Monday, September 29, 2008

DJG's Moving Morning Monday

Young @ Heart * * * * *
Directed by: Stephen Walker / 2008

It might be here before I know it, but I sometimes like to fast forward the crow's feet map and think ahead of myself and my generation’s golden years (you know, us 20-to-30-something "Gen-X” slackers?). I very much look forward to having all of my time for myself, not squandering away in some day job (financial and health fingers crossed, of course). I will work on my arts and crafts, watch as many movies as I'd like to, play video games, eat out often, travel at free will and of course continue to rock out to Bruce Springsteen and all of the music that I plan to move with me, even if that means into the nursing home. Though, this morning I saw that a group of seniors beat me to the rockin' punch by almost fifty years! And I stand in full salute for the best film of 2008 so far. Decked out in blue jeans with white shirts New England’s Young @ Heart Chorus belt out ballads and anthems, covering the last 40 years of great rock 'n' roll standards to sell-out audiences around the world. From grand theaters to correctional facilities, the Young @ Heart Chorus prove that there is still a great fountain of youth flowing through their foundation of bones, brains, energy and enthusiasm. "Young @ Heart" spends seven weeks with the group; at home, through lively and sometimes frustrating rehearsals, live performances and even in sickness and sadly in death. Despite it all the shows go on, performances shine and respects are paid on stage, off and in the audience. Whoever proclaimed that rock music was of the Devil needs to watch "Young @ Heart", among other things (ah-hem, get kicked in the skull by me). At the average age of 80 years young, these sweet hearted charmers are fired up with heavenly spirit, singing out a wide range of songs by The Clash, James Brown, Talking Heads, David Bowie, The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, Sonic Youth and Coldplay (to name a few). In fact, the group breathes new life into the original compositions, at times creating versions that feel more lived-in and more immediate. One elder in particular pulls from deep down a beautiful and poignant reflective rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" that is just as good as anything that Johnny Cash put to his last five records and it kinda makes me like Coldplay a little bit more. It will move you to tears. "Young @ Heart" is a brilliant triumph and touching portrait on life. These days it's easy to become a little disgruntled by either the state of the world, the economy...even people in general. But, I give a big hug to "Young @ Heart" for delivering a full tank of positive thinking, celebration, wisdom, heart and a whole 'lotta SOUL. See this movie and you'll scream, "I FEEEEEEEEEEEEEL GOOD, like I knew that I would...” You will certainly want to rock out, even if or when you’re in the golden years.


DJG / Miracle at St. Anna

Miracle at St. Anna * * * *
Directed by: Spike Lee / 2008

For over twenty years director Spike Lee has been leading up to the point in his celebrated career to make a movie like "Miracle at St. Anna". Whether telling historical events, perceptions and truths on culture or society through fiction/non-fiction film or straight documentary, Spike Lee has not been one to go the direct route. However, it's the route that has to be taken and I respect and appreciate that greatly. He might come off as a hard headed, hot wired, push button instigator to some, but I see him as a ballsy straight shooter who hammers home messages and reminders artistically, inventively and with enough fat to chew on for days to follow. In his own fashion, Spike Lee makes the movies that Spike Lee wants to make and he typically delivers on target and is one of the medium's most gifted users of it. "Miracle at St. Anna" not only celebrates all of Spike Lee's gifts, but also leaves you with the biggest bounty of treasure to take home with. This mature, multi-layered, epic World War II picture is rich and so thick with plot that at times I found myself easily shell shocked from everything in development, yet the picture blooms, booms and delivers. By the end of the near three hour ensemble I was in near exhaustion and the GOOD kind of exhaustion for a film of this magnitude and topic(s). This picture plays beyond the multiplex, carrying over a lot of spiritual depth, insight, importance, history and life with it. Spike Lee told Oprah last week that there are actually eighteen miracles and I believe him, though I didn't really catch them all. "Miracle at St. Anna" needs to be seen and absorbed (maybe several times) as every little bit of patience and detail included are placed there for a reason and the bits and pieces that do flesh out and digest truly unfold and form something remarkable. In the end Spike Lee didn’t make a perfect movie nor did he make his best, and perhaps with a little bit more editing and time I think he could have. And I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a couple of Oscar nods with this one. But, all that aside, “Miracle at St. Anna” is more than about movie making, even if it does find Spike Lee combining all of his “Joints” to make a work of art near the top of his game, or any director’s game for that matter. It’s a game that I look forward to see continue to develop because Spike Lee has a lot to share with us and he is appearing it in greater form and bounty than ever before.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

DJG / Eyes Without A Face

Eyes Without A Face * * * *
Directed by: Georges Franju / 1959

Considered a classic in the “Cinema Fantastic” genre, Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without A Face” is a mysterious film on the mad reality of obsession and science grafting with a killer’s touch. Doctor Génessier not only experiments on a wide collection of stray dogs and birds but also on beautiful young women, stealing their faces and dumping the bodies for clueless police to decipher. Fault to his own, his daughter Christiane’s face was severely burned and gnarled in a traffic accident, leaving only her eyes in mint condition (odd I think, but roll with it), peering forever from behind an eerie and expressionless mask. With help from assistant Louise, Dr. Génessier abducts and dissects a string of young women as he obsesses with grafting a face back on his disfigured daughter. You know, like any loving and caring father would do? The crime/thriller writing tag team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac scripted this bizarre meaty madhouse, adapted from Jean Redon’s novel and well put to film-fright by Franju. The writing genius of Boilau and Narcejac has collaborated before in film with original pants-wetting thrillers like Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Les Diaboliques” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”. A brief segment on their writing partnership accompanies the Criterion release of “Eyes Without A Face” and I recommend diving into a piece of writing and cinema history with it. More extras include director Georges Franju explaining his love for finding the horror through real life and there is a feature on what I feel is true “Cinema Fantastic” called “Blood of the Beasts”. This is a beautifully photographed and extremely graphic historical documentary on the grand slaughterhouses of Paris. Though, not one for the squeamish as it displays full-throttle the “Abattoir Blues” of horses, cattle and sheep while swingers of axes and knives whistle while they work, I actually found “Blood of the Beasts” more fascinating than the feature film. Though it isn’t perfect, “Eyes Without A Face” is still unique and mysterious, a mad classic must-see for the blue prints to modern horror. Though, perhaps it is best that parts of it aren’t perfect and left mysterious as the parts that involve the taking of actual parts are truly mesmerizing pieces of cinema that seem as though they helped shake the celluloid for those wishing to stake a claim in “Cinema Fantastic”. If only the bulk of modern day “Horror Porn” directors and fanatics would actually use such blue prints to improve on their own bloody red ones, they’d actually make fantastic cinema like their ancestors.


Monday, September 22, 2008

DJG's Movie Morning Monday

It’s A Wonderful Life * * * * *
Directed by: Frank Capra / 1946

Two of my choice Christmas movies growing up (and kinda still are) were “Gremlins” and “Christmas Vacation”. If I remember right, my first glimpses of “It’s A Wonderful Life” were broadcasted via the T.V. stations in the Peltzer and Griswold homes in these lovably-wacky Christmas classics. Movie lines within movie lines such as, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”, I’ve memorized for years, thinking that someday when I was bigger I would let this “grown up” movie “get” to me while chopping up onions like it does to the adults in these lovably wacky Christmas classics. Sadly, it took me many more years to get “grown” and finally watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” scene-for-scene, but it didn't take onions to help me cry. I must say that it is now one of my favorite Christmas movies and easily in my top 50 of all-time favorite movies. Christmas on the first day of Fall, I say why not!? Most importantly, why has it taken me so long to see it? I have no answer other than I don’t get much time with Christmas cable television and if I do it comes in twenty-four hours of “A Christmas Story”! Actually with “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the Christmas cheer is meant to extend beyond December 25th. I found out this morning that it’s a national treasure of a heartwarming gem that oozes goodness beyond the screen perimeter. I can find a lot of relation and kin to Jimmy Stewart’s “George Bailey”, as all I too wanted to do was experience more than Small Town U.S.A. had to offer and at times felt like I was was the biggest failure. But, as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that your roots will always be planted in the same place and can grow far and wide no matter the initial foundation size. Getting “grown” can teach a man that it is important to never forget where he comes from and that sometimes you've got to scrape your knees to grow or even to see your growth. And that it’s okay to search for and believe in a little slice of goodness, soul and peace in a classic film of yesteryear, especially in a today that can get pretty bleak. Oh, and It’s certainly okay to watch Christmas films, wacky or serious, all the year round.


