“True Grit” – 2010. Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

With Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper, with Matt Damon and Josh Brolin

“What do you plan to do?”

“I aim to kill you in a minute.”

I’ve been exposed to John Wayne more than most of my generation. My Dad is obsessed with John Wayne, and I grew up watching “The Searchers”, “Red River”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, “Fort Apache”, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, “The Shootist”, “Rio Grand” and “True Grit”. “True Grit” was the film Wayne won his sole Best Actor Oscar, creating much fuss since Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman were both nominated for “Midnight Cowboy”.

Anyone who considers “True Grit” a classic Wayne film is an idiot. The original “True Grit” is a bad film. Wayne is solid in it (though he did not deserve his Oscar for that film – it was a “career” Oscar). The supporting players of Glen Campbell who plays La Boeuf (Matt Damon in the current film) and Kim Darby who plays Mattie (played by Hailee Steifeld in the new film) are fucking terrible. So terrible they ruin the movie. The original is just a terrible, terrible film.

The new version of “True Grit” by Joel and Ethan Coen is their new masterpiece. Jeff Bridges plays our U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn who is an alcoholic, shoot first and ask questions later bad ass. New comer Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, whose father is killed by ranch hand Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) and Mattie enlists Cogburn to track Chaney down, and bring him to justice.

Matt Damon plays Texas Ranger LaBoeuf who has been on Chaney’s trail all the way from Texas (the film takes plays in Arkansas). Together Mattie, LaBoeuf and Cogburn trek into apache territory to bring back Chaney who they believe is running with a gang of bandits lead by “Lucky” Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).

The Coen Brothers deliver us another instant classic. They’ve flirted with making a western before, with their western noir films like “Raising Arizona”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Blood Simple”. This is a western that would have made John Ford and John Huston proud. This film stacks up against “Tombstone” and “Unforgiven” and is better than both of them, this film is great.

Aside from this seeming like a generic western, the Coen Brothers create this almost haunting “backwoods” western. It feels rough, looks rough – and isn’t very settling. It’s not a Hollywood western – it feels authentic.

Hailee Steinfeld is astounding in the film. She dominates the screen, and when she’s toe to toe with Bridges, or Damon, or Brolin – she holds her own, and holds her own well. She gives a command performance that needs to be recognized. She seems to be picking up steam in the Best Supporting Actress category, but she is the clear lead in the film. All the other characters are supporting to her because the story of “True Grit” is about Mattie, not Cogburn. She should really win Best Actress, but I doubt it’ll happen.

The role of Mattie Ross requires a performance of the highest caliber. She’s a strong and very independent girl. She is the heart and soul of the film. I almost think that this is a role that Ellen Page would have lobbied for really, really hard (if she did play the part of Mattie, it would make me hate such a perfect film).

Matt Damon gives a quality performance, and while it’s not his “best” performance it might just be my favorite. I like the fact that Damon is an A list star, and can pick and choose his roles – but he decided to take a backseat to Steinfeld and Bridges, that shows a plethora of character of Damon.

Barry Pepper portrays “Lucky” Ned Pepper, who Robert Duvall played in the original film. I’ve never liked when actors do impressions. Even when they play the same character in a franchise – notably DeNiro/Brando in the Godfather films, I think DeNiro made the role his own while showing homage to Brando – but I felt that Pepper does the best Robert Duvall impression I’ve ever seen, and he rocked the role.

Josh Brolin gives a standout backseat performance in this film, he’s such a remarkable actor. He gives a reserved and very surreal performance. He seems like a bumbling fool, but he hisses and sneers his lines of dialogue, its fun to watch. I can’t even believe that this is the same actor who played the “bad guy” in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” which came out a couple of months ago. I don’t know if Brolin is a method actor, but whatever method he does use works, and works incredibly well.

As for Jeff Bridges…

Okay look, if you know me, or frequent my blog, you all know that I have a bias for Jeff Bridges. I think he’s an incredible actor and one of the finest actors ever. But, I don’t let my bias get in the way of my thought process. The Dude is not my favorite Bridges performance, and I don’t think he should have won for “Crazy Heart”, Colin Firth should have for “A Single Man”.

