Monday, March 30, 2009

DJG's Weekend Watcher

Happy-Go-Lucky * * ½
Directed by: Mike Leigh / 2008

I don’t get why the critics ga-ga’d and top-ten’d and I feel I’m missing the boat with “Happy-Go-Lucky”. Or, maybe my movie hopes were too high and especially after Mike Leigh’s masterpiece from a couple of years ago, “Vera Drake”? Mike, what is the point of your new movie? And Sally Hawkins, you did a great job of making me like and dislike you with every other scene. It was like you were on laughing gas, though my laughing response turned to annoyance after fifteen minutes. I respect you, but am still perplexed at your Golden Globe win for this one. I tend to dislike it when people say, “I’m not sure what I was supposed to get out of that movie.”, but I am now one of those people.

Hairspray * * * *
Directed by: Adam Shankman / 2007

I haven’t seen the original 1988 movie “Hairspray”, but I’ve seen the Broadway production and now this new adaptation. I’m sold on it and can’t recommend this musical enough, based on the original idea from John Waters. What a treat and fun time at the movies…and backed with a message. There should be an Academy Award for Ensemble Cast because this one is a joy to watch. Also, an Oscar for Best Scene because you can’t paint a more brilliant one than John Travolta in drag dancing in the moonlight with Christopher Walken.

Twilight *
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke / 2008

Catherine Hardwicke, your "Twilight" movie STINKS. If I were writer Stephenie Meyers, I would have been P-O'd (but not once I cashed the checks). However, at least you’ve made something more watchable and more somewhat enjoyable than Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales”. A movie which I judge all form of low-grade-BAD to since 2008. I’m so glad I’m not interested in reading this vampire series because I’d have your terrible movie stuck in my head the entire time. Yikes. Pre-Teens, Teens and Housewives, go grab your Edward Brood-Up Doll at Hot Topic and keep this movie adaptation to yourselves.

The Transporter * *
Directed by: Corey Yuen / 2002

Why even bother to slow things down and have a plot in a movie like this!? I wanted more stupid-awesome in this opening film that put the muscle on Jason Statham’s stupid-awesome movie career as the new Steven Seagal. Fans who think that the series went downhill with the sequels will probably transport me to a prime butt-kicking at Action Island once they read that I actually like the third one better than the first. -djg

Thursday, March 26, 2009

DJG / Covering Three Classics Quickly

Modern Times * * * *
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin / 1936

Charlie Chaplin pretty much does it all, inside and out of the frame in this 1936 classic. He writes, directs, produces and puts the music to his silent treatment of “Little Tramp” commentary on the times that were a’changin’ during the Great Depression. It’s a movie that has influenced many a picture since and in 1989 was given a “Culturally Significant” stamp of protection by the Library of Congress. If you love film and fun, then you need to bump this up on the list. There’s a little bit of Chaplin in all of us.

Amarcord * * *
Directed by: Federico Fellini / 1973

I’ve only seen two Federico Fellini films (“8 ½” and “Amarcord”) and have come away from both quite unsure. Fellini is widely considered by many to be one of the greatest film makers of all-time and I recognize him as a talent. That’s a pretty tall order (all-time greatest), so maybe either I’m putting too much expectation on his work or Fellini just isn’t for me? “Amarcord” appears to be a very personal film and possible exaggeration on Fellini’s youth and there were certain things that I really enjoyed and struck either a visual or internal accord with, but overall “Amarcord” just didn’t do it for me. Though, it won’t keep me from watching “La Dolce Vita”, which from what I understand might make the third time a charm for me and Fellini.

Repulsion * * * * ½
Directed by: Roman Polanski / 1965

Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” is a great engineering film feat of psychological suspense and paranoia. I haven’t seen all of his work, but this might be one of his best and his best version of Hitchcock. Yet, it’s completely his own and quite inventive in the use of unique character development/deterioration, camera work and sound. "Repulsion" is a mini-masterpiece.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Where the Wild Things Are"

Director Spike Jonze is bringing Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" to the big screen and I couldn't be more tickled. The project has been through a lot of red tape in recent years, but it will finally be in theaters this fall/winter. This is my most anticipated film of 2009! Check out these new images! It looks like Spike Jonze is going to nail it! -djg (ps: you'll have to sit through an advertisement, but it's worth it.)

