Magnolia * * * * *
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson / 1999
Writer-director P.T. Anderson’s epic, weaving tale of relationships and redemption (and that’s only skimming the surface on the chewables) turns 10 this year. And with my nearly-tenth viewing, “Magnolia” is still fresh, progressive and a certified masterpiece and will only continue to be. Looking back at 1999, it’s almost a crime that “Magnolia” and its director were left out of Oscar’s Best Picture and Best Director races. It should have nabbed what “American Beauty” has since not been able to live up to. It also has one of the greatest endings EVER! If you haven’t partaken in the brilliance of P.T. Anderson, maybe you should start with this contemporary classic. Though, every film that he brings to the table is and you should see them all: “Hard Eight”, “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, “Punch-Drunk Love” and “There Will Be Blood”.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape * * * * 1/2
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom / 1993
I have family living outside of Manor, TX, the town “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” was filmed at. You know the water tower that young Leonardo DiCaprio kept climbing, caddy-corner from the grocery store that young Johnny Depp worked at? Last November I visited both of these landmarks. I even saw the initials in the cement in front of the store (still there), belonging to Depp. Though, the ice cream store is long since gone, I think it was an extra in the film. I’ve seen “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” a handful of times and it has somehow retained its freshness, even 16 years later, in an independent film world thick in trite, cliché and samey-so-so quirky stories and characters. I think it’s a classic. It’s especially refreshing to know, and see in the flesh, that it has REAL small town charm. Despite being “different”, it feels grounded in reality and heart and I like that. If you’ve seen one (small town and movie) you really haven’t seen them all.
Adventureland * * * *
Directed by: Greg Mottola / 2009
Like corndogs gone bad “Adventureland” could leave some viewers with a bad taste in their mouth. The darker angles of adolescent sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll seems to be exhausted at the movie house of late, but I found myself surprised by this one. Interestingly enough, all marketing geared me for a gut-bust ala “Superbad” or T.V.’s “Undeclared and “Arrested Development”, same director at least, but the comedy was subtle and sprinkled just right with some sweet. Despite its subject matter “Adventureland” has a lot more brewing underneath the angst-ridden times of self-discovery and sh*t jobs of summer. The early 20s can be brutal and sweet, both wonderfully on display in this movie. Even though they are living and breathing life in the moment, it’s oddly reflected in almost open source nostalgia to the role players, I think so at least. I also think that Greg Mottola directed this film effectively well. There were times I found myself completely hypnotized and quite honestly I could have watched this movie until summer’s end. There were also times I found myself reaching back to days of unglamorous employment and all the amenities it actually has to offer, youth or without youth. What is a job anyway? As the film has left us wanting more, and in a good way, my wife and I both feel there is even more depth that could be aided in exploration by the result of an “Adventureland” television series, with the same actors/characters and production crew, of course. We see it in a very “Freaks & Geeks” light, and not just because Martin Starr shines so bright in it. I doubt it happens at all, but we can be dreamers, right? And music supervisor, I could feel your own goose bumps congratulations with every Lou Reed, Big Star, Husker Du, Bowie, Cure and Replacement song (among others) perfectly backing this story of tough love and good times among co-workers at an amusement park in the summer of ’87. Great job…GREAT JOB!!!
A Shot in the Dark * * * * ½
Directed by: Blake Edwards / 1964
This second installment in the original Pink Panther live-action film series is a fresh comedy caper masterpiece. Beautifully shot and orchestrated (just watch the Nudist Colony scene!), it’s an underrated joyful gem of cinema from legendary filmmaker Blake Edwards. And who could play better a dim-witted, dumb-lucked Inspector Jacques Clouseau than comedic genius Peter Sellers? I love you Steve Martin, but you’re nooooooo substitute for Peter Sellers. Comedy actors PLEASE take note.
Death Race * * * *
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson / 2008
NASCAR needs an upgrade. I’ve found it in “Death Race”, Paul W.S. Anderson’s (no, not Paul Thomas Anderson!) pimp-my-ride version of Roger Corman’s 1975 cult-classic “Death Race 2000”, a film I’ve yet to check off the list. So what, “Death Race” is AWESOME and well-crafted in its own right and Corman was all for it as he produced. And of course Jason Statham (ol’ Stat Ham!) is kicking butt in it. If you’re on the hunt from some pure escapism to the max, in an “Escape From New York” meets “Mad Max” (and some “Running Man”) fashion, then you NEED to see the brilliance of “Death Race”. In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d wager you may someday see it come to a reality near you.
Bottle Shock * * * *
Directed by: Randall Miller / 2008
This bio picture about the legendary 1976 Judgment of Paris wine blind tasting competition that had California’s Napa Valley shocking and turning upside-down the wine world really surprised me. I’m no wine pro, but “Bottle Shock” is a really, really lovely film flavor and made me proud that a bunch of self-serving hicks in California changed the way the world crushes grapes. Centering the rocky and bitter relationship of father and son winemakers Jim and Bo Barrett and the humorous travels and curiosities of British wine connoisseur Steven Spurrier to their Chateau Montelena, “Bottle Shock” is very sweet, delicate and fresh. -djg