Walk the Line (2005)

Directed by: James Mangold

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Patrick

Awards: Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (2006). Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, Best Performance by an Actor, Best Performance by an Actress (2006). Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album (2007).

When I was a teenager and started to wear all black, my stepfather would tease me and asked “who do you think you are… the man in black?” At the time I had no idea who he was talking about. Sure I had heard a song or two from Johnny Cash on the radio or in a movie, but I didn’t really know anything about the man until later as my music knowledge grew. There was just always something about his songs that appealed to me. Dark lyrics, catchy rhythm, and an underlying attitude that seemed to tell the world to fuck off. Walk the Line goes even further by pulling back the curtain and letting us see just who was the man behind the music and what drove him to make the songs that he did. Like many talented artists, there are few demons wandering around in Johnny Cash’s past. An overbearing father, the loss of an older brother who was his best friend, a wife who didn’t share his joy for music, the hardships of living on the road, and of course: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The film also deals with Johnny’s courtship of June Carter as she comes and goes through out his life and ultimately helps Johnny conquer his demons. It is their underlying love story that helps elevate the movie past just being a memoir of another musician.

Joaquin Phoenix is outstanding in the role of Johnny Cash. He simply loses himself and becomes “the man in black.” Likewise, Reese Witherspoon brings in a great performance as well and together the two are just enjoyable to watch. They both even performed the songs themselves rather than lip sync to the original music helping to make the movie feel all the more real. Even if you are not a fan of Johnny Cash’s music, this film stands up well as it tells the story of a man who reaches rock bottom and then manages to pick himself up with the help of others and rise above the darkness. Come and take a walk with the man in black.

Other Notable Films by this Director: 3:10 to Yuma (2007); Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Here is one of the last music videos Johnny Cash made before his death, his cover of Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt. It is a fitting end to his legacy and is both powerful and sad. Shortly after, June Carter Cash died. Four months later Johnny Cash joined her.


Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Directed by Ruggero Deodato

Starring Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke

I kept going back and forth on whether or not to post this one, but for the horror/gore fans, it just doesn’t get any better/worse. This is the sickest, most disturbing movie you will probably ever see. I can’t even post the poster, because it would be in poor taste. I’m giving all the warnings now, because I don’t want the wrong people renting this film thinking it’s going to be the next Mary Kate and Ashley team-up romp. This is just horrible at it’s most horribleness.

It’s sick.

The film revolves around the discovery of some tapes from a lost American documentary crew that disappeared in the Amazon rainforrest and the filmmaker Monroe who followed their journey to discover what happened. After encountering two extremely savage tribes of cannibals, he comes to find that the documentary crew behaved poorly around the natives and were thusly dispatched in the most gruesome way possible.

That’s the plot. What fills in the other 90 minutes is the most disturbing gore and horror you can possibly imagine. Controversy is rife surrounding this film as numerous real animals were slaughtered on film and some very unsavory material is explored, rape, murder, torture, dismemebering, impalment, you get the idea.

Highly sensationalized and definitely exploitational, this film was railed by critics upon its release and banned from most countries. The director was even brought up on charges of murder, claiming that Holocaust was a snuff film. What’s disturbing is that clips of actual execution footage are used in the film, taken from The Last Road to Hell. It also happens to be one of the most successful horror movies ever made, which is an interesting reflection on our society.

After watching this I felt a strong need to shower and burn my clothes. It’s that disturbing. It makes films like Hostel and Saw look like a Vegetales movie. Don’t see this movie unless you want to be scarred for life.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Seriously? You watched and you want more? You’re sick.

Don’t watch the trailer at work…

Insomnia (1997)

Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

Starring: Stellan Skarsgard

Having an obsession with film noir out of college, I immediately gravitated toward Insomina, when I heard the director’s aim was to turn the genre on its head. It was this visual style, using pervasive light in a disorienting and ubitiquitous manner, combined with the powerful performance by Stellan Skarsgard that cemented this film in my subconcious.

Being a pilot when I saw this film, I was all too familiar with the phenomena of insomnia, traveling through multiple time zones every day, never being able to convince your body and mind when night and day were falling. My travels also frequently took me to the Scandanavian countries, so I could relate to the way the constant sunlight wreaked havoc on the senses of the lead character in the film. The director magically captured this experience and combined it with a tense thriller in a completely unique way.

