Thursday, October 8, 2009

DJG / October 2009 Week 1

The Tenant * * * * ½
Directed by: Roman Polanski / 1976

Uh, You Might Want to Think About Moving…

Roman Polanski stars and directs in another fantastic apartment based thriller, pretty much the baby of his “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Compulsion”. Come to think of it, there are a ton of great movies centering apartments. Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” and of course Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “Rope” come to immediate mind. I know, I know, Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”. It is still on my list. Back to “The Tenant” and Polanski who seems to be making headlines again of late. I’ll keep all opinions to Polanski the director. What a great director he is as “The Tenant” admiringly creeps along, suggesting that when the end finally comes, it’s not going to be pretty. Or is it? -djg

Bad Taste * * *
Directed by: Peter Jackson / 1988

Truly Living Up to Its Name, but Awesome...

Peter Jackson, you are sick, twisted and mega-talented. Late ‘80s horror comedy “Bad Taste” showcases a young Jackson on a young budget. Honestly, this is one of those movies that you don’t need to bother jumping in on until the third act. I’ll just say it’s pretty ridiculously-awesome all the way, but the last part of it is a grand opera of bloated WOW before “Dead-Alive”. Along the way you catch glimpses of the blockbuster master Jackson that has been making fantastic films since the early ‘90s (I still need to see “Meet the Feebles”) and I am ready for his latest, “The Lovely Bones”, later this year. -djg

Hostel * ½
Directed by: Eli Roth / 2006

I Won’t Be Seeing Part II…

“Hi! We’re your new American roommates and sure, we’ll go to the sauna with you!” 10 beers and 10 missing limbs later…Is it just me, or does “Hostel” feel 6 years older than it actually is? Or, maybe it’s just the massive wave of “horror porn” features shoved and oozed in our face the past half decade. I feel that “Hostel” helped usher in a lot of what we’re seeing now and I don’t even really see any of ‘em. No wait, I think I’m thinking of “Cabin Fever”. Anyway, I partially knew what I was getting into with this one, yet my curiosity was still on high with a reliance of a name. Quentin Tarantino: Executive Producer, Presenting. And what in the heck does it take to be a presenter anyway? A big and cool name, naturally. QT, what is your take on this movie? Eli Roth, you were fantastic acting as “The Bear Jew” in QT’s “Inglourious Basterds”, maybe he will rub off on your own films. Also, if I just escape a murder-for-hire compound and find out my friends were murdered there, why wouldn’t I run straight to train security instead of seeking revenge in the train station bathroom and then hopping on the train out of town? -djg

The Fury * * * * ½
Directed by: Brian De Palma / 1978

Cops: “What happened to his arm, Peter?”
Peter: “I killed it…with a machine gun!”

The Middle East, Beaches, terrorists, undercover agents, machine guns, Chicago, chases, explosions, death, mansions, hot fudge sundaes, pole vaulting, out of control indoor amusement park, rather ripped mid-age Kirk Douglas, best dressed bad guy John Cassavetes…and did I mention over-acting psychic teenagers who can bleed people and manipulate their mechanics? And just wait until act three as you’ll be jumping up and down! Wowie. At times Brian De Palma’s expert direction seems to say, “OK, I have this totally ridiculously-awesome script so let’s amp it up a ton and have some fun!” I know I had fun with “The Fury”, a ton of it. In fact, I was laughing a lot and wanted even more than 2 hrs and 5 mins. There is very little actual down time for De Palma’s gas pedal as he slices and dices great film trickery, teasing to the most amazing ending I’ve seen in a thriller for a while. I want to rush out and buy this one. And why in the heck didn’t De Palma direct the “Twilight” saga? -djg

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

DJG on Herzog / Part 2

Ballad of the Little Soldier * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1984

The Young Bare the Burden and the Arms…

“Ballad of the Little Soldier” finds Werner Herzog and Co. in Nicaragua following children soldiers. This is a documentary that I feel should be viewed in schools. I won't go into detail on this one. I would be interested in a follow-up by Herzog and his cameras some day.

Precautions Against Fanatics * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1969

Way Before “Best in Show”…

Boasting a peculiar title, “Precautions Against Fanatics” might be Werner Herzog’s most peculiar movie, all 12 minutes of it. It feels like a blue print to the types of movie motives that Christopher Guest & Co. have lampooned time and time again, for some time now. It also seems the type of short film to inspire any of the millions of YouTube videos shot on the fly today with a pack of goofballs. Set at a horseracing facility, Herzog’s camera goes around interviewing eccentric horse trainers, track employees or racing enthusiasts. Every time, an absurd cranky old man intervenes yelling obnoxious remarks and telling them to get out. With everything said, “Precautions Against Fanatics”, from my knowledge of pop-culture, was years ahead of the comedy punches of the mockmentary, staged reality or practical blooper joke shows (uh, Ashton Kutcher-produced programming and MTV’s “Jack Ass”, among others) that we now take for granted and/or get too much of. But, I actually wanted more of it!

Encounters at the End of the World * * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 2007

Let's take a field trip to McMurdo Station…American Scientific Settlement…Antarctica…Earth.

As God’s children we should behave accordingly instead of exhausting our Mother Earth’s resources, like a mother whose fuse is shortened by a child’s heightened sense of not having any sense. But, what is “behave accordingly”? The word “behave” has two words in it, “be” and “have”. I sometimes just yearn to “be” and with peace of mind, like a child, but at the same time I have to play adult and sometimes that means I “have” to “have” my share and piece of mind, instead of peace of mind. As humans it’s in our driving initiative to put everything under the microscope, to poke and to prod, to exploit, to show-off, to gain founders rights and an objective of intellectual gain. Rarely do we sit back and soak in the given. And will we truly be forgiven? Time will tell, at least in our relation to Earth’s perspective.

Werner Herzog approaches his film subjects like a carver of curiosities, Antarctica being one of his latest escapades, more appropriately ice capades, and it’s a wonder why it has taken Herzog this long to wander his wonders to the belly button of the world's belly. Well, because it's pregnant with life. It’s a thinker’s tank down there and on a surface of "moon-like" conditions as described by some of the inhabitants of America’s McMurdo Station, a scientific settlement nearly four times the size, and more Americanized, than even that of my actual Americanized home town. It wasn’t what I was expecting and neither was Herzog, as he wanted to get out of town and into iceberg exploration the minute he stepped off the plane. I don’t blame him. But, he stumbles on a story behind every door and behind every travel-worn face of these people. There is a line from the ‘90s comedy, “Tommy Boy”, that has always stuck with me and that is, “Your Dad could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves!”, and I think that if there was such a salesman, Herzog would be on the other end of the camera with white gloves on. He just has a knack for finding something in everything and everyone.

The residents of McMurdo all share a similar interest in what seems to be out of the box experiences, even when they’re in the box, so to speak, cut off from the rest of the world. Not to mention when they’re practicing survivor classes with bucket blinders over their heads to simulate a whiteout (one of my favorite scenes). The end of the world has pulled them in like a magnet. The end is their beginning, the bottom is their top. OK, you get it. Some have come to escape a dark past. Others have come due to their constant search of eccentric adventure or wonderment. Many are there for their love of the work (and ice cream, guitar concerts and science fiction films) and to simply be in remote isolation. There are even some who have bags packed at all times, ready to move on if need be, even if they are surrounded by ice and water. But, all have truly lived more than I have and I’m oddly engaged to their inspiring tales and trials through travel. In fact, I found the filmed portions of the people of McMurdo just as captivating as its strange frozen surroundings, ice bergs, actively spitting volcanoes, underwater creatures that give off Pink Floyd-like recordings, two-story naturally made ice sculptures that house toxic gases and water cathedrals with alien-like creatures under the Herzog coined “frozen sky” of the iced-over sea. Though, there is an odd juxtaposition of McMurdo’s curious, childlike-play people and their drive to want to scientifically figure out Mother Earth. But, in the end these are still God’s children and even still, serve as a unique parallel to a lone, adamantly wandering penguin taking his own path to certain doom instead of following the other penguins. It’s a path we’d all want to aid motherly care package advice to, but he’s free to make that choice to poke and prod on his own path of choice and his own journey and calling.

