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WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) (****)

This movie will blow you away. If you’re expecting INDEPENDENCE DAY, you’re wrong. Steven Spielberg has made his best film since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

This modern take on the classic H.G. Wells tale puts a modern family in the chaos of the alien invasion from the book. The film is scary like no other alien invasion movie has ever been and it is the best disaster movie I’ve ever seen when it comes to capturing the reality of the situation.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, VANILLA SKY) is a working-class divorced father, who is a selfish boy underneath. His ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto, LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS) drops off their kids — teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin, TV’s TAKEN) and 10-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning, MAN ON FIRE). The film casually establishes the fragile family dynamic and then all hell breaks loose once the aliens arrive. From this point on I’ll let you discover the rest of the story, which is a brutal survivor’s tale.

Blogs

CRASH (2005) (***1/2)

This film is the directorial debut of Paul Haggis, the writer of MILLION DOLLAR BABY. It takes a very Robert Altman approach to race relations in L.A.

Graham Waters (Don Cheadle, HOTEL RWANDA) is a homicide detective that is involved in the murder of a black cop by a white cop. He’s dating his partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito, MADE), who doesn’t like how Water treats his mother (Beverly Todd, LEAN ON ME) and how he’s flippant about her race. However, she doesn’t know the whole story.

That is a key point throughout the film — we make judgments about people without knowing all the facts. Sometimes we’re right, but sometimes we’re horribly wrong. After being car jacked, D.A. Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser, GODS & MONSTERS) and his wife Jean (Sandra Bullock, SPEED) are scared. Jean is scared of being attacked again, taking her frustration out on locksmith Daniel (Michael Pena, MILLION DOLLAR BABY), whose tattoos mask the fact that he’s a sensitive family man with a daughter named Lara (Ashlyn Sanchez, film debut). Rick is scared of the political fall-out of the car jackers being black.

Blogs

BATMAN BEGINS (2005) (****)

This film is the best BATMAN movie because it puts the Caped Crusader at the center. The Tim Burton films were more showcases for the villains. And we’ll not even mention the Joel Schumacher BATMANs. In comicbook terms BATMAN BEGINS is a reboot of the franchise. That’s when a franchise begins to lag and the comicbook company restarts it to bring fresh life into it again.

This film goes back to the beginning and deals with the inner turmoil that made billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, THE MACHINIST) become the Batman. After years of feeling guilty over his parent’s death, Bruce Wayne runs away from his life of privilege where we find him in a Tibetan prison, being brutally attacked by other inmates. The mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson, SCHINDLER’S LIST) helps Wayne leave the prison and study to become a member of the League of Shadows, which is led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Wantanabe, THE LAST SAMURAI). There, Wayne learns to fight crime and injustice, but leaves when the League’s lack of compassion disturbs him.

Blogs

EMPIRE FALLS (2005) (***1/2)

Richard Russo adapted his own novel into this HBO mini-series. Miles Roby (Ed Harris, APOLLO 13) is a mild-mannered diner manager in the depressed town of Empire Falls, Maine. His eccentric father Max (Paul Newman, NOBODY’S FOOL) is allows hitting him up for money — or just stealing it. He has separated from his wife Janine (Helen Hunt, AS GOOD AS IT GETS), who is now engaged to slimy, gym owner Walt “Silver Fox” Comeau (Dennis Farina, SNATCH).

Janine is loud, combative and likes to flaunt her recent loss of 50 lbs. His teenage daughter Tick (Danielle Panabaker, forthcoming SKY HIGH) has just broken up with her violent football playing boyfriend Zack Minty (Trevor Morgan, MEAN CREEK), who is the son of dimwitted police officer Jimmy Minty (William Fichtner, BLACK HAWK DOWN), who was only an acquaintance of Miles when he was a kid, but thinks they were friends. Tick feels sorry for John Voss (Lou Taylor Pucci, PERSONAL VELOCITY), a poor kid who Zack mercilessly picks on.