This year it seems like Firth is going to win for “The King’s Speech”. I think Firth gives another incredible performance, and he’s amazing in “The King’s Speech”. But if he wins this year, I think he and Bridges should exchange Oscars, because Jeff Bridges gives the performance of the year. He is truly awe inspiring.

This really was a risky role for Bridges to take. First of all, he was playing a part that was made iconic by John Wayne, and the second was that he just got done playing a bloated over the hill cowboy in “Crazy Heart”. Not for one second does Bad Blake bleed into Rooster Cogburn. We watch Cogburn go through drunken stupors, sober up and even save the day. Bridges makes this role his own, with no help from anyone. Bridges is the fucking MAN!

The climactic shoot out at the end of the film literally had me tense and on the edge of my seat. I knew what was going to happen, I’d seen the original film many times, I knew what the story was, where it went and how it went, but I can’t tell you this enough, this film had sunken into me from the opening narration.

Rating: 9.5/10

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” – 2010. Dir. Oliver Stone

With Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, John Bedford Lynch with Eli Wallach and Frank Langella.

“If you stop telling lies about me, I will stop telling the truth about you.” – Gordon Gekko

Finally, it has happened. Gordon Gekko is out of jail. He spent five years in court, and another eight years in prison. America is on the brink of a financial collapse, the major banks are starting to shake; faith in the economic market is starting to falter. Twenty-three years after Oliver Stone’s masterpiece “Wall Street” Stone directs the only sequel to any of his films: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”.

It’s 2008 and the housing market bubble has popped. The banks are failing. Jacob Moore (Shia LeBeouf) works for his mentor Lou Zabel (Frank Langella) who’s bank is the first to go under. The banks are worried, but they think the Federal Reserve will bail them out because “we’re too big to fail”. The banks meet with the Fed Chair (John Bedford Lynch) and expect a government bailout. Zabel’s bank is about to go under and essentially starts begging the Fed Chair for help. The Fed doesn’t seemed opposed to lending money to the bank until Bretton James (Josh Brolin) – whose bank is a fictional Goldman Zachs – pipes up and doesn’t think Zabel’s bank is worth the bailout. Brolin and Langella are amazing as they duke it out.

What progresses is Zabel throwing himself in front of train that leaves his protégé Jacob Moore (Shia LeBeouf) on a mission of revenge, to hurt whoever is responsible. Jacob finds himself in a unique position; he’s marrying Gordon Gekko’s (Michael Douglas) daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Winnie hasn’t spoken to her father in years, she refuses to see him. Moore seeks out Gekko on his book tour (writing a book “Is Greed Good?”) and tells Gekko after his speech that he is marrying his daughter.

Jacob brokers a deal with Gekko. If he promises to help reunite Gordon with his daughter, Gordon will find out who was behind the actual demise of Zabel’s bank. Jacob agrees to help and Gordon starts feeding Jacob information about Bretton James who was once one of Gordon’s underlings. But nothing is ever fair and square with Gordon Gekko, is it?. Gordon does help Jacob find his man, but Gordon also has something going for himself.

Oliver Stone does an excellent job building a compelling story that can exist on its own terms but also allowing us to follow Gordon Gekko once again. Shia LeBeouf does get a majority of the screen time in the film since he is the central character, but every time Michael Douglas is off screen, he still owns this film.

I mean fuck! Michael Douglas gave us one of the most ruthless villains to ever hit the screens as Gordon Gekko twenty three years ago. I mean, Michael Douglas won the Oscar that year for his roles as Gordon Gekko. There aren’t many references to the original film at all, aside from Gekko talking about his family and the mentioning of Budd Fox (Charlie Sheen in the first film) and a brief scene with Fox showing us where he’s at now.

It’s a dinner that Jacob got Gekko in to (since Jacob’s date is Gekko’s daughter), and Gekko literally bumps into Fox while everyone is mingling before dinner. We see a much older Budd Fox who has a girl on each arm. They banter for a hot minute and then Budd excuses himself from the two girls and takes a few steps away to talk to Gekko. We find out where Budd Fox has been, what happened to Blue Starr Airline and then Budd asks his former mentor, “…now tell me Gordon. Does Blue Horseshoe still love Anichot Steel?” It’s pretty wonderful.

