Wednesday, February 25, 2009

DJG / The Reader

The Reader * * * * ½
Directed by: Stephen Daldry / 2008

Sympathy For The Devil…

I’m sure that a lot of 81st Academy Awards viewers were wondering where in the world “The Reader” came from, and/or what it was other than, “Oh, that movie that helped Kate Winslet finally win an Oscar.” I didn’t hear about the movie until mid-December as it seemed to slip under the radar to lock-down the Best Picture nomination that “The Dark Knight” would have probably gobbled up. I’m not complaining though, as the quiet-yet-hard hitting lust/love and literacy story was better on my eyes than the new billion dollar Batman franchise.

Don’t worry I’m not going to give anything away as I know how splendidly it unfolded for me going in blind. I’ll just set the story up. Its 1958 Neustadt, Germany as a 15-year-old boy stumbles in the rain, sick and out of bounds in the entrance to an apartment building. An older woman attends to him, cleans up his vomit and aids to his sickness, sending young Michael Berg on home to get better. After three months in bed with scarlet fever, he is eager to get back to school and back to the apartment building to thank the kind woman who helped him. Her name is Hanna Schmitz and she comes with what seems to be a big bag of complexities, and especially so to 15-year-old Michael. Its lust at first site for both and perhaps naïve love for him. Despite her being twice his age, the two quickly strike up a summertime affair that involves lots of bed sheets, bath tubs, bicycle trips and very tender sessions where Michael reads aloud to her (a little hint to the film’s title). But, it’s all a season’s fire to rage the rest of their lives.

“The Reader” will definitely have you walking out looking for fire…as in, some sunlight. It’s a downer and with few lighthearted moments. My first thoughts knew it was a good movie, but I wasn’t certain if it was Best Picture caliber because it’s not necessarily a movie that can be seen repeated times (a priority for me with such a high honor, though "Schindler's List" I could watch twice a month, go figure). I want to read "The Reader" now instead of seeing the movie a second time. Though, upon further inspection, and you will be inspecting over and over what you’ve just seen, it’s a very remarkable, worthwhile story that needed to be told. It will get you thinking and talking and that’s what good movies should do. At times it questions your own once-thought hardnosed ethics and morals, causing a fine line to be drawn and casting a card to sympathy in the most unlikely of candidates and circumstances.

It is subtle in style, yet not in its exploration of the sex-capades of Michael and Hanna. In fact, their secret lust action consumes much of the first half of the film and with a bold stamp. Even as a male I was thinking, “OK, how many more angles on Kate Winslet’s naked body will I see today? Oh, that’s a new one…her scanning the water hole in a drenched, see-thru bra.” It’s a well-crafted, well-played story, but I think that director Stephen Daldry should have scaled back on the sex some. Or, maybe the intension was to be completely carnal? Though, I can’t help but think of how beautifully and artfully director Zhang Yimou handled the two-to-tango in his magnificent “Ju Dou”, and every time I see a movie that misses for me in the bedroom I think of that one. I wonder how much more sensual and suggestive the character’s actions would have appeared behind the beautiful hanging curtain dividers in the apartment or through the many panes of frosted glass that the camera seems drawn to in other scenes. It would have also suggested that there is something buried and burdened behind this sexual act, which one indeed finds out come the film’s second act.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DJG on The 81st Academy Awards

There is always so much build up to The Academy Awards, especially the 81st, and then it goes so fast. It felt as if Sunday night dissolved as quickly as my giant pile of hot dogs, baked beans and macaroni and cheese that I ushered off of my plate faster than Barbara Walters could interview all of the Jonas Brothers. I’ve had a day of reflection on the grand gala pageant that is The Oscars, not that I really needed time to reflect as most of my reflection came weeks and months prior, even during some of the films, but being a movie fan I tend to get a little down on the emotional ladder the morning after. Heck, even the evening after as I caught the encore of Oprah’s Oscar party. I think it’s because 2008, at least in the world of film, is finally labeled and wrapped up snuggly in its canister placed on the shelf. All of that build up is gone. However, it doesn’t mean it will be dust-covered and it doesn’t mean that voices, emotions, talent and worlds explored will become a shelved file, even after death. Some have only just begun, some are already getting new and improved offers, some will connect with a wider audience on DVD in the next few weeks, and some might still be partying. And in the case of Mickey Rourke, an old dying star has been granted a second chance in the same year the rising star in Heath Ledger is laid to rest in peace. But, life or death and win or lose, the legacy blazes on and so do the movies. Every Oscar morning after I’m already wondering what no-name film or character coming out in the new year will be groomed and fitted for an 82nd Annual Oscar tux or gown…and what director, film, actor I’ll be blogging and hyping a hundred times about later this year. -djg

DJG on The 81st Academy Awards

Meryl Streep was in Jack Nicholson’s seat. In fact, I don’t even recall him ever being shown? Is this the first time he’s missed one of these? Are the Lakers a better ticket?


Hugh “I’m Wolverine” Jackman! He was an amazing host, the best in years, and I bet his Hollywood stock just went up big-time! My only complaint is that he seemed to disappear at times and I wanted MORE! I must add that his opener was the best I’d seen since Billy Crystal blew me away in 1992.


Tina Fey and Steve Martin presenting the screenplays was genius. Steve has hosted before...perhaps they could tag team in the future?


Jack Black made a funny...and I bet he got a phone call the next morning. It went something like this, "I make a lot of money doing voice-overs for animated films. The money I make doing these animated films for Dreamworks Studios I take and gamble on Pixar animations to win Oscars."


Where was the annual Honorary Oscar? I realize that Jerry Lewis received a special Oscar for his wonderful charity work. However, I do wish they would have extended it a little bit longer. It is great to see an elder in the industry smell the roses while they still can.


Though, it seemed to take up an extra hour (it didn’t bother me, but I’m sure it bothered some), I really enjoyed former Oscar acting winners saying nice things to each 2008 acting nominee. It gave a sense of history, importance, integrity and torch passing. It was also awesome to see a legends of cinema five pack seem like they were about to beam up. Perhaps this should have been done with the directors too? However, I think there should have also been clips of each performance, especially for those that haven’t seen them yet. I realize that this would have set the broadcast back a few more bucks and minutes, but the acting statues are the typically the most anticipated. At least have clips prepared to play after each winner speaks. That would be a cool idea.


Academy, why not have five nominees in every category across the board? Some have four, some three. I’ve beefed on this before as it really annoys me, and not just because The Boss wasn’t invited.


I appreciated The Academy’s attempt at showing those at home the steps in the movie making process per each award handed out. Although it was a little awkward at times, and mostly due to those presenting, it was a nice treat and fresh ‘n’ fun stamp on a notoriously-known-to-be stuffy awards show.


Hardcore conservative Christians…please stop protesting movies


I think that a website, all-access television program or theaters nationwide (maybe all three options) should have special viewings of all the Oscar nominated shorts. Though, I don’t think a lot of people had seen, or even heard of, the Best Picture nominees. I realize that even down the street from my house, some of these shorts are playing at the theater. However, why not make them accessible to everyone and in all viewable formats? Everything else is at our fingertips with technology, so why can’t these? Or, maybe they are out there to be had and I’m just uneducated?


I’m sure some are perplexed to why Heath Ledger was not shown during the annual honor to those who passed away last year. Well, if you remember last year, they showed him. I still think they should have put him in there, especially since this was his final industry send-off. Queen Latifah, great song. But, producers, there were many times where I didn’t know what face/name was on screen because of the camera angle trying to get Queen in the shot. Not everybody in ‘merica has a giant television!


I enjoyed the change in the ceremony and it did well at celebrating the tradition and legacy of The Academy Awards. Though, it did feel a bit wobbly and unrehearsed at times. The visuals were beautiful, elegant and fairly simplified (in Hollywood standards), and I appreciated how close the audience was to the stage, instead of seeming like they were down below. It was also nice to see the orchestra/band in a better seat. The montages weren’t over-done, like in previous years, and it was nice to see a well-rounded tribute to all movies in general. Also, great job on the Best Picture montage as you showed past pictures that helped carve the way for today’s work.


