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Showing posts from 2009

Avatar - Movie Review

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By Purple

When you first plug into "Avatar", it's hard not to feel the bliss as the camera soars through the lush electroluminescent black-light jungles of an alien planet all rendered before you on a three story tall screen in glorious IMAX 3D. Even the grim and gritty, super industrial, mega military machines have an appeal when the precision of the spinning gears can be heard swirling through the theater in super-high resolution surround sound. And these grandiose layers that "Avatar" is built upon, the best that big ticket studio dollars can buy, come with a cost of a predictable plot and story that most won't even notice or care about until long after the house lights come back on and audiences are safely on their way home.

With reportedly a well over 400 million dollar production budget at stake, it's a solid bet that there weren't likely to be any surprises from the "Avatar" story department. It's like a "Barton Fink" wr…

The Princess and the Frog - Movie Review

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By Purple

Years before a single frame made it to the screen, Disney's latest movie, "The Princess and the Frog" generated a lot of talk and controversy about it being the first in the mega successful line of 'Princess' movies, to feature an African American princess. With airbags bemoaning that the mouse was once more trying to brainwash a generation of youth with some kind of politically correct message that never materializes in the new feature length film. Or as my friend put it, sometimes grown ups over think things. What "The Princess and the Frog" brings is a welcome return of the deliciously hand-drawn Disney animation style in a modern classic fairy tale that is sure to capture the hearts and minds of children of all ages.

"The Princess and the Frog" is also the first 2D feature film with Pixar's John Lasseter as Executive Producer and head of Disney Animation, and he didn't take any chances and wisely returned to the Disney tale…

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Movie Review

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By Purple

At first it may seem like an odd choice for Wes Anderson, to pick an obscure Roald Dahl story to adapt using archaic stop motion animation techniques, however, it only takes sitting through the first fifteen minutes of the "Fantastic Mr. Fox" movie to realize that it fits perfectly with everything else that Wes Anderson has done to date.

Structurally the "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is similar to all of Anderson's previous films such as "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" or "The Royal Tenenbaums", with the conflict revolving around a charismatic yet eccentric family member whose passion leads the larger clan on an ill-advised course of off kilter crazy adventure. In this case, this role is filled by the dashing Mr. Fox properly voiced by George Clooney whose "Ocean's 11" chatty charm is a perfect match for Mr. Fox's ambitions and his smooth delivery compels his animal cohorts along. Thankfully Meryl Streep's worrisome …

2012 - Movie Review

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By Purple

Combine some uncertain details about Maya calendars, along with vague prophecies about the end of the world, insert a team of Indian scientists studying some solar flares, and then wheel it out a few years ahead of its impending doom date, and you've got the basic premise of "2012" a disastrous end of the world movie, just in time for the holidays.

And while the world currently struggles to get through tough social and economic times, more and more people have gone off the deep end and seem all too ready for the world to end. I suppose that's what movies like "2012" are for, a release valve of sorts that let people indulge that inner fantasy that gets them off the hook by having the world end instead of having to face the realities of where we are at as a people as we struggle to survive.

Roland Emererich, director of films like "Independence Day" is no stranger to serving up big screen spectacles for the masses, however with "2012&quo…

Pirate Radio - Movie Review

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By Purple

"Pirate Radio" is a rock and roll music lover's fantasy that sets sail with power chords at sea. If you can imagine being sent off in a boat with a band of unruly crazy music lovers, with the sole purpose of playing the songs that defined a generation to defy the uptight establishment back at home, then you belong on-board "Pirate Radio". There was a time during the sixties in the UK, where rock and roll and music was almost all but banned from the national radio service, and as a response, boats rigged with transmitters shipped out into international waters, just out of jurisdiction but still within broadcasting range. These true events are the basis for the fictional tale seen in "Pirate Radio".

