True Grit

Well, the Denny’s garden burger has gone the way of all flesh. Betty and the husband person dropped in there, nostalgically, after a movie the other night; but although the waiter remembered the old menu, it was club sandwiches or nothing on the vegetable front.

Still, though. The movie was this one:

And a fine job it is too. It’s the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl determined to bring her father’s killer to justice. The killer’s identity is not in question, but the authorities seem to operate on a very freelance and as-desired basis; Mattie selects a trigger-happy marshal (Jeff Bridges) as the pursuer, and strikes a deal with her father’s money. She insists on going along — after all, she’s the one with the hundred dollars — and the pair are joined by a hapless Texas ranger (Matt Damon), who has been ineffectually searching for the same man for some time, and who expects a large reward.

The film is beautifully and unhurriedly paced, brilliantly cast (Matt Damon is genuinely horrible for the first half hour, and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie is an unsettling combination of ferociously untamed eyebrows and blankly literal determination), and set in the spacious forests and deserts of Fort Smith. There plot twists are simple and straightforward; bit parts, though they stray easily into the semi-ridiculous (like a travelling medical man dressed in an entire bearskin) somehow don’t pull the story too far into crude hick humour. Even the dialogue, excessively stylised and formal, doesn’t become cutesy. What could easily be a cheap trick, a forgettable kid-with-gun caper, manages — effortlessly, at that — to hold its own.

The true centre of the film, though, is in the tension between Mattie’s unshakeable faith in “grit” — the kind of strength of character that leads her marshal to lose count of the suspects he has taken on himself to shoot — and the haunting simplicity of the score that accompanies nearly all of the story’s significant moments. Even before the adult Mattie opens the film by declaring, in retrospect, that “there is nothing free, except the grace of God”, the musical phrase is a line from the hymn “Leaning on the everlasting arms”. It is repeated in every crisis, before every action, whether reaching for a gun, or standing outnumbered among a group of desperate fugitives. Safe and secure from all alarms…

There is crime and pursuit here, but no mystery; Mattie’s faith can admit no defeat. The film, like her mission, moves steadfastly on. Its climax is shocking on paper, but consummately logical and satisfying in the flesh. What have I to dread?, Mattie’s unperturbed countenance seems to say. What have I to fear? And her tumultuous story ends in peace, as she and her guardian hymn together declare that true grit is born of a blessed assurance, and of nothing else, and most certainly not the other way around.


The Brothers Bloom

The boy person friend ummed and ahhed a little before deciding to show Betty The Brothers Bloom. It turns out he had seen the trailer and suspected that the film was nothing more than a ho-hum heist movie. Indeed, had /Film not suggested otherwise, he might have let it utterly pass him by.

He also has an irrational disinclination to like Rachel Weisz, which Betty finds remarkable. Rachel Weisz, surely, is one of the modern masters of the simultaneously brains-before-beauty and deprived-of-oxygen-at-birth-for-just-a-wee-moment, just-as-well-father-has-money kind of effect otherwise made so famous by Nigella Lawson. How could anyone resist?

You perceive? At any rate, Betty enjoyed The Brothers Bloom very greatly. It is an energetic semi-fantastical caper in which Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo play notorious, albeit one-trick, con-men. After an unfortunate childhood, succinctly covered — in rhyme — in the first reel, the brothers develop a signature con, which they use to great effect in a number of lucrative jobs. But Adrien Brody, the sensitive one, finds the whole thing hard to stomach; his more beefy brother has to drag him bodily from a foreign clime to perform what he promises will be their last job.

Rachel Weisz is the mark, a beautiful heiress named Penelope who collects hobbies and takes fits. Along with the obvious tasks of falling in love with the sensitive brother and saying quirky things with her eyebrows, she does wonders for the plot.

And, not to be girly, but she has an amazing wardrobe. The cape… the hat… the endless coats… the whole thing is quite delicious.

Bright Star

Betty saw the trailer to this Keats biopic the other day and was somewhat nonplussed. It has that slightly adenoidal BBC feel to it, don’t you find? Not, of course, that that would put Betty off: far from it. But still… However, Jane Campion deserves half a chance, and an awesome blogger who temporarily escapes Betty’s memory rated it very highly, so it’s going on the to-watch list.

John Keats, incidentally, is an important medical humanities figure; he was an apothecary’s assistant, and hated it with a passion.

Adventures in Burtonland

The first trailer that Betty saw for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie was, sad to say, a little underwhelming. Though he has gone to town with the visual lunacy for which he is justly famous, there were distinct hints of lazy Disney remix syndrome going on. With this longer and more revealing trailer, however, Betty begins to feel that there may still be something there. Please, Mr Burton, please let there be something there…

Around the mall and up in the air

Betty finished teaching early yesterday, and in celebration, she decided to take the boy person friend to Botany Downs. Botany Downs is a mall built like a proper village, in which one wanders around actual lanes and sees the sky; it’s nice, but it takes about half an hour to get there. On the way, the boy person friend decided to get something to eat at Sylvia Park, and so they nipped in for a few minutes. Sylvia Park is the nearest thing this forgotten country has to a decent mall. It has a Borders, a cinema, a Theobroma chocolate cafe, many shoe shops, a Kathmandu, a vertical bungee, and a place where one can cast one’s hands in wax. They took a keek at the foodcourt, but it was uninspiring; the boy person friend then lit up a little inside and led the way to Wagamama.

