Thursday, August 28, 2008

DJG / Black Sheep

Black Sheep * * * *
Directed by: Jonathan King / 2007

Before my Dad can finish yelling, "SHEEP!-SHEEP!-SHEEP!-SHEEP!" (the way he used to talk to the farm family friendly sheep), horror-comedy "Black Sheep", starts to arrive with a flock of laughing stock in barely enough time to get the gate open. The New Zealand film, that does not costar Chris Farley and David Spade, borrows lore from both the zombie and werewolf monster camps, breeding them with sheep and humans in this whacky horror tale of genetic sheep engineering gone wrong. So, you can only imagine what kind of wild movie mix conjures with this new insta-classic! It even borrows a few things from five star horror comedies like "An American Werewolf in London" and "Shaun of the Dead". Not to mention the countless Spielbergian scenes I saw hilarious homage paid to from "Jurassic Park", to "Saving Private Ryan" to "Raiders of the Lost Ark". All this and more in "Black Sheep", a horror-comedy that is a mound of fleshy fresh and fun (and farts). After the gate closes on this film, all you can think of doing is calling the sheep back from pasture. -djg

DJG / Dark Days

Dark Days * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Marc Singer / 2000

Last summer my wife and I were dunked for the first time in full immersion to sights, sounds and smells of New York City...Metropolis...Gotham. And I was in childlike awe, excitement and love, feeling more comfortable and alive in the energy there than any other city. Visitor consensus is to look UP as the most populated skyline on Earth rises from the thick comforter of bedrock that anchors the island of Manhattan and the melting pot of all cultures and people of the world. It's easy to get caught up in the high-rise reality and realty space, easy to bath in the bright lights, decorations, ornaments, statues, advertising, whatever. Though, I did a half 'n' half mix of looking up and down, and not just in Apple’s underground store and salute to architecture with the see through lid. Not only were the sidewalks wall-to-wall with my fascination on the millions of legs and lives ebbing and flowing, my thoughts were simply on how the heck this place works!? With densely populated concrete and steel stacked shacks filtering cluttered garbage and sanitation down and out, somehow and the people...the people! Simmering below the mix is another layered city. This is one of darkened transportation tunnels and cavernous basement cubicles of pipes, trash, garbage, filth, rats...and more people. As you descend from the Manhattan Madhatters into the rabbit hole, "Dark Days" sheds light on a small clubhouse colony of downstairs denizens in the dilapidating tunnels of NYC. The scavenging of humans next to rats makes you think about the comparison conditions of the two. However, without actually do so, the movie raises awareness and ideas within, forcing me to double-take next time I think I have the right to think someone is homeless, jobless or even sometimes crazy, based on street encounter/appearance and pre-conceived notion. It's debatable and might cross some imaginary borders, but would you call Earth's first Adam's and Eve's and cave dwelling men as homeless and jobless? Or, were they simply adaptors of their environment, choosing a life of simplicity to just absorb God's handy work and of course pioneering for food, shelter, safety and whatever crafty ideas and inventions to help them along the way? A handful of times per week fellow office cubicle chum Chad and I pass across the underground long-distance email crisscross, "Were we really meant to sit in little cubicles for eight hours a day doing banal-flavored paper pushing, or meant to do whatever it is that every job-holding citizen does in order to keep another cubicle at home and buy and do things and be a certain way?" It wouldn't be the choice life for the majority, but are people with well-constructed scrap wood/cardboard/tarp homes, food, income, water, heating, home security systems, television, beds and electricity, all without a technically-structured speaking “home”, truly homeless? Are "homeless" people with more sense of a Christ-centered community, giving heart and soul less human than those centered with tiring work for a living, easy boredom, nice ‘n’ new things and locked doors to keep the neighbors out? True, it can break the heart to see brothers and sisters living in poverty on the street and squandering dreams and life. You don't wish for anyone to lack a better quality of life and healthcare (Though, some who do have "homes" tend to lack these benefits. But, I'll let Michael Moore tell that one). But, the lives documented in "Dark Days" seem more alive than most of us bland Bazooka-chewin’, stressed out, B.L.T. zombie workers bobbing for apple pie. The cavern colony in "Dark Days" bleeds red blood just the same, flowing more interestingly and having truly lived more than most lives upstairs. Though, I wouldn't trade my easy-as-pie-life-that-I-sometimes-whine-about in comparison to these people's past, present and possibly future sufferings, torments and heartbreaking confessions told in this documentary. Stories of bad decisions, jail time, narcotics, rehabilitation, crime, neglected and departed family and children, broken homes and loveless upbringing really do put the Hell on Earth factor into play. However, while many find cooked comfort in the crackpot, some find it in actual down home food cooked up in a pot (And I wanted to join them at the table). Some live cluttered and complicated, but you’d be surprised at the ones who live very well-maintained, groomed lives with rules and social etiquette. Some even make quite a bit of money to eat/play on, exchanging discarded household items still in working condition, along with recycling bottles and aluminum cans for cash. It’s a dirty living, but it pays and is better than the drugs that many choose. Some have the outside evidence that they could actually hold down really good jobs with their skills and smarts. There are also a few light-hearted moments of true friendship, conversation, love, caretaking of people and pets and a scene that moved me as one man was so excited about showing off pictures of many pets that he has had down in his plywood and cardboard clubhouse. For the kind of people that some of us would feel afraid of if we ran into them on the street, they seem to have more of a moral compass than most of us living above ground, if not the same mix. In fact, I’m sure we all know of, or have seen people living in actual “homes” who don’t quite have that thing that many of us are so quick to judge, “together”. As the constant thundering of trains finally ushers in armed Amtrak employees with a thirty days notice for all tunnel dwellers, even the ones that have been there 10-15-25 years, to pack it up and evict without any sort of social assistance, you get the harsh reality of the dog-like treatment and perception we above-grounders have on people who we think have less. I think it’s easy for us do-gooders to think, “This is ‘merica and I don’t feel sorry for you boo-who’s who can’t take care of your lazy selves.” But, some are beat to a pulp by life and family and thus turning to street comforts at a young age and to people who can sympathize or fulfill an immediate cope or cure. This can cause a real shift in the dominoes of life as upper society typically turns a nose and no entry sign, when all those suffering might need is a fist of four letter words like HELP or LOVE. The film’s final act finds the walls coming down that actually equals the excitement of the much bigger one in Berlin. A NYC social coalition steps in front of the Amtrak bullies and transfers those kicked from their makeshift homes into real ones and helps jobs attained and other services and rehabilitation if need be. While excitingly sprucing up his new apartment, one former underground dweller exclaims, “This is like giving a baby a new toy to play with each day. Every day is something new and good for me.” Others reflected on their lives and missed a few aspects of their former freedoms, but definitely preferred their turnarounds. I didn’t see “Dark Days” in a theatre setting when it first came out, but I think experiencing this movie on DVD is more rewarding. When the film ended I thirsted for wanting more and said, “So, what happened next?” I wanted more. Thankfully, bonus features gave me updated bios (some exciting, some heartbreaking) on what happens to the lives that took me under to their homes, and even helped me, when they came into my home for just an hour and twenty-four minutes this morning.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DJG / The Weekend Watcher