As a documentarian you can say that Herzog too pokes and prods. Though, it rarely comes with the gusto for scientific documentation of film studies advance (well, maybe a bit of that and just some intellectual studying), rather that simple yearning of child awe, spirit and artistry. Herzog has a wonder about him, at times eccentric, but always with a keen eye and brain even to squeeze something extra out of the ordinary and is careful not to draw a fine line between “normal” and “insane”. His camera is constantly looking for something mind-boggling, impressive, inspiring, worshipping, poignant and at times humorous. He even finds these things in the things that seem the complete polar opposite. When someone speaks of their love for Antarctica and its “similar to the moon” likability, the camera tells what could be the rest of the story. As it captures the earth worked over by human dirt machines and “progress” taking place, one can’t help but visualize how the moon will look once we conquer and colonize it and beyond, leaving our inevitable travel tattoos (most likely after we come close to fully exhausting our Mother). And at the same time you can’t help but want to be a part of that in some strange way.

Just like the mysterious come and go of the dinosaurs, humans will too. We’re up to the plate and all signs appear that we’re down in the count. The doctor playing on Earth has good, bad and ugly to its game and maybe just maybe it can boost us to having better odds if we pay attention? Though, perhaps when future civilizations, maybe aliens, come to see who we were and what we were about, they’ll happen to find a complete box set of Werner Herzog curiosities and documentations on Earth (of course they’d have to have a device to make them work, but please humor for a little longer) sitting in a shrine right next to the detailed cast of a sturgeon also mysteriously found frozen in time at the end of the world.

While Mother Earth is busy speaking, are our busy bodies truly listening instead of putting stethoscopes, microscopes and tattoos to the tune of discovering, documenting, detailing…detaching and weaning off from the mystery and childlike wonderment? But, children are nothing more than little adults, naively wandering into a foreign playground to be the first to slide down the slide with a bucket over their heads. And you can bet your bucket that Werner Herzog will be at the bottom with a camera and curiosity.

Fata Morgana * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1971

Drive-by Sci-Fi…

Like “Burden of Dreams” is to Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo”, the making of “Fata Morgana” could have made for a great movie by itself. It seems like the stuff of myth or legend: shooting for 13 months without any story idea or structure (though, nothing too unusual for this director); surrendering to border police; the contraction of a rare liver disease that nearly caused Herzog’s death; tortured mentally and physically in prison. Watching the deserted desert images of “Fata Morgana” fly by to narration of ancient poetry and the appropriately applied tunes of Leonard Cohen, classic compositions and instrumentals, was a visual feast that kept getting better and better and more unusual in the hour and eighteen minutes it clocks in. At times the people, wrecked landscape, living conditions and creatures reminded me of production art plucked out of movies like “Mad Max”, “Dune” or “Star Wars.” As it turns out, Herzog’s stick-to vision of the film (one that is explained in the DVD extras) is that it IS intended to be viewed as sci-fi, as in an alien film crew has come to Earth after humans have nearly exhausted it. I went into “Fata Morgana” without any research or knowledge other than friends referring it to me as “it’s about mirages and desert life…a little slow…kind of boring…nonsensical…but, unique and fascinating.” Actually, this film did start slow and at times I wasn’t sure how to piece it all together, and not even sure if I should try, but “Fata Morgana” turned out to be nothing short of what I’ve come to call a uniquely tailored Herzogian experience. And it’s certainly not just about mirages in the desert. It’s another in a long line of the man’s astounding abilities to translate life to the screen that I’d like to put on repeat. Like me watching Herzog over and over, HE too fixates on the repetition of the images he finds in movies like “Fata Morgana”. Whether its sea turtles in the desert (yeah?!), an elderly couple playing weird musical compositions in confidence, a cutely-odd-looking albino desert fox or an abandoned truck doing donuts in a distant mirage (looking nothing short of an alien crab creature scuttling around)…this film is nothing short of fascinating and set the stamp for all Herzogian experiences to follow.

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe * * * * *
Directed by: Les Blanks / 1980

I Smell a Sequel…

Academy Award winning filmmaker Errol Morris released his debut, “Gates of Heaven”, in 1980. Upon doing so, he had fulfilled a bet with friend and fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog. This bet, proposed by Herzog, promised he would eat his shoe if Morris ever completed a film. Herzog is a man of his word, right down to the exact shoe(s) he was wearing when he made the bet. However, he didn’t envision the moment would be made famous (or infamous) in front of a packed auditorium, not to mention the plot of a short film captured by documentarian Les Blanks (who would later document Herzog’s plagued filmmaking vision of “Fitzcarraldo” in “Burden of Dreams”). Boiled for 5 hours in a wash of Herzog’s own recipe of flavored water, the entire shoe was consumed by Herzog. Well, everything but the sole, as in great Herzogian vision it was explained that you don’t eat chicken bones. Makes sense to me. But, what about the other shoe!

Burden of Dreams * * * * ½
Directed by: Les Blanks / 1981

River Rapids, River Wild…

There aren’t too many films in the over 100 year history of the medium where the director’s vision nearly exhausts the film and the final product. However, the 1970s was a big turning point in movie making. Not only so in the art and exploration of film, but also for eccentric rights to film production and directors as a whole exercising their angels and demons. Names like Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Cimino always come to mind with stories surrounding their wonderful visions that nearly collapsed themselves and others with “Apocalypse Now” and “Heaven’s Gate”, respectively. These are films that carry as much talk about the behind the scenes as the actual product. The stories and products are equaled masterpieces in my book. Though, I think that Werner Herzog takes the prize, as he was in complete artistic control-out-of-control, with the grandest of grand visions in “Fitzcarraldo.” From conception to end, enduring great set-backs in cast, production and location he succeeded in leading to near ruin. Most notabl: scrapping 40% of a movie after lead actor Jason Robarbs’ near life-threatening illness forced him to bail, thus resulting in Mick Jagger (Yes, THE Mick Jagger!) leaving for tour as he couldn’t wait any longer; replacement actor Klaus Kinski’s raging tantrums which resulted in murderous plots on his life; the drowning of two native Indians; the Peruvian jungle in general; and last but not least, Herzog’s vision for an actual 320-ton steamship hauled over a mountain by man power. Les Blanks’ “Burden of Dreams” captures true history and true movie making in the making. Though, I still think the best scenes are ones withheld of Kinski’s most outrageous expressions, ones that can be seen in Herzog’s 1999 documentary on his relationship with Kinski called “My Best Fiend.” In the end, Herzog is still testing not only the film medium but also his visions and getting a much heralded late-career boost and still complete control, something that guys like Coppola and Cimino have either stepped back from or are completely in hibernation.

Signs of Life * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1968

Windmills of the Mind…

I didn’t realize it until I read Netflix’s synopsis on the “Signs of Life” mailer, but Werner Herzog’s film and screenplay inspired Stephen King’s idea behind “The Shining.” Cool. I can see why with its closed-wall-isolation-turn-madness, though I prefer Stanley Kubrick’s movie “The Shining” to “Signs of Life.” Herzog’s first feature film isn’t a bad film at all. It does move slow and feels drawn-out for a film that isn’t really that long. Which, isn’t a bad thing. Though, at times it shows a hard time of knowing what to do as a film. At least these things were present to me and in a Herzogian way I’ve come to admire that. Especially so, because it shows how Herzog cut his teeth and mind with putting images together, images like a field of thousands of windmills that the seemingly normal lead character stumbles upon and becomes almost disillusioned and disturbed by. It’s a crucial point and great metaphor for the power on display, and/or the switch of power, that takes place as he begins to go mad after many days of isolation with a few others stationed at a military base. Werner Herzog is a true original and in a lot of ways I find his first feature film to show many signs of a creative life waiting to kick the door wide open on the medium. I recommend “Signs of Life” to see a master filmmaker making his baby kicks and starting to canvas the windmills of his own mind.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

DJG on Herzog / 7 New Ones - Part 1

Land of Silence & Darkness * * * 1/2
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1971

To Be Without is to Be With…

It’s fascinating to me how we’re advanced enough to recreate sight and sound to document life, yet we can’t create and/or correct sight and sound for individuals born without it. Or, am I behind in today’s medicine? But, what we might think as a curse could be a true blessing. I think of people lacking the primary senses, even those with developmental challenges, as having a closer connection with God. They also seem to have an ability to see and detail life better than those of us who actually can and take for granted. There is also an uncanny ability to capture the attention of those around them. And this is what director Werner Herzog does as he simply is there to pay his attention and respect in this intriguing documentary on those born without the primary senses. Sitting near the start of an impressive resume, “Land of Silence & Darkness” isn’t necessarily Herzog’s most commanding film by any means, but it doesn’t have to be. Like many of his movies, some of the most ordinary images caught by the camera are the most interesting and impacting. Whether it’s a birthday gathering, a young boy enjoying water, a teen enjoying the big vibrations of songs on a tiny radio, or the unique method of elderly women finger tapping messages on hands, this movie translates. That translation is whole different world, and way to see the world, that many of us can’t even imagine. The most powerful image came right before the credits rolled when the camera caught a man walking confidently out of a group to enthusiastically touch a tree and its leaves as a light wind blew. He somehow sensed it was there with his wonderment, without sight or sound. Leading up to the end I was wanting more out of the film in terms of in-depth stories and subjects. But, the ending shared with me the need for what moving pictures I was given and the need in general for those with eye sight and sound to experience, inside and out. It also revealed to me how much closer to the true understandings of things others without senses truly are than I who tends to overlook what’s right in front of me. Point being, this wonderful film I just encountered.

