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Blogs THE PUNISHER (2004) (**)

I know very little about THE PUNISHER comic books, so I cannot say how well the film follows the source material. As a film, however, it follows about a million other revenge films with little to call new.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane, MAGNOLIA) is an FBI agent who after years of trying has retired after his last mission. However, on that mission, the son of powerful and paranoid gangster, Howard Saint (John Travolta, PULP FICTION), was killed. Saint sets out his right hand man Quentin Glass (Will Patton, ARMAGEDDON) to find out who set his son up, while him and his equally devious wife Livia (Laura Harring, MULHOLLAND DRIVE) mourn their son’s death.

Castle, along with his wife Maria (Samantha Mathis, BROKEN ARROW) and his son Will (Marcus Johns, film debut), head off to the Caribbean for a big family reunion at the home of his father (Roy Scheider, JAWS). Once Saint discovers where Castle is, he sends Glass, his other son Bobby (James Carpinello, THE GREAT RAID) and a host of other thugs to slaughter Castle’s entire family. Castle is left for dead, but miraculously survives to become the booze-hounding avenger called The Punisher.

Blogs PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) (****)

Samuel Fuller’s gritty film noir, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, follows the shadowy tale of a ditzy dame and her three-time loser. Candy (Jean Peters, NIAGARA) is delivering a package for her abusive ex-boyfriend Joey (Richard Kiley, THE PHENIX CITY STORY). While on the subway, her purse is pickpocketed by Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark, JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG), a three-time loser who just got out of jail on his last rap.

What both Skip and Candy don’t know is that in Candy’s wallet is a strip of microfilm that Russian spies are after. FBI agent Zara (Willis Bouchey, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE) was on the subway when Skip pinched the film. So while Zara enlists Capt. Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye, ROAD TO BALI) to help find the thief, Joey pressures Candy to use her “contacts” to do the same. Tiger calls on the services of grifter Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter, REAR WINDOW) to lead them to Skip.

Blogs NAVY SEALS (1990) (**)

Some smarts help this film from being a total waste of time, but its boys club attitude renders it just a bad TOP GUN clone.

Lt. James Curran (Michael Biehn, TERMINATOR) is the leader of a Navy SEALs unit, which also includes cocky hotshot Dale Hawkins (Charlie Sheen, PLATOON). Some Lebanese terrorists have stolen some U.S. stinger missiles, which they use to shot down airplanes. So Curran looks up reporter Claire Varrens (Joanne Whalley, WILLOW), who is a Middle East expert and has contacts that could help Curran recover the missing rockets. Curran’s team also includes Chief Billy Graham (Dennis Haysbert, FAR FROM HEAVEN) and Dane (Bill Paxton, FRAILTY).

When the story is dealing with its terrorist plot line, it’s intriguing. Especially, in hindsight, how the SEALs rush into Middle East countries and kidnap people. This creates an eerie feel in the age of Guantanamo and secret prisons.

Blogs LONGTIME COMPANION (1990) (***)

Narratively speaking, the film is kind of a mess, however despite its flaws the film presents a compelling portrait of the AIDS crisis in the gay male community during the 1980s.

Willy (Campbell Scott, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) is a trainer, who meets an acting agent named Alan — nicknamed Fuzzy (Stephen Caffrey, THE BABE) — at a gay resort in the early ‘80s. Willy’s friends David (Bruce Davidson, X-MEN), Sean (Mark Lamos, only film performance) and John (Dermot Mulroney, ABOUT SCHMIDT) accept Fuzzy and his sister Lisa (Mary-Louise Parker, TV’s WEEDS) into their family of friends right from the start. In addition to them, the story also follows the lives of Howard (Patrick Cassidy, TV’s SMALLVILLE), an actor who struggles with the stigma of being a gay performer, and his lover Paul (John Dossett, BIG EDEN). The ensemble cast is perfect. Davidson received a well-deserved Oscar best supporting actor nomination.

Blogs LAST DAYS (2005) (***1/2)

Rounding out Gus Van Sant’s trilogy of death, this film is loosely based on the final days of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Blake (Michael Pitt, BULLY) is the Cobain-like grunge rocker, who has closed himself up in an old castle in the Pacific Northwest, suffering from the final phases of drug addiction.

