Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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

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