Music Video Of The Day: God’s Gonna Cut You Down (2006, dir by Tony Kaye)


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.

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #193: The O.J. Simpson Story (1995, directed by Alan Smithee)


Long before O.J.: Made In America

Before The People vs. O.J. Simpson

Before American Tragedy

Before today’s live, televised parole hearing…

There was The O.J. Simpson Story.

In 1994, shortly after O.J. Simpson was charged with the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, Fox rushed The O.J. Simpson Story into production.  It was one of many “true life” stories that showed up as television movies during the 90s.  There was a movie about Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s divorce.  There was a movie about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, which actually aired while the siege in Waco was still ongoing.  There were three movies about Amy Fisher.  So, of course, O.J. would get a movie.

Though the movie was produced in 1994, it was not allowed to air in 1995 so that it would not prejudice any of the jurors in the case.  (After all, they might have done something crazy like ignore all of the DNA evidence and let O.J. go free.)  I think the legal authorities may have been giving The O.J. Simpson Story too much credit.  There were many bad made-for-TV movies made in the 90s but The O.J. Simpson Story may very well be the worst.  The only thing it could prejudice some against is television.

Opening with the discovery of the murders in Brentwood, The O.J. Simpson Story mixes scenes of O.J. (played by Bobby Hosea, who shows not a hint of O.J.s famous charisma) talking to the police and his lawyer, Bob Shapiro (Bruce Weitz, slightly more credible than John Travolta was in The People vs. O.J. Simpson) with flashbacks to O.J.’s youth, first marriage, and his relationship with Nicole (blandly played by Jessica Tuck, who, beyond the color of her hair, looked nothing like Nicole).  The film also devotes some time to O.J.’s friendship with A.C. Cowlings, who, as a young man, is played by Terrence Howard.

Several of the famous incidents of the case are wanly recreated.  The famous bronco chase is there, of course.  O.J. is shown beating Nicole in the infamous 1989 incident, which the movie suggests was triggered by Nicole telling O.J. that he would never win an Oscar for appearing in The Naked Gun.  But, since the movie was rushed into production before the trial even began, it is remarkable how much is left out.  There’s no Mark Furhman finding the black glove.  There’s no Kate Kaelin, Faye Resnick, Johnnie Cochran, or even Marcia Clark.  Because the movie was made before the trial had even begun, it does not even take a stand on whether or not O.J.’s guilty.  Narratively, it is an incomplete movie and evidence of why movies that claim to tell true stories should not be rushed into production before the story itself has been completed.

As for the film’s dialogue, when O.J. first meets Nicole, he asks her, “Any problem with going out with a brother?”

“Yeah,” Nicole says with a smile, “I’m in the Ku Klux Klan.”

Not surprisingly, The O.J. Simpson Story was directed by Alan Smithee, which was the pseudonym used by directors who felt that their movie has been so butchered by outside interference that they should not even be credited with the final result.  The O.J. Simpson Story is one of the worst Smithee films that I have ever seen.  Compared to The O.J. Simpson Story, Smithee’s work on Let’s Get Harry was Oscar-worthy.

As for the real life O.J. Simpson, earlier today, he was granted parole from the Nevada Parole Board.  He will be released from prison on October 1st.  He has said that he hope to be allowed to move to Florida after being released.  The real-life O.J. Simpson story continues.

When it comes to the long saga of O.J. Simpson, it seems appropriate to give the last word to MAD Magazine:

A Movie A Day #16: Boycott (2001, directed by Clark Johnson)


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Originally made for HBO, Boycott is one of the best and, unfortunately, least-known films made about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Boycott tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, starting with the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to sit in the back of the bus to the eventual integration of the Montgomery public transportation system.  Clark Johnson directs Boycott in a semi-documentary, handheld style, which adds an immediacy to the oft-told story.

