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I'm not the only one with a dirty mind...

By Joe Strike | Monday, October 22, 2007 at 8:22am

Seems like someone outside the animation world finally picked up on Nala's "f*** me' look in "The Lion King:"

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/film/2007/10/the_lion_king_the_only_walt_dis...

Even a friend of mine who's only a casual animation fan pointed the shot out to me long ago. I've been told that on the DVD (which I don't own myself) commentary track, one of the animators announces 'I can't believe they let us get away with that shot.'

The Guardian's columnist ends his piece with "I've got to check through Bambi for subliminal porn." He won't have to look very hard: the scene where Bambi, Flower and Thumper meet their girlfriends is pretty hot: Thumper starts thumpin' a mile a minute until he keels over in exhaustion (all she has to do is stroke his ear a bit to start him up again), Flower blushes bright red and stiffens like a board while Faline gives Bambi an unmistakable 'come hither' look of her own.
And let's not even go near the various Disney shorts that focus lovingly on punishment administered to various characters' backsides - like for instance the spanking machine put to liberal use in one of the 3 Little Pigs shorts...you're a naughty boy, Walt; naughty, naughty, naughty...

Blogs

BROTHERS (2005) (****)

After continually missing this Danish film that received solid reviews upon its release, I have now discovered a classic drama that is one of the premiere films from 2005. Since then, director Susanne Bier went on to receive an Oscar nomination last year for her film AFTER THE WEDDING. Now BROTHERS is set for an English language remake starring Natalie Portman, Toby Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal. It will be very difficult to improve on the original.

Michael (Ulrich Thomsen, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN) is a soldier in the Danish Army. He is about to be sent to Afghanistan. His marriage with wife Sarah (Connie Nielsen, GLADIATOR) is good and his relationship with his two young girls is loving. Before he leaves he picks up his younger brother Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, THE IDIOTS) from jail, where he has finished a sentence for assault and robbery. Jannik is a loose canon, who likes to spend a great deal of his time in bars. His father Henning (Bent Mejding, ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS) is an abstinent man who has no faith in his youngest son. The brothers' mother Else (Solbjorg Hojfeldt, THE KINGDOM) is a quiet peacemaker.

Blogs

THE SHINING (1980) (****)

One of the great horror films from one of the great filmmakers, THE SHINING is a simple horror tale, raised to another level by perfect tone and Stanley Kubrick's uncanny knowledge of the filmic language. Based on a Stephen King novel, Kubrick and Diane Johnson altered the story a great deal, boiling it down to its essence. Upon multiple viewings, the film still has the ability to create unsettling feelings and dread.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, THE DEPARTED) is a wannabe writer who takes a job as the caretaker for the long winter at the remote Overlook Hotel. Upon taking the job, the manager Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson, "Stopover in a Quiet Town" episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE) warns Jack that a previous caretaker went crazy during the winter season and murdered his family there. Jack doesn't seem phased, because he is looking forward to having months of time to write his first novel. Accompanying him is his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall, 3 WOMEN) and their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd, WILL: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF G. GORDON LIDDY), who has an imaginary friend named Tommy living in his mouth. At the Overlook, the head cook Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers, THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS) discusses the special abilities that he and Danny share. Both are telepaths who can see the past and future. And the future looks scary for the Torrances as Jack becomes increasingly unstable under the influence of the ghosts of the hotel.

Blogs

KROK 2007


The KROK 2007 International Animated Film Festival, held this year in the Ukraine, was a tribute to the brilliant Russian animator Alexander Tatarsky who died unexpectedly in July. Many of the festival attendees were still in a state of shock, so it was a bittersweet event. The opening night of the festival was highlighted by a special tribute to the great director. The second night the evening was devoted to a retrospective of his films, followed by “Recalling Sascha,” a memorial which gave friends and colleagues a chance to tell humorous and touching stories about the beloved filmmaker, and to laugh a lot, just as Tatarsky would have wanted since he loved to laugh, often pulling practical jokes and fond of playing with his beloved collection of toys and doll. The decision not to translate the events of the evening into English was completely correct because it would have broken the mood. I was lucky enough to have a translator sitting close by, filling me in, so that I did not have to miss out on the joy and sadness of the evening. On closing night the children’s film project, a film traditionally made by the young people on board the ship, was an homage to the much loved Tatarsky.

