From Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
Coens willing to take chances
Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen prove again they aren’t afraid to take risks with “True Grit.”
LOS ANGELES – Over the past quarter-century, Joel and Ethan Coen have proven that they have the grit to take big risks in the course of crafting ambitious cinema.
The bold brothers brought black-and-white to the new millennium for their film noir drama “The Man Who Wasn’t There”; transformed Homer’s “The Odyssey” into a Great Depression comedy with “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”; and put a pregnant sheriff on the case in the darkly comic crime thriller “Fargo.” While most of Hollywood insists on playing it safe, the Coens have even dared to reimage the Raymond Chandler-style detective tale with a laidback slacker known as The Dude (Jeff Bridges) standing in for hard-boiled Philip Marlowe in “The Big Lebowski.”
But their most courageous project to date may be their latest, an adaptation of Charles Portis’ acclaimed 1968 novel “True Grit,” which already has been made into a beloved 1969 movie starring John Wayne. When the Coens tapped the man who played The Dude to take on the iconic role that won The Duke his only Oscar, the brothers assured Bridges — and the scores of scoffers who were quick to criticize them for having the audacity to treading on cinematic sacred soil — that they were interested in re-adapting the book, not in remaking the 1969 film.
“We had seen the movie … when it came out, but we were kids then and we haven’t seen it since and only really vaguely remember it,” Ethan Coen said of the 1969 version during a press conference for their “True Grit” at the swanky Four Seasons Hotel.
Both movies follow the same memorable storyline: In 1878, headstrong Mattie, 14, arrives in Fort Smith, Ark., to identify the body of her father, who has been gunned down by cravenly Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). When she gets the news that Chaney stole her father’s money and horse then fled out of local reach into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), the outspoken Arkansas lass hires U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (Bridges), a trigger-happy, one-eyed drunk, to bring the outlaw to justice.
Although their 2008 Oscar-winning thriller “No Country for Old Men” was set in Texas, “True Grit” marked the first foray into Westerns for the Coens, who famously write, direct, produce and edit their films as a team. But making a Western wasn’t the focus for the filmmakers.
“I don’t think we thought about it as a genre movie so much. … Charles Portis’ novel, it is a Western inarguably. You know, there are guys with six guns on horses, but it’s not a Zane Grey story,” said Ethan Coen, referring to the popular author whose stories present an idealized image of the Old West. “It’s not a Western in that sense, and really we were thinking about the story. We were thinking about the novel more than doing a Western per se.”
Their film more faithfully conveys the novel’s tone and dialogue, putting Mattie squarely front and center as the driving force in the quest for Old Testament-style justice. The opening voiceover is taken directly from the book — Bible verses, King James-style formality and all.
“There’s a lot of humor in the Charles Portis novel. It was one of the things that attracted us to the novel and the idea of adapting it. And we wanted … what was funny about the book, what was the humor in the book, to sort of come through in the movie. That was important,” Joel Coen said.
“And the dialogue, too. I mean the kind of formality of it and the floweriness of it also is just from the book,” Ethan Coen added. “That was the first thing Jeff mentioned, noticed and liked, the kind of foreign-sounding nature of the dialogue and the lack of contractions. It wasn’t a problem for us. We just lifted it from the book.”
While their memories of the John Wayne film may be hazy, many fans have much clearer recollections. During the presser, the Coens and Bridges quickly were asked why their Rooster Cogburn wears his eye patch on the opposite eye from The Duke. The answer: Wearing it on the right eye simply felt right to Bridges.
“We did talk occasionally about switching from eye to eye,” Ethan Coen joked drily. “It was an early idea discussed — but not for long — that since it is the second version we have two eye patches.”
As risky undertakings go, “True Grit” already has paid off for the Coens. Along with stellar reviews, — 94 percent of reviews were listed as positive this week on review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com — the Western has given the brothers their best opening weekend ever. “True Grit,” which opened on Dec. 22, earned an opening five-day gross of $36.8 million, including a better-than-expected $25.6 million take over Christmas weekend.
Contributing: The Associated Press.
Today’s featured event:
Watch the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the New Jersey Nets at 7 tonight at the Oklahoma City Arena, 100 W Reno. Information: (800) 745-3000 or www.thunder.nba.com.
For more events, go to www.wimgo.com.
In honor of the arrival of my new nephew Alec today, I’m dedicating this video of Paul McCartney playing “Birthday” to him, in the hopes that the lad will have a long, healthy and happy life and excellent taste in music.
Welcome to the world, Baby Alec!
- Aunt BAM
Country music power couple and Tishomingo residents Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert are featured on the cover of the Jan. 3 issue of Country Weekly magazine, now on sale.
