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Blogs THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (2006) (***1/2)

This satirical comedy actually works better as a character study than a poignant attack on Big Tobacco. At its center is the fascinating Nick Naylor, chief spokesman for Big Tobacco's pseudo-health organization. And he's played perfectly by Aaron Eckhart (IN THE COMPANY OF MEN).

Naylor is a major wheeler and dealer and his moral flexibility is like a wet noodle. But he has to be as the face defending tobacco to the public. As such, his only friends are the MOD (Merchants of Death) Squad — Polly Bailey (Maria Bello, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner, ANCHORMAN) — who represent the alcohol and gun industries respectively. His boss BR (J.K. Simmons, SPIDER-MAN) needs him to figure out a way to increase sales for the top boss Doak "The Captain" Boykin (Robert Duvall, THE APOSTLE) is pressuring him. Naylor comes up with the idea to make cigarettes cool again by getting a sponsorship deal with a Hollywood film. So he travels to L.A. with his son Joey (Cameron Bright, BIRTH), who just idolizes his father.

Blogs WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (2006) (**)

The opening third of the original WHEN A STRANGER CALLS is one of the tensest sequences in horror film history. However, due to a completely random middle act, the film squanders all of its potential. So when I heard they were remaking it, I finally thought now here is a chance to make a great horror flick. Again for some reason Hollywood isn't listening to me.

The remake takes the opening third of the original and stretches it out to 87 minutes. Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle, THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE) has run up her cell phone bill and her parents have taken away her phone and car as punishment. Additionally, she has to babysit to pay back her mom and dad. So her father drives her out to a huge, gorgeous house in the middle of nowhere to sit for Dr. and Mrs. Mandrakis (Derek de Lint, DEEP IMPACT, & Kate Jennings Grant, UNITED 93). Soon after arriving she begins to get creepy phone calls.

Blogs Composer Nik Phelps; filmmakers - music for your film!

Nik and Nancy Phelps have finally completed their relocation to Gent,
Belgium, and the new music studio is set up and ready to go. We now have
the cherished Belgian work permit, and will be taking on new projects
starting after the new year.

Nik has just finished music for Nina Paley's upcoming feature, Sita Sings
the Blues, is currently working on animation projects for animators Lance
Taylor in Canada, and Jordie Doubt in Switzerland, and will be providing
music for the politically topical website of John Grimes and Robin Chin in
the United States ( www.fizzdom.com ) We are currently putting together our
spring 2007 production schedule, so contact us now for music for your
animation, documentary, or film project. You may not think that original
music is affordable, but you will be surprised. Ask us about our reasonable
rates and check out our web site at www.niksprocket.org

Blogs GIMME SHELTER (1970) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, November 30, 2006 at 11:27am

This now classic rock documentary set out to record The Rolling Stones during their 1969 American tour and ended up capturing a killing during the free concert at Altamont.

The film foreshadows the tragedy at Altamont at the start with members of the band including Mick Jagger watching the footage from the concert. Then we move into performances from the road of some of the Stones' classic songs, including at the time rough versions of new songs, "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses." As part of the tour, we also get a sexually charged performance from the opening act, Tina and Ike Turner.

As the tour rolls along, directors Albert and David Maysles intercut footage of the organizers trying to work out the details of the free concert. It becomes quickly apparent than with the hundreds of thousands of people expected to come to the event that the organizers have gotten themselves in over their heads. Hiring the Hell's Angel motorcycle club as security probably wasn't a good idea too.

Blogs BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 5:37pm

Visually original and emotionally powerful, this telling of the classic fairy tale is still a magical experience even though it is now 60 years old. The story is as everyone knows — the beautiful Belle (Josette Day, 1933's THE BARBER OF SEVILLE) gives herself to the Beast (Jean Marais, 1950's ORPHEUS) as his prisoner to spare the life of her father (Marcel Andre, THE STORM WITHIN), who fell into debt with the Beast after picking a rose from the creature's garden for his daughter.

