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Blogs The First Installment of Nik and Nancy in Europe

Our last few weeks in San Francisco were very intense -- as many of you who helped us get out of the city know. ASIFA threw an amazing going away party for us replete with fabulous food and did the wine flow. There is no way we can thank Laura Tuluse and the crew of volunteers that she recruited, those who made and donated so much delicious food, and of course Carl and Sandra of Carl's Fine Film for giving us the most perfectly beautiful location.

Miss P. threw a real bash for us -- jam packed with so many friends -- people that we love so much -- lots of good food and again lots of wonderful drink -- we partied into the wee hours!!! Our last night in town we had a few of our very closest pals over to just eat, drink and hang out at Michael Lyon's home -- hard to believe that he actually put up with Nik and I plus our two beloved dogs and all of our stuff for so long!!! Nik actually set up a recording studio in his living room and recorded several episodes of MONSTORIES that had to be in Canada before we could get on the plane. Nik was totally amazing the way he just kept forging ahead and writing music in what to most seemed like total chaos but was becoming frighteningly normal to us!!!

Blogs SHAFT (1971) (***1/2)

He’s a bad mother… watch your mouth. Hey, I’m just talking about Shaft. SHAFT brought blaxploitation to the mainstream. Many movie-goers hadn’t seen a black man like him before and there’s a power to the role that is still fascinating today. More so than SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAAD ASSSSS SONG’s protagonist, Shaft was more acceptable to a white audience, yet retained a ferrous “stick it to the man” attitude.

John Shaft (Richard Roundtree, SEVEN) is a private detective, who knows the mean streets of New York City well. When drug dealer Bumpy Jones (Moses Gunn, RAGTIME) sends a couple of thugs to bring Shaft to him, one of the henchmen ends up thrown out a window. Eventually, Bumpy comes to Shaft asking for the PI to locate his kidnapped daughter. Bumpy claims he doesn’t know who would take his little girl, suggesting that it may be Ben Buford (Christopher St. John) and his black power revolutionary group. But things aren’t as they seem and Shaft’s investigation uncovers links to the white mob.

Blogs ONG-BAK (2005) (***)

ONG-BAK generates awe not from its lame plot, but from its raw stunt work that baffles the eyes. Story is irrelevant when the real purpose for this film is to showcase the amazing physical skills of its star Tony Jaa. It’s a kung-fu flick — what else do you want?

Ting (Jaa) is a skilled boxer from a small village in Thailand. Young gangster Don (Wannakit Siripout) has stolen the head of the village’s stone Buddha called Ong-Bak. So Ting heads to the city to retrieve the statue’s head. In the city, he meets up with Humlae, known as George (Petchtai Wongkamlao) and his sister Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol), who left Ting’s village for the city and are more interested in stealing Ting’s money or exploiting his fighting skills then helping him find the missing idol head. As would be expected, Ting ends up in a boxing match, which loses Don’s boss Komtuan (Suchao Pongwilai) a lot of money.

Blogs VANISHING POINT (1971) (**1/2)

After EASY RIDER, hitting the open road became an often-used metaphor for regaining one’s freedom. RIDER was revolutionary, however some parts have dated it. Many films copied the concept to varying degrees of success — 1971’s TWO-LANE BLACKTOP took the concept to great heights. In the same year came VANISHING POINT, a shallower take on its era, but with a lot more kick ass action.

Kowalski (Barry Newman, BOWFINGER) drives custom cars across country to their owners. He’s just gotten back from a long trip when he makes the bet that he can head out right away and get from Denver to San Fran in 15 hours. (To do so he’d have to average 85 mph, but whatever.) Right before he heads out, he takes some speed to stay awake. Racing down the highway, two motorcycle cops try to pull him over, but he keeps on going.

Blogs THE NEXT KARATE KID (1994) (*1/2)

The first KARATE KID is a classic. Yes, I’m gutsy enough to say that. Yeah, it has its total cheese parts, but at its core it is a believable tale of friendship. However, THE NEXT KARATE KID is all cheese. Abandoning the core relationship that made the original great (not that it saved part two or three), you can hear the filmmakers trying to wring out the last coin from this franchise.

Every time Pat Morita rolls his eyes in disgust, you have to believe it’s a comment on the trite he is being subjected to in order to pay his mortgage. This time around Mr. Miyagi (Morita) becomes the guardian of his dead friend’s daughter, named Julie, played by, yes, two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank.

