December 22, 2010, - 3:36 pm

Mid-Week Box Office: True Grit, Little Fockers

By Debbie Schlussel

The year’s best movie, “The King’s Speech,” doesn’t come out until the weekend, so you’ll have to stay tuned and come back for my review of it.  For now, though, there are two others, one of which is very good and the other is just horrible:

*  “True Grit“: Writing this review is probably sacrilege for many, but I really liked this Ethan and Joel Coen remake of the 1969 original, which won John Wayne the Academy Award.  And, for the most part, I liked it better–much better–than the original “True Grit,” which has long been considered a movie classic and great American western. I’m not normally a huge Coen Brothers fan, but this didn’t feel like their stuff. It felt like a masterpiece western, with some humor and great cinematography (beautiful to look at), thrown in.

The period movie follows a young girl, Mattie Ross, whose father has been murdered, as she and the Federal Marshal she’s hired, Rooster Cogburn, tread through the cold wilderness near an Indian reservation, hunting for the murderer, so he will face justice.  They are joined off and on by a Texas Ranger, who is also trying to capture the man for a different murder.

As readers know, I have an orthodoxy against remakes.  There is never a reason to remake what was done right the first time.  And if it wasn’t done right, why do it again?  Hollywood’s obsession with remakes is a manifestation of the death of creativity in America, the death of ideas, and, really, the death of vital, vibrant capitalism and freedom (both of which are usually met with more originality and ideas, not more remakes and sequels).

But the latest incarnation of “True Grit” is an exception–a rare exception–to my rule on remakes.  It’s very good, and, again, with the exception of Matt Damon, I liked it better than the first version.  I watched the original, again, after seeing this newer version.  And it just doesn’t compare.  I found the original to be hokey, slow, and boring, by comparison.  I love John Wayne with the best of ‘em,  but Jeff Bridges is far superior here.  He shows, yet again, why he’s such a great actor.  The only non-starter in this newer version is Damon.  The uber-lefty comes off as a clown, a comical man-boy character in a fake-looking mustache, in the role as a Texas lawman, played by Glen Campbell in the original.  And he just doesn’t belong in the movie.  I also didn’t like the graphic dismemberment the Coens depict, involving some fingers.  It wasn’t necessary and wasn’t nearly as grisly in the original movie.

The original Mattie Ross is, at times, much truer to what a rural, country girl who just lost her father would be like.  Though she is tough and controlled, she has the emotion of a girl who’s just lost her father and cries at least once.  She was played by Kim Darby.  In this version, she’s newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who is terrific.  But she is very cold.  Hardly a single tear over her newly deceased father.  She never even winces (not that I remember).  It’s not credible, but she didn’t write the script.  And for the rest of it, she’s spot on, and it’s great acting.  I liked her better than the original, in spite of the coldness.  She’s terrific, which is why I voted for Steinfeld among my top choices for Best Actress and Best Breakthrough Performance as a member of the Detroit Film Critics Society. But I also liked the ending of this new version, which is sad, far less than the different, positive, upbeat ending in the original.

But, other than these slight differences, this new version of “True Grit” is pretty close to the original, complete with rattlesnake and all.  Like I said, the ending was significantly darker, which I didn’t particularly like.  But it was shot better, the acting was better, and it moved along at a more appealing pace and tempo.  It’s just better over all, despite the few negatives I note.

This “True Grit” is a great Western.  It’s not for young kids.  But it’s something fine to take your teens to see (though you might wanna cover their faces at the dismemberment scene in the cabin).  There is nothing offensive.  And in many ways, it’s a very nice journey back to a time in America that was and is, sadly, lost.

I liked it. It’s one of the best movies of the year (though, given the movies this year, that’s a relative term).

THREE-AND-A-HALF REAGANS
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Watch the trailer . . .