The White Diamond * * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 2004

Waterfall Inside of a Rain Drop…

I love how the obsessions of Werner Herzog’s subjects become his own obsessions. I love how well they work together, even in life-threatening situations or shear madness of man’s quest to do the thing that is either haunting him to do or ends up haunting him during or even after it’s done. And in the middle of the process it is poetic purity like a white diamond in rock. It’s easy to stand outside and think that another man’s dream is either a death wish or pure stupid-stupid. Instead we need to get off the couch and journey for ourselves, or get a simple lesson by riding along with Herzog on screen. “The White Diamond” is a documentary about aeronautical engineer Graham Dorrington’s unusual zest-quest for flight in a small balloon over the canopy jungle of Guyana. Dorrington’s struggling want with flight and with anxious haunts of an accidental death of a close friend ten years prior are only a part of this story as Herzog finds many more individual obsessions and stories within to document. In the thick of everything is the vast jungle landscape alive to its simple-yet-colorful cast of inhabitants, traditions and superstitions. These are people who moonwalk on the edge of a cliff, best-befriend chickens and have a yearning to reconnect with long-lost European relatives. And then there is diamond country. The search for diamond in rock is a great metaphor for what Dorrington is trying to accomplish with his tiny air balloon craft shining bright above the jungle which dwarfs it immensely. Does he succeed in flight? I won’t give that one away as the accumulative results of this movie are mesmerizing and become my third favorite documentary by the legendary Herzog. I’ve seen many of his great movies, but “The White Diamond” makes me really want to follow him personally to any region or wilderness of Earth or man’s mind. Herzog recognizes a great story and finds a way to capture it and many more. One such way is a waterfall shot through a single rain drop that a native suggested. It’s an image that Herzog has come to bash by calling “Disney.” However, the image (which, I personally find to be powerful) was recommended to him by a simple, pure mind of a man who makes it to the spot regularly to soak in the simple act of reflection. I can’t think of a better image to sum up this movie and life itself.

Where the Green Ants Dream * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1984

Although art may be subjective and up to the viewer, some of it does seem to carry all the ingredients for greatness, yet comes up short. It can also have something to do with who is putting the pieces together. Maybe the person is me when it comes to the art of the film watcher!? Werner Herzog is certainly an artist up to the task for a movie like “Where the Green Ants Dream”, but I couldn’t help but think for an hour and forty five minutes that Peter Weir could have handled it better. Or, maybe it’s premature of me to only think that because Australia’s master maestro has dealt marvelously and handled mysteriously well movies in similar territory as this one? It has an Australian setting, half of the cast is Aboriginal…it even has actors that have appeared in some of Weir’s work. Upon entering “Where the Green Ants Dream”, I for some reason thought I was set to watch a documentary, but found myself struggling and stumbling through a drama about a mining company wanting to expand digging into sacred Aboriginal grounds. Interesting, yes, but it moved like molasses at times and at other times didn’t quite stick together for me. “Where the Green Ants Dream” isn’t a bad movie, but I left wanting more punch from it. I think I’ll have to come back to this one a second time, using what I’ve learned from Herzog, and that is, sometimes greatness is found in the smallest of details. I will pay more attention next time and cancel out how insanely great Weir’s “The Last Wave” is and how I wanted “Where the Green Ants Dream” to be its sequel.

Wheel of Time * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 2003

This is Not Your Typical Corner of the Sandbox…

Many Americans idea of a spiritual walk is the quick span of paved luxury between last call at Sunday morning service and the all-you-can-eat buffet. Their idea of spiritual art is dealt in cranked out kitscher-than-kitsch crafts with "God Bless Texas" (insert Bible chapter/verse here) carved into a plank of rustic wood and a barbed wire hanger. Please pardon my cynical tongue. I don't think you need to make great things or do impressive things to get to where you want to go internally and externally into the beyond. However, to paraphrase the Dalai Lama in “Wheel of Time”, in order to find understanding and peace in our world we need to try to understand and respect all spiritual journeys. I agree, and especially think this method of understanding would benefit Americans and their knowledge with other cultures and realize that we are not the center of the universe. Even though, Mr. D.L. adds the words of wisdom (again, to paraphrase) that as soul bearers, we ain some ways are centers of the universe. It’s more than a spiritual walk for Buddhist monks depicted in “Wheel of Time” as some travel thousands of miles, stopping every few steps to bow down in push-up like movements to get to a tree. The tree is called the Bodhi and represents the place where spiritual instructor and founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, achieved true enlightenment. After reaching the tree, some monks spend even more time doing their push-up like movements. Buddhist belief also takes some individuals on a pilgrimage gathering at Mount Kailash. A peak considered one of the most significant for its world spiritual center and simply known for its towering presence in nature. Werner Herzog also captures something equally fascinating as he focuses on an elaborate wheel of time painstakingly created out of colored sand. I’m still not completely researched in its purpose, other than it takes hours and hours of devoted cramped craftsmanship for monks to create, display curiously under glass protection and then destroy in seconds. They then take the remains to scatter in the river and wind.

Cobra Verde * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1988

One Foot in the Ocean…

I was equally mesmerized and terrified the first time I witnessed the ocean. I’m the same way with late-great actor Klaus Kinski. I’m kind of glad I never met him as he would have either killed me, spit in my cereal or made me cry. Yeah, no matter what, he would have definitely found a way to make me cry. I can’t think of an actor and very few individuals over all that can be matched to that of his mad genius and talent. But, can it be called “mad genius”? His life and work seems fittingly representative of that place where water meets land: mesmerizing and terrifying/mysterious and powerful. And not to mention: at many times out of control. Werner Herzog directs Kinski for the fifth and last time in “Cobra Verde”, as Kinski would pass away just four years later. Though, not Kinski’s finest role for Herzog, his Francisco Manoel da SilvaRoom (aka: Cobra Verde) is without a doubt a fascinating performance to watch and the film as a whole is quite an achievement, and one of Herzog’s biggest concoctions. Once again Herzog employs rich imagery in roomfuls of crabs, bats and a Kinski-taught army of half-naked African tribal women learning to fight. Though, my favorites are a coastal outline of flag signalers and a final bow by Kinski as he flops and flails on the place where water meets land as a crippled child who looks nothing short of an obscure, death-like creature hunches his way. In Herzog’s documentary on his relationship with Kinski in “My Best Fiend”, he recalls the scene on the beach as the place where his friend-fiend’s spirit may have started to show signs of leaving soon. I would agree.

Invincible * * * ½
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 2005

Modest Muscles…

“Invincible” finds Werner Herzog making fact and fiction from a German folktale partially based on a real-life person and actual events. World’s Strongest Man participant Jouko Ahola plays the lead in Zishe Breitbart, a Jewish man of strength who leaves his small village to achieve great things with his abilities. Upon arriving in 1932 Berlin, he is swiftly employed and tricked as a sort of side show act in a showcasing of the Nazi belief in the power of the “Aryan” strength. Here he begins to realize the dangers surrounding the powerful stirrings of the Nazi party and reveals his true identity and heritage pride. Zishe soon goes back home to see it as his prophetic duty to warn every one of the dangers of the forthcoming rise of Nazi power. Though untrained in acting, I appreciated Ahola’s naively-honest and sweet approach to the art as he came across a little like Bruno S., another Herzog actor that I appreciate. For the most part the film moves quite slow, but is also quite captivating and a little bizarre in the same way that “Heart of Glass” is for me. Herzog also employs some unique choices in dream-like sequences that I wish he would have used even more of. But, “Invincible” is an all-around lovely movie that I could easily experience again down the road.