Deconstructing Harry * * * 1/2
Directed by: Woody Allen / 1997

Several sources had pointed "Deconstructing Harry" as one of Woody Allen's finer late period works, if not one of his overall best. Sometimes I tend to put pop-culture quick to praise on my back burner, as to let the hype simmer and to see it within my own frame of vision and mind. I've done this with "Deconstructing Harry" and many other Woody Allen pictures and in fact have taken my sweet time in devouring his massive film output, as opposed to other directors. Woody Allen has a lot to offer and a ton of storytelling and film weapons he's amassed over the past four decades. Instead of critical hail, this watcher feels more hail stormy frustrated and a bit cheated by "Deconstructing Harry”. It definitely has many brilliant ideas and devices brewing, yet they seem to compete at times and the picture never fully realizes itself, leaving me with a "Ho-Hum-Didn't-Do-It-For-Me-Coulda-Been-Better" verdict as Allen’s typographically reliable white serif on black background credits rolled. Mostly, I think its Woody Allen himself who ruins the picture for me. I once enjoyed his little self-loathes, upper-crust tantrums and society stabs from his high rise Freudian observatory. However, the older I and the older he gets, the less I care about hearing him whine about the meaning of life and art shop talk. And the more I just want a creatively solid story without the "F" word dropped every thirty seconds by a motor-mouthed old man who can't manage to walk down the street, yet somehow ends up always getting to create for a living while finding solace and score in beautiful women decades younger than him. I once was gaga for "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan", two films that are still great and grand, yet have not been quite in tune with me after a four year separation from watches because Allen has slowly gotten on my nerves over the years. Or, maybe I did some sort of weird growing up since yesterday, or maybe I just never really fully soaked in his films before? Regardless, I say for him to stop complaining and stop trying to act, man! "The Purple Rose of Cairo", now that is a five star Woody Allen masterwork for me and he stays behind the camera. To each his/her own, I guess?


Toy Story 2 * * * * ½
Directed by: John Lasseter and Ash Brannon and Lee Unkrich / 1999

While sick last week I put on some good ol’ “Toy Story”. This past spring I extinguished my tax refund dollars wisely and purchased a one-two VHS (The big, awkward to shelve, puffy cases.) punch of early Pixar at a used culture store. Let’s go backwards even more: I was one of those high school guy geeks who declared “Toy Story” as his favorite movie for a short while…at least before I saw “Evil Dead” or “Monty Python and The Holy Grail” for the tenth time. So, you can see why I got beat up a lot? Anyway, college hit and then adulthood and blah-blahs. Even though I still had all of my toys and am a firm believer in not getting rid of the good and formative things from the past (especially play things), I had tucked my love for “Toy Story” in the back of the pop-culture closet. Seeing it again for the first time in thirteen years (Really, is it a teen now?), I was re-confirmed that “Toy Story” is a masterpiece and connects the dots back to my zitty high school face and now sits firmly in my all-time Top 25 again. Anyway, onto “Toy Story 2”…yep, a half a star not-quite-as-good as the first, but equally charming, bitter-sweet and mesmerizing. It’s easy to get picky with more recent Pixar’s…but, the “Toy Story” franchise (Do two films equal a franchise? I think that these two do.) is one that will forever not only be in my treasure chest, but one that I’ll treasure inside of my chest. Am I swooning hearts, or just gearing you up to punch me?


Magnolia * * * * *
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson / 1999

After last year's mega biblical parable-like wallop, "There Will Be Blood", Paul Thomas Anderson was asked (I can’t remember the source.) if God was relevant in his film universe. He stated to just leave that up to the viewer. Personally, this viewer answers with a giant YES. Next year "Magnolia" is reaching its tenth birthday. This is something that I find astonishing as the film still feels extremely fresh and packs quite the punch, even after five or six watches. And that's the THING. This films can't be seen once or even twice. This tightly-wound multi-layered, genius flowing film demands to be seen multiple times and something new and slugging can come from it each time. Though, what might be more astonishing is that P.T. Anderson was basically still in his film diapers (a young late '20s) when he wrote and directed this very personal and poignant film on loss, suffering, regret, redemption, faith, forgiveness and uncovered layers. At first watch "Magnolia" might awkwardly shuffle and not unravel just right and tight. But, watch it multiple times and then see the magic unfold. And what other non-musical films do you know of that have a climactic ensemble sing-a-long that is one of the best uses of a song in a film ever, followed with a plague-like ending that is quite possibly one of the most astounding things you'll ever see on film? See “Magnolia” and report back to me. And if you had trouble with “There Will Be Blood”, then you might just want to stay away from “Magnolia”. Though, I’ll just leave that decision up to the viewer.