* “Little Fockers“:   Two words:  TOTAL. DRECK.  Yuck.   Robert  De Niro and Ben Stiller clearly needed a paycheck.  It’s just awful.  Stiller plays nurse Greck Focker, as he has in all of these horrid Focker movies.  A pharmaceutical rep (Jessica Alba) comes on to him and hires him to be a spokesperson for a Viagra-type drug.  Meanwhile, his father-in-law, De Niro, who never liked him, doesn’t like him again.  It’s the fifth birthday of Focker’s twins, and they have their birthday party at the rich Owen Wilson’s mansion, while Wilson tries to come on to Focker’s wife, on whom he’s always had a crush. (Dude, why does this guy get to play Owen Wilson in every movie?)

Oh, and the pathetically annoying Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman are also mixed into this garbage stew of bad puns (“Do you want to be the ‘Godfocker’?”), unfunny bathroom humor, and jokes about poop and proctology.  Where’s Don Corleone when you need him?  This movie should be where Luca Brasi is:  sleeping with the fishes.  With apologies to Luca . . . and the fish.

Come on, Hollywood. Is this the best you can do for the Christmas holiday break?

FOUR MARXES PLUS AN OBAMA PLUS A BIN LADEN
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Watch the trailer . . .

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23 Responses

After reading your review on “True Grit,” I may have to change my mind about sequels. The Coen Brothers simply do superb work and this is up to their standard. They are one of the handful of people in Hollywood who can make an interesting derivative of an original classic. People will compare with the John Wayne one. The contemporary film is the better Western and its in legitimate contention for “Best Picture.”

Thanks for the review, Debbie. It deserved those Reagan ratings!!!

NormanF on December 22, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Hi Deb,

I picked up a copy of “True Grit” by Charles Portis and quickly read it. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it sounds like the Coen Bros. stuck to the story in the book. The girl is the book is very cold and businesslike, it is told from her perspective and includes the “finger’ scene you are talking about. I don’t remember the John Wayne version, i’ll have to view it to see how it stacks up. Recommend reading the book, it isn’t too long, only 215 pages, and the writing is not complicated, sort of like the movie I guess, just keeps the story moving.

Dave on December 22, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Growing up, I was a big fan of True Grit, and read the novel shortly after seeing the movie. I think the Coen Brothers have knocked the ball out of the park with this version of True Grit – much closer to the book than the Wayne classic. Superb acting all around (including Damon) and Miss Steinfeld is an absolute revelation. She handles her dialog with such incredible aplomb.

Though I do not like Damon’s politics one bit, but I think his role in this movie is spot on- “La Beef” was a bit of a tin horn and was in love with his job as a Ranger and didn’t hesitate to toot his own horn. So, yes, his character was indeed somewhat annoying when on the screen – purposefully so.

Four stars, Oscar worthy, and is a must appear on anyone’s top ten movies of 2010 list.

John on December 22, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I’ve only got one nit pick in the new “True Grit” so far: shooting right handed with an eye patch on the right eye. Pistols can be done right hand/left eye (I should know, it’s how I shoot), but right handed rifle????? bbbbbb

David B on December 22, 2010 at 8:58 pm

TCM just ran the 1969 John Wayne version of “True Grit” this evening so I decided to watch it to see if it was as good as my memory of it. I found it a little slow, and the acting somewhat stilted. As I watched, I found I could easily picture Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. I wasn’t originally going to see the new version, but now I think I will.

DG in GA on December 22, 2010 at 11:25 pm

The Coen brothers are very uneven, all over the place, very unpredictable. I thought ‘A Serious Man’ was very good, even though Debbie hated it, you have to watch it at least twice, even three times to appreciate it. I thought ‘No Country for Old Men’ was very good. Their ‘True Grit’ remake seems to have a fair bit in common with ‘No country for Old Men’ in terms of mood and atmosphere, looking forward to it.

As for “Little Fockers”, this sounds like the worst thing Stiller has ever done. He and Wilson and de Niro and Hoffman are really slumming it here, inexcusably lazy and cynical. I really like Stiller, who is often prepared to take risks, but he can really go the cynical path of lousy sequels to lousy movies, just like de Niro. Would you ever see such a good cast in such a bad movie as this?

