Happy holidays from RT! This week at the movies, we’ve got frontier justice (True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld), family awkwardness (Little Fockers, starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro), and a fantastic voyage (Gulliver’s Travels, starring Jack Black and Amanda Peet). What do the critics have to say?
It takes guts to try to fill John Wayne’s shoes. But if anyone can substitute for the Duke, well, why not the Dude? The critics say the Coen Brothers’ (relatively) straightforward remake of True Grit is a rewarding movie in its own right – it’s tough, sly, and filled with marvelous performances, most notably Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld stars as Mattie, a 14-year-old who hires grizzled U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track down the man who killed her father; reluctantly, he agrees, and the two journey across an unforgiving landscape, encountering danger along the way. The pundits say the Certified Fresh True Grit is one of the best films of the year, a crowd-pleasing effort from the Coens that manages to maintain their trademark subversion within the framework of an old-school Western. And the cast – which also includes Matt Damon and Josh Brolin – is outstanding top to bottom.
A few years back, there was a wonderful comedy called Meet the Parents, which generated big laughs from a smart premise: what if someone who was already anxious about meeting his sweetheart’s family discovered that her father bore a striking resemblance to Travis Bickle? But two sequels later, critics are far less amused; they say Little Fockers is a crass, less-than-jovial Christmas turkey that lazily reheats stale material. Once again, Ben Stiller runs afoul of his father-in-law (Robert DeNiro), and a host of talented actors (Barbara Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, and even Harvey Keitel) are on hand to help make things awkward at every turn. The pundits say Little Fockers is tired stuff, with gross-out gags and punchline-free scenes that make the whole enterprise seem like a cash grab. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Stiller’s best-reviewed films.)
Given that Gulliver’s Travels was published several centuries ago, it’s understandable that contemporary filmmakers would downplay Jonathan Swift’s satirical aims in favor of the book’s more fantastical elements. Unfortunately, critics say this big budget, special effects-heavy family film is no modest proposal — it’s got a couple chuckles, but is largely lacking in subtlety and whimsy. Jack Black stars as the title character, a lovelorn schlub who stumbles upon the diminutive Lilliputians while working as a travel reporter near the Bermuda Triangle; soon, our robust hero is lording over his own private fiefdom before getting a comeuppance. The pundits say Black’s energy redeems Gulliver’s Travels a bit, but ultimately it’s a thinly-plotted piece of work that can’t sustain itself at feature length.
Also opening this week in limited release: