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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.

Blogs

LUTHER (2004) (***1/2)

I’ve always felt that religion is a topic that films should deal more with. But studios are always scared of upsetting people or alienating a section of the potential audience. That’s why we get Christmas movies without a single mention of Christ. So it’s refreshing to find a film that discusses theological issues so frankly and openly as this film does.

As one might infer from the title, the film follows the life of Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), who was a German Catholic monk, who rebelled against the corruption he saw and ignited the Reformation, leading to the formation of Protestantism and the translation of the Bible from Latin into common languages.

Blogs

IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL: THE MYSTERY OF HENRY DARGER (2004) (***1/2)

This documentary is the story of Henry Darger, a janitor who had no friends and was often thought to be a bit crazy. Alone in his small apartment over decades, he created a 15,000-page novel and additional works including 12-foot paintings. The film tries to present the inner world of fantasy that Darger created for himself through the words of his magical story — IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL — as well as his autobiography and personal recollections of the few people who knew him.

We learn of his poor childhood and see the parallels between what happened to him when he lived in an orphanage and the war between a Christian army versus the evil child enslavers in his fictional story. He lived so fully in the world of his imagination that he named a general in the Christian army after himself, often acted out the various roles of the characters in his room and debated his own issues, especially religious crisis, within the pages of the novel.

Blogs

IMAGINARY HEROES (2005) (***)

From first time writer-director Dan Harris comes a melancholy and darkly humorous look at a family recovering from the suicide of their swimming superstar son, Matt (Kip Pardue, THIRTEEN).

The film centers on Matt’s younger brother Tim (Emile Hirsch, LORDS OF DOGTOWN), who looks younger than 17, isn’t an athlete and only really speaks to his mother Sandy (Sigourney Weaver, ALIEN), who is a mother who loves her son dearly, but acts more like a kid than someone’s mother should. Tim’s father, Ben (Jeff Daniels, THE HOURS), pushed Matt hard to be the best. After the suicide, he can barely cope with life, becoming greatly withdrawn and highly insensitive. The Travis family also has a college-aged daughter named Penny (Michelle Williams, TV’s DAWSON’S CREEK), who probably could have been dropped from the screenplay.

Blogs

HITCH (2005) (**1/2)

This film moves along entertainingly with some surprising depth, but ruins all its goodwill with an end that is two scenes way too long.

Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith, ALI) is a famed date doctor, who opens up doors for unsure guys to meet the women of their dreams. He keeps a low profile so that he can operate under the radar. He works by referral only. By the looks of his New York City apartment, he most certainly doesn’t need to take out an ad in the yellow pages.

His newest client Albert (Kevin James, TV’s KING OF QUEENS) is an over-weight, slob of a financial advisor, who wants to date his client Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta, RAISING HELEN), a beautiful, world-famous heiress. Think Paris Hilton with some intelligence and a whole lot more class. As Hitch works his magic with Albert and Allegra, he falls for gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes, STUCK ON YOU). However, everything that can go wrong with Sara does go wrong. Ellis Island was a magic idea, but goes where no one would ever think.

Blogs

ALEXANDER: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2004) (**)

Oliver Stone’s portrayal of the life of Alexander the Great plays like a haphazard history lesson where the professor is so in love with the story that he bores his class by rambling on about it. Having only seen the director’s cut of the film, which rearranged much of the third act, I can only imagine the snorefest that was the theatrical release.

Alexander is played very well as an adult by Colin Farrell (PHONE BOOTH). However, the screenplay, which serves as a highlight reel of Alexander’s accomplishments, never drives home the emotional weight that Farrell delivers in his performance.

A lot was made of the portrayal of Alexander and his closet confidant Hephaistion (Jared Leto, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) as gay lovers. History has proven this true, but it doesn’t change certain people’s squeamishness about said topic. Yet, the film never has Alexander and Hephaistion do anything more than hug. It’s not that I demand more, but if this relationship was so profound to Alexander the film never sells it. It seems that the film is only interested in hinting at the homosexuality, but has no interest in developing the characters. In important moments during the film Hephaistion disappears.

Blogs

WACO: THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (1997) (***1/2)

It’s amazing how this tragedy in American history played out in the media when it was happening and how things look in hindsight. William Gazecki’s documentary uses news and military footage from the standoff, footage from the Senate hearings after the event and interviews with scholars, writers, reporters and members of the Branch Davidians to reconstruct what happened during the 51-day standoff that lead to the burning of children within the compound in Texas.

Time and time again the film uncovers lie after lie that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI told about the event. The ATF said that the raid was not a publicity stunt, but it set up a press office and contacted local news media beforehand. When talking to Branch Davidian leader David Koresh on the phone, an AFT negotiator lies to Koresh about the helicopters firing at them and when caught in this lie comes up with a fancy way to dance around his wording so he can cover up his lie.

Blogs

VIRIDIANA (1962) (****)

Having recently begun seeing Luis Buñuel’s work, I have quickly become a great fan. BELLE DE JOUR and LOS OLVIDADOS are brilliant, and this film is too. Buñuel is cynical, but honest. Many, many films have dealt with nice people taking in homeless people. Usually they are pure fantasy, painted by people with good intentions, but who do not want to see the world for what it can be and usually is.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal, SIMON OF THE DESERT) is about to take her vows as a nun when her uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey, THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE), who has been her benefactor for years, calls for her to visit him before she takes her oath. When she arrives, he is struck by how much she looks like his dead wife. Viridiana is coldly honest, but innately kind. Her piety seems to have sucked the passion out of her though. Don Jaime wants Viridiana to stay with him. Loneliness makes his motives and actions shady. A tragedy strikes and Viridiana, along with Don Jaime’s estranged son Jorge (Francisco Rabal, L' ECLISSE), takes over the care of her uncle’s estate.

