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Blogs FACE/OFF (1997) (**)

The only word to describe this film is preposterous. Now I’ve seen three American films from director John Woo and let me tell you I’m not all that impressed. The films are just a bit better than something Michael Bay would make. Style without substance.

Sean Archer (John Travolta, Woo’s BROKEN ARROW) is a veteran FBI agent whose son was killed by terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage, THE ROCK). Six years afterward Archer is doggedly seeking to capture or kill Castor. Early in the film Archer succeeds, however, Castor is in a coma and his brother Pollux Troy (Alessandro Nivola, JURASSIC PARK III) is the only person who knows the location of the dirty bomb Castor planted.

Blogs CELLULAR (2004) (***1/2)

This film is a total adrenaline rush for 94 minutes. It develops its three main heroes quickly than thrusts them into a rollercoaster of a ride.

Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) is a high school Science teacher who lives in Brentwood, California. After dropping her son Ricky (Adam Taylor Gordon, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN) off at the bus, Jessica returns home to be kidnapped. She has no idea why. Lead kidnapper Ethan (Jason Statham, SNATCH) puts Jessica in the attic of his hideout and smashes the phone that is mounted to the wall. Once left alone, Jessica uses her science skills to dial a random number on the broken phone.

The first major conceit of the film is that she happens to dial someone in the Los Angeles area, but the film is too fun therefore some contrivances can be forgiven. That person happens to be Ryan (Chris Evans, NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE), who we learn from his ex-girlfriend Chloe (Jessica Biel, TV’s 7TH HEAVEN) that he is notoriously unreliable. Jessica convinces Ryan to take his cell phone to a police station to get help. Ryan hands the phone over to 27-year veteran Mooney (William H. Macy, PANIC), who is trying to get off the force to start a day spa with his wife.

Blogs DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) (****)

This is one of the more bizarre thrillers I have ever seen. I was confused, but fascinated by the film the first time I saw it in film school. Now having seen it a second time, I understand it more and am awed by its power and intelligence. Director Nicolas Roeg – a former cinematographer – creates films of rich imagery and bizarre mood. His first film WALKABOUT is a strange tale of an aborigine who helps two white children survive in the Australian outback. That film deals with cultural differences and the inability to communicate. In a way, DON’T LOOK NOW deals with survival and communication problems as well.

Laura (Julie Christie, MCCABE & MRS. MILLER) and John Baxter (Donald Sutherland, KLUTE) suffer the death of their child Christine (Sharon Williams, MISSISSIPPI MASALA). But it seems that John had a premonition about it, but was too late to save her. Then the couple moves to Venice where John works at restoring a cathedral. He keeps the death inside and soldiers forward. Laura becomes introverted and takes pills to cope. Then Laura and John have a chance meeting with a blind woman named Heather (TV’s 1986 DAVID COOPERFIELD) and her sister Wendy (Clelia Matania, 1956’s WAR AND PEACE). Heather claims to be psychic and has seen Christine laughing. Laura is calmed by this news, but John thinks it's hogwash.

Blogs MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004) (****)

This is the next film that you must see. The film has quietly come out of nowhere to become one of the top contenders for the Oscar. Director Clint Eastwood is working at the top of his game even surpassing his work on MYSTIC RIVER and UNFORGIVEN. And as an actor Eastwood has never been better.

The story seems routine – a hungry young wanna-be boxer named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank, BOYS DON’T CRY) tries to convince grizzled old trainer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) to train her. Frankie doesn’t train girls, but Maggie continues to come to Frankie’s gym day in and day out training herself the best she can. Ex-prize fighter and the gym’s janitor Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) takes a liking to Maggie and starts to show her a thing or two. As you may think Frankie takes on Maggie and she gets a shot for the title.

Blogs KINSEY (2004) (****)

This film is how biopics are supposed to be made. The only thing keeping this off the Oscar list is an early release date allowing time for buzz to wear off and the controversy drummed up by the religious right, who like to demonize anything that has anything to do with Kinsey.

If you don’t know who Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson, SCHINDLER’S LIST) is then let me tell you. He was a biologist who first tackled the topic of human sexuality in a scientific way. His two ground-breaking books SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN MALE and SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN FEMALE opened people’s minds to what others where doing sexual for real not what was assumed. The film brilliantly delves into what made Kinsey tick as a human being and why he did what he did.

Blogs IN GOOD COMPANY (2004) (***)

This film is a feel good film, but in a very good way. Surprisingly enough the film is set in the corporate world and paints it both good and bad.

