AKA 5TH BARON CHRISTOPHER HADEN-GUEST – Marilyn Armstrong

CHRISTOPHER GUEST – (born February 5, 1948) who is usually known simply as Christopher Guest, is a British-American screenwriter, composer, musician, director, actor, and comedian who holds dual British and American citizenship.

So there we are, Garry and I, watching “A Few Good Men.Garry looks at me and asks, “Is that Christopher Guest?”

I didn’t know the answer because he’s one of those guys who looks entirely different, depending on his makeup, costume and whether or not he is wearing a beard and if it’s a comedy, musical, or drama.

Christopher Guest

Or maybe he’s just the guy linking arms with Jamie Lee Curtis.

Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest is the son of an important Labour Politician in England. His father got the baronage, but Christopher inherited it.

These days, he’s both British and American and I love him most of all for making two of my favorite movies: “Best In Show” and “A Mighty Wind.”

He has a group of actors who he uses for many of his movies. He is goofy and funny. He loves folk music and dogs, so what could possibly go wrong?

I knew everyone else is writing about company coming or going or expected, but I just wanted to let you know that having looked up Christopher Guest, I thought he was really interesting and no, I didn’t know he was married to Jamie Lee Curtis. Or that he used to be in the House of Lords.

He is one year and one month younger than me. I’m sure that must mean something, but I have no idea what.

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN

The Sean Connery Years, part 2

When Sean Connery looks across the card table during a game of Baccarat Chemin de Fer in the opening of Dr. No, he started one of the greatest movie series ever simply by giving his name, “Bond, James Bond.”  Since then the Bond films have gone on to be one of the most successful movies franchises ever.  The eight Harry Potter films achieved unprecedented box office numbers.  Star Wars is back near the top. If you add up all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, they get number one on the revenue list, but there are many films; you know, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy. These are not all about one character, so does it count?  There are 25 Bond films, and it will take at least 2 more for the series to equal the Potter gross revenue figures.

Previously we recapped the first 4 Bond films, starring Connery as the super spy.  Connery was back for the fifth outing in 1967’s You Only Live Twice, based loosely, very loosely, on the 12th Ian Fleming novel of the same name.  Since the novel is a continuation of a story line from a previous novel, not yet filmed, we are in for some Cold War era rewrites here.

Consider this paragraph a giant spoiler alert.  In the opening Bond is sent to Japan where he is set up and killed by foreign agents.  The naval commander is buried at sea and that is the end of Bond.  OK, it’s not. It is all a set up so Bond can go under cover in Japan to work with the head of the Japanese secret service to find out who has captured an American spacecraft.  Here we get to see Bond train as a ninja and invade, along with a female assistant, of course, an island run by an evil SPECTRE mastermind.  There are battles, explosions, chases and remarkable rescues, just the usual Bond magic.

Remarkably, the next movie is based on the previous novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).  The sixth Bond production brings on a new actor in the role of the super hero and a new director.  Since Connery decided to retire from the role, the producers elected to go with an unknown Australian actor and model, George Lazenby.   His good looks and screen tests won him the role.

The story involves a “Bond girl” who James saves at the opening, then later meets at a casino. It’s actress Diana Rigg in an early role as a Countess. Her father sets Bond on an investigation of her solicitor, which in turn leads the spy to an evil plot by the head of SPECTRE (a plan to distribute biological warfare).  This may all sound rather fantastic, but this time the producers tried to stay closer to the book.  Yes, the film series got people reading the books.  Imagine that!

By the end of filming, Lazenby had decided that he had enough of Bond, even though he was offered the next movie which was supposed to be The Man With The Golden Gun.  He passed on it and the movie was put on hold.  It was reported that Lazenby’s agent told him the Bond series would be outdated by the 1970’s anyway.

After a couple of years and a film that did not have the box office magic of the Connery films, there was only one thing for the producers to do.  They decided to bring back the magic.  The story was switched to Diamonds Are Forever (1971).  Guy Hamilton was brought back to direct.  He was the director of the critically acclaimed Goldfinger.  John Barry again did the score, as he did for all but one of the Bond films.  Shirley Bassey, who sang the title tune for Goldfinger, is back for this title tune.  There is a gorgeous “Bond girl” with Jill St. John.  Just one more element was needed to insure a return to the top for the movie series.

