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Blogs MY BODYGUARD (1980) (***1/2)

Some movies come out of left field and surprise the heck out of ya. I caught this charming film on a Big ‘80s marathon on Encore, having followed the dubious LOVER BOY. For a teen film, the movie has real weight and grit.

Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace, VAMP) is the new kid in his school. Bully Melvin Moody (Matt Dillon, CRASH) extorts money from kids to protect them from rumored psychopath Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin, SERENITY). After taking just too much abuse, Clifford actually gets Ricky to be his bodyguard. Clifford wants to thank Ricky for his help, but the tall loner doesn’t really want to make friends. But Clifford is persistent. The rest of the film develops the strange friendship that develops between the wealthy Clifford and the poor Ricky.

Blogs MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) (**)

This Canadian-produced teen slasher flick is actually better than any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies that it rips off. But that’s not saying much.

T.J. Hanniger (Paul Kelman, BLACK ROSES) left his small coalmine town, called Valentine’s Bluff, to make it big in the big city. But after falling on his face, he’s returned home to work in the mine he left town to avoid. Now his former girl Sarah (Lori Hallier, THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD) is dating Axel Palmer (Neil Affleck, SCANNERS). There are other characters, but who cares about them, because they’re just fodder for the killer, who is rumored to be a miner who was buried alive and went crazy.

Twenty years prior he escaped from a mental institution and killed people in town, demanding that they never hold a Valentine’s Day dance again, for it was the party that everyone was rushing off to when the mine collapsed.

Blogs THE INCREDIBLY TRUE ADVENTURE OF TWO GIRLS IN LOVE (1995) (**)

With such a whimsical title, one would expect a bit of whimsy, but the film for most of its running time plays as a dramatic (also a bit fantastic) coming-of-age tale.

Randall “Randy” Dean (Laurel Holloman, TV’s THE L WORD) is a teenage lesbian, who dresses tomboyish and only has one friend — a gay boy named Frank (Nelson Rodriguez). Randy lives with her lesbian aunt Rebecca (Kate Stafford) and her girlfriend and her ex-girlfriend. She’s been having an affair with a married woman named Wendy (Maggie Moore, AMERICAN SPLENDOR). Then one day, Evie Roy (Nicole Ari Parker, BOOGIE NIGHTS) stops by the gas station where Randy works and Randy is smitten.

Later, the two run into each other in the bathroom at school and talk about Evie’s recent break up with her boyfriend. Soon enough the two girls are hanging out together and Evie doesn’t seem bothered that Randy is gay. The developing romantic relationship between Randy and Evie is made complex by the fact that Randy is white and Evie is black; Randy is poor and Evie is rich; and Randy is a loser and Evie is popular.

Blogs HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962) (***)

This is the kind of film that’s enjoyable enough while you're watching it, but I’ll probably forget I saw it two weeks from now.

It chronicles four generations of a family who participated in taming the Wild West. It’s epic and filled with Hollywood legends from John Wayne to Henry Fonda to Jimmy Stewart to Gregory Peck. It has all the conventions of the Western crammed in from rapid runs to mountain men to Indian attacks to wagon trains to stampedes to a train robbery. Everything about the film smells of a Hollywood product and that’s why it works. It’s a treasure of a kind of filmmaking that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s the same gimmick that makes the OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies so fun.

Blogs GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) (***)

The title tells you straight out what historical episode this Western deals with. The film is quintessential 1950s Hollywood — bright colors, high melodrama and such a squeaky clean Wyatt Earp that you’d think he was visiting from the cast of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. What makes the film fun and not something to laugh at from a 21st Century perspective is the performance of Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday and his interaction with Burt Lancaster’s Earp.

The film develops the unexpected friendship between moral lawman Earp and killing gambler Holliday. The film emphasizes a Western moral code that probably only existed in the movies. Earp kicks off the friendship when he rescues Holliday from a lynch mob. Throughout the film Holliday struggles with his raging desire for revenge and his promise to Earp to not kill anybody.

Blogs THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE (1987) (*1/2)

The main reason I wanted to see this film was because I wasn’t allowed to see it when I was a kid. I collected the trading cards and love them. The movie actually disappointed me. You might be thinking — well, what were you expecting. I was expecting something so bad that it was good. Some elements are like that, but the lead character story is just a mediocre after school special drama. It’s not completely awful.

