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Barry Pepper

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Preludes to Erebor.


Plenty of trailers of note accompanying the return to Bag End tonight. (So far, reviews have been decidedly mixed, but I remain cautiously optimistic.) First up, we have a very grim Kryptonian moping around like he’s Bats — and getting lousy advice from Pa Kent — in the second trailer for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, with Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Antje Traue, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Ayelet Zurer, Lawrence Fishburne, Richard Schiff, Harry Lennix, Tahmoh Penikett, and Christopher Meloni.

Hrm. I wouldn’t have picked this grim direction for Superman — seems like a Captain America vibe would work better — but at least it’s different, I guess. Hopefully the presence of Chris Nolan will help rein in Snyder’s Sucker Punch sensibilities.


Idris, meet GLaDOS. GLaDOS, Idris. Cthulhian monsters from under the sea fight giant robots in the first trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, with Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, and, yes, GLaDOS. Eh, I dunno…I’m sure I’ll probably see it, but I’m getting a Battleship vibe from this, to be honest.


Tom Cruise is Legend — or is he WALL-E? — in the first trailer for Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion, also with Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Zoe Bell, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, and Andrea Riseborough. Hrm, ok…I was liking it better before Freeman showed up with those goofy goggles.


Meanwhile, over on the other side of the planet, Will Smith gives Jaden Smith a few Batman Begins lectures while running from iffy CGI sabertooths in the first trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth. Wait a tic…M. Night Shyamalan? Yeah, not happening.


Mr. Lowry. Sam Lowry! Has anybody seen Sam Lowry?!? Ah yes, speaking of films I will not see, he’s playing the president in that new GI Joe movie, the one where they blow up London. Didn’t see the first one, and a year of reshoots and post-conversion 3D is not normally a recipe for success.


New love awakens Nicholas Hoult from a zombie-like stupor — er, a zombie stupor — in the full trailer for Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies, also with Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, and John Malkovich. Cute premise…it’ll depend on the reviews.


We’re seeing this? What do you mean we, white man? Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp bring the legend of The Lone Ranger to life for Disney and Gore Verbinski, also with Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, William Fichtner, and Barry Pepper. Sorry, but even with the usually reliable Wilkinson as the Big Bad, all I can see here is Hunter S. Tonto.

Wonder less full.

Sorry y’all: Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, and Barry Pepper are all left on the cutting room floor of Terence Malick’s To the Wonder, opening soon at the Venice Film Festival. In case you were wondering, that leaves Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem in the story of a “man who reconnects with a woman from his hometown after his marriage to a European woman falls apart.” The economic crisis is also somehow involved, presumably in much the same the dinosaurs were in Tree of Life.

(FWIW, among the men left behind in The Thin Red Line were Viggo Mortensen, Mickey Rourke, Lukas Haas, Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Pullman, Jason Patric, Martin Sheen, Donal Logue, and Randall Duk Kim.)

West, End, Girl.


When is the remake of a movie classic actually a good idea? When the brothers Coen are at the helm. (Let’s just say The Ladykillers is the exception that proves the rule.) Both laugh-out-loud funny and tinged with melancholy for the disappearing West, the brothers’ impressive adaptation of True Grit feels like the unearthing of a forgotten piece of Americana, and it makes the 1968 Charles Portis serial from which both movies are based feel as quintessential an American coming-of-age story as To Kill a Mockingbird. Whether you love, hate, are indifferent or just oblivious to the John Wayne-Kim Darby-Glen Campbell version of 1969, this is one remake that’s worth your time.

I should say that I haven’t seen the original movie, which I remember as more family-friendly and Old Yeller-ish than this version, since I was a kid — younger even than Mattie Ross, True Grit‘s 14-year-old protagonist. I do remember liking the film, and I’m pretty sure it was my first-ever exposure to John Wayne, Movie Star. (At the time, I had no idea that the Duke as Rooster Cogburn was basically stunt-casting.) Nor have I read the source material, so I really can’t tell you how faithful the Coens are being to Portis’ novel either (or for that matter, Night of the Hunter, which the brothers — and Carter Burwell’s score — apparently reference early and often in this film.)

Word is the brothers have gone the extra mile to keep Portis’ prose front and center in this version, and that may well be true. Still, there are more than enough wry conversations, colorful eccentrics, and sudden spurts of violence here to suggest that, at the very least, Portis is a spirtual ancestor and kindred spirit to the Coenverse. (Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Mattie seems to channel The Big Lebowski‘s Walter in one of her first scenes, when she complains about the high cost of burying her father, but the wandering frontier dentist in a bear suit had to have been a Coen creation, yes?)

