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Blogs TROY (2004) (***)

In the same year, we get a nuanced rethinking of both THE ILIAD and King Arthur. Not that TROY and KING ARTHUR are bad films, but like it has been said – when you have the choice of printing the facts or the legend, print the legend.

TROY tries to be GLADIATOR in many ways. In an effort to build more character moments, they forgot the grand drama and spectacle that made films like BEN-HUR great. So strangely enough they fall into a weird middle ground between being grand epics or emotional historical adventures like BRAVEHEART. But in the end, I enjoyed TROY enough to encourage people to check it out.

On a peace mission to Sparta, Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) woos Spartan queen Helen (Diane Kruger, WICKER PARK) away from her husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson, DARK BLUE). This upsets Paris’ father Priam (Peter O’Toole, MY FAVORITE YEAR) and brother Hector (Eric Bana, HULK). But more so it upsets Menelaus, who calls on his brother Greek king Agamemnon (Brian Cox, L.I.E.) to invade Troy. To succeed at this feat, the Greek King calls on his greatest warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt, 12 MONKEYS), who despises Agamemnon. During the invasion of Troy, Achilles falls for the Trojan royal niece Briseis (Rose Byrne, WICKER PARK).

Blogs RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (2004) (**)

The original RESIDENT EVIL is horrible. To say the sequel is a little better isn’t saying much. However, it does keep up the status that no movie based on a videogame has ever been good.

Alice (Milla Jovovich, DUMMY) returns, finding herself as a guinea pig in an Umbrella Corp. lab. In the first film, Alice wanted to take down the company and ended getting wrapped up in a conspiracy involving bio-weapons and the living dead. Now the living dead have escaped from the lab and the people of Raccoon City are trapped, left to die by the all-powerful Umbrella baddies.

A top scientist Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris, HAPPINESS) is desperate because his daughter Angie (Sophie Vavasseur, EVELYN) is trapped in the city, which will be wiped off the Earth by a nuclear bomb in the morning. So he enlists people inside the city to rescue his daughter with the promise that he will get them out. How he contacts the people inside the city is a plot device so lame that you’d think it came from a videogame.

Blogs OPEN WATER (2004) (***1/2)

This indie flick has been described as BLAIR WITCH PROJECT meets JAWS. I’m amazed at what was accomplished with a small budget and a director with only one other feature under his belt. Chris Kentis (GRIND) shows a lot of promise as a filmmaker to watch.

The film begins with Susan (Blanchard Ryan, SUPER TROOPERS) and Daniel (Daniel Travis, film debut) getting ready for a Caribbean vacation. We quickly find out that Susan has a very time consuming and demanding job that made the trip a last minute venture. The film works equally as a thriller and a character piece. The leads are very well observed and the dialogue is so truthful you’d think you’re watching a documentary. As the events play out that lead to Susan and Daniel being stranded out in the ocean, we really get a natural tension that is great.

Blogs NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (2004) (**1/2)

I really wanted to like this movie, but in the end I’m fonder of certain moments than I am of the film as a whole. Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder, feature film debut) is a high school nerd who the other nerds wouldn’t even want to hang out with. He’s picked on viciously all the time and has developed a quick temper and cocky attitude to anyone who possibly could be a potential tormentor.

His older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell, forthcoming THINK TANK) is no better. He spends most of his day on Internet chat rooms talking to “chics.” After their Grandma (Sandy Martin, BARFLY) is sent to the hospital after a dune buggy accident, their uncle Rico (Jon Gries, REAL GENIUSES) comes to look after them. Rico is in his mid-forties and is terminally stuck in 1982 when he was a high school football star. He chronically embarrasses Napoleon with his new scam of the month. Napoleon befriends Pedro (Efren Ramirez, KAZAAM), the only Hispanic kid in the school. Through his own ineptness, Napoleon ends up hooking up Deb (Tina Majorino, WATERWORLD), the girl he likes, with Pedro.

Blogs THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (2004) (***1/2)

I will freely admit that I have little faith in remakes. I will also admit that this remake when I first heard about it made me angry. I’m quite a fan of the original and thoughts of Van Sant’s PSYCHO went through my head. I also hated the idea of changing the setting to the original Gulf War. Brainwashing just seemed more feasible when Communists were involved.

