This week: Walk the Line, Grizzly Man and Derailed plus the week's film news and gossip.
The first two month's of 2006 have seen almost an embarrassment of riches as far as cinematic offerings are concerned... and it's pissing us off. When are we supposed to find the time to go and see all these supposedly 'unmissable' films exactly? We have a website to update you know!
Anyway, ther'es another two outstanding releases this week, and the first one is Walk the Line, James Mangold's biopic of Johnny Cash, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.
Now we remember, way way back in the mists of internet time, reporting on the casting for Walk the Line in a Friday Film News of old. At the time, the names Phoenix and Witherspoon didn't really fit with our expectations (in fact, they sounded like a particularly grotty chain pub, but maybe that's just us).
Of course, after seeing the trailer we were immediately convinced. And judging by the reaction of the broadsheet reviewers the complete film is not a disappointment.
The film gets its worst mark in the Independent at the hands of Anthony Quinn, where it's awarded three stars.
Quinn kicks off his review by congratulating Phoenix on his masterful depiction of the legendary singer:
It's not the look, exactly, though Phoenix's brooding, dark-browed handsomeness is a terrific match for Cash; what clinches it is the ghostly, not-quite-tuneful basso profundo singing that seems to have risen from the bottom of a well, or maybe the bottom of a grave. It's a mesmerising performance, and thoroughly deserves the awards that are coming its way.
But the praises don't last long: "If only one could say the same of the film, which, stirring as its musical interludes are, doesn't really investigate its subject in an interesting way."
Quinn cites last year's Ray which had a similarly outstanding lead performance, but fell down because it treated its subject with a little too much leniency.
Walk the Line's mistake, as far as Quinn's concerned, is not exploring the "conflict in [Cash] between the God-fearing man and the roustabout," but then seeking to redeem him anyway.
The film manages to pull it off though, says Quinn, thanks to Witherpoon's performance...with that infamous protruding chin coming in for special mention:
As June Carter, Witherspoon has to walk a fairly tricky line herself, between the public front of Southern charm and the private misery of two broken marriages. She does it brilliantly, her face dividing the load: the eyes are all liquid sweetness, while that pointy chin challenges like a drawn dagger. It's exactly the kind of role that could have been sentimentalised, but Witherspoon's expressive mobility makes of Carter a rounded, complex human being.
Is there an Oscar category for 'Best Chin'? There needs to be.
In the end though Quinn just can't get away from the "made-for-TV" whiff that he believes each and every biopic gives off and no amount of excellent performances can disguise.
That old softy Peter 'bundle of joy' Bradshaw, is a little more forgiving with his four star review in today's Guardian.
"You'd need a heart of stone not to love it," says Pete, and even though the same comparisons are made with Ray, Bradshaw insists that Walk the Line is better because of the love affair at the centre of the story: "Ray...didn't have anything to match the equal-status love affair of Cash and country singer June Carter, though...Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon also do a very impressive job of singing all the songs."
It's Witherspoon's movie though, insists Peter and...uh oh, here comes that chin again:
Witherspoon has one of the most extraordinary faces in the cinema, with an effortless mile-wide grin to match and eclipse Julia Roberts or Hillary Clinton. Her shovel-sharp chin and candid eyes are positioned in a face that is almost hyperreal in its clarity and intensity. It is as eloquently drawn as a cartoon.
We're looking forward to the tears dripping off the end off that 'shovel-sharp chin' during an over-emotional acceptance speech next month.
Our personal theory though is that Bradshaw awards one more star than Quinn simply because he liked the music. "You'd need...toes of stone not to tap along to the music's driving force," P.B. claims before concluding that he too wants to see Witherspoon make a 'twangy' acceptance speech,"Or at the very least sing one of the songs."
It's another four stars from James Christopher in The Times, and once again we're told that it's the central performances that allow this film to hang together. Phoenix gives a "fantastic performance," and gives "flesh and blood to the singer’s childhood griefs. He is the reason why this occasionally clunky film has such a remarkable grip."