In any case, in this telling of the tale, Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, a find) is considerably younger than Kim Darby was in 1969, and she, not Rooster, is the heart of the film. As True Grit begins, her father Frank lies dead in the Arkansas snow, shot down by a no-good lout named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who’s since gone on the lam in Cherokee territory. And since no one else seems to care, it falls to the young, headstrong, and remarkably worldly-wise Ms. Ross to make arrangements. That means paying for the funeral, putting her father’s things in order, and finding somebody to hunt down Chaney and bring him to justice. (“The wicked flee when none pursueth,” admonishes the title card by way of Proverbs 28:1. If Mattie gets her way, that won’t be a problem.)

And so, to track down her father’s killer, Mattie enlists the services of the meanest (and drunkest) US Marshall she can find — an ornery, one-eyed old cuss named Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, leaving the Lebowski-ish affectations back at Encom.) Also along for the ride, on account of an earlier crime by Chaney down in Texas, is Mr. LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a well-meaning but slow-witted Ranger who’s at turns goofus and gallant. So, a little girl, an old drunk, and a nincompoop: It’s not exactly the most promising posse in the world, particularly once word comes that Chaney is hanging with Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang (here played by Barry Pepper — a descendant?) Still, the codger may still have a few tricks up his sleeve yet, and, as she shows time and again, Mattie is nothing if not a force of will.

If you’ve seen the original film, you know the hunt for Chaney is mostly a chance for this posse to get to know each other over a series of conversations and episodic vignettes. And that’s how it plays out here, too, except both LaBoeuf and Cogburn are less heroic and more conflicted buffoons this time around, and Mattie has to figure out over the course of her travels if these two are — literally and figuratively — straight shooters. It’s a tough call: LaBoeuf can assuredly be a preening, condescending, and self-aggrandizing schmuck at times. And for every twinge of conscience Cogburn displays, he definitely has his darker side too, and especially once the bottle gets involved. (Just ask the Indian kids he sadistically pummels for taunting a mule.)

Mattie ultimately finds her quarry are multifaceted folk too — However mangled his teeth, Lucky Ned Pepper in particular has a weird streak of nobility about him. Heroes can be dastardly and villains can be chivalrous: It’s the type of real-life nuance that the Old West shows of Mattie’s later life, with their white hats and black hats, could never quite capture properly. And it’s one of the many truths she learns over the course of her occasionally harsh adventure — her coming-of-age in the last days of the West. (As the aforementioned ursine dentist attests, there are shades of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man here too.)

True Grit isn’t my favorite Coen movie. That remains Miller’s Crossing. And it’s not my second favorite Coen either — There, the Dude still abides. But like No Country, A Serious Man, and Fargo, True Grit — even after only one viewing — seems like another top-shelfer from the brothers and one of the best films of the year. May they continue to ride high.

Hallows, Four, Speeches, Grit, and Sky.

In the trailer bin of late:

  • Death comes to Hogwarts, and young Master Potter must beat it back one final time — but not before moping across the English countryside for two hours — in the full trailer for David Yates’ first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with the usual gang (and Bill Nighy) in tow. Not a big fan of the 7th book, but let’s face it, we’re all pot-committed at this point.

  • I was a Teenage Alien? No, it’s the teaser for D.J. Caruso’s I am Number Four, with Alex Pettyfer, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand and Timothy Olyphant. Mr. Seth Bullock notwithstanding, that bland, Twilight-y cast and the February release date suggests to me this is eminently missable.

  • King George isn’t mad, per se. But he does suffer from a rather serious stammer in the trailer for Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, and Guy Pearce. The trailer looks a bit too inspirational-true-story! and Oscar-baitish to me, but word of mouth on this has been g-g-g-g…well, ok, very good.

  • And, saving the best for last, a young girl — younger even than Kim Darby — (Hailee Steinfeld) enlists the services of one Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) for an Old West mission of vengeance in the first trailer for the Coens’ remake of True Grit, also with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper. You know how I am about the Coens. I’ll be there.

  • Update: One more for the pile: Independence Day meets Cloverfield in the trailer for the Straus brothers’ Skyline, with Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, and Brittany Daniel. Eh, the FX look rather impressive, if nothing else.

The Oughts in Film: Part IV (25-11).

Hello again, and a happy New Year’s Eve to you and yours. Well, I thought this Best of the Decade would end up being four parts, but now it’s looking like five. The recaps for this last twenty-five got so long that MT seems to be consuming the bottom of the entry as I write.