Boycott focuses on the role that 24 year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by Jeffrey Wright) played as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and how the boycott’s success turned King into a national figure.  Jeffrey Wright does a great job playing the young King and it’s interesting to watch as the initially uncertain King finds both his voice and his strength as a leader.  Boycott works as a good companion piece to Selma, not the least because Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King in both of them.

Also giving a noteworthy performances are Terrence Howard as King’s second-in-command, Ralph Abernathy and Erik Dellums in the role of Bayard Rustin, who was one of King’s closest confidants but, because he was gay, was often left outside of the movement’s inner circle.  Before they worked together on Boycott, Dellums, the son of former U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums, co-starred with Clark Johnson on Homicide: Life on the Street.

Boycott is a tribute to not just Martin Luther King but also the entire civil rights movement.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #36: Term Life (dir by Peter Billingsley)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Thursday, December 8th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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I recorded Term Life off one of the Starz channels on November 13th.

Vince Vaughn co-starred in two movies in 2016 and both of them were a little bit different from the fratty comedies for which he is best known.  One of the movies was Hacksaw Ridge, in which Vaughn was cast against type as a tough drill sergeant.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best films of the year and it features Vaughn’s best work since he appeared in 2007’s Into The Wild.  The other film was Term Life, which had a very limited released in April and is now popping up on cable.

In Term Life, Vaughn plays Nick Barrow.  Nick is a thief but he doesn’t actually steal anything.  Instead, he plots heists and then sells his plans to the highest bidder.  However, Nick has somehow managed to get in trouble with the mob, with a corrupt cop (Bill Paxton), and with … well, with everyone.  I say somehow because it wasn’t always clear why everyone was so obsessed with killing Nick.  They just were.

Knowing that his days are probably numbered, Nick takes out a life insurance policy on himself.  He names, as the sole beneficiary, his estranged daughter, Cate (Hailee Steinfeld).  With his reluctant daughter accompanying him, he goes on the run.  While Nick and Cate finally start to bond and repair their damaged relationship, the very bad men searching for Nick kill a lot of people.

So, this is a weird one.  At times, this film is a typical generation gap comedy, with Vaughn playing the former-cool-guy-turned-befuddled-dad who freaks out when he sees Cate’s bra hanging from a shower rod.  This part of the film is actually kinda likable.  Vaughn and Steinfeld are believable as father-and-daughter and their scenes together are sweet if predictable.

But then you’ve got the rest of the film, which is basically Bill Paxton brutally murdering people.  The violence comes on so strong that it feels totally out-of-place when mixed in with scenes of Nick and Cate bonding.  It’s such an abrupt tonal shift that it makes it impossible to get into the film.

Term Life has a cobbled together feel to it and it doesn’t help that it features the type of heavy-handed narration that feels as if it was added at the last minute in a desperate attempt to bring some sort of coherent structure to a messy film.  On the plus side, both Vaughn and Steinfeld are believable and you occasionally care about their father-daughter relationship.  On the negative side, likable characters keep dying.

In other words, see Hacksaw Ridge.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #108: The Brave One (dir by Neil Jordan)


Brave_one_2007For our next entry in Embracing the Melodrama Part II, we take a look at Jodie Foster in the 2007 film The Brave One.  And…

Well, how to put this delicately?

I hate hate hate hate HATE this movie, with every last fiber of my being.  I hated it the first time that I saw it and I hated it when I recently rewatched it and right now, I’m hating the fact that I even decided to review this damn film because it means that I’m going to have to think about it.  I’m going to try to get this review over with quickly because, with each minute that I think about this film, I doubt my commitment to cinema.  That’s how much I hate this movie.  If I’m not careful, I’m going to end up joining a nunnery before I finish this review…

So, in The Brave One, Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain.  Erica lives in New York and hosts one of those pretentious late night radio shows that are always popular in movies like this but which, in real life, nobody in their right mind would waste a second listening to.  Erica spends her time musing about life in the big city and hoping that we can all just love one another and expressing a lot of other thoughts that sound like they’ve been stolen from an automated twitter account.