DJG's Weekend Watcher

The Fall * * *
Directed by: Tarsem Singh / 2006 (Wide-Release 2008)

I didn’t plan it, but on the day before the first day of Fall I watched “The Fall”. Though, nothing really to do with my favorite time of year, indeed the film's visual department stacks pretty well in comparison to the landscaped beauty that Fall change has to offer. It is laboriously lavish, almost at times exhausting for the viewer, wide screened with real sets that seem to drip from many locations of the globe. Some critics and fans wetted their pants for it, but past the visuals “The Fall” simply falls (no pun intended) into the bin of films that I respect more than I can silver platter…films that are more about style than substance or an equal balance of both. In the end, actually even in the middle, I was pretty disappointed with it and struggled a lazy Sunday afternoon through it. I don’t aim to sound like a jerk, but my favorite parts were the beginning and end. The bookends served more emotional punches and much more exciting filmmaking meat for me than the insides, which were vivid but seemed to be dead weight and mildly bland like “White Boy” Mexican food (the bland brand of non-authentic “anything”). One could sort of compare it to a Terry Gilliam (Brazil) meets Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) production spectacle in some ways, but it just felt like it was missing something to convince me I was watching the epic that was supposedly being told on screen. I feel too much time, skill and patience was put on the visuals to carry the story and the acting was shoved backward. That's not a bad thing if balanced well like most Gilliam and Jeunet films, but it fell short for “The Fall” (again, no pun intended). I also feel that newcomer Lee Pace (T.V.’s excellent “Pushing Daisies”) was poorly chosen to lead a film like this as he was distracting and some of his acting had me cringing even when his mouth was closed. In fact, the acting felt like an after-thought to me. The story, going back and forth from a 1920s L.A. hospital/infirmary to a timeless and somewhat cliche fantasy epic told from one bed-ridden patient to another was simple and somewhat lovely, but just didn’t quite do it for me. My so-so with “The Fall” boils down to writer/director Tarsem Singh. Whom, I respect for tackling the film as a four year long pet project, feeding his own millions to it and for not relying on computers as visual support (major bonus there). However, I felt the same way before, during and after his only other film, “The Cell”. I was excited to see that one too, thought it was visually pleasant but was pretty disappointed and so-so with it and never wish to invest my time or care again. Tarsem is known for directing successful music videos for random recording artists like En Vogue, Deep Forest and R.E.M., but he doesn’t seem to make the jump from a 3 or 4 minute visual piece to a two hour film with the masterful ease that David Fincher and Spike Jonze can (who, both coincidentally "present" “The Fall”…whatever “presenting” means these days?). Although I don’t think he should completely stay away from full feature films, I just think that if Tarsem should wish to stick to such visual highlighting, then he really should push and pave new ground for two hour musical events or something to that special effect. Or, he should just make something look cool and pregnant in thought, place a score over it and let critics and fans try to decipher the storytelling in cryptic fashion like a Matthew Barney art house mojo or something?


Thursday, September 18, 2008

DJG / Snow Angels

Snow Angels * * * *
Directed by: David Gordon Green / 2008

Within the first five minutes of "Snow Angels" you're signaled that the film isn't going to end well. The weeks then turn back to a close-knit community who begin to expose layers, unraveling for nearly two hours to that bitter finale that you perceived coming. The underrated Sam Rockwell shines another performance as a man caught between the cross and the tavern of a separated marriage, cheating wife, a daughter he rarely sees, misguided inner direction and a born-again life that he just can't get the hang of. His dog seems to be the only thing stable in his life that he can connect with and he might as well have "Love/Hate" tattooed across his knuckles (which coincidentally end up looking like they do after a night of drunken tree punching). His "Glen" is the definition of sour and sweet, and a great supporting cast keeps the punches coming (Kate Beckinsale, Amy Sedaris, Nicky Katt...). Working at a restaurant with Glen's wife (Beckinsale) is an awkward high school boy (played well by Michael Angarano) whose own troubles at home help balance the story, brings some heart and also takes you through some of the trappings of teenage wasteland and small town life, cliche territory though it's handled well here. As the players plow through life's drifts, more layers of the small town's criss-cross come apart and even try to come back together as tragedy looms. The reliable and consistent David Gordon Green ("George Washington", "All The Real Girls", "Undertow") helms another solid mediation on the dark undercurrents of middle-class man, coming of age, forgiveness and the desperate clinging for momentary happiness that we all seem to have in us. He's a gifted talent and can create a compelling, artful story on a shoe string budget and I look forward to following his young career take off. I see the foundation of his first four films to be a small treasure for future fans to discover, though I would love to see him broaden his already developed skills as he has even greater things brimming and could eventually be a household name. But, it's no wonder he took a stab at the recent action-comedy of "Pineapple Express" after cranking out a four-for-four of solid moody broody art in a row. Though just like "Undertow", a stronger first half powers over the second with "Snow Angels" and some things don't quite fully develop and flesh for me. However, the film lives up to it's definition as a human made depression and it doesn't peter-out by any means as the characters, situations and community all feel very absorbed and aren't cheapened, decked-out or exaggerated like the usual crop of independent film dramas. It's just the suspense in waiting on the final act to polish off something you already know is coming that can dampen the mood by the time the credits call the dog to come home.


Monday, September 15, 2008

DJG's Movie Morning Monday

The Yes Men * * * *
Directed by: Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith / 2003

It’s not that I am apathetic to politics and current events. I just easily become bored and blahed big-time when round tables just keep getting more and more rotund. I think that a subject can only be argued and weighed so much and I feel there are way too many hands involved as it is and my hands are needed elsewhere. The modern world has become a broken record that only works for the brief cases and big bank books of britch-rich MEN. Though, what does raise excitement about what’s actually going on are the insanely awesome actions of The Yes Men. Michael Moore, you are just OK. Although I find you to love your country very much, you still just make movies that move me filmmaking wise over parlor politics. ADBUSTERS magazine, you are OK and try really hard to push design aesthetics and your own leftist branding, but need to just take a breather to hug kittens and puppies as a little goes a long way. In the end both you, Moore and ADBUSTERS, are big money making corporations in your own right and I think that The Yes Men are way cooler and actually do more than both of you. Imposters/Illegal, YES & MAYBE, Unpatriotic/Untruthful, NO & NOT REALLY. The Yes Men are a handful of guys who simply stir the pot and beat the drum in the ho-hum world of politics and corporate business. What started with an imposter website depicting George W. Bush’s true life and times, led to full-time sponsored gigs as in-the-flesh World Trade Organization imposters delivering television round table discussions and big shot corporate conference and university lectures. Handheld documentary “The Yes Men” follows The Yes Men and their means to get blank stare reactions in the not-too-surprising “anything goes” motto of globalization. I won’t even begin to describe what they do as they are pretty wow-wow and laugh-out loud awesome. I will say that one of the awareness pranks involves a highly inappropriately awesome strap-on tv monitor suit to keep track of slaves and to stay fit while another dreams up the stupid-awesome idea of recycling poop to make hamburgers in order to feed third world countries. “The Yes Men” is highly entertaining and a little bit scary at how insane and inhumane the corporation and political world can be. I say YES to The Yes Men, but my concern is how well and secretive The Yes Men can operate today with publicity like a fairly successful film, web site, major magazine and newspaper articles? One thing is for certain, they probably have a bigger payroll engineering pranks now because the world of globalization, corporate culture and political hooplah rarely experiences cut-backs. Even if I still don't invest too much time into the corporate/political climate, maybe I'll at least get a movie sequel?