However, what I got was an ode to current political paranoias like the original one was on fears of the 1950s. Director Jonathan Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) has constructed a tight thriller with a lot to say about the current geo-political climate. Ben Marco (Denzel Washington, TRAINING DAY) is a decorated military officer who has been having dreams about an incident in Iraq just prior to the first Gulf War, which lead to Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber, A WALK ON THE MOON) being decorated as a war hero. Now Shaw is the vice-presidential candidate and things don’t seem right to Marco, who tries to convince anyone who’ll listen that he isn’t crazy.

Blogs LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING: EXTENDED EDITION (2003) (****)

Out of all the Extended Editions in this trilogy, this one isn’t better than the theatrical cut. For FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS, the Extended Edition made the film brilliant. Too many key character moments were cut for the theaters. For TWO TOWERS, the Extended Edition didn’t monumentally change the film, but it added some nice character moments that improved the story. For RETURN OF THE KING, many of the new moments make the sections they were added too seem to drag. I didn’t feel this way about any of the new scenes in the other two films.

I love the addition of Saruman (Christopher Lee, STAR WARS: EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES) into the film. Something seemed unfinished without him in the theatrical cut, however the scene does go on a bit too long. Most of the other new moments flowed smoothly into the film. Toward the end the addition of the Mouth of Sauron character is nice, because the character is cool and the scene ends wonderfully, but the scene is too long and throws off the pacing in a key time in the film.

Blogs KING ARTHUR (2004) (***)

I was quite surprised with this film. It takes a more historical look at the King Arthur legend. In the film, Arthur is a Briton who fights for Rome. His knights of the round table have been assigned a duty of fifteen years and have become famous for their fighting skills. A day before they are to be set free – Rome asks them to go on one more mission to save a favorite boy of the Pope who is trapped in a part of the country where the Saxons have taken over.

The mission is futile and dangerous. Rome is pulling out of Britain, because such a far off outpost is too hard to defend. They’re pretty much leaving it to the Saxons, who are lead by the vicious warrior Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgard, BREAKING THE WAVES). Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd, HORNBLOWER series) hates the mission and butts heads with Arthur over it. On the journey Arthur meets with Guinevere (Keira Knightley, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM), a female warrior of the Woads, who are lead by Merlin (Stephen Dillane, THE HOURS), who wants Arthur to help keep the Saxons out.

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

This Irish film definitely comes from the “I’ve been influenced by PULP FICTION” land of filmmaking. But that’s not so bad, because the story and characters are original and interesting and the film is full of surprises.

The story follows several characters and shows how their lives cross each other. Right from the get-go the film has a twisted surprise in introducing Lehiff (Colin Farrell, PHONE BOOTH), a gruff street thug who has a thing for kitchen appliances. John (Cillian Murphy, 28 DAYS LATER) works at a Mega Mart and has just been dumped by his girlfriend Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald, TWO FAMILY HOUSE), who has taken up with a married bank manager Sam (Michael McElhatton, BLOW DRY), whose abandoned wife, Noeleen (Deirdre O'Kane, WITH OR WITHOUT YOU), goes to a lonely-hearts dance and meets John’s best mate Oscar (David Wilmot, THE GENERAL).

Blogs GARDEN STATE (2004) (***1/2)

SCRUBS star Zach Braff steps out from TV to direct and write this Sundance Film Festival discovery. Braff plays Andrew Largeman, a struggling actor in Los Angeles who travels back home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. Largeman hasn’t been home for nine years and hasn’t cried since he was child. He hasn’t felt much emotion at all for a long time because ever since he could remember he has been on lithium and various other mood-altering drugs proscribed to him by his psychiatrist father Gideon (Ian Holm, THE SWEET HEREAFTER).

Largeman has stopped taking his meds, because he feels that he has been living in an emotionless fog for way too long and needs to find himself. When home he meets up with old friends including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard, SHATTERED GLASS), who works digging graves and spends most of his time in a different kind of drug-induced haze. Largeman then meets the eccentric, young woman Sam (Natalie Portman, CLOSER), whose infectious personality puts a smile on Largeman’s face for the first time in ages.