Producers gave their Bond actor over a million dollars (unheard of territory then)  and a piece of the gross to take on the super suave spy.  Finally, the major challenge was met and Sean Connery was set to return as “007.”

The story is based on the 4th Ian Fleming novel published in 1956.  Bond is chasing diamond smugglers and the action moves from South Africa to Holland to the United Kingdom and on to Las Vegas.  Of course, a bit of a rewrite of the story allows us to have an old nemesis, Ernest Stavro Blofeld, a SPECTRE mastermind. The Bond girl is appropriately named, Tiffany Case.  Fleming loved to give the girls names with double meanings within the story.  The Las Vegas chase scene almost makes the movie experience worth the time. The casino owner at the middle of the thriller is played by Jimmy Dean.  Yes, that Jimmy Dean, country singer and sausage king.

From here the film series moves on to the Roger Moore years.  In 1973 Moore becomes the famous spy for the next seven films.  Connery moves on to other film projects, promising never to play the secret agent again.

Owners of the Thunderball rights, won in a court battle, desired to film the movie.  Additional court battles over what could be used would follow upon any attempt to make a rival Bond film in the midst of the Bond years.  Even while the Roger Moore films were being released, plans for a rival Bond movie were moving forward.  Not wanting to call the film by the same name and facing a variety of legal challenges, the producers went ahead with a similar story and no rights to the iconic music.  Even with a good script, how could they be successful in the same year with the release of a Roger Moore film?

The only solution seemed to be a film starring Sean Connery as James Bond, but Connery was 52 years old.  Moore, on the other hand, was older.  While Connery looked fit and able to play an action hero, the story was modified as if “007” was under used due to age. He is brought back to deal with the hijacking of 2 nuclear bombs.  Like Thunderball, there is a limited time to find the bombs and save the world from massive destruction.  Connery makes the most out of playing an aging James Bond who can still deliver in times of crisis.  The overall result is a film much more satisfying than the original Thunderball.  Some thought the short underwater climax was disappointing, but it was better than the overblown original.

Connery provides us with all the charm you would expect of the world’s most famous “secret” agent.  The film did almost as well at the box office as the Roger Moore/James Bond film that year, Octopussy.  The title of the Thunderball remake was suggested by Connery’s wife who reminded them that Connery had previously said “Never again” to playing the famous British agent.

Related:
Bond, James Bond – The Sean Connery Years

On Friday: “Moore Bond”

GARRY ARMSTRONG REVIEWS “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”

We did our annual viewing of “The Ten Commandments” last night. It’s an annual rite of Spring and Easter Eve here.

We watched on our hinky DVD. The discs and the player are so hinky and old that we had glitches in the climactic scenes as Moses, Moses and the freed slaves begin their bigly Pilgrimage out of Egypt. We could have watched on ABC, but they have a gazillion commercials. Not in the mood for all that advertising time.

The movie

“Ten Commandments” really is a fun event thanks to Cecil B, beginning with his on-stage intro. The curtains seemed to open slower this year. Could be the hinky DVD or maybe the curtains open slower with each passing view. We always appreciate Cecil’s humility. I’m surprised he didn’t include himself as one of the on site contributors to the events in his bigly classic.

There is so much to appreciate if you just let yourself go and enjoy as a guilty pleasure. The humongous cast. Especially the featured players in very small size print as the open credits role. I never spot Clint Walker, who I suspect was one of Rameses’ body guards. Woodrow “Woody” Strode is obvious as the Nubian King who comes to pay tribute to Pharaoh (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). I don’t know who played the sexy Nubian Queen who obviously drew the scorn of Anne Baxter. She was clearly aware that once you go Black you never go back.

Lawrence Dobkin, with a wonderful toupee, has a lot of face time as one of Moses, Moses confidantes. Dobkin, you mavens surely know, was a busy chrome dome in 50’s television. Ditto Michael “Cochise” Ansara as an Egyptian Guard. I don’t think Ansara had any lines, just a few grunts and yells.

I scanned Anne Baxter’s cortege of scantily clad girl friends. No familiar faces but they were bigly bodacious. No “sisters” in Anne’s gang. No wonder she was jealous of the Nubian Queen.

