Walk the Line

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Nov 302005
 

Walk the Line (2005)

A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Directed by
James Mangold

Genres
Biography, Drama, Music

Cast
Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Payne, Shooter Jennings, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Dan Beene, Clay Steakley, Johnathan Rice

Lay and I went to see this film Wednesday night before Thanksgiving up in North Carolina. Lay was too excited about, but I thought it was very well done.

First, this is an excellent film. Second, it is formulaic, but not to a fault. The film is two great performances. Luckily, they’re the right two. Phoenix has done an excellent job capturing Cash, the man. Not the legend and not what everyone thought he would be. What made Johnny Cash such an icon was that he was an “everyman” and Phoenix gives his all to not only capture every subtle nuance but also to make him believable as a flawed human being. Watch, in particular, the performance sequences, and I’d argue that it’s equal to Foxx’s Ray Charles without nearly as much caricature.

There’s no attempts on behalf of the filmmakers at the predestination of Cash as a superstar. They simply show how he learned to sing with a radio and a hymnal. The back story given before his career started is essential to the way his life unfolds and, for the most part, is kept in well-shot and brief sequences. There are few attempts to over-glamourize or over-dramatize the events that shaped Cash’s life and career.

Reese Witherspoon’s performance, as well, is surprisingly good. There are precious few points in the film where you remember she was in Legally Blonde, and her vocals and live performances are stronger than many I’ve seen from Hollywood actresses in recent years.

So, with all this greatness, what could be wrong? Nothing, really. This is a solid film, but it is completely conventional. It doesn’t go for the weepy Oscar moments that drown many films and it doesn’t try to cover too much of the man’s life focusing mostly on his years between his Sun Records contract and his “At Folsom Prison” album. If you have no love for the man himself, or his music, you may walk away underwhelmed, but otherwise you’ll be pleased.

“Walk the Line” is a well-made movie. Mangold’s direction is capable, and the script stays fairly true to the biographies upon which it was based. It does have excellent performances, but barring a groundswell of support for Cash’s legacy (which could arise) I don’t see it running away with any awards. It will contend for some due to excellent performances. Considering “Ray” was about a half-hour too long, I’d even go so far as to say it has an excellent shot at a Best Picture nomination. But a win may be difficult.

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Capote

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Nov 132005
 

Capote (2005)

Truman Capote (Hoffman), during his research for his book In Cold Blood, an account of the murder of a Kansas family, the writer develops a close relationship with Perry Smith, one of the killers.

Directed by
Bennett Miller

Genres
Biography, Drama

Cast
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban, Amy Ryan, Mark Pellegrino, Allie Mickelson, Marshall Bell, Araby Lockhart, Robert Huculak, R.D. Reid, Rob McLaughlin, Harry Nelken

Busy weekend for us for movies. Lay and I went to watch Capote last night. The 7:30 show was sold out by the time we arrived, so we came back for the 10:30 show. There were only about a dozen people in that show. The movie is currently showing at only one theater in Tampa and one in St. Petersburg. I really liked the film, but Lay thought it sucked.

The film is certainly stark, and Lay thought it moved slowly. I thought it moved deliberately and with intensity.

The direction by the relatively unknown Bennett Miller is personal, evocative and affecting, but without being over-dramatic. This is helped immensely by Philip Seymour Hoffmann’s incredible performance as Capote, as well as solid acting from Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., and Chris Cooper. Cooper plays K.B.I. Agent Alvin Dewey. His portrayal is intense, but not over-done.

The cinematography by Adam Kimmel is suitably gray and moody, with many evocative views of the flat Kansas plains, but most of the screen time is spent with the camera focused on Hoffmann – all of it time well spent. The film focuses on Capote’s research on the book “In Cold Blood” and the personal journey that his relationship and identification with killer Perry Smith became (Capote says at one point that it was like they grew up in the same house, and he went out the front door while Perry went out the back), a compelling and complicated relationship that this uncompromising film presents in moving detail. I picked up on this, along with some other comments, that seemed to show how Capote like to make things all about himself, and how he fancied that he’d had some terrible life experiences.

After exploding to meteoric fame with his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Capote became the New York caf? society’s darling, quite the gay-man-child-bon-vivant. He drank and held court with the best of New York, which just also happened to be the nexus of television in the early 60s. Before long Capote was the quintessential modern celebrity, famous for being famous. And he did it all before our eyes.

Philip Seymour Hoffman does not so much play Capote as become him. And not just in mannerism, no mean feat, but in personality, because we are convinced that Hoffman feels what Capote felt, cries over the lies, accepts his moral failings. For a short story writer-raconteur from New Orleans, Capote found himself at the center of a nationally enthralling multiple homicide, facing the ultimate journalist’s Faustian dilemma: if he perpetrates a lie for the sake of exposing the truth, is he ever worthy of redemption. Capote, in the end, concluded that he wasn’t; he never wrote another book. He descended into drunkenness and died a lonely soul. This is not the stuff of Holly Golightly.

While I haven’t read the biography by Gerald Clarke on which it’s based, the script seems to hit enough salient details to evoke Capote’s frame of mind, without inundating the audience with more than would fit in a feature-length film. I suppose one of my only complaints about the film would be that at times the conversations take on a sheen of Hollywood, saying things for dramatic impact that perhaps might not have been said in real life. But then again, I never met Capote, so who knows for sure.

All in all, this was a deeply engrossing film, and one I would highly recommend, especially if you’re a fan of Truman Capote.

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October Sky

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Mar 132005
 

October Sky (1999)The true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner’s son who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to take up rocketry against his father’s wishes.

Directed by
Joe Johnston

Genres
Biography, Drama, Family

Cast
Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg, Natalie Canerday, Scott Miles, Randy Stripling, Chris Ellis, Elya Baskin, Courtney Cole-Fendley, David Dwyer, Terry Loughlin, Kailie Hollister

“October Sky” is a film that will steal your heart, fill your mind with vivid imagery, and lift your spirit. The tale of Homer Hickham and his dream of creating a rocket seem so simple at first, especially when the film is set in a mining town, where the future is as clear cut as the lumps of coal in the mine. But Homer cannot follow in his father’s footsteps. With the encouragement of Miss Riley,(a friendly teacher), members of his father’s staff, and his friends, Homer attempts to make his dream a reality.

Yet as in any true to life story, there are many stops along the way. Director Joe Johnston lowers us into the coal mines, where we witness the chilling plight of miners stooped beneath a ceiling of rock. With lit helmets and bent posture, they resembled alien insectoids more than humans in the darkness. The hacking coughs of the miners and the blackened faces were a constant reminder of the danger the miners faced in their work.

Contrasting the mine shaft’s lugubrious load are the images of Homer and his friend’s rocket launches. Underneath the blue bowl of sky, rockets are placed upon a pad and launched into the stratosphere…And nothing can match the scene when Homer sees Sputnik for the first time.

Yet what makes the film so endearing is the relationship between the characters. Homer’s father is a classic hardened man…but he has a soft side as well. We see that he does love his son, despite their many arguments. The love and support of Miss Riley is evident as well. Best of all, the film is uncomfortable. It doesn’t tie everything up in a nice bow. It tears at you, lifts you up. It keeps an air of reality, which is important in a film like this.

This film can be considered a complete work. At first, I was disappointed that the film did not continue with Homer’s life. I didn’t want it to end. Then I realized…that’s what a good film does to a person. If it has done its job, you won’t want it to end. And “October Sky” accomplishes just that.

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