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BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945) (****)

David Lean is best known for his epics like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and DR. ZHIVAGO, however he started his career with several adaptations of Noel Coward followed by Charles Dickens. In BRIEF ENCOUNTER, we see the strong character development, which exemplifies his larger canvassed films. This film is an intimate portrait of an affair, which never feels like it was originally a play. Lean combines setting and mood perfectly to paint a heartbreaking tale of love and loss.

In a wonderful use of non-linear storytelling, the film opens with the end of the affair between Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson, IN WHICH WE SERVE) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard, THE THIRD MAN). The couple is disrupted by a chatty lady as they talk quietly in the café. We sense something is wrong. On the way home, Ceclia flashbacks to a few weeks prior, to when she first met Alec in that same train station café. Celia is bored with the routine of her life and finds Alec exciting. Both are married and their relationship starts off innocent until they fall in love.


Nancy's article about AnimaBasauri 3 in Spain, with pictures.

Hi friends,

Here are my impressions of the third year of a wonderful festival that takes place in Basauri, Spain, near Bilbo in April.

Love to everyone,

by Nancy Denney-Phelps

Like last year, a highlight was the chance to see animation from Spain, Mexico and South America, films that are rarely seen in other festivals. Of the 74 shorts that I watched, 19 were from Spain, 3 were from Brazil, and Mexico and Chile each had 1 film. I particularly enjoyed Ugly’s Night, Manuel Gonzalez Mauricio’s new take on boy meets girl, depicting two disfigured people who meet and fall in love.


SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007) (***)

A rollercoaster ride in both a good way and a bad way, the third installment in the Spidey film franchise brings viewers to the highs of some well-developed conflict and the lows of forced melodrama and silly spoofy jokes. Though there are only a few bad parts and one awful part, many of the good pieces don't fit together completely, forced together by contrivances. I wouldn't say it’s a mess, but it's an untidy entertainment that satisfies on its own merits, but disappoints in comparison to the far superior second installment.

Peter Parker (Toby Maguire, ICE STORM) is flying high — he's about to ask Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst, MARIE ATOINETTE) to marry him, he's doing well in school and Spider-Man is the champion of the city. It seems to be the same for Mary Jane — she's starring in a new Broadway musical and is madly in love. But things start to break apart between them on various fronts. Peter's best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco, TV's JAMES DEAN) attacks him, seeking revenge for his father's death in the first film, and is injured. Mary Jane becomes hurt by Peter's fame and inattentiveness, especially when his pretty lab partner Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, THE VILLAGE) comes into the picture. Peter develops a rivalry with fellow photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace, TV's THAT 70S SHOW), who is dating Gwen. And then Peter and his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris, 1999's SUNSHINE) learn that the real killer Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church, SIDEWAYS) has escaped from prison and has been accidentally transformed into the Sandman, a creature who can expand into a giant sand beast. However, this thief has noble goals for his actions, trying to save his sick daughter. Oh, yeah, and then this alien black goo falls on Peter, increasing his aggression and cockiness and later turns Brock into the evil Venom.



Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a beguiling indictment of bigotry and much, much more. There is so much going on in this film that to boil it down to one theme is very hard. To say it's about learning to walk in another man's shoes to understand what they are like is to neglect the equally powerful coming of age, loss of innocence and noble parenting themes that are part of its power.

The story is told from the point of view of the children of small town lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, GUNS OF NAVARONE). Scout (Mary Badham, THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED) is his tomboy daughter, who also narrates the film as a recollection. Jem (Phillip Alford, SHENANDOAH) is his older son, who gets into a fair share of trouble, but spends a greater deal of his time keeping his sister out of worse fixes. For the summer, they become friends with a peculiar young boy named Dill Harris (John Megna, THE CANNONBALL RUN). They inform Dill about the many legends of their town. Mean old Mrs. Dubose (Ruth White, MIDNIGHT COWBOY) hides a Confederate pistol under her lap blanket when sitting on her porch. Nathan Radley (Richard Hale, BEN-HUR) is the meanest man in town and keeps his grown son Boo (Robert Duvall, APOCALYPSE NOW) locked up in the basement because he's dangerous. The Radley house is a constant realm of fear for which only the bravest kid dares to go on the porch or peer into the window.


AUNTIE MAME (1958) (***1/2)

Theatrically melodramatic and filled with slapstick and wit, AUNTIE MAME combines humor and heart wonderfully. This is all driven by a fascinating central character, which is brought to life perfectly by Rosalind Russell.