The Dark Glow of the Mountains * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1984

Like a Teacher Writing on a Blackboard…

I don’t believe I’ll ever climb a mountain, though a part of me feels like I’m missing out on something special. I don’t know how he does it, but every Werner Herzog movie has a moment (if not many moments) that brings every subject, no matter how surreal or near-insane, down to a level of uniquely gripping philosophical understanding across the board. Across the board meaning, anyone can at least understand it, even if they don’t prescribe to it. The board in “The Dark Glow of the Mountains” is a climber’s mountain in comparison to a teacher’s blackboard. It makes perfect beautiful sense when free style climber Reinhold Messner explains it. If you’re able to reach back into your Ben Fold Five trivia, the band has an album title with his name in it and from what I recall I don’t think it was intentional. Interesting, but not as interesting as the real Reinhold Messner explaining why he has to climb. It’s also not as interesting as how Herzog always finds as close to the answers he went searching for with a camera and with equaled passion.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Inglourious Basterds * * * * *
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino / 2009

Rewriting History, Taking Names and Inventing New Ones…

WWII-KAWOW!! My mouth is still fixated in a wide devilish grin ala Jack Nicholson’s unforgettable Joker in Tim Burton’s “Batman.” It has been this way since the last hour of the best picture of 2009, so far. In fact, I’ve been grinning since an hour and half before that, when the spaghetti western sights and sounds of Quentin Tarantino’s flashy-fresh joy ride take on WWII kick-started his “Inglourious Basterds.” They never backed down right into one of the greatest, and already iconic, most satisfying film endings ever. Not to mention a new ending for World War II and the fall of the Nazi regime, again. Tarantino never intended to alter history, but his characters sure lead and he followed with all his guns amped-up to sophistication. He has officially raised his own game.

Not for everyone and he has his naysayers, Tarantino for me has always been able to wallop genres out of the park, turning film on its side and robbing from the greats yet turning it into his own gold. But, it’s not fool’s gold, more like cool’s gold. The best art borrows and Tarantino does it better and with his own thumb prints left behind on the prize. And I find self-indulgence is best when shared with an audience. He is the coolest and freshest pop-culture churner we have today. Money aside, I assume all directors love movies or they wouldn’t be in the business. But, Tarantino loves-LOVES movies and he makes me love movies even more after I see him wave his wand each time. For those that don’t “get” him and/or knock him, then I kind of feel bad for you as you’re really missing out. But, more for me!

So, what is so great about Tarantino’s take on WWII?! EVERYTHING and it is worn with the high-stepping confidence of the Nazi high command. Like a great novel its chapters slice up to show enough yet leaving just enough to the imagination, pulling together a creation of richer-than-rich characters and plots that live and breathe beyond what’s in front of you. You’ll have a love-hate affair with the notorious “Jew Hunter”, Nazi Col. Hans Landa (in a soon-to-be Oscar nominated role from Christoph Waltz), whose cunning charm and manipulation is just as big and intimidating as his smoking pipe. He loves milk and pie as well so how could you not like the man? Another big item is the Nazi scalping knife of Lt. Aldo Raine, which finds Brad Pitt wielding and talking like President George W. Bush, not to mention sporting the best Italian accent ever on screen. Is it just me, or has Brad Pitt really been churning out the satisfying characters of late, even more than ever!? The movie’s promotion makes it seem that the Lt. Raine’s band of Nazi destroying Basterds is what the movie is all about, but it’s only a fraction to the story. Much of the story is owed to a Jewish gal named Shosanna Dreyfus who escaped from Col. Landa and is now disguised as a French theater owner. As the lights go out to show a film of Nazi hero Fredrick Zoller sniping from his bird’s nest, Shosanna (& Basterd Co.) does some bird nesting as well and in a blaze of gory-glory. Trust me, you’ll never find carnage so much fun.

2 and a half hours doesn’t do the basterd justice and it could have easily been another Tarantino two-parter, maybe even three. But, I left QT-quenched, almost like leaving Quik Trip with a conveniently tasty beverage and hot dog (chips and candy on the side, of course). Yes, I’m relating the work of Quentin Tarantino to junk food, but this is high-caliber junk food folks, with all the condiments and fix-ins like chipotle sauce and vanilla flavoring that we love. I can’t get enough and have been ready for seconds since the last of the credit logos left the screen. “Inglourious Basterds” is a daringly ambitious, wickedly entertaining, remarkable and satisfying work of original art that I cannot praise enough. I will be dining again in the theater as Hitler and Co. all fall down the way we always wanted them to…and then we will all bow down to the film art of Quentin Tarantino. Thank you. -djg

Monday, August 10, 2009

DJG / Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye * * * *
Directed by: D.J. Caruso / 2008

To Be Taken With a Can of Red Bull…

A couple days ago I was telling my wife how it’s almost refreshing now to watch an older television series or movie that comes sans cell phones and technology. Rarely today do you even see regular home phones or public telephones in the movies, let alone in real life. I’m thankful for my cell phone and so-on, but I’m extremely thankful to have experienced life without them and the internet. Today’s Red Bull movies, ya know, the non-stop-high-octane-super-slick-spastic-cool flicks like “The Bourne Identity” trilogy, “Taken”, even 2006’s Oscar Best Picture winner “The Departed”, wouldn’t work the same without their lead characters’ interactive moving and shaking with off-the-cuff-or-hip technology to communicate, track down the bad guys, win the race, etc. “Eagle Eye” isn’t nearly as great as the aforementioned films, yet it gets the job done and kept me at full-speed attention, even with a pinch of “Minority Report” and many exclamations of “Yeah, right!” Of course it’s ridiculous to the core and sometimes makes the head spin, but I loved it and movies like it. And just when I say to my wife ¾ through the movie, “Ya know, movies like this wouldn’t work without cell phones and technology!” the good guys answer the bad guys’ ring on a regular ol’ public telephone. Those sneaky bad guys! Pass the Red Bull while you're at it! -djg

Thursday, August 6, 2009

DJG / Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid * * * * ½
Directed by: Jennifer Venditti / 2007

Billy is like a lot of small town fifteen-year-olds. Billy likes to listen to KISS and AC/DC. Billy likes to imagine himself in a Harry Potter potion class as opposed to hum-drum high school chemistry. Billy loves girls but respects them. Billy loves horror movies and talks about them a lot. Billy jumps subject ship so fast and onto the next and sometimes with unease and twitchy intervals. We all had Billy, or a handful, in our schools and hometowns growing up, especially in rural America. Billy lives in small town Maine where the winters are harsh and the high school kids are just as harsh to the weird and eccentric kids as they are anywhere else. Billy may be different to most standards, but Billy is the best.

Apparently, director Jennifer Venditti was working as a fashion modeling scout when she stumbled upon Billy and decided right then the subject of her first film. If I’d met Billy before watching his shining star in “Billy the Kid”, I’d have wanted to make a film on him too. Billy is the type of friend that you’d want to have, even if he would kill you with kindness (and too much talk) on a daily basis. But, you’d never have a boring moment or run out of things to talk about with a friend like Billy. Billy is a wonderful person who may not understand social situations, but he can see what your soul is like by sharing with you so much of his own, and the first time you meet him. Billy isn’t a Barnum & Bailey sideshow, tabloid fodder or a movie of the week. Why a movie on Billy? Billy is original, complex, unique, inspiring, inquisitive and reflective. And there is a lot more than that going on inside and radiating from Billy. Billy is more alive than everyone else in his town put together, especially his peers. Billy articulates himself like a long, lost philosopher like, “Sometimes life’s a pain in the butt. But, sometimes it’s worth it because you’ll find great things in the life that’s a pain.”

Billy’s father left the family years ago after a run with the law, spousal abuse and alcoholism. Billy has a lot of pain, rage and inner demons due to his biological father. Billy’s mother is one of the strongest, nicest, supporting, connecting and most loving mother’s I’ve seen depicted in any form of movies or real life. Billy has a step-father he likes at home, but I didn’t get to meet him. I did meet Billy’s first love, Heather. Billy poured his love out for Heather in two days, like all boys tend to do but with triple the amount with Billy. He had his heart broken in return. Billy can be too much at times, but I like that about Billy. Billy is very becoming, bold, brave and not bashful. One can learn a lot from a boy like Billy.