DJG / Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married * * * *
Directed by: Jonathan Demme / 2008

Rachel’s marriage is like none that I’ve been too, yet it feels like I really was there, complete with wedding awkwardness and exhaustion. What could have been disastrous and trite with “Rachel Getting Married” is turned into another unexpected gem from the expert hands of director Jonathan Demme (“Philadelphia”, “The Silence of the Lambs”), who has carved one of the more unique careers in Hollywood. And I’m not certain if this wasn’t the hardest movie for him to make and more than ever I’m curious as to where film will take him. “Rachel Getting Married” feels like the best movie that Woody Allen hasn’t made in the past decade or so, but yet it’s a movie that I don’t feel he could make. My congratulations to the ensemble cast, especially to Anne Hathaway for pulling off such an acting achievement, I look forward to watching her bring more characters to life, ones I truly care about. I didn’t come away with the same scale of high-praise like a lot of critics last year, but I came away with an odd high of being pleasantly surprised and feeling good about where film can take me, even if I have to spend that time at a wedding.


DJG's Weekend Watcher

Transporter 3 * *
Directed by: Olivier Megaton / 2008

If you’re looking for a modern and smart action hero trilogy look for Jason Bourne (“The Bourne Identity”). If you’re shooting to dumb-down your search, then hire Frank Martin. Having not seen more than a handful of butt kicking scenes from “The Transporter” and hearing how awful “Transporter 2” is, I doubt I really missed much by starting off with “Transporter 3”. This is stupid- awesome-action and I knew what I was getting into. Though, extra heavy on the stupid! And of course there is always a broken-English speaking babe with the worst acting ever. Frank Martin is no John McClane (“Die Hard”) and he’s no John Rambo (uh…“Rambo”) but he can kick some butt and you can bet he’ll more than likely be back in a fourth installment, and if not, look no further than every other character that actor Jason Statham portrays.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year * * * *
Directed by: Kenny Ortega / 2008

It didn’t affect me like the original “High School Musical”, but “Senior Year” is my favorite of the trilogy. It’s a joy to watch the maturing take place in acting and production, a fine parallel to that of high school and coming of age. A real man admits he not only watches these movies, but also of his own submission and enjoyment. I can’t help but want some “College Years” now (which, I understand another movie is in the script department)! Surely they can pull off a fourth, as this cast and crew is insanely talented and have tons of heart. I’m also curious as to how far these kids will spring board from Disney. My guess is pretty far.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Play List * * ½
Directed by: Peter Sollett / 2008

“ The Movie” might be a better title for this one, a film that ran out of gas way too early for my meager adolescent indie rocker tank, just like most new music does these days. Laughs were cheap and I don’t wish to hang with irresponsible teens and woo-girl drunks in real life, and definitely not in this movie. Some movies of similar slacker sensibilities pull it off well, inviting me in, but this one didn’t. I was left out in the uncool nightclub cold. There is no doubt that Michael Cera and Kat Dennings have silver screen headlight chemistry (with and without each other) that could make them even more bankable in years to come. There is something real to them that I appreciate watching, here and elsewhere and I look forward to watching them grow up in the movies. I finally got into the film when the hip-wading soundtrack finally took a breather, and right before Nick and Norah started making their, uh, own music. Though, even then I was rubbed the wrong way in its oh-so-too-lates-to-win-me-over. And gosh, I would despise watching this movie with somebody who loves to announce to the world that they have “awesome” music taste. The kids were on an all-night search through Manhattan to find themselves as well as an obscure hipster band called Where’s Fluffy? Uh, who cares? What about parents? In a city that never sleeps, I bet their parents couldn’t either, knowing that their babies were running the streets until daylight. Entertaining at times, especially Cera and Dennings, but I don’t wish to play this one again.

Milk * * * * *
Directed by: Gus Van Sant / 2008

I didn’t want “MILK” to run out. Not only because I knew that Harvey Milk’s assassination was impending, but because “MILK” was so absorbing in the master film making and acting unfolding before my eyes and mind. I don’t think the purpose was to have complete fun while watching this, but Gus Van Sant waves his film making wand to create his best movie, and possibly the best picture of 2008. It’s a treat and a fine tribute to a great life. I never thought Sean Penn would morph into this roll, and if you still have doubts about the man’s many great roles and talent look no further than his Harvey Milk. It’s astounding and Penn has definitely cemented himself as his generation’s finest actor with a second Oscar win. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know who Harvey Milk was before this movie came out, but his name should be honored up there with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. No matter your opinion on the issues at hand, please see this movie. -djg

Monday, March 16, 2009

DJG's Weekend Watcher

Let the Right One In * * * * *
Directed by: Thomas Alfredson / 2008

Subtle-yet-striking, "Let the Right One In" is more than just one of the best vampire movies, it's a masterful work of art. Lots to chew on with this after seeing it three times in as many days.