The nominated scores and songs seemed to be a little rushed and mashed-up too much. Also, why was Peter Gabriel exchanged for John Legend. I like Legend, though he didn’t really seem to mix with this, but why not have the actual singer-songwriter nominated perform? Peter, did you just have a baby like M.I.A.?


Disgruntled fans of “The Dark Knight”, you can now stop complaining.


I enjoyed the 2009 movie previews at the end of the broadcast! Nice bonus! However, I think that The Academy Awards should grab viewers similar to what The Super Bowl does and debut movie teasers and trailers, along with special movie-related commercials.


Yay David Fincher for finally getting an Oscar nomination! Yay “Slumdog Millionaire” for your initial underdog status-turn-big winner! Yay Danny Boyle and your Tigger bounce on stage that you promised to your kids years ago! NOTE: People…fill the theaters for this movie and future Danny Boyle films. He’s been just shy of the spot lights for too long. I think he is the next Steven Spielberg.


I'm sure that by taking a day to reflect, I actually forgot a lot that I was thinking of saying while watching the 81st Academy Awards. Oh well, it's probably better that way. I just enjoyed it and enjoy me some movies!


ps: I recognize how harsh and low-brow this is, but I can't help but wonder how many cast members of "Slumdog Millionaire" Angelina Jolie adopted on Sunday night?

Monday, February 23, 2009

DJG's Movie Morning Monday

THX 1138 * * * *
Directed by: George Lucas / 1971

It’s no “Star Wars” and that’s not a bad thing. But, is “THX 1138” a good thing? I think so, especially for 1971 and especially so for a first feature dive into science fiction. Is it as good as Lucas’ second direction, “American Graffiti”? Well, now you’re talking preference in genre and style because the two are completely unrelated, unless you’re talking about fast cars and characters breaking the confines of repressed living. One just happens to be a dystopian future and the other 1960s high school. Being that I’ve had more time with “American Graffiti”, and it sits special in my heart due to the time I saw it, I’m more attached to it. Though, watching “THX 1138” for the first time this morning only made me want to spend more time with it and I can easily see that attraction growing. And to watch Lucas held under sci-fi restraints and in a new world (at least for him) and with something to say, was quite refreshing. I find it challenging to watch a “classic” for the first time after years of hype, and especially without a childhood connection (“Blade Runner” was like this for me a couple years ago…I still need to watch it again). But, being the “Star Wars” loving child that I am, I felt an automatic connection to what came before it in “THX 1138”. I know that I saw something special, groundbreaking and inspiring. Not only did I see glimpses to the future of the mighty Lucas franchise wallet, but caught hints of many fellow sci-fi movies that came after it. I definitely need to watch “THX 1138” again, but I just hope that I never have to live it. I’d rather go back to high school.


Friday, February 20, 2009

DJG / Three Random Films

The Greatest Show on Earth * * * * *
Directed by: Cecil B. DeMille / 1952

"Just so the show keeps rolling." These are words said by circus manager Brad in 1952's epic Best Picture that takes you inside and outside the big top. Charlton Heston tackles the character of Brad with what I feel is the best role I've seen from him. Naturally, a talent like Heston's comes backed with a slice or two of ham and that extra spice that tends to tighten with a major actor's own personal on and off screen big top. But, Brad's veins work hard for their dreams, packed to the brim with "Saw dust and star dust." Heston's performance is big, bold and as solid as the circus tent's center pole. Brad is the pumping guts to the hearts of the show and at times looks and feels the part of an early borrowed blue print to Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones or a Bruce Springsteen song character. Brad is tough as nails, but is like a kid who dreams big and works hard to get a better slice of spirited soul for him and his comrades.

Heston is great, but it's the whole wonder of a movie and cast that somehow all comes together and works magically, the way that all great movies should. Complete with outstanding costumes, scenery, solid sub-plots, stunts, thrills, drama, love, fun, and Jimmy Stewart in constant clown makeup as Buttons, a man on the run from the law (it's a plot I wish was fleshed out into an entire separate movie). Oh, and for the ladies out there, Cornel Wilde as Sebastian, the cocky and like-able high-flying trapeze artist...and many others. Cecil B. DeMille plays head ring master in bringing the circus to the big screen. Fully equipped with drippy ice cream cones, stuffed hot dog mouths and spilt popcorn, DeMille's direction captures the authentic wonder and childlike joy in the eyes and faces of all ages. He also shows the blood, sweat and tears of those who put the rings together, full-circle. I loved just watching everything and everyone going and doing in the background and seeing all the extras and at times actual footage of how the circus works. I imagine the production of making a circus work is somewhat similar to bringing a movie to life and DeMille was the right choice as he is the king of epic pictures. Great pacing and excellent narration helps the viewer pack up the circus and move it down the train tracks to the next town. The viewer follows lip-smackingly-so like a child, even when the show limps into town after an awesomely-insane train wreck.

Though there is some controversy surrounding it's Oscar win in the McCarthy era, and just in general among film snobs, I feel that "The Greatest Show on Earth" certainly lives up to its name...and some. This is a mesmerizing feast on a film level and a true document to a special place in American history that has inspired many, including master director Steve Spielberg to start making movies at a young age. In this day of constant envelope pushing 'n' shoving to wow and cure the people's know-it-all boredom and cynicism, it's so sweet to see a movie like this. It was a time before reality television and CGI made a mockery of actual skill, talent and spectacle. And it was a time when people seemed a little more optimistic to lend their time to a good-old fashioned time. It was a time when the national climate was troubled, like now, but there seemed to be more of a national hope and togetherness found inside of a good time at the circus or at a movie about the circus. There is something pure and innocent inside the eyes that DeMille captures in his circus. I would love the opportunity to search time's canvas for a tear just to sneak a peak into this timeless time capsule. A moment in time that my Grandparent's lived in and my parents got to see for a bit as well. The circus is still alive today, but I just don't feel that it's the same as it once was...and if it is, maybe WE as a people aren't. But for now, I'll just keep the show rolling at the cinema to get my little corner of saw dust and star dust.


Rambo III * * * ½
Directed by: Peter MacDonald / 1988

John Rambo is back in action and this time he's blowing up Afghanistan to rescue his old friend the colonel from a terrorist compound. Before pulling triggers and knifing stuff, Rambo spent some time between his final Vietnam tour and the Middle-East, in a monastery searching for some inner piece. Now, he must search for new ways to make rebel Afhans and Russians rest in PIECES.

This is another stellar blowin' up blood fest in the RAMBO franchise, though it's not as great as "First Blood" or "First Blood Part II". Still, it's fantastic. Personally, It's a bit strange to me that I hadn't seen all the Rambo movies before now, being that John Rambo was my everyday play of choice in the ditch and woods of the Gibson estate (well, Rambo mixed with some Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker…and whatever the "thing" of the week was back then). Though, I must add that I watched "Commando" enough times to make up for this blunder in my pop-culture background. Oh, and of course I had the Rambo action figures and the Rambo Playset, complete with authentic machine gun, grenades and knife. Yep, THE knife.


The Great Outdoors * * * *
Directed by: Howard Deutch / 1988

File under Bass Pro Shop: The Movie. “The Great Outdoors is a fantastic '80s comedy-family-fun-feast that I hadn't seen since I was 8 or 9 years old…and extra special to watch after a weekend of camping! It still packs the one-two-punch of John Candy and Dan Akroyd and I've become out of taste with Anette Bening of late, so I was relieved to find her performance more in the background on this one. Anyway, the film makes me wish for better wholesomely-stupid comedies today…and not the numb-nutzed and near-exhausted brand of Will Ferrell comedies that tend to lose their steam in ten minutes. I also wish that John Candy was still alive and that Dan Akroyd would do more GREAT work like “The Great Outdoors”.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

The DJG's of Film Grading

The DJG's of Film Grading

* = G'awful

** = Groaner

*** = Good

**** = Great

***** = Gold

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


DJG on OSCARS 2008 (predicted winners have a * next to them)

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor" (Overture Films)
Frank Langella in "Frost/Nixon" (Universal)
Sean Penn in "Milk" (Focus Features)
Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
*Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler" (Fox Searchlight)

Mickey Rourke IS Randy “The Ram” Robinson. He literally absorbed “The Wrestler” role and went to deep and dark places to wrestle with his own demons. This is beyond brutally honest acting. I’ve seen it twice and haven’t had it off my mind since seeing it the first time in late November. I’m convinced “The Ram” is one of the all-time greatest performances in cinema. I’ve yet to see “Milk” and I’ve heard nothing but high remarks on Sean Penn’s latest nomination. A second Oscar would cement Penn as his generation’s finest actor. However, it’s Rourke’s story that is really inspiring and touching the masses right now. He was once carrying to torch to stardom in the ‘80s and then became the buzz of controversy and failure, even dropped out of acting for a stint at boxing, but now he’s back on the top rope. Let’s hope he can stay there and from what I’ve seen he’s willing to stay disciplined and work hard because he’s seen the rock bottom. With or without an Oscar, Rourke is a winner and back as he has proven his chops once again and gained the trust and respect of his Hollywood peers who at one-time didn’t want anything to do with him. And if he doesn’t win, it will be because of that.