Fifteen-year-old Billy will forever be on display in movie form and I wonder about his future. Venditti captured Billy very simply, purely and sometimes awkwardly, yet never in a way to exploit Billy, rather just to share with the world his charm and unique way of handling himself. Though, what will become of Billy after high school? Will Billy go on to do great things? Billy says he doesn’t want to be a free-loader all his life. Billy mentioned something about either dying a young death or lead his people in a revolution. No matter what, I think Billy will always make an impact on those around him, in some form or another. I’m thankful I got to meet Billy. I can relate to Billy. At times, I even am Billy. We all have a little bit of Billy in us, we just need somebody like Billy to remind us that it’s OK to be who you are. I like the way Billy is and I hope others do too. -djg

Monday, August 3, 2009

DJG / Funny People

Funny People * * * *
Directed by: Judd Apatow / 2009

Legends of Comedy Watching From the Walls…

Writer-director Judd Apatow is extremely talented and a work horse. No, not because he’s become the equivalent of a Steven Spielberg film making cash cow in the comedy production realm or because he shot a million feet of film on his latest picture. Rather, this 41-year-old is on to something special. True, sometimes that “something” is hidden in movie formulaic, bromance, dirty mouths and predictability. But, he has the chops and ability to put a unique spin on the material and somehow make it work, stunningly so, easily so, and time and time again. He also has the ability to go from super foul ball(s) to home run warmth in seconds and his legacy is already seeping into films he’s not even involved with. There is something honest about the work he is releasing to where it’s living outside of the time frame of the movie. Not to mention he seems to be having the time of his life and gets to include his life, with family and friends participating. With “Funny People”, Apatow nearly misses his masterpiece, at least from my perspective, for now. Oh man was he close. But, this is a two and a half hour long epic comedy (perhaps dramedy?), that needs to be devoured for more than just the mere 48 hours I’ve chewed on it. And like films he’s either directed, written or produced, this one will get better with age.

When Adam Sandler’s “George Simmons” gets a new lease on his life after his doctor finds a window of health in his recent bout with cancer, he hopes to get better in an instant with “life stuff”. But, George doesn’t realize it takes time and a little coming of age (even if he’s in mid-life) that he missed out on in the selfish light of show business as a top comic-turn-actor. Sandler digs deep, even though I’m wishing he would have dug a little deeper in the role (okay, hit me because I was expecting more). This is the best he’s been since “Spanglish” and “Punch-Drunk Love”, the latter being the one that revealed the world to his range and the former being a way under-appreciated performance. I look forward to watching Sandler move on up. However, it’s the support of Seth Rogen who glues the movie for me and shows a new side. And per usual, there is the rest of the Apatow dumpy gang (ha-ha), including legends of comedy watching from the walls in a brilliant choice of set decorating. I won’t go on with saying more about the movie as I’d stall and run this review out of gas worse than the third act of “Funny People” did (whoops). Yeah, it just didn’t knock out of the park completely for me. Although, I left the theater sensing that characters are still working, still growing. This film is growing on me as well.

I enjoy Apatow’s crass ‘n’ comfort levels, and hearing things I never thought could be conjured in a young man’s mind (or middle-aged man!?), but at the same time I can’t help but feel he works better when censored. Am I saying tone it down some? Maybe? I’m no prude, but maybe doing so might reveal that “something” to be really-really special, without the aid of male anatomy jokes to fill in the cracks (oh, brother). And it just might be old man Apatow on the wall watching a new crop of comedians in the years to come. If you’re a fan of T.V.’s excellent “Freaks & Geeks” (partnered with creator Paul Feig), it’s easy to say that he’s already been there and done that, censored masterpiece speaking. But, Apatow has since moved up to nearly missing the curtain call of masterpiece theater and it’s going to be a pleasure to watch his work grow in the big-time. And leading the comedy pack of this century, he has plenty of room to grow. Though, like “George Simmons”, he just needs a little more time. -djg

Friday, July 31, 2009

DJG / Lolita

Lolita * * * * ½
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick / 1962

For the longest time something in me screamed to steer clear from Stanely Kubrick’s “Lolita” and I have no definite idea why. Quite possibly it was an early branch of “controversial” and the undertones of risky pedophilia business radiating as I grew that kept me a-drift of this ‘60s film classic. Also, I may confess I was quite distracted and a bit scared of the image of a very young Sue Lyon as Lolita with seductive lollypop in mouth on the film’s promotions (not too dissimilar, I was taken a-back for years by Lou Reed’s freak Frankenstein monster appearance on his “Transformer” album…odd how I have formal design training and the powers of said designs persuaded my distance and intimidated me so!). All things aside, I’m glad I’ve waited so long to fully appreciate yet another one of Kubrick’s big hits! I’m not sure how he felt about the final product, but how did he pull this off with such masterful execution? This is especially my question in the playfully comedic and sassy tone of male sexual obsession with an underage girl in “Lolita”? This film shouldn’t have worked. But, it did and has held and worked the test of time extremely well, I think (Side Note: I realize there is a late ‘90s remake and I don’t really care to see it. I’d rather watch Kubrick’s again!). I’m not a scholar in the history of Kubrick or of the time and circumstance surrounding this film, but I imagine it was a headache to get “Lolita” made, with censor laws and all (This is something the director didn’t have to worry about with “Eyes Wide Shut”!). But, Kubrick marvelously helms and leaves much up to suggestion for the audience’s imagination. I like this and advise directors who can get away with virtually everything now to try as it lets the characters live in that place between the screen and viewer and keeps the viewer even more involved and provoked. Though, before the sexual revolution of the late ‘60s, I could see Kubrick’s handy work a little discomforting for some to stomach. Nowadays this film is a treat with undercurrents of “wrong”. As much as I am impressed by “Lolita”, I am left equally wanting more from it, especially the subplot of Peter Sellers’ Clare Quilty (Sellers is in another multi-layered performance of great appeal) and his desire for Lolita. Perhaps that too should be left up for suggestion in my head? In the mean time, I think I’M in love with “Lolita”! -djg

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DJG / Knowing

Knowing * * * *
Directed by: Alex Proyas / 2009

Scientific Scripture…

I know, I know, another disaster movie. Yep, another movie poster with a deconstructing/dissolving Earth. And yep, another movie logo type employing not one, but two design clichés; a sun replacing the “O” and the number 1 substituting for the letter “I”. It’s easier these movie watching days to be suspect to the oh-so-samey-so-so as Hollywood hooks a big one and they milk it for a decade. This is especially true in our post-911 hysteria and ever-impending anxiety for the apocalypse. Money is made from mayhem. I guess, so much for going to the movies to find escape and comfort, right? Of course, some people might find comfort in familiar cities and landmarks disintegrating, plus the monotone that is Nicolas Cage. You chosen ones out there, please step forward. I suppose I am a big pro for stuff blowing up, at least on the screen, and I don’t hate the Cage fighter as he’s a unique contributor to both big and small production wallets for sure. I typically enjoy riding along with anything he’s involved with. It’s easy to assume going in to “Knowing” that you’re going to know all about it within 20 minutes. However, this one might surprise you with its molecular twists of scientific meets scripture. Of course it employs clichés, just like it’s advertising suggests, but at times “Knowing” is the best movie that M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t made in many years. The film’s ending, which I won’t spoil, is one of the most baffling-unique in many years as well. I wouldn’t mind revisiting “Knowing” in a director’s cut release from Alex Proyas. I think there is much more story to tell in this one, but what is presented is better than most others like it. -djg

Monday, July 13, 2009

DJG / Moon

Moon * * * * ½
Directed by: Duncan Jones / 2009

Space Oddity…

I admire when children can step from the shadow of iconic parents to create a name on their own. In the case of director Duncan Jones, he literally created a new name. Born Zowie Bowie to none other than shape-shifting Ziggy Stardust himself, you can imagine the type of shadow or moon rock he may have felt under. Especially with a name like that, years before it became a name game for celebrities to make their children typographic tabloid bait. I think it’s a lot easier for successful musicians to bare successful musician offspring than it is in other career choices. Sometimes it’s because of whom Mom or Dad is, but every now and then they tap into their own (Jeff Buckley and Jakob Dylan come to mind). Young Bowie may have chosen film, though Bowie senior is no stranger to the path. Not to mention his impressive body of music carries more theatrics, dimension, dynamics and unique narrative than most movie makers. It’s no wonder that Duncan Jones shows a deft hand at orchestrating film the way he has with “Moon”, his feature debut at the age of 38. “Moon” is one of the best sci-fi films to come along in a while and I find Jones pouring as much of his own identity and upbringing into it as his father does in music, creating art with unique immediacy that you can’t wait to tap again or into another. Borrowing from some of the best in ‘60s-‘70s sci-fi (you’ll figure it out), “Moon” uses just enough of today’s modern trickery to bring to life something that isn’t a clone, but has a brain and heart to call home. It also never gets too far ahead of itself or too outlandish, at least for sci-fi. Actor Sam Rockwell shines as pretty much the solo pilot of the film as his Sam Bell nears the end of an isolated 3 year contract at a station on the moon. Bell begins to find out more about his self than you’d want to in that type of situation as he is two weeks shy of going home and wants nothing more to do so. Rockwell has a thick resume of fantastic performances, but hopefully “Moon” will finally get him due respect, maybe even an Oscar nomination. Just like his talented director he’s given a chance to showcase many sides and make a name for himself. -djg