Eddie G. Robinson probably had a blast as the nefarious Dathan, a toga and sandals version of Enrico Bandetti and Johnny Rocco. Eddie G “played” everyone with that smirky smile. He and Vinnie Price were a marvelous villainous duo. Vinnie was the syndicate “John” and Eddie, the pimp.

John Carradine always looks befuddled as Aaron who takes the fall for anything that Moses, Moses screws up.

Debra Paget, the central casting White Indian Princess, is the so fetching and vulnerable damsel who will do ANYTHING for John Derek’s Joshua. ANYTHING. Wonder if she did a Playboy spread for Derek? Debra preceded Ursula Andress, Linda Evans and Bo Derek in Joshua’s photography studio.

For all our jibes, Cecil B’s special effects are still impressive in our CGI era. The Red Sea parting alone is worth a rally of cheers.

Charlton Heston and the 10 commandments

A quickie question: Why weren’t Moses, Moses hands burned when he picked up the two ten commandments plaques after God just burned them into the rocks? Follow up question: Who did the voice of God? This was way before Morgan Freeman’s time.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

THE DARKEST HOUR IN WWII – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently watched the movie “Darkest Hour”. I was blown away. The movie focuses on Winston Churchill’s initial period as Prime Minister of England in 1940. Shortly after he took power, Belgium and France fell to the Nazis. Literally all of Britain’s 300,000 plus troops were stranded on the beaches at Dunkirk as the Nazis advanced on them, poised to push them into the sea. They were in serious danger of being totally annihilated.

The Nazi armies seemed invincible. Britain stood alone, with few resources and no allies, to fight the German Goliath alone. The U.S. could not provide any military support because we were pledged to be neutral in the fight. A German invasion of England was anticipated, as was a massive air campaign against them.

Watching the movie was gut wrenching. We knew that England survived and that Hitler was eventually defeated. But putting yourself in the mindset of England in May and June of 1940, was devastating.

Map of Nazi conquest of Europe as of 1940

I remembered something my mother told me about living through World War II. Through hindsight, the defeat of Nazism seems inevitable to us today. It was not inevitable to the anyone at the time. The people living through World War II, day in and day out, had no way of knowing how things would turn out. And for a long period of time, it really looked like it was inevitable that the Axis would successfully conquer and reshape the entire western world.

I didn’t actually understand how dire England’s plight was in the spring of 1940. No one could have predicted the miraculous rescue at Dunkirk. This was only accomplished when 850 civilian pleasure boats formed an armada and crisscrossed the English Channel for nine days, from May 26 to June 4 of 1940. Amazingly, over 300,000 men were safely returned to England. It was one of the greatest and most improbable wartime rescues in history.

Even after Dunkirk, the odds were heavily stacked against England. All of the news was bad, for Europe as well as for Great Britain. The future looked unimaginably terrifying.

My parents lived through this time safely in New York City. Nonetheless, they were horrified at the possibility of a world ruled by the Third Reich. My parents and their families were Jewish, so their fear was magnified. My grandmother, like many Americans, also had family trapped in Europe. So there was a whole other level of fear and anxiety.

I don’t think I understood, on a visceral level, the emotional toll that World War II took on the people in the allied countries. Many allies fell to the Nazis. So the others didn’t have to imagine what life would be like for them under Nazi rule. Unless you were a fascist collaborator, things would not be good for you.

Paris under Nazi rule

I wouldn’t dream of comparing the Trump presidency with the Nazi conquest of Europe. But this is the first time that I have ever had to worry about democracy as we know it, ending in America. For the first time, I am not certain that all our cherished rights and liberties will survive. Free and unbiased elections may be in danger, as are the financial safety nets our government provides for those in need. The values that I cherish in my country are under attack and may not prevail long-term.

The level of panic I feel when I read an ominous news report is miniscule compared to my parents’ reactions to the headlines they had to read every day in the early years of the Second World War. But I think I finally ‘get’ what it meant to live through the early 1940’s as an anti-fascist and as a targeted minority. I wish I could let my mother know I finally understand what she was trying to tell me about the nightmare of those years.

I also have a new level of appreciation for Winston Churchill and the British people. They vowed to fight Hitler down to the last man. And they meant it. They vowed never to surrender their country to a fascist regime. Now I realize how much courage that took. I understand how real the threat of death or capture was for every Englishman.

