“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”
There are a few things in life that rarely impress me. Biopics, musical performances in movies, and country music are on the list. So you’d think I would hate Walk the Line, a musical biopic about country artist Johnny Cash—but I didn’t. Directed by James Mangold (Logan, Girl Interrupted) and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, this film does everything right. Its musical performances move the plot forward and aren’t just for decoration. It focuses on real-life characters without relying on nostalgia and idealized, romanticized versions of them. The music is excellent (Phoenix and Witherspoon performed all numbers live and did an amazing job), the characters are deep and fascinating, and the plot, while not wholly original, walks a careful line between dark and sweet. This is a biopic that would work just as well as a work of fiction, and that says a lot about the level of art involved.
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“It’s such a fine line between stupid and, uh… clever.”
The concept of satire has been lost along the way of modern movie production. The American Heritage Dictionary defines satire as: “A literary work in which human foolishness or vice is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.” Most work marketed as satire today is instead simply parody, which imitates for comedic effect rather than use wit for social commentary. This is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, The Princess Bride) and starring Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, is a satire of the rock music scene of the late 70s and early 80s that uses parody as well as wit and derision to showcase how ridiculous it is. It’s produced as a documentary about a fictional band, and followed that formula so well that some viewers commented that they loved the movie, but wished it would have covered a more popular band. This mockumentary style has produced many films over the years, from Best in Show to Borat to What We Do in the Shadows, but my favorite remains This is Spinal Tap. It’s hilarious, memorable, extremely quotable, and earns its place as the greatest rock and roll comedy of all time.
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“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
The Blues Brothers (the band) was an interesting phenomenon. Blues music was waning in popularity and was listened to mostly by music enthusiasts. Through a mixture of great music and comedy, they brought blues music back into the mainstream for a brief moment and made it cool again. The Blues Brothers (the movie), directed by John Landis (Coming to America, Animal House) and starring Dan Akroyd and John Belushi, captures some of that magic as well as the music. Yes, it’s ridiculous and over-the-top; but the cameos and musical performances are amazingly fun and entertaining, and the comedy is pretty great too. I can’t say it’s brilliant, but I still have a blast every time I watch it. There have been movies that have tried to be The Blues Brothers, but there’s really no other movie quite like it.
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