I’ve yet to see “Frost/Nixon”, but again I’ve heard some incredible things about Frank Langella’s performance as Richard Nixon. If there is a dark horse in the Best Actor race, it is probably Langella. And the Academy has a pretty solid track record at handing out statues to aging, proven veterans. Richard Jenkins pulled of a fantastic, strong and subtle performance in “The Visitor”. I think his nomination is more of a welcome to the club and I’m sure he’ll be getting some more coming his way. I’m just excited that “The Visitor” received a nomination so more people will take an interest in it. It was one of the most overlooked films of 2008. I’ve seen “The Curious Case of Bejamin Button” and enjoyed it and Brad Pitt’s performance greatly. A lot of people are finding his nomination in this department a waste as he was either buried behind makeup and effects or his own pretty looks. I disagree and found his Benjamin Button very charming and absorbed, especially in the curious eyes, which tell everything. I think that Brad Pitt gets a bad “pretty boy” wrap. Come on people the guy has proven he can act and always tackles challenging and unique roles. I do think he’s the most unlikely candidate to win on Oscar Sunday, but his nomination is well-deserved and he’ll be back again and again.


Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Josh Brolin in "Milk" (Focus Features)
Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder" (DreamWorks, Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Doubt" (Miramax)
*Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Michael Shannon in "Revolutionary Road" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

Heath Ledger has got this one in the bag, and not just because he passed away a little over a year ago. He deserves it because he was the best and most impacting this year. Although, I’m not a fan at all of this new Batman franchise, Ledger is astonishing as The Joker and reached new heights within the character. His acting as well went to new heights and I can’t help but dwell on the “what might have beens” with his life and career stopped so young, so abruptly. I really hope this award goes to his young daughter as a reminder of a father she will barely known beyond a few years with him and a handful of films. Fan boys and praising critics are upset over the loss of love for “The Dark Knight” at the Oscars, but Matilda’s loss is the biggest tragedy of all.

I’m extremely excited that Robert Downey, Jr. received a nomination for his amazing back ‘n’ forth transformations as an over-zealous blue-eyed blonde haired Australian actor playing a loud and proud black man in the bizarrely bombastic war comedy “Tropic Thunder”. It’s even more exciting to see the usually stuffy Academy hand out a rare nomination for a stupid-awesome comedy. But, Downey, Jr. is a gifted actor and has consistently churned out gold performances in every film genre. I knew while watching “Tropic Thunder” that he was one of the highlights of the year. I look for many more nominations to come. I’ve yet to see “Milk”, “Doubt” and “Revolutionary Road”, so I can’t really say what position Josh Brolin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michael Shannon all hold in the Best Supporting Actor race, though I’m pretty positive that they, and Downey, Jr., will all be second fiddle to Heath Ledger.


Performance by an actress in a leading role

Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Angelina Jolie in "Changeling" (Universal)
Melissa Leo in "Frozen River" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Meryl Streep in "Doubt" (Miramax)
*Kate Winslet in "The Reader" (The Weinstein Company)

Best Actress is usually a given at the Academy Awards, though I don’t really know about that this year. I’ve yet to see any of the pictures with respective nominations in this category, but I understand that all are incredibly acted. I also heard some controversy over the fact that Kate Winslet’s performance in “The Reader” is more of a supporting role. Whether that is so or not, I’m pretty sure she’ll walk away with an Oscar after going home empty five times before. And if she doesn’t win, I’m sure she’ll be back just as many times as Meryl Streep has.


Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams in "Doubt" (Miramax)
*Penélope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (The Weinstein Company)
Viola Davis in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Taraji P. Henson in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Marisa Tomei in "The Wrestler" (Fox Searchlight)

Best Supporting Actress is a category that is always hardest for me to place a bet on. I’ve only seen two of the performances, Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler”, and Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Tomei is fantastic, but has won before and I think she would be the last one picked here as over half of her performance in “The Wrestler” was done in the nude as a stripper. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (har har). Henson is great too in “Button”, and this nomination will be a springboard to some more great work for her blossoming career. I think this race right now is between Amay Adams and Penelope Cruz. Both turn heads left and right and are quickly becoming two of the finer actresses these days. I think it will go to Cruz (even though I don’t think anybody saw Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) since she didn’t win it for what might be her greatest accomplishment, “Volver.”


Best animated feature film of the year

"Bolt" (Walt Disney) Chris Williams and Byron Howard
*"WALL-E" (Walt Disney) Andrew Stanton

OK, first of all why doesn’t this category have a full five nominees? Second, “Bolt”, why even bother showing up? Although, I personally thought that “Wall-E” lost something in its second half and felt more like it was taking cheap shots at tackling current “green” topics and human beings, there is still no contest in the Best Animated category, especially when Pixar is involved. Even though I think that I have a better, more cohesive way to end “Wall-E”, but what the heck do I know?


Achievement in art direction

"Changeling" (Universal) Art Direction: James J. Murakami / Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
*"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt
Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.) Art Direction: Nathan Crowley / Set Decoration: Peter Lando
"The Duchess" (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films) Art Direction: Michael Carlin / Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
"Revolutionary Road" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage) Art Direction: Kristi Zea / Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

I think that “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” has this one nailed. What a beautiful looking movie and the seams between reality and computer generated imagery was flawless. I tend to get a little annoyed when films like “The Duchess” are consistently nominated. Yes, they are exquisitely executed, but there are already a large amount of existing examples of the period in film and in literature. I think that the luscious “Hell Boy” was overlooked in this category, but it might show up later on…


Achievement in cinematography

"Changeling" (Universal) Tom Stern
*"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) Claudio Miranda
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.) Wally Pfister
"The Reader" (The Weinstein Company) Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Anthony Dod Mantle

I initially hailed “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with this award, but after seeing “Slumdog Millionaire” a second time, and being stunned and choked up a second time at the fresh visual elements alone, I feel it’s no longer an underdog…in this or any category of the night. One movie I recall producing a stunning look and feel was Spike Lee’s very overlooked “Miracle at St. Anna”.


Achievement in costume design

"Australia" (20th Century Fox) Catherine Martin
*"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) Jacqueline West
"The Duchess" (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films) Michael O'Connor
"Milk" (Focus Features) Danny Glicker
"Revolutionary Road" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage) Albert Wolsky

I think that everybody hated “Australia” but me and my wife. It’s great to see it awarded with a nomination in costume design. I think that “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” might take this one home too. More than likely this will be another consolation Oscar for it since it probably won’t win any of the big ones.


Achievement in directing

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) David Fincher
"Frost/Nixon" (Universal) Ron Howard
"Milk" (Focus Features) Gus Van Sant
"The Reader" (The Weinstein Company) Stephen Daldry
*"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Danny Boyle

Originally I thought that David Fincher would finally get an Oscar, but I’m all for Danny Boyle now. It must have been hectic to pull off a film like “Slumdog Millionaire” and he did it very well. I think that Boyle is the new Steven Spielberg and it’s exciting to see his audience expand to a Spielbergian size. It’s great to get a nomination for Gus Van Sant, but he’ll be back. Same with Ron Howard and Stephen Daldry.


