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The Dude > The Duke 

Plus: Portman, Aronofsky exceed themselves in Black Swan

Previews

Sorry, no new movies this weekend. As noted by Coming Attractions: "There are no changes this week, except that Mill Creek opens Gulliver's Travels on Wednesday." (It's already at the Broadway and also opens Wednesday at the Fortuna in 3-D.) Charlie returns from a deserved holiday vacation this week and promises a review of Jack Black as Gulliver for next week.

Sunday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge, get your ’80s archeological action fix via Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) fighting off Nazis as he seeks the Ark of the Covenant.

The next ATL Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night -- Wednesday, Jan. 5 -- is a double-bill of post-apocalypse. Roger Corman's The Last Woman on Earth, from 1960, has three survivors of some mysterious calamity -- two dudes fight over what seems to be the last woman around. While its main selling point is a screenplay by Robert Towne, this is a far cry from Chinatown. The New Barbarians is a cheesy Italian Road Warriors rip-off set in the not-too-distant future (2019) after thermonuclear war has wiped out most people. Survivors are hunted by The Templars, Road Warrior types on dune buggies in white stormtrooper outfits. Among the good guys is Nadir (former Oakland Raider Fred Williamson), armed with a tricked-out crossbow.

And don't forget that the Humboldt County Library's January "Based on the Book" film series begins on Tuesday at the Eureka branch. "Take it From the Top: Classic Movie Musicals" starts with the great Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance movie Top Hat. See the Calendar for full details on the series.

-- Bob Doran

Reviews

TRUE GRIT. It's rare to see a film you'd imagine could garner equal enthusiasm from audiences in, say, both Arcata and Fortuna, but Joel and Ethan Coen's latest cinematic outing, True Grit, displays enough genuine artistry and class to please the film snobs while masterfully leaning on straightforward, crowd-pleasing storytelling that will seduce general movie-going audiences. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that with Grit 2010, Joel and Ethan enjoyed the most lucrative opening weekend for any film they've made in their celebrated, nearly three-decade-long careers.

It's not exactly a remake of the 1969 film that served as John Wayne's vehicle to Oscar, but the plot line is virtually unchanged. Teenaged Mattie Ross, played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, is determined to have her father's murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), brought to justice. She enlists aging, disreputable, drunken U.S. Marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, portrayed by Coen film alum Jeff "The Dude" Bridges. Joined by initially arrogant Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon), the trio sets off into Old West Indian country. Their individual ambitions and strong personalities present nearly as great a hurdle as the terrain and their outlaw foes as they press on to the inevitable showdown with Chaney.

The Coens' work here will invariably be compared to its filmic predecessor, at least by those old enough to remember it, but brother Ethan has stated in interviews his desire to be the truer Grit in adapting Charles Portis' original comedic western novel. As a result, the narrative focus is on Mattie Ross rather than Rooster Cogburn, as it is in the book. The new film is also funnier when it should be. As you can imagine, Bridges is more adept at being subtly hilarious than The Duke. In fact, it is the ability to remain toned-down that contrasts the two films. Where the previous Grit is overt old-style Hollywood, Grit 2.0 is restrained and stark. The Coens proved able to flaunt their talent for presenting eccentric characters and offbeat dialog while being careful to stay safely and firmly inside the Western genre.

One would have to assume Bridges had gobs of fun with his colorful, braggadocious but vulnerable take on Cogburn, and his performance is, without question, the main attraction. But nipping at his heels, for sure, is Steinfeld's strong, confident portrayal of Mattie. The then-13-year-old actress was selected through an open casting call that garnered over 15,000 applicants. This will not be her last rodeo. 109m. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of Western violence, including disturbing images. Playing at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.

-- Andrew Goff

BLACK SWAN. Don't be fooled by the Tchaikovsky and tutus; this psychosexual thriller from Darren Aronofsky bears the director's distinctive signatures. It matches the feverish intensity of Pi and Requiem for a Dream with the dark melodrama of The Wrestler. I love all three of those movies (heck, I even enjoyed The Fountain, if you can believe it). Still, Black Swan is Aronofsky's most satisfying film to date.

All the more so because you're never quite sure what kind of movie it is, even after it's over. The setup is familiar enough: Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is an obsessively dedicated New York ballerina with an overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey going all creepy on us), a sexpot nemesis (Mila Kunis from That 70s Show) and a leering creep of a director (Frenchman Vincent Cassel). While Nina's dancing is technically impeccable (Portman does much of it herself), her director doubts her ability to play the darker half of the lead in his new production of Swan Lake. Perhaps to test the waters, he calls her to his dressing room and pulls her into an open-mouth kiss. She responds by biting the inside of his mouth. Dark side verified, she gets the role.

But as the rehearsals wear on and the pressure builds, Nina's obsession for perfection grows malignant, and her dark side begins to spasm with a life all its own. Like a broken mirror (a recurring visual motif) the edges of Nina's reality soon splinter, while her body -- that lithe, sinewy instrument -- festers and mutates. Or does it?

Portman's brittle, tormented performance (which, if you're so inclined, can be seen as a commentary on all-consuming ambition, or the tyranny of female body-image standards, or repressed sexuality, or ...) beautifully counterbalances Aronofsky's directorial flourishes as the film builds to a mesmerizing crescendo. She's never been better and certainly deserves the Oscar nod that folks are saying she'll get.

A technical note: This movie deserves to be seen in a theater, but not just any theater. Sound is almost as important as the visuals in Aronofsky's films, and unfortunately, the systems in the Minor's screening rooms (the two smaller theaters) lack the muscle necessary to fully immerse you in the experience -- especially if there happens to be a woman behind you wetly smacking on chewing gum. If Black Swan moves to the Broadway, I suggest you make the effort to see it in THX. 103m. Rated R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use. Sorry, still just at the Minor.

-- Ryan Burns

Continuing

BURLESQUE. Small-town girl has stars in her eyes. Lots of singing, dancing, shiny costumes and Christina Aguilera's big voice. Rated PG-13. 119m. At Garberville.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER. Prince Caspian, the Prevensies and the rest must save Narnia from unfathomable doom. Three down. Four to go. Rated PG. 115m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

THE FIGHTER. Marky Mark and Batman settle their differences so they can train for an historic title bout. Rated R. 116m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. A re-imagining of a classic tale. Jack Black finds himself as a giant among men in a foreign land in this giant flop. Rated PG. 87m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS PART I. The final chapter begins! If you can't wait for Part II, the script is available in book stores everywhere! Rated PG-13. At the Broadway.

HOW DO YOU KNOW. Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson battle for the affections of old, washed-up Reese Witherspoon. Rated PG-13. 121m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

LITTLE FOCKERS. You met the parents. You met the Fockers. If you're still paying attention, here's some cute kids and more hijinks! Rated PG. 98m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

TANGLED. Disney checks the Rapunzel box off its "fairy tales to animate" list with its latest kid-seducing 3-D computer-generated release. Rated PG for brief, mild violence. 100m. At the Broadway.

THE TOURIST. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie do Europe and get caught in a game of cat and mouse that you'll want to forget. Rated PG-13. 103m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

TRON: LEGACY. If you see one movie starring Jeff Bridges this holiday season... uh, see above. Rated PG. 125m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

YOGI BEAR. Mr. Ranger is not going to like this. And neither will you. Rated PG. 83m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

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