Carter Duryea (Topher Grace, TV’s THAT ‘70S SHOW) is a young, fasting moving exec, who through a merger is named as head of sales for a sports magazine. He replaces veteran sales head Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid, FREQUENCY), who takes it in stride that he is being demoted and replaced by a man half his age. Carter is kind of lost in life and fills it with work. His wife Kimberly (Selma Blair, HELLBOY) leaves him early in the film. One day, Carter invites himself to diner at Dan’s house and, there, Carter gets to know Dan’s college aged daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson, LOST IN TRANSLATION).

Blogs CAMILLE (1936) (***1/2)

I have seen Greta Garbo in only one other film and that was NINOTCHKA, which I absolutely love. After seeing this film, I am quickly becoming a Garbo fan. Ranked at #33 on the AFI's 100 Years… 100 Passions list, the film has been copied so many times that its originality has been lost, however Garbo commands the screen and brings layers to the character of Marguerite Gautier. Garbo simply is the character.

Marguerite is a courtesan in 1847 Paris. Because this film was made in 1936 the fact that see is a prostitute is not made overt, but it works because it makes the characters dance around the issue. One night at the theater, she meets young, handsome Armand Duval (Robert Taylor, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION), whom has loved her from a far since the moment he first saw her. However, Marguerite thought she was meeting the wealthy and arrogant Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION). It doesn’t take long before the hardened heart of Marguerite is softened by the passion of Armand. Still, Marguerite is reluctant to jump into love, because her past haunts her. But others stand in the way of the romance as well. Armand’s father (Lionel Barrymore, KEY LARGO) is not so keen on the romance and Marguerite's backstabbing friend Prudence (Laura Hope Crews, GONE WITH THE WIND) has sabotage on her mind.

Blogs FINDING NEVERLAND (2004) (****)

It’s amazing how a simple story can be so engaging. The film chronicles the events in author J.M. Barrie’s life that led to him creating PETER PAN. Barrie is played by Johnny Depp (ED WOOD) in a performance that is his most subtle in ages. His talent is remarkable.
Barrie has just produced a flop and his producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman, MARATHON MAN) is desperate for him to write another hit play. His relationship with his wife Mary (Radha Mitchell, PITCH BLACK) is quite cold and distant. Mary spends her time thinking about the important people of influence that she and her husband should meet while J.M. lives in the fantasy world of his head. One day he meets widow Sylvia Davies (Kate Winslet, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) and her four boys in the park. The boys allow Barrie to play once again, which actively starts his creative juices.

Blogs BRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005) (***)

Hollywood meets Bollywood in director Gurinder Chadha’s newest film. It’s not as good as her two previous films WHAT’S COOKING? or BEND IN LIKE BECKHAM, but it is 100% fun. Loosely based on Jane Austen’s much filmed PRIDE & PREJUDICE, the film’s setting is shifted from England to India (making stops in London and L.A. as well). Actually it's more than set in India, the country is like a character.

Mrs. and Mr. Bakshi (Nadira Babbar, MEENAXI: TALE OF 3 CITIES, & Anupam Kher, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) have four unmarried daughters, which Mrs. Bakshi desperately wants to marry off. At a wedding, her oldest daughter Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar) meets best man Balraj Bingley (Naveen Andrews, KAMA SUTRA), who is from London, and an instant attraction is struck. Now that moves second daughter Lalita (Aishwarya Rai, former Miss World) in line for suitors. Lalita is attracted to Balraj’s American friend Will Darcy (Martin Henderson, THE RING), but finds him arrogant, prejudiced and snobby when she talks to him. Other suitors include Mrs. Bakshi’s favorite – the rich Indian-American businessman Mr. Kholi (Nitin Chandra Ganatra, TRULY MADLY DEEPLY) -- and Will’s archrival Mr. Wickman (Daniel Gillies, SPIDER-MAN 2), who also gains the attention of the youngest sister Lucky (Peeya Rai Chowdhary).

Blogs Nik & Nancy WILL DO their Yard Sale this weekend, Sprocket Ensemble next performance - Feb 27, March 4 and 5

The sun is out, and we're over the flu - SO... we're doing our next big yard
sale.

Sat. and Sun. 9 til 4.

Speaker stands, furniture, bike, books and all - they're out and ready to
go.

2066 30th Ave. at Quintara in San Francisco

Nik and the Ensemble have two public performances coming up:

Feb. 27 at the Balboa theater at a gala celebration of the 78th anniversary
of the theater, Nik and pianist Frederick Hodges will perform Nik's new
score to the Greta Garbo film Torrent.