Blogs TIME BANDITS (1981) (**1/2)

Terry Gilliam’s TIME BANDITS is a strange film to put your finger on. One is often dazzled by the production design and imagination on display, yet frustrated with a lack of story.

Kevin (Craig Warnock, TV’s TO THE LIGHTHOUSE) is awoken from his sleep one night when a medieval knight bursts forth from his closet. Apparently, a wormhole ends in his room and some renegade employees of the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO) smuggle young Kevin along with them. Randall (TV’s THE WIZARD) is the leader of the Time Bandits, which includes Fidgit (Kenny Baker, STAR WARS), Strutter (Malcolm Dixon, WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY), Og (Mike Edmonds, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT), Wally (Jack Purvis, BRAZIL) and Vermin (Tiny Ross, FLASH GORDON). The dwarf thieves have a map that shows them all the wormholes in the universe and have decided to travel through time to steal vast riches because they are upset with the Supreme Being for relegating them to making trees for eternity.

Blogs MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981) (****)

This notorious “art” film weaves a spell over all that have seen it — whether they say they liked it or not. It’s notorious in that it dares to be completely unlike anything you have ever seen before. Director Louis Malle (ATLANTIC CITY) makes a film that Roger Ebert calls the only film free of all clichés. I’d have to agree with that statement.

The title is also a description. Two old friends have dinner and that’s about it. A short prologue with Wally (Wallace Shawn, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) walking to the restaurant provides some backstory via voice over.

Wally is a struggling actor/author/playwright who is going to dinner with an old friend he has been avoiding for a year or so. That friend is Andre (Andre Gregory, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST), a New York theater director, who was pretty big, but then dropped out of the scene for five years to travel the world.

Blogs SUPERFLY (1972) (***1/2)

SUPERFLY is another one of the landmark films of the short-lived blaxploitation era, which lasted from the early 1970s to about 1976. It’s not as groundbreaking as SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAAD ASSSSS SONG or as mainstream as SHAFT, but it has more interesting things to say than either of those films. Part of what makes the film so interesting is its mixed message. The informed viewer can easily see what the film is trying to say, but its negative influence on impressionable youth can be seen as well. It’s credited as making the drug-dealing pimp look of the early 1970s chic.

Ron O’Neal (WHEN A STRANGER CALLS) plays Youngblood Priest, a cocaine-using, cocaine-dealing ladies man. He uses women like they’re Kleenex. He’s decked out in superfly clothes and has the sweet El Dorado Cadillac. One can see why the older African-American generation didn’t want him as a role model for their kids. However, what the film is saying is that Priest is a product of his environment. He was fed all the same materialistic ideals that white kids are fed, but is not given the means to attain those American dreams in conventional ways.

Blogs THE MISFITS (1961) (****)

In retrospect, THE MISFITS has taken on a grander, more haunting feel now that we know more about what would happen to the people who made it. It serves as the last and arguably best screen performances for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. Written by playwright/Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller and directed by vet John Huston (THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE), the story has a slow build to a perfectly realized conclusion.

Roslyn Taber (Monroe) has just gotten a divorce in Reno from her husband, who we can infer was at least mentally abusive to her. To start the film, Roslyn has been in a car accident and the mechanic Guido (Eli Wallach, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) offers Rosyln and her new friend Isabelle Steers (Thelma Ritter, REAR WINDOW), who owns the boarding house where Roslyn is staying, a ride to the courthouse. Afterward, Guido asks them out for drinks, where they meet suave, aging cowboy Gay Langland (Gable).

Blogs SIMON OF THE DESERT (1965) (***1/2)

Luis Buñuel often dealt with the hypocrisy of society — especially the Catholic Church — in his films. This 45-minute film is an extremely subtle and surreal satire of religious piety.

St. Simon (Claudio Brook, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL) lives in the 4th Century atop a pillar where he preaches to passers-by for six years, six months and six days. The story begins with a rich man giving Simon an even taller pillar to stand on. The townsfolk literally put him on a pedestal. Simon shames the priests’ piety with his devotion. From time to time, he has visions of the devil (Silvia Pinal, VIRIDIANA) as woman with a water jug, a tempting schoolgirl and an androgynous Greek with one breast bare and wearing a beard.

Blogs LIGHT SLEEPER (1992) (***)

Throughout his career, as a screenwriter on TAXI DRIVER and as a director with AMERICAN GIGALO, Paul Schrader has dealt with characters on the fringe of society that make their living in the night. He again tackles such a character in LIGHT SLEEPER — this time an upscale drug dealer named John LeTour (Willem Dafoe, THE ENGLISH PATIENT).

