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MAN IN BLACK
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.

Q U I C K S C A N

WALK THE LINE
IN HER SHOES
ELIZABETHTOWN
MILLIONS
C.S. LEWIS: BEYOND NARNIA
POPE JOHN PAUL II
FILM CAPSULES
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS

WALK THE LINE

WALK THE LINE (not rated, PG- 13) is an extraordinary biopic about legendary country and rockabilly singer Johnny Cash (1932- 2003). The film opens with young John (Ridge Canipe) on his family’s small Alabama cotton farm during the Great Depression. John’s mother, Carrie (Shelby Lynne), teaches him hymns. His father, Ray (Robert Patrick), drinks and is hard on the boy and his older brother, who dies in a tragic accident. John, who dearly loved and admired his brother, is continually haunted by his memory.

Joaquin Phoenix portrays John as an adult, who learns to play the guitar when he joins the Air Force. In 1954, he marries Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), moves to Memphis and struggles financially.

His big break comes when he lands an audition with Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts), who ran Sun Studios, which launched the career of Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton). J.R. Cash goes from a mediocre gospel singer to Johnny Cash, an artist whose songs save people. He starts to wear black because he and his band members all have black shirts.

Johnny begins a destructive lifestyle of alcohol and drugs, which lands him in jail. He tours with Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Payne), Roy Orbison (Johnathan Rice) and the recently divorced June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), among others. Johnny is powerfully attracted to June, who hesitates because she knows how fragile marriage can be for recording artists.

The film weaves the continual ascent of Johnny’s musical career with his personal descent into a failed marriage and an alcoholic and drug-addicted hell to an ongoing redemption and resurrection with June, whom he marries in 1968.

As their relationship deepens, June gets Johnny to actually step inside a church again. Eventually, he comes to a fragile peace with his father, too.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is mesmerizing and magnetic as the legendary Man in Black whose voice was “fast like a train and sharp like a razor.” Phoenix and Witherspoon sing all the songs (“I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” etc.) and their onstage chemistry is palpable.

Joaquin Phoenix learned the guitar and Reese Witherspoon the Autoharp for the film. It’s hard to imagine what these two gifted young actors will do for an encore.

It’s not the story that’s so compelling. It’s the telling and the redemption that are so forceful. Directed by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted), Walk the Line is destined to garner more than one Academy Award nomination. If you were inspired by Coal Miner’s Daughter (Loretta Lynn story), Sweet Dreams (Patsy Cline) and last year’s Ray (Ray Charles), know that Walk the Line may be the best film about an American musical icon yet. Drug and alcohol use; a brief sexual encounter.

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IN HER SHOES

IN HER SHOES (A-3, PG-13): Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and her sister, Rose (Toni Collette), are best friends but polar opposites. One thing they have in common is that they wear the same size shoes. Their domineering stepmother, Sydelle (Candice Azzara), is married to their wealthy widowed father, Michael (Ken Howard).

Rose, a hard-working attorney, buys shoes whenever she’s moody because “they always fit.” Maggie, a party girl who can’t hold down a job for any length of time, is virtually homeless and moves in with friends and relatives, including her sister. But Rose kicks her out when she discovers that Maggie has stolen her shoes and slept with her boyfriend.

When Maggie moves in with her parents, she searches their drawers for cash. She finds hidden birthday cards sent to her and Rose from an unknown grandmother named Ella (Shirley MacLaine), who lives in Florida.

Hoping to find a rich grandma, Maggie heads to Florida. At first Ella is thrilled with Maggie’s visit, but then she wonders when the girl is going to leave. When Ella finds Maggie searching her drawers for cash, she doesn’t kick her out. Instead, she presents Maggie with a challenge that will reward the girl, if she earns a living.

I liked all the characters in this contemporary Cinderella story (especially Francine Beers as the wry and kind Mrs. Lefkowitz), but Shirley MacLaine shines as Ella. She gives Rose a special gift, suggesting that every woman needs a fairy grandmother to love her.

The well-crafted script was written by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and based on the best-selling novel by Jennifer Weiner. Problem sexuality and crude language.

ELIZABETHTOWN (A-3, PG-13) has some similarities to In Her Shoes. Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) designs a line of sports shoes that fail. This results in the company losing a billion dollars in projected sales.

Drew, close to suicide, gets a call from his frantic sister, Heather (Judy Greer), who tells him their father has suddenly died while on a visit to his boyhood home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Their mother, Hollie (Susan Sarandon), wants Drew to bring his father’s body back to Oregon for burial.

When he flies to Kentucky, Drew meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a perky flight attendant who tries to help him. When Drew meets his quirky Southern relatives, they want to bury his father in the family plot.

Elizabethtown is written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who gave us Oscar winners Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Although Elizabethtown tries hard and has a top-notch cast, it’s a pastiche: three disparate stories put together, creating a feeling of dissonance.

While In Her Shoes uses footwear as a motif that unifies the story into a comprehensive and satisfying tale, Elizabethtown would have benefited from an identifiable motif or a coherent theme. Some may say that the soundtrack ties the film together, but I just didn’t hear the music.

Both films appeal to an audience that appreciates meaningful viewing: the struggle with despair, failure, temptation to suicide, family, growing up, romance, transformation, forgiveness. In Her Shoes, however, is the better film. Some crude language and an implied sexual encounter.

MILLIONS (A-2, PG) deserves to become a family Christmas classic. Reviewed here in April and newly released on DVD, it centers on an English boy who finds a bag of cash at Christmas. The lad is visited by saints, who inspire him to help poor people.

C.S. LEWIS: BEYOND NARNIA (Hallmark Channel, December 9): This warm, informative and affectionate profile of C.S. Lewis is told in the first person through the lens of his classic fantasy novels for children, The Chronicles of Narnia. This special premieres the same day the Disney/Walden production of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opens in theaters. (See C.S. Lewis and Narnia: Faith Beyond the Wardrobe.)

POPE JOHN PAUL II (CBS, Dec. 4 and 7): This miniseries uses flashbacks to tell the story of the late pontiff. Cary Elwes portrays the younger Karol Wojtyla and Jon Voight plays him during his later years. Ben Gazzara plays Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican secretary of state.

 

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (A-2, PG): This black-and-white cinematic gem from director, co-writer and actor George Clooney (Fred Friendly) focuses on heroic American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn), whose work brought Senator Joseph McCarthy’s (R-Wis.) Communist witchhunt to an end during the 1950s. The film uses original footage of McCarthy in the place of an actor and reinforces Murrow’s journalistic maxim: Dissent is not disloyalty. This could be Strathairn’s Oscar year. Problem language and thematic elements.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (L, R): Director David Cronenberg’s intense interpretation of a graphic novel tells the story of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a man who left a violent life behind only to have it find him again years later. If you can stand it, this film is an intelligent though brutal study of violence and its effects on the person and society. Explicit violence, language and sexuality.

PROOF (A-3, PG-13): Gwyneth Paltrow plays the daughter of a brilliant mathematician (Anthony Hopkins). A doctoral student (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers a mathematical proof in the professor’s desk. But who wrote it: the father or the daughter? Fine viewing, like reading a quality novel; some problem language, brief sexuality and drug use.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222, www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm

At www.CatholicMovieReviews.org, readers can search Sister Rose's and hundreds of other film reviews.

 


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