Nim's Island * * * *
Directed by: Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin / 2008

Growing up country, I had a steady diet of tree houses and forts, inside and out. Add on top of this, a healthy dose of all things pop-culture that sprinkled my childhood hideouts, creations and imagination beyond to the idea that I was in my own world. My eyes grew red for many an hour as I read private island tree house variety shows like "Swiss Family Robinson", and “The Gummi Bears” (In particular, the episode with Gusto Gummi’s who lived a life of solitary artistry on an island). Oh, and just to keep bears on the menu, “The Berenstain Bears” and their tree house and (In particular, the episode where the cubs had a private clubhouse on a little island in the woods.). These shows illuminated my own fantasy of wanting my own private island, and I got it even if it was all in my head. And I still have it now while I sit in my little clubhouse beneath the earth. But, whenever I hear about other grown-ups, like Johnny Depp or the late Marlon Brando, purchasing their own islands, I get a little envious. I want Nim’s island too as it seems like quite the life, even if it’s a little far-fetched. But, I like to stick to that old phrase (Who/Where does it come from?), “Let a Dreamer Dream”. Enough of my dreams, “Nim’s Island” is about a little girl named Nim (The charming Abigail Breslin and not that other young girl who is in everything.) who lives on a private, unknown island with her marine biologist father and a charismatic crew of lovable marine and jungle creatures. Nim is also into adventure. Naturally, one would have to have some adventure up their sleeve living on their own island. Oh, and Nim’s island houses a sleeping volcano. To make a long story short, Nim is really into a series of book about an Indiana Jones-like adventure seeking, fedora and leather jacket wearing hunk named Alex Rover who globe trots for treasure, saving lives in the process. The “Alex Rover” books are written by a reclusive (cliché idea, but cute movie) San Francisco author named Alexandra Rover (This was a great role for Jodie Foster.). Anyway, Alexander Rover cures her reclusive tenderness by seeking adventure in her title character that has given her a career. She lives in Alex Rover so much that she has conversations with him and seeks advice from his out of the house expertise. Rewind a bit: Nim’s father leaves his daughter’s island for a night to capture some glowing sea bacteria. A few bad storms, choppy waters and circling sharks later and his boat is a sinking turd as he tries to find his way back. All the while, Alexandra Rover emails Nim’s father with a question as her latest “Alex Rover” novel has her blocked with trying to illustrate with words what the inside of a volcano looks like (Yeah, I too asked the question, “How do the heck does this island have power. Is this LOST?” Actually, it is called solar powered internet.). So, Nim gets pumped up for Alexandra’s email, thinking that it is the real Alex Rover. Nim also explains that she is in need of help because not only is her father lost at sea, but she had badly injured her leg from a fall while researching the volcano. So, of course Alexandra Rover, after much coaxing from the imaginary Alex Rover, musters strength to leave her home and fears behind as she somehow finds the island and it upsets Nim that she is not a he. And then Nim’s father comes home and you get the sense that Alexandra Rover is gonna stick around on the island and become Nim’s mother. Ok, so you got all of that? I’m exhausting this one…but, it’s a load of fun and made me feel like a kid again. Oh, and there are cruise ship buccaneers…and all that fun stuff. See it if you want some great childlike adventure for your own private island imaginations.


Strictly Ballroom * * *
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann / 1992

It's fair to say that Australian director Baz Luhrmann makes entirely unusually interesting pictures, even if the viewer isn't necessarily "into" them. There are definitely weirder movie makers, but to work within the Hollywood system with the pictures that Luhrmann makes would have to be a challenge. I think I officially proclaim Baz Luhrmann as the Terrence Malick of traditional quirk. Malick is more the classic master, but Luhrman stands on his own film language level. My main comparison is that they both take incredible amounts of time between pictures. Though, Malick wins at that with 20 years between “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line”. "Strictly Ballroom" is Luhrmann's first feature and it's a simple, yet odd little story, about competitive ballroom dancing. Such subjects are not my cup of cinema tea, but I found it oddly compelling and quite unique in a Baz Luhrmann sort of way to keep me compelled and bewildered. Being that his only two follow-ups have been the impressively odd "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge!", I'm very interested in what brand of unusual his fourth film will finally bring this fall to the movie house. I understand it’s a WWII drama. One can only imagine what kind of imagination Lurhmann will cook up this time.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

CTJ: The Weekend Watcher

"Dear Wendy" *****

Lars von Trier is the filmmaking equivalent of all the economic imbalance in the world. People always throw around statistics like "0.5% of the world owns 95% of the world's wealth, and blah blah blah..." Well, I think Lars von Trier owns a rather disproportionate amount of the talent in the world of film. The guy just does not disappoint me.

Although he only wrote and did not direct Dear Wendy, his signature is all over it. He is known for making games of his films -- little strategems that your mind will inevitably play with much as your tongue runs over the surface of your teeth from time to time. You feel out the contours of his films with your mind, and although they are structured around his games, and obviously so, they never fail to tantalize. Dear Wendy is no exception.

It is part Western, part Dead Poet's Society, part Chocolate War, part Dogville, part Bonnie & Clyde, part Peckinpah, part Stand by Me, part brain, part heart. It is told with aplomb and with the appreciation of narrative that all true storytellers seem to possess.