Dodger (Mackenzie Astin, DREAM FOR AN INSOMNIAC) is a small 14-year-old who is always being bullied by Juice (Ron MacLachlan) and his gang. Sadly Dodger has the hots for Juice’s girl Tangerine (Katie Barberi). He works at an antique shop for eccentric owner Cap’n Mancini (Anthony Newley, 1967’s DOCTOR DOLITTLE), who has a mysterious garbage can in the shop. One day it gets tipped over and out come the Garbage Pail Kids, who are played by little people in costumes with animatronic heads.

Blogs CLASS (1983) (**1/2)

The film has a solid foundation, but what it builds on top seems to have been built with no blueprint. The film doesn’t know if it wants to be a more serious take on THE GRADUATE, a buddy flick or a teen sex film.

Jonathan Onger (Andrew McCarthy, ST. ELMO’S FIRE) is a high school student at a top boarding school. His roommate and best friend Skip Burroughs (Rob Lowe, AUSTIN POWERS) is from an extremely wealthy family and struggles to live up to his father’s (Cliff Robertson, SPIDER-MAN) expectations. After an embarrassing mishap, Jonathan is band from going to the school dance. So he ventures out to a bar were he starts up a heated affair with the much older Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset, DANGEROUS BEAUTY), who thinks Jonathan is a grad student. What Jonathan is surprised to learn after visiting Skip’s home on Christmas break is that Ellen is Skip’s mother.

Blogs CATWOMAN (2004) (*)

The film is a poorly executed foray down the clichéd road of superhero revenge tales. Patience Phillips (Halle Berry, MONSTER’S BALL) is a klutzy graphic designer for a huge cosmetics firm. She will be fired by her tyrannical boss George Hedare (Lambert Wilson, THE MATRIX RELOADED) unless she redesigns her campaign within 48 hours.

On the way to deliver her new designs, she overhears George’s maniacal wife Laurel (Sharon Stone, BASIC INSTINCT) talking about the deadly effects of the new beauty product the company is about to launch. Subsequently, Patience is killed and then is brought back to life by some cats, giving her superhuman powers and making her the next in line of free-spirited catwomen.

Blogs BABY FACE (1933) (***1/2)

This film recently appeared on TIME Magazine’s top 100 movies of all time list. It was an unusual choice because the film isn’t widely considered a classic. However, the simple tale works quite well and the provocative subject matter seems to jump off the screen with more daring just knowing the year in which it was made.

Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck, THE LADY EVE) is the daughter of a speakeasy owner, who pimps her out to his wealthy clients. After her father’s untimely death, Lily, along with her black friend Chico (Theresa Harris, OUT OF THE PAST), moves to the big city and sleeps her way to the top of a large bank. Her fling with the young executive Ned Stevens (Donald Cook, 1936’s SHOW BOAT) and then his boss J.P. Carter (Henry Kolker, HOLIDAY), who happens to be Stevens’ fiancee’s father, creates great scandal.

Blogs APRIL FOOL'S DAY (1986) (**1/2)

This film for most of its running time is a standard teen slasher movie. Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman, WAXWORK) is a rich girl who invites her friends to stay with her for a weekend at her remote mountain estate. Friends include: hot and mopey medical student Rob (Ken Olandt, LEPRECHAUN), Rob’s girlfriend Kit (Amy Steel, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2), conservative Texan Harvey (Jay Baker, SHAG), slutty Nikki (Deborah Goodrich, JUST ONE OF THE GUYS), jokester Skip (Griffin O’Neal, GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE), prudish bookworm Nan (Leah Pinsent, WAKING THE DEAD), perverted filmmaker Chaz (Clayton Rohner, TV’s INTO THE WEST miniseries) and hornball cornball Arch (Thomas F. Wilson, BACK TO THE FUTURE).

Blogs ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951) (***1/2)

Based on the classic Lewis Carroll novel, Disney’s animated adventure is a cornucopia of craziness, saturated with silliness from the moment we enter Alice’s wonderland. For Carroll's story, the lucidity of animation seems perfect, and the Disney animators are up to the task in this underrated gem.

