Posts Tagged ‘Matt Damon’

Monsters and Black Powder

The Great Wall

Director: Zhang Yimou

Cast: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Tian Jing, Lu Han, Eddie Peng, Kenny Lin

Chinese director Zhang Yimou has contributed immensely to Chinese cinema and that of the world. His exceptional films include Curse of the Golden Flower, House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern which won the Bafta for Best Foreign Language Film back in 1993. His more recent works include Hero, Flowers of War and more recently Coming Home.

Almost all of Yimou’s films are in Chinese featuring an oriental cast yet after he made Flowers of War with Oscar winner Christian Bale it was only natural that Hollywood would court him with the lucrative offer of making a Big Budget action film. The Great Wall starring Oscar winner Matt Damon and Chilean actor Pedro Pascal recently seen in HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones has been ridiculed for its casting and its implausible plot.

Yet despite all its detractors, Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, a historical fantasy epic is still breath taking to be hold even if the script and the acting needed some rescuing. Damon and Pascal play European mercenaries who land up at the Great Wall of China only to be imprisoned by Commander Lin played by Tian Jing. The Europeans so oddly out of place in ancient China especially when Pascal’s character Tovar keeps on saying amigo are embroiled in an ancient battle against the Tao Tse, vicious monster like creatures which periodically attack the historic fortification.

Damon stars as William and Pascal plays Spanish mercenary Tovar who join the fight aided by a desire to steal gun powder from the Chinese and take back to Europe to bolster the many continental wars raging far away in England and Spain. Instead they are unwillingly co-opted by The Nameless Order to fight these savage beasts and protect the ancient Chinese city from being invaded and destroyed.

Whilst the battle sequences are breath taking and the fight sequences are watchable, this is by no means Zhang Yimou’s best work. Perhaps he should stick to an all Chinese cast and rather do imperial films about ancient China which he was so brilliant at directing especially the visually spectacular Raise the Red Lantern.

The Westernization of this great Chinese director is not good if The Great Wall is anything to go by. Whilst the action fantasy film is enjoyable it’s by no means brilliant.

And what was Matt Damon thinking? He did The Great Wall after The Martian, which as in both films he is equally out of place in. Even Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of a Vampire) looks bewildered in The Great Wall playing Ballard, a double crossing European trader who is only after the Black Powder.

Despite all the monsters and lavish battle sequences, director Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall only scores a 6 out of 10 which doesn’t bode well for future Chinese American co-productions especially considering that this film bombed at the North American box office.

On the up side, The Great Wall remained number 2 on the South African box office for a second consecutive week.

Reclaiming his Identity

Jason Bourne

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Director: Paul Greengrass

Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Scott Sheperd

Director Paul Greengrass reunites with Matt Damon in a thrilling continuation of the Bourne franchise in the aptly titled Jason Bourne.

Having directed The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, it was inevitable that Greengrass and Damon would work together again. The lure of the fast paced, globe-trotting Bourne franchise is irresistible.

Joining the cast of Jason Bourne are Alicia Vikander fresh from her Oscar win in The Danish Girl as a tech analyst Heather Lee, a more ambivalent version of the role played by Joan Allen in the previous films. Black Swan’s Vincent Cassel also joins the film as the ruthless assassin and the shady CIA director Robert Dewey is this time played by Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive).

Riz Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) plays a Tech billionaire, Aaron Kalloor and head of Deep Dream who has some equally underhand dealings with the CIA. Julia Stiles reprises her role as Nicky Parsons which adds to the continuity of this Bourne film.

As the action moves from Iceland to Athens to Berlin and then onto a Tech convention in Las Vegas, Jason Bourne as an action thriller delivers on all fronts, crisp production design by Paul Kirby, brilliant car chases both in Athens and Vegas and excellent sound editing, especially notable in the riot sequence outside the parliament building in Athens.

Vikander is superb as an ambitious CIA operative who is ruthless at playing both sides whilst acknowledging the intrinsic value of Jason Bourne re-joining the programme as a highly skilled and effective assassin.

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Matt Damon is all buffed up in this version, especially in the opening fight sequence in rural Greece, a far cry from the bewildered spy who wakes up on a fishing trawler off the coast of Marseilles in the original film, The Bourne Identity. Damon inhabits Jason Bourne, he personifies the role, reclaiming the identity of this protagonist synonymous with a gritty street spy who is able to navigate his way around the world without barriers.

