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Blogs THE APARTMENT (1960) (****)

Romantic comedy-wise this is the best there has ever been. Billy Wilder (SABRINA) wrote and directed this Oscar winner, which tells the tale of two people who get took and in the process find love.

C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon, SOME LIKE IT HOT) is a low-ranking automaton at a huge insurance company in New York City. Through happenstance, his apartment has become the secret rendezvous for execs at his firm to take their mistresses, which often leaves him at work late or worse, sleeping in the park. He puts up with it, because these are powerful men, who can get him out of his little desk in a sea of little desks.

Like most of the men at the firm, he wishes he could take out the pretty elevator girl named Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT). Turns out she is having an affair with personnel director Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, DOUBLE INDEMNITY), who finds out about “the apartment” and wants in on the action. With a promotion in sight, Baxter agrees not knowing that it’s Miss Kubelik that Mr. Sheldrake will be taking back to his abode. Sly wit seeps into every moment. With all the adulterous men coming in and out of the apartment, Baxter’s neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen, MCLINTOCK!) asks if the iron man would like to donate his body to science.

Blogs THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005) (***1/2)

This observant study of divorce and the egos of artists is often as funny as it is poignant.

Walt Berkman (Jesse Eisenberg, ROGER DODGER) idolizes his father Bernard (Jeff Daniels, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT), a writer who wrote an award-winning book a number of years back, but now can’t get his new work published. Walt quotes his father’s ideas as his own even when he hasn’t even read the books Bernard is referencing. Walt’s mother Joan (Laura Linney, P.S.) has just sold her first story to the NEW YORKER. Bernard is a highly competitive person, who is quite resentful toward his wife’s rising career as his seems to be fading.

One day, Bernard and Joan sit Walt and his younger brother Frank (Owen Kline, who is the son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY) down to tell them that they are separating and that they will share custody. Bernard slyly takes stabs at Joan, revealing to Walt that she had an affair, which spurs Walt to demand to stay at his father’s place all the time. As time goes on, Walt becomes more and more like his egotistical father and grows more and more disgusted with his mother.

Blogs SIX SHOOTER (2005) (***1/2)

I see quite a few short films a year — mostly animated ones. However, it’s usually pointless to review them, because for a general audience they cannot be seen. Apple’s iTunes has changed this problem, making all the animated and live-action Oscar-nominated shorts available for download. This is how I was able to see SIX SHOOTER — the winner for best live-action short.

The morbidly dark comedy follows Donnelly (Brendan Gleeson, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE), a middle-aged man whose wife has just passed away. Right from the start me know that the film has a twisted sense of humor when Donnelly places an unexpected picture in the hands of his departed wife. On the train home, he sits across from a young man (Ruaidhri Conroy, HART’S WAR), who has an offensively loud mouth and has no qualms saying the worst things in the world especially to a clearly distraught couple (David Wilmot, INTERMISSION, & Aisling O’Sullivan, THE BUTCHER BOY).

Blogs THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO (2005) (***1/2)

Set in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s, the film chronicles the ups and downs of the Ryan family from the point of view of its patriarch Evelyn (Julianne Moore, BOOGIE NIGHTS), who helps the large family make ends meet by entering every jingle or poetry contest that she can. If raising 10 kids wasn’t hard enough, her husband Kelly (Woody Harrelson, NORTH COUNTRY) is a drunk who spends their money frivolously and has a bad temper.

Evelyn, with dogged determination, puts a happy spin on all their problems big or small. Kelly, on the other hand, wallows in his sorrow. He is privately proud of his wife’s winnings, but publicly resents them because they make him feel like less of a man because he can’t support his family on his own. Tuff (Ellary Porterfield, TV’s STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU) (who in real life wrote the memoir the film is based on) is the most out spoken of the children when it comes to the behavior of their father. Evelyn, like she always does, is honest about her husband to her kids, but can also highlight the good in him as well.

Blogs MIRRORMASK (2005) (***)

From the Jim Henson Co. comes this trippy family fantasy where a teenage girl must uncover the secrets of a dream world before her dark side takes her place in the real world.

Helena (Stephanie Leonidas, YES) is a juggler in her family’s circus, but not by choice rather obligation. When her mother (Gina McKee, NOTTING HILL) falls ill, Helena regrets a wish she made that her mother would die. The illness spurs Helena’s father (Rob Brydon, TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY) to make the tough decision to close down the circus. The night before Helena’s mother’s operation, Helena is transported into a dream world made up of her elaborate drawings.