Alice (Kathryn Beaumont, PETER PAN) is a young daydreamer who finds herself chasing a white rabbit with a pocketwatch (Bill Thompson, LADY AND THE TRAMP) down a rabbit hole into a strange new world. At first Alice is taken in by the nonsense of the land, but after some time becomes tired of the insanity.

The film is one delightful set piece after delightful set piece, which have a subversive message of predators on children underneath. In addition, depending on your persuasion, the film either has an anti- or pro-drug message as well. The top highlights of the film include the manic un-birthday party led by the Mad Hatter (Ed Wynn, MARY POPPINS), March Hare (Jerry Colonna, MAKE MINE MUSIC) and Dormouse (James MacDonald, THE RESCUERS) and the pompous, hypocritical Queen of Hearts (Verna Felton, PICNIC).

Blogs THE 47 RONIN PART 1 (1941) (***)

Split into two parts, Kenji Mizoguchi’s epic samurai picture is the most well respected film to come out of Japan during World War II. Mizoguchi is considered one of the Japan’s best filmmakers of all time. The only other film I have seen of his is UGETSU, which is amazing. THE 47 RONIN is more of a political intrigue story than an action adventure epic like those of Akira Kurasawa.

Lord Asano (Yoshizaburo Arashi) attacks and mildly wounds court officer Lord Kira after he is insulted by the bureaucrat. Because Kira is a royal butt-kisser — literally — the officials rule that Lord Asano must commit ritual suicide. Lord Asano’s loyal samurai petition for their master to be spared while the motives of Chamberlain Kuranosuke Oishi (Chojuro Kawarasaki), Asano’s second in command, are brought into question.

Blogs LAYER CAKE (2005) (***1/2)

Matthew Vaughn, producer of LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH, makes his directorial debut with this gangster tale, which has more in common with GOODFELLAS than the stylishly hip films he produced with director Guy Ritchie.

The film is narrated by an unnamed gangster, who in the credits is referred to as XXXX. The character is played by Daniel Craig (ENDURING LOVE), who is quickly building an A-list resume of solid work. He’s a drug dealer who likes to keep his operations hush-hush and wants to retire. He works for vulgar loudmouth Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham, GANGSTER NO. 1), who tells XXXX that the reason guys like him don’t ever get out of the business is because they make too much money for guys like himself. That doesn’t bode well for an early retirement.

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

This hip flick from Hungary plays to an electronica beat that brings a cool vibe to the strange world discovered within.

The film follows control officers on the Budapest subway system whose job it is to make sure the passengers have purchased tickets. Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi) is the quietly cool leader of his loserish crew of control officers. The Professor (Zoltán Mucsi) gives sound advice to the hyper new guy Tibi (Zsolt Nagy). Muki (Csaba Pindroch) — a narcoleptic, which can be quite dangerous in his line of work — seems to be a guy who tries too hard to be cool. Bulcsú keeps a distance from everyone and we learn that he lives in the subway system, not ever going to the surface.

Blogs DEAR FRANKIE (2005) (***1/2)

Lizzie Morrison (Emily Mortimer, LOVELY & AMAZING) is a single mom who with her deaf son Frankie (Jack McElhone, YOUNG ADAM) and her mother Nell (Mary Riggans) keep moving to stay away from her abusive husband Davey (Cal Macaninch). But Frankie doesn’t know that. The boy believes that his father works on a ship called the Accra and when the boat actually pulls into their town Lizzie decides to pay someone to pretend to be Frankie’s dad.

From the premise you might think this film is a sappy melodrama, but it isn’t. It’s written and directed with such subtly and real heart that it’s quite moving, engaging and never sugary sweet. Lizzie’s boss Marie (Sharon Small, THE INSPECTOR LYNLEY MYSTERIES) finds the stranger (Gerald Butler, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), who Lizzie pays to take Frankie around. He takes the boy for fish and chips, to play soccer and to skip rocks on the ocean. When they come home, he suggests that he come back to see Frankie the next day, taking Lizzie with them.

Blogs THE BROWN BUNNY (2004) (*1/2)

The most controversial film of last year’s Cannes — Vincent Gallo’s follow-up to his overrated BUFFALO ’66 was panned by most critics as the worst film to ever make it into the festival. Roger Ebert’s comments on the film received a curse on his colon from Gallo, who went on a tirade against the film’s detractors. Co-star Chloë Sevigny (BOYS DON’T CRY), who actually performs fellatio on Gallo in the film, was brought to tears at the press conference. For the Toronto Film Festival later in 2004, Gallo reedited the film and received much more positive reviews. Even he and Ebert made up and the veteran critic gave the reworked BROWN BUNNY thumbs up.