Larry in Tel Aviv on December 23, 2010 at 1:41 am

Debbie, I agree with you about remakes in general. Hollywood’s obsession with remakes is a HUGE manifestation of the death of creativity in America. Almost every time I see reviews for a remake, I say to myself “Instead of remaking soandso, why didn’t they film suchandsuch, which has never been filmed and nobody will compare the actors and actresses with any previous performers? They can create their own characters and risk making their own mistakes.”

By any it’s a small world coincidence, did any woman on this website love and read and reread, as a child or teenager Lenora Mattingley Weber’s My True Love Waits? That’s also a teenaged-girl-in-the-Old-West story, only the girl involved is 18,not 14, and she’s not tracking down the murderer of her father, she’s crossing the plains, in a covered wagon, to join her husband. If the Coen Brothers had filmed that, nobody would be comparing the cast to John Wayne or Kim Darby.

By the way, if anyone on this website KNOWS, personally, the Coen brothers, tell them for me that I wish they’d film Peter Abrahams’s thriller, Tongues of Fire. It’s set in a future in which Israel has, G-d forbid, been defeated by the Arabs and an embittered Jewish refugee, a former professor of Arabic, sets out to take revenge by siezing the Islamic religion.

Miranda Rose Smith on December 23, 2010 at 3:42 am

Argghh! True Grit has to be a good movie! It was one of the first theater movies I ever saw. So, my thoughts upon hearing of a remarke were similar to yours Debbie: “Move on Hollywood!” “STOP!”

So, it’s a good movie and the pace is better. Having seen the original a few months ago, I did find it plodding in areas but I really liked Glen Campbell’s character more than I thought. Overall I still liked it realizing when it was shot and the directing-styles that were of those times.

I’ll watch the remake, if it’s convenient. I’m not going to go out of my way to view it just to see it.

Thanks for the reviews, they are helpful.

P. Aaron on December 23, 2010 at 7:21 am

I took my entire family of six plus one boyfriend to “The Little Fockers” last night and was horrified. I was reading the WSJ on my Blackberry. Not only boring but borish. The original “Meet the Parents” was so great, but each successive one has gone downhill. And this last one is probably one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life. The Focker parents ruined everything (Striesand and Hoffman). Is sex really all that funny to Hollywood types. Hey we do it in the read states too but can you really build an entire set of characters around sex jokes? Isn’t that a bit 6th grade?

Todd McKay on December 23, 2010 at 9:20 am

The King’s Speech.
I am a Canadian and have no use for Brit Royalty especially that sick German family that sits on the throne whose government helped the holocaust by preventing Jews to Israel. They violated their promises in the Balfour agreement and now the hate mongering BBC demonizes Israel. As far as I am concerned the US government should ban any member of BBC from entering USA. They spew more lies and hate than Michael Savage does.

madman on December 23, 2010 at 9:35 am

I think Debbie has a crush on Bridges…..I’m jealousssss!

I’ve never seen True Grit, but based on your review I just might see it even though I’m not a Coen brothers fan.

I loved Raising Arizona way back in the day, but to me their movies have this annoying trying way too hard to be clever mentality that puts me off.

As for the “Fockers” movie, it’s just a crass attempt to work in saying “Fockers” in any way possible for a cheap laugh. It might be funny if it was a Beavis & Butthead movie.

Anyone who likes any of the “Fockers” movies, I don’t want to know you. I can disagree on many areas of taste, but if you like any of the “Fockers” movies, any daytime talk show, or Garth Brooks, I don’t want to get to know you.

Jeff_W on December 23, 2010 at 9:37 am

Now wait a minute, Stiller plays nurse Gay Focker-Gaylord was his name.

SK on December 23, 2010 at 11:05 am

I wasn’t much interested in seeing the remake of True Grit.
I remember what a hoopla was made over the remake of 3:10
to Yuma and was disappointed in that one, but I’ll probably
give this one a look. Yes, Jeff Bridges is one of the best
actors on the scene today and as hard as it is to picture
him filling John Wayne’s shoes in a remake, he can probably
pull it off if anyone can.