The film is named as it is because it is literally a boy's (Jamie Bell) love letter to his gun, Wendy. And if that doesn't sound interesting enough, then you should just go watch The Little Mermaid because you are probably going to hate it anyway. But if you are interested in how Lars von Trier and director Thomas Vintenberg manage to make the audience invest emotionally in an inanimate object, in a firearm no less, then please do watch. It is a pleasure.

The five-star rating comes more from appreciation and "I'll-be-damned-if-they-didn't-just-make-this-film" guffawing. It's an unlikely film that feels like the successful outcome of a film school project, but the sort of project that a teacher -- a maestro like von Trier -- would make to remind his students that he's still got the goods. I don't know who this Thomas Vintenberg fellow is, but he did Mr. von Trier justice. This film sings like a shell exiting a barrel and plowing through a target. Well done.

"Slaughterhouse Five" ****

"The Sentinel" ***

Friday, August 22, 2008

DJG / Lost In Translation

Lost in Translation * * * * ½
Directed by: Sofia Coppola / 2003

The blinking lights motion backdrop of Tokyo, Japan serves as a confusing cure for the sweet and sad soul searching of two Americans with a wide generation gap, yet close-knit kinship. Sometimes you’ve got to get lost to find yourself. I realize saying that is a bit cheesy, but I believe it’s a necessary formula for certain places in life and definitely used for this remarkable film. Charming to the core, Bill Murray’s Oscar nominated “Bob Harris” is at the ho-hum crossroads of life with his career and marriage while shooting tiring, easy money whiskey commercials far away from home. He finds hotel bar solace and out on the town companionship and adventure in befriending Scarlett Johansson’s (still in baby fat and her best role) “Charlotte”. She is a young, fresh college graduate who is experiencing Tokyo while her husband is on busy photography assignments. The two form an unlikely bond, reaching out to one another to help mend mental blues and boredom in a different place that is just right per the moment even though everything feels out of touch. Bob wants to rediscover his youth and reexamine his life while Charlotte wants to figure out who she is and what life is about. Writer-Director Sofia Coppola has developed a great film palette in “Lost in Translation” and was rightfully rewarded with an Oscar for Original Screenplay. The film’s direction and tones are for me a similar feeling to staring out of a smudged and rainy window as the fast world blinks and blurs lights that reflect warning and wrangle within. Some film viewers might get lost in the pacing and come out with the sense that nothing happens and that there is doubtful change in the screen lives invested in. The parting, undecipherable whispers between the two characters might confuse just the same and leave people with an ambiguous ending that keeps them guessing, something that I personally enjoy. I find the film to be completely compelling, warm, absorbing and identifiable with mental melancholy, isolation and finding content in confusion and the outstretched flickering arms of hope and change that can be located, but not quite focused.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

DJG / Movie Morning Monday

E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial * * * * *
Directed by: Steven Spielberg / 1984

In two letters I could sum up the definition of “Movie Magic” with ease. “E.T.” does something new and magical for me every time I watch it and I find it to be more engaging, heart-tugging and genius the older my eyes get. And I again find that I’m still wet behind the eyes as it creeps higher up my all-time top 25 film ladder. I won't expand too much on Steven Spielberg's masterpiece as assuredly almost all of you reading this have probably seen “E.T.”, and many times at that. If you have not, then what are you waiting for? And I feel bad for those of you who aren’t even fans of sci-fi because this film about a boy’s special bond to an alien is more than just the stuff of science fiction and you’re really missing out on the magic of movies. We should all approach things in more childlike awe and wonder like E.T. and like the children who extend a like-minded helping hand of friendship and understanding of E.T.’s wish to just BE and hope to go home. Similar to “Peanuts”, the first two acts of “E.T.” rarely show an adult above the waste or even out of the shadows (besides the main mother). I love how this gives the illustration of man as the monster and hammers it home further in the final act when the government men come to plastic the house and take E.T. away for dissection and inspection. It's a dominating scene that has always chilled me to the core at the movies and in life. This past week I was enthused and bewildered to read about the possible remains of a Sasquatch discovered in a wooded area of Georgia My fascination quickly turned to disappointment as I read further that the next goal is to catch a live one. Debatable yes, but this personally bothers me as I feel that instead of letting something BE, why must we put things under a microscope, poking and probing and profiting?


DJG / Weekend Watcher

Little Children * * * * ½
Directed by: Todd Field / 2006

It’s the children in “Little Children” who appear more grown-up than the adults. Appropriately so, as adults we need to sometimes see the consequences of our actions through a younger lense. Playing out to near-perfection, the story puts the viewer in an awkward yet very inviting company of things we don’t really want to see but wish to keep up with. Employing the use of an unlikely and daring anchor, a sex offender stirs a unique plot to showcase redemption, rebirth, solace, trust and truths. Though, it will assuredly split audiences in much debate and controversy, Todd Field has created a mini-masterpiece on many aspects of unrest in suburbia and beyond. “Little Children” is one of the best-crafted and most over-looked films of the past couple years.


Tropic Thunder * * * *

Directed by: Ben Stiller / 2008

I’m still trying to find my rear after laughing it off and out the door last weekend with “Pineapple Express”, and now “Tropic Thunder”, another outrageously fresh ‘n’ fun comedy to cure my summer blues. I’m an above average Ben Stiller fan, but he’s got me really high hoping for some more fresh comedies like this one that he is writing and directing. The movie is a movie about the making of a high-budget war movie that naively goes AWOL and POW as it entangles with an actual war. Get it? Well, there isn’t too much to get unless you get choked-up with laughter. And let me just tell you, this is stupid-awesome to the core and showcases Tom Cruise’s best role since “Magnolia” and the best Matthew McConaughey this side of “Dazed & Confused”. The two mega-stars make outstanding career choices by basically playing hyper-exaggerated caricatures of their tabloid selves and they are nothing short of genius. But, the best thing to watch in “Tropic Thunder” is Robert Downey, Jr. Somebody please give this guy an Oscar nod as he convincingly plays a sensitive, blonde-haired, blue-eyed powerhouse Australian actor portraying a hard-edged African American soldier. He chews some of the best comedy lines to come on the screen in a long while and you completely forget that you’re watching Robert Downey, Jr. My only complaint with the film is that with a little bit more editing it could have been even better and at times it trades in some of the freshness for typical low brow comedy and crude dialogue. One more thing, Danny McBride isn’t in the movie enough (HOT ROD / PINEAPPLE EXPRESS).


Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession * * * *
Directed by: Alexandra Cassavetes / 2004

It’s easy to take for granted the access my generation has for feeding obsessions at the culture buffet. Before satellite television, Tivo, iPods, Netflix and DVDs (heck, even VHS) there was a time in the home movie market when all you had to watch was the ho-hum programming of basic television. Unless you either had a lot of money, movie industry connections or lived in the Los Angeles area and paid a fee for Channel Z, you didn’t have a lot of options at home. This documentary decently chronicles the rise and fall of Channel Z, a groundbreaking T.V. station that showcased hard to find films and breathed a second chance life for many films, actors and directors. The documentary itself might even breathe new life into the films as I found great joy in discovering many new titles. All thanks in part to the genius of Jerry Harvey. He was to the movies like a talent scout is to great athletes. He necessarily didn’t have the abilities or resources to make movies (though he wrote the screenplay to one), but he had the passion and smarts to spot one that really spoke and sparked him to recruit it to the next viewing level. Movies were Jerry’s life as he ate, drank, spoke and shared them by way of his obsession with Channel Z. It was an idea before HBO or some of the other powerhouse out there today, even in its prime with only 100,000 subscribers. Jerry had a passion that even the industry big shots saw as he befriends many great directors and got the full rights to show their final cuts of films that otherwise would have gotten lost in the Hollywood background. Jerry may have found a great joy and love for movies, but sadly he had his own inner darkened theatre that he couldn’t escape. His emotional distress eventually led to the murder of his wife and his suicide. It’s another sad and tragic ending on genius that just leaves one wondering why and how? And I can’t help but imagine the what-might-have-beens as I think of a present day Harvey as a movie studio executive engineering movies, and the kinds of new and old talent he would find and share with us movie fans.


Lies & Alibis * * *
Directed by: Matt Checkowski and AKurt Mattila / 2006

Default funny guy Steve Coogan steers this fast-paced crime 'n' comedy cracker box caper as the executive of a firm that specializes in helping men successfully cheat on their wives. Though he loves his line of work, easy money and little moral can lead to even riskier management when a client accidentally kills his temptress and all fingers point to the man initially in charge of covering up the affair. "Lies & Alibis" is decent, yet is another in a heap of films that fall into the post "Pulp Fiction" bin-there-done-dat crime stories that non-linear flash and dash to the point where the multi-layers and fresh become flat pretty quickly.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

DJG / I'm Not There

I'm Not There * * * *
Directed by: Todd Haynes / 2007

Without ever mentioning the name Bob Dylan, director Todd Haynes’ brilliant, dream-like "I'm Not There" morphs in and out of many phases, psyches, mystiques and masks of an icon forever fused into a cultural canon ball flying and popping louder than most any before or after. The film employs different actors (Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin) to portray the legend's takes on life, love, music, words, spirit, faith, formatives, public appearance, confusion, or just whatever has been passed down the line as to what and who we think we know he is or isn’t. One thing for fact with Dylan is that if there ever was a tally of the most extra-ordinary and fascinating lives who’d put and poured themselves to their fullest potential and contributions, he would be in the top ten. In fact, he might have several spots on the list. Much of the popular singer-songwriter's trail seems now more than ever routed in myth than non-fiction, even after forty years of evidence in the public eye. He is a continual subject of much study, debate, decoding and controversy, and offers a treasure chest of conversation and creativity. Today's Dylan (now well into his '60s) is of a totally different person than that of the one that first hit the ground morphing in a professional and almost prophetic manner over forty years ago. Forty years isn't really a long time on this Earth, but thinking about forty years back with Dylan dropping his bombs, seems like a hundred years ago due to how much he is considered responsible for shaking and destroying many halls in the hot beds that are the culture coals. It’s amazing he’s lasted this long. One can certainly argue with the fact that time is always changing, and Dylan himself would be the first to say that a person or a song can't change things. But, I think that a person can shake things up enough to get heads to turn and feet to stomp. He came at the right time, place and with the right things to say and with a heap of inertia, spunk, passion, soul and spirit. And oddly enough Dylan has managed to continue by changing within the times and within his self. Just when you think he's slipped away, he is still "there" and back with something new, and then soon enough with his back on it and onto another trail of his now wrinkled brow serving as his map that only he knows where he goes or has been. Even as a fan, devourer and studier of the man's mound of work, I tend to sometimes be dumbfounded by the fact that he is still "there", still "here", still creating and moving and shifting. In fact, even though I know he is a just a man (and I don't aim to put him higher than just a man who happens to share his gifts, views and observations…), knowing that he will be performing soon less than ten city blocks from where I sit seems very bizarre and surreal to me. Unfortunately, I can't attend the concert, but just the thought of him being "there" down the road, kind of keeps me scratching my head. "I'm Not There" is not perfect, not for everybody and if you are not a Dylan fan or looking for any sort of definitive answers, then please don’t waste your time. The intent is not to tell the whole story or to even give you any answers. Yet, it tells a story that could honestly go on for days and days. It tells a story staying true to its subject, even if the subject itself is in the shadows of fact or fiction pending on what you, or even he thinks. The storybook screen does Dylan great justice and in great artistic measure as well. From what I understand it is the only non-documentary film on him that he has given the green light and endorsed. The film is certainly "there", and at the creative crossroads between the screen and the viewer is a thick smoke shroud of much mystery and wonder like a dream that leaves one with their head scratching at the crackling jack outside of the box that we wish to put back in. Because, as people who can generally have anything we want, including our own answers to things, we want the prize for ourselves. It is just that fleeting finger grasped feeling that fascinates and moves me into and out of each phase of Dylan whether it's the man, the music, the movies, the mysteries, and among others, the mind he’s offered. There are more than enough prizes and surprises to keep me scratching and sniffing for more layers, more darks and lights to be unveiled. And with a forever extending soundtrack in surreal symphonic stereo sound that keeps me coming back to turn the handle on the box to see what kernels will pop up and out time and time again.