I have boundless admiration and gratitude for the brave people of Britain who rose to fight for their values and for their country’s way of life. I hope, if the time ever comes for America, that I will have the courage to “man the barricades” for my country and my values.

THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

ATTEND THE TALE, by Rich Paschall

Benjamin Barker is wrongly accused of a crime and sent away from England to a prison in Australia. His beautiful wife is taken by the judge to be his own and his daughter is adopted by the same judge.  Mrs. Lovett makes meat pies and her shop has fallen on hard times.  Anthony, a sailor, picks up Sweeney Todd, who is adrift at sea. All of this is just for openers.

Todd returns to Fleet Street and his former home, where he encounters Mrs. Lovett.  The sailor comes across the beautiful Joanna, daughter of Todd (Barker), locked in her house by the evil judge.  Of course, Anthony falls in love with her beauty as seen from the window and with her voice.  The Beadle does the judge’s dirty work, which includes keeping people away from his ward.

Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd

There are two versions of the musical thriller available on DVD.  One is the Tony and Emmy award-winning stage production with  original lead performers.  The 1979 Broadway smash of the gruesome tale was recorded for television in 1982, starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett and George Hearn as Sweeney Todd. Hearn had replaced Len Cariou in the original stage production.  Lansbury won a Tony award for her portrayal while Hearn picked up an Emmy.

As experienced theater performers, these two knew how to fill the house with their dynamic interpretations of Lovett and Todd.  They had to be both evil and somewhat sympathetic.  Todd is out for revenge and Lovett is doing her own conniving as well.  Some of the nature of her evil is immediately apparent.  She not only has designs for Mr. Todd, she also sees a way to improve the sale of her meat pies by getting some fresh meat.  If that needs further explanation, I will let you see one of these productions.

Sweeney-original cast

The music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim.  The composer of many Broadway shows has mixed a variety of styles here to score big, not just with awards, but with a long running show.  It is proof that a gruesome tale can mix drama and comedy, love and evil, revenge and murder with music and come out a winner.  It is this show that intrigued a young Tim Burton, who would bring us the movie version 25 years later.

sweeney-todd-broadway

In 2007 the film of the Sondheim musical was put together by a director who knew how to bring such a dark setting to life.  Featuring most of the Sondheim score and original script, Burton was able to use film to bring more variety to the settings and more blood to the tale.  The gruesome revenge tale was certainly now more…uh, gruesome.

The most obvious surprise served up by the director was the casting.  Johnny Depp is present as the Demon Barber. Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs. Lovett.  It certainly was easier to have some sympathy for the situations of these characters when they are portrayed by the well-known and well liked stars.  The immediate question, however, was could they sing their parts.

Alan Rickman (Severus Snape in Harry Potter) is the evil judge.  Timothy Spall, who also appeared in many of the Harry Potter films, is the Beadle.  Sacha Baron Cohen is Adolfo Pirelli, the rival barber and con artist from early in the story.  His young assistant, Tobias Ragg, is played by a small man with a tenor voice in the theater production, but is played by 14-year-old Ed Sanders in the film.  This is an important change as it more accurately fits the character.

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Gone from the movie is the Greek chorus offering warnings to the audience and an admonition to:

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.
His skin was pale and his eye was odd.
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again.

It is a cautionary tale for which you are being advised, but the Burton film saw no need for The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.  The song works well as a theater device and is used throughout the play.  With the movie being able to give you a stronger visual, you should not need the warnings of the chorus.

Also gone is the song “Kiss Me.”  You never see in the movie version that the lovers Anthony and Johanna have actually met, while they spend enough time together in the play to do a musical number.  Gone too is the “Wigmaker Sequence.”  The explanation from Todd to Anthony on how he will rescue Johanna is almost completely missing.

These omissions along with shorten versions of songs leave the movie at 116 minutes while the television production of the play did not cut anything and runs 139 minutes.  The play does add in an “Intermission” so you can go to the refrigerator or wherever.

While it is no surprise to say that the crew of Broadway veterans delivered on their songs, you may wonder about the movie cast.  Sondheim himself retained a right of refusal on casting choices for the main parts.