Blogs

Hiway Clean-up July 10!!! Ya'll come!!!!

We've been in Europe for a month but while we were gone the trash didn't
stop piling up, so it's time for all of us to go out and make Mother Earth
smile!!!! Sunday, July 10th we'll take to the tarmac to discover what
wonders the highway drivers have left for us. Meet at our house at 9:00 AM
for brunch, the watching of the safety film, and suiting up into our "safety
gear".

Info: call Nancy at 415/681-3189.

P.S. Garage sale here on Friday and Saturday!!!!

Blogs

4th OF JULY in Dolores Park

CELEBRATE THE 4th OF JULY IN THE MOST PATRIOTIC STYLE!!!! Join Nik and
Nancy for a picnic in Dolores Park and watch the new SF Mime Troupe show.
Picnic starts at 11:00 AM, the Mime Troupe show at 2:00 PM. Bring something
to eat or drink to share -- we'll arrive at 9:00 AM to meet the Mime Troupe
truck and stake out prime real-estate... so look for us in the center of the
crowd. See you there!!!!

Blogs

NIK PHELPS AT THE BALBOA THEATRE THURSDAY, JUNE 30 7:00 PM.

THURSDAY, JUNE 30 7:00 PM. NIK PHELPS AT THE BALBOA THEATRE

SPROCKET ENSEMBLE'S NIK PHELPS TO PROVIDE ORIGINAL MUSICAL ACCOMPANIMENT FOR
1919 Shackelton Endurance Expedition film.

On Thursday, June 30, Nik Phelps will provide a unique musical accompaniment
to SOUTH, the amazing movie made in 1919 by Ernest Shackleton about his
Endurance Expedition to Antarctica. The screening and performance will be at
the Balboa Theatre at 7:00pm.

Also on the program will be the Oscar nominated PEOPLE OF THE WIND.

SOUTH: Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
When the Endurance was trapped by pack ice, the crew drifted on ice floes
for months before Ernest Shackleton and five of his men made a miraculous
850-mile boat journey to safety. One of the greatest epics in the history of
exploration, this is the original 1919 film produced by Shackleton and Frank
Hurley. (88 min)
(3:05), 7:00 Nik Phelps provides live musical accompaniment at the 7pm
show.
with
PEOPLE OF THE WIND (1976)
To survive, the Bakhtiari tribe must make an eight-week, 200-mile trip to
the mountain pastures. An astonishing epic of the one of the most grueling
migrations in the world, "People of the Wind" was an Oscar® nominee for Best
Documentary. (110 min)
(12:55), 4:50, 8:45

Blogs

JACOB'S LADDER (1990) (***)

This twisting and complex supernatural thriller handles big issues of life and death. Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) is a Viet Nam vet, who now works at the post office, despite having a doctorate. He is separated from his wife Sarah (Patricia Kalember, TV's THIRTYSOMETHING) and is living with sexually provocative Jezebel (Elizabeth Peña, LONE STAR). Or is he?

He keeps having visions of demons and is tormented by the ghost of his dead son Gabe (Macaulay Culkin, HOME ALONE). He finds comfort in his longtime chiropractor Louis (Danny Aiello, DO THE RIGHT THING). Then Jacob meets up with his fellow soldier Paul (Pruitt Taylor Vince, MUMFORD) and things seem to get more complex.

Blogs

HELLRAISER (1987) (**)

In chronicling slasher history, this film is better than FRIDAY THE 13TH, but doesn't come close to attaining the near perfection of the original HALLOWEEN. The film has an intriguing premise, but suffers from a major pacing problem.

Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson, CHILD'S PLAY 3) and his second wife Julia (Clare Higgins, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH) move into his old family home. There seems to be tension between them and we discover that Julia has had an affair with Larry's brother Frank (Sean Chapman, GANGSTER NO. 1), who is the black sheep of the family. Making matters worse, Larry's daughter from his first marriage Kirsty (Ashley Laurence, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II) doesn't like Julia at all. I guess that's for good reason.