Monday, August 11, 2008

DJG's Movie Morning Monday

The Machine Girl * * * ½
Directed by: Noboru Iguchi / 2008

Bloody revenge is a staple plot for many a movie, but "The Machine Girl" hoses down the screen in fantastical, side-splitting gore. Stupid-gruesome-awesome doesn't dig to the core much better than this one (well, maybe not as great as “Dead Alive”, “Planet Terror” or “Kill Bill”, among others). Just don’t watch it with children or if you have a weak stomach or weak humor.


DJG's Weekend Watcher

Psycho * * * * *
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock / 1960

Very few films rattle the halls of film canisters quite like Alfred Hitchcock’s convincing masterpiece, “Psycho”. Nearly 50 years old, the film still shakes suspense valves, leaving with hairs and ideas still standing days later. I could easily write a long and windy essay on everything I carry through the thrash-hold with this film, but I’ll leave that up for my third or fourth watch, or for your own eyes. All I wish to say is that if you haven’t seen it and think you’ve seen some great horror-suspense films or just great films in general, then you’re really missing out on this slice of genius and history.


Pineapple Express * * * *
Directed by: David Gordon Green / 2008

Director David Gordon Green, one of my favorites in the age range of 30, exchanges his usual dark and somber filters for a shot at a stupid-awesome-cool-stoner-action comedy. I think “Pineapple Express” was a smart choice for Green, in a healthy gear switching after already carving major respect, promise and praise for his Terrence Mallick-like poetic dramas (“George Washington”, “All the Real Girls”, “Under Tow” and “Snow Angels”). By all means was I not disappointed with his first comedy feature (seemed like a less serious Quentin Tarantino meets Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg violent fun fest mixed with a ton of buddy action flicks and a pinch of Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours”…if that makes any sense?), but at times it felt a bit rushed, sloppy and opted for over-kill on pre-fab computer scene-switch filters (like what you’d see in a cornball corporate presentation). However, at the same time they fit in an odd way with the overall extreme of a plot surrounding a dead-beat stoner who witnesses a murder and seeks refuge in on-the-run antics with his burnout drug dealer and company. James Franco shows he’s got some really promising acting chops for the first time since “Freaks And Geeks”, as he trades in his pretty boy for druggy boy and Seth Rogen plays himself, charmingly so. These two anti-heroes bring much excitement and stupidity to the screen, but it was supporting funny man Danny McBride (Hot Rod) who brought my biggest laughs (I couldn’t wait to hear more about celebrating his dead cat’s birthday!). Produced by Judd Apatow, “Pineapple Express” isn’t without his typical stamp of snappy, clever, fresh, crude and gut-busting humor that is thick to the core. My beef is that three quarters of funny was put on the backburner for a formulaic falling out of the BFFFE (Best Friends For F-in’ Ever). Though, the climax drug lord shoot-off and goofy ending redeemed itself into my hurting guts as one heck of a stupid-awesome-cool-fun time at the movies.


The Man Who Wasn't There * * * * ½
Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen / 2001

The Coen Brothers have a ton of incredible films, but “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is my personal favorite and I feel it is their most under-appreciated masterpiece. So much mystery and darkness hide in the layers of gorgeously drenched black and white, leaving a lot of gray room in the story and subjects to effectively move and mystify me. I conjure different ideas and wonders each time I watch Billy Bob Thornton’s 1950’s bored barber whisper through life until he unravels (for better-or-worse) like the smoke and ash of his cigarette.


Magic * * * *
Directed by: Richard Attenborough / 1978

Anthony Hopkins delivers one of his finest performances, possessed by talent and success, talking for two as a ventriloquist in “Magic”. My initial thoughts were that the film would be great cheese in the “Chucky” realm, but in fact I was surprised at how effective and well-pieced it really is. I was also pleased it didn't resort to fantasy and left the magic up to incredible acting and an incredibly creepy doll!


Charlie Bartlett * * * ½
Directed by: Jon Poll / 2007

Thin hints of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Rushmore" (among others) and commentary on our thick obsession with mental health fuse this unbelievable yet surprisingly well-played take on the wear and tear of the high school condition. Life throws many punches, but nothing seems as worse than the mid-to-late range of teenage life. Remember?! Groomed for success and wealth, mischievous Charlie Bartlett is kicked out of private school and shipped off to the angst and anxiety battlegrounds of public high school. Subject to much bullying and abuse, Charlie visits with the family therapist and is supplied with anxiety medication which brings him to the streets in his underwear and loudest shout. Charlie sees this as potential in banding with the bullies and selling medication to his fellow high school peers in pain. The student body doesn’t fall to pressure, rather Charlie's therapy sessions and prescriptions in the boy's restroom/pharmacy.