Before this conflict starts, we look into Belle's life with her family. She serves her snobby sisters Felicie (Mila Parely, THE RULES OF THE GAME) and Adelaide (Nane Germon, LES BICHES) like Cinderella. Her brother Ludovic (Michel Auclair, 1957's FUNNY FACE) has gotten the family into great financial trouble. Because she is so dedicated to her family, especially her father, Belle will not even consider the proposals of Ludovic's arrogant friend Avenant (Marais).

Blogs BABEL (2006) (***1/2)

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu again interweaves the tales of multiple characters, but this time they happen to be in vastly different parts of the world.

The film begins in Morocco with Mohammed (Mustapha Amhita) buying a used rifle for his sons Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) to kill jackals with. The fact that the younger Yussef is a better shot makes his brother angry, spurring him to convince his younger brother that the gun is defective. His idea to prove that the gun cannot fire three km is to have his little brother fire at vehicles on the road in the distance.

This leads to American tourist Susan (Cate Blanchett, THE AVIATOR) being shot in the neck. Her husband Richard (Brad Pitt, 12 MONKEYS) is in a panic to get help in a country where he doesn’t speak the language and the closest doctor could be hundreds of miles away.

Blogs THE PRESTIGE (2006) (***)

Director Christopher Nolan broke onto the scene with complex twisting thriller MEMENTO and returns to the genre with another twisting period thriller pitting two rival magicians against each other.

We know from the start that Alfred Borden (Christian Bale, BATMAN BEGINS) is set to be hanged for the murder of rival magician Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman, X-MEN series). The plot weaves several timelines together as Alfred reads Robert’s diary about how he went to meet Nikolas Tesla (David Bowie, THE HUNGER) to convince the scientist to make him the same famed transported man magic device he made for Alfred.

As this timeline plays out, we go back to when Alfred and Robert first met under the tutelage of Cutter (Michael Caine, DRESSED TO KILL), who helped them design acts. This is where we learn how their rivalry started. Other important characters include the beautiful magician assistants Julia (Piper Perabo, LOST & DELIRIOUS) and Olivia (Scarlett Johansson, MATCH POINT), Tesla’s assistant Alley (Andy Serkis, LORD OF THE RINGS), Alfred’s long-suffering wife Sarah (Rebecca Hall, TV’s WIDE SARGASSO SEA) and Alfred’s daughter Jess (Samantha Mahurin, film debut).

Blogs EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) (****)

I was glad this film was in black & white. This is not just because it adds to the dark mood of the story, but because there is a surgery scene that in color would have been hard to stomach.

The film begins with Louise (Alida Valli, THE THIRD MAN), the assistant of brilliant surgeon Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur, CHILDREN OF PARADISE), disposing of a body. Then Dr. Genessier IDs the corpse as the body of his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob, THE MAN ON THE TRAIN), who previously had her face torn off in an awful car accident. For the unaware, the film seems to be going one way for the entire first act, but then changes everything in an instant. If you want to have a completely virgin experience read no more and just watch the film. But for the curious or aware, I will go into a bit more of what this film has in store.

Blogs THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) (***)

Horror master Wes Craven got his feature start with this controversial twist on Ingmar Bergman's THE VIRGIN SPRING. Up until this film, violence on screen hadn't been so cruel and twisted. Or so real.

Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel, TEENAGE HITCH-HIKERS) and her older friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) set out to celebrate Mari's 16th birthday at a metal concert in the city. Meanwhile, her loving parents Dr. John and Estelle Collingwood (Gaylord St. James & Cynthia Carr) set up a small surprise party for their daughter. As the Collingwoods go about their day, we also meet up with escaped murders and rapists Krug Stillo (David Hess, SWAMP THING) and Fred "Weasel" Podowski (Fred J. Lincoln) along with Krug's meek son Junior (Marc Sheffler) and the wild woman Sadie (Jeramie Rain, THE ABDUCTORS).