At this dinner, Jacob is sitting with Bretton James – who he has started working for – and Gordon walks over. There is an excellent exchange between Josh Brolin and Michael Douglas since Josh Brolin’s character is the Gordon Gekko of the 2000’s. Gordon tells Bretton, “I’ll stop telling the truth about you when you stop telling lies about me.” Great line.

Oliver Stone gives us an over edited, flashy and complex movie. We have no other option then just to accept this entire Wall Street lingo that’s thrown on us. We don’t understand all of what they’re saying, but we get the big picture.

The cast is nothing less than five star. Michael Douglas gives us an older and more broken Gordon Gekko, but he still has a lot of fight left in him. Josh Brolin gives a great performance as a modern day Gekko. Brolin is just so creepy good. Frank Langella is tough as nails as the old school money man.

I have always hated Shia. I thought he was terrible in Indy 4, but then after watching this film it made me realize how terrible Indy 4 really was. He’s actually very, very good in this film. I find him believable and sharp. He’s our generations Charlie Sheen – and he wasn’t half bad.

I didn’t care for Carey Mulligan. She spends most of the film crying. I’m being serious. And I never liked Susan Sarandon and this film shows me exactly why. She plays Jacob’s real estate agent mother who has over extended herself in the housing market and needs money from Jacob. This story arc or character isn’t need in the final film, but I understand why Stone keeps it in the film; it’s a nice parallel to Charlie Sheen’s relationship with Martin Sheen in the first film.

I feel that Douglas and Stone really wanted to make this film as a repercussion film since every jerk-off on Wall Street looks at Gordon Gekko as a hero. This film doesn’t blame Gekko directly for the housing crisis, but it defiantly paints a picture of look what Gordon Gekko inspired. Greed is good, greed is legal.

This is a very good film. It’s nowhere as great as the first film, but it’s a nice follow up. Stone is one of the most idealistic directors, always making a film about our current state of culture in America. The scenes he directs where we find ourselves in the “secret” meetings at the Federal Reserve where the banks are all looking for a bailout are flawless. There is so much tension and suspense that’s built up through the actor’s performances. From Frank Langella slamming his fists on the table to the Fed Chair yelling, “Do you have idea what all of you have done!?”

Don’t fuck with Gordon Gekko.

Rating: 8.5/10

“W” – 2008. Dir. Oliver Stone.

With Josh Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Burstyn, James Cromwell, Jeffery Wright, Thandie Newton, Bruce McGill, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones, Stacey Keach and Scott Glenn.

“Whose job is it to find these damn weapons?”

When it was announced that Olive Stone was going to direct a biopic about George W. Bush, I was excited. I am a gigantic fan of “Nixon” his other presidential biopic and due to the fact the screenplay was written by Stanley Weiser who also wrote Stone’s “Wall Street”. It seemed like a collaboration made in heaven.

The film is set up nicely, the way it crosscuts back and forth between Bush (Josh Brolin) being pulled by his posse into a war in Iraq and plans to invade Iran to Bush’s slow rise of becoming a born again Christian and politician. We see a young Bush not being able to hold job after job and disappointing his father (James Cromwell).

We all know the story of George Bush. It’s all too fresh. . A lot of the film feels like satire – even a comedy – which I think was a mistake. I understand that a lot of what Bush says is dumb due to his intelligence, but most of Brolin’s dialogue is a running joke with famous Bushisms.

The cast is a wonderful ensemble of good quality actors but it seems to misfire. I found that the best casting was Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Dreyfuss’ character in Rob Reiner’s “The American President” was based off of Cheney – so Dreyfuss was a perfect fit. Next to that excellent selection was Scott Glenn as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The ironic thing is Glenn was a Marine who served overseas while the real Donald Rumsfeld somehow evaded the draft (as did Cheney). I couldn’t help but think a slimmed down Nick Nolte or Tommy Lee Jones would have made a pretty good Rumsfeld too.

Brolin gives a good performance but the problem that I have is that all I see is Josh Brolin, I didn’t see George W. Bush. He’s more than capable to soak himself into characters (“No Country for Old Men” and “Planet Terror”). As Bush he just seemed as if he was an impersonator. Jeffery Wright who I like very much gave an unbelievable performance as General Colin Powell. General Powell is a man of great intellectual strength and physical dominance – Jeffery Wright is a small man, and his brooding, husky voice was distracting. I couldn’t help but think that Dennis Haysbert would have been perfect for the role.