Originally titled the 'Boat that rocked the world' for its British release, "Pirate Radio" is another ensemble cast movie written and directed by Richard Curtis, who was the writer of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and wr…

San Francisco International Animation Festival preview - Special Report

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By Purple

Mark your calendars animation fans because next week the San Francisco Film Society presents the fourth annual San Francisco International Animation Festival. And while it's great to live in the bay area surrounded by the talented artists and animators that fill up the animation studios we're fortunate enough to have based here, the International film festival gives us a window to be able to see what's being done outside of this fertile crescent of technology we live in.

The festival kicks off with a party at Mezzanine on Wednesday November 11, which leads to opening night on next Thursday November 12 with the bay area premiere of the latest Wes Anderson movie, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox". Based on the story by Roald Dahl. Anderson's regular cast list of Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are joined by George Clooney and Meryl Streep as the voice talent for this stop motion animated feature. The Festival continues on Friday with a free seminar…

Saint Misbhavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie - Movie Review

By Purple

If you've lived in the bay area for any length of time then you've probably had some kind of Wavy Gravy experience. You may have caught a glimpse of his red clown nose and bowler hat at a concert or a show, or maybe you looked twice at the man you saw walking his pet rubber fish on a leash down the street. So whether it's running into him in his tie-dyed clown suit while he pretends to surf your purple marbelized painted car like I did when I first arrived in San Francisco, or see him at one of the local Ben and Jerry's ice cream stores where as a person with a flavor named after him, he happily redeems his unlimited free ice cream for life to share with his friends and family. Wavy Gravy is a patron saint of the bay and this is formally recognized and celebrated in "Saint Misbhavin: The Wavy Gravy Movie".

The documentary is directed by Michelle Esrick, who spent over a decade creating the Wavy Gravy movie. She brings together a remarkable collection …

Surrogates - Movie Review

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By Purple

If you step back and look at the way "Surrogates" was released, it tells us everything that we need to know about what the studio and distributors think of it already. Sure this is a Bruce Willis action thriller movie, but it's being released in late September, almost as if they knew it wouldn't stand as the summer blockbuster it wants to be.

"Surrogates" is directed by Jonathan Mostow who was also the writer / director of the terrifically tense submarine thriller "U-571". Mostow followed this up by directing the misguided third installment in the "Terminator" film series and returns to the big screen with "Surrogates" which showed a lot of promise in the trailers but falls flat as the frames unspool onscreen.

It's not for a lack of budget or production values, and as a film that is used as an example of the 'Hollywood East' movement it's great to see the city of Boston featured so nicely in a polished up…

9 - Movie Review

By Purple

There's something about numerology and the power of superstition and numbers that stirs the general population that high powered marketing machines like to latch onto and pump everything it can to make sure everyone remembers how important the current magic number is. So last week, on the eve of the calendar date 9, 9, 09 the new movie "9" was previewed to audiences at exactly 9:09pm. Carrying it further the movie's star voice talent was led by Elijah Wood, who is also most famous for leading the fellowship of nine and bears a tattoo of the number 9 from his run as Frodo in the "Lord of the Rings". The trouble with this kind of marketing campaign is that soon enough it is next week and as the earth still stands and without any outward signs that the cosmic alignment resulted anything more than the next day arriving as planned, we're left to consider the material the hype left behind.

By all rights and measures "9" should be my kind of…

District 9 - Movie Review

By Purple

After a summer of being assaulted by millions of dollars of Hollywood special effects budgets being blown on bloated yet unsatisfying science fiction fantasy flicks like the "Terminator" and "Transformer" sequels, "District 9" arrives and restores your faith and reminds you how good science fiction can be.

Shot for a fraction of the big budget blockbusters, "District 9" comes in under the radar with a cast of relatively unknown actors, and is the first feature film from director and co-writer Neil Blomkamp who previously was an animator and worked in advertising. In 2005 however, Blomkamp released a short movie called "Alive in Joburg" which after checking it out online (watch it on the 'SpyFilms' web site here) , it is clearly the origin of the "District 9" universe and appears to be the breakthrough piece that got the feature length movie off the ground.