DJG's Weekend Watcher

Jonestown-The Life and Death of Peoples Temple * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Stanley Nelson / 2006

My life slipped out of the woom just two months after over 900 men, women, seniors and children lost their own in what was the largest single toll of American deaths until 9-11. They laid their lives at the feet of self-proclaimed prophet Jim Jones on a dark November day in 1978 at Jonestown in Guyana, South America. Growing up I had always heard references and bad jokes in the code of “Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid". Naïve to the subject’s origin, I went on down the hatch about my delicious artificially-flavored sugar drink. Later on, while diving into a heap of musical acts in college, I came across The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I knew that this name was a clever play on words and that half of it was borrowed from the late Rolling Stones guitarist. I simply figured that the other half was taken from some sort of Native American or Civil War massacre. I didn’t make the Kool-Aid connection on that one, but by the age of 18 I knew that Kool-Aid had been used for mass religious suicides at one time. Alas, I was naïve and there was no Wikipedia back in the late '90s. I just loved Kool-Aid and psychedelic garage rock, and still do, but I hadn’t much clue on the actual story behind the actual Jonestown massacre until its almost 30th anniversary. I just knew that mass suicide wasn't the right answer to follow and celebrate Christ. And bottom line, I just knew it wasn't right. The documentary “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple” tells the story of Jim Jones’ peculiar upbringing and his start and finish to what he and his followers thought was Heaven on Earth. It doesn’t necessarily examine the complete WHY to it all, other than the shocking insanity of Jim Jones and I don’t think there really is going to be a final answer. The film takes you inside the church, community and commune of Peoples Temple with revealing footage of the events leading up to the massacre/murders as well as interviews with the few Jonestown survivors who graciously shed light and tears, and what they cannot take back. While Jonestown is certainly the most infamous it is not the first nor last of religious cult-like activity. Things of this nature go on around us all the time and seeing this film makes one understand just a little bit why we become a little jumpy, court and trigger happy with religious compounds and doctrines that aren’t of “normal” prescription (We’ve all watched this with events in Texas). Putting the term “cult” on the people of Jonestown doesn’t do the lives lost justice as it is such a shame that seemingly great lives were lost and never seen to their potential. Nor is it really our responsibility to tell a man what he should believe in. Had GOD instilled in us LOVE and OBEY for him initially, then it would not be our free choice and we would be robots, tossing to the side all that. The people of Jonestown thought that they had found true love and happiness through the devilish ideals and tongue of Jim Jones’ brainwashing and Hitler-esque power trip. Things like Jonestown reveal the dangers and damages of homemade religious poison when man chooses to play God, ignoring Christ’s teachings and the foundation of love.


Burn After Reading * * * 1/2
Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen / 2008

Even bottom-rung efforts in the Coen cannon are better than the average moviemaker's best picture. With the exception of "The Ladykillers" which I just could not get into at all (Sorry Chad!). Brothers Joel and Ethan have a special bizarre brand of making their language come together on screen. I didn't expect greatness again so soon from them, just ten months after the taught-for-shot movie meditating masterpiece that is "No Country For Old Men". Of course they had some great source material to tap in Cormac McCarthy's book with that one, but the Coen's have proved they are finer-than-fine writers since the mid-'80s and they take a so-so stab at it again. They didn't have anything to prove with a follow-up to their Oscar winner, as "Burn After Reading" feels more like an exercise in getting their friends together to play and raise chaos in the sandbox, to decompress from the headache it must have been to make a perfect film like their last one. The boys needed a break to just cut loose, take another script off the shelf and put another movie back on so they could move on to their four or five other projects in production. Geesh, these guys crank ‘em out. I think it's hard in the film world to keep top shelf consistency with writing and directing (and usually producing, editing in their case), but then again there are two of them and that makes it a little easier to equal out to quality and quantity. This new one is a seedy cross firing crop of smarts and stupids. It’s a fun little homeland-makeshift do's and don'ts on espionage, extortion and bedroom backstabbing. It’s a Coen-joyable above-average feast that feels like it could have been a more outrageously vulgar, twisty-turvy Hitchcockian plot (and uh...let's just say one distracting plot device that "pops up"!), though the film still puckers up deliciously on the brothers' typical character lemons, quirks and oddities. Although unraveling fun and giggle-inducing zaniness (In particular Brad Pitt's obnoxiously excitable totally way awesome dude who demanded more screen time or his own movie), there isn't much to like about the sad and sordid Washington D.C. area lives profiting per the moment on selfish lies and cheats until a mess of body bags are stacked and the C.I.A. book report is closed and covered-up all too soon, but in just the right fashion. Just as lesser Coen affairs are better-than-most, the character dynamics still stand among some of their memorable and better movies and I very-very rarely leave their playground disappointed nor without sand in my shoes.


Son of Rambow * * * * ½
Directed by: Garth Jennings / 2007

I miss being eleven. Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the rights of just BE-ing a boy and for not putting a tap on my creativity or pop-culture consumption. Thanks for letting me watch a bounty of action movies like “Rambo” and for giving me many acres of ditches, woods and weapons to play in and out of. A strange concoction was brewed down in my own private Missouri and on most days I think I turned out all right, with or without dead animals under the bed. While most kids made mud pies, I made a character combined of Rambo-meets-Commando-meets-Indiana Jones-meets-Luke Skywalker. I even had wardrobes and weapons detail, hideouts and sets. I was my own movies when the ones on the TV or Movie screen fuzzed out. Had I actual access to camera/video equipment in my 1980s, I’d surely now be able to re-live my first decade and some change by simply hitting PLAY. But, for now I just keep those play-time memories close as they shaped and built the ME today. And I keep my action movies filed like soldiers on a shelf, ever-so-often unlocking some great moments cherished on and off screen. I’ve a new flick to add to this collection, “Son of Rambow”. It’s almost as if secret tapings of my childhood have been unearthed with the play parts of this movie that involves the making of an action movie based on inspiration from the Rambo franchise starter-up “First Blood”, mixed with every day creative day dreaming of boys. “Son of Rambow” is for all who still have a big piece left out there in the woods, or in some cases on video tape in the closet. And it’s just one in a large crop of movies by directors who pay homage to the movies and to their youth. Whether they are referencing movies or shooting a movie within a movie, “Son of Rambow” fits into the rekindling with “Be Kind Rewind”, “Hot Fuzz”, “Rushmore”…and even “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, “Tropic Thunder” and “Boogie Nights” (Which might stretch it for some, but I’m thinking of the awesomely amateur sleeze-cheese action movies made within the P.T. Anderson flick that is not for kids). Simply put, see “Son of Rambow” before I rip out your throat like John Rambo would. And if you grew up on a lovable dose of Rambo but now shield your children from such awesomeness, then shame on you.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

CTJ/Smart People **1/2

A middling but winning-enough indie-comedy featuring Ellen Page, Dennis Quaid, Sara-Jessica Parker, and Thomas Hayden-Church. The cast was great, but the writing could have been developed much more. There were characters and plotlines that felt only half-formed, and although there were beautiful musical montages/interludes, they did not necessarily serve to propel the plot forward. I enjoyed it, but I wanted more. It was a lot like a half-baked cookie that gets served before it’s ready to eat. And yep, it definitely belongs in the same barrel as so many indie-film clichés – dysfunctional family, literate/articulate family members who are anti-establishment, meandering through life as if entirely lost, etc. All the ingredients that you have tasted before and, although not bad in and of themselves, nothing terribly special either. This has become an overused blueprint for indie-success, as Danny so often points out. There is nothing wrong with tried and true blueprints being used again and again, but the viewer does get the sense of “Been there, done that. What makes this film unique/worthy of my time? Why wouldn’t I just watch Juno again or Little Miss Sunshine? They did the same thing, and they did it better.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