Blogs

EASY RIDER (1969) (***1/2)

Made on a shoestring budget, this film really captures the feeling of the late 1960s. The story linked two symbols of rebellion — the motorcycle and the hippie movement. Time has only lessened the power of these images. Motorcycles are big business and the hippie movement looks like a failed frivolity. However, this film still lasts as a time capsule of the era's feelings and ideals.

Wyatt aka Captain America (Peter Fonda, ULEE'S GOLD) and Billy (Dennis Hopper, APOCALYPSE NOW) have participated in a cocaine deal to get the money for a cross-country trip to Mardi Gras. Along the way, they stop at a farm and are inspired by the farmer's life living off the land. Later they arrive at a hippie commune where they party and indulge in the drug-fueled climate.

Blogs

DODSWORTH (1936) (****)

William Wyler is the director of some of the greatest films, including THE COLLECTOR, BEN-HUR, FRIENDLY PERSUASION, ROMAN HOLIDAY, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, JEZEBEL and THE LETTER. And all of those films came after this one, which is one of the best I have seen of his work.

Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE) is a self-made millionaire, who sells his automobile company so that his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton, A ROYAL DIVORCE) and him can tour Europe. The drama of the film surrounds the bumpy relationship between Sam and Fran. The joy of the film is Huston’s portrayal of Sam Dodsworth — a one of kind movie character. He is so well realized that Huston becomes him.

Blogs

DEAD ALIVE (1992) (****)

Before becoming the Oscar-winning director of THE LORD OF THE RINGS series, Peter Jackson made this satirical horror film, which is hands down the goriest flick I've ever seen. I mean blood and guts by the gallons. I mean characters taking lawnmowers to zombies. Do not watch this film while eating. It will make you nauseous. If it seems like you can't stomach a movie like this than don't watch it. This is for certain tastes only.

However, if you like dark, witty, inventive horror comedy than you have to see this film now. Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme, LA VIE EN ROSE) is a weak momma's boy. He lives to please his demanding mum (Elizabeth Moody, HEAVENLY CREATURES). She even follows him on a date with Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver, THE MOST AMAZING GAME), who feels that she is destined to be with Lionel even though a tarot card reading states that death hangs over him.

Blogs

CHASING LIBERTY (2004) (**1/2)

Anna Foster (Mandy Moore, SAVED!) is the 18-year-old daughter of the U.S. President James Foster (Mark Harmon, FREAKY FRIDAY). Anna so desperately wants some freedom from the oppressiveness of being watched by Secret Service agents at every turn. The Fosters are going to Prague and Anna convinces her father to let her go out with the French president’s daughter Gabrielle (Beatrice Rosen), accompanied by only two agents Alan Weiss (Jeremy Piven, JUST WRITE) and Cynthia Morales (Annabella Sciorra, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME).

However, the President doesn’t keep his promise and sends out a horde of agents. When Anna discovers this, she runs away to the Love Parade, which he father strictly forbid her to go to. In her dash from the agents, she hitches a ride with a complete stranger named Ben Calder (Matthew Goode, Woody Allen’s upcoming MATCH POINT), who happens to be an undercover agent. So when the President finds out, he allows Anna to go with Ben so that she feels like she has some freedom.

Blogs

AUDITION (1999) (***)

This is my second Takashi Miike film and it's such a hugely different film from ICHI THE KILLER. Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi, THE GRUDGE) is a widower. His son Shigehiko (Retsu Sawaki, HUSH!) is now a teenager and he wants to find a new wife. His friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura, KILL BILL: VOL. 1) presents an idea — they will hold a fictional movie audition for Shigeharu to meet woman. He quickly becomes enamored with quiet and shy Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), who has had a great lose in her past.

The film is a satirical look at relationships and the pursuit for the ideal mate. With a surprising ending (only surprising if you don't know Miike really), the film has a pretty cynical view of male/female relations.

