By Joe Neumaier
Think it's easy to ride into town, declare yerself the law in these-here parts, and try to make the townfolk forgit the greatest Western movie star of all time?
Well, think agin, thar pardner, because writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen faced a herd of hassles remaking one of John Wayne’s final iconic westerns, True Grit.
The movie, which rides into multiplexes Christmas week, is an adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel about Mattie Ross, a tough teen who hires a one-eyed, ornery U.S. Marshal Ruben “Rooster” Cogburn to find her father’s killer.
The 1969 movie earned John Wayne his only Oscar for his portrayal of the Rooster. For the $35 million remake, another Oscar-winner, Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) takes over. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie, and Matt Damon is the adorable Texas Ranger … er, Glen Campbell.
Instead of trying to reboot The Duke, the Coens focused on Portis’ dark book. “The book is in the voice of the girl and is funnier,” says Ethan Coen. “You’ll find hilarious moments like Rooster forcing Mattie to cut down the body of a hanged man to grant him dignity.” Face it: Anybody who’s seen No Country For Old Men know the Coens have a different sense of humor.
Here’s the dusty trail of how the Coens turned a touchy-feelie ’60s flick into their own-style black comedy.
More Dude Than Duke
Jeff Bridges, who collaborated with the Coens on the 1998 slacker’s Citizen Kane … The Big Lebowski, took a different approach than Wayne. Say goodbye to the lovable Duke and hello to a craggy, cold-blooded killer.
The Coens’ costume designer, Mary Zophres, has said that Cogburn “is slovenly and drunk.” His boots are left over from the Civil War cavalry. He’s a mess. Jeff really owned that.”
“I’m supposed to be the meanest and toughest of all the hombres in that town!” says Bridges.
The New Girl
To find the new Mattie, the Coens held casting calls and chose Hailee Steinfeld from 15,000 teen girls to play a kid who could embody Mattie’s mix of toughness and tenderness. Steinfeld had minimal acting experience, but she fit the part to a tee.
“We cast Hailee just before shooting, and were lucky to find her,” says Joel Coen.
Making the Grit
For authenticity, the Coens plunked their cameras in the same Arkansas and West Texas regions where Portis’ book takes place.
The production based the look of the towns on photographs found at the historical society of Fort Smith, Arkansas. They rebuilt the post-Civil War city of Fort Smith in tiny Granger, Texas, outside of Austin, pouring dirt over paved streets to approximate the town. Construction crews turned empty lots and warehouses into old-time saloons and country stores.
They took down stop signs and utility poles, and the residents were used as extras. But the Coens would only cast folks with period-looking beards … and no body builders or women with modern hairstyles.
“They built a gallows in that empty lot and used 500 extras for one scene,” said Dan Johnson, president of the local Granger National Bank.
Past Not Precedent
“When the Coens mentioned the idea of remaking True Grit, I said, ‘Gee, didn’t they already make that movie?” Bridges said. “And they said, ‘We’re making a new version of the book.’”
In the original, actress Kim Darby was 21 when she played the 14-year-old Mattie. Steinfeld actually was 14 when filming began. Bridges was 60 when he saddled up, a year younger than the Duke was in the first film.
Wayne wore his eye patch over his left eye, in a nod to his friend and legendary Western director John Ford (Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Bridges goes for the right eye. We don’t know why … and he ain’t a-tellin’.
One thing has remained from 40 years ago: the flick’s finale, in which Rooster holds his horse’s reins in his mouth as he gallops across a field, firing a pistol in one hand and a rifle in the other and. It’s that scene that likely secured Wayne his first and only Academy Award.
“I practiced those moves on a mechanical horse first before Joel Coen asked if I wanted to try it for real,” says Bridges
The Dude pulls it off beautifully. Now, if he did it while drinking White Russians, he’d probably pick up his second Oscar.
QUIET KEYBOARD This wireless rechargeable keyboard won’t make a sound no matter how hard you whack at the keys. Although the diNovo Edge might frustrate your attempts to show off your tireless work ethic to the boss, you can surf Internet dating sites all night without tipping off your girlfriend.
MULTILINGUAL MARVEL Expensive enough to require valet parking, the Optimus Maximus keyboard displays letters and control icons with a light-emitting OLED. It’s customizable for multitasking in multiple codes and languages -- including Cyrillic, ancient Greek, Arabic and HTML -- or for more ambitious activities like video gaming.
LASER SHOW No bigger than a cigarette lighter, the Celluon Virtual Keyboard connects to your computer using a USB dongle and emits an awesome laser-generated keyboard and mouse that allows you to work virtually -- and connect with your inner Obi Wan Kenobi.
BACK TO THE FUTURE Drawing from last century’s gilded sensibilities, this custom, retro-futuristic keyboard will make your desktop worthy of H.G. Wells’ office space. “The Marquis” keyboard has acanthus-leaf engraving on polished brass and key lettering engraved on a mirrored gold acrylic. It’ll make you the envy of any century.
LIGHT FINGER FOLLIES Every time you touch its keys, the Luxeed U7 lights up like the Las Vegas strip -- bringing a little bit of Studio 54 to your dancing fingers. Make sure they dress sharply and get their names on the list -- this is one exclusive keyboard!
