This is a case where I like the song more than the music video. This video was actually filmed three years after Johnny Cash’s death. As far as “official” music videos are concerned, I always feel like a musician should have some sort of say into how their music is visually interpreted. Obviously, Johnny Cash wasn’t around to have anything to say about the video for God’s Gonna Cut You Down.
Since Cash wasn’t available, director Tony Kaye filled the video with cameos from other actors and musicians, a few of whom (though not many) were previous Cash collaborators. Among the celebs who make an appearance in this video: David Allan Coe, Patricia Arquette, Travis Barker, Peter Blake, Bono, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Depp, the Dixie Chicks, Flea, Billy Gibbons, Whoopi Goldberg, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Hopper, Terrence Howard, Jay-Z, Mick Jones, Kid Rock, Anthony Kiedis, Kris Kristofferson, Amy Lee, Adam Levine, Shelby Lynne, Chris Martin, Kate Moss, Graham Nash, Busy Philipps, Iggy Pop, Lisa Marie Presley, Q-Tip, Corinne Bailey Rae, Keith Richards, Chris Rock, Rick Rubin, Patti Smith, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Brian Wilson, and Owen Wilson. Some of the celebs — like Dennis Hopper and Kris Kristofferson — seem like they naturally belong there. Others seem so out-of-place that you’ll want to throw something. You know how that works,
God’s Gonna Cut You Down is a traditional folk song. I’ve heard countless versions of it. I prefer Cash’s version to the more traditional gospel arrangement but, then again, I tend to find gospel music to be dull in general. Cash’s arrangement brought new life to an old song.
Actually, Stallone plays Johnny Kovak, a laborer who becomes a union organizer in 1939. Working with him is his best friend, Abe Belkin (David Huffman). In the fight for the working man, Abe refuses to compromise to either the bosses or the gangsters who want a piece of union. Johnny is more pragmatic and willing to make deals with ruthless mobsters like Vince Doyle (Kevin Conway) and Babe Milano (Tony Lo Bianco). Over thirty years, both Johnny and Abe marry and start families. Both become powerful in the union. When Johnny discovers that union official Max Graham (Peter Boyle) is embezzling funds, Johnny challenges him for the presidency. When a powerful U.S. senator (Rod Steiger) launches an investigation into F.I.S.T. corruption, both Johnny and Abe end up marked for death.
Obviously based on the life and mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, F.I.S.T. was one of two films that Stallone made immediately after the surprise success of Rocky. (The other was Paradise Alley.) F.I.S.T. features Stallone in one of his most serious roles and the results are mixed. In the film’s quieter scenes, especially during the first half, Stallone is surprisingly convincing as the idealistic and morally conflicted Kovak. Stallone is less convincing when Kovak has to give speeches. If F.I.S.T. were made today, Stallone could probably pull off the scenes of the aged, compromised Johnny but in 1978, he was not yet strong enough as an actor. Far better is the rest of the cast, especially Conway, Lo Bianco, and Boyle. If you do see F.I.S.T., keep an eye on the actor playing Johnny’s son. Though he was credited as Cole Dammett, he grew up to be Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The box office failures of both F.I.S.T. and Paradise Alley led Stallone back to his most famous role with Rocky II. And the rest is history.
Jack Hammond (Charlie Sheen) was just an innocent clown who worked birthday parties. Then he was mistaken for an outlaw clown and was accused of a crime that he did not commit. When police incompetence led to the only piece of evidence that could exonerate him being tossed out of court, Jack had no choice but to go on the run. Now, he’s in a stolen car, being pursued by not just the cops but also the tabloid media, and he’s got a hostage. Natalie Voss (Kristy Swanson) turns out to be a willing hostage, though. She is the daughter of Dalton Voss (Ray Wise, playing a character who is literally described as being “the Donald Trump of California) and what better way to act out against her father than to fall in love with her kidnapper and help him as he tries to reach the Mexican border?
A good Charlie Sheen movie that was not directed by Oliver Stone or John Milius?
It’s a Christmas miracle!
Actually, it may be misleading to say that The Chase is good.. By most of the standards used to judge whether or not a film qualifies as being good, The Chase fails. There’s no real character development. The plot is as simplistic as a plot can be. A good deal of the movie could be correctly described as stupid. But The Chase has got to be one of the most entertainingly stupid movies ever made. It is about as basic an action comedy as has ever been made. Almost the entire movie takes place on highway, with jokes mixed in with spectacular car crashes and only-in-the-90s cameos from Flea, Anthony Kiedis, and Ron Jeremy. The pace never lets up, Kristy Swanson again shows that she deserved a better film career than she got, and Henry Rollins plays a cop. As for Charlie Sheen, he basically plays the same character that he always plays but at least, when The Chase was made, he was still putting a little effort into it. Maybe because they had already previously worked together in Hot Shots!, Sheen and Swanson have an easy rapport and make even the worse jokes sound passably funny.
You’re watching a movie called Song to Song. It’s about beautiful people in a beautiful city.
In this case, the city is Austin, Texas. The people are all involved in the Austin music scene and they’re played by actors like Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, and Cate Blanchett. A good deal of Song to Song was filmed at the Austin City Limits festival and several real-life musicians appear as themselves, though only Patti Smith is on screen long enough to make much of an impression. To be honest, both the music and Austin are almost incidental to the film. Though the movie was sold as an Austin film and it premiered at SXSW, it could have just as easily taken place in Ft. Worth.