However, I think critics who are giving the reworked version praise are doing so because they know the secret. It’s the secret at the end of the film that changes the meaning of everything that came before and gives it a much stronger emotional weight. For me sitting through the film for the first time, I was bored, and angered. Bored by the pacing and the meaninglessness of the whole thing and angered by Gallo’s egomania.

Blogs WEDDING CRASHERS (2005) (***)

Though it could have been funnier than it was, this film contains some laugh-out loud moments, good performances and a strong conclusion.

John Beckwith (Owen Wilson, THE ROYAL TENEBAUMS) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn, SWINGERS) have been friends for years and love to crash weddings to hook up with hot women. After their latest season of crashing is over John seems disheartened by their misadventures. Then Jeremy drops the wedding of all weddings to crash into John’s lap. The daughter of Secretary of the Treasury Cleary (Christopher Walken, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN) is getting married. John reluctantly goes, but is smitten by the secretary’s middle daughter Claire (Rachel McAdams, THE NOTEBOOK), who we find out is engaged to alpha male Sack Lodge (Bradley Cooper, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER).

Blogs GRIZZLY MAN (2005) (****)

Since first reading about this film, it became something I had to see. It takes a lot to make me this excited about a film. And usually I’m let down, however with this documentary my expectations were exceeded.

Timothy Treadwell was a failed actor who became a semi-celebrity because for 13 years he spent his summers living with and protecting the wild bears of the Alaskan wilderness. It didn’t matter that they were on a nature reserve and that poaching really wasn’t a problem in the area, Treadwell was on a mission. He filmed more than 100 hours of himself in the wild getting way too close to bears and befriending wild foxes. The tragedy of the tale is that he was eaten by one of the bears in 2003. As a helicopter pilot in the film says, “He got what he was asking for.”

Blogs THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005) (***1/2)

This smart, adult thriller from CITY OF GOD director Fernando Meirelles is surprising in many ways for what it does and doesn’t do.

Based on the bestselling John Le Carré novel, the story follows the relationship of mild-mannered British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes, THE ENGLISH PATIENT) and 24-year-old radical Tessa (Rachel Weisz, THE SHAPE OF THINGS). The central mystery of the film is who and why was Tessa killed, which is revealed early in the film at which we flashback to Justin and Tessa's strangely brief courtship and the events that lead up to Tessa’s murder.

Rumors abound regarding Tessa’s relationship with black doctor Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé, HOW I KILLED MY FATHER) and even Justin’s boss Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston, SILVER CITY). It seemed that Tessa is up against a major pharmaceutical company that may be killing Africans. The mystery of Tessa’s death wasn’t much of a mystery to me, but for Justin he must find out for himself the details.

Blogs BROKEN FLOWERS (2005) (****)

Jim Jarmusch a few years back made the highly underrated film GHOST DOG. Now he returns with a subtle comic play on the detective story, road movie and fading Don Juan.

Bill Murray (LOST IN TRANSLATION) plays Don Johnston (that’s Johnston with a T), a sullen millionaire who spends most of his day sitting or sleeping on his couch. His girlfriend Shelly (Julie Delpy, BEFORE SUNSET) has just left him when he receives a note from an ex-girlfriend saying that his son, who he didn’t know he had, may be coming to meet him. This news barely rouses any reaction out of Don, but the mystery of who the unsigned letter came from is exciting to Don’s best friend and amateur detective Winston (Jeffrey Wright, SHAFT), who convinces Don to make a list of all the women it could be.

Blogs Annecy

Each year when Nik and I arrive in Annecy, France for the 45th Annecy International Festival of Animation, I cast longing looks at the beautiful blue waters of Lake Annecy with the back drop of majestic alps and I know that for the next 6 days I will only get fleeting glimpses of the scenic
wonders that have made Annecy world famous as a vacation destination. The sacrifice is well worth it, however, to have the opportunity to see 230 films representing 36 countries. With all of the festival's problems (and there are many!), it is still a rare opportunity to view animation that will never be seen in the United States.