Best documentary feature

"The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)" (Cinema Guild) A Pandinlao Films Production / Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
*"Encounters at the End of the World" (THINKFilm and Image Entertainment) A Creative Differences Production / Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
"The Garden" / A Black Valley Films Production Scott Hamilton Kennedy
"Man on Wire" (Magnolia Pictures) A Wall to Wall Production / James Marsh and Simon Chinn
"Trouble the Water" (Zeitgeist Films) An Elsewhere Films Production / Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

Even though I’m fairly positive that “Man on Wire” is going to win the always tough Best Documentary, I’m voting for Werner Herzog’s fantastic “Encounters at the End of the World.” Herzog went to Antarctica inspired to shoot nature, but found equal, if not more, fascination in the people who have all migrated to McMurdoch Station. “Man on Wire” follows the insanity that surrounded the tight rope high wire act between the World Trade Center back in the late ‘70s. It’s great, but I think that Herzog’s is better and he has consistently been cranking out amazing, innovative work since the ‘70s. What’s even more fascinating to me than both movies and their subject matter, is that “Man on Wire” seems like a film that Herzog would have made on the spot the day it happened. “Trouble the Water” could be a dark horse in this category as it’s about New Orleans/Katrina.


Best documentary short subject

"The Conscience of Nhem En" / A Farallon Films Production / Steven Okazaki
*"The Final Inch" / A Vermilion Films Production / Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
"Smile Pinki" / A Principe Production / Megan Mylan
"The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306" / A Rock Paper Scissors Production / Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a nominated Best Documentary Short. I’m going on instinct with “The Final Inch.”


Achievement in film editing

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.) Lee Smith
"Frost/Nixon" (Universal) Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
"Milk" (Focus Features) Elliot Graham
*"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Chris Dickens

Yep, another win for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Though, I’m hearing some great things about the splicing of archival/stock footage into “Milk”, “Slumdog” visually blew me away.


Best foreign language film of the year

"The Baader Meinhof Complex" A Constantin Film Production - Germany
"The Class" (Sony Pictures Classics) A Haut et Court Production - France
"Departures" (Regent Releasing) A Departures Film Partners Production - Japan
"Revanche" (Janus Films) A Prisma Film/Fernseh Production - Austria
*"Waltz with Bashir" (Sony Pictures Classics) A Bridgit Folman Film Gang Production – Israel

I want to see “Waltz with Bashir” soooooooo bad. It looks amazing and inventive as it combines many types of animation tricks to one man’s story of war. I haven’t seen any of the other nominees, but per usual I’ll probably be catching them as the year goes by.


Achievement in makeup

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) Greg Cannom
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.) John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O'Sullivan
*"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (Universal) Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

My heart has me voting for the luscious candy meets fruit stand environment of “Hell Boy II” on this one, but my head is telling me “The Curious Case of Benjaming Button”. However, will there be a dark horse knight on this one? Just maybe…for Heath’s streaked makeup sake.


Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) Alexandre Desplat
"Defiance" (Paramount Vantage) James Newton Howard
"Milk" (Focus Features) Danny Elfman
*"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) A.R. Rahman
"WALL-E" (Walt Disney) Thomas Newman

“Slumdog Millionaire” has this one as the music is fresh, at least to American audiences. Woah, Danny Elfman is nominated for “Milk”? Awesome. But, heck…I’m still voting for Jonny Greenwood’s “There Will Be Blood” score that didn’t make the cut last year! At least he recently received a Grammy nomination for it.


Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

"Down to Earth" from "WALL-E" (Walt Disney) Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman
Lyric by Peter Gabriel
"Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Gulzar
*"O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

It's no secret that I’m still voting for Bruce Springsteen in this category

The Original Song category is one that has been frustrating me for years. At least a film/songwriter now can’t be nominated for more than two songs now, unlike the past couple of years where “Dream Girls” and “Ella Enchanted” each took up three out of four spots. And why must the number of nominees be up for grabs from anywhere from three to five? I think there are plenty of material in this category to have it be plump at five nominations. Oh well…Maybe I’m just still completely bummed/flabbergasted that Bruce Springsteen was ousted on this one. Fresh off a Golden Globe win for his beautiful capping track for “The Wrestler”, he was considered a favorite to walk away with a second Academy Award. Oh well, hopefully Mickey Rourke will say something about it when he accepts his Best Actor award. I won’t be sore though, as the song is still a gorgeous, bitter-sweet tribute to Rourke and his “Ram”. We’ll get ‘em next time Boss.

I do think that Composer A.R. Rahman will get another Oscar for his collaboration on “O Saya” with M.I.A. on “Slumdog Millionaire”. What an incredible song and its use in the film when the children are running through the slums of India is one of the best three-to-four minutes I’ve spent at the movies. Tt’s simply amazing.


Best motion picture of the year

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) / A Kennedy/Marshall Production Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
"Frost/Nixon" (Universal) / A Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Production / Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, Producers
"Milk" (Focus Features) / A Groundswell and Jinks/Cohen Company Production / Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Producers
"The Reader" (The Weinstein Company) / A Mirage Enterprises and Neunte Babelsberg Film GmbH
Production Nominees to be determined
*"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) / A Celador Films Production / Christian Colson, Producer

After seeing “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” back in early December, I thought that it was the type of picture that the Academy looks for in their Best category. It’s got the epic and topical and emotional stamps on it that audiences love. But, it seems that every other critic and movie-goer is ganging up on it. I don’t understand it and wish that people could just sit back and enjoy a good film without all the fuss. I think it’s a great movie and one that reminds of my I started loving movie magic in the first place as a child. As if “Fight Club” ten years ago wasn’t enough proof, David Fincher has now proven to everybody that he is a master director who can seam the ground between reality and fantasy so seamlessly. But, this is “Slumdog” time. Even after seeing it twice I’m not convinced it’s a Best Picture, but it’s still a really great movie and very deserving of Best honors. It’s a different Best Picture for the Academy and certainly America. I’m kinda excited for it. I still want to see “Frost/Nixon”, “Milk” and “The Reader”, which I’m sure the rest of America is still wondering what in the heck those last two movies even are. “The Reader” especially, as it seemed to come out of nowhere. I just might get to that one this weekend...


Best animated short film

"La Maison en Petits Cubes" / A Robot Communications Production / Kunio Kato
"Lavatory - Lovestory" A Melnitsa Animation Studio and CTB Film Company Production / Konstantin Bronzit
"Oktapodi" (Talantis Films) A Gobelins, L'école de l'image Production / Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand
*"Presto" (Walt Disney) A Pixar Animation Studios Production / Doug Sweetland
"This Way Up" / A Nexus Production / Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

I’ve only seen “Presto” as in typical Pixar fashion, it was the short film before “Wall-E”. I thought it was cute, but not nearly as great as everybody else thought. I think I need to see it again. I’m sure it will win an Oscar.


Best live action short film

"Auf der Strecke (On the Line)" (Hamburg Shortfilmagency) / An Academy of Media Arts Cologne Production Reto Caffi
"Manon on the Asphalt" (La Luna Productions) / A La Luna Production / Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
"New Boy" (Network Ireland Television) / A Zanzibar Films Production / Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
*"The Pig" / An M & M Production / Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh
"Spielzeugland (Toyland)" / A Mephisto Film Production / Jochen Alexander Freydank

I’m selecting “The Pig” for Best Live Action Short simply because it’s called “The Pig”. I’ve been to a screening of Academy Award nominated shorts before (two years ago) and they are incredible for how well-tailored and enjoyable they are. I really wish there was a better way for these to be distributed to a wider audience before the Oscars take place.


Achievement in sound editing

*"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.) Richard King
"Iron Man" (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment) Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Tom Sayers
"WALL-E" (Walt Disney) Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
"Wanted" (Universal) Wylie Stateman

If “The Dark Knight” takes home another Oscar besides Supporting Actor, it will be in the sound department. I’m sure audiophiles could tell me, but I’m pretty stupid with differentiating sound editing and sound mixing. I didn’t like “The Dark Knight”, but I did admire the sound on it. It will either win for this category or the next.


Achievement in sound mixing

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.) Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
*"WALL-E" (Walt Disney) Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
"Wanted" (Universal) Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

I think it’s incredibly awesome that the Academy nominated “Wanted” twice for sound, actually the now Academy Award nominated “Wanted”, for Achievement in Sound Mixing. I love stupid-awesome action flicks and “Wanted” definitely fits the bill. It has some nice sound in it too. But, if “The Dark Knight” doesn’t get some brownie Oscars in this category, I think that “Wall-E” will. I do remember my ears perking up many times and in awe of how well everything sounded in an animated world (well, in-between weeping of course).


