Review: 4-star DVD, “True Grit”

True Grit

Better than the original, December 27, 2011

Two performances stand out: Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. It’s remarkable that this 14-year-old girl could stand toe-to-toe with Bridges’ time-honed acting chops and come out a star. And Bridges’ performance is agonizingly brilliant. The original with John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn tastes vanilla in contrast to the Cohen Brothers’ warts-and-all telling of the rough-hewn western tale. Matt Damon is miscast as Leboeuf but plays the Texas Ranger as well as he can. Josh Brolin also feels wrong as the evil Tom Chaney. That aside, the DVD is a keeper. It’s one of the best westerns in years.

Review: 5-star Book, “FilmCraft: Cinematography”

FilmCraft: Cinematography

“Special Features” in your hands, December 21, 2011

If you love the special features on DVDs almost as much as the films, you’ll love this book. It gives you an insiders look at the making of great (and not-so-great) film images, but it’s presented in a way that’s palatable to the casual film buff as well as the true insider. Bold page design and photo layouts make it a fun, light, breezy read, and almost all the text is comprised of the cinematographers’ own words. The nominal authors put this book together beautifully, so I won’t hold it against them that one of them actually writes that “Heaven’s Gate” is considered a masterpiece. The 21 featured cinematographers are mostly contemporary, so the films discussed are up-to-the-minute current, and, thankfully, 5 “legacy” cinematographers are also profiled. Actors and directors usually get all the credit, but cinematographers play a huge role in what is, after all, a visual medium.

Review: 5-star Book, “Last Word”

Last Word

Fresh information, December 21, 2011

What can anybody say that’s new about a 50-year-old assassination? A lot, as it turns out. Mark Lane delivers. I always suspected that the truth would come out someday, rising above the wild-eyed speculation. When you piece it together with “Last Word,” you realize that it finally has. He settles the case with a litigator’s precision. Yes, Lane has been biased toward conspiracy from the beginning. Yes, his love for JFK drives him. But facts are facts. Any jury presented with Lane’s case would have to conclude that JFK died in a coup d’etat. The charge that JFK was killed by the CIA isn’t new, of course, but I don’t know of any who make the case with more clarity and conviction. Lane makes some casual references to people, places and incidents that might not resonate with those who haven’t already read dozens of books on the subject, but it’s written clearly enough that even a newbie should be able to get past that.

Review: 3-star Book, “Screenwriting Tips, You Hack”

Screenwriting Tips, You Hack: 150 Practical Pointers for Becoming a Better Screenwriter

A decent primer, December 3, 2011

This offers some good tips and reminders, and it’s not a bad idea to keep it handy after writing your first draft, so you can cross-check and see if you’ve committed any of the sins he lists. But don’t take it too seriously. Xander Bennett has never written a script that anyone produced, so he joins the list of writers trying to make money by teaching others how to do what they have not been able to do themselves. He’s a self-admitted hack writing for other hacks (hack: a writer of dull or unoriginal work). His previous job as a script reader gives him some standing, but apparently it was for a minor production company. All that aside, his book is a keeper. Once you finish a quick read of this book, you will only need to scan the table of contents when reviewing your own future scripts, because all the tips are there on six concise pages.