DJG / The Band's Visit

The Band's Visit * * * * *
Directed by: Eran Kolirin / 2007

Connecting the acne scar dots, I can easily jump fifteen steps back to the strange land of high school band. Disorganized, dysfunctional and destructive to every bar of music and ear put in our path, I at least give our music instructor high marks for putting up with us. One for all the stress we must have caused on her job and the other for getting us to and from parades and concert venues without getting lost. Though, I'm quite positive we would have gotten lost if we had to travel from Egypt to Israel to play a concert, like in the pitch perfect film, "The Band's Visit". Though at times they act like socially awkward teen geeks, the band in this 2007 Israeli film is not an undercooked high school band, rather a professional outfit of grown men in matching powder blue uniforms and rolly tote bags called The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. The day before serenading the opening of an Arab arts center, the out-of-state-and-country band haphazardly is dumped off in a small town in the middle of a desert without a clue. Confused, misguided and worried of missing their gig and sheer embarrassment they stop to regroup and eat at a local diner, and in full uniform. The diner owner and her friends offer the blue boy brigade places to stay so they can get on a bus to their destination in the morning. Both parties end up getting more than a sleep-over as they all learn from and help one another. It's a charming little series of brother-sisterhood actions and awkward leanings, fumbles and reach-outs with situations and people that would have never been put onto paths if it weren't for a band getting lost. There is some great depth in character and thought that carries off the screen through these interactions. One noted line that Chad and I talk about almost daily goes like this, "People don't seem to appreciate things like great music because they are too busy finding worth in money, business, jobs...people can be stupid though. Yep, I guess they can be stupid." It's a conversation that is not trying to be above the audience or those who don't enjoy great culture, rather it's just an observation that speaks so true of humanity in that we just can't sit back and enjoy things from the rat race shells we run. Not only scene-for-scene thought-provoke and a shot-for-shot photographic waltz, "The Band's Visit" is a well-crafted simple and subtle story, rich in joy, humanity and heart. I can see why it swept the Israeli Film Academy as it tugs at all strings, hits every button and can be related with even for those out there who think that cultural divides lose them along the way. This is a pure example of how movies and the music of life can bring different people together in delight, even if you can't play a tune.


Monday, September 8, 2008

DJG / The Weekend Watcher

Planet Earth – From Pole to Pole * * * * *
Created by: BBC / 2006

Whenever I’m in an overstock store or used book house I search the children’s book section for Eric Carle books. His playful hand painted cut paper animals and words just really tickle my inner child and illustrative upbringing. Over the weekend I paid a dollar (!) for a priceless Carle book involving children mimicking animal actions/behavior. The creative simplicity and style is universal speak for the marvelous observational union of all humans and animals. Certainly, some animals (and some humans for that matter) aren’t desired to become close with and there are some boundaries we shouldn’t cross. But, we can learn a lot about life, love, creativity and a higher power at work by sitting back in observation and even in mimic of the animal kingdom. Spectacularly shot and displayed, “Planet Earth” watches wildlife and nature through all cycles of the seasons and spectrums and puts them in the comfort of your own home. I’ve wanted to make a big boy purchase of a digital projector for half a decade now, and I can’t think of a better reason why. I saw the most dazzling, mind-boggling birds last night strutting their colorful stuff, an intense horror-like Great White Shark exploding out of water, and elephants that looked to be bicycling while they swam. I was literally blown out of the water and that is only a small sampling. The ooohs and ahhhs of the awesome wonders and mysteries of the Earth don’t get much better than “Planet Earth”. Though I’ve already been “From Pole to Pole”, I still have a lot more incredible footage that I can’t recommend highly enough. Whether you're flipping through an Eric Carle children's book or watching your television screen in order to get close to wildlife and the great outdoors, just simply get to know your planet Earth NOW.


DJG / Movie Morning Monday & Cinemadhesive

Dear Wendy * * * * *
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg / 2005

Naively, a title like “Dear Wendy” might boil to surface great fancy in some parents out there searching for a “Peter Pan Part Deux”. Without researching I honestly wouldn’t put it past Disney to already have at least seven sequels and prequels straight to release in the annuals of home viewing pleasure or even locked in their vault. Parental guidance assured, “Dear Wendy” in fact does invoke some like-minded spirit of Peter Pan and his lost boys, but isn’t for the average eyes and minds of the little his ‘n’ hers. Acclaimed Denmark filmmaker Lars von Trier sits behind his thick observational typewriter with this screenplay, passing directorial duties to Thomas Vinterberg, a fellow co-founder of the Dogme 95 movement. With strict Dogme guidelines aside, “Dear Wendy”, invokes an extremely unique absorption in the snot rag duster of a modern day Western mixed with Boy Scout heroics and that secret club that we all had growing up. From my understanding, Lars von Trier has never set foot in ‘Merica, yet wallops another punch with his commentary about US, this time on gun control, power and violent nature. Though I’m not too surprised, it’s still disappointing to me that this gun love letter was poorly received because it’s equally well-made and has a whole chamber of lead to chew on. Backed by a soundtrack of ‘60s psychedelic-pop powerhouse tunes from The Zombies, “Dear Wendy” is enjoyably dangerous and powerful thinking that melts up the screen and receives high marks on my hit list. However, if you’re looking for a second round of “Peter Pan”, please go looking for a different Wendy.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Crowing About Cameron

"Come in she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm." -- Bob Dylan

There are too many plastic films in Hollywood, and it would not be so obvious if it were not for those films that feature characters that bleed. Plastic characters simply do not bleed, let alone sweat. I have long been a fan of character-driven films and directors, and this is where my love of P.T. Anderson is rooted. But as Yoda once said to Luke in a raspy voice, "There... is... another..." I love P.T. Anderson, and he is probably my favorite working director. But there is another director that has been a mainstay in mainline Hollywood for quite some time, and I am not ashamed to profess my appreciation of his work: Cameron Crowe, wherever you are, you are a joy.

In film circles it almost anathema to admit that you actually enjoy films that critics have panned. Like film critic Pauline Kael says, however, "I love a lot of films, and some of them are good." I understand exactly what she means, and I have my own version of this statement. I love a lot of good films, and sometimes my definition of good does not overlap with that of the critics. Here are the things I see in Crowe's films:

I love Jerry Maguire. It has so much heart that it just makes me smile, and smiling is rarely a crime. Even though Tom Cruise (who is the next celebrity-freak a la Michael Jackson in the making... more on that later) plays the leading role, I find that I completely buy the character, hook, line, and sinker. Maybe it's because I identify with a character who's relationally reluctant, unable to love like he wants to, and who devotes himself to his work to avoid the challenges of relationships. In endorsing this film, I feel like I am saying "Yeah, I don't hate the Captain of the football team or the Homecoming Queen." Sometimes those things that are popular are actually good.

Vanilla Sky, on the other hand, despite being maligned by most major critics, has a very special place in my heart. I could care less for Abre los Ojos, the original Spanish film the movie is based on. I have seen it, and it is largely void of the warmth that is so often characteristic of Crowe's films. Tom Cruise (Yet again!) is brought face-to-disfigured-face with the fact that he is a mere mortal. He is not a deity. He is subject to the limitations of the human condition, and he buckles under these limitations when his fortune fades. Buddhists know that to live is to suffer. This film demonstrates that suffering is par for the course of this life, and we have to choose what we are to do with it.

Say Anything is easy. I want to be Lloyd Dobler. I love "Johnny" Cusack anyway, but this character is pure gold. Every girl I know loves this movie because Lloyd Dobler is this brave, charismatic everyman who knows how to treat a woman right. I want to be that way if I can. And more than that, because he is an everyman, those of us who consider ourselves "everymen" can take heart at the prospect that we might arise from this same "stuff" -- this same categorical gene pool, if you will -- and be more than mere men. We can live big, tall lives that radiate with warmth and abandon.
I could go on, and I could talk about how I think Orlando Bloom should never have been cast as the lead in Elizabethtown, or how Singles is a Generation-X specimen preserved forever in filmic amber, or how I went to see Almost Famous on opening night all by myself when I had just moved to St. Louis in 2000. Cameron Crowe's films have long been a part of my life story. His characters are part of me, and in some mysterious way I am part of them as well. We share common DNA in a way.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

CTJ/The Cinemaddict's Fix

CTJ/Wise Blood **** (Dir. John Huston)

I am officially a Flannery O'Connor convert. A Flannery O'Connvert, I suppose. When I first heard about her and her status as one of America's literary greats I suspected that I would find her to be someone else's treasured wordsmith and not my own. But she has found a home in my heart, her wise blood intermingling with my own.

