Search form

AWN Blogs

Blogs

SHERMAN'S MARCH (1986) (****)

So what is this documentary about? Its subtitle makes it pretty clear -- A Mediation to the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation. Director Ross McElwee (BRIGHT LEAVES) received a grant to make a film about General Sherman's march of destruction through the South during the Civil War. But then his girlfriend dumps him and the film transforms into a mediation on love and death.

If you think the movie is going to be pretentious or artsy, you’d be totally wrong. It’s hilarious from start to finish. McElwee’s dry wit is what influenced Michael Moore. The film’s subjects are as wacky as anyone in documentaries like GATES OF HEAVEN or VERNON, FLORIDA. It’s like VERNON combined with 20 DATES. Throughout the film, McElwee is either hooked up with women or meets them as he tracks Sherman’s march.

Blogs

CONTROL ROOM (2004) (***1/2)

Anyone who has listened or read coverage of the Iraq war in any depth has at least heard of Al Jazeera – the Arab CNN. You’ve probably heard U.S. Secretary of Defense call it pro-terrorist, anti-American and as he does in this documentary “willing to lie to the world to make their case.” This film is a pretty objective, fly-on-wall look at the channel and its reporters.

At varying times, the station at best looks more objective and dedicated to journalistic integrity than anything on in the U.S., and at worst looks as biased as Fox News. To some comparing Al Jazeera to Fox News might be like calling them twisted propagandists, but in reality, Fox News is just slanted to its audience, which hold a patriotic, conservative view of America and Al Jazeera does the same, only its target audience is Arabs. Due to the fact that I have never seen Al Jazeera, I cannot comment on their reporting practices. The film actually shows very little footage of the station, which I would have liked to see.

Blogs

ROPE (1948) (****)

What can I say – I am in awe of Alfred Hitchcock. In adapting Patrick Hamilton’s play for the screen, Hitchcock experimented with the unbroken shot look. Due to the technological constraints of his time, he was not able to film the entire film in one long shot, but used six shots that look like one long shot. I’m sure Hitchcock would have been impressed with films like TIMECODE and THE RUSSIAN ARK.

The film opens with Brandon Shaw (John Dall, SPARTACUS) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger, THEY LIVE BY NIGHT) strangling to death David Kentley (Dick Hogan). The murder was done just to do it. Brandon is a cold intellectual, who believes that a person of superior intelligence isn’t held back by the traditional moral constraints. Phillip is a nervous young man who follows Brandon as a way to fit in. In a twisted play on Brandon’s sick game, he throws a party to follow the murder with David’s body in a trunk in the middle of the room. Brandon invites David’s father (Cedric Hardwicke, 1937’s KING SOLOMON’S MINE), who brings his visiting sister Mrs. Atwater (Constance Collier, REBECCA), their school friend Kenneth Lawrence (Douglas Dick, 1951’s THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE), Kenneth’s ex and David’s current girlfriend Janet (Joan Chandler, HUMORESQUE) and former dorm supervisor and intellectual Rupert Cadell (James Stewart, REAR WINDOW).

Blogs

RIFIFI (1955) (****)

This is the best heist movie I have ever seen. A true test of a classic is one that can still retain its power and freshness after years of being imitated and copied.

Tony the Stephanois (Jean Servais, LA ROUE) has just been released from prison for a robbery. His former partner Jo le Suedois (Carl Mohner, HE WHO MUST DIE) feels indebted to him for not ratting him out. Their old friend Mario Farrati (Robert Manuel, THE RAZOR’S EDGE) has a plan to rob a jewelry store and knows the perfect safe cracker Cesar le Milanais (Jules Dassin, director of the film). Tony discovers that his old flame Mado (Marie Sabouret, THE TOY WIFE) is now going with a nightclub owner named Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici), who has a drug-addicted brother named Louis (Pierre Grasset).

Blogs

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969) (***1/2)

I absolutely love THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Sergio Leone was a skilled filmmaker who had guts and knew what was cool. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was made after TGTBATU became an international hit. I think the extra cash for this picture gave Leone a little too much freedom. The film’s length and weaker characters hinders its overall success. But you have to give it to Leone to have the guts to not reveal the main plot details until about two hours into the movie.

The first 2/3s of the film is about mood and iconic showdowns and meetings. The film begins with a stranger arriving in town, which everyone refers to as Harmonica (Charles Bronson, DEATH WISH), because of his choice of instruments. Brett McBain (Frank Wolff, THE DEMON) is preparing for the arrival of his new wife Jill (Claudia Cardinale, THE PINK PANTHER) when hired gun Frank (Henry Fonda, THE GRAPES OF WRATH) murders him and the rest of his family by orders of crippled railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti, THE NIGHT PORTER). The characters’ lives all interweave including that of notorious desperado Cheyenne (Jason Robards, MAGNOLIA).

Blogs

THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) (****)

I am an avid fan of director Billy Wilder’s work. THE APARTMENT is my favorite, but his other films include DOUBLE INDEMNITY, SUNSET BLVD., STALAG 17, SABRINA, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION and SOME LIKE IT HOT. That’s a resume any filmmaker should be jealous of. I have never disliked a film of his that I’ve seen. Now I can add Wilder’s first Oscar winning feature to my list of favorites from him. And to think that Paramount had no faith in the film to the degree that it wasn’t planning on releasing it. The film gained new life when it received praise through private home screenings around Hollywood.

The story takes place over one weekend. Wanna-be writer Don Birnam (Ray Milland, THE UNINVITED) and his brother Wick (Phillip Terry, BATAAN) are planning a long weekend at a cabin. Don has stopped drinking for 10 days, but tries to sneak a bottle into his bag. Don’s girlfriend, Helen St. James (Jane Wyman, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), stops by and Don tries to get her and Wick to go to a concert so that he can “rest.” This starts the manipulative and destructive spiral that Don takes during a weekend of binging.

Blogs

JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957) (***)

This film was Elvis Presley’s third. Director Richard Thorpe was hired because he was known in Hollywood as the fastest director. For all intents and purposes, the film is just a vehicle for Elvis to sing and dance on the silver screen. The story isn’t special and the film isn’t trying to be great cinema. However, it works as strictly entertainment.

Presley is a captivating performer and I could name dozens of singers turned actors that have given far worse performances. Presley plays Vince Everett, a blue collar worker who gets sent to prison after accidentally killing a man in a bar fight. In jail, Everett learns to play the guitar from his cellmate Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy, HOW THE WEST WAS WON), a former small time Country & Western singer. Everett is a born performer and Hunk knows it, signing him to a 50/50 contract. Once out of jail, Everett meets recorder promoter Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler, BOP GIRL GOES CALYPSO) and the rest is history as they say.

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).

Pages

randomness