So, with that in mind, here’s #’s 25-11 for the Oughts, with the top ten of the decade to follow in due course. If you’re new to this overview, be sure to check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 before moving on to the…

Top 100 Films of the Decade: Part IV: 25-11
[The Rest of the List: 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1]
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009]


25. Donnie Darko (2001)

From the original review: “All in all, this is a marvelously genre-bending film with wonderful anchoring performances by the Gyllenhaals. I think I liked this movie much more for not knowing a lot about it going in, so I won’t mention the particulars here. But it’s definitely worth seeing. Extra points for the soundtrack, which with ‘Head over Heels,’ ‘Love will Tear Us Apart,’ and ‘Under the Milky Way’…reminded me more of my own high school experience than any other film I can remember. (The Dukakis era setting helped, since that was my own eighth grade year.)

I almost took this movie out of the top 25 on account of its association with Southland Tales and The Box, and even the director’s cut of this film, which snuffs out a lot of this movie’s weird magic by slathering it in needless Midichlorian-style exposition. As I said in my recent review of The Box, Donnie Darko seems to be a clear and undeniable case where studio intervention saved a movie.

Nevertheless, part Philip K. Dick, part John Hughes, Darko was a touching coming-of-age story (thanks in good part to Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne as Donnie’s cranky but loving parents), a decently funny satire about the vagaries of small-town life (think Sparkle Motion, “sleep-golfing,” and the Love-Fear axis), and a trippy sci-fi/psychological thriller. (Was Donnie really talking to a demon-rabbit from the future, or was he just off his meds? The original version muddles this question a lot better than the Kelly cut.)

Whether or not Richard Kelly just got struck by lightning here, everyone else involved clearly brought their A-game to this production. Two Gyllenhaals got on the Hollywood board with this flick, although Maggie would have to wait for Secretary to really break out. The Michael Andrews score contributed mightily to the proceedings, as did the Gary Jules cover of “Mad World,” which got a lot of run in the Oughts, from Gears of War to American Idol. And there are plenty of quality performances in the margins, from the late Patrick Swayze riffing on his image, to Beth Grant typecasting herself for the decade, to Katharine Ross coming back for one more curtain call. Fluke or not, the original version of Donnie Darko was one strange and memorable bunny, alright.


24. High Fidelity (2000)

From the year-end list: “An excellent adaptation of a great book, even if I preferred the Elvis Costello britrock emphasis of Hornby’s tome to the indie Subpop scene of the movie.

Charlie, you f**king b**ch! Let’s work it out!” Arguably John Cusack’s finest hour (although 1999’s Being John Malkovich is right up there, and I know many might cite the Lloyd Dobler of old), Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity has continued to grow on me over the years. If it counts as one of David Denby’s slacker-striver romances (see the discussion of Knocked Up at #40), it’s definitely the one that hits closest to home for me.

The first thing people usually remember about this movie is all the Jack Black/Todd Louiso banter in the record store. (“It’s a Cosssssby sweater!“) And it’s true — All of that stuff is both really funny and all too telling about the elitism and obsessiveness inherent to the fanboy mentality — “Don’t tell anyone you don’t own ‘Blonde on Blonde’! It’s gonna be okay.” Besides, let’s face it, this entire end-of-the-decade list is really just an extended High Fidelity-style Top 5 (and I had a great time back in July organizing my history books chronologically, a la Rob’s record collection.)

Still, as with the book, High Fidelity‘s killer app is really the dispatches filed from Rob’s romantic life, as he ponders what went wrong with his Top 5 Crushes gone awry. (“We were frightened of being left alone for the rest of our lives. Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26, and we were of that disposition.“) There’s a lot of truthiness throughout High Fidelity, from Rob’s catastrophic hang-up on Charlie (Catherine Zeta Jones) to his eff-the-world rebound with an equally besotted Sarah (Lili Taylor), to his single-minded infatuation about whether his ex, Laura (Iben Hjejle), has slept with the loathsome new boyfriend, Ian (fellow Tapehead Tim Robbins in a great cameo) yet.

In short, I’d argue High Fidelity gets the inner-male monologue closer to right than any flick this side of Annie Hall. In the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson, it’s funny because it’s true.


23. In the Mood for Love (2000) / 2046 (2004)

From the original review: “Since I spent Friday evening watching In the Mood for Love — a tale of a romance-that-almost-was, told in furtive hallway glances — and 2046 — a broader and more diffuse disquisition on love and heartache — back-to-back, here’s an

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