Meanwhile Witherspoon "is a sensation as June" although there's no mention of her chin. Surely an oversight on Christopher's part.
James concludes by stating that "This is not a rose-tinted homage by any stretch of the imagination," although after reading the other reviews we're left with the impression that he might be protesting just a smidgen too much. We'll definitely be buying a ticket though. Even if it's just for the songs.
And now for something completely different....bears to be exact.
Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man has been on every film and documentary fan's radar for quite some time now and you can see why after reading this week's unanimously evangelical reviews.
Four stars says Wendy Ide in The Times, "Unlike any other film you’ll see...a fascinating, grimly funny film."
Chances are you know what this film is about already and if you don't then maybe you want to keep it that way, so we're not going to reveal anything here. Suffice to say all this week's reviewers do give quite a bit away, but in their defence it would be difficult not to in this particular case.
Herzog himself looms quite large in the movie though, and this is a plus as far as Ide is concerned, and is what turns this into "a remarkable film [that] explores one of Herzog’s favourite themes — obsession bordering on insanity — as effectively and compellingly as any movie in his career."
It is poignant, it is beautiful, and it is absolutely hilarious," says Bradshaw in his own four star review of Grizzly Man.
There are "sublime, dramatic shots of the bears," which serve to compliment the more disturbing footage of the "mad and posturing rants" delivered by the film's subject: Timothy Treadwell.
Bradshaw also calls Treadwell "a reality TV natural who never got his own show," and credits his persona as key to the film's brilliance:
It is a superb documentary, because Treadwell has not been coerced or set up; he was enough of an amateur to be relaxed and unselfconscious, yet enough of a professional to generate all this outstanding footage, and quite rightly Herzog declines to patronise or make fun of him.
Grizzly Man completes it's hat trick of four star reviews in the Indpendent, where Tony Q kicks things off with:
Remember Johnny Morris and Animal Magic? Well, this isn't anything like it.
Again we're told very simply that Herzog's "precise Germanic voiceover, makes a counterpoint to Treadwell's fey backwoods romanticism," and "At times this opposition nudges close towards the impish spirit of mockumentary," but other than that it seems that Herzog's ability to edit down hundred of hours of footage to the most revealing and incredible components has been his most impressive feat, and it's Treadwell who provides the rest of the ingredients which go to make this movie so compulsive and memorable.
So after all that praise and glory let's move on to Jennifer Aniston (someone has to!).
Derailed, costarring Clive 'two expressions' Owen, is supposed to be Aniston's big, serious break into the move business. But unfortunately it's a stinker.
It says a lot when your best review is a two-starrer in the Independent penned by Anthony Quinn and even he admits that "This is the kind of trapdoor thriller whose contrivances you may ridicule a couple of hours later but secretly quite enjoy at the time."
The other reviewers are far less generous though. Peter Bradshaw's solitary star accompanies adjectives like "heavy-handed" and "charmless" before he gets all imaginative by describing the film's twist as something that "lashes like the tail of a brontosaurus."
Finally, in The Times, despite awarding another two stars Wendy Ide is just as scathing: "a leaden suspense picture that borrows heavily from other, better thrillers," is her summation of a "pulpy thriller" which telegraphs its twist from the outset.
In film news this week:
It looks like Virginia Madsen is now the frontrunner to play the love interest in the fourth Indiana Jones adventure...whenever it gets made.
We can't explain just how excited we are about Jack Black's Mexican wrestler film now we've seen these pictures.
The first pics of Daniel Craig as Bond have made there way on to the web.
And it looks like Morgan Freeman will play Duke Ellington. Makes a change from all that voiceover work eh Morgan?
Trailer of the week: well it's billed as Bring It On with gymnasts, so how could we say no? It has to be Stick It. It has Jeff Bridges, it has matching tracksuits, it has hair pulling. What's not to love?