The plot in this film centres on a hack of the CIA database and the real implications of the Treadstone program which delves into Bourne’s complicated past.

Jason Bourne is a brilliant thriller, especially the unbelievable car chase sequence down Las Vegas Boulevard landing up in the Riviera hotel. This is a top notch thriller, highly recommended and surely a definitive sign that there will be more Bourne films to come.

73rd Golden Globe Awards

73rd GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS

Took place on Sunday 10th  January 2016 hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

GOLDEN GLOBE WINNERS IN THE FILM CATEGORIES:

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Best Film Drama: The Revenant

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Best Film, M/C: The Martian

Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu – The Revenant

Best Actor Drama: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

Room_PosterBest Actress Drama: Brie Larson – Room

Best Actor M/C: Matt Damon – The Martian

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Best Actress M/C: Jennifer Lawrence – Joy

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Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone – Creed

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Best Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Son of Saul

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul  directed by Laszlo Nemes (Hungary)

Source: 73rd Golden Globe Awards

Man from Mars

The Martian

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Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Donald Glover

Oscar winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) takes the lead role in director Ridley Scott’s visually stunning adaptation of the Andy Weir novel, The Martian as he stars as Mark Watney, an astronaut who after a sandstorm on Mars gets stranded on the red planet by his fellow crew members who abandon him unknowingly to head back to earth.

The crew members include Captain Melissa Lewis played by Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Beth Johanssen played by Kate Mara, Chris Beck played by Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Rick Martinez played by Michael Pena (Antman, American Hustle) and Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie (Hercules) as Alex Vogel.

Meanwhile back at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, NASA headquarters, Director Teddy Sanders played by Jeff Daniels channeling his role in Aaron Sorkin’s TV Series, The Newsroom, announces that Watney is dead. Back on Mars, Watney is alive and has to figure out a way to survive on a planet with minimal oxygen and no sustainable ecosystem to grow his own food supply, an obvious metaphor for the dwindling food supply on planet Earth. Watch out for a superb supporting role by Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as Vincent Kapoor who firmly believes in finding Watney and bring him back to Earth.

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Luckily Watkins is a trained botanist so with ingenuity and a lot of dry humour, he manages to harvest a small crop of potatoes inside the Mars man-made habitat. This is where Damon really inhabits the role of a lone space colonizer, the only man left on Mars who has to survive and adapt to his hostile and surreal environment, ironically while listening to 70’s disco music. Best line in the film is:

“Neil Armstrong, eat your heart out!”

As the team at NASA scramble to figure out a way to rescue Watney after receiving an encrypted message from him letting them know he is still alive, Watney has to use all his own resources to remain resilient until a rescue mission, however precarious is assembled. Whilst the astrophysics of the rescue mission, will go over the head of most viewers, what makes The Martian such an enlightening cinematic experience are the stunning almost ethereal visual effects, held together by an Oscar worthy performance by Matt Damon as he contemplates that he could perish on this desolate and largely uninhabitable planet, if the rescue mission fails.

The rest of the cast are largely viewed in supporting roles, including Chastain as the steely Captain of the Hermes space craft, they support Damon’s character both psychologically, emotionally and spiritually as Watney gradually learns that back on Earth he is becoming a symbol of a lone survivor who if he manages to return home safely will definitely have a legendary tale to tell.

With breathtaking cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and production design by Arthur Max, The Martian is definitely in the same league as Alphonso Cuaron’s 2013 Oscar winner Gravity and humanizes space travel without delving to deeply into the philosophical elements of the infinite universe as done in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or more recently Christopher Nolan’s visually compelling but laden Interstellar which oddly enough also featured Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon.

With a running time of 141 minutes, The Martian is a superbly told adventure story about one man’s fight to survive and his resilient desire to return to Earth, brilliantly acted by Matt Damon and beautifully directed by Oscar nominee Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus, Blade Runner, Gladiator).

Highly recommended viewing especially in a cinema. Do not wait for The Martian to come on TV as the visual and sound effects will certainly be lost.

The Lazarus Missions

Interstellar

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Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, David Oyelowo, Topher Grace

Memento meets Gravity in director Christopher Nolan’s epic space opera, Interstellar, a convoluted time travel astrophysical fantasy about a NASA astronaut who gets caught up in a mission to travel to an alternative Galaxy in a bid to save the remaining humanity on earth from a dwindling supply of oxygen.

