Monday, July 28, 2008

DJG's Weekend Watcher

Sydney White * * * 1/2
Directed by: Joe Nussbaum / 2007

Also known as "Sydney White and the Seven Dorks", this fun family film is a modern day tale of Snow White set on a college campus. It's a movie that I was a bit suspect to killing a Friday evening with, but found myself extreme enjoyment and good clean fun! Bubbly, straight-laced and baby-faced Amanda Bynes plays Sydney White, a college freshman rushing a Kappa sorority to follow in her late mother's footsteps. Raised by her construction working father, White is better with a hammer and a football than a hair brush and exfoliator. Bynes plays Sydney White in that young girl-next-door, Jennifer Aniston sort of way. She is good-natured, lovable and friendly to everyone she meets, including the head-female-dog-of-a sorority leader and student council president brat Rachel Witchburn (played to icy perfection by Sara Paxton). Witchburn boots and bans her from the sorority after White begins to take a liking for her ex-boyfriend Tyler Prince (Charmingly played by Matt Long). Hurt and humiliated, White ends up moving into a fire trap of a house with a group of extreme and over-exaggerated cases of socially-retarded dorks. It's an unlikely match of a cute girl with seven idiot weirdos, but they make it work and the dorks start to mingle with Tyler Prince's crowd. As competition for the hottest girl on campus and pending student government election gets everyone in major heat, Sydney White and the seven dorks help all walks of student to unite and realize that it's cool to not be cool!

Spellbound * * * *
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock / 1945

Something to watch for in "Spellbound" is Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant use of master artist Salvador Dali in a climactic dream sequence. Hitchcock employs his typical tricks, but the movie magic shines bright with Dali tacking on his surrealist thumb prints to this tale of psychoanalysis. The film stars Ingrid Bergman as Dr. Constance Petersen who falls in love with fellow psychoanalyst Dr. Anthony Edwards (no, not of “E.R.” fame!). Gregory Peck plays a peculiar Dr. Edwards and ends up needing some therapy of his own.

The Shining * * * * *
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick / 1980

The acting trio of Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd as a family with a mad case of cabin fever in "The Shining" all work extremely well on individual and collaborative levels of performance of grand isolation. Though, it's the musical score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elking that takes my cake for best character and steals nearly every scene. It's piercing and chilling shrieks of haunt and terror raise my eye lashes time and time again. Mix the superb acting with the even better music and Stanley Kubrick's incredible knack for camera work, pacing and editing and you've got a masterpiece of horror on an impressive filmmaking scale. Very few Stephen King story originals turn into genius with moving pictures but Kubrick brings his own brand of brilliance to the script and pieces together a frighteningly delicious and mysterious movie still fresh after thirty years.

No Country For Old Men * * * * *
Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen / 2007

The Coen brothers have generated an impressive, unique and creative canon of film over the last quarter of a century. While 1996's "Fargo" is possibly their masterpiece, last year’s Oscar Best Picture, "No Country for Old Men", is pretty darn close behind, yet stands a far distance ahead of their other work. Near-perfection frame-by-frame the film is a powerhouse thriller game of cat and mouse and one of the finer feats of filmmaking in recent years. I'm not sure if I'll read Cormac McCarthy's book that the film is based on, even though I'm a fan of his work. From what I understand the film is extremely faithful to it and I feel the Coen world and characters would be hard to get out of my head while reading. Though, the film ends up reading similar to a great book for me, with an eerie absence of music, engrossing characters and delicate handling of subtleties in dialogue and storytelling. Like some books, it's hard to put down and is extremely fluid. But, I can read this one in a little over two hours!

Pee-Wee's Playhouse: Vol. 1 * * * * *

Despite some of the controversy surrounding Paul Reubens, I still think that his Pee-Wee Herman is an American original and quite genius. Five seasons and 45 episodes of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” was a staple in not only my Saturday breakfast, but also in my personal vernacular. Mix that whacky with a pinch of “Ren & Stimpy”, “Star Wars” and Dr. Demento’s radio show (among many others), and the language of my formative years was pretty obtuse and no wonder I was the subject of repeated picked-on in high school. But, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Pee-Wee Herman has forever been engrained in my daily thinking and often translates to my own creative output. Visiting the Playhouse is like taking a hit of acid at Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. However, it’s not too far off from Rogers’ own puppet world of where imagination and education mix well. Pee-Wee just amps everything up to 11 and does a bit more screaming. I enjoy the Playhouse’s freshly creative sets, animations, odd friendships, google-eyed EVERYTHING, secret words, silly humor and absurdity even more as an adult. I think maybe because I’ve carried it for so many years in my head and own work? But, it’s the study of Reubens’ brilliantly odd and dark Pee-Wee Herman character that I can’t take my own google eyes off of. He certainly takes the ice cream soup prize and shares it with me. If you’ve never seen the show and are a fan of underlining dark, fun and very weird things, please do. This is mad creative genius to the core and even better to revisit in adulthood. I still get a little sad as the credits roll and composer Mark Mothersbaugh’s nostalgic and gorgeous tune carries me down the road with Pee-Wee and his scooter. But, at least on DVD I don’t have to wait until next Saturday!

Uncle Buck * * * 1/2
Directed by: John Hughes / 1989

Actor John Candy coated many a movie with his fun-loving, down-on-his-luck, nice guy vibes before his untimely passing in 1994. I can’t believe he’s been gone that long and I wish he was still around. I bet he would have really crafted and pushed his talents for similar roles that Bill Murray has been getting the past decade. “Uncle Buck”, isn’t one of my favorite movies of his, but it is certainly family fun as it goes for typical ‘80s gags, gut-busting on up to the heart. But it’s the sweet charm and pumping heart of Candy who spit shines nearly every scene and even keeps up the pace with the very young and likeable Macaulay Culkin.


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