Betty had  the yasai katsu curry with crumbed kumara and eggplant, and miso and pickle on the side. It was, as always, awesome.

Then they lost interest in going to Botany Downs and started looking around. The boy person friend bought a pair of shoes to replace his extremely dead ones, which he left rather forlornly in a bin.

Then Betty and the boy person friend went to see Up in the Air. They saw it on the Extreme Screen, or some such, which apparently holds the Guinness world record for the biggest 35mm projection screen in the entire world. The movie had been hotly anticipated in the Bettiverse for a couple of weeks, for reasons that are now obscure; it had Jason Reitman, Jason Bateman, and, of course, Clooney. It was long, and dragged a bit in the second act; in the interests of veracity, Betty must report that it was also tatty with plot-holes and occasionally (and forgive the cheap allusion) kinda phoned in some of the conflict.

Nevertheless, Betty was sold. Nice, she said to herself as soon as it finished. Nice work. It was bleak, and not just in the ways that were immediately obvious from the trailer, but really bleak; and it was crafted in such a way that it turned out much like its leading man, smooth, but still rough around the edges. Its three central characters were uniformly ambitious and, in fact, loathsome; and yet they managed to trundle on with their lives in parallel, never truly intertwining, and therefore illuminating each other from all angles. Vera Farmiga, as the older woman with a crush on Clooney (as opposed to the younger woman with a chip on her shoulder) was remarkable. The final scene, in which Clooney gave a pithy voiceover, was both sad and satisfying, and therefore awesome.

And then Betty and the boy person friend went to the supermarket, which is one of his most favourite things in the world to do, and then they left. The end. It was nice.

Happy birthday, Elvis, if you are in the building

January 8 was Elvis’s 75th birthday. The Academy Cinemas, a small independent theatre based in the public library, showed a double feature to celebrate:

Betty was in with knobs on. She and the boy person friend reported for duty at three o’clock and found a small but devoted bunch of Americans hanging out in the lobby. The cinema had suggested costumes, but nobody seemed to have dressed up — thankfully, according to some.

Continue reading


I first heard of Coraline when a friend sent me a link to the rather lovely official website. coraline

Then I missed it at the film festival. But then! One who shall remain delicately nameless took me to see it at the Village on Queen Street.

I have mixed feelings about Neil Gaiman. On the one hand, Stardust; but on the other, such pretentious travesties as the Sandman and “Snow, Glass, Apples”. Still, though, some university cronies of mine once had a superb bash at “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale”, so it’s only fair to give the guy a chance.


He steps up, in Coraline, generally. A couple of plot points are played with all the artistry of a kids’ video game, and there are some distracting breaks in tone, but not enough to completely ruin the mood. Some things that should by rights have made it into the negative column, like French and Saunders, actually do a decent job.

But visually, Coraline is absolutely stunning. The baddies are just awful with their buttony eyes and skeletal hands, and the garden and forest that Coraline discovers are so richly realised, it’s lovely.


Some things to which there really is no downside: Meryl Streep. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Black bonnets. The Dutch tilt. Silence. Philip Seymour Hoffman.

You’re welcome.

The boy person friend, with reluctant generosity, rented Doubt the other day – mainly to take my mind off the fact that he had also picked up a copy of Dan in Real Life. I never look a gift horse in the mouth, however, and Doubt more than lived up to its early promise. Meryl Streep, as a no-nonsense nun with a funny accent, whups the pants off Philip Seymour Hoffman (he’s in this movie, I meant to mention) – not literally, about the whupping off of his pants, but she does allow herself the grim pleasure of developing suspicions about his sordid goings-on with altar boys in the rectory. Unfettered by any actual evidence, she simply takes her ecclesiastical ranking in one hand, grasps her middle-aged New York chutzpah in the other, and lets rip with a campaign to get Father Frank (Philip Seymour Hoffman) out of her parish.

It’s a simple story told at an unhurried pace, and some of its devices are planted with wide-eyed naivete (such as the housekeeper hunting down an unwelcome mouse: “Takes a cat,” she declares with satisfaction when her mog has finally succeeded at the task, and Streep’s character archly replies, “Yes it does”). But Doubt, make no mistake, is on: tautly threaded, blinkered at all the right moments like the black bonnets that festoon the heads of dozens of unassumingly distinctive nuns, crafted with spare three-act precision – a Witness for those too titchy to remember it, assuming, that is, that they weren’t in the multiplex watching Dan in Real Life and consequently missing it.

In its final act, Doubt emerges as a devastating tryptich as Streep’s Sister Aloysius, her protege and sometime antagonist Sister James (beautifully played by Amy Adams, who’s a darn good thing), and the beleagured Father Frank (Philip Seymour Hoffman) turn cat and mouse, mother and child, saint and sinner, serpent and dove, Eve and madonna, protector and quarry, confessor and comforter. Its stage origins are evident, but Doubt uses the cinematic frame with deft expertise. It’s sometimes simplistic, not a little obvious, but never heavy-handed; subtle and well-finished to a fault.

Also, Philip Seymour Hoffman.