Walk the Line

Walk the Line (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. James Mangold
viewed: 11/23/05 at Loews Metreon Theatres, SF, CA

It’s movies like this that make me realize that I could never be a newspaper or otherwise widely read critic of films, reviewer of films for the mass of the world. Films like this, whose main driver are the notable performances by the actors, aren’t usually good enough films on their own to be very compelling. This is a gross generality, but one that tends to be pretty accurate in my estimation. Sadly, the films that I would cite here are mostly films that I haven’t bothered to go see, stuff that usually wins people their best-actor/actress Oscars, rather than makes a lasting impression as cinematic fun or art. You can probably go back through the last several years of Oscar winners to find a multitude of examples.

So why did I see this film if I anticipated finding it so lackluster? Well, the pickings at the cinema are slim and I felt like going to a movie for one. Secondly, it’s Johnny Cash, and I am more willing to bear with a story in whose subject matter I find a little more interesting. It’s Johnny Cash, you see.

This time of year, these types of films come out in a glut. It’s this whole Oscar-related hoopla and nonsense. It’s all a significant form of Hollywood marketing, tapping into viewers’ sense of what is “good quality” acting, directing, and film-making. People like being told what is “good”, and it probably appeals to one’s sense of appreciation. I mean, no one in Cinema Studies would put an ounce of credit to the awards or the types of films that are made to try and appeal to this marketing base (though it might be an interesting study). I had a friend who noted while discussing the rare occasion that the Oscars truly annointed some genuinely deserving film that “Even a blind chicken gets a peck of corn every once in a while.

But there is this type of film that is very color-by-numbers and it appeals heavily to the most mainstream of Hollywood actors because it offers a “juicy role” which can very well be translated into a good shot at an Oscar nomination. Again, it’s all about marketing oneself, as well. Like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Why do you think that Tom Cruise makes weird actorly films every once in a blue moon between blockbuster after blockbuster of popular junk? He wants that accreditation just as much as Jamie Foxx or Joaquin Phoenix.

I mean, I am hardly one to really criticize the Hollywood machine. I actually enjoy some of its output. I am not an art-cinema purist, shunning all Hollywood offerings and only watching edgy or cult cinema. But at the same time, I have my preferences and tastes. And as much as I am hardly aligned with the outside, I am also not so aligned with the mainstream. And this is why I can’t imagine that I would be successful writing my opinions for an audience looking for a recommendation. That is why I write here, in obscurity, for only people who might care what I personally think, can bother reading, which is about no one.

So, for my no one readers, I would say that Walk the Line was entertaining enough. I like all the Johnny Cash music throughout, though as resung by Joaquin Phoenix, it isn’t quite the same. He can hit those barritone notes from time to time but lacks the gravitas that is no doubt utterly unique to the original. I mean, if he was so easy to imitate, he probably wouldn’t be so notable. Reese Witherspoon comes out a little better. I never expect much from her, I guess.

The film really feels very color-by-numbers, walking through plot point by plot point, some scenes feel just predictable. It’s like I have seen this film before, and I am not overly familiar with the narrative, the actual narrative. It just feels like I am.

March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Luc Jacquet
viewed: 11/28/2005

It’s that penguin movie that everyone was talking about for so long. I never got around to seeing it in the theaters, which in a way is good because I was going to take my four year old son to see it and I think it would have been too slow for him.

It’s beautifully filmed and quite compelling, in its own way. The lives of Antartica’s emperor penguins is tough and fascinating. Actually, I thought that their lives were amazingly boring. They huddle around in a mass in the bitter depth of Antartican winter not eating or doing much but waddling about for months at a time. It’s not a good life being a mating emperor penguin.

The film is good, but not great. The Morgan Freeman voiceover narration highly anthropomorphizes the animals, which has its benefits and its downsides. I mean, it’s cute the way that the mating pairs lean together and one can easily project a humanized image of love on the figures, but isn’t it a bit much to presume that? Certainly the film doesn’t try to argue the fact that the animals feel emotion. They do mate for the year in a very dedicated fashion, but once they lose an egg, it’s pretty much all over. Not to say it isn’t perhaps one of the most human things of all to anthropomorphize. But then again, that is the human element of this film.