THE ADVENTURE


This year’s celebration of animation was held 25 September through 6 October aboard the cruise ship Taras Shevchenko, sailing from Odessa to Kiev on the Black Sea and the Dneiper River. Festival participants met the first evening at the KROK office in Kiev and took the night train to Odessa. As my frequent readers know, I love train travel, and so these overnight trips in Russia and the Ukraine are always a big treat for me. These train trips always involve food, plenty of drink and sometimes live music, giving us a chance to see old friends and to meet new animators in a more intimate setting than the boat, if such is possible. We held a party in our compartment and when I finally couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and succumbed to slumber, the party was still going on. When I awoke, I found the same folks sitting in the same places in our compartment. What a perfect beginning to another memorable trip!

Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Flesh-Eaters

With the extended edition of PLANET TERROR hitting stores this week, I am centering another This Weekend's Film Festival around the theme of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's GRINDHOUSE. Unlike the past lineup, which featured road/chase flicks, this one focuses on flesh eating and embodies the essence of grindhouse films. This will be the bloodiest and most disturbing lineup thus far. Most of the films will be films I recommend, but two will be films I didn't recommend. One of those films is one of the most controversial films ever made. The second is one of the most ridiculous zombie movies ever made. The two better films in the lineup are an homage to grindhouse fare and an old school grindhouse production that has risen to the heights of a horror classic. This Weekend's Film Festival isn't for the weak at heart -- or the weak stomached either. Be warned, you might be offended... but that's part of the grindhouse experience.

Blogs

MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007) (***1/2)

Tony Gilroy moves from the writer of the BOURNE series to his first directing gig with this solid corporate thriller. With a fairly straight-forward visual style leaving the flare to the script structure, Gilroy is blessed with a cast filled with the likes of George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack. Each actor gives first-rate performances, driving this very believable tale of corporate greed and deception.

Clooney plays the title character, a fixer for a major law firm. He refers to himself as a janitor; the man who cleans up the dirty laundry of the firm's high paying clients. He is called in when, during a deposition in a billion dollar lawsuit, the firm's chief litigator Arthur Edens (Wilkinson, IN THE BEDROOM) strips down naked and professes his love for the young woman testifying in the 15-year-old contamination case. Chief legal advisor for uNorth, the company being sued in the class action suit, Karen Crowder (Swinton, DEEP END) is appalled when she sees the tape of Edens. When Clayton comes to her, he doesn't make her feel confident that the problem will be adequately taken care of, spurring her to take matters into her own hands.

Blogs

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) (****)

George A. Romero redefined a sub-genre of horror films with this landmark independent production. In addition to pushing the boundaries of screen gore, Romero also pushed the boundaries of handling race relations. This cult classic goes to show that great direction and story can overcome a low budget.

Barbra (Judith O'Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Steiner) have driven three hours for their yearly ritual of placing a wreath on their father's grave. A lone man wonders the graveyard. When Barbra gets a little creeped out, Johnny jokes, "They coming to get you, Barbra." How true that statement comes to be? Turns out that lone man is really a fresh eating zombie, who knocks out Johnny and chases Barbra to an isolated farmhouse. Barbra is almost catatonic when Ben (Duane Jones, BEAT STREET) arrives at the house. The young African-American man quickly takes charge to board up the windows from the growing number of the living dead. Later they will be joined by the coward Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), who bickers with his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman). Their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon) is sick. The couple is accompanied by the younger couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley). Tensions build between the group as they argue on their best next move.