Blogs THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) (***1/2)

Based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe, this film is truly a grand tale of good versus evil. Prince Prospero (Vincent Price, HOUSE OF WAX) cruelly rules over his subjects. When he discovers the red death plague in a village, he has it burned to the ground and takes prisoner the beautiful village girl Francesca (Jane Asher, 1966's ALFIE), her father Ludovico (Nigel Green, ZULU) and the girl's love Gino (David Weston, BECKET).

The prince's court is a place of great hedonism and vice where he decides to force Ludovico and Gino to fight each other and if they don't he will kill them both. This is all part of his diabolical plan to lure the innocent Francesca to the service of his master — Satan! Dun… dun… dun… duuuuun.

Blogs RISING SUN (1993) (**)

Philip Kaufman has made some brilliant films like THE RIGHT STUFF, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING and QUILLS, but when he takes on straight thrillers he often missteps big time. The original Michael Crichton book that his film was based on was criticized as being Japan-bashing. The film can't be accused of this per se, but it does walk a dangerous road between knowing a lot about Japan and knowing nothing.

Lt. Webster Smith (Wesley Snipes, BLADE) has been assigned a kinky murder case, which occurred in the new L.A. building of a big Japanese corporation. Partnered with Smith is Capt. John Connor (Sean Connery, THE UNTOUCHABLES), who has a very friendly relationship with the Japanese, who want to keep the incident as quiet as possible. While it's tough for Connor to keep Smith diplomatic, it's nearly impossible to do so with Lt. Tom Graham (Harvey Keitel, PULP FICTION), who wants to wrap the case up as quickly as possible.

Blogs HAPPY TURKEY DAY

To all our American Friends we wish you a

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

To everyone who is gathering at Tracy and Richard's to carry on a long
tradition

WE ARE WITH YOU IN SPIRIT

AND . . . to the rest of our friends around the world we raise a glass to
you all

HOLIDAY CHEER from

NIK NANCY KIRBY and MOLLY

Blogs CASINO ROYALE (2006) (***1/2)

Bond is back in one of my favorite Bond adventures to date. I’m a fairly new 007 fan and have not seen all of them yet. I typically enjoy the more realistic installments like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. So this Bond reboot back to its espionage roots is greatly welcomed.

The film begins with a black and white segment showing us how James Bond (Daniel Craig, LAYER CAKE) reached 00 status. After some stylishly animated opening credits, we meet up with Bond in the midst of him tracking a bomber, which ends in a reckless Bond embarrassing the British government. His boss M (Judi Dench, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) wants him to back off, but he goes out hot in pursuit of the bad guys, which leads him to terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, KING ARTHUR).

Blogs THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) (****)

Having previously collaborated on the script for ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Dario Argento stepped behind the camera for the first time on this thriller, which he also wrote. (There is however debate on where he "borrowed" the plot from.) Nonetheless, Argento, arguably, may not have made a better film than this Hitchcock-like crime mystery.

Much like the inciting incident in his later horror/thriller DEEP RED, here, an innocent man witnesses a crime and is drawn into the investigation to discover the truth. The man is Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante, THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE), an American writer, who moved to Italy to become inspired, but has been unable to write since arriving. He's ready to move back to the States with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall, TO SIR, WITH LOVE) when he witnesses a struggle between Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi, LOVE, VAMPIRE STYLE) and a black trenchcoat-wearing man, which leaves Monica stabbed in the stomach as the man in black flees.

Blogs KEEP THE RIVER ON YOUR RIGHT: A MODERN CANNIBAL TALE (2000) (***1/2)

Tobias Schneebaum was an established painter in the 1950s when he decided to change his professional direction and become an anthropologist. He believed that the best way to understand a native culture was to live with them and like them, which led him to develop homosexual relationships with men of the Asmat tribe as well as engage in cannibalism in Peru.

This documentary begins by showing us Schneebaum today. He is still tormented by what he did in Peru. He's poor and lonely, making money only through social security and conducting lectures about the Asmat culture on cruise ships.

