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Blogs FIREWALL (2006) (**)

On some level FIREWALL works like all “family in jeopardy” thrillers work. However, if you’ve seen a few of them then you know what is going to happen.

Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford, PATRIOT GAMES) is the chief security tech at a big bank that is in the process of merging with another big bank. Of course this merger is creating tension between Jack and his right hand man Harry (Robert Forster, JACKIE BROWN) and Gary Mitchell (Robert Patrick, TERMINATOR 2), the man in charge of making the transition from one owner to the other. Jack’s wife Beth (Virginia Madsen, SIDEWAYS) is an architect and that’s about all we know about her. Jack’s kids are Sarah (Carly Schroeder, MEAN CREEK) and Andy (Jimmy Bennett, HOSTAGE), who has a convenient deadly allergy to nuts.

Blogs DERAILED (2005) (**)

This modern film noir plays well for its first two acts, but jumps the tracks in the end. It wants to be a film noir, but it wants a happy ending, which is actually vicious when one thinks about it. Moreover, the criminals are so stupid in the end that one cannot believe they would be smart enough to pull off their original crimes in the first place.

Charles Schine (Clive Owen, CLOSER) is an advertising exec, whose daughter, Amy (Addison Timlin, film debut), is suffering from Type 1 diabetes. His wife, Deanna (Melissa George, 2005’s THE AMITYVILLE HORROR), and him worry constantly about their child’s health and the financial strain that it puts on their family. One morning, Charles rides to work on the train and realizes he has no money to pay for his ticket. Sexy stranger Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston, TV’s FRIENDS) offers to pay for him, which Charles feels obligated to pay back.

Blogs CACHE (2006) (****)

Director Michael Haneke (FUNNY GAMES) draws the viewer into the mystery of his new film, which deals with issues of guilt and responsibility.

Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil, GIRL ON THE BRIDGE, & Juliette Binoche, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING) are being terrorized by videotapes of the front of their house, which having been appearing on the front doorstep. They have no clue who is doing this to them. As the tapes change to more haunting locations and include cryptic drawings, Georges suspects that something from his past may be coming back to haunt him. Anne begins to fear for the safety of their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky, film debut) and the secrets of her husband.

Blogs SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) (***)

SUPERMAN RETURNS is a somber and ironic return for the Man of Steel and a worthy film to stand alongside Christopher Reeve’s first two films.

Superman (Brandon Routh, big screen debut) has returned after a five-year mission to see the remains of his destroyed home world. On a more cynical Earth, the people have moved on, especially Superman’s main squeeze, star reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth, BEYOND THE SEA), who has had a child, lives with a man and won a Pulitzer for an article titled, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” For the man in the red cape that’s gotta sting more than Kryptonite.

Lois is much more bitter than we remember. Her son is Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu, film debut) is smart, but physically weak with asthma. Lois’ perpetual fiancée Richard White (James Marsden, X-MEN) is a pilot and editor at the Daily Planet, who cares greatly for Lois and Jason and definitely feels threatened with Superman back in the picture.

Blogs MONSTER HOUSE (2006) (***1/2)

The big surprise of the summer thus far is just how fun MONSTER HOUSE is. Made with honesty and originality, the film is everything one can ask for in great entertainment.

DJ (Mitchel Musso, TV’s AVATAR) has been keeping close eye on his crotchety old neighbor, Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi, DESPERADO), for some time. The old man is obsessed with keeping everything and everybody off his lawn. He’s a neighborhood legend. When DJ’s immature best friend Chowder (Sam Lerner, ENVY) losses his new basketball onto Nebbercracker’s yard, DJ risks the wrath of the mean man to retrieve it. This event triggers a series of incidents that make DJ believe that Nebbercracker’s house has come alive and has begun eating people.

Blogs THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) (**1/2)

I wasn’t all that interested in this film until it got rave reviews from Ebert & Roeper. After seeing it, I could have waited till video.

This time travel tale has Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves, THE MATRIX) and Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock, WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING) exchanging letters from the same lake house mailbox only two years apart. Kate has just left the all-glass lake house in 2006. Alex gets her letter to forward all her mail to her new address in 2004. When he goes to her apartment, it hasn’t even been constructed yet.

The two lonely people exchange letter after letter through the magic mailbox and develop a close bond. Outside of their mysterious relationship, Alex struggles to deal with his emotions toward his absent father Simon Wyler (Christopher Plummer, SYRIANA), who is a famous architect that believes Alex is wasting his life constructing cookie-cutter condos. Alex’s younger brother Henry (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, MONA LISA SMILE) reminds Alex that they once dreamed of starting their own architecture firm, but Alex doesn’t seem to have the drive anymore.

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

Pixar has done it again. The studio that Disney bought is seven for seven. They never cease to entertain, move and inspire. I must admit that I wasn’t impressed with the trailers for CARS, fearing that director John Lasseter was too cost to the material and that no one at the studio had the guts to tell him he was making a bad movie. After seeing the film, I will no longer doubt Mr. Lasseter.