Blogs

CABARET (1972) (****)

Bob Fosse surprisingly won the best director Oscar over GODFATHER helmer Francis Ford Coppola for this melancholy musical. His handling of the material is entertaining, as well as subversively haunting. The design and choreography of the musical numbers begin with the sexual razzle-dazzle one would expect, but over the course of the film take on an unsettling freak show quality, as the Nazis come to power in 1930s Germany. Roger Ebert said it best -- the film ends with the joyous title song, which is underlined by total desperation.

Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli, ARTHUR) is a bohemian, ex-pat American, cabaret singer. She has drunk the kool aid of the cabaret lifestyle of living life like it’s an endless party. In to her boarding house comes proper English language teacher Brian Roberts (Michael York, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS). They develop a friendship that later develops into romance. Sally introduces her to all her acquaintances from the world of the cabaret, which includes gigolo Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper, THE LAST COMBAT) and the twisted Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey, BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS). Later Brian will inadvertently introduce Fritz to wealthy Jewish girl Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson, BARRY LYNDON) and Sally and Brian's relationship will be challenged by the presence of filthy-rich, decadent baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem, THE DAMNED).

Blogs

SPARTACUS (1960) (****)

"No, I'm Spartacus!" I've been saying that for a week now after seeing this sword and sandal classic. It's only one of the iconic moments in this film about Roman slavery. Directed by Stanley Kubrick in a very uncharacteristic "Hollywood" style, this lavish production paved the way for modern epics like BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR.

Spartacus (Kirk Douglas, THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS) has been a slave all his life, working rock quarries. Then he is purchased by shyster slave trader Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov, LOGAN'S RUN), who plans to train him to be a gladiator. After being assigned a slave girl named Varinia (Jean Simmons, ELMER GANTRY), Spartacus screams that he isn't an animal as this owners watch him fumble with the first woman he's ever been close to. Spartacus' tenderness toward Varinia makes her fall in love with him. As the gladiators train, Roman senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier, MARATHON MAN) comes with his protégé Marcus Glabrus (John Dall, ROPE) and two women to watch two pairs of gladiators fight to the death. Spartacus is chosen, and following a series of events, ends in Spartacus leading a slave revolt. Meanwhile, senior senator Sempronius Gracchus (Charles Laughton, MUTINY OF THE BOUNTY) tries to hold the senate together in the face of Crassus' maneuvers to use the uprising to gain more power. Spartacus' continued victories lead Crassus' own slave Antoninus (Tony Curtis, SOME LIKE IT HOT) to flee his master and join the rebellion.

Blogs

AWN launches my new blog

AWN has invited me a initiate a weekly blog space on their web site. I will primarily write short reviews of animations that I like, interviews with animators, my observations about the animation world and of course, my usual long articles about festivals that I attend. Any of you who have been reading my articles for the past few years know that I will also throw in whatever is on my mind when I am writing along with observations about my life in Europe. The powers that be at AWN say that it will take a little bit of time to convert my e-mail list to my blog spot so until then you will continue to receive my musings direct from me.


I will be happy to receive comments from any readers as well as question and of course I expect to get e-mails from those who don't agree with what I say. I welcome all of the above.

My first two entries will be my article about KROK 2007 and an interview with Joanna Quinn and Les Mills when they visit Gent this weekend.
Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Contemplates Native Americans on Film

On Monday in the U.S., we had the Columbus Day holiday. For many, non-religious holidays are just another day off from work; the meaning is inconsequential. However, Columbus Day is not one — except for government workers and a few happy school children — that many people get off from work for. This makes the holiday even less significant to many Americans. However, there is a segment of the population that find the holiday offensive, which is quite counter to the spirit of a holiday. We set aside one day a year to celebrate a man who really didn't discover the Americas, who was a tyrannical religious fanatic that heard "divine voices," and who died insisting that he was not exploring the West Indies, but the east coast of Asia. For the many indigenous and African-American people of the U.S., he also represents the beginning of the decimation of their ancestors through murder and slavery.