The Coens are clever filmmakers, though some of their productions have flopped in my opinion. Sounds like they
have hit one out of the park with this one. Some friends
and I were discussing the movie recently and one of them
said he didn’t like the dialogue in the original, the way
Mattie Ross talked, but having read the story when I was
a kid I remembered it was written exactly that way. Thanks
for your great reviews.

Daniel K on December 23, 2010 at 9:16 pm

I just saw the original True Grit on TCM and loved it. I loved the slightly stylized dialogue where people–particularly Mattie–spoke in forceful, lucid, complex sentences rather than in monosyllabic slang and grunts. She was no modern teen, that one. I loved the characters which were all three-dimensional, even including the minor parts played by Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall and Strother Martin. I loved the conservative subtext which was apparent in all parts of the story–such as Mattie’s preference for a no-nonsense “hanging judge” to give justice to the scumbag who killed her father. And especially I loved the overriding theme in the film of the celebration of “grit.” “Grit” is far, far more praiseworthy than sloppy liberal compassion. All the praise this original film has gathered as a western classic is definitely worth it.

Burke on December 25, 2010 at 9:51 am

I just saw the original True Grit on TCM and loved it. I loved the slightly stylized dialogue where people–particularly Mattie–spoke in forceful, lucid, complex sentences rather than in monosyllabic slang and grunts. She was no modern teen, that one. I loved the characters which were all three-dimensional, even including the minor parts played by Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall and Strother Martin. I loved the conservative subtext which was apparent in all parts of the story–such as Mattie’s preference for a no-nonsense “hanging judge” to give justice to the scumbag who killed her father. And especially I loved the overriding theme in the film of the celebration of “grit.” “Grit” is far, far more praiseworthy than sloppy liberal compassion.

Burke on December 25, 2010 at 9:57 am

I was also surprised about True Grit and really liked it a lot! Mattie was all business, true, but she did shed some tears when she opened up the handkerchief that contained all her dead father’s possessions…remember? It was short but she showed some emotion there.

PJ on December 25, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Sorry about the double entry above which was a dumb mistake. If you can delete (either) one of them, Debbie, please do.

I saw the Coen brothers’ True Grit today and enjoyed it well enough. I was disappointed by the many changes in the film, though, which in my opinion removed much of the original’s conservative subtext (such as the hanging scene towards the beginning where those nasty racist frontier people in the remake didn’t allow the Indian to speak before he was executed). The newer version had greater realism and even texture, but I felt the breezy humor of the first was sacrificed. And the acting by disgusting Matt Damon did not by a long stretch match in quality the improbably appealing performance of Glen Campbell.

As for Little Fockers, perhaps because I was expecting something close to horrific, I found the film at least amusing. Juvenile, yes–but that actually does describe my film taste to a great extent.

I also saw Yogi Bear and consider it one of the worst, most annoying, most boring films of the year–containing an abrasive environmentalism message as well, no less.

Burke on December 25, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Can someone out here explain to me why Ben Stiller is a movie star? He isn’t good looking. He isn’t sexy. He isn’t funny. He can’t act. Jack Black is another so-called actor/movie star I don’t understand. Once again, he isn’t attractive, he isn’t sexy, he isn’t funny and he can’t act. Anyone? I’d really like to know! I just recently got an explanation why Darryl Hannah became a star for a short time. Her parents are unbelievably rich! I know Ben Stiller’s parents are Stiller and Meara, who were funny about 40 years ago, but that doesn’t explain the son unless they bankroll his movies.

DG in GA on December 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I just saw True Grit. It’s a good movie,but once they meet up with the bad guys this movie does a nosedive. All of the outlaws are one-note characters. Bab’s Howard Zinn worhipping step-son was just plain rotten in the part he played, but I guess he was just playing the part the way it was written. Whoever played the lead outlaw was pretty good, but it all seemed to fill only a very small part of the film.

Daniel Middleman on January 24, 2011 at 4:07 am

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