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Blogs FROM SERBIA TO CHINA, A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE

Arriving in Changchun, China for The International Animation, Comics, and Games Forum was a very abrupt switch from my previous weeks in Kosovo and Serbia.   Any thoughts of long, leisurely meals with friends and watching good animation went out of my head when I was handed my schedule.

“Breakfast  7:00-7:30 AM PROMPT”.  Immediately after breakfast we boarded a bus for the trip to the Jilin Animation Institute.  Most mornings we went straight into the auditorium to listen to speakers.  The rest of our day was equally regimented right up to our 6:30 PM dinner time.

The only exception was on the first morning when there was a visit to the Jilin Animation Institute from 8:10 to 9:50AM.   The 9 year old school, located in the new industrial park, has a staggering 6,500 students in the institute’s 5 departments:  animation and comics, games, design, and advertising. That is an amazing number of students studying media arts in just that one school alone.  One afternoon I was astonished to walk out of the auditorium to find a group of students standing at attention in military uniforms.  I later learned that every student, including those in the animation department, is required to undergo a month of military training along with their regular classes.

Blogs FESTIVAL OF EUROPEAN STUDENT ANIMATION - Belgrade, Serbia, 1 & 2 September 2012

When I left you in my last article I had finally arrived in Belgrade, Serbia after my 19 hour bus adventure from Peja, Kosovo and was enjoying a 4AM meal at my good friend Rastko ?iri?’s home.  I was in Belgrade to attend the Festival of European Student Animation on 1 and 2 September.

I had never visited Belgrade before and Rastko was the perfect tour guide showing me the sights as we ran the last minute festival errands. I had time for leisurely walks and, of course, Rastko took me to charming restaurants for delicious meals.

Belgrade is a beautiful, historic city and The Main Powder Magazine of the historic Belgrade Fortress was a perfect site for the premier edition of The Festival of European Student Animation 2012 (AESA ’12). Located atop a hill overlooking the juncture of the Sava and Danube rivers, the fortress was built as a defensive structure between the 2nd and 18th Centuries, and is now the Belgrade History Museum. The main powder magazine where the festival was held was built between 1718 and 1721 during the large reconstruction of the fortress undertaken by the Austrians who occupied the territory at that time.  The building was a huge technical achievement consisting of two halls with nine pillars each cut into the rock and an entrance passage with massive exterior walls.  Although the temperature outside was very hot we were advised to bring a sweater because the interior of the fortress was extremely chilly.

Blogs THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (2012) (***1/2)

What do you get when bringing together Mary Norton's award-winning children's book THE BORROWERS and the talents of animation studio Studio Ghibli — magic. Scripted by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, along with Keiko Niwa, and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the film captures the innocent, wide-eyed passion that many of Miyazaki's directed films do. It's like they borrowed the adventurous spirit of CASTLE IN THE SKY and stitched in the joy present in films like SPIRITED AWAY and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.

Borrowers are tiny beings who live in the walls of normal sized people's homes, borrowing things from the humans that they will not notice such as a lost pin. Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler, TV's GOOD LUCK CHARLIE) is growing up and it is time for her father, Pod (Will Arnett, TV's ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), to take her on her first mission to collect items for their use. Her mother, Homily (Amy Poehler, TV's PARKS AND RECREATION), on the other hand, either oscillates between mild panic and outright terror and believes that her daughter is way too young to be venturing out into the larger house. In the end, the calm levelheadedness of her father wins out. However, what Arrietty has not told them is that she has already been spotted by the sick boy Shawn (David Henrie, TV's WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE), who has come to live in the country home of his great aunt where his mother grew up.

Blogs MARLEY (2012) (***1/2)

What are the words that come to mind when you think of Bob Marley. Reggae. Jamaica. Rastafarian. Dreadlocks. Peace. Political figure. Pot, maybe? Kevin Macdonald's comprehensive documentary captures all these elements of the famed musician and more. Speaking with surviving friends and family and filled with his music, the film chronicles a man who became known worldwide for his music, but became an icon for much more.

