Man’s Opinion: Truth in Advertising
by Ivan Calhoun
I recently caught three films in short order and was surprised by each being something different than I expected. The surprises were setup by the trailers I’d seen, advertisements, and even our Ajnabee friend Nina. I knew two were probably the proverbial “chick” flick but none were what they seemed -- the advertising hadn’t let on.
Now I should give you some background on me. I write, work, and raise kids on my own in New Mexico and I can do things like guide friends fly fishing for trout or twice facilitating week long camping trips to Yellowstone for multiple families. Yeah, I’m a Davy Crockett type of guy.
Just to get it out of the way, the first film I saw was an actual chick flick and How Do You Know, to me, was unwatchable. The combination of Jack Nicholson and James L. Brooks had sucked me in but unfortunately Brooks’ screenplay and direction caused people to leave the screening I saw -- I should have left with them.
But I held out for the Nicholson of As Good as it Gets that the advertisements seemed to promise – he never showed up. I gotta believe USA Softball and the Washington Nationals are furious about the story lines featuring them. This film actually made me feel better about not having ever been a fan of Brooks’ Terms of Endearment.
True Grit as you can imagine was going to be right up my alley being a Western filmed in locales I know in New Mexico and featuring a common amount of violence for a Coen Brothers film. What I did not expect was how much it was a “chick” flick too – and an awesome one. The Coen’s have written and directed wonderful female characters before, most notably in Fargo and Miller’s Crossing (my favorite film of theirs).
Yet you cannot but adore the character of Mattie in the new True Grit. I did not want the film to end because I wanted to see more of her life growing up in the American West. The Coen’s going back to the original novel and telling Mattie’s story is a masterstroke. Jeff Bridges is as great as expected as Rooster Cogburn and I loved actor Barry Pepper properly shouting “I CALL THAT BULL TALK FOR A ONE-EYED FAT MAN!”. But Hailee Steinfeld’s portrayal of Mattie Ross is the heart of this retelling and you end up wishing you could have known her more. John Wayne would have been proud.
So the other night I was wearing wranglers, ropers, a Pendleton blanket shirt, and a ballcap from when I attended the 2003 Iditarod in Alaska and I’m sure I stunned the ticket person at the theater asking for one to Black Swan. I had to look like the last person on Earth who was going to ask to see a “chick” flick about ballet. The first review of the film I read was right here on The Ajnabee and Nina’s restraint in only implying a great ending while championing the performances won me over -- plus I liked the art direction that was apparent in the trailers. What I wasn’t expecting was how powerful, visceral, and scary a chick flick could be. Director Darren Aronofsky I felt delivered the best film of 2008 with The Wrestler and I think he shows in Black Swan that chicks are pretty dang tough too. A whole lot more up my alley than I’d ever expected – even from the advertising. Plus Natalie Portman’s performance is nothing short of courageous. Reese Witherspoon comes nowhere close in How Do You Know or even, dare I say, Walk the Line. Even belting a country tune pales in comparison to the ballet talent Natalie demonstrates.
For films, truth in advertising is a tricky thing. Terrific trailers are cut for horrible films and great films often cannot be edited down to two minutes, but having seen these three films reminds me that more importantly than truth in advertising is truth in filmmaking. And after taking another summer off not watching all the major studio tentpoles I am heartened that two of these three were terrific and truthful -- despite what the advertising had made me initially think.