The film brings Schneebaum to the Asmat tribe, which he stayed with for several months years before. He's taken aback when he unexpectedly is reunited with his Asmat male lover, for whom we quickly see he cared about deeply. We get the impression that Schneebaum loved his experience with the Asmat, because he found kindred spirits in the society where homosexuality is embraced.

Blogs THE CRAZIES (1973) (**1/2)

George A. Romero is a horror director who always has something to say in his films. This almost procedural-like thriller has some good moments, but doesn't work as a compelling whole.

A military plane crash has let loose a biological weapon in a small Pennsylvania town. The results of the infection either make people extremely violent or mindlessly docile. In a frightening opening sequence, a small boy tries to frighten his little sister until they both become scared of their ax-welding father. The military soon moves in and puts the town under marshal law. The hazmat suit clad soldiers don't explain anything to the citizens as they round them up and herd them into the school gym.

Blogs BEDAZZLED (1967) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, November 16, 2006 at 11:22am

I found the 2000 remake of this film with Brendan Fraser rather fun in a fluffy way. However, having now seen the original, the remake seems like sugary angel cake compared to this delicious devil's food treat.

Dudley Moore stars as Stanley Moon, a short-order cook who longs for the waitress Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron, TWO FOR THE ROAD). Depressed with his dead-end life, Stanley decides to commit suicide, however he can't even succeed at that. In comes George Spiggott (i.e. The Devil) (Peter Cook, SUPERGIRL), who offers Stanley seven wishes in turn for his soul. Stanley takes the offer, but seems to be thwarted with each wish by the crafty Satan, who always puts unexpected obstacles in the way of Stanley's efforts to win Margaret's heart.

Blogs HELLBOY: SWORD OF STORMS (2006) (**)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 15, 2006 at 6:36pm

I really enjoyed the live-action feature adaptation of HELLBOY and was looking forward to checking out this animated feature, because it had a lot of the same creative people involved. Though it might be based on a story by the original comics creator Mike Mignola, the story is all about plot and nothing to do with its characters.

In this adventure, Hellboy (Ron Perlman, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN) must travel to Japan to investigate a possessed samurai sword, which has transformed a professor into a Gollum-like creature. Apparently, the thunder demon and lightning demon were locked inside the sword, which accidentally transports Hellboy into an alternative realm. As Hellboy tries to find his way out of the alternative reality, his fellow supernatural investigators Liz Sherman (Selma Blair, THE FOG), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, DOOM) and Prof. Kate Corrigan (Peri Gilpin, TV's FRAISER) try to uncover what happened to him and the professor, as well as unlock the secrets of two ghostly lovers, who were separated long ago as a result of their battle with the demons.

Blogs BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT THE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (2006) (***1/2)

Much press has been given to this film saying that it just might be the funniest movie ever made. Oh, it’s funny all right, but not the funniest ever.

In the film, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (TV’s DA ALI G SHOW) plays his naïve Kazakhstani reporter character Borat Sagdiyev. He has been commissioned by his government to travel to the U.S. and make a documentary about its culture for the benefit of his nation. Accompanying him is his overweight producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian, S.W.A.T.).

Cohen’s style of comedy is guerilla style like CANDID CAMERA with more savage smarts and a mean streak. Andy Kaufman is smiling in comic heaven right now. Some of the episodes are staged, but mostly Cohen as Borat just ambushes unsuspecting people.

Blogs MASTERS OF HORROR: IMPRINT (2006) (***)

I don’t usually review TV series, but this MASTERS OF HORROR episode presents a new twist, because I was rejected from Showtime and then released direct-to-video. MASTERS OF HORROR is an anthology series where a different horror director makes a new one-hour film for each episode. At first when I heard that Showtime had decided to not air Takashi Miike’s IMPRINT due to its content, I smelled a publicity stunt. Trust me, it wasn’t a publicity stunt, only Showtime preventing a flood of angry letters from swamping their network.