It is the magazine’s “The Best of 2010″ issue, and with all of Blake and Miranda’s breakout success – from No. 1 hits to industry awards – and their engagement, it definitely has been an incredible for the country sweethearts.
Other country stars profiled as the year’s most outstanding artists include Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum.
The week after Christmas typically is a rather slim time for new releases. While the new music choices are virtually nil, according to Amazon.com and VideoETA.com, there are a few new movies and books worth checking out if you have an unspoken for giftcard burning a hole in your pocket:
And Soon the Darkness
Archer: The Complete Season One
Jersey Shore: Season Two
Resident Evil: Afterlife
United States of Tara: The Second Season
What the Night Knows: A Novel by Dean Koontz
Debt Free For Life: The Finish Rich Plan for Financial Freedom by David Bach
You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News: Shocking but Utterly True Facts by Cracked.com
Body By Design: The Complete 12-Week Plan to Transform Your Body Forever by Kris Gethin, Jamie Eason
Ruthless Game (Game/Ghostwalker)by Christine Feehan
Today’s featured event:
See the sprawling Lego recreation of Oklahoma City before the OK CityScape closes Friday at 1100 N Broadway Ave. in historic Automobile Alley. Hours are noon to 9 p.m. today-Thursday and noon to 10 p.m. Friday during Opening Night. Information: www.toyscapes.org/ok-cityscape.
On a weekend when Hollywood competed with Christmas gatherings and fierce snow storms in the Northeast and Southeast, “Little Fockers” was No. 1 at the box office.
The third installment of the Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro series of in-law comedy was to earn $34 million over the three-day weekend, and $48.3 million since opening on Wednesday, according to studio estimates Sunday. That was less than the debut of the 2004 sequel, “Meet the Fockers,” which opened to $46.1 million, but more than the original, “Meet the Parents,” which made $28.6 million in its opening weekend.
It was an over-all down weekend for Hollywood, which saw the blockbuster “Gulliver’s Travels” open Saturday to a weak two-day gross of $7.2 million, and last week’s top film, the 3-D sci-fi sequel “Tron: Legacy,” fall more than 54 percent to $20.1 million on the weekend, and a total of $88.3 million.
The big success was the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit,” which was the No. 2 film of the weekend with a better-than-expected $25.6 million, and a five-day gross of $36.8 million. The movie gave Joel and Ethan Coen their best opening weekend ever. The filmmakers’ previous top debut was “Burn After Reading,” which earned $19 million in its first weekend in 2008.
“Little Fockers,” which adds kids to the mix, received overwhelmingly bad reviews but still lured moviegoers.
“These characters are well-loved by audiences,” said Eddie Egan, president of marketing at Universal. “It’s a very positive result and hopefully a blueprint for success over the next few weeks when the larger moviegoing pool is available.”
It wasn’t an ideal holiday moviegoing weekend with Christmas Eve falling on a Friday (typically one of the biggest moviegoing nights of the week) and large snow storms hitting much of the East Coast.
But even those factors aside, the mishmash of critical failures and underperforming blockbusters made it a notably lackluster holiday for Hollywood. It was 45 percent lower than the same weekend last year, when “Avatar” was in its second week of release, along with the premiere of hits like “Sherlock Holmes” and “It’s Complicated.”
“What a difference a year makes,” said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. “In terms of the big blockbusters, no way can we live up to last year.”
Though Dergarabedian noted timing and weather were worse this year, he said: “Ultimately, it comes down to the product.”
The most remarkable bright spot was the Coen brothers’ authentic adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel and remake of the 1969 film starring John Wayne.
“We’ve got an out-and-out success,” said Don Harris, executive vice president of distribution for Paramount.
Harris credited the early adopted strategy of treating “True Grit” as a “straight commercial venture,” accepting whatever critical acclaim as it came. Though the film has received excellent reviews, it was surprisingly snubbed by the Golden Globes.
“People want to be in business with the Coens because of the quality of moviemaking,” said Harris, granting that box-office isn’t typically the Coens’ big appeal. “From the beginning, the plan was to make a movie that could play in 3,000 theaters and play in Texas and play in Kansas City, and places the Coen Brothers don’t normally open well or open at all.”
The success of “True Grit” meant that at 61, Jeff Bridges was an unlikely box-office star, starring in the no. 2 and no. 3 (“Tron: Legacy) movies of the weekend.
