Wednesday, April 26, 2006

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June Carter Cash in her Mitch & Mickey-inspired late 60's phase.

In which I take a look at certain movies I've viewed through the auspices of that most wonderful online DVD rental service.

It's been a while since I did one of these, and I have a bunch of them to cover, so please forgive me if I go into even less depth than usual. Been catching up with the Oscar nominees, to see just how good they were.. but I still haven't seen Capote or Brokeback Mountain. ** Means I saw it on cable TV. Letter graded for your convenience.

Seems like nine times out of ten, when a movie has that SERIOUS FILM aura about it, it takes itself so seriously that it becomes oppressive, but not this one. I knew George Clooney could direct after viewing Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but he really knocked this one out of the park- nicely placed and brilliantly imagined, even filtered through the smoke-filled black-and-white of everyone's memories of the era. He's helped a lot by a great cast, especially David Strathairn as Ed Murrow. Frank Langella gives a nicely nuanced perf as William Paley as well, and that Clooney guy isn't bad either. Believe it or not, I'm not old enough to have witnessed Murrow's heyday firsthand (I do remember Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley, though) so I kinda wish it had gone into a bit more depth...but this one's just fine as it is. Not one I'm going to watch again and again, but it probably should have taken the Oscar. A

Even though Johnny Cash is one of the two musical entities, along with the Four Lads from Liverpool, that I usually blame for making me such a Mr. Music Head via "Ring of Fire", I kinda dragged my feet on viewing this big expensive biopic. River Phoenix just doesn't look like Cash, not hardscrabble and jowly enough, and frankly Reese Witherspoon is too perky-cute to be a convincing June Carter despite her Southern belle pedigree. But I couldn't hold out for long, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about (people around where I lived ate it up and asked for seconds). And y'know what? It wasn't all that bad. Of course, Hollywood had to make it a big overheated love story, and that's what dominates although there are some interesting re-enactions of life on the road and in the studio in the 1950's...but that wasn't compelling enough so pretty much the last hour of the film is Cash pining for Carter and wallowing in drug-fueled self-pity. But of course, he got the girl, God bless him. One compelling subplot, the conflict between Cash and his apparent jerk of a father, is referred to throughout but doesn't really get resolved, and sometimes I got confused about exactly what year we were seeing- sometimes the clothes and cars and such just didn't seem to jibe. I'm quibbling, I know. I'm sure the producers did their research, and I'd love to know what the fact/fabrication quotient was, but it was a bit jarring seeing Shooter Jennings, playing his father Waylon, with 1970's hippie hair in the early-mid 60's- which may be the case, I don't recall seeing any photos offhand. The casting bugged me throughout- Ginnifer Goodwin is good in a thankless role as Cash's longsuffering and impatient first wife (some have said she was portrayed in a poor light, but me, I could see her point of view), as is Robert (Terminator II, X-Files) Patrick as the jerky dad and Shelby Lynne (!) as his Mom...but the actors they rounded up to portray Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Buddy Holly and others couldn't look less like their real-life counterparts. I know, who cares...but this sort of thing takes me right out of a movie. Phoenix, even though I've been cutting on him, actually gives a darn good performance, especially when he's making music- the scene where he plays "Folsom Prison Blues" for Sam Phillips for the first time was galvanizing in how he started so tentative but suddenly became angrier and more intense, very nice job, and Witherspoon really inhabits the June Carter-ish character she was playing. Walk the Line is a high-quality Hollywood entertainment product, well worth your time. But I remain somewhat unmoved by it all. Maybe it will grow on me with subsequent viewings, If I care to do so. What I really want to see is Cash's 1970's TV show re-released on DVD. B+

This was amazing visually. I loved almost everything about the character designs, as well as the city. But while this animated machine looked stylish and streamlined, it sputters because it's lubricated with pure sap. Every frigging soft-headed feel-good heartstring-tugging Hollywood life lesson cliche is jammed into the derivative script, and it makes it a bigger chore to sit through than it ought to be. I was surprised to see a voice credit for good old Marshall Efron, he of the late, lamented (by me, anyway) Marshall Efron's Illustrated, Simplified and Painless Sunday School series which aired ungodly early on Sunday mornings in the mid/late 70's. C+