PURE LUXURY: BENTLEY MULSANNE The new Bentley Mulsanne's unrivaled pedigree stands out from the pack with an ultra-smooth and more-than-capable 505 hp, 6.8-liter V8 engine that glides from 0 to 62 mph in 5.3 whisper-quiet seconds. As befits its luxury status, the car can be completely customized to taste with over 1 billion possible variations, according Bentley Motors.
STANDOUT CONVERTIBLE: MORGAN AERO 8 Although its production recently ceased, this classically styled roadster is still one of the most fun, head-turning vehicles to roam the highways. While completely hand-built with more than 100 years of heritage packed into the coachwork, its BMW 4.4-liter V8 pumps out 312 hp -- moving this homage to yesteryear from 0 to 62 mph in just 4.2 seconds.
Tiny Tower seems like a simple, if not silly, game. But that's how it gets you addicted. The premise, like SimCity, is to build your own world -- in this case a tower. The more floors you build, the more money you can make to spend on building more floors ... and the hook is set.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
How many passwords do you have to remember? Thanks to 1Password, you can keep all of your security codes safe and secure on your smartphone. All you have to do is remember one four-digit code and a master passcode, and the info is encrypted and backed up on your computer.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android
Yes, the camera on the iPhone 4S is better than previous incarnations. But besides flash and zoom, it leaves us a little cold. Turn your 4S into a virtual DSLR with all the bells and whistles you get with said device, plus all the features you’d expect from a smartphone, such as visual filters.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch
Even if you were born in the CD era, chances are you remember mixed tapes. Bring them into the digital age with the app that turns your digital music player into a virtual portable cassette deck that blasts loaded playlists and helps you create the perfect mix to play and then share on Facebook.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch
Didn't you hear? The end of the world is happening on Dec. 21, 2012. Skeptical? Then check out this app, which explores all the coincidences between the Mayan prediction and what science says. At the very least you'll be prepared to handle the impending end of time.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
The premise of KaleidaCam is simple: Turn your iPhone's camera into a kaleidoscope. You can adjust the trippy-ness of the created image by choosing one of four to 10 slides. It leads to hours of mindless fun for the whole family. You can even take pictures of your creations and send them to Facebook and Twitter.Platforms: iPhone
This mobile app puts Thrillist reviews in the palm of your hand so you can be the guy who knows the coolest places to eat, drink and shop. Using your device's GPS function, it'll tell you the top places to spend your time and money in more than 19 cities. You'll never have a boring night again.Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android
'Tis the season for holiday parties, full of finger foods, drinks and treats. This app will track your weight well into the new year so you can stop the festivities from settling around your waist. Just log your bites, licks and tastes, and the food database will calculate the calories you've consumed. Then log your workouts to determine how many calories you burned.Platforms: iPhone, iPad
If you thrive on new music, this is a must-have app. Band of the Day introduces you to an artist that you need to know about every day. You get a bio, a song to listen to, a stream of Facebook/Twitter comments about the artist, videos to view and a list of albums that you can buy, right from the app.Platforms: iPhone
Think of this app as your secret weapon to achieving culinary nirvana. It puts all of the advice from the well-respected epicurean website of the same name in the palm of your hand. We love the seasonal options on the home screen that help make sure your feasts are weather-appropriate.Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, Nook, Windows Phone
Finding a new place to hang your hat just got a whole lot easier, thanks to the new Trulia mobile app. The clean design of the interface makes it a snap to search homes to rent or to buy Features include sort by price, search by location, and email real estate agents directly.Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire
The latest incarnation of the Bloons game franchise gets the smart-phone makeover, and it is still as addictive as ever. The objective remains the same: prevent balloons from getting from one part of the maze to the other using your arsenal of dart monkeys, rockets, battleships and other WMDs.Platforms: iPhone, iPad
The latest army of food carts has turned most city streets into a mobile gourmet road show. But how do you know when your favorite Korean BBQ truck will be by your office? Using Google maps and your iPhone's GPS, StreetEats lets you track your favorite carts and see which ones are in your immediate area and how long they'll be there.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch
With all of the news available to us, it's hard to cut through the noise and get what you're looking for. Editions by AOL is an app that curates a custom, easy-to-navigate daily newsmagazine based on your interests, location, Facebook friends and Twitter followers. The more you use the app, the more highly customized it becomes.Platforms: iPad
Sick of the same old vodka martinis? Not sure what to do with that bottle of amaretto? InMyBar's simple interface lets you plug in all the booze you have in your liquor cabinet. Then, the app creates a list of all the cocktails you can make, or it lets you know what remaining ingredients you need in order to make a specific drink.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Music nerds, welcome to heaven. This app tracks music blogs and culls their favorite tunes from the Web, then lets you create your dream radio station. The genre section alone offers more than 100 options -- perfect for deep dives into your particular mood. You can even track what your friends are listening to.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch
Watch your favorite music videos in HD with VEVO HD, which features 45,000 videos, including intimate performances by your favorite artists; a music map showing which videos people are listening to in your area; artist tour information; and ticket-buying capabilities.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Meeting a lovely lady is now as easy as whipping out your ... cell phone. Blendr collects your favorite interests and then helps match you up with female companions who live in your area and have similar interests. Browse photos, check in to venues and even chat with folks from your own neighborhood.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
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