Staying with him are hanger-ons Scott (Scott Patrick Green, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO) and Asia (Asia Argento, LAND OF THE DEAD), who spend the length of the story leeching off Blake and keeping people away from him like fellow young rocker Luke (Lukas Haas, BRICK). A friend named Donovan (Ryan Orion, film debut) brings a detective (Ricky Jay, BOOGIE NIGHTS) to the house to find Blake, who avoids detection.

Blogs JOE GOULD'S SECRET (2000) (***1/2)

Actor Stanley Tucci (BIG NIGHT) has directed four films and this is his best thus far. Based on a true story, Tucci plays NEW YORKER staff writer Joe Mitchell, who during the 1940s wrote profiles of people living in New York City. One day he meets Joe Gould (Ian Holm, THE SWEET HEREAFTER), an eccentric bohemian, who is always asking people for contributions to the “Joe Gould Fund.” He’s been writing the oral history of New York for years, claiming to have written down the overheard conversations of the average citizen.

Mitchell decides to write about Gould, who is a tortured soul that swings from moments of brilliance to raging fits of anger. He’s Greenwich Village’s beloved mad genius. He has many benefactors including poet e.e. cummings, painter Alice Neel (Susan Sarandon, DEAD MAN WALKING) and art dealer Vivian Marquie (Patricia Clarkson, PIECES OF APRIL).

Blogs FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING (1985) (ZERO)

I don’t know why I torture myself with horror films I know are going to be awful. However, my completist tendencies override my logic all the time. Plus, I get to write reviews like this one.

In 2001, I wrote a review of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, this film’s predecessor, and complained about that film’s lack of logic when it came to its elaborate kill scenes. Oh boy, I would have killed for a good elaborate kill scene in his piece of junk. Like so many of the films in this series, the characters only exist to be killed off. But at least in some of the other installments, the deaths were on a grand scale. We don’t even get that sick satisfaction from A NEW BEGINNING.

Blogs DON'T LOOK BACK (1996) (**)

HBO has become a wonderland of great made-for-TV movies; this is not one of them. Based on a screenplay by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton, this crime thriller finds drug addict Jesse Parish (Eric Stoltz, MASK) stealing $100,000 from drug dealers in L.A. then fleeing for his hometown of Galveston, Texas.

After having dropped off the face of the Earth for years, Jesse meets up with his old friends Morgan (John Corbett, TV’s NORTHERN EXPOSURE) and Steve (Josh Hamilton, ALIVE). Morgan is still a party animal, who laments his boring tour of duty in the first Gulf War. Steve is a family man, whose wife Michelle (Annabeth Gish, MYSTIC PIZZA) doesn’t like her husband staying out long hours with a heroine addict. Jesse also tries to make amends with his grandfather Isaiah (R.G. Armstrong, DICK TRACY). Back in L.A., Skipper (Dwight Yoakam, SLING BLADE), the dealer Jesse stole from, has a not so nice run in with his boss Marshall (Thornton).

Blogs BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) (***1/2)

This film is Woody Allen’s sweet ode to agents… and I mean that without sarcasm. Danny Rose (Allen) is a manager who will take any act and give it his all. I mean he represents a bird act, a water glass musician and a blind xylophone player.

His story is told by a group of veteran comedians, at dinner, reminiscing about all of Danny’s crazy exploits. The central tale chronicles Danny’s experience with washed up ‘50s lounge singer Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte, only film performance) and his big-haired mistress Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow, ZELIG), who use to be married to a bagman for the mob. There’s a nostalgia craze in swing and Danny is able to arrange Milton Berle to come and see Lou perform, which could lead to big things.

Blogs THE BAD SEED (1956) (**1/2)

This stagy 1950s thriller talks a lot about blood and murder, but shows very little of it. To clarify that statement, the screenplay tells more than it shows, which keeps the viewer at a distance emotionally. Many of the key events take place off screen. For the screenplay, John Lee Mahin (CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS) based it on a play by Maxwell Anderson, which was based on a book by William March. Mahin retains too much of the play’s structure for the film’s good.