I bought my sister Alyssa Wise Blood a few years back in paperback form, knowing that she was a book junkie who would probably enjoy it. I had not read it myself. I had simply heard good things about it, so I bought her a copy.

I usually find "classics" to be creations that often do not speak to me or this day and era. I look at an Academy Award-winning film like A Gentleman's Agreement, in which Gregory Peck plays a reporter who poses as a Jewish man so he can see what kind of persecution Jews experience. Today the film feels like an anachronism, almost insulting. I thought Wise Blood would read similarly -- like some relic of a bygone era that had about as much relevance to me as Eli Whitney's cotton gin.

But when I actually sat down to explore the book on my own, I found myself standing in one of the weirdest worlds I have ever discovered. It's so weird to me that a Southern woman novelist would write something as enigmatic, horrifying, and ugly as Wise Blood, but this is also what thrills me when I think of the book. I recently found out that the Criterion Collection is going to be releasing John Huston's filmic interpretation of the novel on DVD next year. It has never been available in any digital format, and VHS tapes of it retail for upwards of $50 online. Last week I discovered a DVD bootleg of the film and bought it immediately. I had to know how John Huston filmed this elusive work.

I found out this morning that he followed Flannery's footsteps pretty much note-for-note. As films go, it is true to its literary source, and it is equally cryptic. The protagonist, Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif), is a backward, black-hat-wearing preacher who heads the Church of Christ Without Christ. He is a bent-nail of a man who is intent on driving himself into the lid of his own coffin. He believes Jesus is unnecessary, irrelevant -- yet he cannot rid himself of Him. A man without a home, he buys a rusted bucket of a car that hacks and wheezes like an old man with emphysema. "Nobody with a good car needs to be justified," he says. His car is a visual metaphor for his independence, his determination to live life apart from Jesus. Even though it gets him where he needs to go for the most part, he is a man who is content not with second best, but with fourteenth or fifteenth best. Sure, he is able to live on his own terms, but is he really living? He believes that he is clean, that he needs no redemption, that his own blood is his salvation.

The story is my kind of fare, as Mr. Motes' world is populated by a circus-like cast of characters that only a surreal vision of the South could ever yield. There is Enoch Cameron, a buffoon of a boy who follows Hazel like some dumbed-down disciple. When Hazel preaches that the world needs a "New Jesus" that looks nothing like any Jesus anyone has ever known, Enoch steals a mummified child from the local museum -- a bloodless, shrunken, unresurrected shell of a stand-in for Jesus. It is a ridiculous action, and it is ever bit as weird and out of place as it sounds. O'Connor has a way of making the most ridiculous things imaginable stand out like sore thumbs so people cannot help but stumble over them. The book/film is also populated by characters such as the wandering blind preacher Asa Hawks (the peerless Harry Dean Stanton) and his white trash daughter, who is smitten with Hazel. Throw in a town prostitute, a gorilla suit, some QuickLime and a hammy huckster who wants to compete with Hazel's Church of Christ Without Christ by forming his own church of the same name, and you begin to realize that you are nowhere near Kansas. This is otherworldly stuff -- mysterious stuff that cannot be sorted out. It is worlds away from Hollywood's paint-by-numbers studio fare, and it is black enough and surreal enough that it really feels worlds away from any ideas of life that we might have and hold dear.

Even more, it is puzzling enough to leave even David Lynch scratching his head. Wise Blood is the sort of corkscrew narrative that winds its way into your veins, into your bloodstream, into your mind, making your body -- the Temple of the Holy Ghost, as Ms. O'Connor puts it in a short story of the same name -- a haunted house. It is as if Flannery O'Connor read the Bible, went to mass weekly, and dumped all of her religious influences into a burlap sack and jumbled them altogether, only to empty the sack's contents on the floor and reassemble things in her own unique way. The picture of faith painted in Wise Blood is one that feels as if it has never been painted before and, as such, it does not go in one ear and out the other. Wise Blood is faith turned inside-out, grace in the most grotesque of places.

In Bruges ****1/2

Some films are lifeless collections of parts, Frankensteins that never rise up and walk. Sure, a story is told, but only in a functional, mechanical way, like a marionette with strings for all to see. There is no life in them because there is no Dr. Frankenstein working behind the scenes, using his mad genius to bring his creations to life.

In Bruges is a film that is completely alive, a collection of parts in which each line of the script, each acting performance, each shot, feels like it is part of a greater, integrated whole. It excels because it is able to juggle humor and regret, corruption and shame, without losing cohesion. So many films only know only tune, and they play the same three chords over and over, but this film is as varied and flexible as the human soul itself.

The writing in particular is very notable, as the characters all feel like people who could stand alone outside of the film, apart from the plot, apart from the confines of the screen. They feel real, and throughout the film they explore the full spectrum of emotional and psychological experience.

I have no interest in telling you what the film is about. Let it suffice to say that you should see it for yourself. It is a worthy comedy/thriller/crime drama/whatever-else-it-might-be. I mean, usually Colin Farrell annoys me, but I thought he was wonderful in this movie. See it if you loved Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, or if you love Scorsese. In Bruges resides in a similar neighborhood, but it has a life of its own.

Shattered Glass ****

Most days, if you asked me what it would look like if wood tried to act I would say, "Well, just look at Hayden Christensen." Hence my hesitation when it came to seeing this film.

Throw out what you know, or what you think you know, and see this film. It is a stunner.

It is based on the true story of journalist Stephen Glass (Christensen), who wrote for The New Republic in the late 90s. All the references to the classic All the President's Men apply here, but this film occupies a journalistic niche of its own. I do not want to spoil anything, so I will simply say this: The film does an excellent job of exteriorizing Glass' interior state, of making his pathology yours, of awakening you to the discrepancies that exist within your own heart. It is a film that brands you with a moral cattle prod and dares you to flinch. As with In Bruges, this film excels because it captures things that cannot actually be filmed. For me, at least, it was less about what was happening onscreen, and more about what was happening to me as I watched it.

It is easy to forget that the same depravity that lands crooks and killers behind bars is present in all of us to some extent. We would like to think we are immune, but we have criminal hearts too. We lie, we cheat, we think racist thoughts and feel that we are above racism simply because we do not act on them.

Shattered Glass is an excellent psychological portrait of a man whose life is best seen as a cautionary-tale -- a Scared Straight not for juvenile delinquents, but for all of us who believe we are entitled to the good life, exempt from the rules, above protocol. Guilty as charged, and glad to be after seeing this gem of a film.

The Dark Knight ***1/2

DJG and I have conversations about Christopher Nolan's films all the time, and usually they go like this:

DJG: Christopher Nolan bores me to tears. I never care about his characters.

CTJ: I think he's a gifted filmmaker. I'm not his biggest fan by any means, but I mean, he's good at what he does.

DJG: I just hated Batman Begins.

CTJ: Yeah, I was so bored with it. Do you think you'll see The Dark Knight -- or rather, the Dork Newt?

DJG: Maybe when the hype dies down. But I probably won't like it.

In addition to disliking Nolan's approach to character development, Danny has repeatedly stated that he feels like Nolan's realist take on Batman sucked all of the fun out of the franchise. Take the comic out of the comic book, and you're just left with a book. And when you are expecting to find a filmic translation of a comic book and you only find a book, color Danny disappointed.

My friend Brandon and I went to see The Dark Knight yesterday in Overland Park at the Palazzo Cinema, Dickinson Theaters' flagship venue in the area. My reaction? It was better than Batman Begins, but I suspect Danny's review would be a one-liner: Z-z-z-z-z-z... Granted, there's a lot of action, and there is humor along the way, but I found it hard to connect even though the whole picture felt solid. I mean, the direction, the acting, and the writing were strong. But when characters died I didn't even flinch. I simply said, "Oh, okay." And when things exploded I thought, "Oh, okay. More explosions." The sound design was particularly percussive -- concussive, even. And visually the film was eye candy like all good summer blockbusters are.

I think for me the best films are the ones that span the divide between screen and mind, working their way into your psyche like filmic phantoms. The Dark Knight lived within the confines of the screen, and that's not necessary a bad thing. I would go so far as to say that it is actually a good film, and I enjoyed it. I just had problems with its design, its construction, its machinery.

