Thursday, June 25, 2009


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

The Dog of War…

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

Monday, June 22, 2009

DJG's Movie Morning Monday

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

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

DJG / Ghost Town

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

When Cliché Turns Classic…

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DJG's Enjoyables

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

Kevin James is Here to Stay…

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

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

Hell Hath No Fury Like Bryan Mills Scorned…

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

DJG's Weekend Watcher

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

Come On Feel the Noise…

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

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

In a Court of Flaw…

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

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

Soul Searching…

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

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

Still Slithering…

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


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

“The Old Rugged Cross”

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

DJG's Weekend Watcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 4, 2009

DJG / Enjoyed or Enjoying

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, June 1, 2009

DJG / One Gold Film - One Groan Film

Doubt * * * * *
Directed by: John Patrick Shanley / 2008

“The dragon is hungry.”

In grade school I learned to differentiate the words “principal” and “principle” by the “pal”. As in, “The Principal of the school is my pal.” Still, the principal at my school, though she was very nice, intimidated me. Though, my personal history shows that most anyone in position of authority intimidates me slightly. Now, I never went to Catholic school but nuns in general have always carried an air of intimidation. Though, nothing in comparison to what Meryl Streep creates in the monster as head principal nun trying her best to get to the principles at hand with the head pastor (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), even if she must dig holes for everyone to lay (or lie) within, in last year’s fantastic “Doubt.”

I had my errrr…doubts?…upon heading up to the theater to see “Doubt”. The trailer showed me all I needed to see and my early perceptions were heavy-handed with top-rung-top-lung acting from Streep, Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis. Plus, I wasn’t really in the mood for another tale of religious scandal and race, of-the-moment topics that seem to be either over-killed or skimmed-over at the theater. It turns out that I needed to let the awards season simmer and enter the film six months later with nothing more than a Sunday afternoon of no expectations. I was thoroughly surprised and thoroughly engaged by “Doubt”, even as it continues to chew on my insides 24 hours later. This movie is certified GOLD.

I doubt I need to explain much about “Doubt” and quite honestly I’d rather allow new viewers to enter without expectations. However, I will say that “Doubt” is one of the finer written, directed, photographed and played films of last year. And more than any, it will give you everything without giving anything completely away. Rather, you will leave looking close at the pieces from all matters and sides of principle. –djg

Eagle vs. Shark * *
Directed by: Taika Waititi / 2007

Just say NO to New Zealand’s “Napoleon Dynamite”...

2004’s “Napoleon Dynamite” was quite the gut-buster for me. I’m not bitter by how far the film stretched into the vernacular (even though I’m still sick of the quotes five years later!) and I’m very happy for its success, but for the most part I need a huge break from seeing it again. Perhaps I can dig farther back and say that without Wes Anderson’s great and original “Rushmore”, though definitely on the higher movie tier, there might not be the “Napoleon Dynamite” we came to know. Add to the mix many-many-many-mimicry-quirky-indie-arty comedies (“Garden State”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Juno”, every new Wes Anderson film, even the forthcoming “Away We Go”) of the past 5+ years that share tricked-out similarities and I’m starting to “get” them as the hand-scrawled predictable promotional materials drip off the press and the trailers blah me to their eccentrically* populated cores. Though, I liked the aforementioned samey-so-so films… especially anything Wes Anderson cranks out even though he is wearing himself a little too thin…simply put, “Eagle vs. Shark” is a total GROAN. And I think I need an even longer break before I watch “Napoleon Dynamite” again. Despite my bickers, and however sickly so, I am inspired to revisit Todd Solondz’s insanely original and at times repulsive work. However, that is another movie ballpark. -djg

*Coincidentally enough, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ECCENTRICALLY as “a: deviating from an established or usual pattern or style b: deviating from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in odd or whimsical ways ”.