Blogs

WHITE NOISE (2005) (**)

The major problem with this film is that it takes a pretty creepy idea and makes it boring. The film deals with EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena), which is the belief that ghosts can be recorded on radio and TV channels between frequencies.

Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton, BEETLEJUICE) is an architect, who loses a loved one. One day, Raymond Price (Ian McNeice, FROM HELL) comes to Jonathan and tells him that Jonathan's loved one has contacted him through EVP means. Jonathan quickly becomes a believer and along with Raymond and bookstore owner Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger, SUNSHINE) they desperately try to contact the deceased.

Many times throughout the film, you say to yourself — hey, that's an interesting idea, I wish they would have done more with that. Part of what makes EVP creepy is the unexpectedness of the voices and their eerie sound. The film captures it a little bit, but doesn't deal enough with why the dead are contacting the living. Well, not in any really emotional or interesting way.

Blogs

THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (2004) (****)

I was very impressed with director Guy Maddin after seeing his inventive DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN'S DIARY. In his latest venture, he takes his vintage silent movie look to the next level. You know a Maddin film right from the start, because it uses the conventions and look of silent cinema as its style. In DRACULA, Maddin used the conventions for subtle satirical purposes. He does the same here, but to a more poignant and successful extent.

By toning down his exuberant style from DRACULA, he has crafted a satire on sadness. Set in 1933 in Winnipeg during the Depression, the legless Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini, BLUE VELVET) issues a call to all nations to participate in a contest to discover what nation's music is the saddest. The winner will receive $25,000.

Blogs

NATIONAL TREASURE (2004) (***)

The plot structure of this film is very close to that of the book, THE DA VINCI CODE. Clues to a treasure/ secret are hidden within public documents or monuments/ works of art. I have not read THE DA VINCI CODE, but the movie is coming soon. But first we have this film, which on a very innocent level works really well. What kid hasn’t dreamt of a good ol’ treasure hunt? This film provides that fantasy. And with a PG-rating anyone in the family can enjoy it.

Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage, LEAVING LAS VEGAS) comes from a family that has been entrusted with the secret for finding a huge treasure, squirreled away by the Founding Fathers, Masons and Knights Templar. Ben’s grandfather John Adams Gates (Christopher Plummer, THE INSIDER) was the person who sparked the treasure hunt bug in him and his father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight, COMING HOME) has been trying to crush it, because he doesn’t want his son to waste his life like he did, looking for a treasure that might not exist.

Blogs

THE MACHINIST (2004) (***1/2)

Brad Anderson is an interesting filmmaker. His NEXT STOP WONDERLAND was smart and funny and his SESSION 9 was one of the scarier horror films that I’d seen in ages. Now he creates an atmospheric thriller that succeeds greatly from solid performances and a stellar ending.

First off, the performance of Christian Bale (BATMAN BEGINS) as Trevor Reznik is amazing. He dropped 60 lbs. for the role and is literally skin and bones, adding an inherent creepiness over the entire film. Equally as compelling is Jennifer Jason Leigh (THE HUDSUCKER PROXY) as Stevie, Reznik’s favorite prostitute, who really just wants someone to not treat her like dirt for once.

Reznik also visits an airport diner to see kind waitress Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, I’M NOT SCARED). Reznik’s major problem is that he hasn’t slept in over a year. Stevie and Marie worry about his health. His co-workers are now finding their former friend quite strange. Then when the mysterious bald-headed machinist Ivan (John Sharian, CALENDAR GIRLS) shows up things go down hill from there, including Reznik causing an accident that maims a co-worker.

Blogs

LOVE ME IF YOU DARE (2004) (***)

This romantic comedy was a big hit in its native country of France. It has a whimsical AMELIE feel to it, but with a touch of darkness like WAR OF THE ROSES.

Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT) have been friends since they were eight years old. Since then they have been playing a game of dares with each other. As youth, the dares were fairly harmless parks like saying dirty words in class or peeing on the principal’s office floor. The film uses a bit of an unbelievable conceit to keep these two friends from hooking up at a younger age. There is no doubt that these two people are meant for each other.