Erica also has a boyfriend.  His name is David and he’s played by Naveen Andrews.  That means that he looks good and he has a sexy accent and when he first shows up, you hope that he’ll stick around for a while because otherwise, you’re going to have to listen to move of Erica’s radio monologues.  But nope — one night, while walking through Central Park, David and Erica are attacked.  David is killed.  Erica is raped.  And their dog is taken by the gang!

(And the film doesn’t seem to know which it thinks is worse…)

When Erica gets out of the hospital, she is, at first, terrified to leave her apartment.  Or, at least, she’s terrified to leave her apartment for about five minutes.  But then she does find the courage to go outside and, of course, the first thing she does is buy a gun.  At first, she’s buying the gun for her own state of mind but, almost immediately after purchasing her firearms, she happens to stumble across a convenience store robbery.

Bang!  Bang!  Erica’s a vigilante now!

But, of course, she’s not really sure if that’s what she wants to be.  Even though she eventually ends up sitting on a subway and waiting for a guy to approach her so she can shoot him, Erica is still never really that comfortable with the idea of seeking vengeance.  And this is why I hated The Brave One.  The film is so damned wishy washy about Erica’s motivations.  Instead of allowing Erica to get any sort of satisfaction or emotional fulfillment out of her actions, The Brave One has her constantly doubting whether or not violence is the answer.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that violence is the answer.  But if you’re going to make a film about a female vigilante who is out looking for vengeance, why don’t you at least allow her to get some sort of empowerment out of her actions?  That doesn’t mean that the film itself can’t be ambiguous about what she’s doing.  But by having Erica constantly questioning her actions, it makes her into a weak character and it lets the men who raped her and the ones who subsequently threaten to do the same off the hook.  It allows them to be seen as victims, as opposed to products of a society where men are raised to believe that women will never fight back.

There’s a far superior New York-set film that has almost the same plot as The Brave One.  The title of that film was Ms. 45.  It was made for a hundred times less money than The Brave One and, at the same time, it was and remains a hundred times better.  (I previously wrote about Ms. 45 and The Brave One in my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.)

The difference between the two films can be summed up by the film’s tag lines.  The Brave One was advertised with, “How many wrongs to make it right?”  Ms. 45 was advertised with: “She was abused and violated … IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”   Ms. 45 features a vigilante who never doubts her actions and, as a result, she becomes a symbol not of violence but of empowerment.  Meanwhile, Jodie Foster is so constantly wracked with guilt and doubt that the film almost seems to be criticizing her for not staying in her apartment and trusting the police (represented by Terrence Howard and Nicky Katt) to do their job.

Oh!  And, of course, at the end of the film, Erica gets her dog back.  Because nobody ever permanently loses their dog in a big budget studio film…

And really, that’s why The Brave One is such a failure.  It takes a subject that was tailor-made for the grindhouse and attempts to give it the slick and self-important studio approach.  And part of that approach is that no one can be offended.  This is a film that both wants to celebrate and condemn at the same time.

And that’s why I say, “Give me Ms. 45!”

At least that movie knows what it wants to say…

Film Review: St. Vincent (dir by Theodore Melfi)


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It’s the craziest thing.

Every year, we get another Black List.  Despite the name, the Black List is not the annual list of actors and directors who need to be run out of America because of their political beliefs.  Instead, the Black List is a survey of the “most liked” unproduced scripts that are currently floating around Hollywood.

Now, of course, to a large extent, the Black List is basically just another marketing gimmick.  A lot of the scripts that have appeared on the Black List were already in development at the time that they appeared and, undoubtedly, there are clever studio execs who think to themselves, “Juno might be a difficult sell so let’s make sure it gets on the Black List!”

However, every year, there are a few films that are put into production directly as a result of the script appearing on the Black List.  What’s interesting is just how many of these films turn out to be, if not quite terrible, at least rather forgettable.  Transcendence, for instance, was on the Black List.  Cedar Rapids was on the Black List.  Broken City was on the freaking  Black List. Consider this: The Beaver would never have been made except for the fact that it was on The Black List!

