12 Angry Men
The Bridge on the River Kwai (winner)
Witness for the Prosecution
I don’t like country music as a rule. More specifically, I don’t like the modern brand of “I have a pickup truck and my woman left me, but God bless America” country music. That said, Johnny Cash was pretty damn awesome. Like his music or not, the guy wrote some pretty damn good songs. I happen to be a big fan of Warren Zevon, and Zevon had the same songwriting style in a lot of ways. My appreciation for Saint Warren is the most likely reason that I appreciate Johnny Cash. So I was happy to revisit Walk the Line today.
This is, more or less, the story of the most interesting and tumultuous years of Johnny Cash’s life. We start just before Cash’s legendary performance at Folsom Prison. A table saw in the workshop sends Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) into a revere that will last us for most of the film. We flash back to his childhood and the death of his brother as well as the difficult relationship he has with his father. We jump forward to Cash joining the army and buying himself a guitar in Germany. Jump ahead a few more years and Johnny Cash is working as a salesman and is married to his first wife, Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin).
The idea of star-crossed lovers has always had a great deal of appeal. Say what you will about the sighing and mooning over each other, if you can make that plot believable, you’ve got a built in audience. The Divine Lady adds a historical element to the idea of lovers separated by circumstance, telling the story of one of England’s greatest military heroes. The war takes a back seat to the romance, though.
Emma Hart (Corinne Griffith) is the dissolute daughter of Mrs. Hard (Marie Dressler), recently hired as the cook for an English noble named Charles Greville (Ian Keith). Greville is scandalized by Emma’s evident sauciness and refuses to let her in his house. Despite her wantonness, Greville relents when she promises that she will work for him and attempt to learn to behave in a more proper and fitting manner.
A lot of animated features take a great deal of liberty with how they depict reality, but few take as many liberties as The Croods. That’s not always a bad thing, but I do have to wonder why the creators of this film decided to take so much liberty with the reality of the animal kingdom. It seems completely unnecessary. I get the point of the modern references in a film about cavemen, but the flora and fauna of this world are like a human prehistory viewed through the lens of psilocybin mushrooms.
So we have the Croods, a family of cave people who live in an isolated spot that gets very little daylight since they are in the bottom of a narrow canyon. They are led by the father figure Grug (Nicolas Cage) and Ugga (Catherine Keener). Their children are oldest child Eep (Emma Stone), middle child Thunk (Clark Duke), and feral infant Sandy (Randy Thom). Also with the family is Ugga’s mother Gran (Cloris Leachman). Most of the family is scared of everything, coming out of the cave only to hunt for food for a few minutes a day before retreating to the safety and darkness of the cave. Eep, though, wants something more than just life in a cave and being scared of everything.
Hyper-religious movies were a lot more popular back in the day than they are now. They were also quite a bit more theologically interesting than the current religious films as well. I don’t have a great deal of interest in modern religious cinema because so much of it seems geared toward people who aren’t very knowledgeable about their own faith. Older films, while just as prone to piling on the Jesus, tended to at least be smarter about it. A case in point is The Keys of the Kingdom, which also happens to be Gregory Peck’s breakout role.
It doesn’t take more than a minute or two to realize that this film is going to be the story of the life of a priest. We meet that priest, Father Francis Chisholm (Gregory Peck) in something close to his dotage at a small church in Scotland. Chisholm, we soon learn, has always been something of a rebel in the church, making statements that seem radically un-churchlike and bordering even on the blasphemous. The church has sent a local monsignor (Cedric Hardwicke) to more or less force Father Chisholm to retire, thinking that that would be better for the church as a whole.
Sometimes, you just know you’re signing yourself up for a movie that’s going to make you want to sit in a dark room for a couple of hours. I knew The Messenger would at least be that in part. When your main character is a military veteran assigned to tell people about the death of a loved one in combat, there are going to be scenes that are ugly and painful and filled with the kind of thing that makes you wonder why the hell wars happen in the first place. For all that, The Messenger is not really an anti-war film, although there are certainly elements of that.
Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) has been wounded in Iraq and, having seen enough combat time, has been returned to the United States with a few months left on his tour. Rather than send him back into combat, he is given duties stateside including being assigned as a casualty notification officer. His job is, whenever called, to inform the next of kin of a soldier slain in the line of duty. He is specifically assigned to work with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a recovering alcoholic who has been working in casualty notification for too long.
My fears were unfounded. This is a very good movie, and a very good version of the basic story. This is also one of those rare instances where I have read the source material. I find it very interesting that in both the original film and in this first remake, the filmmakers have opted for a much more downbeat ending than the book on which the story is based. There are a number of differences here from the original story and original screen version, but this is smart enough to hit the same emotional beats and the same plot points and important moments.