Unlike the remake by Christopher Nolan, the original’s protagonist is far less likable and in turn more watchable. The less sleep he gets, the deeper a hole he sinks into. Accidentally killing his partner while investigating a serial killer in the Norweigian Artic, detective Jonas Engstrom, decides to cover up his mistake by blaming the murder on the killer. But his plan quickly unravels with his psyche, the less sleep he gets, and the more crimes he commits in an attempt to assuage his ever increasing guilt.

Skarsgard’s best performance to date in my opinion, this relentlessly bright film is at the same time, one of the darkest I’ve ever seen.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Prozac Nation (2001)

Don’t get this mixed up with the American version, they’re as different as night and day…see what I did there?

A Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)

Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Rachel Roberts, Vivean Grey

Awards: Best Cinematography (British society of Cinematographers 1976, BAFTA 1977)

I was introduced to this film by the other founder of this site and found it to be a delightful little science fiction/mystery movie.  Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, the film follows a group of schoolgirls who disappear without explanation upon visiting a strange rock formation in Austrailia.  Only one girl survives, but cannot remember what happened having suffered a concussion.

While believed to be based on a true story, the story was later revealed to be pure fantasy.  The film is executed with a startling sense of dread and wonder that keeps the viewer avidly watching similar to a Lynch film or a good episode of Lost.  The original novel had a chapter explaining the phenenoma, but the editor wisely advised the author to remove it.  If you are curious enough to read it before seeing the film, I’ll put the spolier below the trailer, but be sure not to miss this wonderfully shot, mysterious film.

Other Notable Films by this Director:  Gallipoli (1971), Dead Poets Society (1989), Master and Commander (2003)

From Wikipedia:

While walking past the hanging rock, the girls experience several incomprehensible phenomena. Driven giddy by some supernatural suggestion of the monolith, they throw their corsets over the cliff, though they never fall to the bottom and instead hang in space in an impossible fashion. The girls and Miss McCraw notice a mystical “hole in space”. Marion, Miranda, and Miss McCraw transform into small creatures and crawl into a hole in the rock, which another boulder then covers, leaving Irma alone and clawing at the fallen rock

Black Narcissus (1947)

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Deborah Kerr

Awards: Academy Award for Cinematography and Art Direction

I got in a little trouble recommending this film to my sister, whose tastes gravitate toward romantic comedies of the Reese Witherspoon variety. This is definitely not one of those films. This is a film with some substance and a very unique style, and a very strange story to boot. Aside from the Flying Nun and Sister Act, there aren’t a lot of nun movies out there, and this is the only one I can think of that is good…ok, ok Sister Act II is pretty wonderful…if you like truly awful movies (stay tuned for the Baby Geniuses 2 review!!!).

Moving on, the film follows a group of nuns who start a floundering hospital and school in the remote hills of the Himalayas and start converting the heathens and teaching the unwashed masses. The lead nun pines for an old boyfriend and in turn starts a unrequited emotional fling with some local jackass who rides around the mountains shirtless wearing a straw hat on a, well, a jackass. The tension among the women is palatable and at the film’s climax, one of the nuns goes batshit crazy and tries to kill everybody. How many times have you hear that plot? Correct, exactly none times.

The story is heavily eclipsed by the cinematography and art direction though, and it won prestigious awards for it. To say this movie is visually spectacular is to not give it the justice it deserves. The entire film was shot on a sound stage at Pinewood Studios in 1947. That shot above was made in 1947! There are these amazing wide-angle “helicopter” dolly shots following the nuns as they walk about the cloister that still stand up today as location shots. The film is just incredible and a testamont to Jack Cardiff’s genius as a DP.

Other Notable Films by this Director: The 49th Parallel (1943), The Red Shoes (1949)


Harold and Maude (1971)

Director: Hal Ashby
Starring: Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon
Awards: Nominated for two Golden Globes

Summary:  A young man, obsessed with death, meets an old woman obsessed with life and begins an unlikely love affair is how I always describe it. One of the strangest film romances ever made, it’s also one of the most honest and most revealing.  One of director Hal Ashby’s first efforts finds him navigating well worn territory, but in a way not seen before.  I have far too many fond memories of this film to want to spoil them for you here, just take my word for it…if you haven’t seen this you need too.

Other Notable Works by This Director:  The Landlord(1970), Shampoo (1975), Being There (1979)