In the dream world, blob-like shadows are devouring the City of Light. The Princess of Darkness, who looks just like Helena, has run away throwing the whole realm into chaos. The Queen of Light, who looks just like Helena’s mother, has fallen into a deep sleep and the Queen of Darkness, who also looks like Helena’s mother, is sending out the shadows in an effort to force the Princess back home. As Helena begins to piece together the puzzle, she learns that only the mysterious Mirror Mask can awaken the Queen of Light, so she sets out to find it with the help of the shifty juggler Valentine (Jason Barry, TITANIC).

Blogs DOMINO (2005) (**)

To describe the film I’ll use a reference from the film — it’s like “a ferret on crystal meth.” The film is actually based on a true story, but I’m sure only about a handful of real events remain.

Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley, PRIDE & PREJUDICE) was a real person — the daughter of MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE star Laurence Harvey. Once her dad died, she was shipped off to boarding school by her mother, Sophie Wynn (Jacqueline Bisset, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS), who went out looking for a new rich husband. Domino was a Ford model for a time and went to a year of college, but that really wasn’t her thing. She was tough and wasn’t afraid to get into fights. So she read an ad in the newspaper for a bounty hunter class and signed up. Those are the real facts of the real person’s life that I am vaguely sure are at least close to reality.

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

The new film from director Steven Soderbergh (SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE, ERIN BROCKOVICH) got a lot of press when it was released in theaters in January. However, it wasn’t about its content, but about the way it was released. It debuted in theaters on a Friday, came out on DVD the following Tuesday and was on the HDNet TV network within a week. It was part of an experiment to utilize the press for a theatrical release to support the DVD sales all at the same time. Theater owners were angry, but I think it’s much a do about nothing. Big blockbusters aren’t going to be released this way. But for a small film like this one, the fact that people are seeing it is a triumph. The release model is a wonderful new tool for low-concept films with no star-power to get in front of audiences. Now onto the film.

Blogs 2046 (2005) (***1/2)

Director Kar Wai Wong’s loose sequel to his acclaimed IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, 2046 is a haunting ode to lost love and how it effects our future relationships.

Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung, HERO) is a writer who when he’s not working as a journalist pens highly erotic novels. His most successful book was titled 2046, a sci-fi story where lovers travel to 2046 to reclaim past memories but never come back. To Chow, 2046 represents his lost love. He moves into the Hotel Oriental in Hong Kong, wanting to rent room 2046, but its occupied by a woman named Mimi (Carina Lau, INFERNAL AFFAIRS II), who when Chow knew her in Singapore went by the name Lulu. Over the course of the film, Chow will chronicle the lives of two women — his landlord’s daughter Wang Jing Wen (Faye Wong, CHUNGKING EXPRESS), who is in love with a Japanese man named Tak (Takuya Kimura) to her father’s dismay, and the beautiful and flirtatious Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA). Chow is a playboy, who is haunted by the mysterious memory of a woman (Gong Li, FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE), who rejected him years ago.

Blogs V FOR VENDETTA (2006) (***1/2)

Remember, remember the 5th of November. That is the call of the vigilante V (Hugo Weaving, THE MATRIX). The film is set in a future where the U.S. has turned into a leper colony and Britain is ruled by a fascist regime, which uses the fear of terrorists to keep its citizens in line with the ruling party.

Evey (Natalie Portman, CLOSER) works at the top British TV network and heads out for a rendezvous with TV celeb Deitrich (Stephen Fry, GOSFORD PARK). It’s past curfew and she is accosted by the secret police, but saved by V, who takes her to his “concert” — the destruction of the Old Bailey. Big Brother-like leader Adam Sutler (John Hurt, 1984) is furious the next day and begins a propaganda campaign to downplay the incident.

Blogs BRICK (2006) (****)

This homage to classic film noir is unlike any film noir that has come before. Set in a modern high school, the characters talk like they’re straight out of the MALTESE FALCON or THE BIG SLEEP.

Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, MYSTERIOUS SKIN) is a loner, whose girlfriend Emily Kostach (Emilie de Ravin, TV’s LOST) has left him and gotten herself mixed up with some shady dealings. Right from the get-go we know she is died. We flashback to two days before her untimely demise to follow the events that led to her death and then follow Brendan as he tries to piece the murder together.