LeTour works for a woman named Ann (Susan Sarandon, DEAD MAN WALKING), who wants to get out of the drug business and maybe open a cosmetics company. But if she actually goes through with it what will LeTour do? He was a drug addict who started dealing to pay for his addiction. He eventually kicked the habit, but the money was too good to walk away from. And now that he’s forty he has nothing to show for it.

Blogs JULES AND JIM (1962) (****)

Considered one of François Truffaut’s early masterpieces and a quintessential film of the French New Wave, JULES AND JIM remarkably captivates us with characters that seem so real and a perfectly calculated style that only enhances everything we witness.

Jules (Oskar Werner, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD) is a shy, Austrian young man living in Paris in 1912. He meets the more outgoing French writer Jim (Henri Serre), who brings him into the carefree bohemian lifestyle of the city. Jules and Jim quickly become inseparable, taking in all that life has in store, especially wine, art and women.

Then they meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK), who’s an impulsive free spirit. To the dismay of Jim, Catherine falls for Jules’ innocence and agrees to marry him. Then World War I breaks out, Jim is called up to fight for the French while Jules fights for Austria. Years after the war’s conclusion, Jim is invited to visit Jules and Catherine’s home in Austria. Jim is happy to see them again and meets their daughter Sabine (Sabine Haudepin, THE LAST METRO), who acts much like her mother.

Blogs THE GATE (1987) (***)

I hadn’t seen his film previous to now, but I do remember the trailers making a big impression on me as a kid. A young Stephen Dorff (BLADE) plays Glen, a kid who always seems to get himself into trouble. His parents are heading out of town and they are allowing his 15-year-old sister Al (Christa Denton, MICKI + MAUDE) to babysit him for the weekend.

In the meantime, lightning has struck a tree in their backyard and opened up a large hole in the ground, where Glen finds geodes. His heavy metal-loving best friend Terry (Louis Tripp, DETROIT ROCK CITY) wants to search for more, finding an enormous one. When cracked open, the rock emits a strange smoke. After finding some strange symbols in Glen’s room, Terry discovers from one of his rock albums that the hole in Glen’s backyard is really a gate to hell.

Blogs FUNNY GAMES (1998) (***1/2)

I recently read THE EXORCIST director William Friedkin state that FUNNY GAMES was the scariest movie he’s ever seen. That of course made me want to see it right away. It’s not as scary as Mr. Friedkin’s pea-soup spitting little girl, but it has a chilling and disturbing quality that reminded me of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and IRREVERSIBLE.

FUNNY GAMES, like the previously mentioned two films, addresses the way we view violence on the big screen. Anna (Susanne Lothar, THE PIANO TEACHER), Georg (Ulrich Mühe, AMEN) and their young son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski) are on vacation at their lake house. While Georg and his son are down by the water, Anna begins preparing dinner when a clumsy, fat young man named Peter (Frank Giering) comes asking to borrow some eggs. Anna is cordial with the young man, but soon becomes more and more frustrated with him as he wrecks her kitchen.

Blogs ELEKTRA (2005) (**)

This spin-off of DAREDEVIL doesn’t contain any of the really silly parts that hampered its predecessor, but it doesn’t have any of that film’s originality either. I’m not saying DAREDEVIL was groundbreaking in anyway, however when that film worked it had nice original touches whereas this film never reaches above “been there, done that” territory.

Elektra (Jennifer Garner, TV’s ALIAS) is an assassin, who was brought back from the dead and then trained in martial arts by the blind master Stick (Terence Stamp, THE COLLECTOR). Elektra leaves the tutelage of Stick to become an assassin and is assigned to kill Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic, TV’s E.R.) and his daughter Abby (Kirsten Prout, ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS), who is a born fighter.

Blogs BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, OR SITTING BULL’S HISTORY LESSON (1976) (***1/2)

Not usually listed high in the rankings of Robert Altman’s work, BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, OR SITTING BULL’S HISTORY LESSON is still a sly skewering of the myth of the Wild West and the falseness of celebrity.