Smiley Face * * * 1/2
Directed by: Greg Araki / 2007

There is such a thing as a smart stoner movie. Add "Smiley Face" to the list with other recent loser-winners like "Harold & Kumar go to White Castle" and "Pineapple Express". It would also serve well with anything by Mike Judge ("Office Space").

A Decade Under the Influence * * * * 1/2
Directed by Ted Demme & Richard LaGravenese / 2003

Feeding from the times that were a' changin', this three part documentary had me salivating at the buffet of groundbreaking filmmaking and filmmakers of the 1970s. The only problem...I wanted more! I guess my eyes and mind have some work to do!

Silent Movie * * * *
Directed by: Mel Brooks / 1976

Mel Brooks delivers one of his best in this fantastic fun ride that is nothing short of a live-action "Looney Tunes". It's premise is pure joy and it's use of randomness, visual puns and special guest stars is quite timeless and priceless.


Thursday, March 12, 2009


Let the Right One In * * * * *
Directed by: Thomas Alfredson / 2008

My wife is the “Twilight” reader in our home. I trust her judgment, as well as many others, that the movie adaptation isn’t worth seeing. Unfortunately all the hype leading up to “Twilight” the movie over-shadowed a similar vampire love movie that came out around the same time based on a book from Sweden. Fans disappointed with “Twilight”, grunt no more and please turn your pages to “Let the Right One In”. Not only does it now sit behind “The Wrestler” at the top of my 2008 Best of Film list, but it’s also a subtle-yet-striking, well-crafted masterpiece. Possibly, one of the finest of it's kind ever made. Simply put, “Let the Right One In” your DVD player. I am watching this one over and over and over...


Monday, March 9, 2009

DJG / Into Great Silence

Into Great Silence * * * * *
Directed by: Philip Groning / 2007

Talk about patience. It took them 16 years to reply to filmmaker Philip Groning’s request to document their intimate lives on film, but that is what it took for the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse to make a “yes” decision. Sandwiched in an isolated fairytale-like setting in the French Alps, the monks live on prime, gorgeous real estate. No wonder they can get closer to God. Not to mention that apart from electric hair clippers and running water, “modern” civilization is miles from their thoughts and routine in devotion to God, even as a jet flies over a monk sitting in his cubicle of silence. As I’m nearing the halfway mark of my own isolated cubicle day and twisted perceptions on man’s quest for intellectual and monetary gains, I can’t help but think that a monk’s life doesn’t sound too shabby in the abbey. I know I at least enjoy isolation and quiet...and God. Though, robes seem itchy, drafty and the option of watching movies as a monk would more than likely be out.

“Into Great Silence” is a uniquely fascinating film experience, a worship-like one. One where opinions are cast aside (other than scriptures repeated between chapters, which is quite refreshing and challenging) and subject(s) who rarely acknowledge the camera. Almost all engagement is in daily discovery of routine and ritual and nature. When they do, the interaction is very peculiar, almost eerie, as if they are observing the viewer right back, eyes locking instead of looking. It’s very sobering, very humbling (as is the entire film). These are mere mortals, just men who took a vow of poverty and isolation to get closer to God.

It's not all solemn, serious and boring of a life, like us "modern" ignorant souls might perceive. There are many lighthearted surprises. My favorite was watching a very elderly monk snow shovel his carrot patches. Upon completion he looks up at the camera and gives a joyful grin just like my late Grandfather, and with the same hunched-back. Another great moment, one that I’m not sure the monks knew was being watched, found them gleefully playing and sliding in the snow down a mountain side. Groning also caught them in everyday discussion and even while getting haircuts. Tapping into sides rarely seen or known to “outsiders”, these scenes shed a new light on monk life that at times can be perceived as fairly sterile, detached and void of any emotion other than discipline and devotion to God. It also cemented that God can be found and cherished in everything, in particular the simple act of chores and nature. There was one monk, blind from birth I recall, speaking to the camera about how it actually helped him see God better than if he had been born with eye sight.