In his efforts, Brendan is aided by The Brain (Matt O’Leary, FRAILTY), a smart kid who seems to have the word on all the dealings at the school. Brendan starts with the cool kids Emily was hanging with, which includes wanna-be football star Brad (Brian J. White, MR. 3000), which leads to punk druggie Dode (Noah Segan, ADAM & STEVE). But nothing is as it seems. Brendan finds himself involved with twenty-something drug dealer The Pin (Lucas Haas, WITNESS) and his muscle Tugger (Noah Fleiss, STORYTELLING). And like any good film noir there are mysterious ladies such as school play diva Kara (Meagan Good, ROLL BOUNCE) and The Pin’s damsel Laura Dannon (Nora Zehetner, TV’s EVERWOOD).

Blogs HOODWINKED (2006) (**)

This independently produced CG animated feature arrived in theaters in January and finished #1 at the box office the weekend it opened. Released by the Weinstein Co., the low-budget film features low-budget animation and a script that has enough good material for a nice half hour TV special, but not a feature.

Taking a page from SHREK, the film takes an irreverent look at fairy tales, mainly Little Red Riding Hood. Red (Anne Hathaway, PRINCESS DIARIES) longs to be able to leave the forest and see the world, but her Granny (Glenn Close, THE BIG CHILL) keeps a watchful eye on her so that she doesn’t get hurt while delivering goodies, which have made their family famous.

However, someone is stealing the recipes of all the goodie makers, which leads up to the Wolf (Patrick Warburton, TV’s SEINFELD) dressing up like Granny while she’s tied up in the closet and the Woodsman (Jim Belushi, TV’s LIFE WITH JIM) comes crashing through the window. The police show up to make sense of the situation. This includes private eye Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and Chief Grizzly (Xzbit, DOMINO).

Blogs Bay Area Bon Voyage for Nik & Nancy

Hey Everyone - Our Dear friend Ms P Segal is having a Bon Voyage
get-together for us on Saturday:

Dear friends,

As you probably know, Nik and Nancy Phelps have
finally given up their house in the Avenues, and are
moving to Ghent, Belgium, in a few days. They're
tremendously excited, and have a remarkable and
well-earned future ahead in Europe.

For those of you who haven't had a chance to see them
recently, we're having a very informal drop-by
farewell at my house this Saturday, April 8, from
about 6 until midnight or so. My academic life has
made it impossible for me to do anything like a bash
right now, and this is a totally bring-you-own food
and drink kind of thing for a last visit before they
are off to Europe. Please pass the word along to
people who should know, because my email list is
hardly complete.

Blogs Free Days at Nik & Nancy's

OK, all of you bargain hunters who have waited us out. There's still a lot
of good stuff - kitchen items, fax machine, knick knacks. noggiles and
gimcracks.... and almost everything is free (still haven't packed everything
that is going). It will be available until Thurs. morning, when it ALL GOES.
Come on by and get it. Don't email or call, we are packing, not listening to
the msg. machine and hanging out on the computer.

And THANKS, THANKS, THANKS to the wonderful volunteers who have helped us
out this last couple of weeks!!!!

YAY!! We're out of here by Friday

Blogs The ultimate sale of Nancy and Nik (at last!!!) THIS IS IT

The Museum is now closed and Nik and Nancy are moving on to their next life.
If you have enjoyed the parties and good times here, the remains can be
viewed and PURCHASED on March 24, 25 and 26  (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday)
from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.  Please come by to say bye to Nik and Nancy and
BUY - BUY - BUY.

Our special thanks to everyone who has given SO generously of their time to
help us pack, move into storage and brought us FABULOUS meals -- we couldn't
have done it without you all!!!

2066  30th Avenue  (Between Pacheco and Quintara) - for the last week
24, 25 and 26 March

9:00 AM to 6:00 PM

Blogs call for volunteers

The End is Nigh! - Nik and Nancy are well underway getting ready for the LE
GRANDE LAST BIG SALE, but we need help wrapping and packing the little
things we are taking with us (and getting a close look at what's going for
sale). If you have even a few hours you can give us, call or email and we
will schedule you in. (415-681-3189) It's a way to do a hang with us before
we go - not all work, not all play - just more of our strange and wonderful
existence.