What’s particularly interesting is that the script was often the worst thing about these films.  These were films with overly complicated scripts that often tried too hard to be both crowd pleasing and quirky.  If nothing else, the Black List proves that being the “most liked” doesn’t mean that a script is good, interesting, or intelligent.  It just means that it covered all the bases.

Case in point: the new film St. Vincent.  St. Vincent sat on top of the Black List and was apparently so “well-liked” that screenwriter Theodore Melfi not only saw his script produced but he also got to direct it.  And wouldn’t you know it — the two biggest failings of St. Vincent are the script and the direction.

It’s easy to point out why the direction is bad so I’ll start there.  St. Vincent essentially looks like the pilot for one of those sitcoms that would be described as being edgy just because it was about a cranky old man.  There is no visual flair to the film.  The images just sit there flat on the screen.

As for the script, it would be likable if it didn’t try so hard.  St. Vincent is about a guy named Vincent, a war hero who is now a cantankerous old alcoholic and a pathological gambler.  His best friend is a pregnant Russian stripper.  He owes money to a violent bookie.  Every weekend, he visits his wife in a nursing home and he pretends to be a doctor.  His wife no longer recognizes him.  When the recently divorced Maggie and her awkward son Oliver move in next door, Vincent agrees to babysit after school.  At first, Vincent just does it for the money but, as the movie progresses, he teaches Oliver how to stand up for himself and Oliver makes Vincent a little less grumpy.  Eventually, Oliver has to do a report for a school about someone in his life that he considers to be a real-life saint and guess who he picks?

St. Vincent tells the type of story that would usually bring me to tears and I’ll admit that there were a few times when I did get teary-eyed.  But, ultimately, the script was too heavy-handed for me to maintain those tears.  I love crying at movies but, at the same time, I resent it when a movie demands that I cry just because it happens to be mashing down on all of the right buttons.  This is one of those movies that doesn’t trust the audience.  Instead of letting us react to the characters, it just keeps piling on development after development.  It’s not enough that Maggie is a single mother who feels guilty about not being able to pick her son up from school.  Instead, Maggie’s ex-husband has to suddenly sue for custody.  It’s not enough that Vincent is struggling to pay the bills.  Instead, he has to have a bookie who shows up at random and threatens to kill him.  There’s more to an effective dramedy than just having half of your cast act as if they’re in a sitcom while the other half acts as if they’re appearing in an old episode of Law & Order.

And yet, despite the script and despite Melfi’s direction, St. Vincent does work and it really works only for one reason.  Melfi has managed to assemble a truly outstanding cast.  In the role Maggie, Melissa McCarthy proves that she deserves better than having to spend her career making movies like Identity Thief.  Jaeden Lieberhrer is likable and sympathetic as Oliver.  Playing the pregnant Russian stripper, Naomi Watts does the best that anyone probably could do with that poorly written character.

But, ultimately, the film is totally about Bill Murray.  Bill Murray plays Vincent and he saves the entire film.  Whether he’s being funny or being serious, Bill Murray gives the type of great performance that justifies his reputation for being a national treasure.  When those tears did come to my eyes, it was all due to Murray’s performance.

St. Vincent is a deeply flawed film but it’s worth seeing for Bill Murray.

Embracing the Melodrama #53: Crash (dir by Paul Haggis)


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For the past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, some of the most and least memorable melodramas ever filmed.   We started way back in 1916 and now, after 52 reviews, we’ve finally reached the year 2004.  And that can only mean that it is time to review the worst film to ever win an Oscar for best picture of the year.  I am, of course, talking about Crash.