A pretty impressive ensemble playing dangerous people.

Veteran character actor Bruce McGill was cast perfectly as fall guy FBI Director George Tennet and so were James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn as George H. W. and Barbra Bush. Thandie Newton gives a horrifically great performance as Condoleezza Rice – the token minority that was stuffed into Bush’s cabinet. The one casting that was distractingly horrid was that of Ioan Gruffudd as Prime Minister Tony Blair. Michael Sheen wasn’t available?

The film seems to take light brush strokes on a majority of defining moments of the Bush Legacy. It’s not epic enough. The film seemed to breeze by and wasn’t sincere enough. One thing I did really like was that this film didn’t vilify Bush; it didn’t take a huge shit on him. You actually feel bad for him. He’s a good hearted person who just gets pushed and pulled by Cheney, Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Stone has always made films that deal with our current status in America (even “Alexander” had themes of over extending an empire). He uses a lot of his wonderful filmmaking skills in the film, but it just lacks an overall dramatic substance that’s a staple of his films. It just felt as if he was going through the motions and he wasn’t as passionate about this film as he was with “Nixon”.

But to give Stone credit, the last scene of the film is powerful.

Review: 7/10

Top Ten Supporting Performances of the Decade – #9 Josh Brolin “Planet Terror”.

“No more dead bodies for Da Da tonight.”

This is the role that started the ball rolling that allowed us the pleasure of Josh Brolin. If it wouldn’t have been for “Planet Terror”, we would have missed out on Brolin’s magnificent performances in “No Country for Old Men”, “W” and “Milk” and his upcoming roles in “True Grit” and “Jonah Hex”. I remember seeing the trailers for “Grindhouse” and being so excited for “Death Proof” and not caring less about “Planet Terror”. To take a quick sidestep, Brolin said he got a copy of the script of “No Country” and wanted to audition for the Coens. At that time, they had their sights set on Heath Ledger for the role of Llewellyn Moss. Ledger then decided to back out and take a well deserved rest from film. Brolin again tried to audition for the Coen Brothers and it wasn’t until he sent in an audition tape directed by Robert Rodriguez and shot by Quentin Tarantino that the Coens let Brolin read for the part. I can’t imagine a better audition tape then that! Okay, back to the task at hand. I’m sorry, but “Planet Terror” is a far superior film then “Death Proof”. It had all the elements of a great genre movie. The story was absurd – yet compelling, the script was air tight, the direction and cinematography were brilliant and the cast of the film was impeccable. Robert Rodriguez brought all these actors together, from bankable stars like Bruce Willis and Fergie to relatively unknowns to the masses – Freddy Rodriguez and Rose McGowan – to washed up actors like Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Michael Parks.

As far as this blogger is concerned, Josh Brolin steals the show as Dr. William Block. I just love the name, William Block. The name sounds vague yet mysterious at the same time. Brolin is just marvelous as he navigates his way through his suspicions about his wife’s infidelities and a night at the hospital that is filled with zombie bitten patients, Josh Brolin steals the show. It makes me tense as Brolin sucks and chews on the glass thermometer that he keeps in his mouth. His goatee and glasses make him look tremendously threatening and he peers over his glasses with his eyes filled with accusations. Brolin’s straight forward Southern drawl (that he later revisits and prefects in “No Country”) is crisp, and filled with deep seeded anger and rage.

The physical acting ability he displays is a wonder to me. It’s as if inside of Block there is a caged animal that is bursting at the seams to break out, to cause chaos and let it rain. It’s as if his caged beast is rocking back and forth in its cage, just waiting to take over. The film itself is over the top and campy, but with Brolin’s performance it brings the film back to its roots, a horror film. I truly feel that his performance holds the film together, as soon as it starts to stretch itself a tad thin, Dr. William Block snaps it back. Whenever Brolin is on the screen, we’re captivated by him, we’re at his will. We know he’s a bad man without knowing anything about him or his past. Think about it for a second – we know very little about Dr. Block, but through Brolin’s perfect timing as an actor, and through the camera angles and shots that Rodriguez shows us, we know one thing for sure: Josh Brolin is one bad motherfucker.