Friday, July 10, 2009

DJG / Seven Pounds

Seven Pounds * * 1/2
Directed by:
Gabriele Muccino / 2008

These Pounds of Flesh Need More, Need Less…

I can't help but feel more sympathy for this movie as a movie, than for its struggling characters and wanna-be-wanna-die tear jerk story. Am I the jerk? "Seven Pounds" tries really-really hard to be a great movie and by the time it can be redeemed and wash us in its waters of mystery, it's more than two frustrating hours too late. I felt I was being put through the motions and tried to be moved in mysterious ways (Thanks Bono). On a whole, it's not a bad idea for a movie and not exactly executed poorly and I don't wish to explain the movie. Just that, it haphazardly tries for the popular gimmick of non-linear narrative, mystery, multiple characters and so-on and when done like this, frustrates me from start to finish. Most master directors can't present cohesively a film in such a way and I think it was too much to tackle and pull together in this case for Gabriele Muccino. Simplify please! Jenny Craig, please direct! I agree with others, primarily those backing the picture that you should go in without spoil. People spoke of, and/or didn't speak of, the mysterious shroud of an ending in "Seven Pounds" like it was the next great M. Night Shyamalan. Though, I'm still waiting for "Seven Pounds" to hook and grab me. It would have served better both edited down and fleshed out. Does that make sense? Watch it and you might agree. As well, the film feels primed and rushed for last year's awards season and that may have something to do with it, at least for me. How many could-be great films don't get the proper incubation time they deserve because of this (Thank you “The Road” for waiting a year to hopefully get things right)? I realize that this movie has and will have its fans. One attracter is star power Will Smith. He’s a talented actor with a wide-range in this film. I’ll see anything he’s steering, but he’s almost too capable of audience manipulation in this one. The moves are coming too easy for him here. Knowing what I'm getting into, I think I'd like it better the second time, but I'd have to first have the desire to stomach "Seven Pounds" again. I’m just glad this isn’t a series of seven movies! -djg

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DJG / The Break-Up

The Break-Up * * * *
Directed by: Peyton Reed / 2006

Surprisingly Well Put Together…

“The Break-Up” advertised itself to me like another groaner romantic comedy that would go from enjoyable to completely annoying in fifteen minutes, starting bitterly and finishing in sweet predictability. However, I am very surprised with how well put together “The Break-Up” actually is. I am a tad ashamed to have been so dumbed-down by the movie’s trailer, but could you blame me? I’ll try hard to steer this in the direction of my simple enjoyment and surprise of the movie, not of Hollywood’s perpetual dumb-down habits for success and excess. Please don’t get me wrong, as I can find enjoyment anywhere on the movie map, but lately movies like this are getting to be like fish worm date bait. The movie isn’t without fault lines and comes with the formula for comic relief. However, it’s never pushed over the edge in back ‘n’ forth competition like other movies of a similar plot device surrounding the break-up of a couple who must keep living together for rent’s sake. Throughout the film a realistic sense of loss, bitterness, confusion and personal growth is present. Thanks in part to solid performances from Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn who help steer the film, and me, from the predictable sharks of romantic comedy waters. I’d even endorse a sequel, or at least another Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan-esque pairing of this movie couple. -djg

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

DJG / What the Duck...?!

Howard the Duck * 1/2
Directed by: Willard Huyck / 1986

What the Duck...?!

In 1987 I was thrilled to finally get my eyes on a VHS of “Howard the Duck”. Odd though how I couldn’t recall a single thing about the film for the next 22 years, other than A: pure pre-enthusiasm upon seeing it and B: a topless female duck. I remember my mom happening to walk right in front of the television as Howard flew by his fellow apartment tenants in the opening minutes via a rocketing La-Z-Boy, passing regular ol’ ducks and then a naked female duck in the bath. I think my mom double-checked the PG rating on the box, and from what I gather, shut the movie off. I honestly don’t remember the rest of the two hours. And why might a movie like “Howard The Duck” even be more than an hour? Geesh, this movie goes on and on and on. It’s not even cool-bad in a cult classic way. This movie is just plain B-A-D and certainly not for a seven-year-old. At 30, I did find myself chuckling along, but wow I thought I’d like it more…I have no idea. “Howard the Duck” could have really been something and especially so just shy of two incredible cartoon-fresh and technological darlings of the time (and even now), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. Those movies must have learned something from “Howard the Duck” as it has to be one of the top worst movies of the 1980s and a definitive pre-cursor to the damage its executive producer George Lucas was set to give “Star Wars” fans ten years later. One thing is for certain, I’m so glad that Howard wasn’t made of CGI. And let’s hope Howard doesn’t ever get the remake treatment, though I doubt it could get any worse. Mom, I wish you would have been there to shut it off the second time! -djg

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Waltz with Bashir * * * * *
Directed by: Ari Folman / 2008

The Dog of War…

There are certain movies that you know aren’t going to end well. “Waltz with Bashir” is about director Ari Folman’s search to reconnect lost memories as a soldier in the Lebanon war and massacres of the late ‘80s. All the while the ever present end product waits for you on the credits’ horizon. This is some amazing and heavy duty film artillery. Attention folks: this is no Pixar stick for the kids or even most of your selves. But this needs to be viewed and with some minor editing, in public schools. This is animation as ammunition to the harsh and harrowing realities of war, to man’s violent intent to destroy one another. Indeed, one can see such on any morning paper headline or nightly news cast, even looking out the windows to the world. And how many more movies and stories must we make to convince our brothers and sisters to stop fighting? “Waltz with Bashir” is gorgeous and gut-wrenching from the opening scene of death hounds running the streets and ends worse than you will ever see coming. It is the ONLY way to end this film. -djg

Monday, June 22, 2009

DJG's Movie Morning Monday

The Spirit of the Beehive * * * ½
Directed by: Victor Erice / 1973

The first few years of significantly building my home movie library (uh, before I got married and responsible) I would buy films on a research whim, or for the heck of it, without seeing them first. Or on sale, whichever came first. Sometimes the results would be great, sometimes not. “The Spirit of the Beehive” is definitely one of those movies that I probably would have purchased without seeing first and would have definitely received “sometimes not” results. I’m glad I didn’t buy it back when I first heard about it. Though, I think this is a movie that I might like more the second time because it would come without high expectation. You see, I had high expectations for this one. But, I am not nearly as foul as when I saw “Floating Weeds" (for the Chad & Danny record, “The Spirit of the Knee Chive” is way better than “Floating Chodes”). “The Spirit of the Beehive” started out very strong for me as a small '40s Spanish village (in particular two young girls) obsesses over a print of the classic movie “Frankenstein” and then the film within the film influences the film. Get it? I thought I did at first, and there are things I like about it, but I think it lost me in its quest for subtle, eclectic art. By the time it invited me back in, it was over and I wanted so much more. I recognize this as a great movie, but I only find it to be a good movie. Is it fair of me to say this? I think so. It’s kind of like how I think bee keeping would be a great job, but it wouldn’t be a good one for me. I’m not certain there will be a second viewing with this one. Though, maybe I’m just not ready for "The Spirit of the Beehive" and maybe I should have bought it back in the day so I could put it in my “to watch again” pile for some rainy movie day? I don't know. -djg