March 4 and 5 Nik and the Sprocket Ensemble will perform to new European
animation in San Francisco and Oakland - March 4 at Varnish Gallery in SF
and March 5 at 21 Grand in Oakland. More details later.

Blogs NO SALE - it's called off at Nik & Nancy's - Oh dear, Nancy's got the flu!!! Sorry, we'll see you next time.

Hello to all our friends here and abroad. Sorry to say, but Nancy has the
flu that's going around San Francisco right now, so we're postponing the
sale til next good weather. Sorry we'll miss you this weekend.
Nancy and Nik

Blogs Garage Sale @ Nik & Nancy's

Saturday and Sunday, January 22 and 23 look like they will be beautiful so
Nik and Nancy are taking to their front lawn and driveway with lots of good
stuff . . .Treasures range from speaker stands and a microwave table to
costumes, cookware and lots of fun stuff.

Saturday and Sunday 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM        SALE CANCELLED IN CASE OF
RAIN OR COLD WEATHER!!!!!!!!!!

2066  30th Avenue(Pacheco & Quintara)

San Francisco

Blogs FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956) (****)

This film won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. I knew this going into it and was thoroughly surprised with what I saw. When I think of a Cannes award-winning film, I think of something more artsy like ELEPHANT. William Wyler’s (THE COLLECTOR, BEN-HUR) dramedy was one before the term was invented.

Set in 1862, the film follows the Birdwell family. They’re Quakers. Eliza (Dorothy McGuire, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON) is the matriarch of the family and a preacher for their community. Her husband Jess (Gary Cooper, HIGH NOON) is a bit of a troublemaker – at least for Quaker standards. He likes to race his horse and buggy against the Methodist Sam Jordan (Robert Middleton, THE COURT JESTER) on the way to church on a Sunday morning and he likes to play music. Eliza loves her family, but tries to keep them to the letter of the Quaker law.

Blogs THE FRESHMAN (1925) (****)

I’ve seen almost as many Harold Lloyd films as I’ve seen Charlie Chaplin films now. I’m sadly behind on watching Buster Keaton films, which I will remedy as soon as I can. This film is Lloyd’s masterpiece. It perfectly balances story, gags and pathos.

Lloyd plays Harold Lamb, a teenager who is extremely excited to be attending Tate College. He over prepares himself for school and ends up looking like a fool to the upperclassman. Harold desperately wants to be as popular as the football captain Chet (James Anderson, FLEETWING). He throws his savings at the other students to make friends, but unbeknownst to him the college cad (Brooks Benedict, SPEEDY) ridicules him behind his back. This all saddens the young maid Peggy (Jobyna Ralston, WHY WORRY?), who meets Harold on the train and over time falls for him.

Blogs EWOK ADVENTURE: CARAVAN OF COURAGE (1984) (**1/2)

This film is a total prostitution of the STAR WARS name to bring in cash over the huge popularity of the Ewoks. And as a kid I loved every moment of it. Now looking back, I can see it’s just an average kid adventure. It gets an extra half star for taking place in the STAR WARS universe.

Cindel (Aubree Miller, EWOKS, THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR) and Mace Towani (Eric Walker, LESS THAN ZERO) are two kids separated from their parents on the planet Endor. They meet up with the Warrick family of Ewoks. Of course, this is the family of Wicket (Warwick Davis, WILLOW), the cutest and must loveable Ewok of them all. The story begins with Cindel getting sick and Mace coming to terms with the Ewoks’ way of doing things. Afterwards, Cindel, Mace and a group of Ewoks venture out to save the kids’ parents.

Blogs THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989) (***1/2)

This film walks a fine line between dark comedy and brutal tragedy. Director Danny DeVito plays the film’s narrator Gavin D’Amato, a sleazy lawyer who tells a client about the Roses as a cautionary tale regarding divorce.

Oliver (Michael Douglas, WALL STREET) and Barbara Rose (Kathleen Turner, BODY HEAT) at first had a magic relationship. But as Oliver got more successful and Barbara got more restless with her role as a housewife their marriage begins to fall apart. The film wisely understands how little things grow into bigger things in relationships, especially when the couple can’t talk about the issues or cannot see the other person’s point of view.