It’s certainly worth seeing, and it is interesting, but it’s ultimately no great piece of cinema.

The Interpreter

The Interpreter (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Sydney Pollack
viewed: 11/19/2005

The Interpreter is a political thriller with two of the more interesting Hollywood stars, Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman, in the leading roles. Penn doesn’t do a whole lot of acting and is usually quite compelling, not typically selecting garbage in which to appear. Kidman is in lots of stuff from interesting and great to pedestrian and probably pretty awful (I never did see Bewitched (2005), but it doesn’t sound good.) This film got a lot of decent critical reviews, and while it wouldn’t have made it to the top of my queue to watch, it was a quick grab at the video store for the night.

Eh.

It’s not bad. It’s not great. Kidman and Penn solidify what is actually a pretty standard thriller, really nothing to write home about.

Primer

Primer (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Shane Carruth
viewed: 11/18/2005

Pretty interesting little indie sci-fi flick made on the cheap. Its cleverness and inventiveness is almost done in in the latter part of the film where narrative elipses gape wide open to the point where it’s virtually impossible to follow what is going on. It’s a little Memento (2000)-esque, or tries to be, wherein the narrative complexity is supposed to make the viewer “think” or re-watch the film to gain greater understanding of the narrative. In this case, however, it’s really that director/writer/star Shane Carruth is simply not giving all of the narrative points away and mixing more elements of narrative complexity with the multiple versions of the characters and versions of reality as the characters go back in time over and again to the point that it’s hard to know where one is at. There is a clever complexity inside the story, but the film tries to make it more difficult to understand seemingly just for the sake of it. Frankly, it’s a bit frustrating.

That said, it has enough qualities and is compellingly interesting enough to merit quite a bit on its own. I would almost say that it succeeds despite its ending, though it is definitely diminished by what is ultimately a narrative style approach rather than anything else. An worthwhile effort, it will be interesting to see what Carruth does next.

Serenity

Serenity (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Joss Whedon
viewed: 11/05/05 at Loews Metreon Theatres, SF, CA

I felt like watching something fairly mindless and action-y. It was Saturday afternoon and I had the freedom to go see whatever tickled my fancy. I made a bad decision.

This movie is awful, even by made-for-television standards, which it seemed to have a hard time to uphold. I can honestly say that I didn’t think it had a redeeming characteristic at all. It was boring, which is in many ways the worst crime that a movie can commit.

I never saw the show that this was adapted from, nor did I ever watch director Joss Whedon’s other claim to fame, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV series. I know of its cult standing and have often wondered about all the hubbub. If this film is any indication, it seems that the quality levels are still quite on the low side.

The whole prodcution stunk. I mean, it was low-budget, which I hold against nothing, but the script and the acting were blah and occasionally laughable. The characters were silly and unbelievable. Even the cinematography seemed cheaply produced and cheesy.

It was one of those films in which I am sitting that I get the bad feeling at the very beginning, a tip-off that this is going to be bad. And when one realizes that early on, it’s…ah forget it. I am embarrassed to have seen it.

I should have gone to see Doom or Saw II or something.

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Steve Box, Nick Park
viewed: 10/15/05 at Loews Metreon Theatres, SF, CA

Nick Park’s work is always fun, and this film is no exception. I took my son Felix to see it. He’s four and I thought he would be pretty into it. I think he found it a bit frightening, which he is a little prone to. He’s much more into Gumby at the moment, which is a little more his speed.

I have an affinity for lots of kid-oriented material, from animation to other themed content, fairy tales, children’s books, you name it. It’s kind of interesting introducing Felix to a lot of that stuff and seeing how he reacts to it. I see from web postings that a lot of parents see movies through their children’s perspective and react negatively or positively to things depending on what their kids thought.

For me, I have my own reactions, but it certainly is changed, my perspective, when I am watching with him. I notice different details and am sensitive to his responses, checking on the look on his face off and on throughout the film. I know that as he gets older and is perhaps less impressionable, I would be less apt to be concerned, but I do feel pretty tuned into it. It’s an interesting experience.