Achievement in visual effects

*"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.) Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim
Webber and Paul Franklin
"Iron Man" (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment) John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

I think that "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" has this one for sure. The visual effects are a WOW-WOW! But, I'm tickled that "Iron Man" got a nod as the effects are really impressive and subtle in that one!


Adapted screenplay

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.) Screenplay by Eric Roth
Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
"Doubt" (Miramax) Written by John Patrick Shanley
*"Frost/Nixon" (Universal) Screenplay by Peter Morgan
"The Reader" (The Weinstein Company) Screenplay by David Hare
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

This category can be tricky. I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and the movie is in its own big ball park from the book. Both work fine for me, but I’m not sure if the movie is worthy of being called an adaptation and I wouldn’t mind seeing a version that is more true to Fitzgerald’s vision. “Doubt” is a play turn screenplay, so I’m not sure on that one either. I think this one could come down to “Frost/Nixon”, “The Reader” and “Slumdog Millionaire”. “Slumdog” is the forefront for all the big awards and it might just grab this one too for the heck of it, but I’m almost thinking that they Academy will opt for “Frost/Nixon” and maybe give it to “The Reader”. I’ll stick with my gut on “Frost/Nixon” as this could be the only category it has the best chance of winning.


Original screenplay

"Frozen River" (Sony Pictures Classics) Written by Courtney Hunt
"Happy-Go-Lucky" (Miramax) Written by Mike Leigh
"In Bruges" (Focus Features) Written by Martin McDonagh
"Milk" (Focus Features) Written by Dustin Lance Black
*"WALL-E" (Walt Disney) Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon / Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Original Screenplay is typically a category that is locked-down months before nominations are even handed out. Remember last year when Diablo Cody pretty much won it when the first time writer submitted her screenplay and it never went through the typical Hollywood mill of multiple drafts? Yep, one time only. I’m not positive who will come out on top in this heat. I’m a big fan of the hiding out hit men on the search for redemption “In Bruges” and watching it mid-last year I knew it was something special. Though, I think it will be overlooked here. The only other nominee I’ve seen in this category is “Wall-E” and I have a hunch that it will be celebrated for more than just Best Animated Feature. I previously mentioned that I didn’t think the second half was as great or strong as everybody else is salivating over, but I think it will win this category. Are we positive that Al Gore won’t win another award for this one, even though he isn’t attached to it at all?




DJG / I Love You, Man

I Love You, Man * * * ½
Directed by: John Hamburg / 2009

The time for the bromantic comedy is now. Perhaps we have Judd Apatow to credit for the recent surge of buddy flicks, and ones that are well-tailored for that matter. And perhaps society is more acceptable to men being more open with their emotions. Apatow didn’t have a hand in “I Love You Man”, but you can tell his brand is rubbing off on fellow funny guys around him. And that’s not a bad thing, at least right now. Of course, some of that might be in favor of Apatow A-Listers Paul Rudd and Jason Segel employed in this latest flick (and seemingly every other comedy coming out these days), but even the comedic writing in Hollywood is starting to get a little smarter and sweeter.

“I Love You, Man” has you meeting a freshly engaged couple peering into the stir of wedding planning I do’s and don’ts. The only don’t is that groom Peter (Paul Rudd at his best) has always found it awkward to befriend guys and instead was closer to girls. He doesn’t have a best friend, not even any worth candidates for close friends and the idea of a Best Man isn’t even on the menu. After much coaxing and coaching from his family (perfect misfit concoction of J.K. Simmons, Jane Curtain and Andy Samberg) and fiancé (screen high lighter Rashida Jones), Peter starts on a hilarious, and at times painfully awkward, search for a best friend and potential Best Man. Peter deals in real estate and while orchestrating the open house for Lou Ferrigno’s condo (yep, THE INCREDIBLE HULK! and yep he’s actually in the movie!) he stumbles upon like-able Sydney Fife (the always enjoyable Jason Segel) munching on sun-dried tomato basil paninis. He’s not there to buy, rather eat free food and hit on prospective home buying cougars. Surprisingly, Peter strikes up a friendship match and starts to get more comfortable with the confident, honest and fun-loving Sydney than his own wife-to-be, resulting in many mis-adventures, growing experiences and pains, risk taking and even some bass slappin' to the RUSH song book. The film is simple, funny, sweet and at times I found myself relating to it greatly. Despite the typical comedic crass of today (which can be funny, but awkward to laugh at while sitting in-between seventy-year-olds), you’ll walk away with nothing but love for “I Love You Man”…and the search for more bromance.


Monday, February 16, 2009

DJG's Movie Morning Monday

Chapter 27 * * 1/2
Directed by: J.P. Schaefer / 2007

Jared Leto digested a ton of ice cream soup to puff up his good lookin’ build to lock down the demented psyche of John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman. I’m not sure if he really acts much more than any overweight creepy-sounding clown I’ve been in contact with, but Leto isn’t bad and is lost in his performance due to the added pounds, of course. Though, it is no “Raging Bull” or “Taxi Driver”, “Chapter 27” is a little better than what all the reviews grumbled and does try to hearken back some early Scorsese/DeNiro magic but comes up down in the count. I think I just wanted more? There have been mixed feelings on even producing a film like this (evidence is in the poor theatrical distribution), but I think that the makers meant well and Chapman is a peculiar fella that we can maybe learn from, maybe dissect what surrounds “celebrity” whether it is famous or infamous. Maybe? Still, it makes me wonder if it was necessary and what Lennon’s family/estate thinks? And I’m sure Mark David Chapman (and Holden Caulfield for that matter) are eating up the spot light again like a gallon of melted Haagendas. By the end of “Chapter 27” I thought I’d be frustrated with Leto’s performance, but I’m just frustrated with the fact that I can’t lose my ice cream weight as fast as Jared Leto did after filming AND that Mark David Chapman had to kill John Lennon.


DJG's Weekend Watcher

Slumdog Millionaire * * * * ½
Directed by: Danny Boyle / 2008

What a beauty of movie magic and my second time was even better. There are several moments in “Slumdog Millionaire” where the cinematography, light and sound is so moving, vibrant and fresh that I become so absorbed in it that it chokes me up, let alone the darling children running the slums of India. Director Danny Boyle’s best film for me is still “Millions”, but “Slumdog Millionaire” is quickly stepping up and will certainly be doing so on the Academy Award podium this Sunday. I’m just glad it’s finally in wide-release so more people can experience the brilliance of Boyle and a bitter-sweet slice of another part of the world.


Penelope * * * *
Directed by: Mark Palansky / 2008

I was very surprised by this under-the-radar fantasy about a girl cursed before birth to have the facial features of a pig. At a young age her death is faked and she is kept in isolation and out of the public eye until she is old enough to marry and suitors line up at the door. You see, marriage is the only way to break the curse, or so they think. Tim Burton could have easily put his stamp on this, but first-time director Mark Palansky adds a unique and flavorful hand, proving he’s got a lot of great ideas in him. Thankfully (let’s hope) he doesn’t follow in Michael Bay footsteps, as Palansky understudied with him on several projects. I want more good-natured tales like “Penelope” as it is for all ages, with a great message on loving yourself and overcoming others who try to run, or ruin, your precious life.


Melinda & Melinda * * ½
Directed by: Woody Allen / 2005

Another dive into creative Woody writing, “Melinda & Melinda” started with potential as play writes discuss comedies and tragedies but ended up as just another Woody-Talkie-Walkie for me. I admire Woody Allen’s ability and stamina at cranking out films so fast, but anymore I’d rather see him just craft another gem (more “Purple Rose of Cairo” please) as his what-is-life and grass-is-always-greener methods are wearing on me pretty thin and he’s not getting any younger. But, at least he didn’t star in this one. Surprisingly Will Ferrell, the last person who I thought could hammer some Woody dialog, churns out a delightful screen presence. Though, it’s not enough to make me care anymore about “Melinda & Melinda”.