Blogs

KNOCKED UP (2007) (***1/2)

In his second feature film following THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, Judd Apatow is becoming a master at combining bawdy humor with real characters. With VIRGIN, he was able to craft a laugh out loud funny film based around a realistic central character, who in less skilled hands could have been a caricature. Now in KNOCKED UP, he takes a plot that has been done many times before and makes it feel fresh and original, mainly due to the contemporary feel.

Ben Stone (Seth Rogen, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) is the quintessential slacker. He lives in a house with his friends, decorated like a freshman dorm room. He's living off a small savings and is building a website that tells people what movies feature nude scenes of their favorite stars. Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl, TV's GREY ANATOMY) is the exact opposite. She is a young professional, quickly climbing the ranks on the E! cable network. To celebrate her promotion to an on-air correspondent, she and her older married, sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) go out to a club where Alison meets Ben and the evening ends with the pair hooking up. A few weeks later Alison discovers that this one-night stand has resulted in her getting pregnant. Now Alison and Ben, who barely know each other, try to give a relationship a shot as they both prepare for unexpected parenthood. During the process, Ben will get some good and not so good guidance from Debbie's husband Pete (Paul Rudd, THE SHAPE OF THINGS).

Blogs

THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER (1987) (***)

Based on a short story by Thomas M. Disch, this independently produced 2D animated feature was made by a who's who list of future animation superstars. The late Pixar storyman Joe Ranft wrote the story and provided voices. Mark Dindal (CATS DON'T DANCE) was an effects consultant while TARZAN and SURF'S UP director Chris Buck and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST helmer Kirk Wise served as animators. Hyperion Pictures gave it an art house release in 1987, making it a cult favorite. Disney, who actually originally owned the rights to the short story, released the film on video. Somehow, despite a theatrical release, the film was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.

The story follows a group of household appliances who have been left behind at an underused cabin. They long for their young master to come back, but it has been years since he has visited. When a "For Sale" sign is posted in front of the house, Toaster (Deanna Oliver, HOT TO TROT) calls for his friends to head out into the world and find their old master. Along for the adventure are shy, innocent Blanky (Timothy E. Day), talkative Radio (Jon Lovitz, TV's SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE), skeptical Lampy (Timothy Stack, TV's SON OF THE BEACH) and grumpy Kirby the vacuum cleaner (Thurl Ravenscroft, 101 DALMATIANS). Along the way the brave gadgets will need to find a way to work together to survive woodland creatures, a waterfall, the junkman, jealous high-tech appliances and a junkyard garbage compactor.

Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Good Stephen King Films

With 1408 arriving on DVD this week, I decided to build This Weekend's Film Festival on flicks based on Stephen King stories. As Roger Ebert once said, you could easily make up a film festival with good King films and one with bad ones as well. I thought it was better to make one filled with good King adaptations. I avoided the obvious King films like THE SHINING and CARRIE and the non-horror films such as SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and STAND BY ME. It's a lineup of solid King films that you might not think of right away.

Kicking off the lineup is actually one of the better King TV mini-series. He wrote the script directly for TV, which was adapted into a prequel novel by Ridley Pearson under the pseudonym Joyce Reardon, the lead character in the two-part miniseries. In the production, Reardon brings together a group of psychics to awake a dormant haunted house. With a total running time of over four hours, the film has the luxury of time to flesh out its large cast and slowly develop the scares. With so many Asian ghost stories being remade these days, ROSE RED shows how cool creepy imagery doesn't replace pristine pacing when it comes to sending shivers up your spine. King's story nicely parallels the decline of Reardon with the awakening of the young autistic girl Annie Wheaton. The film's tone reminded me of the horror classic, THE HAUNTING. It's a long one to start off the Festival, but it's an underrated one as well. Like I said in my original review, "this one is a worthy addition to the Stephen King mini-series ranks along with IT and THE STAND."

