception to his implication that there in inappropriate content on the show. I feel it's unjustified. It's hard to understand what he's trying to do." Wright told Wednesday's Los Angeles Times that his goal was to provoke a dialogue about where network programming is heading.
GM AND NEWS CORP TO CONTINUE DIRECTV TALKS
The board of directors of General Motors said Tuesday that they wanted to continue talks with News Corp about merging Hughes Electronics' DirecTV with the media giant's Sky Global Networks. GM is the parent company of Hughes.
AUSTRALIA TO AIR "SURVIVOR" FINALE EARLY
Australia's Channel 9, which has been airing Survivor: The Australian Outback about a week after it is seen in the United States, will carry last week's episode followed by the finale only hours after the American telecast Thursday night (Friday in Australia). Executives of the Australian network had feared that revelation of the winner in the Australian press would discourage viewers from tuning in.
ROBB SURFACES -- WITH EXPOSE -- AT "INSIDE"
David Robb, the former Hollywood Reporter journalist who quit his job last week in a dispute with the publisher over an investigative article he had written about the trade paper's gossip columnist, has found an outlet for his work: the online media magazine Inside . Robb includes allegations in his article that Reporter columnist George Christy accepted numerous favors from persons and companies that he wrote about -- particularly Steve Stabler and Brad Krevoy of Motion Picture Corporation of America and Destination Films. He claims that for years Christy received free office space from the now-defunct companies valued at $1,000-$1,250 per month and that although his credits appear in listings for five films produced by Stabler and Krevoy, Christy is nowhere to be seen in any of them. Inside announced Tuesday that Robb will be covering the actors' and writers' guild negotiations for the Web site.
THROWING A CROWBAR INTO THE WORKS
Government and industry lawyers told a federal appeals court Tuesday that unless the panel upholds a ruling barring the distribution of a computer program that breaks the industry's encryption code aimed at preventing DVDs from being copied, perfect digital copies of movies could be uploaded onto the Internet and distributed worldwide. The program, called DeCSS, amounts to a "digital crowbar" for copyright thieves, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Alter told the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. However, Stanford University Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, who represents Eric Corley, the operator of an Internet hacker site that published the code, shot back: "The government is trying to impose strict liability for having a crowbar, whether you're a carpenter or a thief." Corley and others have contended that DeCSS is essential for watching DVDs on many computers that are not equipped with the Windows operating system -- but that it is impractical for bootlegging them on the Internet.
BRITISH WRITER "IMPRESSED" BY QUICK DEAL WITH DREAMWORKS
A British sci-fi writer says that he was "impressed" when he received a phone call from DreamWorks offering to buy the film rights to three novels that he had written as a trilogy. Terry Pratchett told Britain's Guardian newspaper that DreamWorks plans to use the books -- Truckers, Diggers and Wings, together known as the Bromeliad Trilogy -- as the basis for a computer-animated film to be directed by Andrew Adamson (Shrek). "You've got to be impressed when someone from the studio phones up from Hollywood one night and turns up for lunch in Wiltshire, England, the very next day," Pratchett said. DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg commented, "There are few authors whose work lends itself to animation as well as Terry Pratchett's."
BRITISH FILM COMPANY GOING AFTER HOLLYWOOD
Britain's commercial Channel 4, whose FilmFour movie division has turned out such moderate low-budget hits as Trainspotting, The Crying Game and Elizabeth, announced Tuesday that it is altering its strategy and will begin producing more expensive films featuring major British and American stars. Channel 4 CEO Michael Jackson said Tuesday that the company is launching 4 Ventures Limited to attract investors in the company's film business. He said that it has already signed Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Andie MacDowell, Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris and Ian Holm for forthcoming projects, including the upcoming $22-million production of Charlotte Gray, based on the Sebastian Faulks novel and starring Blanchett and Crudup.
WILL "BRIDGET" BECOME BRITAIN'S BIGGEST HIT?
Bridget Jones's Diary retained the top spot at the British box office for the third consecutive weekend, earning $5 million to bring its total U.K. gross to $30.1 million, the British trade paper Screen International reported Tuesday. (The film had grossed $36.8 million through Monday in the United States) British analysts projected that the film will eventually eclipse Notting Hill as the most successful British film in history. (Notting Hill earned $43.5 million in Britain and $116 million in the United States.)