Because of Christmas, the studios are releasing some movies early (Wednesday), and some movies on Christmas day. For once, no movies are opening on Friday.
True Grit - 3 1/2 stars (opening Wednesday)
I have never seen the original with John Wayne, but I understand that this movie is a closer adaptation of the book than the 1969 version was.
Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, a young girl who's father is killed by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). When Mattie realizes that the local law enforcement is not going to pursue Chaney, she decides to hire a marshal herself to bring Chaney to justice. The marshal she hires is Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Rooster seems to live in the back of a saloon, is drunk most of the time, and wears an eye patch.
This movie was written and directed by the Coen brothers, and it isn't as quirky as their movies usually are. Two of the things the Coens are great with is dialogue and casting. Both are excellent as usual in this movie. A great scene early on involves Mattie negotiating with a stable owner to get the money for her father's horses. It's not necessarily a funny scene, but it plays so well that I was laughing about how much I was enjoying it.
I do have a couple of minor complaints. One is that Bridges delivers his dialogue with such a gruff voice that sometimes it's difficult to understand him. Another complaint is the ending. The movie builds to what should be a climactic showdown (or two), but I felt a little let down. After the last of the bad guys were dispatched, I was thinking "that's it?"
Those are minor complaints in an otherwise great movie. Go see it, even if you aren't a fan of westerns.
Little Fockers - 2 stars (opening Wednesday)
The first movie was a great comedy. The second was funny, not as good as the first, but still enjoyable. This third movie in the series is just bad. I don't think I laughed at all the first hour. Late in the movie I started to enjoy it a little, but that was only because I have had 2 previous movies to invest in these characters, and I did care about what happened to them.
The worst scene is in the trailer. It involves Greg (Gaylord) Focker (Ben Stiller) trying to cut the turkey at dinner. He slips, cuts his hand, and sprays blood all over everyone at the table. That just isn't funny. At all.
A big problem in the movie is Dustin Hoffman. Originally Hoffman wasn't going to be in the movie. The studio refused to meet his salary, so the script was written without Bernie Focker. After they finished filming, they were under budget enough that they could suddenly afford Hoffman. So they re-shot several scenes and incorporated them into the movie. It's obvious in the movie where they changed it. Hoffman has very few scenes on screen with the other actors. Usually he is on the phone with someone, and you can tell how the original movie was the character talking to someone about Bernie, and now they are talking to him.
One thing I did like in the movie was the way Greg finally learned to stand up to Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro). The first two movies, Greg was scared to death of him. In this movie, when Jack tries to interrogate him, he just says "you know what, Jack? I'm tired, I'm not playing this game, I'm going to bed." He finally learns to stop letting Jack control him.
I can't recommend the movie to anyone, but I'm sure fans of the first two movies will want to see it.
Gulliver's Travels - 2 1/2 stars (opens Christmas day)
When we first meet Gulliver (Jack Black), he is working in the mail room of a big newspaper. He has a crush on an editor (Amanda Peet) but he is too shy to ask her out. One night when they are both working late, he walks into her office. When she asks what he wants, he chickens out and says that he is interested in writing travel pieces for the paper. Because this happens all the time in major newspapers (who have a huge travel budget even in this age of dying newspapers), she immediately hires him and sends him on a trip to the Bermuda Triangle.
When he ends up on the island of Liliput, the tiny people there think he is a scary monster. But once he saves their king's life by putting out a fire using the boy scout method, he is suddenly their hero.
There are some very funny lines in this movie. The citizens of Liliput no nothing about movies or rock music, and because Gulliver is played by Jack Black (who is also a producer of the movie), he stages performances of The Empire Strikes Back and Titanic, and he even gets the little people to dress up as Kiss and perform for him. He also creates his own version of Guitar Hero.
Overall this is a dumb movie. The jokes are juvenile and kids will like it more than adults. It did make me laugh in spots and it doesn't totally suck, but I don't ever need to see this movie again.
The King's Speech - 3 stars (opens Christmas day)
Colin Firth stars as King George VI of Britain. The King has a stutter, and it wouldn't do for the people of the empire (at that time, a quarter of the world's population) to hear their ruler stuttering. So he hires a speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Lionel's methods are unusual, and one thing that rubs the king the wrong way is his insistence that "in this office, we are equals." This just isn't done. George is a king and Lionel is a peasant.
Their scenes together are the best parts of the movie. Geoffrey Rush is always good, and as he argues with King George (or Bertie as he calls him), they start to become friends. At one point in the movie, Bertie confides that Lionel is his only real friend.
The title refers to the speech that King George gives as Britain is preparing to go to war with Germany in 1939. The speech is the climax of the movie, and it is a genuine moment of triumph when he delivers the speech without stuttering too much (that isn't a spoiler; it should be obvious how the movie will end, plus the trailer gives away the whole movie).
I enjoyed the movie, but it isn't best picture material (as many Oscar bloggers are insisting). It is a bit stuffy, and it will appeal more to people who are interested in the royal monarchy.
I Love You Phillip Morris - 3 stars (opens Christmas day)
This movie is like Catch Me If You Can, but with lots more gay sex.
Jim Carrey plays Steven Russell, a man who one day decides to come out of the closet, leave his family and his job as a policeman, and starts committing all kinds of fraud to fund a lavish lifestyle. Over the course of the movie he claims to be a lawyer, gets a job as a CFO of a medical company, escapes from prison many times, and meets and falls in love with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).
I enjoyed the movie, and the most incredible thing is that it's a true story. I can't believe how ingenious he was at escaping from prison, and I can't believe that his schemes actually worked.