Blogs SIDEWAYS (2004) (****)

Director Alexander Payne (ELECTION, ABOUT SCHMIDT) gets better with each film he makes. If you want to categorize the film then it’s a road/buddy movie, but it’s really a humorous character study.

Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti, AMERICAN SPLENDOR) is going through an emotional crisis regarding his purpose in the world. He’s a wanna-be novelist who’s doing time as an 8th grade English teacher. He’s a wine aficionado, which serves as a lovely cover for his alcoholism. His college friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church, TV’s WINGS) is getting married and they have planned a trip to California’s wine country for a week. Miles is divorced and hasn’t had a relationship in two years. So Jack sets out to get Miles laid as well as himself.

Blogs MEET THE FOCKERS (2004) (**1/2)

This is how I like to describe this film. It’s like that guy (and trust me you know this guy) at the party who tells a joke and gets a big laugh so he/she continues to rehash the same joke for the rest of the evening hoping to stay the center of attention. This sequel to MEET THE PARENTS is a product of the first film’s success.

The plot of meeting the future in-laws is a logical step to go, but no one found a strong enough story to tell. The only strength of the film is just the joy of seeing Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand together on the screen. Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Ben Stiller, REALITY BITES) has made some decent progress winning over his fiancée Pam’s (Teri Polo, BEYOND BORDERS) father, Jack Byrnes (DeNiro). Greg, Pam, Jack and Pam’s mother Dina (Blythe Danner, HUSBANDS AND WIVES) set out on the road to Florida to spend the weekend with Greg’s parents Bernie (Hoffman) and Roz (Streisand).

Blogs THE AVIATOR (2004) (****)

Director Martin Scorsese goes grand again; this time dealing with the early professional life of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio, WHAT’S EASTING GILBERT GRAPE?). Like Scorsese did with GANGS OF NEW YORK, he tells the grand, but troubled, life of Hughes, who took an inherited tool fortune and gambled it on risky film and aeronautic ventures, which eventually led to him becoming the richest man in the world.

The film is anchored by a stellar performance by DiCaprio, who convincingly shows Hughes’ inner demons with an irrational germ phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Over time he develops mental blocks that he just can't get over, such as simply exiting a public bathroom, fearing the germs lurking on the door handle. The film amazingly deals with the issue of the thin line between genius and madness. I loved the way the film dealt with the character’s struggle with compulsions that he knows are irregular, but has little choice in controlling them. But this film really isn't about the neurotic Hughes that everyone remembers, but the golden boy before he got lost in he dark forest of mental disease.

Blogs GROSSE POINT BLANK (1997) (***1/2)

I saw this film in the theaters and remember liking it, but I kind of forgot about it. Now after rewatching it about seven years later, I’ve rediscovered a darkly funny film that made me laugh out loud. What’s so great about the film is that it works equally as a satire of hitmen movies, as well as high school reunions. A peculiar combo that works surprisingly well.

Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack, HIGH FIDELITY) is an assassin for hire who started out in the business of murder in the Army. He’s returning to his hometown for his 10-year high school reunion. In a “what’s my life all about” crisis, he tries to give up the profession and rekindle a romance with his old flame Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver, GOOD WILL HUNTING), who he left broken hearted when he ditched town. To aid him in his emotional crisis, he’s in constant contact with his shrink Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin, SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS). Rounding out the cast is rival hitman Grocer (Dan Aykroyd, GHOSTBUSTERS), Martin’s high school friend Paul Spericki (Jeremy Piven, JUST WRITE) and Martin’s assistant Marcella (Joan Cusack, IN & OUT).

Blogs THE GENERAL (1927) (****)

I just love silent comedies. Sight gags work so well on film. Words get in the way sometimes and have a bigger chance of falling flat. In every one of my reviews of either Keaton, Lloyd or Chaplin, I’ve mentioned the others and I think I’ve seen enough of each filmmaker’s work to say they are equally great for different reasons and leave it at that.

In this film, Keaton plays Johnny Gray, a young train conductor who lives in the South at the time of the Civil War. He’s in love with Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack, THE CARNIVAL GIRL). When Annabelle’s father and brother rush off to join the Confederate army when the North comes knocking, Annabelle pressures Johnny to join. He doesn’t seem like he really wants to, but he’ll do anything for his girl. However, went the army won’t take him, Annabelle refuses to see him any more. However, when the Union army steals Johnny’s train with Annabelle on it, Johnny heads after them.