The story follows Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) as she slowly comes to realize that her “perfect” blonde-haired daughter, Rhoda (Patty McCormack, TV’s THE SOPRANOS), was born to kill. While her husband, Kenneth (William Hopper, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) is gone on duty in the military, Christine receives help with Rhoda from her landlord Monica Breedlove (Evelyn Varden, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER), who is an amateur psychologist. Right from the start, the oily apartment caretaker Leroy Jessup (Henry Jones, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!) suspects Rhoda of evil intentions. When a young boy, who Rhoda was envious of for beating her out for a penmanship metal, drowns at a picnic, Christine really starts to worry, especially when the boy’s drunken mother Hortense (Eileen Heckart, THE FIRST WIVES CLUB) keeps coming over and wanting to talk to Rhoda. And when Christine’s father Richard Bravo (Paul Fix, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) shows up there are more secrets to be revealed.

Blogs More Animation Adventures in Annecy, France

All of our San Francisco friends know what we went through in our last month
in the city -- and I must say that we could not have done the move without
the amazing help of all of you. Finally after MONSTRA we got the chance to
have a few days off on the North coast of Spain, where Nik promptly got sick
but Kirby, Molly and I enjoyed the lovely beach and I actually got the
chance to start writing and actually read a book -- now off to The Annecy
International Festival of Animation!!!

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2006 Annecy International Animation Festival

Once again this year I found the animation at Annecy by and large to be a big yawn!!! The quality of the competition films was exceptionally low -- there were entire programs that I came out of thinking “Why did I have to sit through that?” Films that I would normally have thought “That was OK, but . . .” seemed to be a breath of fresh air and the few really good films – Joanna Quinn’s DREAMS AND DESIRES – FAMILY TIES, A RAM AND A GOAT and PRINTED RAINBOW really stood out. For those familiar with Quinn’s two previous award winning films featuring her character Beryl (GIRL’S NIGHT OUT and BODY BEAUTIFUL), her new film treats us to an older Beryl who decides to plunge into the arts to help cushion her mid-life crisis. At the directors’ chat, Joanna said that this is the first of a four-part series about Beryl plunging into the arts. Needless to say, Beryl’s foray into the world of wedding video photographer ends in hilarious .disasters. A RAM AND A GOAT by Natalia Berezovaya, part of Pilot Moscow Animation Studio’s ambitious and beautiful series of animated folk tales from regions all over the former Soviet Union. I wrote very highly and in greater detail about this series last year after seeing samples at KROK. Each episode is in a different style by various Russian animators and covers a wide range of animation techniques. The lovely Indian film, PRINTED RAINBOW, by Gitanjali Rao, is a story, told through Indian matchbox covers, of a woman and her cat who live alone and travel vicariously through her beautiful match boxes. The film looks at loneliness and death in a positive and hopeful way.

Blogs Animation Festivals with Nik, Nancy, Molly and Kirby

WARNING: IF YOU ARE NOT PART OF OUR ANIMATION COMMUNITY YOU MAY WANT TO
SKIM THROUGH THIS E-MAIL OR AVOID IT ALL TOGETHER --it will reference films
that you will never see and people that you probably have never heard of. If
you are still reading, these are my accounts of the MONSTRA animation
Festival in Lisbon,Portugal and the Annecy International Festival of
Animation.

We are all well -- very busy --and weeding through the Belgian burocracy to
get our green cards. We miss you all . . ". but it is a far, far better
thing that I (we ) have done . . .".

Blogs Nik, Nancy, Molly and Kirby's adventures

Well, guys, I have been getting requests for new about our adventures -- I'm afraid that it is going to have to come in installments since we landed in Gent (which I love --now sitting in my office in a window over looking the canal -- occasionally a boat or barge comes by) and took off immediately to festivals but here goes the first part . . . laugh on . . . it's all good!!!

Love, Nancy

PS a couple of photos so you can get the feel of what we are up to. Also, sorry about the unedited state of the story but there just isn't any more time!!!

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.

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