Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Inglourious Basterds * * * * *
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino / 2009

Rewriting History, Taking Names and Inventing New Ones…

WWII-KAWOW!! My mouth is still fixated in a wide devilish grin ala Jack Nicholson’s unforgettable Joker in Tim Burton’s “Batman.” It has been this way since the last hour of the best picture of 2009, so far. In fact, I’ve been grinning since an hour and half before that, when the spaghetti western sights and sounds of Quentin Tarantino’s flashy-fresh joy ride take on WWII kick-started his “Inglourious Basterds.” They never backed down right into one of the greatest, and already iconic, most satisfying film endings ever. Not to mention a new ending for World War II and the fall of the Nazi regime, again. Tarantino never intended to alter history, but his characters sure lead and he followed with all his guns amped-up to sophistication. He has officially raised his own game.

Not for everyone and he has his naysayers, Tarantino for me has always been able to wallop genres out of the park, turning film on its side and robbing from the greats yet turning it into his own gold. But, it’s not fool’s gold, more like cool’s gold. The best art borrows and Tarantino does it better and with his own thumb prints left behind on the prize. And I find self-indulgence is best when shared with an audience. He is the coolest and freshest pop-culture churner we have today. Money aside, I assume all directors love movies or they wouldn’t be in the business. But, Tarantino loves-LOVES movies and he makes me love movies even more after I see him wave his wand each time. For those that don’t “get” him and/or knock him, then I kind of feel bad for you as you’re really missing out. But, more for me!

So, what is so great about Tarantino’s take on WWII?! EVERYTHING and it is worn with the high-stepping confidence of the Nazi high command. Like a great novel its chapters slice up to show enough yet leaving just enough to the imagination, pulling together a creation of richer-than-rich characters and plots that live and breathe beyond what’s in front of you. You’ll have a love-hate affair with the notorious “Jew Hunter”, Nazi Col. Hans Landa (in a soon-to-be Oscar nominated role from Christoph Waltz), whose cunning charm and manipulation is just as big and intimidating as his smoking pipe. He loves milk and pie as well so how could you not like the man? Another big item is the Nazi scalping knife of Lt. Aldo Raine, which finds Brad Pitt wielding and talking like President George W. Bush, not to mention sporting the best Italian accent ever on screen. Is it just me, or has Brad Pitt really been churning out the satisfying characters of late, even more than ever!? The movie’s promotion makes it seem that the Lt. Raine’s band of Nazi destroying Basterds is what the movie is all about, but it’s only a fraction to the story. Much of the story is owed to a Jewish gal named Shosanna Dreyfus who escaped from Col. Landa and is now disguised as a French theater owner. As the lights go out to show a film of Nazi hero Fredrick Zoller sniping from his bird’s nest, Shosanna (& Basterd Co.) does some bird nesting as well and in a blaze of gory-glory. Trust me, you’ll never find carnage so much fun.

2 and a half hours doesn’t do the basterd justice and it could have easily been another Tarantino two-parter, maybe even three. But, I left QT-quenched, almost like leaving Quik Trip with a conveniently tasty beverage and hot dog (chips and candy on the side, of course). Yes, I’m relating the work of Quentin Tarantino to junk food, but this is high-caliber junk food folks, with all the condiments and fix-ins like chipotle sauce and vanilla flavoring that we love. I can’t get enough and have been ready for seconds since the last of the credit logos left the screen. “Inglourious Basterds” is a daringly ambitious, wickedly entertaining, remarkable and satisfying work of original art that I cannot praise enough. I will be dining again in the theater as Hitler and Co. all fall down the way we always wanted them to…and then we will all bow down to the film art of Quentin Tarantino. Thank you. -djg

Monday, August 10, 2009

DJG / Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye * * * *
Directed by: D.J. Caruso / 2008

To Be Taken With a Can of Red Bull…

A couple days ago I was telling my wife how it’s almost refreshing now to watch an older television series or movie that comes sans cell phones and technology. Rarely today do you even see regular home phones or public telephones in the movies, let alone in real life. I’m thankful for my cell phone and so-on, but I’m extremely thankful to have experienced life without them and the internet. Today’s Red Bull movies, ya know, the non-stop-high-octane-super-slick-spastic-cool flicks like “The Bourne Identity” trilogy, “Taken”, even 2006’s Oscar Best Picture winner “The Departed”, wouldn’t work the same without their lead characters’ interactive moving and shaking with off-the-cuff-or-hip technology to communicate, track down the bad guys, win the race, etc. “Eagle Eye” isn’t nearly as great as the aforementioned films, yet it gets the job done and kept me at full-speed attention, even with a pinch of “Minority Report” and many exclamations of “Yeah, right!” Of course it’s ridiculous to the core and sometimes makes the head spin, but I loved it and movies like it. And just when I say to my wife ¾ through the movie, “Ya know, movies like this wouldn’t work without cell phones and technology!” the good guys answer the bad guys’ ring on a regular ol’ public telephone. Those sneaky bad guys! Pass the Red Bull while you're at it! -djg

Thursday, August 6, 2009

DJG / Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid * * * * ½
Directed by: Jennifer Venditti / 2007

Billy is like a lot of small town fifteen-year-olds. Billy likes to listen to KISS and AC/DC. Billy likes to imagine himself in a Harry Potter potion class as opposed to hum-drum high school chemistry. Billy loves girls but respects them. Billy loves horror movies and talks about them a lot. Billy jumps subject ship so fast and onto the next and sometimes with unease and twitchy intervals. We all had Billy, or a handful, in our schools and hometowns growing up, especially in rural America. Billy lives in small town Maine where the winters are harsh and the high school kids are just as harsh to the weird and eccentric kids as they are anywhere else. Billy may be different to most standards, but Billy is the best.