Patrick Dennis (Jan Handzlik) is orphaned when his father passes and he must go to New York City to live with his eccentric aunt Mame (Russell, PICNIC). Patrick's father sets up his son's trust with a conservative bank and puts Dwight Babcock (Fred Clark, SUNSET BLVD.) in charge of making sure that his son doesn't become a freak at the hands of his "crazy" sister. Mame loves Patrick and tries to do the best for him, fighting the influence of Babcock as best as she can. However, Mame's lavish lifestyle comes to a crashing end when the stock market plummets and she loses all her money. Mame keeps her head up as she struggles to survive and keep Patrick in her life. However, she has a hard time when a grown Patrick (Roger Smith, MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES) wants to marry Gloria Upson (Joanna Barnes, THE PARENT TRAP), a girl from a "top-drawer" family.


Return of the Archive

If you've read the history of this blog than you know many of the reviews came from a newsletter that I've been doing on a regular basis since 2001. I was able to get a good chunk of the older reviews up before the blog launched, but there are still about 800 more to go. So I finally have been able to get back to tackling the archives that aren't already posted. When I post new archival reviews, I'm going to post a little recap of what's new in the world of older reviews. There's no ageism at Rick's Flicks Picks… a good movie is a good movie no matter when it was made and the same can be said about a good review.

$ (DOLLARS) (1971)
This is a really fun heist comedy starring Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty that has been sadly forgotten.


Sketches from the River Run Film festival and Beyond!

This past week was another "burner". We drove up to Winston-Salem, NC. for the River Run International Film Festival and our son Matt was performing as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at NCSA. Both events were amazing!

The River Run Festival was VERY, VERY well programmed. It opened Wednesday night with Paris, Je T'Ame a wonderful film with 18 vignettes from the different sections of the "City of Lights". The actors were wonderful! Animation Director Sylvain Chomet even did one of the live-action vignettes about how 2 mimes meet.

There were documentaries, shorts, animated shorts and some morning talks at local venues and cafes with a focus on animation. OUT OF OUR MINDS ANIMATION STUDIO hosted many of the programs. Folks from PIXAR were there to participate in a panel discussion and to host their own event. Other animators from R & H, Blue Sky also participated.


HAIR HIGH (2007) (***)

For famed animator Bill Plympton, HAIR HIGH marks his most conventional and widely accessible feature film to date. Partly due to a more traditional plot structure, the film lacks some of the no holds barred originality of his best works like I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON!, but in taking stabs at high school, the films about high school and the 1950s while adding in a dose of horror, he makes an engaging satire that retains his signature sense of style and humor.

Rod (Dermot Mulroney, ABOUT SCHMIDT) and Cherri (Sarah Silverman, SCHOOL OF ROCK) are the "it" couple at Echo Lake High. He's the hot rod driving, football star and she is the beautiful cheerleader. One day, the new kid Spud (Eric Gilliland) accidentally nicks the paint on Spud's car, which leads Rod to turn Spud into Cherri's slave. As these stories go, Spud and Cherri start off as bitter enemies, but eventually fall in love. So when Rod finds out that Spud has asked Cherri to the prom, he sets out to get his violent revenge.


FOXY BROWN (1974) (***)

Intended originally as a sequel to COFFY, FOXY BROWN turned into a stand-alone production late in the game and ended up working more completely than its predecessor. Though still just a vigilante justice/ revenge flick, this film sets up its main character and conflict then keeps consistent throughout.

Foxy Brown (Pam Grier, JACKIE BROWN) is the pistol-packing girlfriend of drug informant Dalton Ford (Terry Carter, TV's original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), who has just had plastic surgery to take on a new identity as Michael Anderson. Before Foxy and Michael can go on vacation, she has to bail out her no-good brother Link (Antonio Fargas, I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA), who is in debt to loan sharks for $20,000. After taking out two of their thugs, drug kingpin Steve Elias (Peter Brown, THE WEDDING PLANNER) and madam Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE), who runs a model agency as a front for her prostitution ring, go gunning for Foxy. After tragedy strikes, Foxy sets out to turn the tables on the dealers, who have ruined her neighborhood and harmed her loved ones.


THE LOOKOUT (2007) (****)

Don't miss the best movie of 2007 thus far. Scott Frank's crime thriller is actually more of a character study. Star Joseph Gordon-Levitt solidifies his place in the upper echelon of young actors. This taut story is driven by a strong central character and filled with a fleshed out supporting cast. Director/writer Frank, who makes his directing debut with this film after writing such films as MINORITY REPORT and OUT OF SIGHT, makes us believe in his protagonist's life and clearly allows us to understand his motivations. It ranks up there with films like FARGO and A SIMPLE PLAN.