Crash is an ensemble piece that follows a multi-racial cast of characters as they deal with issues of race, crime, and — well, that’s about it.  In Crash, everyone’s life revolves around race and crime.  Well, I take that back,  There is at least one character whose life revolves around being a good maid to the white woman who employs her.  But otherwise, it’s all about race and crime.  The film is set in Los Angeles which, from what I’ve read, is actually a pretty big city but you really wouldn’t know that from watching Crash.  All of the characters in Crash are constantly and randomly running into each other.  I think director/screenwriter Paul Haggis is trying to make a statement about the power that coincidence plays in the world but, often times, it just feels like lazy plotting.

Anyway, here are the characters who are meant to bring Los Angeles to vivid cinematic life:

Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock play rich white people Rick and Jean Cabot.  Rick Cabot has just been elected District Attorney of Los Angeles County.  (Because when I think of a successful urban politician, I automatically think of Brendan Fraser…)  Jean is his materialistic wife.  At the start of the film, they’re carjacked by two young black men, which leads to Jean suspecting that every non-white she sees is secretly a gang member.  Later, Jean falls down a flight of stairs but she’s helped by her maid, who happens to be — surprise, surprise — not white!  Apparently, this teaches Jean an important lesson about tolerance.  The message, I guess, is that white people can be redeemed by interacting with their minority servants.

And then there’s Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton) who are upper class and black.  Cameron directs sitcoms for a living and, at work, he has to deal with Fred (Tony Danza) constantly double guessing him and demanding that he reshoot scenes.  One night, as they leave an awards ceremony, Cameron and Christine are pulled over by two white cops — the racist Ryan (Matt Dillon) and his idealistic partner Hansen (Ryan Phillippe).  Ryan proceeds to molest Christine while giving her a pat down.  The next day, Christine is involved in a car accident on the freeway and is pulled from the burning car by none other than Officer Ryan.  The point here, I suppose, is that the same pervert who finger rapes you one night is just as likely to be the same guy who comes across your overturned car on the freeway.  For that scene alone, Crash deserves the title of worst best picture winner ever.

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But that’s not all!

There’s also Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle), who has been assigned to investigate a police corruption case that would not be out of place in an episode of … well, just insert your own generic cop show title here.  Graham also visits his mentally unstable mother who demands that Graham find his younger brother.  Now, of course, as soon as we hear this, we know that Graham’s brother is going to have to turn out to be one of the other characters in the film.  Since there are only three other black males in this film (and since Cameron appears to be the same age as Graham), it’s not difficult to figure out who it’s going to be.

It’s either going to be Anthony (Ludacris) or Peter (Larenz Tate), who also happen to be the same two men who carjacked the Cabots’ car at the start of the film.  Larenz Tate probably gives the best performance in this whole sorry mess of a film, even if his role is ultimately a thankless one.

There’s also a locksmith named Daniel (Michael Pena), who finds himself being stalked by an angry Middle Eastern man.  Daniel’s story contains a hint of magic realism, presumably because Paul Haggis was reading something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez while writing the script.

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You can fault Crash for many things but you also can’t deny that it’s far more ambitious than the typical bad film.  In the space of 112 minutes, Paul Haggis attempts to say everything that needs to be said about race and class in America.  Unfortunately, while watching the film, it quickly becomes obvious that Haggis really doesn’t know much about race and class in America.  Hence, the film becomes a collection of scenes that think they mean something while actually meaning nothing.  Crash is less about race in America and more about how other movies have traditionally portrayed race in America.  Unfortunately, director Haggis does not have the self-awareness to truly bring the subtext of screenwriter Haggis’s script to life.

The main theme of Crash seems to be that everyone has a good side and a bad side and that you can the hero of one story while being the villain of another.  That’s not a bad theme, it’s just an incredibly mundane one.  The film illustrates this theme by continually having a character say something racially offensive just to then have him do something heroic in the very next scene.  As a result, the characters don’t come across as being so much complex as just incredibly inconsistent.  Crash is never as deep as it thinks it is.

Reportedly, Crash was inspired by Paul Haggis’s own experience of getting carjacked.  Haggis has said that being a victim of crime led to some intense soul searching on his part.  Hopefully, Haggis got something better than just Crash out of the whole experience.

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