Christmas and New Year’s Movies. Films Reviewed: Enter the Void, True Grit, Somewhere

Just because it’s the holiday season and there are tons of supremely awful movies being inflicted on the lowest common denominator – and their parents – (And what’s this stupid movie, Boo-boo? I don’t know Yogi…looks really bad! Then why do we have to watch it? It’s lamer than the av-er-age cartoon) it doesn’t mean there aren’t some fine things out there. So this week I’ll tell you about some of the good, end-of-the-year pictures you might want to see.

First, the new Coen Brothers’ movie, a laconic remake of the old John Wayne western True Grit.

True Grit
Dir: Ethan and Joel Coen

Mattie Ross (Haillie Steinfeld) is a14- year-old girl with black pigtails. She’s in the frontier town because her dad was robbed and shot dead by an outlaw named – get this – Chaney! (Nope, not that Cheney. This one has better aim.) She may be young, but she’s a tough cookie. She’s there to hire a Marshall, the meanest one she can find, to catch up to Chaney and the Pepper gang, and hang him. She also wants to get back the gold coins and the horses he stole. So she finds the one-eyed straight-shooter, the grizzled alcoholic Rooster Cogburn (played by Jeff Bridges.) But he’s also being sought by a Dudley Do-right style Texas Ranger, (Matt Damon) who wants to take him back to Texas so he can get the reward and the glory. And neither of them want a girl riding her pony, Little Blackie, with them in Indian Country.

But, like I said, she’s tough, and no one can intimidate her when shes on a mission. Will they catch him? Or will they catch her? And will the drunken Rooster Cogburn or LaBoeuf with all his alterior motives prove trustworthy, full of determination, responsibility and “true grit”?

This is a great picture to watch and enjoy. I’ve been telling friends to go to this one, and a lot of them are saying, naaah, I don’t like westerns. But forget about genre labels – go see it – it’s good! I should say, it’s violent, like most Coen brothers movies, and it seems to me to be a lot like the old True Grit, in tone and story – but I saw that one ages ago. It does have the tongue in cheek absurdity and humour of a Coen bros movie too, and this tine, as Steven Spielberg was one of the producers, there are all these Indiana ones-type situations, with people hanging on ropes, chased by snakes, old-school stuff like that. I gotta say, I lapped it up, even the corny parts, and wanted more. It’s not cutesy, it’s not dull, it’s a great brand-new classic movie.

Enter the Void
Dir: Gaspar No»

Psychonauts — DMT aficionados — say that one puff of that extreme, psychedelic drug is so powerful it can make you collapse before putting down the pipe. The reaction lasts just a few minutes but might seem like hours, or even days. They say the brain’s pineal gland excretes a large dose of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) right before you die. It makes your whole life pass before your eyes, just before you expire. That’s what they say.

Gaspar Noe’s new, spectacularly, overwhelmingly trippy movie Enter the Void, is a 2 1/2 hour hallucinogenic experience, seen directly through the eyes of a Canadian druggie living in Tokyo. He rarely appears (except when looking in a mirror) but you see everything he thinks, remembers, sees, or imagines, as repeated loops of his life and death are projected on the screen.

So two Canadians are living in Tokyo: Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), is a low-level drug dealer, and his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), is a stripper, and they are in a Tokyo entertainment district that looks like Dogenzaka. They have been close since a childhood blood-oath, but are separated when a failed drug deal at a bar, called The Void, tears Oscar free from his body. He’s dead, or almost dead.

Like in the book The Tibetan Book of the Dead that he was reading just before he leaves his apartment, Oscar is in limbo. His soul or his essence is now forced to perpetually view strobing neon, sordid sex, drugs and violence as he floats through solid walls and bends time and space. Everythings spinning around and around: gas stove burners morph into drains and psychedelic star bursts; aerial cityscapes turn seamlessly into handmade, day-glo models of Tokyo buildings and back again.

Enter the Void is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It is an extremely absorbing and mind-blowing — but looooong — work of art. Even the opening credits are more fantastic than most movies. Each time you prepare for the dream’s inevitable ending, it introduces a new tableau. French enfant terrible Gaspar Noe has surpassed his earlier, drastic films by moving beyond the simple, horrific violence and shocking scenes and flashbacks that fueled Seul contre tous (1998) and Irreversible (2002). Enter the Void is his best and most ambitious film to date.

I saw this in 2009 at the Toronto Film festival but it’s still very strong in my brain – I think it cost me a few thousand frazzled synapses, but the memory’s still there. A lot of people walked out when I saw it, so its definitely not for everyone, but I thought it was a movie like no other.

Finally, there’s a new movie by Sofia Coppola coming out soon called Somewhere.

Johnny Marco is a successful Hollywood actor living in an LA hotel. He’s basically a meat puppet who gets wheeled out and told what to do, then driven back home again for his next appearance. He just nods, does his poses, smiles for the camera, and does whatever he’s told to do: his personal assistant, his agent, his publicist, his ex-wife, whoever, traveling from metaphoric fishbowl to metaphoric fishbowl.

His free time is his own which he spends meeting the various huge-breasted starlets who seem to lurk behind every doorway, ready to through their nude bodies at this celebrity. And he’s not complaining. Or else he lays down, catatonic, fully dressed, watching his leggy blonde identical-twin personal strippers in miniskirts who spin, around and around and around, in endless synchronized rotations on their portable stripper poles. Does he like his life? Not really. He tends to just fall asleep.

Then one day his ex-wife says he has to take care of their 14-tear-old daughter Cleo in the weeks before her summer camp. And when he goes to see her figure skating, he suddeny realizes eeeuw, she’s dressed just like the synchronized personal strippers, as he watches her skate around, and around around the ice rink. He takes her on a work trip to Italy where she watches him on an inane TV award show host and the breasty starlets dance around and around and around a tiny gaudy stage, with him in the middle.

Everything in this movie is about small, repetitive spaces (roads, swimming pools, parties) where poor Johnny Marco is trapped in his ethereal, superficial existence, with only his daughter — whom he barely knows – there to pull him back to reality.

This movie is essentially a reworking of Lost in Translation, with untranslated scenes in “crazy Italy” replacing the ones in “whacky Japan”, and the older man / younger girl theme with an actual father daughter rather than the surrogate daddy/girl in her earlier movie. (Sofia Copolla is the daughter of Frances Ford Copolla. so this is her telling her life story again.) I hated Lost in Translation, but I kinda like this one. Steven Dorff is more sympathetic, and so is Elle Fanning as the daughter. The whole movie is more subtle, less crass.

It’s hard to feel sorry for rich, famous and privileged Johnny Marco, but you can at least identify with his troubled and shallow, ethereal existence.

“Somewhere” is not bad at all.

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