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movie reviews: Rent and Walk the Line

I went to see two movies this weekend, Rent and Walk the Line. This time of year, when many Oscar-hopeful movies come out all it once, drives me crazy, because there are so many good movies out at once that I want to see.

First up, Rent. Rent debuted as a musical on Broadway when I was in high-school, and I remember the craze it was among my friends, the theatre-kids. I never saw the stage version, but I eventually came to know the music pretty well from listening to the soundtrack.

I'd read some reviews in advance of seeing the show which suggested that Rent, the movie, would have been better if it had come out ten years ago like the musical. The original Broadway cast is mostly intact for the movie, only now, all the twenty-somethings of the stage show are thirty-somethings. Also, one of the major themes of the play - people living with AIDs - has taken a different place in our culture than in the early nineties. I don't mean that AIDs is any less important or critical of an issue. But I mean the way it is dealt with in Rent represents a ten-years-ago mindset.

So, the movie. I think the music is excellent, and the actors did a great job. Each character was strong - no weak links. It was great to see Jesse Martin, who I've known only from Law & Order, singing and dancing!

What I don't like about the movie itself: I don't see any real growth in the characters. No one seems to me to go through any change, or transformation. I guess that's not always a requirement, but I didn't seen any development of characters, any maturing. I was confused, too, by the 'gang''s pushing Roger and Mimi together. Roger, a character who lost a woman he loved to AIDs, who watched her breakdown because of drug use, didn't want to be with Mimi because she also was a user, and he clearly wanted her to stop using, or he wouldn't be with her. But she and his friends act like he's being irrational. I don't get it.

I do appreciate that the group supports one another, is a family, but I thought the group also bordered on self-centered and selfish. Lyrics from Another Day: "There's Only Us/There's Only This/ Forget Regret/ Or Life Is Yours To Miss/ No Other Road/ No Other Way/ No Day But Today." I think the song shoots for a 'carpe diem' theme, but ends up with a 'anything goes if it seems good right now' feeling instead.

At one point, the character Mark, filming for his documentary, videotapes a homeless woman being shoved off by police officers. But she gets mad at Mark, asking what he's really doing about anything. He doesn't have an answer for her, and I don't think he gets one by the end of the movie either.

Still, it was an enjoyable movie. Just not - as profound or deep as it seems to want to be, I suppose.

As for Walk the Line - I thought it was superb. I didn't know much of anything of Johnny Cash in the early years. I became a fan of his, actually, from hearing him first on the U2 album Zooropa, singing "The Wanderer." His voice was so unique - a one of a kind voice. Eventually, I expanded my Johnny Cash knowledge during seminary, and especially love some of his covers on his last(?) album, American IV: The Man Comes Around.

The movie - it is a love story between Johnny and second wife June Carter-Cash. It's a story about becoming who you might be. Joaquin Phoenix, playing Cash, even seemed to become Cash more fully throughout the film. And Reese Witherspoon, who I always enjoy, seems mature beyond her years. I am also impressed, as many are who've seen the film, that the pair do all their own singing in the movie. No lip-syncing. They sound great. This movie doesn't try to be complex or confusing. And it succeeds in touching the heart in the process.

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