The film also has a wicked sense of understanding regarding how men and women handle conflict. In some of the film’s more vicious moments, the dialogue is played so close to the bone that the laughs are tainted with painful truth. The film is subtle and honest. What’s so interesting is how one’s sympathy changes from moment to moment. One moment you like Barbara and the next you like Oliver. They’re both flawed and vindictive people, so you never feel that one is truly more in the right than the other. It’s fascinating to watch them start out with a war of words, which eventually moves into physical violence. Douglas and Turner handle the material perfectly. They both seem born to play roles like these.

Blogs DEFENDING YOUR LIFE (1991) (***1/2)

This is the kind of film that just makes you smile… a lot. Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks, TAXI DRIVER) is an advertising exec who dies. In the afterlife, he finds that for a week he will be part of a “trial” that will determine whether he will return to Earth or move on to a higher consciousness.

His defender is Bob Diamond (Rip Torn, MEN IN BLACK), a cheerful man who assures the worry-wart Daniel that he’s in good hands. But Daniel doesn’t seem so convinced when he discovers that his prosecutor Lena Foster (Lee Grant, MULLHOLLAND DR.) has a bit of a rivalry going on with Bob. Then Daniel meets Julia (Meryl Streep, SOPHIE’S CHOICE) who he instantly falls for. Unlike him she is very confident.

Blogs DEEP RED (1975) (***1/2)

Director Dario Argento has been called the Alfred Hitchcock of Italy. Like Brian DePalma, he has learned from the master and pushed the envelope with violence and substance. However, with this film at least, Argento has taken his Hitchcock 101 lessons and made them his own.

Of Argento’s work, I’ve also seen SUSPIRIA, which I was more fascinated with than I enjoyed. In that film, I felt Argento went too far with his experiment on the theme of dark fairy tales and didn’t develop a solid enough plot. In DEEP RED, considered his first real “masterpiece,” Argento crafts a wonderful thriller that is often shocking with its bursts of violence.

Marcus Daly (David Hemmings, GANGS OF NEW YORK) is a pianist who witnesses a psychic named Helga (Macha Meril, VAGABOND) being brutally murdered. Helga had earlier in the day seen a vision of a murderer in the audience of one of her talks. After fruitlessly trying to save her, Marcus finds himself desperately wrapped up in the mystery, along with the plucky reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi, THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER), his feckless friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia, INFERNO) and Helga's associate Prof. Giordani (Glauco Mauri).

Blogs TOM JONES (1963) (***1/2)

Director Tony Richardson directed the largely underrated THE LOVED ONE and finished his career with powerful drama BLUE SKY. But before those films, he directed a bawdy, best picture-winning screen adaptation of Henry Fielding’s novel TOM JONES.

Albert Finney (TWO FOR THE ROAD) plays the title character, a bastard child raised by a rich man named Squire Allworthy (George Devine, LOOK BACK IN ANGER). Tom is a free-spirited playboy, but he truly loves only one girl – Sophie Western (Susannah York, SUPERMAN). However, Sophie’s father, Squire Western (Hugh Griffith, BEN-HUR), won’t have a bastard marrying his daughter. As well, Tom’s devious cousin Mr. Blifil (David Warner, TRON) schemes to get Tom kicked out of their house. Other key characters include older damsel in distress Mrs. Waters (Joyce Redman, A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE), Squire Western’s snobby city slicker sister (Edith Evans, THE NUN’S STORY), the high-society seductress Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood, BARBARELLA), Sophie’s adulterous cousin Mrs. Fitzpatrick (Rosalind Knight, PRICK UP YOUR EARS), the angry Irish husband Mr. Fitzpatrick (George A. Cooper, BLESS THIS HOUSE) and Sophie’s maid Molly Seagrim (Diane Cilento, HOMBRE).

Blogs STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) (***1/2)

This movie proves that a great ending can really make a film. William Canfield Sr. (Ernest Torrence, 1924’s PETER PAN) is the owner of rundown riverboat. He has a big rivalry with John James King (Tom McGuire, SHE DONE HIM WRONG), the owner of a big fancy riverboat. William is excited about the impending arrival of his son, Bill Jr. (Keaton) from Boston where he attends college. He hasn’t seen his son in years. William is quickly disappointed when Bill Jr. — a very prissy weakling — shows up.

To make matters worse, Bill Jr. is in love with Marion (Marion Byron, SOCIAL SINNERS), the daughter of his father’s rival. He is pretty inept at working on the boat, which is a big laugh for sailor Tom Carter (Tom Lewis, THE GO-GETTER), much to the chagrin of his boss Bill Sr.