And now to acknowledge the white, lipstick-smeared elephant in the room: Brandon noted that Heath Ledger really disappeared into the role of the Joker. I agree wholeheartedly. He really did do an excellent job in this film, and he felt authentically psychopathic. Nicholson's Joker in Burton's Batman was playful and whimsical and sick, but Ledger's Joker channels Charles Manson and appears to be ready to howl at the moon at anytime. Is it an Oscar performance? I don't know. If he gets to the award simply because of his death, I will be frustrated. But not that frustrated, because I am pretty disillusioned with the Oscars already. But a performance is a performance is a performance, and Ledger's death should not be considered part of his final act in The Dark Knight. Sure, it's tragic to be sure, but let's leave what happens offscreen off of the ballot. Last year's best supporting actor award was given to Javier Bardem for his performance -- not because of anything he did at home. Let's keep the standards consistent.

So the verdict is that The Dark Knight is solid enough, an enjoyable film if not an overlong, slightly bloated affair. Should you see it? Sure, why not. Weigh in for yourself. It certainly couldn't hurt. But expect to see more of Nolan's realist Batman, sans comic book-ishness.

CTJ: The Cinemaddict's Fix

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu: A Review ***

When people lambast critics' picks for "Best Film of the Year," I am usually the one who defends the critics, saying "Well, are you watching films for the same reasons the critics are? Are you watching for entertainment, to appreciate the art of cinema, to grow and develop as a person? Why are you watching? Because a critic may dislike Spider Man 3 for the very reasons you like it. You may like it because it entertains, but a critic might find it to be hollow entertainment, useless for anything but a fleeting moment of sweetness on the tongue, like a tuft of cotton candy that dissolves without leaving a memorable trace behind."

When I watched The Death of Mr. Lazarescu last night I went in with a world of expectations, which is unfortunate considering the filmmaker did not attach these expectations to the film himself. It was trumpeted as the achievement of the year by many critics, and the tagline for the film was "A black comedy with side effects." Based on these things alone, I was quick to pick it up at the library this week when I saw it sitting there on the shelf, a free rental, and a serendipitous one at that since it just came out on DVD recently.

"What is this film?" You ask. It's essentially a film that lampoons the dreadful healthcare system in Romania, although it could easily be a 2-hour diatribe against American healthcare as well. The film's protagonist, Mr. Lazarescu Dante Remus, has a headache and stomach pain, so he calls an ambulance. His neighbors insist that he simply drinks too much, while he is certain that it is more serious than this. At this point, the ambulance comes and, over the remainder of the film, Mr. Lazarescu and an ambulance attendant go from hospital to hospital to hospital, only to be subjected to numerous formalities, indifferent physicians, critical staff members, etc. The cumulative result recalls Zhang Yimou's The Story of Qiu Ju that, by many viewers' standards, is an exercise in excruciating repetition. While I enjoy The Story of Qiu Ju, it is not something that merits repeated viewings for me, and it is the same with this film.

Overall, I give the film three stars out of five, which places me outside of the general critical consensus about this film. I think it is a solid enough film in its own right, but not the cinematic landmark reviewers have proclaimed it to be. The acting is excellent, as the old man who plays Mr. Lazarescu is certainly adept at being old, dodgy, cagey, and belligerent. He is the sort of wrinkled older fellow who is responsible for existing archetypes of "the old man." The cameras are largely handheld, and they linger for long, luminous periods of time that provide the impression that the viewer is watching events unfold in real time. Unfortunately, when watching paint dry, real time is excruciating. So it is with this film at times.

The film's billing as a "black comedy with side effects" is also misleading, as its black comedic bent is subtle and underscores the events that are happening rather than punctuating them in any concrete, hilarious way. If anything, I was more frustrated with Mr. Lazarescu's predicament than anything else; my funny bone was never truly engaged. More than anything, it was characterized by the sort of lower than low-key sensibilities of Mr. Krzysztof Kieslowski's work (The Three Colors Trilogy, The Decalogue, etc.), which I admire and enjoy. It is distinctly European and, as such, it is foreign to me. Had this film been billed as a comedic interpretation of Kieslowski, I would not have expected what I did. I might have reacted differently. Perhaps I should blame Tartan Films, the movie's distributor, for marketing its product to an American audience in a way that is incongruous with its content. Perhaps I am the Lone Reviewing Ranger who feels this way about the film. Regardless, it is my viewpoint.

When I watched the Coen Brothers' film Fargo, I reacted similarly the first time. It was as if I had not watched a film at all, as if I had merely been staring at a blank wall for two hours, emotionally vacant. The second time I viewed it a few years later and found it much more enjoyable. Will I pick out subtle nuances of brilliance upon a second viewing? I do not know. At this point I do not want to watch it again, although if I were a health care professional like my girlfriend Becki, I would want to own this film. I would probably give it 5 stars. I would fork over the 20 bones to the man at the local retailer and pick it up, as it would certainly be an excellent exercise in meditating on the medical profession.

I will say this in favor of the film: It is great from the perspective of humanism and, not coincidentally I'm sure, so are Kieslowski's films. When I went to KU in 2006-7 I found myself treated as a number. My professors would not and could not engage me as an individual, and perhaps this is why I still have not memorized my student ID number despite the fact that it is comprised of the same number of digits as my phone number, which I memorized in less than five minutes. We do not want to be numbers. We want to be seen and appreciated and valued as individuals. As viewers we are horrified by his treatment, and we see ourselves in him, as we have been cast aside before as well. However, this aspect of the film is not enough for me to praise it indefinitely. In summary, my review could be summarized as "Eh." It's a good enough film, but it's not really for me. Send a copy of it to your Congressman though, as you might single-handedly reform health care here in America. Otherwise, I am content to let Mr. Lazarescu rest in peace.

Europa Europa ****1/2 -- Alfred Hitchcock's films were notorious for setting the mind's wheels in motion concurrent with the projector reels. Europa Europa is the same way. When you watch the main character -- a teenaged German Jew who joins the Hitler Youth under false pretenses to survive WWII -- you enter into his mind. You experience the contradictions, the ethnic betrayal, the potential suspicion, and most of all, the tension that pervades every second of his life. A whole parallel film unfolds in your mind as you watch, which is a powerful thing. I highly recommend this film, and if you like this I suggest you watch Henry Bean's film The Believer, which is also superb.

Hard Candy ***1/2 -- Horror films rely on certain conventions to elicit responses of terror from us, and when someone comes along to disguise those conventions in new ways, it feels new even though we know an old trick is at work. So it is with Hard Candy, a solid little film that confounds convention by inverting the chat-room-predator-stalking-a-teenage-girl cliché that has become increasingly common news fodder in recent years. I am waiting for feminist critics to leap on this one and declare it a proclamation of woman's revenge for centuries of patriarchal oppression. Is that what it is? Perhaps for some. For me it was a squeamish voyage into a totally different kind of voyeurism. If anything, it reminded me of the Japanese fright flick Audition, which is also pretty grizzly. If you want a horror film that will leave your mouth agape, your eyes bloodshot, this one's a good candidate. Guys -- Beware. You might want to wear an athletic supporter (or as the French might say "a Jacque strap!").

Soylent Green ** -- In a word, overrated. This film is championed by many people as classic science fiction, and in the process of extolling its virtues, most fans give away the surprise ending: "Hey Chad, 'Soylent green is made of people!'" I do not consider this writing to be a "spoiler" because these stupid fans spoiled it for me long before I ever saw the film. If you have no idea what soylent green is, or why it's "made of people," don't worry. You're not really missing out. Like many films that depict a bleak or post-apocalyptic future, Soylent Green imagines a world bereft of the pleasures we enjoy so freely now. The only problem with this film is that it fails to generate a coherent worldview that would otherwise serve as a context for the main premise of the film. That premise, it seems, is that food is scarce in the future, so people have to eat "soylent green," a government-issued product that is basically the futuristic equivalent of manna. I will leave a few gaps in the plot in case you actually want to waste your time on it. But I suggest you go see any of the above films instead of bothering with Soylent Green. When the highlight of a film is that it stars the ever-melodramatic Charlton Heston, you can bet that its not worth its salt, er, soylent green.