In 1945, Marley was born to 18-year-old Cedella and 60-year-old British Royal Marines captain Norval Sinclair Marley. His mixed race status in the impoverished neighborhood of Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica defined Marley as an outcast. His father married his mother, sent money, but provided little else. But Marley rose above race and defined himself as a Rastafarian and a Jamaican first.

Blogs RAMPART (2012) (***1/2)

Director Oren Moverman adds another entry into the growing sub-genre of over-the-top corrupt cop films which includes the likes of both BAD LIEUTENANT films and TRAINING DAY. Like Denzel Washington in the latter film, Woody Harrelson gives an Oscar worthy performance as a dirty and brutal cop. The key difference is that Washington's Alonzo Harris has greed as his motivation — Harrelson's David Brown just likes being bad.

Set in 1999 right before the Rampart division scandal broke in Los Angeles, Brown has a long history of violence on the job. His nickname is Date Rape and not for the reasons you might think. As he is trying to dodge his latest excessive force accusation, he finds himself videotaped beating a suspect in the street. This is the one that DA Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver, ALIEN) has been waiting for — the one to make an example of.

Blogs SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012) (***)

If you want to redo the Snow White fairytale for modern sensibilities and still stay as true as possible to the original story this is about as good as it gets. All the key elements remain — the innocent Snow White, the evil queen who wants to retain her beauty, the Huntsman tasked with killing the girl, the charming prince, and the dwarves who look after her. Take these elements, add in a bit of female empowerment donned in shining armor and voila!

Like in the fairytale, King Magnus (Noah Huntley, 28 DAYS LATER) remarries Ravenna, the evil queen (Charlize Theron, MONSTER), after the death of his wife. Snow White is a young girl at the time and the new queen is jealous of her beauty. After Ravenna murders the king she imprisoned Snow White (Kristen Stewart, TWILIGHT) in the tower for years. When Snow White comes of age, she escapes and the queen forces the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, THOR) to hunt her down in the forest and cut out her heart. The Huntsman of course has a change of mind and decides to let her go free instead.

Blogs DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) (***)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 10:37pm

DEAD OF NIGHT is considered a horror classic. The anthology film is made up of a series of small stories that have become tropes of the genre. Unlike other classics the stories have since been improved upon imitated, stolen and butchered so many times over the years that they have become cliché. You can see it's influence on shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and movies like MAGIC. One could say that its influence has lasted longer than its impact. However, the one element that hasn't been improved upon is how compelling the framework story is.

The framing story is simple — an architect, Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns, A CHRISTMAS CAROL) is called out to a country home on a job. When he arrives the house seems so familiar to him and when he meets the people inside he is struck with the fear that he has been dreaming this situation for years. His fears spur others to share their tales of encounters with the supernatural. Craig is convinced that during the course of the evening he will be driven mad. However, one of the guests is Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk, BAD BLONDE), a skeptical psychiatrist, who sets up the battle of wits to convince Craig that there are not demons lurking in the shadows.

Blogs THE INNKEEPERS (2012) (***1/2)

Ti West's horror film has the same mischievous spirit that made TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS so fun. It certainly has more in common with a film from William Castle, like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, than modern spook fests or gore-atoriums. The plot takes time to look at its characters   less worried about having a scare every few minutes. In doing so it creates suspense that builds to a compelling conclusion.

Legend has it that the Yankee Pedlar Inn is haunted by the ghost of a spurned bride who committed suicide in one of the rooms. Now the once-grand hotel is set to close. The third floor is already shut down to visitors. Claire (Sara Paxton, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) and Luke (Pat Healy, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES) are the final two employees. They live in rooms along with the final few guests. Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis, TOP GUN), an aging actress now on the psychic convention circuit; an angry mother and her young son; and an old man looking to relive his honeymoon are the only paying guests. Luke claims to have seen the ghost and has started a website to cash in on the haunted hotel's notorious reputation. He ropes in the pretty college student into his paranormal investigation, having her take an EVP recording in an effort to capture the things that go bump in the night.

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