Chris Pratt (Gordon-Levitt, TV's THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN) was a cocky, high school hockey star in his small Mid-Western town before a car accident killed his friends and left him scarred and mentally and emotionally damaged. Now working as a janitor at a bank at night, Chris has trouble remembering things as well as sequencing events. He is prone to emotional outbursts and lacks impulse control. He lives with a sardonic, blind man named Lewis (Jeff Daniels, THE HOURS), who is his best friend. They hope one day to open a restaurant, but a visit to the Pratt house for a holiday meal, shows us how little faith they have in Chris now and how much denial is still present regarding who he has become.


IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS (2006) (***)

Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2007 Academy Awards, this film peeks into the lives and the politics of a section of the three major ethnic groups in Iraq — the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds. Director James Longley took two years filming in Iraq to gain a perspective of how the American invasion has changed the lives of its citizens.

In the first section, we watch a fatherless, 11-year-old, Sunni boy as he tries to attend school after having failed for four years previously while working for the domineering owner of a Baghdad garage. In the second part, Moqtada Sadr followers in two Shiite cities enforce Islamic law at the point of a gun. In the third section, a family of Kurdish farmers welcomes the U.S. presence, because it has allowed them hope.


NEAR DARK (1987) (**)

Mixing genres can sometimes revitalize both genres in the end. Cowboys and vampires is not a bad idea, but executed poorly and it could be a joke. Adding the gang metaphor to the mix as well, NEAR DARK handles the tone fine, but is a near miss in most other departments.

Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar, TV's HEROES) is a cowboy who picks up the pretty stranger Mae (Jenny Wright, TWISTER) one night. He thinks she's different from all the girls of his small Texas town, which is true because she's a member of a roaming gang of vampires. And when Adrian wants to neck with her right before dawn, he'll get bit, turning him into a creature of the night. Now Caleb has a choice — get his head lobbed off or join the gang. However, to join the gang, he has to kill and drink his victim's blood. The other gang members, which include leader Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen, THE RIGHT STUFF), wild Severen (Bill Paxton, FRAILTY), punked out female Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein, ALIENS) and loose canon kid Homer (Joshua Miller, RIVER'S EDGE), don't think Caleb is cut out for the immoral, immortal life. As Caleb struggles with the draw of the gang, his father Loy (Tim Thornerson, WHO'S HARRY CRUMB?) and little sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds, BEACHES) go on the road searching for him.



Wow, this is a very misunderstood movie. Some of the reasons why it has been written off for so many years may include: director Russ Meyer (who is not known for making great films); the fact that it is written by legendary critic Roger Ebert; it's association with the notoriously bad VALLEY OF THE DOLLS; or the fact that if you're not with it you might actually think the overwrought story is just plain bad. In actuality it's actually an often-brilliant satire of the free-love culture and Hollywood cautionary tales.

For the story, an all-girl rock group, The Kelly Affair, heads out to Hollywood to find fame and fortune. Kelly McNamara (Dolly Reed) is the outgoing lead singer, Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers) is the quiet bass player and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR) is the sexy black drummer. The band's young manager Harris Allsworth (David Gurian) is dating Kelly, but she is quickly lured away from him by the party lifestyle of drugged out record producer Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell (John Lazar, SUPERVIZENS) and blonde gold digger/ wannabe actor Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett, THE TRIP). Other key characters include porn star Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams, CHAINED HEAT), Kelly's rich aunt Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis, TV's MAGNUM P.I.), lesbian clothing designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin, CAGED HEAT), Susan's stiff and snobby business manager Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod, BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE), law student and Petronella's beau Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page, TV's JAG) and the heavyweight boxer champ Randy Black (James Inghehart, DEATH FORCE). The girls will get tempted by sex, drugs, greed and violence as they slide down the slippery slope of show business.


BRAZIL (1985) (****)

Terry Gilliam brings a unique vision to his work — a mix of social commentary, absurd slapstick and pitch black humor. BRAZIL — which is set in a cold, totalitarian society — is not only his most accomplished work narratively, but the most effective blending of the various elements of his style.

The world of BRAZIL is a bureaucratic industrial behemoth where the government controls everything, but excels at nothing. Minor tasks take ages to accomplish due to pointless paperwork. A mistake occurs that leads to a Mr. Buttle being arrested instead of Archibald "Harry" Tuttle (Robert DeNiro, AWAKENINGS), whose crime is that he is covertly operating as an engineer who is infinitely more efficient and competent than the government's Central Services workers. The error comes down to the records department where Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce, EVITA) must clean up the mess. Lowry is not only good at his job, but seemingly the only one who cares about what he's doing while the rest of his co-workers just watch TV. His boss Mr. Kurtzmann (Ian Holm, THE SWEET HEREAFTER) is a nervous wreck whose main talents are avoiding responsibility and passing the buck.