Sweeney-todd-twisted-characters

Though he feared a rock interpretation by Depp, he was pleased with the audition singing of the mega star.  Helena Bonham Carter sent a dozen audition tapes to Sondheim.  As she was Tim Burton’s partner at the time, they wanted no hint of nepotism.

Cohen also auditioned extensively and is said to have sung just about everything from Fiddler on the Roof.  Alan Rickman, a stage and screen veteran, delivers on the singing of the judge.  The duet of “Pretty Women” with Depp rivals anything you may have seen on stage.  Having teenager Ed Sanders sing the Toby part adds the poignancy the stage version may miss.

Depp claims never to have sung publicly before, yet he delivers as a brooding, vengeful Todd.  Although Bonham Carter picked up awards for Mrs. Lovett, I find her song performance without life.  I guess it would naturally suffer against a comparison with Lansbury.

Both productions have features to recommend.  Purists of theater productions will opt for the Lansbury/Hearn portrayals.  Those in favor of better effects and star power will enjoy the movie.  In either case, be sure to “attend the tale.”

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN

The Sean Connery Years, part 2

When Sean Connery looks across the card table during a game of Baccarat Chemin de Fer in the opening of Dr. No to give his name to his female opponent, he started one of the greatest movie series ever by responding, “Bond, James Bond.”  Since then the Bond films have gone on to be one of the most successful movies franchises ever.  The eight Harry Potter films achieved unprecedented box office numbers.  If you add up all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, they get number one on the revenue list, but there are 11 popular and recent films; you know, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and they are not all about one character so does it count?  There are 25 Bond films, and it will take at least 2 more for the series to equal the Potter gross revenue figures.

Previously we recapped the first 4 Bond films, staring Connery as the super spy.  Connery was back for the fifth outing in 1967’s You Only Live Twice, based loosely, very loosely, on the 12th Ian Fleming novel of the same name.  Since the novel is a continuation of a story line from a previous novel, not yet filmed, we are in for some Cold War era rewrites here.

Consider this paragraph a giant spoiler alert.  In the opening Bond is sent to Japan where he is set up and killed by foreign agents.  The naval commander is buried at sea and that is the end of Bond.  OK, it’s not. It is all a set up so Bond can go under cover in Japan to work with the head of the Japanese secret service to find out who has captured an American spacecraft.  Here we get to see Bond train as a ninja and invade, along with a female assistant, of course, an island run by an evil SPECTRE mastermind.  There are battles, explosions, chases and remarkable rescues, just the usual Bond magic.

Remarkably, the next movie is based on the previous novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).  The sixth Bond production brings on a new actor in the role of the super hero and a new director.  Since Connery decided to retire from the role, the producers elected to go with an unknown Australian actor and model, George Lazenby.   His good looks and screen tests won him the role.  It was the only time a person not from Great Britain would take the lead.

The story involves a “Bond girl” who James saves at the opening, then later meets at a casino. It’s actress Diana Rigg in an early role as a Countess. Her father sets Bond on an investigation of her solicitor which in turn leads Bond to an evil plot by the head of SPECTRE to set in motion a plan to distribute biological warfare.  This may all sound rather fantastic, but this time the producers tried to stay closer to the book.  Yes, the film series got people reading the books.  Imagine that!

By the end of filming, Lazenby had decided that he had enough of Bond, even though he was offered the next movie which was to be The Man With The Golden Gun.  He passed on it and the movie was put on hold.  It was reported that Lazenby’s agent told him the Bond series would be out dated by the 1970’s anyway.

After a couple of years and a film that did not have the box office magic of the Connery films, there was only one thing for the producers to do.  They decided to bring back the magic.  The story was switched to Diamonds Are Forever (1971).  Guy Hamilton was brought back to direct.  He was the director of the critically acclaimed Goldfinger.  John Barry again did the score, as he did for all but one of the Bond films at this point.  Shirley Bassey, who sang the title tune for Goldfinger, is back for this title tune.  There is a gorgeous “Bond girl” with Jill St. John.  Just one more element was needed to insure a return to the top for the movie series.

Producers gave their Bond actor over a million dollars (unheard of territory then)  and a piece of the gross to take on the super suave spy.  Finally, the major challenge was met and Sean Connery was set to return as “007.”