Blomkamp's talent must have been recognized by Pete…

$9.99 - Movie Review

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By Purple

On the surface it may seem like the movie nine-dollar and ninety nine cents ($9.99) is another slice of life film, and watching the trailer (which you can find here) you may wonder why a movie that seems to be about everyday people was done using stop motion animation instead of live action. However within the first five minutes of the movie, we get a bloody red clay splattered wake up call that explains all. Nine ninety nine ($9.99) is animated so that the filmmakers can get away with their not so subtle sense of dark and twisted humor without grossing out the audience and send them running to the door. The movie's gruesome opening scene gets a pass because it happens to claymation characters and not real people.

The movie is based on a series of short stories by Etgar Keret who collaborated with director Tatia Rosenthal to translate his work into a screenplay for the film. The movie explores follows a number of characters who all live in an apartment building, each tryi…

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - Movie Review

By Purple

As the third installment in the series, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" may seem long in the tooth at times, but it knows what it is and excels at it, and the movie is a reliable choice for some silly family entertainment on a hot summer day.

"Ice Age 3" is at its best when Blue Sky Studios continues to carry on the traditions of Looney Toons into the computer age, picking up where Wile Coyote and the Road Runner left off, with the desperate Scrat, the squirrel-like creature and his never ending pursuit of happiness for the almighty nut that is perpetually just out of reach. This time around the Scrat's universe expands after he rubs noses with the girl squirrel of his dreams, and like a Chuck Jones classic, much silliness ensues as he tries to have it all.

There are times however when the third "Ice Age" movie seems like the franchise may have run its course like watching the Wooly Mammoths voiced by Queen Latifah and Ray Romano, try to pull …

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Movie Review

By Purple

If Michael Bay knows how to do anything, he knows how to give the people what they want. If you want to rattle your skull with something that's a few stories tall and full of enough metallic eye-candy to pop your eyes out, seek out an IMAX theater showing "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen". It's big, it's loud, it's dumb and it's filled with enough incredibly expensive effects that it blinded audiences worldwide this weekend and made back its 200 million dollar production budget in its first five days.

Sure the "Transformers" sequel is a jumbled mess of story threads that go nowhere, but it runs on the sure winning formula of when in doubt, blow something up and the effects laden haze will distract the audience from the gaping plot holes left behind. As the second "Transformers" is basically two and half hours of loosely strung together corporate advertising for Hasbro toys, GM cars and trucks, and a recruiting video for …

Up - Movie Review

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By Purple

In a year filled with so many low points, it's nice to have something to look forward to. And as always, the geniuses at Pixar come through and give us "Up", their latest computer animated feature film filled with some of my favorite things including zeppelins, a cameo of the legendary Fenton's, the East Bay ice cream emporium and a cranky old man whose sour appearance hides how sweet everything actually is.

Pixar continues to recognize that their success is built by the talented people who work there, and rotates through its roster of directorial ringers. This time it's Peter Doctor's turn, who led the charge on previous Pixar features like "Monsters Inc.", and he co-directs "Up" with writer Bob Peterson, who also steps in as the voice of Dug, the lovable puppy that thanks to a pretty funny collar gimmick, can speak his mind. "Squirrel!"

Pixar continues to raise the bar on themselves, and beyond the fantastic animation sk…

The Young Victoria - Movie Review

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By Moira Sullivan

Its hard to imagine that Queen Victoria was ever young, so austere was the matriarch that gave the Victorian Era its signature. But not only was Victoria young, but she was an independent and intelligent regent , at least that is the impression that is given to the recent release of The Young Victoria. The film directed by the Canadian Jean Marc Valée who entertained us with C.R.A.Z.Y three years ago a musical film about a family in Quebec during the 60's and 70's is now the successful director of a period piece that was two years in the making. The Young Victoria stars Emily Blunt as Victoria, probably one of the most talented young actresses of today. She brings to the role an insightful interpretation of the woman who was raised to be a regent, pushed to the side by older men and held back by her mother the Duchess of Kent played by Miranda Richardson and her abusive advisor Sir John Conroy. A young woman seems especially vulnerable and an object of p…