Friday, August 8, 2008

DJG / A Week of Gettin' Hitched

This week I wrapped up one of three Alfred Hitchcock boxed sets that I have laying around my house. The sets are random assortments from the master movie maker's vast and extensive catalog of film language and legacy. In the past ten months I've consumed over half of his works, some major and some minor, but all speaking with the signature stamp of Hitchcock. I've always been fascinated by the life work of an artist and love a scoop shovel of quality and quantity. Hitchcock may have owned a pair of slouching shoulders, but he was no slouch behind the camera as he cranked out film after film. Not every film may have been a success, and you'll see below that some sour and bore me quite a bit, but each one serves a purpose in the study of Hitchcock's other-worldly talents and the time line of film and life. And I just admire an artist who is always working and always working hard, exploring new ground even if they miss on a few. I can barely touch upon what thousands of critics and fans have already said, so this post will simply skim on five sampled flicks at random from the past five days. Some being pretty ho-hum, but all still being a product of Alfred Hitchcock.

I Confess * * 1/2

This is the story of a murderer confessing his sin to a priest. The examination of a priest's guilty conscience on the receiving end of a confession such as this makes for an intriguing plot. However, the film bored me a bit once it started to unravel in the court room and dragged its feet a little too much. Nonetheless, not a bad film and has some lovely shots of churches and buildings.

The Paradine Case * *

Wow...and not a good wow. This is my least favorite Hitchcock picture that I've seen so far. This case dragged on and on and on and I realized that DJG really DOES NOT DO courtroom dramas. I just plain didn't care about this case and my verdict on is BORING.

Notorious * * *

Though more interesting than "The Paradine Case", this one still bored me senseless. Great story and decently made, but I just really didn't care about it.

Suspicion * * * 1/2

Solid, odd little technicolored cottage and seaside romp about a high rolling, womanizing man who woos a naive young woman into marrying him in hopes to win her aging father's fortune. The man (played by Cary Grant) works so hard at not working that he could easily use his charm and smarts to hold down a great job. Instead, he skirts and swindles behind his wife's back (Joan Fontaine) so much that anything he does or says causes her suspicions and paranoia to raise the roof higher than that of their own true love.

Foreign Correspondent * * * *

A New York City paper transfers a dim-wit news reporter to Europe in order to get the scoop on a forthcoming World War. Action, charm, dumb-luck and a bit of comedy lead the unlikely hero to the the unveiling of enemy spies and love of a woman. It's a great and well-paced film that only drags a bit in the second act, but is certainly the best Hitchcock I've watched all week.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

DJG / Sorry, Haters

Sorry, Haters * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Jeff Stanzler / 2005

Most movies fused with current events and topical commentary on race, class, society, politics, terrorism, etc. usually don't stick to the roof of my eye-lids very long or hardly at all. Not only have these areas been over-probed and over-bloated in the past seven years, but they tend to come pre-packaged, poorly-handled machines to manipulate as opposed to really move and react people in effective measures. Some have merely become seasonal Oscar bait and reasons to push personal agendas, acting skills and pay rolls. Case in point, does Oliver Stone really need to release a film this fall about George W. Bush before he is even officially out of the Oval Office? I'm not opposed to discussion or commentary at the movies (Well, please save it for the end credits!) nor am I opposed to the use of film as a timeline and historical document and I'm not one to brush real life under the rug. Some films of topical nature just do nothing for me and come way too soon to wear that they are almost like reality television or eye candy. Why not use the millions and millions of movie making dollars to put into the problems, instead of just raising glossy awareness in the dark for ten minutes before audiences go back to their private corners of the world? How many times have you been truly challenged by a movie in a two hour span and then left without a doggy bag of thoughts and discussion? It happens a lot, I think (Well, unless you live inside of CTJ’s and DJG’s little red wagons, as we tend to vomit excitement for most anything!). To top it off on the personal level, I sometimes just want to either see these topics and others explored through more creative film lenses...and with hearts that continue to beat. Oh, and sometimes I just want a retreat from the outside world with laughter and creativity! I also feel as a media-driven, voyeuristic society we like to be hammered with way too much reality that we've become almost de-sensitized to some degree as we keep behind our white picket fences with the KEEP IN signs firmly fastened. We love to know what's going on, but we don't want anyone getting to our personal property, mentally and physically (Well, unless we write a blog about it while in our underwear!). Despite my little gripes, there are a few extremely well-crafted, well-told rocket-in-the-topical-crib films that slip under the radar and truly explode and explore. Add "Sorry, Haters" to the top of this list. This film is not for everyone and may even frighten and disturb most. It might even cause some to wish to ban and blacklist. However, I think that everyone needs to see little-known flashing light films like this as opposed to the ones that tend to get the sirens, but typically fall short and have expiration dates by the end credits. I'm not about to give anything away with "Sorry, Haters". Let’s just say that it could bring slight comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “Taxi Driver”, but reversed, and uh, not really?! It has many surprises, transformations and surfacing results, not to mention an ending that had me jumping off the couch higher than some of the best horror-suspense films. I knew nothing going into this mini-masterpiece and I want others to have the same empty file drawer to fill up and spill out after a near-perfect one hour and twenty three minutes of film immediacy. This is a gutsy and important movie that will challenge, intrigue, absorb, confuse and cause much unrest and enlightenment in the viewer. It somehow conveys across rocky terrain without cliché, the need for much shock value or manipulation and it’s well-crafted and played. This is the best post 9-11 film yet to be made and is sure to keep sparking a long fuse to come.