Paul Newman plays Buffalo Bill Cody, who, we learn from writer Ned Buntline (Burt Lancaster, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), is less a true legend of the Wild West and more of a concoction of show business. Cody’s famed Wild West Show is abuzz with the impending arrival of their latest celebrity Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts). At first the performers mistake Sitting Bull’s large spokesman William Halsey (Will Sampson, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) as the legendary chief. Buffalo Bill is quite baffled by the quiet and short chief, who has only joined the show so he can meet the president. Even worse, Sitting Bull isn’t there to have Cody take advantage of him, demanding his rightful cut.

Blogs AN AFFAIR OF LOVE (2000) (***1/2)

Sometimes smaller films that I hear are good sneak past my radar. Most of the time in lieu of a disappointing Hollywood film that has been beaten into my subconscious by millions of dollars of high-profile marketing. Thank God for lots of movie channels and TiVo. But I digress.

This French film is the most erotic picture I’ve seen since I first watched Luis Buñuel’s masterpiece BELLE DE JOUR. It reminded me of that film a lot, which hurt the impact at first, but once AFFAIR moves into territory that BELLE does not it takes on a true emotional poignancy.

AN AFFAIR OF LOVE is the American title and it’s really not a great one. The French title is A PORNOGRAPHIC AFFAIR, which is more fitting, yet gives a completely wrong impression about the film. The story is about sex, but it is not pornographic is the least. It is, however, quite erotic, which is a word that is wrongly used in terms of porn in America. Porn is all about mechanics; eroticism is about the mind, which plays a far bigger role in sexual intercourse then most people are comfortable with.

Blogs WINTER PASSING (2006) (***)

This quirky film is in the small sub-genre of “kids dealing with emotional stress because of the turbulent relationship of their artist parents” films. Reese Holdin (Zooey Deschanel, HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY) is a struggling actress in New York City, who can’t even drum up the strength to go to her mother’s funeral. Then a book publisher named Lori Lankey (Amy Madigan, FIELD OF DREAMS) informs Reese that her mother has willed her a collection of letters that she and Reese’s father Don (Ed Harris, APOLLO 13) wrote to each other while they were working on some of their best known books.

With the promise of $100,000, Reese heads back home to find former Christian rock guitarist Corbit (Will Ferrell, ANCHORMAN) and Shelley (Amelia Warner, QUILLS), Don’s much younger, former student, living in the house while Don has moved into the garage. Don is so distraught that at times Shelley has to spoon-feed him. And like all “great writers” in films, he’s eccentric/borderline crazy. He has Corbit move all his bedroom furniture out onto the lawn so they can hit golf balls in the room. Oh, those kooky creative types.

Blogs TRISTAN & ISOLDE (2006) (***)

Having been released in January 2006, I had little faith that this film would be any good for the start of the new year is often the dumping ground for the studios’ crap. However, I am surprised to report that TRISTAN & ISOLDE might not be BRAVEHEART, but this Romeo and Juliet-like tale does understand that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Well, these three people aren’t little, but you get my point.

Set during a time when the united Irish wrecked havoc on the various clans of Britain, Tristan (James Franco, SPIDER-MAN) is adopted by Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell, DARK CITY) after the boy’s parents are killed by the Irish. Lord Marke is fighting to unify the British clans so that they can stand up to the brutal Irish king Donnchadh (BRAVEHEART). During a battle, Tristan is believed killed and then set afloat on a raft in the ocean for a burial at sea.

Blogs TRANSAMERICA (2005) (***)

This road trip film is pretty typical of parent-child bonding films, but with an interesting twist — the son doesn’t know that his father is a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual when he meets him.

Stanley (Felicity Huffman, TV’s DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) is about to have surgery and fully become Bree. However, her psychiatrist Margaret (Elizabeth Pena, LONE STAR) won’t sign off on the operation, unless Bree comes to terms with Stanley’s past being her own past, which includes a son named Toby (Kevin Zegers, WRONG TURN), who has been arrested in New York City for prostitution.

So Bree travels to NYC and bails Toby out of jail posing as a missionary from the Church of the Potential Father. Eventually, Bree agrees to drive Toby across the country to L.A., where he hopes to launch his career as a porn star. Bree plans to swing by Texas and dump Toby with his stepfather, which turns out to be a big mistake.

Blogs SHOPGIRL (2005) (***1/2)

Steve Martin adapts his short novel and stars in this perceptive story of how love needs two people on the same path for it to work.

Mirabelle Buttersfield (Clare Danes, STAGE BEAUTY) is an aspiring artist, who works at the glove counter in Sak’s in Beverly Hills. While at the Laundromat, she meets frumpy, graphic designer Jeremy Kraft (Jason Schwartzman, RUSHMORE), who asks her out on a date. His disorganized and self-centered life is hardly what Mirabelle is looking for or needs.