A Christmas Carol - A Movie Review

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By Moira Sullivan

Dickens's A Christmas Carol is time honored and countless renditions of it have been created year after year especially for the holiday season. Burney Mattison's Mickey's Christmas Carol was made in 1983 where Mickey Mouse plays Bob Cratchitt and Donald Duck is Scrooge. This year Disney has trotted out Robert Zemeckis'A Christmas Carol. Dicken's story is of course ridden with moral lessons and warnings of doom, and to learn them Scrooge is taken to the present, past and the future to personally witness his glaring character defects. But it is nevertheless still entertaining to watch this story in 3D which is the best possible viewing condition, and sovereign if its an IMAX theater.
The voices of Scrooge at all ages is Jim Carrey, but he also is behing the Ghosts of Christmas Past,Present and Future. Still it is really difficult to identify his voice for so clever is the work. But when it comes to Bob Cratchet and Scrooge…

The Road - Movie Review

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By Moira Sullivan

Films with apocalyptic themes are showing up of late, so add The Road to the list. Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, we are taken to some distant future where the sun never shines. Kind of like Scandinavia during the winter. Those wall-to-wall grey clouds with no patchwork greet everyday, an everyday with rain and wind and the earth hurling up violently in some kind of repulsion to the poisons in the atmosphere. There are few survivors and with food scarce some revert to cannibalism. The Road shows how crime and greed develop from cataclysmic occurrences and the dark paths that some choose in order to survive. Viggo Mortensen plays "Man", Charlize Theron is "Woman" and Kodi Smit McPhee is "Boy". The breakup of the nuclear family is one of the consequences of a disaster that has no name, or explanation. Kinship takes on new meaning. The man and the boy and the woman try to survive and the woman gives up first for the story is about fath…

Scenes of Love and Murder: Renoir, Film and Philosophy - Book Review -

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By Moira Sullivan

Colin Davis’s Scenes of Love and Murder: Renoir, Film and Philosophy combines the author’s interest in Jean Renoir’s greatest films from the 1930s such as Le Règle du Jeu - The Rules of the Game with some of the ideas of the American philosopher Stanley Cavell. Cavell’s philosophical reading of film is a current fashion in academic studies. But whether or not Renoir had philosophical ideas as a filmmaker is left up to the spectator. According to film theorist Peter Wollen, underlying structures such as philosophy is something that can be decoded in film. According to Davis, Renoir believed that the artist was the source of his or her creations, as he said so in Ma Vie et Mes Film, (My Life and My Films) “I dream of a craftsmen’s cinema in which the author could express himself as directly as the writer through his books or the painter through his pictures”. Even so, as Davis points out. a film has other influences, for example Renoir’s The Human Beast was adapted fro…

New Italian Cinema at the San Francisco Film Society - Special Report

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By Moira Sullivan

The San Francisco Film Society New Italian cinema program, now in its 13th year, will screen from November 15-22.
All of the directors of the films will be present for the screenings. There are four films by Marco Risi and his latest film will be presented on opening night - Fortapàsc. In English this means Fort Apache, a violent part of Naples. The film is about the life of the journalist Giancarlo Siani who was murdered for writing about mobsters such as Valentino Gionta and clashes between clans.
The Sicilian Girl by director Marco Amenta tells the story of a young girl who testifies against the mafia after her father and brother are executed. On closing night November 22, Vincere by Marco Belluchio will screen, a film in an innovative opera form with newsreel footage about Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the mother of Benito Mussolini’s illegitimate child and her tragic love affair with the Fascist dictator (Filippo Timi). ( Note: a review of this film and an …

Visual Acoustics - Movie Review

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By Jonathan W. Wind


Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Visual Acoustics is the story of Julius Shulman, the world’s greatest architectural photographer,who died in July of this year. Shulman photographed nearly every well known architect's creations, beginning in the early 1930s.