The story is based on the 4th Ian Fleming novel published in 1956.  Bond is chasing diamond smugglers and the action moves from South Africa to Holland to the United Kingdom and on to Las Vegas.  Of course, a bit of a rewrite of the story allows us to have an old nemesis, Ernest Stavro Blofeld, a SPECTRE mastermind. The Bond girl is appropriately named, Tiffany Case.  Fleming loved to give the girls names with double meanings within the story.  The Las Vegas chase scene almost makes the movie experience worth the time. The casino owner at the middle of the thriller is played by Jimmy Dean.  Yes, that Jimmy Dean, country singer and sausage king.

From here the film series moves on to the Roger Moore years.  In 1973 Moore becomes the famous spy for the next seven films.  Connery moves on to other film projects, promising never to play the secret agent again.

Owners of the Thunderball rights, won in a court battle, desired to film the movie.  Additional court battles over what could be used would follow upon any attempt to make a rival Bond film in the midst of the Bond years.  Even while the Roger Moore films were being released, plans for a rival Bond movie were moving forward.  Not wanting to call the film by the same name and facing a variety of legal challenges, the producers went ahead with a similar story and no rights to the iconic music.  Even with a good script, how could they be successful in the same year with the release of a Roger Moore film?

The only solution seemed to be a film starring Sean Connery as James Bond, but Connery was 52 years old.  Moore, on the other hand, was older.  While Connery looked fit and able to play an action hero, as many his age had for action heroes, the story was modified as if “007” was under used due to age and he is brought back to deal with the hijacking of 2 nuclear bombs.  Like Thunderball, there is a limited time to find the bombs and save the world from massive destruction.  Connery makes the most out of playing an aging James Bond who can still deliver in times of crisis.  The overall result is a film much more satisfying than the original Thunderball.  Some thought the short underwater climax was disappointing, but it was better than the overblown original.

Connery provides us with all the charm you would expect of the world’s most famous “secret” agent.  The film did almost as well at the box office as the Roger Moore/James Bond film that year, Octopussy.  The title of the Thunderball remake was suggested by Connery’s wife who reminded them that Connery had previously said “Never again” to playing the famous British agent.

Related:

Bond, James Bond – The Sean Connery Years

True Grit (2010)

True_Grit_PosterHaving just watched the 1969 version of the film starring John Wayne, I thought it was time to see the remake. I usually avoid remakes of favorite movies, and the original True Grit is a favorite. I have always thought it was the Duke’s best performance, portraying a character full of life and humor.

I made an exception for this particular remake. I figured if anyone could do a credible Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges was the guy to do it. So the day after watching the original, we fired up the Roku, popped over to Netflix and selected True Grit.

Ahead of shooting, Ethan Coen said that the film would be a more faithful adaptation of the novel than the 1969 version. It’s partly a matter of the perspective from which we see the story unfold. The book is written from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl. Thus, it has a certain feel to it, very different from th first movie which was clearly skewed to a John Wayne sensibility.

The book is known for being funnier than the original movie … but the remake is not lighter or more humorous than the original movie. It may be more faithful to the book in some ways, but honestly, I didn’t see a huge difference in attitude, perspective or even the story from the first movie. In fact, the two movies are different … but not hugely different. Different scripts, actors and so on with the differences that inevitably arise from these changes, but in fact, the remake is darker and more violent than the 1969 movie. It is not only darker in feeling, it’s visually darker and a great deal of the action takes place at night.

A Grievance – Slight Digression

This makes It hard on the eyes when viewed on television and I really wish the people who press the DVDs would take into consideration that watching on the big screen and watching at home are two very different visual experiences. Lighten it up when you put it on DVD please. And rebalance the audio so the sound effects and music do not completely overwhelm the voices … requiring closed captions to have any idea what anyone is saying. This is especially annoying, especially when I’ve just paid a premium for Blu-ray.

Television does not render darkness as well as big screens do. But movies these days don’t spend much time in theatres. They have them out on DVD faster than a speeding bullet, often before they’ve finished their first theatrical run. Considering that the majority of a movie’s life will be on DVD, shown at home on smaller screens, directors might take that into consideration and brighten these movies up a bit. I don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s art, but shouldn’t the actual viewing conditions under which most people will see the picture carry some weight? I’m just saying.