With blockbusters failing to dominate the marketplace, the smaller, awards-contending films capitalized on their chance. In 2,511 theaters, Paramount’s boxing drama “The Fighter” added $8.8 million to its three-week total of $27.6 million. In 1,466 theaters, Fox Searchlight’s psychological thriller “Black Swan” added $6.6 million to its four-week total of $29 million. In seven theaters, Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” opened to a screen average of more than $20,000.
“This year’s crop of specialized, Oscar caliber films has benefited from the bad reviews of the blockbusters,” says Dergarabedian. “They typically say that reviews don’t matter, but I think they do this time of year.”
Expanding to 700 theaters in its fifth week, the Weinstein Company’s “The King’s Speech” took in $4.6 million. The British royal drama has been an awards darling, landing a leading seven Golden Globe nominations and four Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations. It expands further in January.
“Without a doubt, it definitely pushes it to the next level,” said David Glasser, chief operating officer of the Weinstein Co., referring to the awards attention. “The momentum building for ‘The King’s Speech’ is headed in the right direction.”
Hollywood’s 2010 is sputtering to a close, capping the year with seven “down” weekends (weekends below 2009 revenue) in a row. It may still surpass last year’s record $10.6 billion, but would do so through higher ticket prices — not higher attendance.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. “Little Fockers,” $34 million.
2. “True Grit,” $25.6 million.
3. “Tron: Legacy,” $20.1 million.
4. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” $10.8 million.
5. “Yogi Bear,” $8.8 million.
6. “The Fighter,” $8.5 million.
7. “Gulliver’s Travels,” $7.2 million.
8. “Black Swan,” $6.6 million.
9. “Tangled,” $6.5 million.
10. “The Tourist,” $5.7 million.
OKC Improv, which showcases improvisational comedy and theater, is making its debut as part of Oklahoma City’s Opening Night, the annual New Year’s Eve celebration sponsored by the Arts Council of Oklahoma City.
On Friday, OKC Improv will be hosting performances from 7 to 11 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, 300 Park Ave. Admission is $8 in advance and $10 at the event. Opening Night wristbands are available for purchase at 7-11 Stores of Oklahoma, metro Homeland stores, Science Museum Oklahoma and Mid-First Bank Locations.
8 p.m. – The MiDolls
9 p.m. – Villain: The Musical
10 p.m. – Twinprov
ABOUT THE GROUPS:
Founded in 1994, Everybody and Their Dog is Oklahoma’s longest running troupe and over the years has counted more than thirty different players among its ranks. The eight current members do a mix of short and long form improv. Find them on Facebook by searching for “Everybody and Their Dog Improv.”
Comprised of some of the metro’s best improvisers, The MiDolls is Oklahoma’s first all-female improv troupe. These funny ladies will be serving up some colorful themed comedy. Online: www.facebook.com/The-MiDolls
Villain: The Musical is a completely improvised three act 45-minute musical in the style of the Broadway hit Wicked and Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Told from the antagonist’s point of view, Villain will explore their dark origins, twisted love, and ultimate conflict with their heroic adversary! Online: www.facebook.com/VillainTheMusical
Made up of twin brothers Buck and Clint Vrazel, Twinprov specializes in creating reality-altering improv, stand-up, sketch, and musical comedy. Buck and Clint have been performing and teaching improv comedy for ten years in Oklahoma and around the country and are founding members of several local troupes and are producers of OKC Improv. Online at: www.twinprov.com
ABOUT OPENING NIGHT:
Opening Night is a New Year’s Eve celebration with music, dancing, theater and fireworks! Since 1987, Opening Night has been the way to ring in the New Year. All performances take place in a safe, family-friendly environment.
Opening Night 2011 takes place on Dec. 31 from 7 p.m.-midnight in venues around Downtown Oklahoma City. This year’s entertainment features a variety of performances from some of Oklahoma’s brightest stars.
An Opening Night admission wristband allows you access to all venues, all night long. Wristbands are $8 in advance, or $10 at the event. Purchase advance wristbands starting Nov. 19 at 7-Eleven Stores of Oklahoma, metro Homeland stores, Science Museum Oklahoma and MidFirst Bank Locations.
For more information on Opening Night, call (405) 270-4848 or visit: http://www.artscouncilokc.com/opening-night.
A catchy quote from a movie, TV show or other source to brighten the beginning of your week:
Harry: [about "Auld Lang Syne"] What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?
Sally: Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends.
-Click here to learn the source.
Today’s featured event:
SHAWNEE — Laugh along as Tulsa comedian Rodney Carrington performs at 7 tonight at Firelake Grand Casino, 777 Grand Casino Blvd. Information: 964-7263 or www.firelakegrand.com.
For more events, go to www.wimgo.com.