Does the film’s view of monk life try the viewer’s patience? At times I’d have to answer that with a 16-year-long YES, as there is no urgency in the unfolding, not a definitive story to tell and very little soundtrack. And all of that isn’t a bad thing, in fact it is great. I wouldn’t suggest this movie to everybody, but I think that everybody should see at least a little bit of it, and results/reviews will be mixed. But, it’s never a knock-down-drag-out to get to the end, actually there is never really a beginning or middle. It’s a joy that found me more in-tune to finding rewards and wonders while watching than say, struggling to read monk Thomas Merton’s “New Seeds of Contemplation”, which basically had me feeling worthless as a human being at the halfway mark. I was quite inspired by the movie and wanted more than the already three hours (more or less) provided with “Into Great Silence.” One of the best things about the experience is how quiet and meditative it is. You can’t help but pay attention. Involvement is only that of observer, but its way more involved than simply sitting in church or watching paint dry. Sometimes the effect is fly-on-wall, sometimes even participant. It can even be very spiritual. I now wonder what God’s viewing must be like on an everyday basis of worship to him, by monk or anyone? And at its most quiet and still, you can bet He’s got it in high-def/surround sound.

Filming alone, Groning lived at Grande Chartreuse for 6 months and you can tell that a relationship bonded. I didn’t have time for extra DVD features, but I’m very curious about this bond or what the monks thought of Groning and his camera. Did they even know what it was? I’m sure they’re not that ignorant, but you never know. I also wonder if Groning was able to show them the final film? Lastly, I wonder what type of experience Groning got out of his extended stay. Maybe it will take 16 years for him to digest and answer? Was it life changing? I do know that a movie like “Into Great Silence” will make me at least try to sit up a little straighter in acknowledging God the best ways I can in a “modern man” life that can feel very distracted and distant instead of devoted disciple.


DJG / Frozen River

Frozen River * * * *
Directed by: Courtney Hunt / 2008

It’s no cliché that good can be born out of bad. I only hope that we can grow from mistakes and in some circumstances it’s hard, but grace can be achieved. I’d heard “Frozen River” was good, but from the start was expecting another run-of-the-mill, dark and brooding independent drama heading towards tragedy and an unresolved ending. No pun intended, but I was expected to be left in the cold. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the places “Frozen River” took me and it held my attention fully. It’s refreshing to find a movie like this putting faith in the power of grace. “Frozen River” is one of the underrated gems of 2008, as is Melissa Leo’s Oscar-nominated performance (the screenplay also received a nod). Leo plays a tough-nosed woman doing what’s best for her children in dire circumstances, even if that means getting caught up in her worst judgment to pay the price. It's a moving story and independent dramas need to take note.


DJG / Watchmen

Watchmen * * * * ½
Directed by: Zack Snyder / 2009

Just as the bar was raised when “Watchmen” was released in print and picture form, so it has for the super hero and comic book movie. Director Zack Snyder has proved he’s the ultimate fan boy and so did the smell of b.o. from theater goers who hadn’t bathed or left their Mom’s basement since purchasing their first issue of “Watchmen” back in the 1980s. A few more tweaks and a few more months “Watchmen” woulda/coulda/shoulda been perfect. Like all fans of the book, I too was worried. With the close of opening weekend, many will disown it like its creator Alan Moore, but I find the film standing on its own as a work of art and genius. Aside from a few sub-plots either skimmed or skipped, an altered ending, the nauseating blast of My Chemical Romance bastardizing a beautiful Bob Dylan song over the end credits and Snyder's choice of over-top in the sexual conquest department, “Watchmen” was a joy and one of the most unique film experiences I’ve been absorbed in. In fact, the opening credits had my goosebumps weeping. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to make a movie, let alone an adaptation of something like this…and in this way. “The Dark Knight” can officially choke on its guano.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

DJG / Harry and Tonto

Harry and Tonto * *
Directed by: Paul Mazursky / 1974

“What happens on the road stays on the road.” It’s an old saying that was probably borrowed from something else and has recently gone global in adaptation for the almighty slogan of Las Vegas. How about, “What happens in road movies stays in road movies.”? With the exception of a few standouts, why are all road movies the same?! It’s something that has been irking me for a while, though just yesterday I saw a well-crafted one in Hal Ashby’s “The Last Detail.”