Blogs

Nickelodeon's big time Saturday night screw-up

By Joe Strike | Friday, September 28, 2007 at 7:16pm

Boy, I haven't seen an on-air boner like this one in a loooong time. For some reason Nick tried to squeeze 3 11-minute SpongeBob episodes into a half hour time slot just now. (Just now being Friday 28 Sept, 9:30pm eastern time.) Interesting how the third episode's top credits started rolling the same exact time the show's closing credits began rolling - with  that third episode sitting inside that box where they usually run a promo next to the credits. Not squeezed into the box mind you, but cropped off by it, with just a peekaboo portion visible inside.

It gets better. The closing credits end with the full screen Nickelodeon splat logo/copyright page - which sat there for a verrrry long time while the episode's audio continued in the background. THEN the episode came back for a minute or so - THEN cut to another closing credits roll, this time with just silence and empty space where that promo usually runs.

Blogs

Archive: The Begrudging Curse

To me the curse is mine, only because it is taking me far longer than I first imagined to post all the archival reviews from years of newsletters. Hopefully, it's not a curse to my wonderful (though small) reader base. This archive update, at least, comes quicker than the gap between the first and the second. The new films added are from the first part of my newsletter that went out on Aug. 13, 2004. It's a collection of good films, even some very good films.

DE-LOVELY (2004)
This musical biography of Cole Porter is brought to life by the compelling performances of its lead actors Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd.

Blogs

ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 12:00pm

The best move this courtroom drama does is stay out of the courtroom for most of its running time. The final court proceeding doesn't even make an appearance. Director Steven Soderbergh (SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE) and writer Susannah Grant (IN HER SHOES) find a way to have the revelatory happy ending that is a staple of this kind of film without a judge ruling innocent or guilty and a courtroom full of people jumping to their feet. These moves make the story about the investigation and not the theatrics. It gives it heart.

The film takes its title from its central character, Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts, MYSTIC PIZZA), a poor single mother who provokes with her blunt statements and skimpy clothing. After a car accident, she hires lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney, TOM JONES) to represent her. Following the court case (one of only two courtroom scenes), Brockovich pressures her way into a job at Masry's firm. She is assigned a real estate case, which includes medical records. Wondering why the two are connected, she looks into the case more and discovers that in Hinkley, California PG&E have been contaminating the groundwater with chromium 6, which is causing the residents to have numerous and varying health problems. Turns out, the power company has been covering up the problem and Brockovich makes it her mission to make them pay.

Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Contemplates the IRA on Film

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 26, 2007 at 9:22pm

Having missed THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY in the theaters, I recently caught it on DVD, finding it to be one of the best films of 2007. The Cannes Film Festival winner from director Ken Loach deals with the Irish Republican Army's rebellion against the British in the 1920s and the subsequent civil war. Wanting to encourage people to see the film, I felt it was a good idea to build this week's lineup around the film. So I picked four additional films that feature the IRA. Some deal with the freedom fighters/terrorist (depends on your point of view) more directly, however all five films are fascinating tales.

Because it is the most historical of the films, I've chosen THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY as the film to kick off This Weekend's Film Festival. Cillian Murphy stars as a young doctor who reluctantly joins the IRA, eventually becoming one of its strident leaders. The film is clearly from the Irish point of view, painting out the British as vicious oppressors. However, what's new is the depiction of the civil war between the supporters and opponents of the treaty with the British. Pitting Murphy's Damien against his own brother, the film illustrates powerfully the divisions that split the Irish, leading to the formation of the IRA that most people know today. Within the personal stories of the characters, this tale of war takes on Greek proportions. To paraphrase my original review, the filmmakers are smart enough to present the complex questions and allow the audience to form their own answers.