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Assembling an all star cast is what director Nolan does best at insuring that his films have credibility as a blockbuster and with a range of stars, yet unlike Inception or The Prestige, his earlier films which dealt with dreams and magic, Interstellar tends to emulate the great director Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece: 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet falls short of its celestial aspirations, by not being a touch more sinister.

In parts, Interstellar is brilliant and ambitious, wonderfully scored with atmospheric music by Hans Zimmer and incredibly shot with those signature spiralling shots that Nolan is so fond of. However, Interstellar suffers from two shortcomings, taking the films weighty significance too seriously and secondly a serious lack of editing. The first and last sections of Interstellar weighs down the brilliance and absolute clarity of the middle section.

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With McConaughey fresh from his Oscar win on Dallas Buyers Club coupled with Hathaway fresh from her win in Les Miserables it seems like a perfect casting choice, but it’s flawed by its very contrivance. The part which does stand out so brilliantly is that of Murphy superbly played by the underrated Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain as Cooper’s grownup and embittered daughter who is hell bent in following in her father’s footsteps and traveling beyond the black hole to discover the reason for the earth’s imminent demise. Watch out for cameo appearances by Ellen Burstyn, Wes Bentley and David Oyelowo.

Fellow Oscar nominee Casey Affleck is also good as the stubborn yet stoical brother of Murphy in a part which is severely underwritten along with that of Oscar winner Michael Caine as Professor Brand who plays Hathaway’s enigmatic father, a scientist who masterminds the space exploration from the outset knowing that the intended consequences of such a doomed mission are dire and certainly revelatory at best.

Interstellar ‘s post-structural narrative gets more blurred, the further the astronauts travel through a celestial wormhole, around a vast system known as Gargantuan, soon realizing that their mission much like their own destiny is doomed to fail, resulting in a multitude of Lazarus missions.

The only subversive element is a rescued astronaut Mann, wonderfully played by Matt Damon, found on a frozen wasteland of a planet which seems to be the only alternative to the dust clad environment of a doomed earth, who is wily in his attempts to escape his icy predicament.

With a script by Jonathan Nolan, Interstellar suffers from too little said and not enough explained, while most of the narrative rests on some remarkably clever visual clues which only make sense in the last section of the film, which resembles a pastiche of Inception mixed with an unquantifiable mystical factor.

The cast with a threadbare script had little else to work on besides their own doomed destinies and the terrors of space. Thus there is loads of human anguish thrown in along with some stunning visuals, but at nearly three hours long Interstellar could have been expertly edited to make a more concise tale of 21st century doomed space exploration. Besides Anne Hathaway just doesn’t cut it as an astronaut and should stick to period dramas, where at least the claustrophobia is explained by historical context and not subliminal infinity.

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As an avid fan of Christopher Nolan films and trust me I loved The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, I personally found Interstellar fascinating yet an ultimately flawed and slightly contrived piece of cinema crippled by its unendurable length, without enough plot twists to generate sufficient audience excitement. Like Inception, Interstellar will certainly be open to discussion.

 

The Treasures of War

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The Monuments Men

Director: George Clooney

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Sam Hazeldine

Actor and director George Clooney and screenwriter Grant Heslov, the team behind The Men Who Stare at Goats and Good Night and Good Luck, team up for an old-fashioned historical war film about a middle aged group of men who set out during the latter years of World War II to recover most of the stolen art works secretly stashed in Nazi hordes across France, Belgium and parts of Germany from 1943 to 1945 as the Germans retreated in defeat as the tide of war turned against them. Whilst The Monuments Men boasts an all star cast including Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin (from The Artist), John Goodman and Matt Damon, the film doesn’t quite match up to the incisive political comment of the Oscar winning Good Night and Good Luck about the approaching threat of McCarthyism on broadcast journalists in the 1950’s.

Instead, Heslov and Clooney focus more on the after effects of war and looting and the utter destruction of entire communities, mainly the European Jews at the hands of the ruthless Nazi’s during the holocaust. There are moments of humour interjected in a mainly historical narrative about how these men travelled across the European Theatres of War from Paris to Brugge to Normandy to track down the hugely valuable and culturally significant pieces of art works stolen by the Nazi’s from Rembrandts to Michelangelo’s famed sculpture Madonna and child stolen from a Belgium monastery.

