Film: True Grit (2010)

directors: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
length: something
watched on: 4/3

Argh… so I’ve neglected to update this blog for almost a full three weeks and it’s basically because this film had such a low impact on me. I was so underwhelmed by it that I forgot to try and think of anytihng decent to say about it.

I think I was primed to dislike it, though. A friend pointed out before we went in that when she saw it there was a scene where the girl wades through a river, but comes out dry, and that’s just bad continuity. I feel sure that the Coen brothers were probably trying to do something “edgy” or “weird”, but it didn’t really fit with the context. She was right, of course; the girl’s not wet, and it’s all too blatant once it’s pointed out (I hesitate to declare that I would have noticed it if she hadn’t pointed it out – I reckon probably not…).

So the rest of the film was basically Jeff Bridges mumbling through an incomprehensible accent and trying his hardest not to come off as The Dude. And wearing a stupid eyepatch. So I missed half his lines of dialogue and didn’t really connect with much of the film.

What else? Oh yeah, the girl annoyed me no end. Actually, it’s not just her but every other character in the film talking in what the Coen brothers probably think is 19th century English, which involves never saying “don’t” and “can’t”, but always “do not” and “cannot”. That got particularly annoying after a while… I could sort of believe it from the girl’s rather prim and proper attitude, but not from Jeff Bridges’ character.

And another annoying thing was the snakes that show up at the end to extend the suspense long after it should have been over. Oh well.

I suppose it was kind of interesting when I remembered something I heard about the conventions of the Western genre, namely that the villain should always be in the black hat and ride from right to left, so that audiences could tell from a glance who he was. The ultimate in lazy viewing. Of course, in our modern Western this is combined with a propensity for anti-heroes and Jeff Bridges is dressed this way. Wayhay, convention broken!!!!! That must mean this is an amazing film!!!!!

You know, if I actually knew or cared about the Western genre more I’d probably spot millions of these – those pesky Coen brothers are always trying to be so Subversive. But I don’t, I really don’t care for the genre, I’ve never watched a Western before and I don’t know anything about the genre. I haven’t seen the previous film that this one may be based on (with John Wayne). I feel that I probably don’t have enough context for the film to make much sense to me. But what difference does context make when the main character mumbles so goddamn much?

Also, why is it so impossible to find a still of this film that’s not Jeff Bridges and the girl looking moronic? The one I did find I feel is a rather poor substitute. If I remember correctly, that’s the villain in the picture, anyway. Kind of exemplifies the girl’s typically-blank expression quite well, I think.

Book #9: Red Mars (1992)

author: Kim Stanley Robinson
language: English
length: 669 pages
finished on: 3/3
book cover I guess reading this book is related to the Mars-gushing I inadvertently showed when doing the review of Watchmen. The book’s premise is fairly simple to outline: people go to Mars and colonise it! It’s the first of a trilogy, which I’m now going to read the rest of, because I found it very difficult to fault this book (therefore the review will be fairly short).

I really liked it. I thought it was well-crafted and well-structured. Each chapter gains the perspective of a different character, and I really like it when you get to see the same piece of story from another character’s perspective. The cast is quite varied, too, and there’s plenty of opportunity for conflict. We focus on the “first hundred” settlers, mainly scientists.

The book’s descriptions are vivid, and I got this slightly spooky feeling when I realised once or twice that everything Robinson describes about Mars in this book is real. Some of the other sci-fi I’ve read recently, which one could go and read on the rest of this blog (but also including books I read last year), has a sense of realism, but it’s always slightly out of reach. In Robinson’s book, Mars is real, it’s there, and I honestly want to just go there and find out for myself how accurate he’s being. Despite the descriptions being vivid, it’s one thing to be told that one or another escarpment or cliff is 5 kilometres high – it’d be another thing to actually see such a monstrosity for oneself. It seems Martian geography is one of extremes. And then I realise I can’t. It’s still just out of reach…

Plotwise, it’s slightly thin on the ground, as the book does tend to emphasise its central concept over an overarching plot, and it could be better summarised as a series of plots, each character and chapter introducing a new one. The chapter of John Boone, the first man on Mars – and not really anything like Neil Armstrong since he’s not a recluse – is a prime example of that, because he is acting as a detective, and the chapter follows several of the crime novel tropes to the letter, such as the long explanatory paragraph about who committed the sabotage (or whatever) in the final few pages of his chapter, picking up on details that a casual reader wouldn’t have noticed. Furthermore, the first chapter of the novel is Boone’s death (starting in the middle and going back to the beginning; a common device), so we already know that he’s been assassinated, and the next chapter after Boone’s chapter basically picks up where we left off with the first chapter, emphasising the temporal and plotwise difference between the two.

The other thing I found great about Robinson’s book is that there is just about nothing even in the human/Earth side of the story that I found unbelievable. There were a couple of obvious things that haven’t happened, such as South Africa renaming itself Azania, but aside from that, he does a brilliant job for someone writing 10 years before 9/11 of predicting the atmosphere of slight islamophobia that would later permeate American society. One can’t fault him for not predicting future events; that’s impossible. But the fact that many of the characters are wary of the religious Arabs that are coming to Mars I found uncomfortably familiar. At the same time, I reckon this is partly because they were religious more than they were Muslim, implying that America has become much more secular. The other thing was the atmosphere of anti-commercialism, which I feel is still very relevant to today, and then later in the book, there was an apocalyptic feel accompanying the outbreak of war, essentially between the poor southern nations of Earth and the rich northern nations – all going on in the background while Mars has its own war, of course. It was all this extra flavour that I felt gave the book extra credibility.

Anyway, I guess my main problem with the book is that it’s a bit of a doorstopper, and as part of a trilogy, it becomes even more of a doorstopper. And I don’t really think I can fault a book on just that. So it says a lot about a book when the only thing I can think to fault it on is the fact that it used “degrees Kelvin” instead of “Kelvins”. So yeah, good book.