With “Harry and Tonto” I was really shooting for a gem of ‘70s filmmaking. However, what could have been a wonderfully bitter-sweet and subtle tail of an old man and his cat on the road turned into predictable groaning from the bleacher seats in my living room. I’m not completely versed in the art of the road picture, maybe for its time “Harry and Tonto” was fresh and adventurous. But, I feel like I’ve seen this many times over and most recently in the independent market. I was literally yelling to the television out-loud, “Cue eccentric left-of-center extra No. 12!”, and they would walk on set as old man Harry gave ‘em his ten cents on life and they helped him out with road traveling. And Harry experienced everything on the road, including hookers, public urination and a night in jail. By the time this personable Lone Ranger and his Tonto got to their destination I didn’t care at all, even if it wanted to be one of the most tender spots in the movie. Apologies to spoil, but I didn’t even care when Tonto bit the dust at the end of the road…and I love cats! He was also my favorite character as he played a cat perfectly! Art Carney won an Oscar for his Harry Coombes and was genuinely likable, though most of the time I saw nothing but a caricature of old man movies. Then again, this film was made in 1974, and sometimes movies like this age really fast. So, that means new movies made like this are really freezer-burnt.

David Lynch magnificently handled his true story of an old man on a lawnmower road story in “The Straight Story” with such beautiful subtle strokes and warm humanity. It’s absolutely immature of me to say, but with “Harry and Tonto” I really wanted “The Straight Story Part 1” and instead received “The Transamerica Go-Getter Part 2”. Alexander Payne is another master of the modern day road movie (I mention him all the time) with balancing the bitter and sweet with a pinch of quirks and mis-adventures, getting to a poignant destination inside and out instead of drenching a great idea with silly filler and cheap laughs. “Harry and Tonto” spent two hours getting somewhere, but in the end stayed in all too familiar places.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

DJG / The Last Detail

The Last Detail * * * *
Directed by: Hal Ashby / 1973

Likable-Losers…a subject often explored at the movies. I’ve seen three Hal Ashby films: “Harold & Maude”, “Being There” and now “The Last Detail”, and they seem to push this format and in charming ways. Hal Ashby is/was a master at it and I find great enjoyment and watch-ability in his work. I see director Alexander Payne as one of the new Likable-Loser torch bearers, and over 20 years after Ashby’s death. Much like Payne’s 2004 masterstroke “Sideways”, Ashby’s 1973 “The Last Detail” takes polar opposites colliding on a road trip. However, Ashby’s heroes wear Navy uniforms and chug beer as opposed to Payne’s cacky-clad wine tasters.

Jack Nicholson puts on another Academy Award nominated cursing-crazy-eyed-showy display as self-proclaimed Billy "Bad Ass" Buddusky. He’s a Navy man for life, and the type of guy you love to hate but would hate to not have on your side when haters came around. Despite his faults, you want to spend time with him. Odd how that happens, isn’t it? His partner in Navy Shore Patrol officiating is "Mule" Mulhall, and well played by Otis Young. Mulhall is tough as nails, can be a bear at times, but not as cocky and unbearably full of “p-and-v” as Billy. They’re the perfect balance partnered up for an important detail to transport a fellow Navy man named Larry Meadows (a very young and brilliant Randy Quaid with the same cheeky blushed face as a young Bob Dylan) by bus and train across the Northeast. Reason being, he was caught trying to steal $40 dollars from a charity helmed by the Naval Commander’s wife. Bad idea, Larry’s stupidity is, as he’s sentenced to 8 years in naval prison and dishonorable discharge. Though not the brightest man in uniform, Larry is genuinely a good, naïve kid, but is now set as the prime example of “what-not-to-do”. And what about his Navy escorts? Billy and Mulhall end up best beer and brawl buddies with him as they take their time showing Larry a good time and a thing or two about life before he's locked away. They might even learn a thing or two themselves.


Monday, March 2, 2009

DJG / High Anxiety

High Anxiety * * *
Directed by: Mel Brooks / 1977

A humorous hodgepodge of Hitchcock homage aptly describes “High Anxiety”. It’s not my favorite Mel Brooks film, and hasn’t necessarily stood the test of comedic timing, but it was a treat to see him spin some literal Alfred Hitchcock yarns. There were also moments that borrowed similar master of suspense camera tricks. But, like every Mel Brooks farce or spoof, the tricks helped turned “High Anxiety” into an original and memorable comedic take on such classics as “Vertigo”, “Spellbound”, “North by Northwest”, “Psycho”, “Frenzy” and “The Birds”. I even think there were enough bird droppings to make Hitchcock blush.