Such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Frank Gehry created the modernist architectural movement, centered in Southern California. In the 1950s and 1960s Shulman's iconic images showed the rest of the nation the mystique of Beverly Hills and the “Southern California lifestyle.”



Modernism draws on the formula that form follows function meaning that the form of a building or object should be foremost based upon the function or purpose for which it is intended. Interestingly, though this would seem to always makes good sense, often there are aesthetic issues, the form of an object and its intended purpose is not by itself a entire design solution. If only the film…

21st Cineffable Film Festival, Paris - Special Report

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By Moira Sullivan

The Cineffable Lesbian and Feminist Film Festival continues to excel in bringing to Paris an excellent program of international documentaries, features, and shorts, including experimental and animation. This year the audience awarded best feature to Rain, by Maria Govan of the UK and the Bahamas. The film is about a young girl who goes to live with her drug addicted mother after her grandmother dies, and sets her hopes on becoming a champion runner. Best documentary went to the U People, by Hanifah Walidah, an exceptional music video about 30 women and transmen of color in Brooklyn. Short films that won audience awards include Canadian Claudia Morgado Escanillas' No Bikini won best short about a young girl who experiences seven years of bliss posing as boy so that she can swim without a top. In Melanie McGraw’s Pitstop from the US a young girl is accidentally left behind at a gas station and becomes inspired by the woman who owns it who encourages her to take phot…

LunaFest - Special Report

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By Moira Sullivan

I have seldom attended a film festival so well organized and in brilliant spirits as the9th Lunafest, a traveling program of short films by women that were screened at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco last month. A VIP reception preceded the program and Lunabar, a sustainable health nutrition bar business, hosted the entire event. The networking and outreach that produced an amazing turnout allowed community leaders, activist and citizens alike the opportunity to gather for a good cause and see films which empower women and take up women’s issues such as learning to overcome cultural differences and living within your limitations at any age.
Lunabar sponsors screenings in over 100 US cities between October and May and provides materials and tools for the creation of successful fund raising events. The Lunafest event actually assists local non-profit fund raising, which in San Francisco is the Breast Cancer Fund. The films featured in the 2009-2010 Lunafest are multi…

Good Hair - Movie Review

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By Jonathan W. Wind

"Daddy, why don't I have good hair?"

So queries Chris Rock's daughter's after school one day, sending Chris upon a quest.

"Good Hair" is directed by established Hollywood comedy writer Jeff Stilson, and produced by Chris Rock for HBO Films. Now, Chris Rock is someone I watch with the remote in one hand, just in case I have to mute it right away or switch channels. He's funny in a mealy sort of way. But this time Chris Rock is a gentleman, a court jester with a research degree and an agenda, letting his subjects laugh at themselves and each other without rancor.

Without pandering he chats up everyday people asking their opinions, listening intently and relying on the irony in their own words. He cracks a few cultural jokes, but seems saddened by the spectacle of young African American women intent on beating the odds by by achieving the admired "good hair" through any means possible. The hair …

The Tomb Of Ligeia - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

"The Tomb Of Ligeia", released on Inauguration Day 1965, returns us to the sort of Vincent Price fare most loved by horror movie buffs: Edgar Allan Poe as seen in color by Roger Corman. Price is Verden Fell, cursed by his dead wife, Ligeia and hoping to free himself with his new wife Rowena. Both are played by Elizabeth Shepherd, a good actress who had been hired to replace Honor Blackman on "The Avengers" and then fired before audiences saw her in action. Diana Rigg was then cast as Mrs. Emma Peel and many years later no one can imagine anyone else in the part. Certainly not Uma Thurman or Elizabeth Shepherd.

It is tricky to imagine Diana Rigg as Ligeia and Rowena, because for all her enormous talent as an actress she has never convincingly conveyed terror or vulnerability. Shepherd projects both, but she is not in the same league as her charismatic co-star. The presence of fine character actors like Richard Vernon, Frank Thornton, Denis Gilmore a…