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Liz Taylor: A Life In Numbers

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As a practise for visualising data, I decided to use information about the life of actress Liz Taylor to create a handful of visualisations.

I used Many Eyes, Fusion Charts and Google Docs.

The first was a collection of random data such as how many films she had starred in, how many grandchildren she had, how many front covers she had graced etc.

Next I decided to look at films, and I discovered that in relative financial terms, her movie ‘Cleopatra’ is still the most expensive film ever made which I showed with the following visualisation.

Finally, I looked at a very famous aspect of Taylor’s life, namely how many husband she had, and turned that into a visualisation.

You can see all of these in their full animated and interactive glory here.

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Written by Andy Watt

March 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm

True Grit (2011)

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I feel like I should start this review with a confession; I have never seen the original version of this movie. In fact, I have never seen any film featuring John Wayne. Although I love western movies, there is something about Wayne I have found to be a major turn off. Maybe this is because I just couldn’t picture him as a movie hero, probably down to an early memory of an impressionist taking him off with the line “Get off your horse and drink your milk“, which I’m sure you’ll agree is not up there with tough guy catch phrases such as Dirty Harry’s “You feelin’ lucky, punk?” or John Maclean’s “Yippee-ki-yay Motherf****r” (or in the ITV version, the not quite so heroic but more family friendly “Yippee-ki-yay Kimosabe”).

Anyway, I digress. In some ways, not having seen the 1969 version of the movie would be an advantage as I would come to this adaptaton with no preconceptions, nor would I fall into the trap of comparing it to the John Wayne original.

Before shooting began, Ethan Coen claimed that the film would be a more faithful adaptation of the source material than the 1969 version. Speaking to Movies News at IGN last February, he stated;

It’s partly a question of point-of-view. The book is entirely in the voice of the 14-year-old girl. That sort of tips the feeling of it over a certain way. I think [the book is] much funnier than the movie was so I think, unfortunately, they lost a lot of humour in both the situations and in her voice. It also ends differently than the movie did. You see the main
character—the little girl—25 years later when she’s an adult. Another way in which it’s a little bit different from the movie—and maybe this is just because of the time the movie was made—is that it’s a lot tougher and more violent than the movie reflects. Which is part of what’s interesting about it.

Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld, written and directed by the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan and with Steven Spielberg on executive producer duties, this looks on paper like a sure fire success. Thankfully, it lives up to its star credentials and presents a wonderful screen version of Charles Portis‘ 1968 novel, considered by many to be a modern American classic. In fact the book is so revered, it was used as a curriculum text in the United States.

The film follows the story of 14 year old Mattie Ross (played by the wonderfully precocious Hailee Steinfeld) who attempts to avenge the murder of her father at the hands of Tom Chaney (a grungy Josh Brolin) by hiring Marshall Reuben J ‘Rooster’ Cogburn on account of him being the most merciless of three possible options, wonderfully illustrated by an early court scene in which he defends his slaying of renegades he pursued in the past. Joining the unlikely pairing is Matt Damon‘s interestingly named Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (a rough translation of which is ‘The Beef’) who comes and goes throughout the film.

Beautifully shot in the Santa Fe area of New Mexico, cleverly scripted with an evocative soundtrack, the film takes you on a journey through the wild west in a believable and realistic scenario which successfully mixes action with emotion. The breathtaking landscape wonderfully compliments the heartwarming but ultimately bitter-sweet relationship which develops between Cogburn and Mattie.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Hailee Steinfeld who gives an assured performance as the 14 year old Mattie Ross. Chosen from a pool of 15,000 applicants in 2009, the then 13 year old  was selected for the role as a “simple, tough as nails young woman” whose “unusually steel  nerves and straightforward manner are often surprising”. As the story is told from her perspective, the right choice for this character was essential, as Ethan Coen acknowledged to the New York Times by telling them, “We were aware that if the kid doesn’t work, there’s no movie”. Ironically, although the roles taken by Bridges and Damon are as grizzled hardmen, it is the young heroine, strongly imbued with a Presbyterian-Protestant ethic who is by far the biggest pistol in the whole film.

The other central roles taken by Bridges, Damon and Brolin are performed admirably, especially Bridges‘ interpretation of Cogburn, which is played with real gusto but also an understated vulnerability.

For a genre which is generally under-represented in modern cinema, and often overlooked in award ceremonies, this movie shows what a rich and visually engaging setting the ‘wild west’ provides and how it can still captivate audiences today. You could certainly do a lot worse than lose a couple of hours in the company of Cogburn and co.


True Grit will open the 61st Berlin International Film Festival on February 10th and go on general release in the UK on the next day.

Written by Andy Watt

February 5, 2011 at 9:23 pm