Blogs A SONG FOR MARTIN (2002) (***)

Alzheimer’s is the cruelest of diseases. Robbing one’s mind is like stealing their personality. The disease is so unfair to the victim and then so unfair to their loved ones.

This Swedish-language film is based on the life of composer Martin Fischer (Sven Wollter, THE 13TH WARRIOR). In the beginning of the film, Martin strikes up an affair with a married violinist Barbara Hartman (Viveka Seldahl, ANGEL FARM). The two fall madly in love and eventually get married. Soon after, Martin starts to display the quickening signs of Alzheimer’s.

The story is heartbreaking as Martin frustratingly begins to lose the ability to compose, which is his life’s blood. However, the real central character is Barbara, who must deal with the slow loss of the man she loves. At least for Martin, there comes a point when he can’t remember who he was, however Barbara is forced to deal with the man he has become. By the end, Martin is just a child.

Blogs SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS (2003) (***)

DreamWorks’ traditional animated features all attempted to revive old classic Hollywood genres in animation. PRINCE OF EGYPT tried the Biblical epic. ROAD TO EL DORADO tried the Crobsy/Hope ROAD flicks. SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON tried the animal picture. And finally, SINBAD tackled the Greek myth epic adventure. I have not seen EGYPT, but I’ve seen the other three and can say that all of them are good, but not great films. They work for what they are, but they don’t step to a higher level. I’ll get to why I think this happened later.

SINBAD follows Sinbad the pirate (Brad Pitt, 12 MONKEYS) as he is forced into rescuing the Book of Peace from the Goddess of Chaos Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer, BATMAN RETURNS) after he is accused of stealing the book himself. The major wrinkle is that his best friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) takes his place in prison as a sign of faith, giving Sinbad only 10 days to retrieve the Book before his pal is beheaded. Tagging along for the journey is Proteus’ arraigned fiance Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones, THE MASK OF ZORRO).

Blogs RETURNER (2003) (***)

This Japanese sci-fi adventure is like E.T. crossed with THE TERMINATOR crossed with a John Woo flick.

Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) is a hitman who is seeking revenge on Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani, GRAVEYARD OF HONOR) for killing his parents. Then a young teen named Milly (Anne Suzuki, forthcoming STEAMBOY) drops into his life… literally. She’s from the future and blackmails him into helping her on a mission that if she doesn’t succeed at will lead to an alien invasion that will destroy Earth.

The film is filled with stylish action sequences – if not sometimes eye-rolling ridiculous. But at its core, the developing relationship between Miyamoto and Milly is sweet and touching. Kaneshiro and Suzuki have good chemistry, playing the material straight, which makes it easier to believe the craziness of the plot. The film also has some interesting plot twists that keep things interesting. The film melds a lot of sci-fi genres together and has fun with them. It’s an entertaining action adventure that keeps one’s interest by having a nice take on tried and true genre conventions.

Blogs THE RED SHOES (1948) (****)

This is the best film about the ballet I’ve ever seen. It has the best ballet sequence I’ve ever seen on film. It also contains one of the most interesting characters in cinema history.

Victoria Page (Moira Shearer, PEEPING TOM) dreams of becoming a great ballerina. Julian Craster (Marius Goring, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA) is a young composer who is furious when his teacher steals his music and he hears it in a ballet. Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook, 1940’s GASLIGHT) runs the ballet and when Craster comes to challenge the music, Lermontov aloofly asks him to play his music for him then gives him a job as an assistant conductor. Regarding the stolen music, Lermontov says, “It is far less of a worry to be stolen from then to have to steal.” Lermontov gives Page an audition when they meet at a party, but when she arrives he ignores her like they were strangers. This sets up the film as Victoria and Julian move up the ranks at the ballet as well as move together.

Blogs THE PUPPETOON MOVIE (1987) (***1/2)

George Pal’s stop-motion animation is some of the most influential in film history. The detail of his puppets, their movement and the grand scope of the productions are truly amazing. However, what makes many of his films so wonderful are good stories.

THE PUPPETOON MOVIE is a compilation of Pal’s PUPPETOON short films, book-ended by stop-motion animation featuring Gumby, Pokey and other famed stop-motion characters directed by Arnold Leibovit. The book-ends make you only appreciate Pal’s work more because they’re hokey and maudlin.

Musical revues like THE PHILIPS BROADCAST OF 1938 and PHILIPS CAVALCADE blend Busby Berkeley dance numbers with Looney Tunes zaniness. The level of detail in some of the scenes is spectacular. Dozens of characters are moving in a scene, meaning each one had to be moved meticulously every frame.

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