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THE CRYING GAME (1992) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 26, 2007 at 8:56pm

I remember the reaction to this shocking film when it first came out. It became a lightning rod for debate. The big secret has become common knowledge, however I will still avoid revealing it in this review. After 15 years since its release, there are younger viewers who may still be innocent in their film history to not know the twist. Having not seen the film until after learning the secret, the impact of the film wasn't ruined, however I can only imagine the shock for those lucky enough to go into the film unaware. I wouldn't want to ruin that for anyone, because the twist is amazingly handled and can only add to the freshness of the first experience if unknown.

The story begins as British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) is lured into a kidnapping trap by IRA member Jude (Miranda Richardson, SPIDER). The IRA wants to trade Jody for one of their members who is under interrogation. Fergus (Stephen Rea, MICHAEL COLLINS), a humane IRA soldier, is assigned to watch Jody and over a few days the two men develop a friendship. Jody asks Fergus to visit his girl Dil (Jaye Davidson, STARGATE) in London if he is eventually killed. This opening sequence concludes in a very unexpected and ironic way. Following this, Fergus ends up in London going by the name Jimmy. He finds Dil, who works as a hairdresser by day and a singer in a pub at night. Fergus/Jimmy protects her from an abusive boyfriend, soon developing a romantic relationship with her. His secret of kidnapping Jody weighs on his soul, but he will find out that Dil has her own secrets as well. Fergus/Jimmy wants to protect Dil, but his violent past will come back to haunt him.

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INTO THE WILD (2007) (****)

Including this film, I have only seen two of the four full-feature films that actor Sean Penn has directed. While the thriller THE PLEDGE left no real lasting impression on me, INTO THE WILD has stuck in my mind for days after seeing it. Penn adapted Jon Krakauer's bestselling non-fiction tome with great depth and passion. It's a project that come Oscar time could be shined upon brightly. It deserves it; it's one of the best films of the year.

Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch, LORDS OF DOGTOWN) was an idealistic, determined and selfish young man, who gave away all his savings to Oxfam, burned his ID and hit the open road. Changing his name to Alexander Supertramp, Chris partly abandoned a chance to go to Harvard Law as a form of rebellion against the lies of his conservative, warring parents Walt and Billie (William Hurt, ACCIDENTAL TOURIST & Marcia Gay Harden, POLLOCK). We get a perspective on his troubled home life from the voice over of his younger sister Carine (Jena Malone, SAVED!). Chris's goal is to venture out into the complete wilderness of Alaska, following the inspiration of his literary heroes Jack London, Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy. His first significant encounter is with the hippie travelers Rainey and Jan (Brian Dierker & Catherine Keener, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN), but leaves them when he begins to feel like a third wheel. Along the way he will work on a farm for Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn, SWINGERS). There is a hint of romance when he meets a teenager named Tracy (Kristen Stewart, ZATHURA) at a hippie commune. Later, he develops a friendship with the kind old man Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook, 1980's THE FOG), who teaches him leatherwork.

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THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (2007) (****)

This Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or winner looks at the activities of the Irish Republican Army during the 1920s. Titling the film after a 19th century song that became a symbol of the Irish Republican movement, British director Ken Loach brings his longtime writing collaborator Paul Laverty's ironic screenplay to intriguing life as he balances between the characters and the intellectual underpinnings of the story.

After returning from a game of hurling, Damien (Cillian Murphy, BREAKFAST ON PLUTO) and some of his friends are accosted by British soldiers. It is the law that the Irish cannot congregate in groups even for sport. The incident turns violent and afterward Damien's older brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney, TV's THE TUDORS) urges the young doctor to join the Irish Republican Army. We watch as he trains and engages in the IRA's guerilla-style war against the British forces. Once a treaty is signed, the brother's find themselves on opposite sides — Damien on the anti-treaty IRA and Teddy on the pro-treaty Irish Free State. During the course of the story, Damien will have his morality tested in the face of the cause.