There is a brief interlude with Damon  as Captain James Granger teaming up with a French Resistance woman in Paris forced to work for the Nazi’s Claire Simone played by Cate Blanchett, with an indistinguishable European accent. There is the witty banter between Richard Campbell and Preston Savitz played respectively by Bill Murray and Bob Balaban and then there is a wonderful cameo by Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) as Donald Jeffries a British Lieutenant who sobers up to join the Monuments Men to save his famed Madonna.

Whilst at times The Monuments Men comes across as sentimental and nostalgic, it’s because its focusing more on the saving of priceless art than on the horrors of conflict and the utter destruction of parts of Europe. This film is in no league to such Oscar winners as Saving Private Ryan or Anthony Minghella’s elegant The English Patient. Instead The Monuments Men shines light on the aspect of war which is often neglected the looting of treasures by the conqueror over the defeated and the crazy scheme of Hitler’s 3rd Reich to build a Fuhrer Art Museum in Berlin, which naturally never materialized. If anyone has been to the great art museums of London, Amsterdam, Paris or New York, many viewers will know that much of the greatest artworks was saved and restored to their original glory.

For art historians, The Monuments Men is a delightful and fascinating film, but for lovers of War films, don’t expect loads of action or bloodshed, just lots of barbed humour and the occasional tragic scene as this band of merry men navigate through dangerous battlefields to reclaim the original treasures of war. Recommended for lovers of nostalgic war films.

Paradise Regained

Elysium

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South African born director Neill Blomkamp’s new sci-fi drama Elysium is visually astounding, thought provoking and violent. It’s the year 2154 and the wealthy citizens of earth have abandoned the overpopulated planet to go and live in a state of luxury and physical wellness on a wheel shaped space ship orbiting the earth’s atmosphere known as Elysium. Back on earth, the poverty-stricken and physically ill inhabit teeming run down cities filled with violence, decay and disease, of which Los Angeles is the metaphoric urban centre. Those men who are fit enough to work, spend their days in menial industrial labour, manufacturing robots which will police the poor citizens of the once prosperous planet whilst the rich international citizens of Elysium live in an illusory paradise, with clean air, mansions and advanced medical science.

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Matt Damon (Invictus, The Bourne Trilogy) plays Max a poor workman who as a boy dreams of travelling to Elysium and whilst growing up in an immigrant Mexican neighbourhood, befriends Frey played by the gorgeous Brazilian actress Alice Braga (City of God). Oscar winner Jodie Foster (Flightplan, Silence of the Lambs) plays Delacourt the malicious and ruthless defence secretary of Elysium who enforces the rules of exclusion, keeping illegal space immigrants from entering the super rich enclave. Whilst Elysium and the rubble strewn devastated Los Angeles, is metaphorically a story about the widening gap between rich and poor in a skewed yet almost relevant 21st century version of contemporary society, it is Blomkamp’s visually arresting and riveting style which keep audiences glued to a plot rife with Third World ironies and First World warnings.

The action and violence is top notch and District 9’s breakout actor Sharlto Copley stars as the malevolent South African mercenary Kruger who is hired by Foster to chase Max both on Earth and on Elysium. Watch out for the fantastic facial reconstruction sequence which makes Total Recall look like child’s play.

To reveal more about the plot would only give the twists away and in Elysium there are many, but what is so impressive about Blomkamp’s second Hollywood film is his increasingly inventive story is told with verve and candour whilst the theme of the world’s super rich receiving preferential medical treatment is both relevant and frighteningly apt. Paradise is regained as Max, equipped with a scary Mad Max neuro outfit battles with Kruger in a seemingly savage wasteland amidst a bid for a rather vicious and technological coup of the coveted Elysium.

Diego Luna (Milk, Contraband) stars as Julio who assists Max is achieving his quest of reaching Elysium, which takes on Biblical proportions along with William Fichtner (The Lone Ranger) as the evil industrialist Carlyle.

Heavily influenced by such classics as Blade Runner, Mad Max and even Slumdog Millionaire, Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium is both impressive in scale, with exhilarating action and special effects sequences aided by the best sound editing heard on film recently.

Whilst all the plot twists might not add up and in parts characterization is too sparse, the overall vision of a dystopian society which has no remorse at leaving a massive poverty stricken, malnourished and scarred population to fester on planet Earth while the wealthy live in a high tech gated lavish community such as Elysium, is enough to view this as more than just another sci-fi action thriller, but one with an overt and brutal socio-political message: the wealthy cannot prosper at the expense of the neglected poor whether it’s through medical science or technological and economic advancement.