The film is made up of short, deliberately obscure shots. The camera never stops moving, floating over images of sunsets, sunrises, and oddly empty streets. Because the film was shot with a wide-angle lens, you’re never not aware of the expanse around the characters. At times, all of those beautiful film stars run the risk of become specks on the landscape, as if the film itself is taunting the characters for thinking that they are more important than nature.
Who are the characters? It’s not always easy to say. There are plenty of voice overs but it’s rare that anyone directly states what they’re thinking or who they are. When the characters speak to each other, they mumble. The dialogue is a mix of the banal and the portentous, a sure sign of a film that was largely shot without a script. Eventually, you turn on the captioning so that you can at least understand what everyone’s muttering.
Michael Fassbender plays Cook. Cook appears to be a music producer but he could just as easily be a businessman who enjoys hanging out with and manipulating aspiring stars. People seem to know him but nobody seems to be particularly impressed by him. Cook spends a lot of time standing in front of a pool. Is it his pool? Is it his house? It’s hard to say. Cook is obsessed with control or maybe he isn’t. Halfway through the film, Fassbender appears to turn into his character from Shame.
Ryan Gosling is BV. BV appears to be a lyricist, though it’s never made clear what type of songs that he writes. At one point, you think someone said that he had written a country song but you may have misheard. BV appears to have an estranged relationship with his dying father. BV may be a romantic or he may not. He seems to fall in love easily but he spends just as much time staring at the sky soulfully and suggesting that he has a hard time with commitment. BV appears to be Cook’s best friend but sometimes, he isn’t. There’s a random scene where BV accuses Cook of cheating him. It’s never brought up again.
Rooney Mara is Faye. Faye contributes most of the voice overs and yet, oddly, you’re never sure who exactly she is. She appears to be BV’s girlfriend and sometimes, she appears to be Cook’s girlfriend. Sometimes, she’s in love and then, just as abruptly, she’s not. She may be a singer or she may be a songwriter. At one point, she appears to be interviewing Patty Smith so maybe she’s a music journalist. The film is centered around her but it never makes clear who she is.
Natalie Portman is Rhonda. Rhonda was a teacher but now she’s a waitress. She might be religious or she might not. She might be married to Cook or she might not. Her mother (Holly Hunter) might be dying or she might not.
And there are other beautful people as well. Cate Blanchett plays a character named Amanda. Amanda has a relationship with one of the characters and then vanishes after four scenes. There’s an intriguing sadness to Blanchett’s performance. Since the first cut of Song to Song was 8 hours long, you can assume her backstory was left on the cutting room floor. (And yet strangely, it works that we never know much about who Amanda is.) Lykke Li shows up, presumably playing herself but maybe not. Berenice Marlohe and Val Kilmer also have small roles, wandering in and out of the character’s lives.
There’s a lot of wandering in this movie. The characters wander through their life, stopping only to kiss each other, caress each other, and occasionally stare soulfully into the distance. The camera seems to wander from scene to scene, stopping to occasionally focus on random details. Even the film’s timeline seems to wander, as you find yourself looking at Rooney Mara’s forever changing hair and using it as a roadmap in your attempt to understand the film’s story.
“I went through a period when I thought sex had to be violent,” Rooney Mara’s voice over breathlessly explains, “We thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.”
As you watch Song to Song, you find yourself both intrigued and annoyed. This is a Terrence Malick film, after all. You love movies so, of course, you love Malick. Even if his recent films have been flawed and self-indulgent, he is a true original. You want to support him because he’s an artist but, as you watch Song to Song, the emphasis really does seem to be on self-indulgence. The images are beautiful but the characters are so empty and the voice overs are so incredibly pretentious. Should you be mad or should you be thankful that, in this time of cinematic blandness, there’s a director still willing to follow his own vision?
At times, Song to Song is brilliant. There are images in Song to Song that are as beautiful as any that Malick has ever captured. Sometimes, both the images and the characters are almost too beautiful. The music business is tough and dirty but all of the images in Song to Song are clean and vibrant.
At times, Song to Song is incredibly annoying. It’s hard not to suspect that the film would have worked better if Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara had switched roles. Mara can be an outstanding actress with the right director (just check out her performance in Carol) but, in Song to Song, her natural blandness makes it difficult to take her seriously as whoever she’s supposed to be. Portman has much less screen time and yet creates an unforgettable character. Mara is in 75% of the film and yet never seems like an active participant.
At times, the film is annoyingly brilliant. Malick’s self-indulgence can drive you mad while still leaving you impressed by his commitment to his vision.
And then, other times, the film is brilliantly annoying. Many directors have mixed overly pretty images with pretentious voice overs but few do so with the panache of Terrence Malick.
Even fans of Terrence Malick, of which I certainly am one, will probably find Song to Song to be his weakest film. Even compared to films like To The Wonder and Knight of Cups, Song to Song is a slow movie and there are moments that come dangerously close to self-parody. Unlike Tree of Life, where everything eventually came together in enigmatic poignance, Song to Song often feels like less than the sum of its parts. And yet, I can’t totally dismiss anything made by Terrence Malick. Song to Song may be empty but it’s oh so pretty.