Air Guitar Nation * * * * ½
Directed by: Alexandra Lipsitz / 2006

GUITARDED! JOYFUL! STUPID! AWESOME! BRILLIANT! That is all that needs to be said…and honestly why isn’t there a reality television show on the subject of air guitar players!? World Champion C-Diddy is my new hero as he brings air guitar to a new high and without the way-too-serious cocksures as his arch nemesis Bjorn Turoque! But, seriously, air guitaring is a serious sport. I'm not even near the awesomeness as some of these people, but I really want to rock out right now!


Rex The Runt * * * * *
Directed by: Richard Goleszowski / Television Series: 1998 & 2001

Another fine addition to the Aardman Animation family, “Rex The Runt” is a serious of hilarious, creative and twisted bite-sized claymation doggy tales involving the misadventures of Rex and his flat mates!


Thursday, February 12, 2009


Cinema Paradiso * * * * *
Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore / 1988

If a picture can produce thousands of words then a motion picture can feed the hearts and minds of millions. The picture house in "Cinema Paradiso" feeds the citizens of Giancaldo, Sicily as they travel to other worlds and do so like a sacred temple preservation of the big screen and the images that it inhabits. Going to the movies in Giancaldo is done so with almost the same act of faith as going to church. In fact, the village priest gets first watch of each new film in order to have projectionist Alfredo censor any scene of even the slightest sensuality. Alfredo is uneducated, but the only man in town who knows how to run a projector, therefore the whole town depends on him to give them film food. He is almost a slave as he spends every waking hour in his little projection booth, “…except on Good Friday and if they hadn’t of hung Christ, that day would still be spent at the movies too.” Though, taking the love out of the pictures doesn’t take the patrons’ love out of loving movies. This is especially so in the heart of Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita, a six-year-old curious boy who is in love with the movies and Alfredo’s work, skill and father-figuring…I won’t go further as I want you to see this GEM immediately. In fact, just go buy it. It’s one of those that I wanted to buy after the first twenty minutes. This film oozes and swoons MOVIE LOVE with romantic bells and whistles. It could be the textbook definition for I LOVE MOVIES and I can’t believe I didn’t see it until this morning. If I didn’t have to go to work (darn it), I would have hit PLAY again. SEE IT IF YOU’RE A MOVIE LOVER. THIS MOVIE IS FOR US.

Now it’s time for DJG’s 10 Cent Picture Show…

I'm thankful for the home entertainment market that I grew-up with and cherish. I’m thankful for my early love harboring of movies, creativity and culture. I’m thankful that my Mom and Dad let watch everything. And I’m thankful now to have Netflix and bump great movies like “Cinema Paradiso” at the top of my queue. I’m even thankful for the over-enthusiasm that a strange man in Half Price Books the other day was getting out of trying to hold 20 or 30 VHS tapes all at once in the discount section. He, like me, feels yearn to rescue the discarded EVERYTHING, and especially at a discount…and/or to simply fill up his wagon as much as me!

Though, watching movies at home and alone is something that I love, there is something much sweeter about a group of people sharing the immediacy of a little light pouring out into a big picture. It’s actually quite magical. I feel this is something dwindling fast due to the mega-plexes, home theater set-ups, on-demand television viewings, home viewing copies that basically come when they’re still in the theater and mailed red packages along with Redboxes that can give us what we want when we want it…oh and let’s not forget piracy and the internet and movies in cars now instead of sitting in a car at the drive-in and iPods to watch things on the go and Blah Blahs to Blah with…that today’s and future’s youth will probably never experience this kind of shared going-to-the-theater culture…this type of cinema communion, if you will. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful to even be able to watch a movie at my own leisure. But, I’m exhausted just thinking about everything with technology and people now that it makes me want to time machine back to the days of “Cinema Paradiso”, heck even the early 1980s. It will definitely be interesting to see in the next four or five decades what movies come out of the change in the movie viewing market going on right now. To see what, if any, purity or sanctuary is preserved. From my vantage point, it’s even changing the way people watch movies as many have to constantly check their cell to check the almighty clock and to text or phone their friends instead of watching something magical and immediate right in front of them. And even still, the ten people who don’t phone text or talk are always the ones who act like they’ve never been in a public place or watched a movie EVER. What the heck people?

My Mom told me that when she recently took her Granddaughters to a movie, the youngest one who was at her first movie said, “Grandma this is a big T.V.!” This type of naïve enjoyment is oddly touching to me and one that I will always think now while at the theater. I try to attend movies in the theater as often as I can, or whenever I have extra resources. And I definitely appreciate this act of communal movie viewing and try to soak up as much magic as I can, and sometimes I too am as enthused as my three-year-old niece. But, “Cinema Paradiso” makes me yearn for a time when going to the movies really did mean something special. There was really a sense of freedom and discovery in it, a real escape from the outside world. Not to mention that the average citizen simply COULD NOT get the movie on disc a week later or see it on the internet that same day.

The one room school house is a thing of yesteryear (unless you’re Amish, 3rd World or elsewhere), as is the one screen movie house (though, I know a few still exist out there, but are mostly special serving operations). In the small town that I was raised near and connected to, some movies would stick around for weeks, even what seemed like an entire season. An extraordinary serving of movie magic like "E.T." would nest at what people referred to as "The Show" forever and every night you could pass on the main drive through town and see a long line wrapping around the building to see what the world was talking about. And I knew that at the end of that line lived a screen of silver EVERY SINGLE TIME. All that physically remains of the theater of my youth is the beautiful strip of hand-laid ornate tile introducing passersby to the left-over debris of a once mighty and sacred movie house. It’s quite tragic to me and I can’t help but get the goose bumps of childhood raised whenever I pass by or even think about it.

Unless I'm at an over-booked free screening of an anticipated film, I rarely experience long lines or even a full theater with full emotion and with the cinema on screen in complete control. And the cause and effects of the human spirit can be outrageous when the word FREE is stamped on the mind's marquee. Crowds can go insane, and can be quite intimidating, but there is also something bonding in and exhilarating about it. And watching “Cinema Paradiso” makes me want to dive right in. I see images of people watching movies within movies all the time, but it too rarely fulfills and captures what it is like to really dive. Even crowds at sporting events like a Major League Baseball playoff game feed off a high energy, enthusiasm, emotion and love…even after translated through cameras, satellites and into my television set, I get a contact high from it. I love simply watching a crowd. There is a strange out-of-control and anxious peace in it. I have always wanted to watch a movie of actual people watching an actual movie. The scenes similar to this idea in "Cinema Paradiso" feed my want as the sense of joy comes with experiencing what feels to be an authentic community taking part in something truly special being poured out of the mouth of a lion. Unison of grins, laughter, tears and horror is lit on the faces of the everyday as they escape to travel through film. They even riot and become rowdy if their film is out of focus or if the messenger bicyclist is taking too long to get the second reel that is in the next town. Now, that is passion and love.

Anyway, I’m rambling. I don't aim to put biblical or spiritual stock at the simple act of entertainment of going to the movies, but in some ways one movie can really provide for the masses like Jesus did with one fish. And just like how our own bodies and lives are merely a vessel for a bigger picture, so is a movie house.


Monday, February 9, 2009

DJG / The Weekend Watcher

The Secret Life of Bees * * *
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood / 2008

Read. The. Book. Skip. The. Movie. Those are some words of wisdom from your ol’ pal Uncle DJG. The cast seems spot-on, but for some reason they ushered no life absorbed or care, at least to me, hiding behind stale performances and going through the motions. I’m now wondering what kind of spin young directing talent David Gordon-Green would have put on this tale of coming of girl power age and race relations. He was originally lined up to tackle it, but opted for a chance to get out of his typical small town Southern tales and into the streets of “Pineapple Express”. I know that “The Secret Life of Bees” means well and I think that a lot of people have and will find something great in it. But, it can be hard to watch a film adaptation of a book you like and maybe I just wasn’t ready for it? And Dakota Fanning, I don’t aim to attack you critically, and I know that you mean well too, but please go into hiding for a little bit. Go be a real girl for a while. Go chase your own birds and bees.