However, when they get older and Sophie wants to get more serious, she can’t trust if what Julien is saying is for real or just a game. This leads into an exchange of dares that are emotionally brutal and even dangerous.

Blogs

ENDURING LOVE (2004) (***1/2)

This drama — masked as a thriller— is a debate on what is love. A random event, which results in a person's death, brings philosophy professor Joe (Daniel Craig, LAYER CAKE) to meet scruffy Jed (Rhys Ifans, NOTTING HILL).

Joe is a practical and rational thinker, who has an idea that love is just an evolutionary trick to make people procreate. He is the kind of person who rationalizes everything. Jed is irrational, believing in the intangible and creating grand cause and method out of any sign or gesture. He begins stalking Joe, believing their one shared experience has linked them.

The whole of the tragic event, including Jed's weird behavior, starts to unravel Joe as well. His stable relationship with Claire (Samantha Morton, MINORITY REPORT) becomes strained as he becomes more and more rational thus more and more emotionless. The film is quite observant when it comes to how people deal with random tragedies. I loved how the film used Joe and Jed's characters to display the extreme sides of its central premise, allowing Claire to serve as the middle ground.

Blogs

Dennis Tupicoff reception, 4th of July Reminder

Nik and Nancy are back from the Annecy International Festival of Animation -- it was wonderful to see old friends and make lots of new ones -- I'll write a separate article about Annecy in a week or so so that anyone who isn't interested in animation (although I can't imagine who that would be) won't have to read it.

We return to San Francisco just in time to host a party for renowned Australian animator Dennis Tupicoff. THIS IS A PARTY FOR ANIMATION PEOPLE - NOT ONE OF OUR MASSIVE PARTIES, but if you are from the animation world, please come and meet Dennis. He has been in Los Angeles where a retrospective of his work was screened and is coming up to visit Nik and I for a few days.

Blogs

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (2005) (***1/2)

Studio Ghibli is the true master of current animation. That's solely due to the greatness of director Hayao Miyazaki. He keeps saying that he's going to retire, but that would only make the world a dreary place. I felt both his PRINCESS MONONOKE and SPIRITED AWAY were the best films of their respective years of release.

Sophie (voiced young by Emily Mortimer, LOVELY & AMAZING and old by Jean Simmons, SPARTACUS) is a young, quiet hat maker, who doesn't think she is pretty. One day she has a run in with the greedy Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT), who turns Sophie into an old woman. The next day Sophie leaves her hat shop and ends up on a wizard's moving castle. The wizard is Howl (Christian Bale, BATMAN BEGINS), a handsome and charming young man who can turn into a giant monstrous bird.

Blogs

WOLFEN (1981) (***)

This thriller/horror flick is more than your typical werewolf movie. Rich industrialist Christopher van der Veer (Max M. Brown, only film performance) and his wife Pauline (Anne Marie Pohtamo, MANHATTAN) are savagely murdered. Gritty detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney, TOM JONES) is assigned the case.

Helping him is forensic scientist Whittington (Gregory Hines, WHITE NIGHTS) and Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora, HEAT), an investigator for a security company that guards wealthy individuals. When strange wolf hairs show up on the victims, Dewey makes the leap that Native American activist Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos, STAND & DELIEVER) might be involved in some supernatural way.

Blogs

WILD STRAWBERRIES (1959) (****)

This film is one of the most deceptively deep motion pictures I've ever seen. By the end of the film, I knew the main character more deeply than I know acquaintances in real life.

Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) is a widower who over time has isolated himself from people and become quite cold, because he finds the world too critical. He is being given an honorary degree from his old university and must travel there to accept it.

After having a strange dream about death, he decides to drive to the event instead of taking the train. His dedicated housekeeper Agda (Jullan Kindahl, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) doesn't like the change in plans, but Isak's daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin, CRIES AND WHISPERS) decides to ride along with him even though she does not like him because he is cold and distant like her husband/his son Evald (Gunnar Björnstrand).

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