Category Archives: D

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008): United States – directed by Kurt Kuenne

Not rated by the MPAA – contains strong language, incredibly difficult subject matter

There are few movies as emotionally devastating as Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.  The fact that it is a documentary makes the story even sadder, and the possibility for hope more bittersweet.  To make the film even more challenging, the director is so close to the subject matter that it becomes almost impossible to separate the craft from the story.  Perhaps this is for the better.

Director Kurt Kuenne was best friends with Andrew Bagby growing up.  They played together, and Andrew always starred in Kurt’s home movies.  Andrew went to medical school, made more friends, influenced more people’s lives.  The film starts as a letter, as the title states, to Andrew’s son Zachary.  But Zachary doesn’t come into the film until about halfway through.  The less a viewer knows about this film, the better.  It is most certainly worth watching.

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Destry Rides Again

Destry Rides Again (1939): United States – directed by George Marsahll

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some violence, and a few pants-less men

Destry Rides Again isn’t a typical Western, in many respects.  Destry himself is a non-violent pansy for much of the movie, in a move that I can applaud the filmmakers for attempting.  With Jimmy Stewart occupying a lead role alongside Marlene Dietrich, the film becomes a near-classic, held up by only a few flaws.

The story is nothing terribly original for a Western, though in late 1930’s America it probably hadn’t been tried too many times before (discounting the 1932 version of the book).  Some inconsistent tones hurt the film toward the end, but with a strong cast and a competent production, Destry Rides Again is worth watching, if only to see an early iteration of Jimmy Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd from Harvey.

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Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010): United States – directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some cartoonish violence and mild rude humor

Despicable Me is a pleasant surprise, adequately following through on its humorous advertising campaign.  It is strange that the film feels so foreign, so un-American, and this, too, is a pleasant surprise.  The film was produced by Chris Meledandri, who produced the Ice Age movies.  But this film is a new endeavor by an upstart production company, Illumination.  It’s their first in what looks to be a long line of animated features.  I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing more of their creativity.

The story is cute without being too original, though it is one of the first of the upcoming crop of super villain-focused films.  Gru (Steve Carell) is the despicable person of the title, and he is a villain of epic proportions.  Maybe not so epic, actually, as he confesses to his minions that they only stole the small Eiffel Tower from Las Vegas.  Gru lives in an evil-looking house in a pleasant suburb.  Beneath his gothic abode is a gigantic cavern where he houses his hundreds of minions, an evil scientist named Dr. Nefarious (Russell Brand), and all of his inventions.

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Dad (1989): United States – directed by Gary David Goldberg

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some language and mature themes

In a lot of ways Dad represents the worst of the motion picture industry.  It is not truly awful, and therefore able to be enjoyed in its badness.  And yet it is good in very few ways.  It is an entirely manipulative movie, mediocre in its execution, and nearly excruciating to watch at times on account of its generic lameness.  There may be some spoilers ahead, but I refuse to excuse myself.

There are undoubtedly some interesting themes to be mined from the story. John Tremont (Ted Danson) is a Wall Street executive, busy buying up companies and closing them down.  He has an ex-wife, a kid he rarely sees (Ethan Hawke), and a mother and father who aren’t doing too well.  When his mom, Bette (Olympia Dukakis), falls ill with a heart problem he leaves his job to take for his elderly father, Jake (Jack Lemmon).  Jake has been so reliant on Bette that he can no longer perform even the simplest tasks on his own.

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007): France/United States – directed by Julian Schnabel

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains brief moments of nudity, a little sexual content, and some language

Julian Schnabel’s background in art shines vividly through every frame of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  Taking the acclaimed book of a vastly interesting character and situation, he paints the picture not only visually, but technically and architecturally as well.

Almost ninety percent of the film is shown through the eye of Jean-Do (Mathieu Amalric), an esteemed editor of Elle magazine.  As the film opens he has already suffered his massive stroke; he is paralyzed from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head.  He is fully conscious and aware, able to hear and observe and remember.  But he cannot talk, he cannot move his head, he cannot move.  All he can do is open and close his left eye.

Jean-Do has locked-in syndrome, a rare but devastating trauma reminiscent of the fate suffered by Joe Bonham in Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.  His former life, his loved ones and family, and his work and play-mates replay themselves in his mind, but he can no longer have new, meaningful experiences.  At first Jean-Do is rather obstinate, willing to check out and give up.

