It's been well documented the the Coen Brothers' take on True Grit isn't a remake of the 1969 film that won John Wayne his only Academy Award but rather a more faithful adaptation of Charles Portis' novel. That's all well and good, but when it comes to making that Netflix rental selection, the choice will be between the two film versions. By that token, no one will lose out, as both pictures are of comparable value.
Forced to choose, I'd actually go with the Duke's at-bat, although Jeff Bridges is certainly more than capable in taking on the iconic role of boozy marshall Rooster Cogburn, hired by young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to track down the desperado (Josh Brolin) who murdered her pappy. Sporting a sly sense of humor different than what was brandished in the '69 model, this True Grit mines its colorful characters for off-kilter comedy, from talkative Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to scraggly outlaw leader Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper, superbly channeling the original's Robert Duvall).
Bridges is likewise amusing and might have been even funnier if we could understand his frequently slurred dialogue. As it stands, whenever he's talking, the picture needs English-language subtitles as desperately as Bergman's Persona or Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.
Let me get this straight. Dustin Hoffman deemed the script for Little Fockers so awful that he refused to participate until new scenes were written for him. And here he is now, having agreed to a revised screenplay that has him uttering lines like "You can pick your nose, but only flick the dry ones, not the wet ones." Needless to say, that's a long way from the likes of "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me ... Aren't you?" and "I'm walking here! I'm walking here!"
Then again, Little Fockers is pretty much the basement for most of the accomplished actors squirming up there on the screen. Even those charitable folks (like me) who didn't think Meet the Parents' first sequel, Meet the Fockers, was a sign of End Times will feel the comic desperation in this outing. There's admittedly a chuckle here and there, but they quickly get buried by painful sequences like the one in which Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) sticks a needle into father-in-law Jack Byrnes' (Robert De Niro) erect penis, or when Greg's young son projectile-vomits onto his dad.
As in How Do You Know, Owen Wilson proves to be an unlikely saving grace, but enough is enough. This franchise has run its course and made its millions, but now it's time for it to fock off.
THE KING'S SPEECH
Arriving on the scene like so much high-minded Oscar bait, The King's Speech is anything but a stiff-upper-lip drama as constrained as a corseted queen. It is, however, perfect film fodder for discerning audiences starved for literate entertainment.
Director Tom Hooper and particularly screenwriter David Seidler manage to build a towering film from a historical footnote: the debilitating stammer that haunted Albert Frederick Arthur George (aka the Duke of York and then King George VI) since childhood and the efforts of speech therapist Lionel Logue to cure him of his affliction. The film is careful to paint in the historical details surrounding this character crisis -- the support of George's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the abdication of his brother Edward (Guy Pearce), the buildup toward World War II (Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill; love it!), etc. -- but its best scenes are the ones centering solely on the unorthodox teacher and his quick-tempered student.
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are accomplished actors on their own, but squaring off as, respectively, George VI and Lionel Logue elevates their game. It's no wonder that they deliver the two best male performances of the year.
I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS
The based-on-fact tale I Love You Phillip Morris contains a scene in which Ewan McGregor goes down on Jim Carrey, and it's moments such as these that doubtless kept the film out of U.S. theaters since its Sundance premiere almost two years ago. That it's finally expanding its venue count on Christmas Day is a nice touch (let's not forget, Christians: good will toward all men), but the truth is that this forgettable yarn, about a con artist who repeatedly outwits the citizens of Governor-Bush-era Texas (not that hard, I imagine), needs a more sincere showcase than the one presented by the makers of Bad Santa.
As Steven Russell, a shyster who successfully passes himself off as (among other things) a lawyer, a judge and a corporate executive all in the name of love for his boy toy Phillip Morris (McGregor), Carrey veers more toward In Living Color mimicry than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soulfulness. That approach completely undermines a love story that's already being told in a slipshod manner due to an overstated focus on Steven's antics at the expense of more downtime with Phillip. Love means never having to say you're sorry, but viewers expecting any semblance of genuine romance nevertheless deserve some sort of apology.