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DEATH PROOF: EXTENDED CUT (2007) (***1/2)

Following the lackluster box office performance of GRINDHOUSE, The Weinstein Co. flirted with several ways to make extra cash off the project. In several European countries, PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF were released separately. Now on DVD in the U.S., we get the extended cut of DEATH PROOF, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Unencumbered from the spoofier PLANET TERROR, the opening of DEATH PROOF plays scarier than the theatrical release. The slower set-up doesn't feel like a crawl coming after the lightning speed of Robert Rodriguez's film. Director Quentin Tarantino sets up his characters well, taking his time to build tension as the villain Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, EASCAPE FROM NEW YORK) stalks his prey.

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SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY (2007) (***)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 12:59pm

Based on the award-winning THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN comic book series, this animated direct-to-DVD feature earns its PG-13 rating. It was produced and co-written by Bruce Timm, who brought BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES to TV. Like that superior series, this movie has a mature quality, but that's not to pigeonhole it into the "adult" animation category, which so often includes forced "edgy" content. The maturity of the material comes from its more emotional character driven side, as well as its violence. This quality is what made BATMAN a series that could attract children, who could grow up and return to the series not wondering what their younger selves were thinking.

The story begins with Superman (Adam Baldwin, SERENITY) in a relationship with Lois Lane (Anne Heche, 1998's PSYCHO) as Clark Kent is heading off to Afghanistan on assignment. Lex Luthor (James Marsters, TV's BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) is running his LexCorp as corruptly as ever. During an illegal mining operation, his men dig up an alien spacecraft and inadvertently unleash Doomsday, a virtually indestructible killing machine. Superman races to confront the beast and, as a result of his unprecedented beating, dies.

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A SIMPLE PLAN (1998) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 9:00am

Sam Raimi broke out as a director with his cult horror flick EVIL DEAD and went on to bring the SPIDER-MAN franchise successfully to the big screen. However, his most mature and accomplished film came with this simple thriller that turns out to be anything but simple. With two Oscar nominations for Scott B. Smith's screenplay and Billy Bob Thornton's supporting performance, A SIMPLE PLAN is not only one of the premiere films of 1998, but the 1990s as well.

Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton, ALIENS) is a happily married man whose wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda, POINT OF NO RETURN) is expecting their first child. He works at a farm feed shop and still has to look after of his unemployed older brother Jacob (Thornton, SLING BLADE). One night on the way home with Jacob and his brother's best friend Lou Chambers (Brent Briscoe, MULHOLLAND DR.), they find a crashed plane in the woods. Inside they discover a bag with more than $4 million. After some hesitation, Hank agrees to hold onto the money until they feel that no one will come looking for it, then split it up and move out of town. In contrary to the title, the money will create great problems within the threesome, as well as from outside forces.

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This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates The Open Road

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 5:46pm

With the extended edition of Quentin Tarantino's half of GRINDHOUSE racing onto DVD this week, I felt I'd turn This Weekend's Film Festival over to him. His DEATH PROOF is a badass car chase flick. Within it, he has his characters gush over three films that fall into that same category, which are all featured in this week's lineup. I've also included a road movie that doesn't feature cars, but motorcycles. If it weren't for this film, the anti-establishment road movie wouldn't even exist. So gas up your tanks for This Weekend's Film Festival — it's an adrenaline ride for all the cinematic grease monkeys out there.

With the lackluster box office performance of GRINDHOUSE, Miramax has elected to initially release both halves as separate films on DVD. Therefore, Friday night feature is only DEATH PROOF, but don't let that scare you off. Tarantino's slasher/car chase opus puts the grrr is girl power. Almost working as two films of its own, the story sets up its killer than sics him on another group of victims. The tale is full of Tarantino's signature dialogue, which slyly sets up the characters and building sympathy by focusing his camera on key moments. The final car chase filmed without visual effects has a real old school visceral feel to it. Anchored by really believable performances, Tarantino doesn't spoof B-movies, like Robert Rodriguez did with GRINDHOUSE's first half PLANET TERROR; he makes a good one. To find out more about the entire GRINDHOUSE experience, read my original review and be on the lookout for my forthcoming look at the extended cut of DEATH PROOF.

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