This Saturday, I am off to Statesboro, GA. to the Art Fest (its 25th year). I am borrowing a shelter and some other stuff and I am taking my wares on the road. I call my work The Wandering Artist Salon (WAS) because most of it is done plein air (without a net). I really enjoy drawing and painting on location.
What makes me enthusiastic about this Festival is that this is the first time I am taking my oil paintings

I will have my normal inventory of cards, prints and watercolors. If you are in the area stop by- it is on the campus of Georgia Southern University - again, in Statesboro on Sweethearts Circle. There will be about 35 other artists with demonstrations (10:00 am - 7:00 pm) BBQ and musicians on two stages with entertainment all day -and a concert beginning at 7:00 pm...did I mention BBQ?


GRINDHOUSE (2007) (***1/2)

More than just one movie, but a movie experience, GRINDHOUSE gives movie fans a double bill with Robert Rodriguez's PLANET TERROR and Quentin Tarantino's DEATH PROOF. This celebration of 1970s and 1980s exploitation cinema embraces the no hold's barred attitude of those films, playing many conventions for laughs. At over three hours, horror fans really get their money's worth with two solid entertaining films as well as some nice fake trailers from directors Rob Zombie (DEVIL'S REJECTS), Eli Roth (HOSTEL) and Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD).

The experience kicks off with a Rodriguez directed trailer for a film called MACHETE starring Danny Trejo. It nails the low-budget revenge flick vibe perfectly and starts off the night with a bang. With the line "They messed with the wrong Mexican," the trailer felt like a Latino version of the blaxploitation hit, THE MACK or SUPERFLY. Then we move into the first feature, PLANET TERROR. Rodriguez's zombie epic finds solider Muldoon (Bruce Willis, SIN CITY) unleashing a disease on a small Texas town when a deal with the scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews, TV's LOST) goes wrong. On the run from the "Sickos" go-go dancer turned wannabe stand-up comedian Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan, TV's CHARMED) loses a leg, but in the process rekindles her relationship with her tough as nail boyfriend El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, TV's SIX FEET UNDER). The survivors along for the ride include syringe-gun toting anesthesiologist Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton, THE LAST KISS), Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn, TERMINATOR), the sheriff's bbq chef brother J.T. (Jeff Fahey, THE LAWNMOWER MAN) and Dakota's father/ ex-sheriff Earl McGraw (Michael Parks, KILL BILL, VOL. 2).



Will Smith gives the best performance of his career in a drama that reminds us that there's always someone who has it rougher than we do. But in the end, smarts and hard work can accomplish anything. As Smith said while promoting the film, the true-life story of Chris Gardner is what the American Dream is built on.

Smith plays Gardner, a salesman who used his family's life savings to buy bone density scanners. However, Gardner's dreams of making it big in the bone density scanner business don't pan out as he expected. His wife Linda (Thandie Newton, CRASH), who has to work long hours just to put food on the table, looks at Chris' latest business venture as just another one of his pie in the sky schemes. As the trailer tells us, she leaves him with their young son Christopher (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, TV's ALL OF US) right as he's trying to become a stockbroker intern. The film goes on to chronicle the many hardships that Gardner must endure as he tries to raise his son alone while competing for a single shot at getting hired as a stockbroker.


SILENT HILL (2006) (*1/2)

SILENT HILL is about as much fun as watching someone else play a videogame. There hasn't been a good movie based on a game yet, and there never will be unless someone realizes that the engine that drives a videogame is not the same as a feature film. We need characters we care about in situations where we want to see them succeed. Getting past the next "level" is not as rewarding when we're spectators and not participants. The film thrusts us into the action right off the bat.

Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell, MELINDA AND MELINDA) desperately runs from her house looking for her daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland, TIDELAND), whose sleepwalking is getting dangerous. Rose's husband Christopher (Sean Bean, FLIGHTPLAN) wants to take Sharon to a doctor, but Rose decides to steal their daughter and take her to the ghost town Silent Hill, West Virginia, which her young girl seems to be obsessed with. When Rose and Sharon get close to Silent Hill, which was abandoned due to a coal mine fire burning under the town, they arouse the suspicions of police officer Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden, THE MAJESTIC). When Rose is pulled over, she runs from the cops and ends up crashing her car right outside Silent Hill. When she wakes up her daughter is gone and she seems trapped in the strange town where ash rains from the sky and demons and monsters (both human and non-human) inhabit the town.


