Monday, August 07, 2006

Movies: July 31 - Aug 6

Walk the Line (2005): "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash". Walk the Line is the life story of country legend Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix). We are given a little bit of his childhood with a brother who died in a horrible accident, an emotionally abusive father, and a musical mother. Then we are brought forward to Cash as a young man in the Air Force and marrying his sweetheart Viv. After he left the service he tries to pursue his music career while his wife just wants her husband to work and take care of his family. After some struggle, Cash begins to strike it big and spends his time on the road where he meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). This begins what is one of the great romances of country music, but Cash is still married at the time.

I loved this movie. I thought it was so well done and knowing that Phoenix and Witherspoon did their own singing as well as portraying Cash and Carter is beyond impressive. Phoenix did a fantastic job sounding like a young Johnny Cash and showing us Cash struggling with his personal demons. Walk the Line only covers a small portion of Cash's life (approximately a decade of Cash as a grown man), but it does an excellent job showing the core of the man and why he would want to be a better man. It can be said that Walk the Line is nothing more than a movie of the week and based on simple content alone, it is. But then so is Ray and so are many other movies. The difference is that this is well acted, well directed, well produced, and has a killer soundtrack of vintage Johnny Cash.

Render: Spanning Time with Ani Difranco (2002): This music documentary follows folk singer Ani Difranco on tour and gives a glimpse of her life backstage, on the road, and at home. We are given some concert footage and complete songs (Tis of Thee, among others), some footage of Ani talking about her hometown of Buffalo, and some of her beliefs. This should have been a fascinating documentary but when the footage was off stage the sound was very quiet and difficult to pick up all of what was being said I just wanted to get back on stage with Ani anyway. As a concert film, Render is not nearly enough, as a documentary of a favorite singer, I can't recommend it.

Jarhead (2005): I read Anthony Swofford's Gulf War I memoir a couple years back. It was a compelling account of his time as a Marine and the potential disappointment and disillusionment of the modern day soldier because there is less of a ground war than in previous wars. These men are being trained to a very hard edge but not given the opportunity to exercise that training. The film, directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), gets at this disillusionment. It's a different type of war movie because it is a different type of war. The soldiers around Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) spent too much time sitting around, then moving, then sitting around, but not actually seeing combat. I had heard enough negatives about the film when it was in theatres that the need to see this movie was much lower than when I heard Mendes was directing it. The critics were overly harsh because Jarhead is a decent movie. The trouble with this film is the very nature of the movie: It's a movie about soldiers training for and going to a war they don't get to fight. It's a war movie without the war. Accepting that pretty basic concept and moving past it allowed me to take note of the movie I was watching. There is no deep analysis here and Mendes doesn't seem to be trying to teach the viewer anything about the nature of war except to show us a reality for some soldiers who do not get the chance to fight a war they trained for. It's worth watching, but some viewers will be put off because of the lack of combat in the film.

The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005): I don't know about this being the funniest movie of last year or anything about the inherent comedic genius of Steve Carrell, but this is actually a "good movie". I started out waiting for the laughs and there were some, but the longer I watched the more I got into the story of the guy who was just too nice and decent and unsure of himself around women to really get anywhere with them and now he's forty years old, has never been with a woman, and has an apartment filled with collectable action figures. His co-workers try to get him some "action" and he ends up meeting and falling for Catherine Keener. What forty year old man wouldn't? It is funny, but in a fairly sly way that doesn't go over the top very often (except for the chest waxing scene, but even that is more restrained than one would think). Good movie.

V for Vendetta (2006): V (Hugo Weaving) is either a revolutionary or a terrorist, depending on what side of the line you are standing on. The film is set in the England of the future where the world is not a nice place and England is not under a dictatorship. The nation is safe, more or less, but rights are few. V references the Guy Fawkes rebellion of hundreds of years ago where he tried to blow up the Parliament building. On the eve of Guy Fawkes Day he blows up a statue, then later takes over a television station wearing his trademark Guy Fawkes mask and laid out what he wants to do and that in one year on Guy Fawkes Day he invites all who are dissatisfied with the current regime join him as he makes a larger impression. V rescued Evie (Natalie Portman) earlier in the movie and while she isn't quite on his side she is sympathetic as he saved her life. But, from a perspective, he is a terrorist. But can a man truly be a terrorist if the government is oppressing its people?

There are echoes of Revolution in this movie and it is one that Americans should be able to resonate with considering that our nation was founded from acts which could be considered terrorist...we rebelled against our "rightful" government. To say that V for Vendetta is thought provoking, though, would be inaccurate because the British government is so evil and corrupt that it is nearly impossible to see things from their point of view. They are too demonized in the movie. But with that said, this movie works very well on DVD. Weaving does an excellent job here as he has to act completely under the cover of a mask and it is with body language and tone of voice that he gets everything across, never with his face. Portman also fits well into the movie as she is the heart, it is through her eyes that we learn about the world and it is Portman that has to portray the emotion. She does.

Walk the Line is the best movie I saw this week, but V for Vendetta comes in at a solid #2.

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