And now, back to our main feature, already in progress

ht_jeff_bridges_true_grit_101229_mn

Much of the original movie’s dialogue is identical in the 2010 version. The best and most important scenes in both versions are word for word the same. Between those signature scenes, the dialogue is different. The character of Cogburn is very similar in some way, but very different in others. Wayne’s taciturn old marshal contrasts sharply with Jeff Bridges’ loquacious  version whose Rooster Cogburn talks a blue streak.

Hailee Steinfield’s Mattie Ross is more like her original character than Bridges’ Cogburn is like Wayne’s.

None of this is real criticism. This is a good movie on its own merits. It stands on its own legs. Obviously the two movies derive from the same source, but despite large amounts of identical dialogue, the two movies feel very different. If you had never seen the original and didn’t compare them, I would simply say the 2010 True Grit is a good western with fine performances.

But it’s a remake and there’s no avoiding comparisons. It may not be entirely fair, but it’s inevitable. Some of the scenes, when the dialogue is the same in both, are not only played the same way — Bridges even manages to do the “Duke’s walk” — they are shot the same way. Several key scenes are pretty much identical, frame by frame. Then, the movies diverge only to come together again a bit further down the  cinematic path. The convergence-divergence pattern can be disconcerting.

Regardless, you could never mistake this for an old-fashioned western.Its gritty, dark texture is typical of modern westerns. It isn’t necessarily an improvement, but it’s a constant visible reminder that this is a recent film, not an older one.

Characters are less heroic and more ambivalent. True Grit makes a moderately successful attempt to integrate both old and new, moving back and forth, mixing John Ford with Clint Eastwood. Sometimes it feel a bit disconnected and jumpy, leaping from familiar dialogue common to both movies, to completely different dialogue and mood … with no bridge. Whoa, I cry … where are we now? The sudden shifts might actually be a continuity and/or editing issue, but as a member of the audience, I can’t tell the why of it, only discuss the result.

TRUE GRIT

There’s no cheery ending for the new True Grit. It’s not sad, but it’s not happy either.

If I had to choose, I prefer the original, but the remake is a good movie too. Jeff Bridges is a great actor. The entire cast is excellent. Perhaps the comparison is unfair and it’s better to take each movie on its own merits. That being said, I am not likely to watch the 2010 True Grit a second time. Too grim for my taste, though I appreciated the art that went into its making.

How you feel about each movie is of course subjective. Two good films, genetically related. Take your pick. You won’t go far wrong either way.

Garry Armstrong: The Movie Maven’s Take

Reading Marilyn’s review of the True Grit remake, the obvious occurred to me. I am a child of the old school of movies. My heroes and heroines are the stars from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. My film morality sensibilities have been shaped and nurtured by movies from Hollywood’s “golden era” through the 60’s. Not surprisingly, John Wayne is probably my favorite movie star. “Star” not actor. I thoroughly enjoyed Wayne’s “True Grit”.

His “Rooster Cogburn” was a sum of all the heroes Wayne had played for 40 years. Older, fatter and more prone to corn liquor, Rooster’s sense of morality was still pretty simple. There was good and bad and few in-betweens. Wayne nailed all that with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Wayne was Rooster and Rooster was Wayne. The original’s end with Rooster frozen in frame and time as he and his horse leap a fence is “print the legend” stuff.  Veteran director Henry Hathaway (“The Sons of Katie Elder”, etc), is in familiar territory and gives the original “Grit” lots of traditional, old school western flavor.

All that said, Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn in the “True Grit” remake is also memorable and can stand alone. Jeff Bridges as an actor can stand alone. He invests his own irascible charm into “Rooster” while paying homage to the Duke. Matt Damon’s “LaBeouf” is much better and more complex than Glenn Campbell’s Texas Ranger in the original. Josh Brolin gives Tom Chaney much more depth and compassion than acting school guru Jeff Corey gave the original villain. I still prefer Robert Duvall’s “Lucky Ned Pepper” but Barry (“61”) Pepper is also pretty good in the remake.

The remake gives us an extended look at Mattie with an ending closer to the book than the original film. Hailee Steinfeld is her own Mattie — equal to Kim Darby’s offering in the original. So, while I can enjoy the “True Grit” remake, I am still very partial to the Duke’s original film. Arguments?? That’ll be the day!!

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