Then one day, Ray Porter (Martin) comes into the store and buys a pair of gloves, which end up on Mirabelle’s doorstep with an invitation to dinner. Mirabelle goes out with the older man, but is more reluctant to commit to a physical relationship than she was with Jeremy, who was her own age, and has now left town to go on tour with a rock band that’s really into self help books.

Blogs ROLL BOUNCE (2005) (***)

Set in the 1970s, a group of African American kids lament the closure of their local skating rink. In turn, they have to venture to the rich part of their city to go to the Sweetwater Rink, which is a high-tech wonder dome.

Xavier (Bow Wow, upcoming THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT) is the leader of his group, which includes trash talking Junior (Brandon T. Jackson, ENVY), Boo (Marcus T. Paulk, TAKE THE LEAD), Naps (Rick Gonzalez, COACH CARTER) and Mixed Mike (Khleo Thomas, HOLES). There’s also a new girl in the neighborhood named Tori (Jurnee Smollett, EVE’S BAYOU), who can’t skate to save her life, but can go toe-to-toe with any of the boys in the comeback war when they start ripping on her looks.

Blogs MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS (2005) (***)

This new entry in the British sub-genre of “nude inspirational” films has recent widow Laura Henderson (Judi Dench, MRS. BROWN) buying an old, rundown theater and eventually putting on a nude revue.

It is just prior to WWII reaching England and Mrs. Henderson is bored with widowhood, so she hires impresario Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins, MERMAIDS) to run her Windmill Theater, putting on at first a successful musical revue. However, once the other theaters in town begin copying their style, the Windmill begins to lose money. This spurs Mrs. Henderson to suggest live nudes, which Van Damm wonders whether Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN) will allow.

So Mrs. Henderson persuades old family friend Cromer to okay the nude revue with the stipulation that the women not move. So with government approval, Van Damm sets out to discover his beauties, literally running over star Maureen (Kelly Reilly, PRIDE & PREJUDICE). However, the bombing of the Germans and a row between Mrs. Henderson and Mr. Van Damm over his previously unknown wife threaten the survival of the theater, despite boasting that it would never close.

Blogs IN HER SHOES (2005) (****)

Every now and then a film comes along that strikingly makes me sit up and notice what so many other films lack. For IN HER SHOES, it wasn’t that the main characters were so well developed, but that so many of the supporting character were dimensional as well. In so many others films, these smaller characters would be just there to listen to the main characters talk, but here they are fleshed out and given a history with the main characters.

On the surface the story, based on the best-selling “chick lit” title by Jennifer Weiner, seems clichéd. Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) is the typical blonde, party girl, who just mooches off her family to survive. However, her evil stepmother Sydelle (Candice Azzara, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN) has had enough and kicks her out after she gets plastered at her high school reunion, forcing her on her frumpy, lawyer sister Rose (Toni Collette, THE SIXTH SENSE), who has surprised herself with her recent affair with the handsome partner at her law firm named Jim Danvers (Richard Burgi, CELLULAR).

Blogs FREEDOMLAND (2006) (**)

This crime thriller has something to say, however I don't know if the filmmakers really know what that exactly is.

Distraught and bleeding, Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore, BOOGIE NIGHTS) stumbles into a hospital, claiming that she has been car jacked near the projects. Detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson, JACKIE BROWN) wonders why a white woman would be down in that neighborhood so late at night. Brenda works at the community center with the kids. But what she is unable to say at first is that her 4-year-old son was in the car when it was stolen.

Council frantically sets out a search for the child, but things get worse when Brenda's cop brother Danny (Ron Eldard, HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG) gets involved sending an army of cops down to the projects, where the residents don't like the lockdown for a missing white kid when their children go missing and no one really bothers. With racial tensions high in the projects, Council is offered help from Karen Collucci (Edie Falco, TV's THE SOPRANOS) and her organization that finds missing children — dead or alive. Council has to balance uncovering what happened to Brenda's son and his loyalty to his community. He doesn't trust Brenda, but he doggedly wants to uncover the truth. Other key characters include Council’s white partner Boyle (William Forsythe, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS); Felicia (Aunjanue Ellis, RAY), a black woman who works with Brenda; and Felicia’s abusive boyfriend Billy (Anthony Mackie, MILLION DOLLAR BABY).

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