DJG / Ghost Town

Ghost Town * * * *
Directed by: David Koepp / 2008

When Cliché Turns Classic…

Humans helping the dead and the dead helping humans, we’ve all seen this before many times over. Every T.V. and movie decade has its high-end and low-end stories involving ghosts and humans sharing screen and scene time. In recent memory, television has spawned more than enough series (I won’t bother naming) with the movies mostly sticking to it in the horror-suspense genre, as opposed to comedy, like this one. Actually, I can’t recall since the 1980s or ‘90s a great and lovable ghosts-meets-humans comedy. And I don’t really need to recall “Ghost Town” to you. The generic titling alone feels destined for the cheap DVD bin or misplaced in the horror-western shelf, but don’t let that scare you from watching (har har). This is one of those rare surprise movie treats so cliché that it turns into classic. So much in fact, that I wouldn’t mind seeing a T.V. series spin-off or movie sequel made. Or, maybe I'll just watch it again and again. -djg

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DJG's Enjoyables

Paul Blart Mall Cop * * * ½
Directed by: Steve Carr / 2009

Kevin James is Here to Stay…

I like “Paul Blart Mall Cop”. I like Kevin James even more. I think it’s becoming easier to shrug off low-brow and brainless comedies like this, but sometimes they surprise me. I think it takes a lot of brains to make a comedy today that doesn’t trade its heart for its underpants (or lack thereof) and foul humor within ten minutes. Sometimes even those types of movies surprise me, such as the co-piloted James vehicle “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” and others without James like “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” and anything that Judd Apatow has his brains in. But, I think it takes guts to make a movie for adults and children. Now we find that Kevin James himself can win a box office weekend without the help of Will Smith or Adam Sandler or even crude humor and gross-out comedy. Kevin James’ Paul Blart may just be a dumpy mall cop, but he is a sweet, warm-hearted guy who pays attention to the details of his duty on the job and off as a father and friend. I think I’m starting to find a film replacement for the beloved John Candy. No, not because Kevin James is a large man nor because he is the embodiment of the guy next door, but because a big heart is shining a presence on the silver screen. And I’m watching.

Taken * * * * ½
Directed by: Pierre Morel / 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like Bryan Mills Scorned…

I don’t feel the word “better” applies correctly to this sentence, but in a way you can think of “Taken” as a better-produced version of the classic-brilliant ‘80s movie “Commando.” Ahhnold’s Col. John Matrix is one of my all-time favorite fatherly killing machines and Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills is close behind. Get these two together (hide their daughters of course) and they’ll be sure to find Osama Bin Laden before supper and every new terrorist and bad guy born that day. The story is simple from the get-go: Government ex-killing machine and single father loves daughter…Daughter is kidnapped by bad guys…Father tracks her down using amazing skills...Father kills every bad guy in his way to get her back. It’s so simple, yet so effective. And when done well, it can be quite brilliant and a joy to watch. Is joy the right word when you run out of body bags? Why not?! Bryan Mills doesn’t take the names of the bad guys, rather, to paraphrase “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, he tears open their rears, steps inside and spray paints “Bryan Mills Was Here.” I’m quite taken with “Taken” and wish to own it as it’s one of the best and most enjoyable father-knows-best-action-thrillers to come along since “Commando.” -djg

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

DJG's Weekend Watcher

Noise * * * *
Directed by: Henry Bean / 2007

Come On Feel the Noise…

Last week while jump starting our five-month-old car and car battery for the first time, my wife and I (and most likely every neighbor on the block, including the wonderful Becca who helped us – thanks!) learned that for some unspoken reason, the Honda Fit Sport likes to HONK obnoxiously loud when having jumper cables applied to it. Who would have thought? And did I mention it was just after 7 in the morning? I’ve never liked making loud noises (well, at least in public) and I’m positive that we gave an early awakening assault to most sleepy heads. I felt awful about it, but I must say that I feel granted at least one such episode in comparison to the dozens that are assaulted on my ears daily as I live and work in mid-town Kansas City, MO. I can 100% relate to Henry Bean’s wonderful movie “Noise” that showcases Tim Robbins at his manic-comedic best fed-up with noise that he eventually joins the cause in order to get his point across in a court of law. I sleep restlessly at night to loud drunk girl neighbor, have my ears blown walking to work by explosive hot rod engines and sit in an office cubicle near a busy intersection that every emergency vehicle siren passes and screeches through and every other car rattling the office windows with the worst and most deafening music imaginable. I have to listen and complain about noise every day, but it’s a real treat to WATCH a movie like “Noise” with the stereo surround sound thumping!

The International * * *
Directed by: Tom Tykwer / 2009

In a Court of Flaw…

A great deal of care and attention seems to have been given to making “The International.” However, I wish that I had more care to want to give it my own attention, even after watching it one and a half times and some scenes three times. This political thriller of bank fraud and weapon dealing globe trots more than Harlem’s basketball team, visiting more locations in the first 20 minutes than I will my entire life. Interpol and F.B.I mainstays are represented by Clive Owens and Naomi Watts, even though I have no idea what they are constantly talking about and where they seem to be constantly going. And if my job carried this amount of stress and danger, I would have quit years ago. Is it really worth it? Secondary characters are introduced and re-introduced and are given ample time for me to get to know, but I still haven’t figured out who they are or their roles in the game. Well, except for one or two but even still they come and go and I’m left with wanting more from them as individuals than another introduction of yet another pair of political cat and mouse. Who is good. Who is bad? Am I supposed to be confused? Stylistically, “The International” is photographed well and at times sits somewhere between Alfred Hitchcock making a movie with Michael Mann. Though, their films are far more enjoyable for me to sit with and I can tend to follow them better. By far the best scene is an impressive shootout at the Guggenheim Museum. It’s certainly not the greatest action sequence ever made, but it is filmed exceptionally well and effective for such an unusual space. Just the idea of a shootout in a museum is awesome to me, especially in one of the world’s most famous buildings and with an exhibition that digitally projects mini films within the film. Also, I just love a good shootout and seeing recognizable places riddled with holes. However, I shouldn’t have watched the DVD extras on how it was accomplished as I was a little bummed. Despite its faux face to New York City’s architectural elite, it is quite astonishing how well they pulled it off to look real. Still, the action was too little and too late for me because the movies is so darn 24-7 talkie (and not in a Tarantino way) without telling me anything or helping me move along with the players. Granted, I’m known for not being the best at following fast paced political or heist thrillers with multi-tiers, but quite honestly this one just needs some guidance or a guide book. Political justice is on the mind and motive of Owens’ character, though what he and the viewer gets is that in this world, there is no such thing. Which, most of us have pessimistically figured out long ago. So, how about some storytelling justice?

Soul Men * *
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee / 2008

Soul Searching…

I was bummed about the early passing of comedian great Bernie Mac. I’m even more bummed that Mac’s last performance is forever sealed in “Soul Men”, a movie that could have had heart had it not lacked so much soul. I'm sure there are many out there who rolled in their seats, but please give me re-runs of “The Bernie Mac Show” any day. PS: Another R.I.P. goes out to Isaac Hayes, who also appeared in "Soul Men."

Snakes on a Plane * * * * ½
Directed by: David R. Ellis / 2006

Still Slithering…

Remember way back in 2006 (even a year or more before), when the internet hype for “Snakes on a Plane” promised more box office cleavage than when the final numbers finally came slithering in? Well, despite everything, the movie is still what it was meant to be. And that is, colossal campy fun at high altidudes! Personally, I can’t get enough of this one! -djg

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Gran Torino * * * * *
Directed by: Clint Eastwood / 2008

“The Old Rugged Cross”

I think we’d all like and not like to have Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski living next door. We’d like him there because he would serve as the patriarch of the neighborhood watch. We wouldn’t like him there because he would definitely say what’s on his mind, mumble lines of hate or disgust to our faces and even get a little trigger happy. Clint Eastwood nails the crotchety old man bit, mixed with some classic Eastwood performances to perfection and delivers on all cylinders in what I think is his best film study since “Unforgiven”. I’m kicking myself for not seeing this one in a crowded theater. I would have loved to sit in uncomfortable snickers during the first half hour, confused if I was watching a comedy, and then turn to tears from both laughter and heart with my fellow Wally Watchers. Hallelujah, this movie is amazing (g)race! How can so much love, faith, joy and redemption come out of a centerpiece of hate with a buried heart like Walt Kowalski? Watch “Gran Torino” and be floored at the outcome and the wealth of ideas to chew on in the aftermath. Creators of “Crash”, THIS is how you make a meaningful and moving movie about race and commentary on the state of the nation and the changing of the guard! It’s so simple and goes so much further and I'm perplexed at the lack of Academy Award support for this one. This is how you make a movie that is relevant and going to stick around and better with age, just like its mainstay in front of and behind the camera. Clint Eastwood claims that Walt Kowalski will be his final screen character as an actor. I hope he’s wrong, though I can’t think of a better and more bitter-sweet way for him to bow out of acting. Let’s just hope he continues this astonishing directing power and pace well into his 80s and 90s because his 60s and 70s have produced some of his finest work. Actually, I think that Clint Eastwood has morphed into a chunk of solid, long-lasting Oak. I look forward to many great years to come living next door via his wonderful movies. -djg