Elysium is brilliant, captivating, horrifying and visionary, a sort of Moonraker on acid. Recommended for serious Sci-Fi fans and lovers of District 9.

Fear as a Virus

Contagion

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Steven Soderbergh’s gripping medical thriller Contagion follows a similar non-linear structure to his previous Oscar winning film Traffic about the US-Mexican drug trade and features a brilliant cast including Oscar Winners Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Oscar Nominees Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne.

With a fantastic musical score by Cliff Martinez, Contagion is a horrifying look out how a highly contagious immunodefiency-virus spreads like wild fire around the world from Macau to Atlanta, from Hong Kong to London through any form of human contact especially in the ease of frequent international travel.

The deadly effects of the virus and how the world population reacts to the onset of a disease so deadly that it threatens the survival of the human race is at the core of Contagion. While the ensemble cast are superb, it is Jennifer Ehle as Dr Ally Hextall in an unusually prolific role, previously seen in Wilde, Pride and Glory and Possession who shines as a scientist who races to develop a vaccine to prevent the spread of the rapidly complex and mutating virus.

The always suave Laurence Fishburne plays Dr Ellis Cheever, Head of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and Jude Law features as a conspiracy theorist Alan Krumweide who while in San Francisco tracks the virus online and also how the pharmaceutical industry makes a fortune once a vaccine is developed.

Contagion is a scary and provocative film and raises serious questions about the survival of the fittest and the ethics of managing disease control in light of a deep preservation for continued existence of the human race. Viewers will definitely be washing their hands several times after seeing this absorbing thriller especially the pivotal and brilliant final scene. Whether it be drugs or a virus, both Traffic and Contagion deal with issues of control and the distribution of power in society and the effects of a debilitating affliction that knows no boundaries. Recommended viewing.

Revenge is a Snake Pit

True Grit

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Joel and Ethan’s Coen rendition of True Grit is a classic Western with the cowboys unshaven, filled with whiskey swigging gun-slinging characters who all appeared to have been beaten by the harsh environment of Arkansas in the 1870s frontier towns.

True Grit is a revenge tale with pitfalls both figurative and literal and as the old Chinese saying goes, when seeking revenge, it’s always best to dig two graves. At the centre of this Western, is Mattee Ross a determined 14 year old girl who is beset on avenging the death of her father.

Hailee Steinfeld delivers a superb performance, rightfully getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Ross hires Rooster Cogburn, an unsavory US Marshal who drinks too much whiskey and is not very fond of personal hygiene. Cogburn in his rough and scraggly demeanor is brilliantly portrayed by Jeff Bridges. A third character who makes up the unlikely trio of adventurers is La Boeuf, a dandified Texas Ranger, played with panache and egotism by Matt Damon, who quite frankly looks like a fellow who takes pride in his appearance.
This darkly comic journey reminiscent of the Coen brothers earlier film Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is more richly textured with symbolism and myth, complimented by beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins. With the occasional spats of violence which as always in Coen Brothers films are swift, untimely and always shocking are tapered down in comparison to their Oscar winning masterpiece No Country for Old Men, which was drenched in the suspense of inevitable violence and pervading menace.

A Gritty Game of Rancher and Outlaw

As Westerns goes, this is not 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold 2007 action packed gun tottering film featuring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as the cattle rancher and captured outlaw, but True Grit is closer to a period piece, shot in sepia colours complimented with stark black costumes and musing more on the legends of the Old West as opposed to the violence that characterized the era.

True Grit is more a homage to the film genre, a respectful and beautifully directed representation of a mythical error of the Wild Frontier, where the only real law of the land was each individual’s right to seek revenge where injustice had occurred, whatever the consequences. Nominated for 10 Oscars, unfortunately True Grit was beaten at the Academy Awards by the more technically brilliant film, Inception and the popular David Fincher film, The Social Network. In the acting stakes, Hailee Steinfeld is definitely a rising star, since receiving an Oscar nomination at age 15, a testament to her talent. Of all the Oscars True Grit should have won, it should have been for cinematography which was flawless.

Besides the accolades not heaped on the latest Coen Brothers film by this past Awards season, True Grit is nevertheless a terrific film about revenge, mortality and the myth of the Wild West. Watch out for a great cameo by Barry Pepper, all disheveled and wearing sheepskin chaps as the outlaw leader Lucky Ned Pepper.

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