Monday, August 4, 2008

DJG's Weekend Watcher

Hoop Dreams * * * * *
Directed by: Steve James / 1994

A small percentage of people live their lives without ever living up to their potential or even discovering what their true gifts and talents are. I don't know what's worse, never knowing your part of the game and drifting on by, or hitting your peak early in life, then hitting life's harsh realities. And some people spend their remaining time living their dreams through others or dwelling in the past to get by, or simply being all blow and no go to begin with. Though you might not fully recover from the past, you can certainly learn something from its foundation, complete or crumbled it is the make-up for life. The celebrated documentary "Hoop Dreams" will walk you down sidewalks you might never have considered walking down and in shoes that you'll probably never have to walk in. It will bring you to a neighborhood that many of you might not have ever driven through or interacted with and into lives and ideas that you might never have witnessed. These are real people with real struggles, determination, heartbreak, conquers, defeats, dreams, faith, hope and a strong unity of love. Just down the road from Chicago Stadium, where the great Michael Jordan was dominating the first of six NBA titles for the Bulls, you join William Gates and Arthur Agee on their own quests for basketball super-stardom and tickets to freedom. You might find that they have the same Jordan posters that you probably once had on your walls and the same Jordan moves that you used to mimic. Though, these two individuals potentially have a future in their authentic athletic skills and could change everything and everyone around them. As you join the two boys and their families at breakfast, church, discussions, on commutes, at school, work, play and on and off the court for five years, you realize that you are not the center of the world and that you can't hold it up on your own. You also realize that you can't live life through somebody else's dreams and in order to achieve a dream you really have to take the three hour round-trip with everything. You might even find something in common and/or become completely absorbed to where you become part of the crossed-fingered helping hands in William's and Arthur's dream of getting out of the Chicago ghetto to play professional basketball. This movie will surprise you and have emotions cheering just as hearty for things off the court. Long movie brush-offs and non-sports fans please don't let this film’s three hour basketball theme detour you. If so, you will assuredly miss out on a truly unique experience that you can't keep from. This film is a special gift and a testament to true devotion in documentation of a subject as you are treated with the rare gift of literally watching characters grow and develop, walking in their shoes, rising and falling. What started as a half-hour venture turned into an eight year epic of fully framed filmmaking that critic Roger Ebert hails as not only the best film of the 1990s, but one of the best examples of American life ever. "Hoop Dreams" is more than about the game of basketball, it's about the fundamentals of a game that we all have to play, no matter where we walk, jump or fall.


The Brothers Solomon * * *
Directed by: Bob Odenkirk / 2007

Sometimes all you need out of cinema is a sure shot of stupid-awesome. A like-minded chemistry connection of comedic acting by Will Arnett ("Arrested Development") and Will Forte ("Saturday Night Live") supply their brotherly spirited script with a heaping of stupid and a pinch of awesome. The Wills play John and Dean Solomon, hyperactive and socially-challenged brothers who were raised in isolation on ice in a scientific work station by their father at the top of the world before moving to the city. When their father becomes ill and falls into a coma, the brothers Solomon decide the best way to assure their father leaves life with no regrets is to make him a grandfather. Being that the brothers can't last five minutes with a woman, let alone marriage, they put themselves up on and find a suitor (Christin Whig of "SNL") for their sperm. I suppose not much more is needed for you to get the ridiculousness that ensues. The brothers go to a few extreme measures, and just when you think they will cross over to gross-out or be another case of the “too much”, they surprise you with a diaper full of popcorn and a dead baby bird, among other darling things. The Wills really do tickle up the screen with an odd naive grace and joy of awkwardly-stupid-awesome-hyperactive antics and brotherly baby love, but I wouldn't let guys like this near a child or an adult.


Charlie Wilson's War * * * 1/2
Directed by: Mike Nichols / 2007

While I was playing Rambo in my neck of 1980s Missouri woods, Texas congressman Charlie Wilson was deep into running his own covert military operations in Afghanistan. Wilson wasn't exactly pulling the rocket launcher triggers, rather supplying the goods, but he had the same mind of Rambo in shooting down the Russian helicopters and helping the Afghan people. I must add that while John Rambo was laying the bodies down and thirsting blood, Charlie Wilson was womanizing and knocking back whiskey and cocaine. I read the forward to the book the film is adapted from this past Christmas at my East Texan in-laws in Charlie Wilson's actual stomping grounds around Nacogdoches. I think I now need to pick it back up as this is probably another strong case of a book being better then the film. Shamefully, I'm more concerned with the '80s pop-culture cannon than that of the historical and political ones of my formative years, but Charlie's little project in the Middle-East is a fascinating subject and one of great significance. Unfortunately, I feel the movie is just so-so in fully translating the story to me and I wanted a lot more out of it than a Hollywood affair. Acclaimed director Mike Nichols seemed to roll very low with his craft and the film felt like it was rushed, though it be oddly-blahly paced at that. At times it felt more of an Oscar bait vehicle for the mediocre middle-aged acting of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts who just seem of late to be playing extended versions of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Both felt extremely stale and flat to me and weren't very convincing in connecting me to the true story being depicted. However, the one acting nomination the film did get went to the most deserved player and that is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who continues to impress me with every character he slips into. “Charlie Wilson’s War” is not a bad film and at least see it for whiff of the historical document behind the front lines and see it for another great take by Hoffman. But, I think this war would be better served in book form or by Rambo.


Friday, August 1, 2008

The Dinner Party/CTJ


A group of friends throws a dinner party, and each person must bring the biggest idiot he can find. The movie is exactly as hilarious as this sounds, and I am surprised I had not heard much about it prior to seeing it yesterday. A student of mine recommended it to me, and it was the perfect remedy to the stress of the workday. This is instantly going into my Top 10 comedies of all-time, and I may just have to invite an idiot over to dinner sometime. Who knows? I might even invite you, you stupid freak.
Quote: The main "idiot" builds modern engineering feats out of matchsticks. In one scene he holds up a picture of an oil derrick he has constructed. "Do you know what I call it?" He asks enthusiastically. "Beau derrick, like the American actress Bo Derek. Get it?" Groan!!!