DJG's Weekend Watcher

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry * * * ½
Directed by: Dennis Dugan / 2007

I was thoroughly in awe of Dennis Dugan and Adam Sandler’s work on “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.” What a creatively fresh and obtuse comedy. Although, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” shares an equally impressive and exhaustive title, it isn’t equal in the comedy caliber department. Then again, it is a completely separate kind of comedy and still it had me hook ‘n’ laddered the entire time. When and where “Chuck & Larry” falls very low, is also when it picks itself up to surprisingly warm-hearted-heights. Perhaps some of that warmth in writing can be credited to the help of expert Alexander Payne. And with the clever comedy of “Zohan” in mind, writing dots can be connected to the of-the-moment comedy king Judd Apatow. I think it helps to have great writers on boards, but director Dennis Dugan is handling this material so well and Sandler has really been shining to his acting strengths since 2002’s brilliant “Punch-Drunk Love”. Throw in some Kevin James as “Larry” and his screen presence compliments Sandler’s “Chuck” incredibly well and oddly believable as firefighters pretending to be gay in order to collect health benefits. In fact, there were times I forgot the premise and was completely convinced they were in fact gay. Despite how bottom-rung-blah others might think, I know I’m having a ball and look forward to more.

JCVD * * * *
Directed by: Mabrouk El Mechri / 2008

There is an incredible moving movie moment in “JCVD” where the action stops and Jean-Claude Van Damme is elevated above the sound stage and lighting to talk directly to the viewer. Some might find it gimmicky, but I absolutely love how connected and close you get to the man, a man who doesn’t seem to stray far from his own actual self. My second time with “JCVD” was even better and I wouldn’t mind spending even more with the Muscle from Brussels as he plays himself with a shot at redemption on and off the movie set. “JCVD” is a winner.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God * * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1972

Rivers and bodies of water have found a steady storytelling device in movies and music of popular culture. The contents of the current can be a metaphorical mystery and a baptism for both Heaven and Hell. Werner Herzog’s insanely incredible “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” flows down the river of darkness at full paddle and forces you to find your nearest life vest. This is pure madness on a scale of film making (how AND why did they do that!?!) as well on its study of man’s dark intent. And good ol’ Klaus Kinski is madness incarnate no matter his placement in a Herzog film. What a striking face he carried! In particular, the final shot of “Aguirre” on a floating grave yard raft down a river with a bunch of monkeys for first mates. It is truly one of the most mesmerizing scenes in movie history. In “Aguirre…”, I now see some connection to that of Francis Ford Coppola to follow his movie making madness at the end of the 1970s at full throttle down the winding serpent to find Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now.” Both films are mad masterpieces and both follow the river deep into the jungled heart of man’s darkness.

The Boy Who Could Fly * * * *
Directed by: Nick Castle / 1986

On the last day of school in the fourth grade we watched a movie called “The Boy Who Could Fly.” I hadn’t heard of the movie until that day and I haven’t forgotten it since. Well, actually as it turns out I had forgotten about the entire movie, with the exception of a very young Fred Savage’s obsession with war, even tending to funerals for his fallen G.I. Joe comrades in battle. These were images that rang a bell as I played war 24-7 in the creek in front of my house up until it was time to leave for college. I tried to watch the movie a second time back in 2004 or 2005, but failed to reconnect with it and ended up falling asleep within the first half hour. How can one “reconnect” within the first half hour, I don’t know, but I declared such a thing. I just shouldn’t watch movies when I’m tired. But, that didn’t keep my fourth grade Fred Savage visions from being afloat. As it turns out, my official second review (a couple days ago) has me wondering how in the world I had remembered so much about Fred Savage’s role in the film, when his scenes barely envelope a time of seven minutes, if that. How did I not remember the other hour and thirty-some minutes? How did I not remember until a couple days ago that there was a boy who could fly, something that only ‘80s high school fantasy films could pull off without full explanation? Actually, I understand the film much more as a man-child, the way I think it’s meant to be understood, even the part where Fred Savage’s character runs out into a hard rain to unearth his fallen soldiers. It’s a short scene that has been buried and extended so beloved in my mind since the fourth grade and forever more.

Watcher in the Woods * * * ½
Directed by: John Hough & Vincent McEveety / 1980

I barely remembered this Disney horror-suspense film starring a Bette Davies (and barely remember Disney producing genuine horror-suspense films), when my family started renting VHS tapes and VCR consoles in the mid-1980s. Remember when people used to rent home video watching equipment!? Apparently “Watcher in the Woods” has developed into somewhat of a cult classic and I can see why. I can also see its roots in the more modern subtle suspense tales, which are few and far between these days and more should take note. Though, it does seems like a story M. Night Shyamalan could easily adapt and get back in shape with. I’m not big into re-makes, especially when originals like “Watcher in the Woods” are so good and grounded, but I think Shyamalan could really re-make something of it and himself.

Panic Room * * * *
Directed by: David Fincher / 2002

Number One: Why in the heck does a mother and daughter need a million dollar, four story apartment? Well, if such a space didn’t exist on screen, then I suppose I would have gotten more dishes washed the other night as “Panic Room” would have only been about an hour. Number Two: Dreadfully dreadlocked Jared Leto’s thief has got to be the most over-acted character in recent memory. I couldn’t wait for his brains to be spilled on the kitchen floor. OK, I’ll admit that I’m harsh, but it’s all in movie fun. And “Panic Room” is director David Fincher at his flashiest, yet light years ahead of the bad-bad (and not bad in a good way) “Alien 3.” After the dreadful first layer of icing on the ruin of that celebrated sci-fi franchise (oh gosh, the fourth one was even worse!), Fincher has proven to me time and time again that he will always be cranking out the watchable, beautiful hits for years to come (uh, “The Game”, “Seven”, “Fight Club”, “Zodiac”…anyone, anyone?). I think people like to pick on Fincher (case in point: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”!), and“Panic Room” is no exception to the rules of his genius film making game. Though, I’m still wondering why a mother and daughter needed such a big place, and I think they wonder too by the movie’s end. So does the bullet that took Jared Leto’s character's brains.

Up * * * * *
Directed by: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson / 2009

I'm very partial to the first half of "Wall-e", as the introduction of the humans ruined the rest for me, as they do in real life too, but as a whole "Up" just might be Pixar's best since the original "Toy Story". But, oh my, how I also love this one…and that one…and this one…and that one over there...and in particular anything that Brad Bird touches. Hmmmm, do you think Pixar ever gets bored with being soooo darn creatively clever, cute and constantly cranking out the hits!? “Up” is certified gold. I can't wait to own "Up" and hopefully grow old with it into the Golden Years. Oh, and "Partly Cloudy" is their best short yet! It is pure brilliance that needs to be extended! My only major complaint: I was bummed that the "Toy Story 3" trailer was only plugged for the 3D paying ticketers! Poor Move, Pixar! Ah well, you are forgiven and I saved a few bucks so I can see you latest wet eye’d warmth and wonder again. So far, “Up” is the best picture of 2009. -djg

Thursday, June 4, 2009

DJG / Enjoyed or Enjoying

Music video for M. Ward's cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" * * * * *
Directed by: Mike Please / 2009


Ablutions: Notes on a Novel * * * *
Author: Patrick deWitt / 2009


The Red Balloon * * * * *
Directed by: Albert Lamorisse / 1956

This fantastic short film inspired a recent fan-made video for the Grizzly Bear song "Two Weeks", as well as Elliott Smith's "Son of Sam" video.


Riding the Rails * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Lexy Lovell & Michael Uys / 1997


The English Patient * * * *
Directed by: Anthony Minghella / 1996


Falling Down * * * *
Directed by: Joel Schumacher / 1993


The Black Cauldron * * * *
Directed by: Ted Berman & Richard Rich / 1985


No Direction Home * * * * *
Directed by: Martin Scorsese / 2005


Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews * * * * *
Edited by: Jonathan Cott / 2006


2001: A Space Odyssey
* * * * *
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick / 1968