Film Friday: ‘True Grit’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

by W. Andrew Powell

 Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Opening this week, just in time for the holidays: Jeff Bridges stars in the Coen brothers’ Western, True Grit; Jack Black is off to the land of the wee folk in Gulliver’s Travels; Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller are back for another round in Little Fockers; plus a look at Barney’s Version.

True Grit
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper, Bruce Green
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

The Western is alive and well once more, thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen.

Remaking the classic John Wayne film of the same name, which is based on the book by Charles Portis, the Coen brothers deal out their particular blend of dark humour and tense thrills with Jeff Bridges in the lead as Rooster Cogburn, a U.S. Marshal trying to help a young woman, played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, avenge her father’s murder.

Josh Brolin stars as Tom Chaney, the murderer on the run from Cogburn, and a Texas ranger, played by Matt Damon.

This is a classic retelling of Portis’ original tale and like other adaptations by the Coen brothers before, it follows the source material religiously, from the story to the old fashioned dialogue.

Earning the best reviews of the week, and making it one of the best reviewed films of the year, True Grit has earned solid reviews from all but a few critics.

Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote in his review, “It’s a tonal mash-up no one but the Coens could deliver, the finest, most intelligent Western since Unforgiven, with the funniest public hanging since Blazing Saddles.”

While Peter Howell of the Toronto Star wrote, “In choosing not to reinvent the wagon wheel with True Grit, the Coens ironically seem radical by being conformists. There’s truth and beauty in their faithfulness, though, and a reminder never to presume too much about these sibling ciphers.”

One of the few negative reviews I could find comes from Rex Reed of the New York Observer, who wrote, “If there’s one thing I don’t need in my Christmas stocking this year, it’s a sorry, lumbering and unasked-for remake of the 1969 sagebrush saga True Grit.”

Also opening this week in theatres…

Gulliver’s Travels
Starring: Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd
Director: Rob Letterman

Shark Tale director Rob Letterman takes to his first live-action film with star Jack Black for a modern-day retelling of Jonathan Swift’s satirical children’s story about a man who finds a land filled with tiny people.

Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a somewhat useless individual who manages to get himself a job as a travel writer. Taking on a job to write about the Bermuda triangle, Gulliver ends up stumbling on the island of Lilliput where he towers over everything and everybody.

The film co-stars Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, and Billy Connolly as Lilliputians, but despite the fairly impressive cast, the film is not doing so well with most critics, earning just 27% on

A.O. Scott of the New York Times aptly sums up the film in his review, writing, “I was but seldom inspired to peals of true laughter, though I did relish that part when Mr. Black, confronting a fire raging in the Palace of Lilliput, douses the blaze through heroic use of such means as Nature has provided him.”

Although Kyle Smith of the New York Post enjoyed the film, writing: “Black was already the world’s biggest little kid, and he might be the only actor who could have made this movie such nimble fun. No matter how thin the concept, Black always manages to make it his own.”

Little Fockers
Starring: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner
Director: Paul Weitz

In what I can only call one of the most unfortunate and useless sequels of the year, Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller star in this follow-up to the 2004 comedy, Meet the Parents.

This time out Stiller, as Greg Focker, is trying to prove himself again to his wife and the in-laws by getting his children into a better school, fixing the house, and dealing with his finances. This all of course goes exceedingly badly, just like the film, apparently.

As you may have guessed, most critics have panned the film, with Sean O’Connell of the Washington Post calling it a “lump of coal” in our collective “cinematic stockings”.

And Andrew O’Hehir of wrote, “They kill me, these guys. No, seriously. If they make any more of these movies, they might as well kill me.”

Barney’s Version
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, Scott Speedman
Director: Richard J. Lewis

Lastly this week, Paul Giamatti stars in the dramedy Barney’s Version, about an aging television producer named Barney Panofsky as he remembers the highs and lows of his life as he thinks about his own mortality.

Based on the book by Canadian author Mordecai Richler, the film co-stars Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, and Scott Speedman in a story that has received praise from a variety of critics.

“There isn’t a moment in Barney’s Version,” wrote Joe Neumaier, critic for the New York Daily News, “that doesn’t feel like a labor of love.”

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