Apparently, director Jennifer Venditti was working as a fashion modeling scout when she stumbled upon Billy and decided right then the subject of her first film. If I’d met Billy before watching his shining star in “Billy the Kid”, I’d have wanted to make a film on him too. Billy is the type of friend that you’d want to have, even if he would kill you with kindness (and too much talk) on a daily basis. But, you’d never have a boring moment or run out of things to talk about with a friend like Billy. Billy is a wonderful person who may not understand social situations, but he can see what your soul is like by sharing with you so much of his own, and the first time you meet him. Billy isn’t a Barnum & Bailey sideshow, tabloid fodder or a movie of the week. Why a movie on Billy? Billy is original, complex, unique, inspiring, inquisitive and reflective. And there is a lot more than that going on inside and radiating from Billy. Billy is more alive than everyone else in his town put together, especially his peers. Billy articulates himself like a long, lost philosopher like, “Sometimes life’s a pain in the butt. But, sometimes it’s worth it because you’ll find great things in the life that’s a pain.”

Billy’s father left the family years ago after a run with the law, spousal abuse and alcoholism. Billy has a lot of pain, rage and inner demons due to his biological father. Billy’s mother is one of the strongest, nicest, supporting, connecting and most loving mother’s I’ve seen depicted in any form of movies or real life. Billy has a step-father he likes at home, but I didn’t get to meet him. I did meet Billy’s first love, Heather. Billy poured his love out for Heather in two days, like all boys tend to do but with triple the amount with Billy. He had his heart broken in return. Billy can be too much at times, but I like that about Billy. Billy is very becoming, bold, brave and not bashful. One can learn a lot from a boy like Billy.

Fifteen-year-old Billy will forever be on display in movie form and I wonder about his future. Venditti captured Billy very simply, purely and sometimes awkwardly, yet never in a way to exploit Billy, rather just to share with the world his charm and unique way of handling himself. Though, what will become of Billy after high school? Will Billy go on to do great things? Billy says he doesn’t want to be a free-loader all his life. Billy mentioned something about either dying a young death or lead his people in a revolution. No matter what, I think Billy will always make an impact on those around him, in some form or another. I’m thankful I got to meet Billy. I can relate to Billy. At times, I even am Billy. We all have a little bit of Billy in us, we just need somebody like Billy to remind us that it’s OK to be who you are. I like the way Billy is and I hope others do too. -djg

Monday, August 3, 2009

DJG / Funny People

Funny People * * * *
Directed by: Judd Apatow / 2009

Legends of Comedy Watching From the Walls…

Writer-director Judd Apatow is extremely talented and a work horse. No, not because he’s become the equivalent of a Steven Spielberg film making cash cow in the comedy production realm or because he shot a million feet of film on his latest picture. Rather, this 41-year-old is on to something special. True, sometimes that “something” is hidden in movie formulaic, bromance, dirty mouths and predictability. But, he has the chops and ability to put a unique spin on the material and somehow make it work, stunningly so, easily so, and time and time again. He also has the ability to go from super foul ball(s) to home run warmth in seconds and his legacy is already seeping into films he’s not even involved with. There is something honest about the work he is releasing to where it’s living outside of the time frame of the movie. Not to mention he seems to be having the time of his life and gets to include his life, with family and friends participating. With “Funny People”, Apatow nearly misses his masterpiece, at least from my perspective, for now. Oh man was he close. But, this is a two and a half hour long epic comedy (perhaps dramedy?), that needs to be devoured for more than just the mere 48 hours I’ve chewed on it. And like films he’s either directed, written or produced, this one will get better with age.

When Adam Sandler’s “George Simmons” gets a new lease on his life after his doctor finds a window of health in his recent bout with cancer, he hopes to get better in an instant with “life stuff”. But, George doesn’t realize it takes time and a little coming of age (even if he’s in mid-life) that he missed out on in the selfish light of show business as a top comic-turn-actor. Sandler digs deep, even though I’m wishing he would have dug a little deeper in the role (okay, hit me because I was expecting more). This is the best he’s been since “Spanglish” and “Punch-Drunk Love”, the latter being the one that revealed the world to his range and the former being a way under-appreciated performance. I look forward to watching Sandler move on up. However, it’s the support of Seth Rogen who glues the movie for me and shows a new side. And per usual, there is the rest of the Apatow dumpy gang (ha-ha), including legends of comedy watching from the walls in a brilliant choice of set decorating. I won’t go on with saying more about the movie as I’d stall and run this review out of gas worse than the third act of “Funny People” did (whoops). Yeah, it just didn’t knock out of the park completely for me. Although, I left the theater sensing that characters are still working, still growing. This film is growing on me as well.

I enjoy Apatow’s crass ‘n’ comfort levels, and hearing things I never thought could be conjured in a young man’s mind (or middle-aged man!?), but at the same time I can’t help but feel he works better when censored. Am I saying tone it down some? Maybe? I’m no prude, but maybe doing so might reveal that “something” to be really-really special, without the aid of male anatomy jokes to fill in the cracks (oh, brother). And it just might be old man Apatow on the wall watching a new crop of comedians in the years to come. If you’re a fan of T.V.’s excellent “Freaks & Geeks” (partnered with creator Paul Feig), it’s easy to say that he’s already been there and done that, censored masterpiece speaking. But, Apatow has since moved up to nearly missing the curtain call of masterpiece theater and it’s going to be a pleasure to watch his work grow in the big-time. And leading the comedy pack of this century, he has plenty of room to grow. Though, like “George Simmons”, he just needs a little more time. -djg