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Deadlock (1970): West Germany – directed by Roland Klick

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, blood, sexual material, nudity

Over the years I’ve seen American westerns, Italian westerns (generally the best), Japanese westerns (both new and old, though the old ones are usually samurai movies), and even some Mexican/Spanish westerns . I believe, though, that this is the first German western I’ve seen.  To top it off, it was made in 1970, is ridiculously gritty, and happens to be rather fantastic at the same time.

Some might argue that it’s not a true western.  It’s set in the mid 1900’s, probably, but Western themes and some other important Western elements are present.  No Country for Old Men is a Western in a way, and so is Roland Klick’s Deadlock.  There are vast landscapes, often one of the most important aspects of the Western.  Filmed in Israel, the setting is amazing.  It is barren and strewn with rocks, and quite uninviting.  The characters could have been ripped from a number of Westerns, American or Italian.  Low lives, dirty and grimy, often caught in cool poses with their guns.  Then there’s Mr. Sunshine, basically Clint Eastwood in German form.

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Die Hard

Die Hard (1988): United States – directed by John McTiernan

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong violence, strong language, and brief nudity

Die Hard is often considered among the quintessential action films of all time, and rightfully so.  Rarely has every element of a heist/thriller/action film worked in such harmony to create a type of transcendence rarely achieved in the genre.  Combined with a memorable villain and a pitch-perfect sarcastic cop, Die Hard becomes a film well worth watching repeatedly.

The plot is a bit generic, though it is fleshed out with enough characterization and subtlety to be convincing and engaging.  An opening sequence introduces Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia), an executive at a large Japanese company in Los Angeles, and her estranged husband, John McLane (Bruce Willis, back when he had most of his hair).  He’s a New York cop coming to visit his wife and their two children for Christmas.  He lands on Christmas Eve and it takes some time for him to become accustomed to California.

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Dune (1984): United States – directed by David Lynch

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains violence

Dune is the last of David Lynch’s feature films that I hadn’t seen.  I had heard much, primarily through various interviews with Lynch, about its troubled production, about its poor reception, and about some of the mistakes he made in taking on a big budget and epic production after the intimacy of The Elephant Man.  I was therefore quite surprised that I enjoyed the movie much at all, and was even surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) at some of the marvelous Lynchian images that are created onscreen.

To begin with, I have no knowledge of Frank Herbert’s novel other than an old computer game of the same name I played briefly many years ago.  All I learned was that there was a desert and giant worms, and maybe something about spice.

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Deadgirl (2008): United States – directed by Marcel Sarmiento and co-directed by Gadi Harel

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, violence, nudity, sex, mature themes

This is sort of a horror movie, I guess.  It could have been an interesting study into the messed up minds of men, but it ultimately can’t quite shake being a mere horror movie.  Even as a horror movie, though, it’s never particularly scary or frightening.  There’s some gore and some violence, but it’s primarily the theme that is disturbing and allows the film to be called a horror movie.  The theme is rather interesting, or perhaps could have been if the filmmakers had been interested in exploring the consequences of what it portrays on screen.

Deadgirl centers around high school friends J.T. (Noah Segan) and Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez).  They are slightly outcast but still have a few friends.  One day after school they decide to explore the local abandoned sanitarium.  It’s a huge, towering building a little ways away from the town, and apparently no one cares or knows much about it anymore.  They decide to break in and trash the place, because that’s what teenagers do for fun.

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D’Wild Wild Weng

D’Wild Wild Weng (1982): Philippines – directed by Eddie Nicart

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence and Weng Weng

While D’Wild Wild Weng isn’t quite as fun as For Y’ur Height Only (reviewed here) it is still an enjoyable venture into Weng Weng land.  Our favorite 2’9″ butt-kicker is back, and this time he’s in the Wild West.

Well, he’s sort of in the Wild West.  There are some problems, though, such as the fact that this Wild West looks like Florida and there are way too many ninjas around.  Weng Weng is joined by Gordon (played by Max Laurel.)  They are wandering through the Wild West for some reason, on their way to Santa Monica.  I’m not sure why they are headed that direction, but they are.

It’s a good thing, too, since there are so many bad guys on the road.  Apparently there are gangs of Mexican bandits roaming the area, pillaging and raping at will.  Good thing Weng Weng (he’s called Mr. Weng in this movie) and Gordon (who is large and strong and can throw Weng Weng) are around to combat these evil forces.  They end up rescuing several damsels in distress, teaming up with a man who has no tongue, and kicking lots of Mexican bandits.

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