Belle de Jour ****1/2 -- Men always use food metaphors to describe women -- "Cupcake," "Honey," etc. Belle de Jour may as well be the sole explanation for this, as Catherine Deneuve is completely edible in it. Luis Bunuel, famous for the razor-cutting-the-eye film collaboration with Salvador Dali in Un Chien Andalou, is still surreal here. However, it's a more subtle kind of surrealism. Catherine Deneuve plays a wife who secretly masquerades as a prostitute by day, and yet the film (to my recollection at least) bares no breasts or anything. There's a strangely psychological sort of sexuality at work here, implicit rather than explicit for the most part. Furthermore, this is a foreign film that just sucks you in from the get-go, which is always refreshing. After being forced to watch the works of Antonioni or Fellini at gunpoint, some people cringe in revulsion at the mention of subtitles. But this film is an excellent example of a foreign film where the experience eclipses any prejudice and envelopes the filmgoer in fascination. A very worthwhile film.

Wild at Heart **** -- When you step into the world of David Lynch, you know you're safe from the dangers of Disney-induced sugarcomas (unless you're watching The Straight Story, which is actually quite good as well). Lynch is a master at tearing away the niceties of daily life and exposing what philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls "the Real," a concept first articulated by Jacques Lacan and articulated in Zizekian terms as the unmediated realm of psychic drives that exist beneath all of our attempts to disguise them. Wild at Heart goes straight to that primitive place, and it stays there, all the while bringing in elements of The Wizard of Oz and a variety of other overt pop culture references (check Nicolas Cage's Elvis). As with most Lynch films (at least in my opinion), there is a point where the narrative breaks down a bit and the film goes astray. All in all though, this is an impressive piece of work. Definitely not for those who are offended easily, as it is quite graphic. But Lynch's particular brand of genius is undeniable here, and fans of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive will not be disappointed.

8 Women **** -- Delight! That's the word that best describes this affair. This is a film that feels like an adaptation of a stage play and, accordingly, bursts into strange songs without warning, which would normally annoy me to no end. I generally find musicals to be loathsome affairs. In recent memory, a few films have redeemed the musical in my mind. Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, for example, while emotionally harsh and unrelenting, is a fascinating departure from standard musical fare. 8 Women is a more enjoyable foray into the reinvention of the musical, as it is largely a dark comedy that is convinced that it is a nightclub chanteuse. Most women I know freely admit to dancing around and singing at the strangest impulses, and this film plays with this idea. It depicts woman as this beautiful creature who occasionally bursts into song, and who is cunning and conniving in her innermost parts. If you ask me, it's pretty enjoyable representation even though it may emphasize some stereotypes that some people might not particularly like. Catherine Deneuve is still stunning 30-some-years after Belle de Jour, as if she never had to mess with "that aging thing." It's rated R because's it explicit in places, but it's refreshing in its break with musical tradition.

Friday, September 5, 2008

CTJ/Son of Rambow ****

At my elementary school there was this kid who used to run around the playground, diving to the ground, imitating the sounds of explosions with his mouth, and hiding from invisible soldiers. Apparently the people who made Son of Rambow knew this guy, as they seem to have depicted him perfectly in their film. And what a film it is.

It is about a childhood imagination, aspiration, and inspiration. Son of Rambow feels like what it feels like to be a kid, to go AWOL, to hide in the trenches of the mind, to play without chains or any other constraints. The film's tagline, "Make believe, not war," pretty much sums up the film.

As far as filmmaking goes, the ideas are top shelf, and often laugh-out-loud funny. It breaks down for me a few spots though: There are some elements that get away from the filmmaker -- that end up feeling incohesive or incoherent because they lack explanation. Midway through the film, the entire movie takes a turn into a narrative netherworld as well, leaving the viewer (i.e. me) thinking "No, no. The film is over here. It's not over there. Come back to me." Yep, "Come back to me," just like Atonement. All the same, the film ends up in the right place, and I suppose that's what matters.

The kids who act in this thing are just pure joy to watch. They are brilliant and, in many ways, it's like watching an idealized version of your younger self in action, doing all the things you think you remember doing, or at least doing all the things you wish you could have done.

As a film it belongs to a recent rash of meta-films such as The Amateurs and Be Kind Rewind -- films about films that remind the viewer, "Hey! This is a film!" On top of that, they also truly capture the magic of film and remind the viewer that this film, in particular, is especially magical. Highly recommended. A flawed but fun foray into childhood.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

DJG / Movie Morning Monday

The Changeling * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Peter Medak / 1980

Not to be confused with the forthcoming Clint Eastwood child abduction swap mystery of the same title (actually, among a number that have shared the title through the years), Peter Medak's 1980 "The Changeling" is a tightly told haunted house thriller. Upon losing his wife and daughter to a tragic accident, an acclaimed music composer (George C. Scott) moves into a Seattle mansion to find peace and a new life. However, something in the house wants it's pieces put back together as well. Any story or film that gets me to shed tears as it builds up a spooky scare is genuinely suspenseful and frightening in my book, or perhaps I shouldn't watch such films at five o'clock in the morning. "The Changeling" dissects it's story in near-perfection with startling cinematography, atmosphere and ideas that surely chill even the best haunted mysteries before or after it. If you love a great scare, look no further than this often over-looked gem.


DJG / Extended Weekend Watcher

The Darjeeling Limited * * * *
Directed by: Wes Anderson / 2007

There is a unique artificial flavor to the film look and language of Wes Anderson, writer-director of ambitious, interesting, creative and playfully moody coming-of-age films like "Bottle Rocket", "Rushomore", "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou". Though, I don't completely agree, his films could be tagged with "Style Over Substance", as exaggerated and eccentric characters in scripted speak and style involve themselves with interiors and exteriors that feel right out of a paint-by-number catalog. Even the films' music, props, illustrations, design and typography fit into a snug corner of the film world known as Wes Anderson. He is like a really great one-trick graphic design pony in some regard. With ease, Anderson's fine-tuned film output seems to speak softly and carry a big schtick. Five films deep into the palette, fans "get it" and know what they are getting. He may seem a bit stuck, and can be easily picked at, but I will gladly pay my admission to be glued to his enjoyable films repeatedly. I mostly find myself marveling at shot-for-shot art direction in perfect pitch, imagining how incredibly and playfully exhausting and complicated it would be to execute his vision(s), even if there are multiple slow-motion scenes to the tune The Kinks. Very few find themselves in-between as an Anderson fan, you either like him or you don't. I like him and just simply eat his films up like my favorite pizza buffets, even though I know I'm just getting another piece of ol' pepperoni. With his latest, "The Darjeeling Limited", Anderson fuses his world to that of India as three brothers take a spiritual and redemptive train journey in hopes to lighten the baggage of family frustrations, bitterness, hurt, and to just do a little bit of growing up. A country ripe in culture and color, I find India to be an excellent and interesting move for Wes Anderson to make transfer his look and language to another world. It's not a perfect movie, but remarkably it works and is oddly compelling and refreshing. By the end of the film's tracks I just want to start over again, or just watch his other films for the up-teenth time. Wes Anderson's next movie move is to take his world into the completely artificial landscape of stop-animation with "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." All I know is that it's another wise Wes move for his look and language, and will surely suck me in repeatedly with winning wit, charm, style and even some substance.