Blogs THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI (2004) (***1/2)

Takeshi "Beat" Kitano is a film legend in most parts of the world, but he is little known to the general public in the U.S. Cult fans will know him as the teacher in BATTLE ROYALE, which is an amazing film. ZATOICHI is a huge franchise in Japan with 26 films and a TV series. Actor Shintaro Katsu played the blind swordsman until his death. Kitano boils down the series to its essence and creates a pulp samurai/yakuza flick that fans of Quentin Tarantino will love.

Zatoichi (Kitano) is a blind masseur, who often finds himself in quick and deadly swordplay. He ends up fighting for the side of justice. This time around two geishas – O-Sei (Daigoro Tachibana, film debut) and O-Kinu (Yuuko Daike, JU-ON 2) are seeking revenge on the gang that slaughtered their parents when they were children. Boss Ginzo (Ittoku Kishibe, FIFTEEN) hires master swordsman Hattori Genosuke (Tadanobu Asano, ICHI THE KILLER), who only takes the job to help save his sick wife O-Shino (Yui Natsukawa, SPY SORGE). Throughout the film, Zatoichi stays with Aunt O-Ume (Michiyo Ookusu, ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN'S PILGRIMAGE) and her unlucky, loaf of a brother Shinkichi (Gadarukanaru Taka, WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE), who give a good look at how the yakuza (gangster) affect the lives of the villagers.

Blogs Nik & Nancy update: House Sale, not Yard Sale

Due to the continuing reports of impending rain for the weekend Nik and I
are holding our first house sale -- vintage hats, gloves, selected clothing
, costumes, kitchenware and many other household  items.  This sale is only
for our mailing list NOT FOR DEALERS OR THE PUBLIC AT LARGE!!!   PLEASE DO
NOT POST TO CRAIGSLIST!!!!!! If you have been to our parties and have had
you eye on something special in our house this might be your chance to take
it home with you.

Saturday and Sunday, January 8 & 9  (yep Nik's birthday!!!)

12:00 Noon to 5:00 PM  (dear friends, PLEASE Do Not arrive early)

2066  30th Avenue

San Francisco   (between Pacheco & Quintara)

Blogs ANGELS IN AMERICA: PERESTROIKA (2003) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, December 15, 2004 at 9:47pm

Epic and gothic  -- the second half of Mike Nichols miniseries based on Tony Kushner’s play is fulfilling and maddening and wonderful.

Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson, THE ALAMO) has left his wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES), who floats around in a Valium daze, to strike up an affair with Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman, ROGER DODGER). Prior Walter (Justin Kirk, LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!) has been visited by The Angel of America (Emma Thompson, MUCH ADU ABOUT NOTHING), who wants Prior to become a prophet. Belize (Jeffrey Wright, ALI) worries about Prior’s struggle with AIDS and that he may be having delusions. He also has to deal with the foul nature of Roy Cohn (Al Pacino, HEAT), who has been secretly admitted to the hospital to treat his AIDS.

Blogs GOING MY WAY (1944) (***1/2)

This film is a charming, uplifting tale that exemplifies the kind of films that were greatly popular during the World War II years. The film was nominated for 10 Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Bing Crosby), Best Supporting Actor (Barry Fitzgerald), Best Director (Leo McCarey), Best Music, Original Song (“Swinging on a Star”), Best Writing, Original Story (McCarey) and Best Writing, Screenplay (Frank Butler, Frank Cavett). (An interesting trivia note is that Fitzgerald was also nominated as best actor, which the Academy changed the rules on later about being nominated in both categories).

Fitzgerald (THE QUIET MAN) plays an elderly priest named Fitzgibbon. Crosby plays the young priest Father Chuck O’Malley, who has been assigned to Fitzgibbon’s church to liven things up and help save it from financial ruin. Fitzgibbon is very set in his ways and clashes with O’Malley’s more modern and less pious approach to the ministry.

Blogs HELL HOUSE (2001) (***1/2)

This fairly non-partisan documentary about an evangelical church in Texas putting on its controversial haunted house displays the best and worst of the more fundamental Christian movement in America.