Although I thought that the overall quality of the films was not as strong as in some past years, there were certainly some exceptions. John Canemaker's autobiographical film The Moon And The Son: An Imagined Conversation utilizes drawing on paper to let us become totally immersed in the turbulent terrain of a father/son dynamic as seen through John's relationship with his father. Although very different in style, this film had the same emotional impact on me that Dennis Tupicoff's works have.

Blogs Annecy’s Junior Jury Gives Young Animators a Voice

Each year the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, held at Annecy, France in June, plays host to two Junior Juries. Ranging in age from 10 to 15 years old, four young people traveled from Vold, Norway to France with Gunnar Strom from the Vold University College/Vold Animation Workshop to spend the week watching films with the adult audience.

The 2005 Norwegian group was comprised of Tale Burgess Øyehaug and Ragnhild Dybdal Øie, who judged short films, and Asne Burgess Øyehaug and Ashild Dybdal Øie, who viewed graduation films, two pairs of sisters who have worked with the Vold Animation Workshop as part of their studies at the Amas Primary School. For the past 15 years, the Vold Animation Workshop has arranged workshops around Volda on an irregular basis, and all four girls have attended the one week work shop that Strom conducts annually. Following in the footsteps of the first Junior Jury from Russia and France in 2000, they were joined by an equal number of French students from the AAA (l’Atelier de Cinema d’Annecy et de la Haute-Savoie). Representing the AAA were Thibault Allombert and Louise Garcia in the short film category and Vincent Blanc-Tailleur and Quentin Deronzier in the graduation film category. Channel J and AAA sponsor the attendance of the Junior Jury at Annecy. Ingeborg Dybdal Øie, older sister of Ragnhild and Ashild, traveled from London where she studies to act as translator. The older jurors were able to use English as their working languages, but the younger members did not feel that they could fully express themselves in a foreign language according to Ingeborg and so she acted as the interpreter. She was amazed that it took the younger jury over two hours of intense debating to reach their decision, while the older jury reached their decision relatively quickly. The final Junior Jury decisions must be unanimous, so after many votes and vetoes, a unanimous decision was finally reached. In the end the young jurors realized that compromises had to be made so that everyone would agree on one film and after they finally reached a decision all four students felt that they had learned a great deal about listening to one another and putting their own strong opinions aside to come to a consensus.

Blogs For those interested in animation... 2 Nancy articles

Hi Everyone:

Nik and I will leave 15 September for two weeks in the Ukraine for the
KROKInternational Festival of Animation. We will also spend a week
performing in the Boarders Area of Scotland and be guests of the
Co-Operative Young Film Makers Festival in the Lake Country of England
where we have been invited to present a program of music driven animation
and play some intense rounds of Mini Golf before we head back to San
Francisco.

The following two articles which I wrote will appear in the September issue
of the ASIFA newsletter and if you are not part of our animation community I
won't be upset if you skip them.

To our European friends -- I hope we cross paths in our travels and to SF
pals -- see you in October.

Blogs CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS (1967) (***1/2)

This Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film is considered one of the crowning achievements of the Czech New Wave movement of the late 1960s. This investigation of sexual liberation will seem a bit more innocent today than it probably played in its day of release, however it hasn’t lost its power to entertain and make one laugh.

Milos Hrma (Václav Neckár, LARKS ON A STRING) is following his father’s footsteps and training to become a train dispatcher. His great-grandfather, his grandfather and his father are embarrassments to the family and he is to change that. However, he’s only taking the job at the train depot because it’s easy work. Milos is far more interested in losing his virginity. Not even World War II and the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia can distract him from his goal.

Blogs THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (2004) (***1/2)

It’s amazing how flexible William Shakespeare’s work can be. It can be made faithful to the text, but with an inventive mind can take on such varying moods and dimensions.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is the most performed of Shakespeare’s plays, but has been adapted to the screen very few times. The main reason has to be that the character and treatment of Shylock is anti-Semitic. However, director Michael Radford (IL POSTINO) here takes one of Shakespeare’s comedies and turns it into a tragedy by shifting the central character from Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes, ENEMY AT THE GATE) to Shylock (Al Pacino, THE GODFATHER), using Shylock’s desire for unbending revenge as his downfall.

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