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For a change of pace, today, I wanted to talk Film.  A movie, in my opinion, is pure entertainment and not much more.  Lots of fun.  Probably well written, but nothing really redeeming about it.  Sullivan’s Travels (a tremendous film) explains how these movies hold an important place.  I sure love a good movie!

But I’m talking about something else, today.  A film touches you in many ways. I don’t know if there’s a film out there which has all the characteristics I’m going to point out.  But it must have at least a few of them to be considered a “Film.”

Obviously, and foremost, it needs to be well written.  In my opinion, that’s the single most important factor.  I may be a bit prejudiced here, but I think it’s true.  A movie may have some of the other factors,  but if it’s not well written, if the story isn’t engaging, wanders around or leaves you scratching your head, it’s just not a film. It could have attractive actors, flashy special effects, but without the story it’s just another movie.

Another important characteristic is being well acted. I have chosen to watch a film just on the strength of its actors.  Doesn’t always work, but it helps if you have talent. I have found time and again that a good performance can save an otherwise waste of time.  Johnny Depp in everything (even movies or films I would normally show no interest in) makes it a joy. I’m of the belief that even a great actor can’t make bad material work, but I could be wrong.  Fine acting should definitely be a part of the honor of Film.

The cinematography also ranks high for me.  It is, after all, a visual medium.  Special effects are fun, can enhance scenes, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  Cinematography is about light and shadow, camera angles and lenses.  Very technical stuff.  But oh so much about art, too.  It has to do with how a film looks, which in turn, evokes emotion.

I’m often in tune with the soundtrack of a film.  Sometimes just having great music can raise a movie’s rankings, for me.  1996’s Kingpin, though still probably a movie, has a bit more status because of the excellent soundtrack.

For me, though, the deciding factor rests in how the film leaves me feeling.  Do I remember images days after watching it? David Lynch is especially good at that.  Perhaps there were profound lines that I carry with me. It’s crucial that a film have some kind of message.  Or maybe if it shows a character’s growth into being a kinder, more loving person.  This kind of “purpose” will do nicely.  If the film has lifted my spirits, I will certainly put it in the running for Film.

The thing that struck me the most about the story was that it wasn’t really Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn with all the True Grit , it was in fact, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld), out to avenge her father’s death, who showed what she was made of.  Though Rooster, with just one eye and unsteady from too much whisky, could still shoot two corn cakes out of the sky.  Mattie found that a ridiculous waste of time. Her courage and determination carried the story from start to finish.

The movie was beautifully filmed. The cinematographer handily captured the vastness of the wide open Western delights.  Like huge night skies sprawling with stars, the prairies which seem to go on forever, as well as the soaring, jagged mountain ranges.  All exhilarating to behold.

Jeff Bridges, as always, was magnificent, playing the crusty Rooster Cogburn.  I admit I can’t remember the original seen long ago (though I hope to see it again, soon).  In this version, Mr. Bridges never once reminded me of John Wayne. My guess is he made it his own.  As he will do. 

Matt Damon did a fine job, too as LaBoef, the Texas Ranger, also on the trail of Tom Chaney, the murdering villain.  Tom was memorably played, though briefly, by Josh Brolin.

The movie was dark. A trademark of the Coen Brothers. Even my beloved Big Lebowski  has some darkness to it.  Perhaps True Grit 2010 was a little violent and gory in spots.  But it is a Western, and I’m sure, no more so than the first one. I excuse David Lynch of such indiscretions, surely I can do the same for the Coens.  And I am perfectly free to hide my eyes, if I choose.

But the Coen Brothers are also expert at bringing humor to the dimly lit corners of our fears.   This movie was no exception.  Waves of humor wafted through it.  And a meandering stream of love and tenderness was readily apparent under its rough exterior.  There was something in Jeff Bridges’ performance which connected the fading Marshall with the spunky, young girl, much the way he did as the heroin-injected foil in Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. The young actresses in both movies held their own in these roles.  (The Tideland part, however, played by Jodell Ferland – no doubt younger than Hailee – was far more complicated.)  I sense that Jeff Bridges carries a fine heart to every role he plays.

Without giving it away, I have to say I was disappointed with the ending.  It was too abrupt, leaving too many emotional threads hanging.

All in all, though, another really good film from Joel and Ethan Coen. Worth seeing on many levels.

Things are going to be changing at The Positive Slant. New Ideas and a fresh focus. I apologize for falling off schedule this week. I have a lot going on right now. For now, here are a few TV shows I love ~

Carnivale (HBO, 2003 – 2005 )

Another defunct, gone before its time HBO series, now on DVD. I know this has been said before about a lot of things that didn’t measure up. I am a true believer in Twin Peaks and this series has the same vibe. It’s full of Lynchian characters. The Little Man from Twin Peaks is the Ringleader of the Carnivale. There is some kind of “Management” that’s not been seen yet, but seems to be residing in the back of the Ringleader’s caravan. Management informed the Ringleader that he should take in a teenaged boy whose mother was dead on the ground when they found him. There are lots of quirky and creepy characters in the Carnivale that could easily have been created by Mr. Lynch himself. The setting in the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s creates a mood and tone all its own. It is visual and impressionable and all the things that David Lynch is so famous for. After only a few episodes, we are hooked.

MI-5 a.k.a. Spooks (UK, 2003 – Present)

I believe I already reviewed this, but having just started the second season, I have to say that I’m even more in love with it! It’s hit its stride. I think it might be running on BBC America with new episodes.

Top Gear (UK 1978 – Present)

Another series that is ongoing. We’ve discovered it on BBC America (one step away from our beloved Comedy Central on FIOs.) It is the funniest show I have ever seen. These are some crazy car dudes with money and ideas. They test fast cars and perform all kinds of antics that keep us in stitches. This is a fine example of taking what you love and making something out of it. Jeremy, Richard and James (the current “presenters”) are clearly passionate about what they do.

P.S. Burn Notice, season 3 is about a month away. I can hardly wait!

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