In Bruges * * * * ½
Directed by: Martin McDonagh / 2008

When I watched “In Bruges” for the first time last year, I pegged it as one of the better crafted stories I’d seen in a while. The second time is even better and still freshens up the behind-the-scenes hit man genre that seems to be firing blanks of late. “In Bruges” is a treat and one of the finer movies to come out of the post-“Pulp Fiction” era. And wow, this era (is it an era?) has been going for nearly 15 years now! It’s clever, witty, thrilling, poignant and surprisingly redemptive. And did I mention that Colin Farrell really busts some likable acting chops? My heart has it picked to win an Oscar in a couple weeks for Original Screenplay, even though my brain says that “Wall-E” will get it. The award doesn’t matter, but I’m just glad it’s being recognized so that more people might be invited to see “In Bruges”, and several times over. Not bad for writer-director Martin McDonagh who has only made two full-length movies. I just want more! And I want to someday be in Bruges!

Push * * ½
Directed by: Paul McGuigan / 2009

Some movies have better trailers…some movies need to come with a handbook. “Push” served both. The opening credits had me very hooked at the idea of the Nazi’s experimenting with paranormal activities during World War II. This is a possible truth that I still wish to research further. Along with this exciting info, little Dakota Fanning also voiced over a handbook’s worth of information in a matter of two minutes on what I was going to have to try to decipher for the next hour and fifty minutes. Film makers, please don’t do this. First thing, this movie is way too long for the type of movie it is, second it takes its self way too serious. Advertisers call it “The first great action movie of 2009!”. Well guys, give me an action movie and cut out all the B.S…and isn’t this the ONLY action movie so far in the infant stages of 2009? 2007’s “Shoot ‘Em Up” raised the bar for what friends and I love to refer to as “Stupid-Awesome”. Last year’s “Wanted” also raised the standards high. Maybe I was just shooting my wants too high? “Push” is an OK concept, had me intrigued from the get-go, but quickly lost me too from the get-go. OK, I’m not the brightest bulb in the projector, but I’d like to think I can follow most action films. Nope. I had NO IDEA what was going on after the opening credits and I didn’t even care. Can I blame it on what I call “The Michael Bay Effect”? You know, where 99.9% of all filmmakers think it’s awesome to pump their cinematographer full of Speed, Pixie Stix, Mountain Dew, NERDS and with a chaser case of Red Bull? How the heck do people follow this stuff? I can barely follow a well-crafted heist movie and a full-length computer animation. Though, at times I guess I was tickled with “Push” (screeching twin Chinese brothers!). I was just not tickled enough to give a darn about characters who looked straight out of the pages of an Urban Outfitters catalog and with mope-about faces to match. When characters (I mean, actors?) don’t seem to really feel for anything, it certainly doesn’t make me want to feel for anything, not even if surrounded by some stupid-awesome. I guess it’s safe to say that what I did see was a minor mash-up of “X-Men” meets “The Matrix” set in Hong Kong (and the scenery was the best thing in the movie), but save your money and go get that from watching the trailer.

Groundhog Day * * * *
Directed by: Harold Ramis / 1993

This year I’m trying to see all the movies that I feel everybody else has seen but me by now, leading up to my date with “Citizen Kane”. Last week I finally say “Life is Beautiful” and last night I finally saw “Groundhog Day”. I’m 30 years old and a Bill Murray fan. How in the heck have I not seen “Groundhog Day”? OK, I don’t spend much time with cable television. Anyway, I don’t really need to say much other than “I loved GROUNDHOG DAY!” as everybody already knows what I’m talking about with this still fresh and fun comedic fantasy. What’s next on the list? I’m thinking of rounding out my classic Bill Murray comedic genius list. How about some “Caddy Shack” or “Stripes”?!

The Ice Storm * * * * ½
Directed by: Ang Lee / 1997

Always worth repeat watches every couple of years, master director Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm” still rains fresh and well-execution twelve years later. Where movies of similar interest like “American Beauty” fall trite now, “The Ice Storm” is still superbly submerged in suburban unrest and confusion, and with a parallel backdrop of the 1970s. See it.


Friday, February 6, 2009

DJG / Bubba Ho-Tep

Bubba Ho-Tep * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
/ 2002

Can you think of another movie that involves ELVIS (Bruce Campbell)
and JFK (Ossie Davis) kicking King Tut butt in an East Texas nursing home? Add to this footage The Lone Ranger, nasty bugs the size of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, wild west dressed mummies, elderly cursing and reflections on life and old age...and you're watching a gem of a well-crafted and clever screenplay and film called "Bubba Ho-Tep". Not only is it fresh and comical, even comic book-like, it's oddly touching. -djg

Thursday, February 5, 2009

CTJ: It Sucked, I Loved It

Fireproof: *1/2 for Filmmaking Quality, **** for Enjoyment

I was prepared to loathe this movie because it is a so-called "Christian" movie. "Let us make a movie for the 'lost' masses," I knew it would say. "They will see it and say, 'Ah, alas. There ist he error of my ways. Now I will become Kirk Cameron's disciple."

As films go, the writing, the acting, and the direction are all really pretty rickety. Watching it was a bit like watching a baby take its first steps. I kept expecting it to topple over and get rugburn. But it never did. It just ambled awkwardly along and left all sorts of directorial don'ts in its wake like a trail of parts from poorly assembled car.

The dialog was superficial and unrealistic: "Hi honey. How are you?" "I am fine. It is really tough having a Mom who has been incapacitated by a stroke, don't you think?" "Yes. I do. Strokes are bad." Different strokes for different folks, maybe, but no cinematic stroke of good fortune could possible make up for this first-time screenwriting effort. (I could also throw in a joke about heat stroke since the film is about a fireman, but I will refrain.)

That being said, I loved "Fireproof." What it lacked in production values, it made up for in heart. It is rare that a deficiency in quality can be made up for with fuzzy-wuzzy goodness, and without the sort of accompanying resentment that comes with emotional manipulation. All that being said, it was definitely emotionally manipulative, and it was fuzzy-wuzzy. But shining between the cracks in its construction, I saw a lot of light and goodness that reminded me that God's love matters in this rickety world that totters back and forth like a child taking its first steps, or a drunken man stumbling headlong down the street. Marriage matters, and it matters a hell of a lot. Relationships matter because we exist in relation to God, and our relationship with those around us says a lot about our relationship with Him. There is a lot of good in this movie even if it is terrible. I enjoyed this terrible Christian commercial vehicle, and I suspect that the people who assembled it meant well. I received it well, probably much as God will someday receive me in my rickety state. When I finally topple over into His arms, I hope he can say, "Well, your life was one-and-a-half stars, but you gave four-stars worth of heart."

Here's to enjoying terrible films...

DJG's CINEMADHESIVE / Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful * * * * *
Directed by: Roberto Benigni / 1997

This movie is Beautiful. That’s all I need to say. Everybody I know has seen this mini-masterpiece and told me of it's beauty until I knew it with my own watering eyes this morning. Some movies should never be left to summarize and analyze, they should simply be experienced, cherished and passed around. This is one of them. I encourage those who have waited twelve years, like me, to see "Life is Beautiful" bump it up on your list (and I envy your first time).
Now, it's time to bump "Life is Beautiful" up on the Must-Buy list.


DJG / Most Annoying Movies Seen for the First Time in 2008 (no order other than sucking)

DJG / "I'm Going to Disneyland!" (aka: Super Bowl XLIII)

Super Bowl XLIII * * * *
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band * * * * * (PRICELESS!)

My big ol’ burger was completely swallowed by the time Jennifer Hudson was done belting out her beautiful “National Anthem”…the commercials were once again so-so (maybe because advertisers blow their bank on commercials every day of the week? The Doritos ones do stand out to me though)…the halftime totally lived up to expectation, was amazing and inspiring…but WOW, let's get to that game first!

Sorry CARDINALS, but that stealer of a STEELER ending was unbelievable, as many plays leading up to that, in what has to be one of the best Super Bowls in recent memory. And don’t we say that every year come the Monday morning after!? But, last night surely put the stamp on why it’s called The Super Bowl, and America needed a boost like this. It was even bigger and better than last year when Eli Manning saved the day at the last possible second (which still perplexes me).