Kinda like Young Guns mixed with Goodfellas, I guess, as the frustrated son of a mobster (played by Barry Pepper) entrusts a shipment of mob money to one of his screwup friends, who promptly loses it in a small Midwestern town, and complications, as they say, ensue. Good cast (John Malkovich! Dennis Hopper! Vin Diesel! Seth Green!), good performances, credibility isn't terribly strained, I liked- but I was in a good mood. YMMV. B+

This one squanders a decent perf by Kiera Knightley by way of needlessly aggressive, jumpy, showoff MTV-style visuals. Some of this was watchable, and the subject of the film, the real-life Domino Harvey, seems like she was one heck of an interesting person...but it got really tiresome after a while. If you like Knightley, you'll want to see it but everyone else beware. C-

Cutesy spy-movie action thriller as Brangelina play a married couple who are unaware that they are both really competing contract killers, until of course they unknowingly attempt to carry out a hit on the same target. Sometimes, loud explody films like this, where the plot is hinged on escalating unlikely coincidences and misinformation, get on my nerves but I was entertained throughout so it was OK, I guess. Vince Vaughn, the Tom Arnold of the Aughts, is sometimes amusing. I don't see me watching this one very often, although if it comes on Cinemax at 1 AM one of these days... B+

Don't be a neglectful father, or Martians will attack and you'll lose everything! Aw, I know, it's more complicated than that but not much. Again, great visuals, especially the terrifying initial Martian attack, but I never bought Cruise for a minute and the story just kinda petered out in the last half hour or so. C

Ah, the one that took the statue. A great cast manages to wrestle down a heavy-handed (Racism is BAD! WE KNOW! WE KNOW!) and often ludicrous (I'm thinking of the Matt Dillon rescue scene, maybe the most blatantly obvious plot twist in cinema history) script and manages to get us caught up in the events anyway. Don Cheadle is typically great, and Dillon surprises as a troubled, bigoted LA cop, even making him sympathetic after all is said and done. Worth a viewing, I think, although I was curiously unmoved after I watched it. I don't think it was better than Good Night and Good Luck, either. A-

I never read the book this was based on, so I was coming in cold. Many have raved about this film, but I never really got caught up in it although I do think director David Cronenberg makes some germane statements about violence and its effect on people's lives. Part of the problem for me was that I never could buy the whole small-town setting- Cronenberg just doesn't seem to have a feel for the way smalltown people talk, think and act, and I never for a minute felt like I was watching anything but actors playing these kinds of people. Of course, it didn't help that Viggo Mortensen was as stiff as a barn timber as he played the lead. Ed Harris wasn't given a lot to do except act low-key and scary, and William Hurt, at the end, gnaws the scenery with an overripe performance as some sort of mob boss. The film kinda picks up steam as we get a surprisingly neat resolution, but I was disappointed in this one, which struck me as kinda like Out of the Past if Frank Capra directed it. B-

Conversely, I didn't expect anything from this one but the worst, and was pleasantly surprised at the lack of eye-rolling and groaning on my part. The script wasn't great- kinda simplistic, plus I didn't care for the rewrite of Doc Doom's origin, (but that's something only a fanman like me would care about) and I thought it was a mistake for Ioan Gruffudd to play Reed Richards as such a bumbling nerd. But heck- the effects were passable, the film was rarely dull, and God help me, I kinda liked it. I'm getting softheaded in my dotage, I guess. Which is not to say that I hope they make any more. B

My TCM viewing has slacked off a bit, but I sat down and got interested in this episodic pre-WWII propaganda piece about a submarine full of Nazis that is forced to shore on the coast of Canada, and their subsequent flight from the authorities. Part of the kick I got from it was the odd casting- Laurence Olivier, for example, as a straight-outta central casting French Canadian fur trapper (who was not strictly from commercial, I don't believe) named Johnnie, or Leslie Howard as a genteel writer who the Nazis encounter in the Canadian Rockies. Also on hand was Niall McGinnis, whom I'll always remember as the evil Dr. Karswell in Curse of the Demon, who plays a Jerry who's not quite down with the Fuhrer's master plan and pays a price for it, Raymond Massey, who plays a key role at the end, and Glynis Johns, known to all Batman TV show fans as Lady Penelope Peasoup as well as the suffragette banker's wife in Mary Poppins. All this casting trivia aside, this benefits from an intelligently written and subtle script which makes many a good point about issues which are still, sadly, issues today. If you see this airing on Turner one of these days or nights, it's worth a look. A-

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