Miike is notorious for pushing the boundaries of horror. For Asian Extreme cinema he works at the most extreme. Knowing that something got this film “banned” from pay cable, I was morbidly waiting for the moment to come. A scene of prolonged torture is bad, but it doesn’t even compare to the shocking moments to follow.

Blogs AEON FLUX (2005) (***)

First I must admit that I only have a passing knowledge of the animated series for which this was based on. I can’t make comparisons, because I don’t know how it stacks up to the original. I’ve read some opinions online from fans and it seems to present a watered down version of a complex character. As a novice, I will only judge the live-action film rendition as it is. It isn’t anything new, but it works as a slick, fun popcorn flick.

A plague was wiped out most of the humans on the planet. Now 400 years in the future, all the surviving humans live in a high-tech city where everything is run by the Goodchild corporation. The world outside the city walls has been taken over by wilderness. The citizens sacrifice complete freedom for complete security. Many people just disappear with no reason and the corporation is to blame.

Blogs FLUSHED AWAY (2006) (***)

FLUSHED AWAY is the latest collaboration between DreamWorks and Aardman, the studio that created WALLACE & GROMIT, however this is the first time Aardman has made a CG feature, having used clay stop-motion animation in the past.

Roddy (Hugh Jackman, X-MEN series) is a posh pet rat that lives in Kensington. One day while his owners are away, a fat, disgusting sewer rat named, Sid (Shame Richie) comes bubbling up from the kitchen sink. Events transpire which lead to Roddy getting flushed down the toilet. Now in the sewer, Roddy discovers an entire city of rats. In an effort to get back home, he teams with the cockney boat captain Rita (Kate Winslet, TITANIC), who Roddy accidentally creates a great deal of trouble for with the gangster The Toad (Ian McKellen, GODS & MONSTERS) and his rat thugs Spike (Andy Serkis, KING KONG) and Whitey (Bill Nighy, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST). As Roddy and Rita make their way to the above world, The Frog sends assassins after them to recover a stolen item that is key to his devilish master plan. At one point he has to call in the services of his French cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno, THE PROFESSIONAL) and his kung-fu henchmen to hunt down his missing power cable.

Blogs THE QUEEN (2006) (****)

Set primarily during the week between Princess Diana’s death and her funeral, this intimate portrait follows the differing reactions of Queen Elizabeth II and her subjects to the tragic event. Helen Mirren (GOSFORD PARK), playing The Queen, gives a simply remarkable performance that will be hard to top come awards season. However, her stellar performance does not overshadow the wonderful work of her co-star Michael Sheen (UNDERWORLD series), who plays the newly elected prime minister Tony Blair.

After the tragic death of Diana, the United Kingdom went into shock. Blair quickly made a statement calling Diana the People’s Princess while The Queen opted to keep the matter private, because Diana was no longer a royal. The unprecedented situation posed difficult questions in regards to what traditions to keep and which ones to bend. Prince Philip (James Cromwell, BABE) and the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms, I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD) steadfastly wanted to follow precedent while Diana’s former husband Prince Charles (Alex Jennings, BRIDGET JONES: EDGE OF REASON) understands that the celebrity-obsessed Britons want more than stoic tradition in this time of grief. At first, Blair agrees with his wife Cherie (Helen McCrory, CASANOVA) that the royal obsession with formal tradition seems far out of touch with the modern society.

Blogs FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (2006) (***1/2)

If Clint Eastwood had never acted and only directed, he’d still have made a huge impact on the landscape of cinema. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is the largest canvas he has painted on, delivering a thought-provoking and touching examination of what makes a hero.

The film deconstructs the iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. It happened at a time during WWII when support for the war was waning and money was running out to fund it. So the government called on the surviving men in the photograph to come home and tour the country, pushing the sale of war bonds to the public. The three survivors were John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe, CRASH), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford, HACKERS) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach, SMOKE SIGNALS).

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