The first quarter of Super Bowl XLIII opened with Big Ben getting his rushing touchdown taken away...the second quarter ended with an I-still-have-no-idea-how-he-ran-that-all-the-way-back 100 yard touchdown interception (longest Super Bowl play ever!)… fast forward a bit to the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, and it was just the most insane amount of Super Bowl emotions, nail-biting plays and highlights in the history of the big game. Though, it was the third quarter that didn’t produce much, at least not to me. I think because it had to do with something about following BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND!

And a WOW-WOW of a halftime highlight reel! Where do I begin? I first heard about The Boss – Super Bowl rumor courtship connection back in August. So, I’ve nearly had 6 months building up for this. And The Boss has been turning down the NFL for years, I heard even way back when. Being that The Boss is on quite the streak of late, playing Super Bowl XLIII only put the topping on the cupcakes for me. How about we just kick it off from the get-go as pre-recorded Cardinal and Steeler players flashed on the television, introducing me to the legendary E Street Band…then, a backstage camera comes out of the stadium bowels and into the dark with the real life classic “Born to Run” silhouette of The Boss and Clarence Clemons back-to-back with guitar and saxophone in hands like weapons as “10th Avenue Freeze-Out” kicks into it’s opening rhythm and The Boss throws his guitar into the air and his tech fumbles with the catch. The Boss then looks at me and says, “Alright, get away from the guacamole. Put down those chicken fingers…turn your television all the way up for the righteous sounds of the E Street Band!” The Boss then put his near-60-year-old legs in supreme jump-ability and got right up on Professor Roy’s piano and asked me if I was really alive out there. And I said, “Yes I am.” I was ready to rock ‘n’ soul. Bruce proceeded with springing off his piano pulpit, straddled the microphone as if a prayer to God in Heaven and then bounced around the stage, telling his people the recollections on 10th Avenue, a song that live, usually extends into a 20 minute praise and worship sermon turn band introduction, but at the Super Bowl you only get 12 minutes to preach.

It was almost as unbelievable as the longest play in Super Bowl history, before I knew it, The E Street Band gained extra Clarence “Big Man” beef in their horn section pants as from what I could tell, drummer Mighty Max Weinberg brought his entire 7 (from the Conan O’Brien show, of course) with him to help in the halftime party. Thus, Clarence blew gold all over the place as he looked dressed the part of a wizard musical theory instructor in the next “Harry Potter” movie. I knew it was going to happen, but didn’t think it would come this early, but near the end of “10th Avenue Freeze-Out”, The Boss did his famous night-after-night-after-night knee slide across half the length of the stage, colliding with the viewers at home, in what I like to refer to as “Crotch Cam”. I don’t know about those of you there, but from my vantage point the slide into NBC’s camera looked like it was supposed to be intentional, just maybe not that aggressive. However, The Boss hammed it up something fierce as he displayed the biggest “I’m having the time of my life” grin on his face to the over 100 million viewers at home and the thousands and thousands there basking in the flesh of Super Bowl XLIII. I wish I’d been there…

A little winded, but not worn by any means, The Boss strapped on Excalibur as “Born to Run” officially kicked the party into second gear and hundreds of sky rockets destroyed the Tampa Bay night sky. It was a truly mesmerizing and inspiring experience, even from the cheap seats. It actually kind of reminded me of when I watched live C-SPAN coverage of the inaugural bombings of the second Iraq war, but of course the rocket red glare in Tampa was more inspiring as “War, what is it good for?”. Back to basics…“Born to Run” always ends way too soon for me (it’s a repeater ALWAYS, and I’m sure every neighbor or roommate I’ve had since 2001 either knows it by heart or are completely sick of it), but the Super Bowl shortened version brought the quintessential ROCK WRITING 101 guitar thunder and lightning really quick as Bruce and the band slowed it down and then brought it back up to that place where I really want to go and walk in the sun. But, tramps like me are born to run and I had to get to working on my dream.

DANG, is all I could think as Bruce ushered not only Little Stevie and his lovely wife Patti to the front of the extended stage to harmonize with the crowd, but also brought out about a hundred blue robed choir belters holding pure illumination in their palms as their BOSS was “Working on a Dream”, a song choice that I wasn’t expecting at all. I knew he’d more than likely want to plug the new and excellent record, but I had no idea he’d do it with the title track, I was thinking “Lucky Day” all the way. Though, what a fitting salute to America right now and a great way to feed off that “Born to Run” energy and change up the tempo. What a song, but what a performance. I really hope this happens every night on the new tour. This was even more inspiring than the fireworks.

I knew that time was ticking and how do you end a concert like this? In the back of my mind I was pining for either “The Rising”, another inspirational number, but at this point it didn’t seem like the choice. Maybe “Badlands” or “Hungry Heart” would be next!? I then thought maybe, just maybe the place would explode as the drum kicks of “Born in the U.S.A” would sound. However, all along I didn’t think he would play his ‘80s staple (and if so, I would have kicked off the party with the acoustic rendition, if I was The Boss)…I was mostly thinking that The Boss would employ the help of the 12-year-old girl he had in Kansas City, MO at the end of the “Magic” tour for “Dancing in the Dark” lessons and cartwheels. Gosh, I was hoping to get that memory back into reality. What a site that was…and I think The Boss was listening to me, but decided to throw in a change-up as he went one step back to the track right before “Dancing in the Dark” on his classic album “Born in the U.S.A.” and wrestled for them “Glory Days”! Just like any night on tour, you never know what you’re gonna get!

Changing up the lyrics from baseball to accommodate the present event, The Boss told me about his football friend back in high school who could throw a Hail Mary pass! AMAZING. BRILLIANT. But, where was his buddy now? Yep, he was now older and sitting around, thinking about the days of his youth. Little Stevie stepped up to the plate…er, yard dash?...and joined with his best bud on recapturing the youthful spirit of a bar band going down to the video hit well of the 1980s as they loosened a notch or two and belted out their “Glory Days” in extreme grand fashion. The Boss then looked at his watch and asked, “What time is it!?”. He then asked if it was quittin’ time and if they’d get called for a penalty if they went over and even said something about how they might as well just start taking ‘er into over-time!

Then, in what was probably Bruce’s actual 2 minute warning, a frumpy referee whom I didn’t recall seeing make the final play of the half, came on stage, blew his whistle and threw a yellow penalty flag in front of Bruce and Stevie. I was just blown-away at how awesome this exit was. I think that a lot of people found it pure-cheesy, but I thought it was genius orchestration to sum up what a fun-loving, genuine class act Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band really is. This was their time to get ready to clock out of the office and as Bruce asked again what time it was and Little Stevie replied, “It’s BOSS TIME!!”, dang it iff the entire crowd didn’t go completely bonkers. I think I even bonkered in my pants a bit. The Boss then put in some over-time as he wind-milled his beloved guitar six times and the band kept going and going, extending the final measures and “Alrights!” of “Glory Days”. As the band slowed things down, the Boss officially clocked out with a smiling, classic Super Bowl victory declaration of “I’m going to Disneyland!” They all held hands and I wanted more BRRUUUCCCCEEEEE!!!!!! than the forthcoming halftime football talk.

Bruce and the gang only had 12 minutes to squeeze in nearly 4 decades of music and you could tell that they came fully-equipped with a wallop of a 4-pack medley of power that not even Vegas could have predicted. There have been a lot of pretty good Super Bowl halftime acts in the post-Janet era, but none have even come close to the level of energy, passion, spirit and excitement of the party that took place last night. The halftime bar has officially been raised. I even think it was better than the opening ceremony at last summer’s Olympics (OK, maybe not ZHANG YIMOU THAT GOOD, but take note London 2012!), I just wish that they could have gotten three or four hours! They used every bit of the allotted 12 minutes to remind me how they can do what they do and MORE on any given night of the week with an extra 2 hours and 48 minutes. Well, of course without the awesome aid of exploding rockets, a large backdrop of digital light boxes that brought to mind the communications of “Close Encounters of the Boss Kind”, a choir, added horn section, referee, and not to mention a grand stage and setting that only The Super Bowl could provide. But, Bruce & The E Street Band are no strangers to big venues and big stages…

Cardinals, sorry for your loss. Your road to Super Bowl XLIII was a great, hard-fought one and I was rooting for you. But, look on the bright side of the ball, at least you got to open for THE BOSS!