I will admit it isn’t the best Pixar has made, but it stands as a worthy addition to their library of quality films. Set in a world where everything is a vehicle even the insects, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, WEDDING CRASHERS) is a hotshot rookie racecar, who is taking the world by storm. After barely racing to a three-way tie at the Piston Cup finals, Lightning must get to California in a week to compete in a tie-breaking race against racing legend The King (real racing legend Richard Petty) and perpetual second place finisher Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton, BATMAN).

Blogs VIDEODROME (1983) (***)

David Cronenberg (THE BROOD, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) is a director, who for most of his career has been fascinated with the effects of violence, the human obsession with it and how it relates to sex. In his CRASH, people were obsessed with the effects of car crashes on the human flesh and became sexual aroused by it. In VIDEODROME, Cronenberg first mined the sadomasochistic realm with a bit of Orwellian conspiracy mixed in.

Max Renn (James Woods, SALVADOR) is an exec at a low-rent cable network that specializes in violent and soft-core programming. Renn is in search of the newest, edgiest programming he can find. At the station, tech head Harlan (Peter Dvorsky, TWINS) scans the airwaves for programs from other countries or pirated broadcasts. They discover a show called Videodrome, which features masked men in a single room torturing naked victims. Renn must have it.

Blogs STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984) (***)

STAR TREK III picks up where STAR TREK II left off. A damaged Enterprise space vessel is heading back to base. Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is heartbroken over the apparent death of his friend Capt. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

However, what we soon discover is that before Spock died, he mind-melded with Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley). There’s also speculation that the Genesis planet where Spock’s space casket landed may have started the process of re-generating Spock’s body at a rapid rate. Kirk’s son David Marcus (Merritt Butrick, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2) and Vulcan lieutenant Saavik (this time played by Robin Curtis, instead of Kirstie Alley) are on Genesis studying the newly formed planet, but there may be a problem, besides the murderous Klingon Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd, BACK TO THE FUTURE) wanting the secrets of the Genesis project for himself.

Blogs SANJURO (1963) (***1/2)

Based on Shugoro Yamamoto’s novel, PEACEFUL DAYS (which was also the basis of Kihachi Okamoto’s more complex film, KILL!), SANJURO serves as a sequel to Akira Kurasawa’s masterpiece, YOJIMBO.

A corrupt superintendent named Kikui (Masao Shimizu, HIGH & LOW) tricks a group of young samurai into believing their chamberlain Mutsuta (Yunosuke Ito, LONE WOLF AND CUB: SWORD OF VENGEANCE) is actually the corrupt one. As young leader Iori Izaka (Yuzo Kayama, THE SWORD OF DOOM) and his fellow samurai gather in a remote dwelling in the woods, a nameless ronin (Toshiro Mifune, SEVEN SAMURAI) explains to the young samurai the error of their ways and helps them avoid an ambush by the superintendent’s right hand man Hanbei Muroto (Tatsuya Nakadai, RAN). The nameless samurai helps the young samurai, who have a knack of rushing into situations before thinking them out fully, devise a way to first rescue the chamberlain’s wife (Takako Irie, GHOST CAT series) and his daughter, Chidori (Reiko Dan, RED BEARD) than later the chamberlain.

Blogs RUDY (1993) (***1/2)

In RUDY, director David Anspaugh returned to the genre that made his name — inspirational, underdog sports film. His HOOSIERS is one of the best sports movies ever made, if not the best. This time it’s not about an underdog team, but an underdog player.

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger (Sean Astin, LORD OF THE RINGS) is short and light, but has dreamed his entire life to play football for Notre Dame. His father (Ned Beatty, DELIVERENCE) thinks his dream is foolish, much like everyone else in town. But Rudy knows that if he doesn’t give it a shot and just languishes his life away in the steel mill with his dad and brothers, he’ll live his life always wondering “what if.”

Blogs RIDE LONESOME (1959) (***)

Like many Westerns, RIDE LONESOME follows a man on a mission. Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott, THE TALL T) is a bounty hunter, who has captured murderer Billy John (James Best, TV’s THE DUKES OF HAZZARD) with the intention to take him to Santa Cruz to be hanged. At a homestead in the desert, Brigade meets up with outlaws Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts, TV’s BONANZA) and Whit (James Coburn, CHARADE), who intend on killing Brigade so they can take Billy John in and receive amnesty. The beautiful Mrs. Lane (Karen Steele, MARTY) is alone on the farm after her husband ventured out to round up missing livestock and never came back.

As time goes by, the group will not only have to contend with pissed off Indians, but Billy’s brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) is on his way to save his younger sibling. But with Frank on his tail, why does Brigade seem to be in no rush to arrive in Santa Cruz?

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 . . .".

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