Also - if any of you sell on E-Bay, we have several collectables we would
like to sell, and we would rather pay someone we know than just take them to
isolditsf.

THANKS TO ALL OF YOU NIK

Blogs THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE (2004) (***1/2)

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS is the funniest cartoon to hit TV since REN & STIMPY. The yellow sponge’s first venture onto the big screen is also one of the purely funny films of 2004.

Sheldon J. Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) has enacted Plan Z – his last ditched attempted to rule the sea. He steals King Neptune’s (Jeffrey Tambor, TV’s THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW) crown and frames Mr. Krabs for it. Neptune wants to kill Mr. Krabs, but his daughter Mindy (Scarlett Johansson, LOST IN TRANSLATION) convinces him to allow SpongeBob and his friend Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke, TV’s COACH) to travel the dangerous road to Shell City to recover the crown.

SpongeBob and Patrick must struggle throughout the film to overcome the label of being immature kids. The gags fly as fast as the TV series and the humor retains its juvenile parody style. In style, the film references REN & STIMPY as well as SCOOBY-DOO. From the opening parody of action flick openings to the closing song, the film is cute when it pokes fun at conventions and clichés.

Blogs INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS (2004) (***1/2)

This ingenious mockumentary plays things straight up to a certain point. Where truth and fiction mix is uncertain and who is in on the joke is uncertain as well. All the characters in the film play themselves or exaggerated/mocking versions of themselves.

The premise is that famed German director Werner Herzog, who deals with grand characters in both his fiction and documentary films, is setting out to make a new documentary about the myth of the Loch Ness monster. Zak Penn, the writer of X2 and LAST ACTION HERO, is the producer on the doc. He hires big time feature cinematographer Gabriel Beristain, who worked on films like BLADE II and THE RING TWO. As this film is being made, cinematographer John Bailey, whose credits include AS GOOD AS IT GETS and GROUNDHOG DAY, is making a documentary about Herzog.

Blogs WHERE THE TRUTH LIES (2005) (***)

Director Atom Egoyan has never been shy to deal with sexual issues in his films such as EXOTICA, THE SWEET HEREAFTER and FELICIA’S JOURNEY and he has not changed here. WHERE THE TRUTH LIES plays on a low simmer for its whole running time borrowing tones from film noir.

Set in the 1970s, eager reporter Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman, MATCHSTICK MEN) has landed a book deal to write the biography of famed comedian Vince Collins (Colin Firth, BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY). Collins was the straight man in a two-man team that featured Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon, THE WOODSMAN). The two men were notorious party animals involving multiple women and drugs. However, one scandal has plagued their careers for decades. Maureen O’Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard, TV’s CLUELESS) was a waitress at one of their hotels who asked to interview the duo for her college newspaper. The next day she is found dead in a hotel bathtub in the performer’s next town.

Blogs THE WEATHER MAN (2005) (***1/2)

This dark comedy on the plight of modern success is gutsy enough to follow a main character who has no clue how to attain his goals.

David Spritz (Nicolas Cage, MATCHSTICK MEN) is a well-known weather man on the local news in Chicago. His father Robert (Michael Caine, QUILLS) is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. The shadow David lives under is huge. David is estranged from his wife Noreen (Hope Davis, AMERICAN SPLENDOR), who he has a very hostel relationship with. His young daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena, ERIN BROCKOVICH) is quite over-weight and is being called names at school because of it. His son Mike (Nicholas Hoult, ABOUT A BOY) is just getting out of rehab and is developing an eerie relationship with his older counselor Don (TV’s ALLY MCBEAL). David’s attitude toward Noreen’s new boyfriend Russ (Michael Rispoli, TWO FAMILY HOUSE) doesn’t help his efforts to clean up his act either.

Blogs THREE… EXTREMES (2005) (***1/2)

After watching this anthology of three short horror films from Asian masters, I realized that current American horror is dumb and wussy.

China’s Fruit Chan (FINALE IN BLOOD), Korea’s Chan-wook Park (OLDBOY) and Japan’s Takashi Miike (ICHI THE KILLER) direct one of the three segments of the film. Fruit Chan’s “Dumplings” follows aging TV star Ching (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) as she goes to Mei (Ling Bai, THE CROW), whose dumplings are rumored to make the eater look years younger. Once we find out what the secret ingredient of the dumplings is we are appalled. But how far will Ching be able to go to look younger?

