Friday, July 31, 2009

DJG / Lolita

Lolita * * * * ½
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick / 1962

For the longest time something in me screamed to steer clear from Stanely Kubrick’s “Lolita” and I have no definite idea why. Quite possibly it was an early branch of “controversial” and the undertones of risky pedophilia business radiating as I grew that kept me a-drift of this ‘60s film classic. Also, I may confess I was quite distracted and a bit scared of the image of a very young Sue Lyon as Lolita with seductive lollypop in mouth on the film’s promotions (not too dissimilar, I was taken a-back for years by Lou Reed’s freak Frankenstein monster appearance on his “Transformer” album…odd how I have formal design training and the powers of said designs persuaded my distance and intimidated me so!). All things aside, I’m glad I’ve waited so long to fully appreciate yet another one of Kubrick’s big hits! I’m not sure how he felt about the final product, but how did he pull this off with such masterful execution? This is especially my question in the playfully comedic and sassy tone of male sexual obsession with an underage girl in “Lolita”? This film shouldn’t have worked. But, it did and has held and worked the test of time extremely well, I think (Side Note: I realize there is a late ‘90s remake and I don’t really care to see it. I’d rather watch Kubrick’s again!). I’m not a scholar in the history of Kubrick or of the time and circumstance surrounding this film, but I imagine it was a headache to get “Lolita” made, with censor laws and all (This is something the director didn’t have to worry about with “Eyes Wide Shut”!). But, Kubrick marvelously helms and leaves much up to suggestion for the audience’s imagination. I like this and advise directors who can get away with virtually everything now to try as it lets the characters live in that place between the screen and viewer and keeps the viewer even more involved and provoked. Though, before the sexual revolution of the late ‘60s, I could see Kubrick’s handy work a little discomforting for some to stomach. Nowadays this film is a treat with undercurrents of “wrong”. As much as I am impressed by “Lolita”, I am left equally wanting more from it, especially the subplot of Peter Sellers’ Clare Quilty (Sellers is in another multi-layered performance of great appeal) and his desire for Lolita. Perhaps that too should be left up for suggestion in my head? In the mean time, I think I’M in love with “Lolita”! -djg

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DJG / Knowing

Knowing * * * *
Directed by: Alex Proyas / 2009

Scientific Scripture…

I know, I know, another disaster movie. Yep, another movie poster with a deconstructing/dissolving Earth. And yep, another movie logo type employing not one, but two design clichés; a sun replacing the “O” and the number 1 substituting for the letter “I”. It’s easier these movie watching days to be suspect to the oh-so-samey-so-so as Hollywood hooks a big one and they milk it for a decade. This is especially true in our post-911 hysteria and ever-impending anxiety for the apocalypse. Money is made from mayhem. I guess, so much for going to the movies to find escape and comfort, right? Of course, some people might find comfort in familiar cities and landmarks disintegrating, plus the monotone that is Nicolas Cage. You chosen ones out there, please step forward. I suppose I am a big pro for stuff blowing up, at least on the screen, and I don’t hate the Cage fighter as he’s a unique contributor to both big and small production wallets for sure. I typically enjoy riding along with anything he’s involved with. It’s easy to assume going in to “Knowing” that you’re going to know all about it within 20 minutes. However, this one might surprise you with its molecular twists of scientific meets scripture. Of course it employs clichés, just like it’s advertising suggests, but at times “Knowing” is the best movie that M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t made in many years. The film’s ending, which I won’t spoil, is one of the most baffling-unique in many years as well. I wouldn’t mind revisiting “Knowing” in a director’s cut release from Alex Proyas. I think there is much more story to tell in this one, but what is presented is better than most others like it. -djg

Monday, July 13, 2009

DJG / Moon

Moon * * * * ½
Directed by: Duncan Jones / 2009

Space Oddity…

I admire when children can step from the shadow of iconic parents to create a name on their own. In the case of director Duncan Jones, he literally created a new name. Born Zowie Bowie to none other than shape-shifting Ziggy Stardust himself, you can imagine the type of shadow or moon rock he may have felt under. Especially with a name like that, years before it became a name game for celebrities to make their children typographic tabloid bait. I think it’s a lot easier for successful musicians to bare successful musician offspring than it is in other career choices. Sometimes it’s because of whom Mom or Dad is, but every now and then they tap into their own (Jeff Buckley and Jakob Dylan come to mind). Young Bowie may have chosen film, though Bowie senior is no stranger to the path. Not to mention his impressive body of music carries more theatrics, dimension, dynamics and unique narrative than most movie makers. It’s no wonder that Duncan Jones shows a deft hand at orchestrating film the way he has with “Moon”, his feature debut at the age of 38. “Moon” is one of the best sci-fi films to come along in a while and I find Jones pouring as much of his own identity and upbringing into it as his father does in music, creating art with unique immediacy that you can’t wait to tap again or into another. Borrowing from some of the best in ‘60s-‘70s sci-fi (you’ll figure it out), “Moon” uses just enough of today’s modern trickery to bring to life something that isn’t a clone, but has a brain and heart to call home. It also never gets too far ahead of itself or too outlandish, at least for sci-fi. Actor Sam Rockwell shines as pretty much the solo pilot of the film as his Sam Bell nears the end of an isolated 3 year contract at a station on the moon. Bell begins to find out more about his self than you’d want to in that type of situation as he is two weeks shy of going home and wants nothing more to do so. Rockwell has a thick resume of fantastic performances, but hopefully “Moon” will finally get him due respect, maybe even an Oscar nomination. Just like his talented director he’s given a chance to showcase many sides and make a name for himself. -djg