Elizabeth * * * *
Directed by: Shekhar Kapur / 1998

When I say I don't do "Period Pieces", one could think that means any film not made in the present. To me that means any film depicting the time of castles, knights and queens (I have a naïve grasp on history and old stuff.) except for "Monty Python and The Holy Grail", "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "Braveheart". Actually, it means most all films depicting life/time before the mid-1800s, I guess? I’m stupid. My history skills stop working as math skills deplete in me past the last century mark. I suppose my "Period Pieces" have to come equipped with a lot of childhood and extra-strength F-U-N…and battles ‘n’ blood. I love castle architecture and artifacts of the period, but my idea of a "Period Piece" is nothing more than dimly lit rooms with stuffy conversations by backstabbing, sex-crazed murderous jerk wads in awfully uncomfortable looking clothing who say they are under God, yet do and think the opposite. Every other person is a Lord of Lolly Pop, Sir of Sorry, Priest of Poopy Butt, Norfolk of Nothing and Queen of Quack. Most all "Period Pieces" snore me after the first ten minutes and I always end thinking that the story wasn't anything special and felt just like all the others. I feel that the overrated "Marie Antoinette" would have been great as a silent movie and if the end credits would have been spray painted on a “beheading blade” as it came down to announce the end of an era and of my butt hurting. I've also stayed away from rounding out all of Martin Scorsese's films because I don't care to get involved with "The Age of Innocence", even though I do have an itch to see it. I don't get how people can dislike creative science-fiction or fantasy and I don't get how people can actually like "Period Pieces". To each his own, but it is a complete mystery to me. It's hard to not let personal tastes and belly aches get in the way of great filmmaking. I think that "Elizabeth" is indeed great filmmaking with its beautiful art direction, lavish sets and incredible cinematography always peering from unique vantage points and through screens and fabrics, centered around the always impressive Cate Blanchett. If it were not for these highlights, I would have just sat in a pile of drool. Though, “Elizabeth” is a movie I would see again because I could.

The Brood * * * *
Directed by: David Cronenberg / 1979

A summit at Camp David needs to take place immediately. I'm proposing for David Lynch and David Cronenberg to play in the sandbox together, co-writing/directing/concocting what will become the darkest and weirdest horror-thriller film ever. Just three days ago I watched the original "The Wicker Man" and thought it to be one of the weirdest things I'd ever seen. How naive of my still-young film watching eyes to think such things? "The Brood" now officially triumphs Robin Hardy's "The Wicker Man" in the weird department. Come to think of it, I still need to see pretty much all of Cronenberg's early work and I totally forgot how weird and obtuse David Lynch films are. To mix David Cronenberg with that of David Lynch right now, while they are possessed by the powers of their film making prime, one can only imagine the screen magic that would spark. I'm glad I picked up "The Brood" brand new for three bucks at a local close-out store (Yep, cheaper than the Wal-Mart bins!). It took a little bit of time to convince me, but my mouth kept gaping bigger and bigger until the ninety minutes were up. Not bad for a film as old as my mouth is. And I'll definitely never look at small children in "onesy" snow suits and sleepers the same way again.


CTJ - DJG Horror Fest / Aug. 29-30, 2008

The Wicker Man * * * * *
Directed by: Robin Hardy / 1973

Remember that line in Tim Burton's "Batman" when Alexander Knox, guest to Wayne Manor, jokingly snickers at an ancient art piece/costume with "He must be King of the Wicker People."? It took me almost twenty years, but I now realize it's not a reference to my grandparent's dilapidated, weathered patio furniture. WOW, the original "The Wicker Man" has got to be one of the weirdest movies I've seen and relates darn closely to my personally-penned genre, "Musicals are just kinda bizarrely like-able". Underline that with "Corn rigs and barley..." and a thick-thick, non-washable splash of entertaining creepy-mysterious-awesome and it's sure to be a new yearly must-see for me. When you think about it, religions are weird in general, especially when man tosses odd customs and costumes to dance far from the initial idea of the divine. However, the neo-pagan cult island explored in this 1973 classic is just plain insane, paying human sacrifice for a plumper fruit harvest as naked girls fertilize their wooms while jumping over fire and towns-freak-folks parade and frolic in creative costumes and decor. Apparently a sequel (No, not the so-said terrible remake starring the "I take ANY role" Nicholas Cage.) some 35 years after the original, is in development. "Cowboys for Christ" is the working title, and another giant WOW from me at that. Much like the original, I have no idea what to expect, but it for sure will be entertainingly weird and it better star a giant wicker horse with Nicholas Cage or George W. Bush burning inside of it's guts.


May * * *
Directed by: Lucky McKee / 2002

Since 2002, I've heard from my wife (then girlfriend) to avoid the film "May". And jokingly I tend to give the reply, "I've yet to see January through April!". Naturally, since 2002 I've been highly curious as to why I should avoid a film that she turned off three-quarters into. I like to finish films in order to give a proper response to them (Unless I'm salivating blah through "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" or saving my soul from "The Libertine"). I can see why my wife was turned off with "May" after an awesomely-awful scene involving blind children. It's one of the most difficult things to think of, let alone actually film and then show to others. But, it wasn't bad enough to deploy my interest from this oddball romantic-horror film about a lonely awkward girl named May, her glass-cased doll and knack for sewing. It was fun for a few frames while it lasted, but nothing I wish to see again. Actually, the more I dwell on it as a whole it just wasn't really for me and I'm fairly so-so with it. Perhaps it would be better served as the video for "Doll Parts", by the Courtney Love fronted band Hole? I don't know. See it for yourself.


Black Christmas * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Bob Clark / 1974

First thing, my brain can't help but think the way it thinks when placed in a horror film rooted in reality. It can't help but think, "Uh, ONE: Stupid women, please lock every door and window in your giant house and stop drinking. TWO: Why don't you turn all the lights on in this place? THREE: Leave if there is even the slightest clue to a problem or continual creepy phone calls. FOUR: Stay together and don't go take a nap upstairs nor even go upstairs. Also, don't take naps. And FIVE: Have your stupid father figures, boyfriends and even stupider police check every corner, closet, basement and attic of the place before, after and during this movie." My own personal OCD checkin' self aside, Bob Clark's delightfully fun and frightful "Black Christmas" needs to be aired repeatedly on TBS the day after his "A Christmas Story" is. By then the kids will be more interested in their Red Rider BB Guns than bloody unicorn horn crystal sculptures. I just hope that the late Bob Clark's heartwarming Christmas masterpiece isn't churned out for a remake like this horror one was recently. At least see the original first.


Inferno * * * 1/2
Directed by: Dario Argento / 1980

I really want to see a documentary on Dario Argento's home, or at least take a personal tour. Evidence gathered from only two of his films that I've seen, and my imagination for sure, assures me that it's very uniquely and masterfully artificially lit and decorated. "Susperia" and now "Inferno" have kept me glued to style oversupernatural substance. The lighting, interior/exterior decorating and overall art direction completely floor me as shot-for-shot they must have been creative headaches to conjure. With "Inferno" especially, I think if it weren't for the visuals this movie would have bombed as the story seems to fall apart and run out of steam by the third act. But, keep on lighting and decorating those sets Argento, and I'll eat all of your stuff up with my eyes, as you stab the ones out on screen.


A Bucket of Blood * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Roger Corman / 1959

I love a great film that can sum up it's parts to a whole in a little over an hour. Nearly perfect as not-quite-a-short, "A Bucket of Blood" is one that I actually could have watched for two hours as it has so many lovely parts spilling out that gave me the biggest grin as buckets were kicked. Dick Miller stars as a socially awkward, struggling aspiring artist bullied around as a bus boy cleaning up after "real" artists at a Bohemian coffee and gallery dive. It's a place where people sit around and talk about art instead of actually creating it. I understand and appreciate the idea of an artistic community, the need to get out and socialize and drink coffee, but I never understood the idea of artists just sitting around talking about what they could be doing (Though, I'm guilty...mostly while I'm at the day job.). I just feel that a lot of artists confuse themselves as THE work of art, a dangerous way to work and think. OK, I'll throw out my personal commentary, as "A Bucket of Blood" comically exaggerates (somewhat) the Beatniks and Bohemians of the 1950s-60s American art underworld. But, give me my solo spot to shine anytime in the clubhouse with the personal coffee pot on. Like me, bus boy Walter has listened to one too many metaphorically eye-rolling poetry slams about artists getting born and non-artists not. He hunches home one evening frustrated from killing time and gets instantly to work on a lop-sided bust of clay. Walter then accidently kills the apartment cat stuck behind a wall that he tries to pry out with a steak knife (Stupid idea, yes...but, stupidly-awesome YES!). Through death, the artist is born as night after night Walter finds his identity and fame grow as a great sculptor of realism with dead-living things under the daily clay surface. That is, until he himself becomes the work of art.