Thanks and Links from Nancy

Nik and I want to thank everyone who sent us such lovely e-mails of condolances about Kirby's passing -- they have made us feel so much better but even though we miss him terribly he did live to a ripe old Dalmation age and spent the last year touring Europe with us (he could bark very expertily in Flemish which is more than we can do).

Through the miracle of modern computers I will be reading my story about my train trip to Russia on the radio show TALES FROM THE EARTH, KUSF 90.3 FM on Wednesday, April 11 at 7:30 PM (San Francisco time -- everyone else has to do the time conversions if they want to hear it). For more information visit - web cast and iTunes. The guest the week before me is poet Laurence Ferlinghetti.


Sad News and Good News

Our beloved Dalmatian Kirby passed away last night. All of you who knew him know how much we loved him and how much he will be missed.

As in all things with the bad comes the good. We have received our official Belgian residence and work permits so we are legally Belgian. Now we begin the long hard task of learning Flemish.

As we near the first Anniversary of the beginning of our new life we will soon send out an account of our adventures in Europe.

Nik and Nancy



Disney's second 3D effort is definitely an improvement over their first outing, CHICKEN LITTLE. Relying far less on SHREK-like antics, the film economically moves forward holding on to its central thread — its main character's search for family. The ending delivers so well that all the problems that came before are easily forgotten.

Lewis (Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry) is an orphan, who creates wacky inventions. After yet another disastrous adoption interview, Lewis decides to build a memory device so that he can remember his mother, who he is convinced didn't give him up because she didn't love him, but because she had to out of circumstance. However, during the science fair where he's about to unveil his new device, he is visited by a boy from the future named Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman, A CHARLIE BROWN VALENTINE), who warns him that a shifty Bowler Hat Guy (director Stephen J. Anderson) is out to steal his invention. Eventually, Lewis and Wilbur get stuck in the future and Lewis promises to fix the time machine as long as Wilbur takes him to see his mother.



Character Movement:

In the first lesson on center of gravity we showed how when a character is standing still – an imaginary line runs vertically through to the feet. (fig. 1)

Because they are standing with their weight equal on their two feet, the character is centered or balanced on those two feet.

When a character moves they will try to stay balanced. If they lift a leg they will shift their weight over the center of gravity to compensate or counter-balance for the movement. Sometimes an arm or leg or both will be used to counter-balance the movement and weight shift. (fig. 2 and 3)



Though it's not one of Robert Altman's masterpieces, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION is still a fitting closure to the career of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. The sly, dry and somber humor of Garrison Keillor works well with Altman's signature style. The film is equal part concert film, backstage dramedy and an ode to witty radio entertainment, which the PRAIRIE HOME radio show has singularly kept alive long past the time when the form of entertainment has died everywhere else.

The plot is simple; it's the last performance of the PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION radio show before an axeman (Tommy Lee Jones, THE FUGITIVE) sells the radio station to some corporation. Keillor playing himself moves along with the show as if it's like any other. He's not a sentimental fella. Singing duo Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson (Meryl Streep, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, & Lily Tomlin, I HEART HUCKABEE'S), however, reminisce about the good ole days and how their family started performing to Yolanda's daughter Lola (Lindsay Lohan, MEAN GIRLS). Dusty (Woody Harrelson, WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP) and Lefty (John C. Reilly, CHICAGO) perform their humorous country and western tunes.


ROCKY BALBOA (2006) (***1/2)

Rocky has returned after 30 years in top form. Since the debut of the original film, the franchise has stepped further into ridiculousness with each subsequent installment. Sylvester Stallone wrote every episode and directed two through four. For years, the original looked like, at best, Stallone's single artistic idea, and at worst, a total fluke. Now at 60, Stallone goes back to the emotion of that original film and delivers a gut punch to his critics. Instead of a sad joke to close out the series, he leaves us with a sad tale about a man who rose to great heights and then life knocked him down to Earth where he will have to spend the rest of his days.

After losing all his wealth in the last film, Rocky (Stallone) has now lost his greatest love Adrian. He owns a small Italian restaurant in Philly where he retells the stories of his glory days to the customers night after night. He's very lonely, but he tries to keep up a good front with his goofy humor. However, his brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA) doesn't want to reminisce about the past, because it's too painful for him to remember how he treated his loved ones. Rocky's son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia, TV's GILMORE GIRLS) works at a stockbroker firm where the large shadow of his father is cast over him at all times.