Friday, July 10, 2009

DJG / Seven Pounds

Seven Pounds * * 1/2
Directed by:
Gabriele Muccino / 2008

These Pounds of Flesh Need More, Need Less…

I can't help but feel more sympathy for this movie as a movie, than for its struggling characters and wanna-be-wanna-die tear jerk story. Am I the jerk? "Seven Pounds" tries really-really hard to be a great movie and by the time it can be redeemed and wash us in its waters of mystery, it's more than two frustrating hours too late. I felt I was being put through the motions and tried to be moved in mysterious ways (Thanks Bono). On a whole, it's not a bad idea for a movie and not exactly executed poorly and I don't wish to explain the movie. Just that, it haphazardly tries for the popular gimmick of non-linear narrative, mystery, multiple characters and so-on and when done like this, frustrates me from start to finish. Most master directors can't present cohesively a film in such a way and I think it was too much to tackle and pull together in this case for Gabriele Muccino. Simplify please! Jenny Craig, please direct! I agree with others, primarily those backing the picture that you should go in without spoil. People spoke of, and/or didn't speak of, the mysterious shroud of an ending in "Seven Pounds" like it was the next great M. Night Shyamalan. Though, I'm still waiting for "Seven Pounds" to hook and grab me. It would have served better both edited down and fleshed out. Does that make sense? Watch it and you might agree. As well, the film feels primed and rushed for last year's awards season and that may have something to do with it, at least for me. How many could-be great films don't get the proper incubation time they deserve because of this (Thank you “The Road” for waiting a year to hopefully get things right)? I realize that this movie has and will have its fans. One attracter is star power Will Smith. He’s a talented actor with a wide-range in this film. I’ll see anything he’s steering, but he’s almost too capable of audience manipulation in this one. The moves are coming too easy for him here. Knowing what I'm getting into, I think I'd like it better the second time, but I'd have to first have the desire to stomach "Seven Pounds" again. I’m just glad this isn’t a series of seven movies! -djg

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DJG / The Break-Up

The Break-Up * * * *
Directed by: Peyton Reed / 2006

Surprisingly Well Put Together…

“The Break-Up” advertised itself to me like another groaner romantic comedy that would go from enjoyable to completely annoying in fifteen minutes, starting bitterly and finishing in sweet predictability. However, I am very surprised with how well put together “The Break-Up” actually is. I am a tad ashamed to have been so dumbed-down by the movie’s trailer, but could you blame me? I’ll try hard to steer this in the direction of my simple enjoyment and surprise of the movie, not of Hollywood’s perpetual dumb-down habits for success and excess. Please don’t get me wrong, as I can find enjoyment anywhere on the movie map, but lately movies like this are getting to be like fish worm date bait. The movie isn’t without fault lines and comes with the formula for comic relief. However, it’s never pushed over the edge in back ‘n’ forth competition like other movies of a similar plot device surrounding the break-up of a couple who must keep living together for rent’s sake. Throughout the film a realistic sense of loss, bitterness, confusion and personal growth is present. Thanks in part to solid performances from Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn who help steer the film, and me, from the predictable sharks of romantic comedy waters. I’d even endorse a sequel, or at least another Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan-esque pairing of this movie couple. -djg

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

DJG / What the Duck...?!

Howard the Duck * 1/2
Directed by: Willard Huyck / 1986

What the Duck...?!

In 1987 I was thrilled to finally get my eyes on a VHS of “Howard the Duck”. Odd though how I couldn’t recall a single thing about the film for the next 22 years, other than A: pure pre-enthusiasm upon seeing it and B: a topless female duck. I remember my mom happening to walk right in front of the television as Howard flew by his fellow apartment tenants in the opening minutes via a rocketing La-Z-Boy, passing regular ol’ ducks and then a naked female duck in the bath. I think my mom double-checked the PG rating on the box, and from what I gather, shut the movie off. I honestly don’t remember the rest of the two hours. And why might a movie like “Howard The Duck” even be more than an hour? Geesh, this movie goes on and on and on. It’s not even cool-bad in a cult classic way. This movie is just plain B-A-D and certainly not for a seven-year-old. At 30, I did find myself chuckling along, but wow I thought I’d like it more…I have no idea. “Howard the Duck” could have really been something and especially so just shy of two incredible cartoon-fresh and technological darlings of the time (and even now), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. Those movies must have learned something from “Howard the Duck” as it has to be one of the top worst movies of the 1980s and a definitive pre-cursor to the damage its executive producer George Lucas was set to give “Star Wars” fans ten years later. One thing is for certain, I’m so glad that Howard wasn’t made of CGI. And let’s hope Howard doesn’t ever get the remake treatment, though I doubt it could get any worse. Mom, I wish you would have been there to shut it off the second time! -djg