By Manifesto Joe
I've been studiously ignoring politics until the New Year arrives. Being the hardworking sort that I am, I don't make it to the cinema nowadays as much as I once did. But lately I've been going a little more.
I was very pleasantly surprised that the new True Grit is an excellent movie. This is the one they should have made in the first place. The old one, with John Wayne and directed by Henry Hathaway, seems like Hollywood gloss in comparison. This one, by the Coen brothers, has a very "gritty" and authentic feel to it.
Jeff Bridges' take on Rooster Cogburn is most interesting. Rooster is a 53-year-old drunk with a literal hair-trigger temper, a guy who has obviously spent about as much time on the bad side of the law as on the good. Matt Damon pretty well matches him as LeBeauff (sp?), the Texas Ranger. He comes across as a lot more authentic than Glen Campbell (In the 1969 flick, I remember Glen still having that perfect hairstyle, mutton chops and all, when he's supposed to be dead of a head injury).
And when it comes to the 14-year-old girl, there's no comparison. Hailee Steinfeld is great, totally lacking the stilted pomposity of Kim Darby. A star may be born here.
The Black Swan
This one is an art film that's doing far better at the box office than art films usually do in America. I thought it was decent. My wife was far less impressed.
The gist is that Natalie Portman plays a ballet dancer who gets cast as the lead dancer in Swan Lake, but must tap into the dark reaches of her psyche to be able to dance as the dark side of the lead character. She's just not ready for it, and becomes hallucinatory and unbalanced as she has to reach into that side of herself. I won't tell more so as not to spoil it for those who want to see it. My wife and I both mused that the only thing this lacks that would gratify film snobs is the subtitles.
Being male, it did not escape my attention that Mila Kunis, in a supporting role, is a very sexy woman.
And, the music from Swan Lake, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is an earwig in the best sense of the term.
Frederick Wiseman is one of America's great documentarians. He's going on 81, so this may well be his last film.
He took his camera to Austin, Texas, to film at a boxing gym owned and operated by Richard Lord, a one-time pro boxer who also happens to have a degree from the University of Texas. Lord's gym is open to anyone who can pay $50 a month. There were people there who were obviously just trying to lose weight. Fred does most of his work in the cutting room, so he gradually builds a crescendo up to a gym war between two of the pros who work out there.
Meanwhile, you get a good slice of life. Lord tells a person who's becoming a member that, basically, everybody is welcome there. One woman who comes in here is 68, he says, and she hits the speed bag better than some of our pros do.
Wiseman has made many superb documentaries, but is perhaps best-known for Primates in 1974. I remember that one for the disturbing images. They have a box on top of a research monkey's head, with electrodes that penetrate his brain. Activating the electrodes induces all kinds of behavior. They can make him fuck, then stop; fuck, then stop; and so on. By the time the movie is over, you'd like to join the animals in a revolution to kill all the researchers. But, Wiseman never judges -- he just records.
His camera is very unobtrusive. At one point in Primates, he's in a boardroom with the researchers, with a couple of them raising objections and asking if this sort of research is really necessary.
Anyway, Boxing Gym is a good one, as all of Fred's are. Catch it if you can. It's pretty much an art house film.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.