Blogs

SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1959) (***1/2)

Based on a stage play by Tennessee Williams that was adapted into a screenplay by Williams and Gore Vidal, the melodrama has eccentric heiress Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn, THE AFRICAN QUEEN) persuading lobotomy doctor Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY) into performing the surgery on her institutionalized niece Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLFF?) with the lure of funding the state hospital the doctor works at.

Violet’s behavior quickly undermines her intentions — is she trying to help Catherine or hide something about her beloved son Sebastian, who died while on vacation the previous summer with Catherine. As the story unfolds, the tale becomes more and more torrid as only a Tennessee Williams tale can get.

Blogs

PACIFIC HEIGHTS (1990) (***)

SINGLE WHITE FEMALE brought us the roommate from hell. SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY the husband from hell. Hell, CRUSH brought us the teenage crush from hell. PACIFIC HEIGHTS brings us the tenant from hell. And it works much better than all those above movies, because the psycho is more than a psycho.

The “From Hell” thriller sub-genre is often pretty predictable. Not that this film breaks that mold, but it’s more believable and has a nice twist. Patty Palmer (Melanie Griffith, WORKING GIRL) and Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine, SHORT CUTS) are a boyfriend and girlfriend who buy an old apartment in San Francisco with the idea that if they rent out the two units below them they will be saving money on what they use to pay on rent before.

Blogs

MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993) (***1/2)

Lately, too many people think of Woody Allen for his recent dry patch of films and his messy personal life. A lot of people discount anything that Allen made since the ‘90s. I disagree. HUSBANDS AND WIVES is amazing, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is wonderfully entertaining and MIGHTY APHRODITE, EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU, DECONSTRUCTING HENRY, SWEET AND LOWDOWN and ANYTHING ELSE are all good films. The problem is that Allen keeps making films and if he doesn’t come out with a masterpiece every time everyone says he’s lost his stuff.

MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s just as entertaining as BULLETS OVER BROADWAY. Larry and Carol Lipton (Allen & Diane Keaton, ANNIE HALL) are a middle-aged couple who have come upon a dry spot in their marriage. Larry is a book editor, who tries to set up his flirtatious client Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston, THE WITCHES) with his best friend Ted (Alan Alda, TV’s MASH), who is starting a restaurant with Carol and has had secret crush on her for years. Larry and Carol one night meet their next-door neighbors Paul and Lillian House (Jerry Adler, TV’s THE SOPRANOS & Lynn Cohen, WALKING & TALKING) for the first time. Then when Lillian turns up dead and Paul seems less than torn up about it, Carol gets it into her mind that Mr. House killed her.

Blogs

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) (***1/2)

Clint Eastwood returns to the Western genre, which made him a superstar, in his second film as a director. Like his characters in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, his character here is only known as the stranger, who rides into a small town called Lago.

Eastwood plays on Western conventions with the stranger watched suspiciously by the entire town to start off the film. Some thugs challenge him and they don’t make it to the second act. This is where the grittiness of the film kicks in with the stranger virtually raping the blonde and voluptuous Callie Travers (Marianna Hill, THE GODFATHER: PART II) in a barn. The cowardly and corrupt town quickly gathers to decide that they will give the stranger anything he wants to kill three bandits who have just been released from jail and are certainly headed back to the town for revenge. The stranger takes the work, but what the town doesn’t know is that he has an ulterior motive.

Blogs

FREAKY FRIDAY (2003) (***)

When I first saw the trailers for this film, I thought to myself — didn’t we get enough of this plot with BIG, 18 AGAIN, VISA VERSA or the original FREAKY FRIDAY? But when Jamie Lee Curtis received good reviews, my interest was piqued. I caught it on cable finally and I was surprised with some of its honest observations.

Anna Coleman (Lindsay Lohan, HERBIE FULLY LOADED) is a teenager in a rock band and her psychiatrist mother Tess (Curtis, A FISH CALLED WANDA) is about to get remarried to a man named Ryan (Mark Harmon, CHASING LIBERTY). The big conflict comes when Anna’s band has a big audition on the night of Tess’ rehearsal dinner. Neither of them can understand nor imagine the other’s point of view. A magic fortune cookie changes this by having Anna and Tess switch bodies.

Blogs

Invite to meet an upcoming German animator. Fri. July 29

ASIFA-SF, SCREEN 360 AND CATAPULT PRODUCTIONS (KATY KAVANAUGH) INVITE YOU TO
A RECEPTION - SCREENING - PARTY

HONORING GERMAN ANIMATOR FELIX GONNERT

Friday, July 29, 7:30 PM

Felix is a guest of SCREEN 360: FILMS FOR CHILDREN OF THE WORLD (for
audiences of all ages) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Saturday, July 30.
His work Lucia (9-minutes) will be shown at 1 PM with Tornehekken (Hedge of
Thorens, an animated short from Norway) and Bazi (Play from Iran).

Please join us as we welcome Felix to San Francisco at the home of Nik and
Nancy Phelps, 2066 30th Avenue, SF. Food will be catered by Botany Bay.
Guests are invited to contribute something special to drink, like German
beers, wines and mineral waters.

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