Chan-wook Park’s “Cut” has a famous film director (Byung-hun Lee, 3-IRON) kidnapped from his home and tied up to a huge elastic band on his film set along with his musician wife (Hye-jeong Kang, OLDBOY), who is elaborately strung up by piano wires. His kidnapper (Won-hie Lim, NO BLOOD NO TEARS) is someone from the director’s past with motivations that are not as we would expect. He challenges the director to reveal deep secrets to save his wife from torture — torture that Holly Hunter would sympathize with. How this episode turns out will have you talking more than how it got there.

Blogs THE HOWLING (1981) (**1/2)

Arriving in theaters the same year as John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE HOWLING starts interestingly and ends strong, but lacks a compelling middle to raise it to the next level.

Karen White (Dee Wallace, E.T.) is a TV news reporter who has been contacted by a serial killer prowling the streets of her city. While wired, she agrees to meet with the killer thus leading police to him. But the set-up goes a bit wrong and she is traumatized by visions she can’t quite remember. Famed therapist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee, THIS IS SPINAL TAP) advises Karen to go to his retreat in the woods to “recharge her batteries.”

But when Karen and her husband Bill (Christopher Stone, CUJO) arrive at the retreat they find the other guests quite strange, especially the seductive Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks, TV’s DAYS OF OUR LIVES). In the meantime, reporters Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan, PARENTHOOD) and Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski, SMALL SOLDIERS) investigate the strange life of the serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo, GREMLINS II: THE NEW BATCH), which points to him being a werewolf.

Blogs SAW II (2005) (**1/2)

I’m happy to report that the SAW films are getting better, but they’re not good enough to outright recommend. By episode V, we might have a four-star horror film.

The set-up is nice — Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD) is a killer who kidnaps people and sets them about gory challenges in an effort to make them realize their sins. Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg, DIAMOND MEN) is a hot-tempered cop who will do anything to get his man. His relationship with his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen, THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO), who gets in trouble with the law from time to time, is strained. Then his worst nightmare comes true — Jigsaw kidnaps his son and places him in a sealed off house with a group of people given tasks to carry out in search of an antidote to the poison gas that is filling the rooms.

Blogs DUCK SOUP (1933) (****)

If you’ve read any of my other reviews of other Marx Brothers films then you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan, but DUCK SOUP fulfills the promise of greatness that is only hinted at in the comedians’ other work. Anarchy is the norm in Marx Brothers pictures and here it is used to brilliance. It’s all about the context.

Freedonia is a bankrupt country that will go under unless it receives $20 million from Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA), whose only stipulation to the donation is that her political guru Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) is made the leader of the country. However, Firefly is a shyster and has no idea how to run the country. In the country of Sylvania, Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern, BLACKBOARD JUNGLE) hires Pinky (Harpo Marx) and Chicolini (Chico Marx) to spy on Firefly, ending up with Chicolini hiding out as a peanut vendor and rising to the post of Freedonia’s Secretary of War.

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

Based on the stage play by David Auburn, this film deals with a daughter’s fear that she may have inherited her father’s mathematical brilliance as well as his insanity.

Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) has been taking care of her father Robert (Anthony Hopkins, HOWARDS END), a renowned mathematician, for years. She has put her own studies in Math on hold to care for her father. Now Robert has died and her sister Claire (Hope Davis, AMERICAN SPLENDOR) has come for a memorial and to set his affairs in order. Claire worries that Catherine is becoming more and more unstable. Into the mix comes Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal, DONNIE DARKO), an assistant of Robert’s who is searching his many notebooks for a proof that could revolutionize the field. Catherine shows him one, but the authorship is brought into question.

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

Director Ben Younger follows up his wonderful feature debut, BOILER ROOM, with a romantic comedy that owes a lot to Woody Allen, but bites off a bit more than it can chew.

Rafi Gardet (Uma Thurman, KILL BILL) has just gotten divorced at 37. Her therapist Dr. Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep, ADAPTATION) encourages her to get out and see other people. Through some mutual friends, Rafi meets David Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg, THE PERFECT SCORE), a 23-year-old struggling artist. At first Rafi is weirded out by the age difference, but Dr. Metzger encourages her to keep it up because both are in their sexual primes and it will be good for her. This is until Dr. Metzger finds out that Rafi is dating her son.

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