Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two Good Movies

I had the pleasure of two excellent cinematic experiences this past week. The first is the one most likely to leave theaters soon, as it scares too many moviegoers who should be checking it out: 127 Hours (8.5 on IMDB). If you're put off by anticipation of the severing scene, don't be, as it's not very long and (reportedly) much less difficult to endure than Black Swan. Director Danny Boyle does use a screeching electronic sound to emulate the feeling that James Franco's character is experiencing during the act, so it may make more sense to cover your ears than your eyes, but the movie is so much more than that scene, that it's a shame people will take awhile to discover it.

The vibrant visuals, the glory of the orange-hued Utah landscape, the easy and convivial presence of Mr. Franco, and the remarkable spiritual journey of this man is what blows you away, with an incredibly uplifting ending, a real-life triumph of the human spirit, it's all very inspiring. Boyle keeps things moving even when Franco is trapped, via visions and flashbacks that follow his thought throughout the ordeal. I particularly enjoyed the sense of youthful freedom, in an early sequence where he runs into two lost female hikers as well as a later flashback to a winter scene.

Most of all, from the very first minute, it is the first movie I've ever seen that has the visual agility of a new iPhone 4, that is to say, it moves it's imagery with speed, accuracy and grace.

The other great movie experience was the Coen Bros' True Grit (also 8.5 on IMDB). Regular readers know I've been anticipating this one, and I took my equally excited 11 year-old son. Call it a father-son bonding experience. The upshot was another movie with the audience applauding at the end, a terrific remake with much more darkness than the Henry Hathaway original, and a much better cast Maddie Ross, an actual 14 year-old actress rather than Kim Darby at age 20.

Audiences are starving for simple stories made up of great solid characters, well-told, and ours loved this one. This is easily the most accessible Coen Bros movie, but the love of literary detail is still there, along with just enough of their patented detachment to make the emotional closing scenes feel earned rather than maudlin.

Aside from the big screen-filling beauty of the production (Roger Deakins should be favored for the Cinematography awards), it's the interplay between newcomer Hailie Steinfeld who proves herself early in some negotiation scenes, Jeff Bridges submerged in a non-Wayne interpretation of Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (originally the Glen Campbell breakout role) that makes the movie a pleasure. They're out on the range, long before Facebook, a credible recreation of the historical Western setting straight out of John Ford, with several shot quotes (My Darling Clementine, The Searchers) for good measure.

There you go, two positive recommendations. It seems that there's some real movies out, finally, saved for end of the year as in times past, but maybe a little edgier than usual.

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