For 10 years, Trinity Church has been putting on Hell House, where different mini-plays display real world violence from a fundamental Christian perspective. The people who put on the performance really are dedicated to the cause of bringing the message of Jesus to non-believers. The film does a wonderful job of just watching the process of the Hell House being constructed from auditions, to practice, to script writing to performance.

To say that some of the people involved are extreme would be stating things too lightly. Some members of the church speak in tongues, which is a belief that a strange seemingly unintelligible language comes from ones heart and talks untainted to God. The phenomenon of tongues is definitely interpreted differently in other more mainstream Christian churches than the literal depiction in the film.

Blogs THE ODD COUPLE (1968) (***1/2)

Neil Simon adapted his play for the screen and was benefited by wonderful performances from Jack Lemmon as finicky Felix Ungar and Walter Matthau as sloppy Oscar Madison.

The film starts with a depressed Felix wondering the streets of New York. His wife has just filed for divorce. At his weekly poker game, Oscar and his other friends wonder why Felix is late. The humor of the film comes from the situation and how Felix hopeless bungles through it. It perfectly walks the line between the tragic and the humorous.

To help out his pal, Oscar invites Felix to stay at his apartment. What could be more logical than two recent divorcees moving in together? Not when its Felix and Oscar. Felix’s clean freak attitude quickly gets on the nerves of Oscar and begins to cramp his style.

Blogs DUPLEX (2003) (*1/2)

When Danny DeVito steps behind the camera, we usually get a dark comedy. The 1980s THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN and THE WAR OF THE ROSES are shining examples of his work. His recent DEATH TO SMOOCHY and DUPLEX make us wonder what the heck is going on. DUPLEX is crude, shallow and its worst sin is that it’s quite unfunny.

Alex Rose (Ben Stiller, REALITY BITES) and Nancy Kendricks (Drew Barrymore, CHARLIE’S ANGELS) have bought a duplex in Manhattan. However, due to rent control, they cannot kick out the elderly Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel, FINDING NEVERLAND) from the upstairs apartment. The old woman quickly becomes a nuisance to the yuppie couple and inadvertently leads to all sort of misery for them. This leads Alex and Nancy to want to murder Mrs. Connelly.

Blogs THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004) (***1/2)

Based on the award-winning children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, this film from director Robert Zemeckis (WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT) is an enchanted ode to believing in the potential for magic, mainly in Santa Claus.

Using motion-capture technology to animate a digital version of the actors, the film is part visual effects, part animation and part live-action acting. A lot has been said about the creepy nature of the characters, which has led to a love it or hate it attitude toward the film. From my rating you see that I fall into the love it club. I agree at times some of the characters look stiff and not life like, but for the most part I didn’t notice or better yet didn’t mind.

Blogs LAURA (1944) (****)

This is one of the stranger film noirs you may ever see. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews, THE LOVED ONE) is assigned to the murder case of beautiful Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney, NIGHT AND THE CITY). McPherson first interviews the gossip writer Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb, 1950’s CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN), who then accompanies him to interview socialite Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) and Laura’s boy-toy fiancée Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price, THE FLY).

What’s fascinating about the film is the implausibility of the actions of many of the characters, but the film’s lack of caring. Would an investigator really take a murder suspect along for the ride to interview other suspects? When McPherson interviews Lydecker, the writer is in the bathtub, eventually getting out and asking McPherson for his robe. How many murder suspects appear fully nude (even if its off camera) to the detective?

Blogs NOW, VOYAGER (1942) (****)

I just love Bette Davis. It’s hard to say that this film is Davis at her best, because that would undermine her amazing work in ALL ABOUT EVE, JEZEBEL and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Her transformation in this film is drastic, but the testament to her skills is that never for a second do you believe she isn't the same character.

In this film, Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a woman in her late twenties to mid-thirties who has become a meek spinster under the tyrannical authority of her traditional mother (Gladys Cooper, MY FAIR LADY). One day, Charlotte’s sister-in-law June (Bonita Granville, THESE THREE) brings psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains, NOTORIOUS) to the house to help Charlotte, who is on the brink of a mental breakdown. Charlotte ends up at Dr. Jaquith’s sanitarium where she learns to come out of her shell and become her own person.

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