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Blogs Separated at Birth 3: Asian-American Adolescent Magic Menace Fighters

The contenders:

American Dragon: Jake Long

Disney Channel, premiered January 21, 2005

Main Character: Jake Long, pre-teen descendant of long line of shape-shifting dragons

Supernatural responsibility: Protect New York City from supernatural menaces

Supernatural power: Can turn into a flying dragon

Mentor: Grandfather Luong Lao Shi; can also turn into a dragon

Sibling: annoying 8 year-old sister Haley; can also turn into a dragon

Pet: 600 year-old talking Shar Pei ‘Fu Dog’

and in this corner:

The Life and Times of Juniper Lee

Cartoon Network, premiered May 30, 2005

Blogs GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988) (****)

Chuck Jones is often credited to the quote, “if you can do it in live-action than it shouldn’t be animated.” With today’s technology this solid rule has weakened, but for this 1988 anime feature there is nothing in it that would have kept it from being a live-action feature at the time of production. So why make it an animated feature? As a director I wouldn’t want to put real children through the torture that these children must endure during the U.S. fire bombing of Japan during WWII. This heartrending feature is the most emotional devastating feature I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the best animated features I’ve ever seen.

The story begins at the end with Seita, a 14-year-old boy, dying alone is a train depot. After this, we flashback to him living with his sick mother and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko. During one bombing Seita and Setsuko are separated from their mother, who is severely burned and eventually succumbs to her injuries. With their father away in the Navy, Seita and Setsuko go to live with their selfish aunt, uncle and cousin. Their aunt cares little for them, barely paying them attention unless to tell them how worthless they are or to take advantage of them. It gets to the point when the siblings must go out on their own.

Blogs Waltzing Matilda (right out the Disney door...)

A former Down Under Disney employee and Friend of the Site relays this bit of gossip:

“... a friend was at a recent studio meeting in Burbank and Ed Catmull was lamenting the closure of the Sydney studio - which is bizarre considering there were no Australians there to hear it and it was nearly 9 months after the fact. Word is the Pixar guys really regret it shutting down - had they come in a little earlier I am sure the studio would still be there now, which is such a shame. It was real waste of exceptional talent. It's not easy to have a place with over 250 people combining to work at that rate (10 feet per week) and producing such quality - it took 20 years to get to such a position…”

Blogs Oscar says 'goodnight' to "Waking Life," etc.

Interpolate this, asshole (from yesterday's AWN Headline News):

“… The significance of the change emphasizes the importance of frame-by-frame character animation, and now rules out such films as A SCANNER DARKLY and WAKING LIFE for qualification. According to Jon Bloom, chairman of the Short Films and Feature Animation branch as well as a governor, the branch was concerned that the digital rotoscoping technique utilized in these two features was not crucial enough in shaping the animated performances."


Translation: 'Best Animated Feature' is, now and forever, the official Akademy of Kinema Kiddie Kategory; no druggies or existential misfits need apply...

Blogs Annecy’s Love Affair with Paper Airplanes

Ask yourself,” What happens when you get hundreds if not thousands of animators in a theater before a screening- with a few minutes on their hands?”

The answer: Paper Airplanes!!!

The object is to see if you can create a flying vessel that will guide all the way to the stage of the main theater at Annecy.

And…if others take up a supportive role in your efforts to reach the stage- that’s okay…because it’s Annecy!

Everyone in the audience joins in- whether you are the great Italian animator Bruno Bozetto (70 plus years) or a wide eyed student in attendance at the world series of animation.

What do you expect from all those animators who are given sheets of paper before the screenings.

Blogs Wet Rats

By Joe Strike | Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 8:28am

Why can't they make a feature cartoon about rodents without sending them into the sewers via the kind of ride you'd pay money for at a water park (without the turds, of course), i.e. Stuart Little - Flushed Away and now Ratatouille? (Oops, it hasn't opened yet, gave that one away. I better not tell you he meets Harry Lime down there and becomes his partner in an animated sequel to The Third Man entitled Harry and Me.)

Blogs This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Comic Books (But Not The Superhero Variety)

With GHOST RIDER arriving on DVD and FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER hitting theaters this week, I thought it would be nice to spotlight comic books for This Weekend's Film Festival. However, with GHOST RIDER getting panned and F4 2 looking not much better than its awful predecessor, I thought it was an even better idea to bring attention to good films based on comic books. But when I began thinking about it, a lineup of SPIDER-MAN and BATMAN films didn't get me excited. Then I thought of graphic novels. And this idea led me to graphic novels that do not feature superheroes. There have been some great films in the past few years that have been based on graphic novels, some of which don't even have anything to do with action.

Blogs Separated at birth 1

"Hammy" in Over the Hedge, and "Twitchy" in Hoodwinked.

The winner: Hammy, as the film switches into bullet time to travel with a seemingly normal Hammy while the rest of the world is froze-frame stationary. Which brings us to...

"Hammy" in Over the Hedge and "Fry" in Futurama, "Three Hundred Big Boys"

The winner: Philip J. Fry, saving his slo-mo friends from a fiery demise thanks to 100 cups of 31st century coffee. Also, his heroic feat aired in 2003, three years prior to OTH's premiere. (Hmmm...)

Blogs A cool video about the Animation Festival at Annecy

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Here is a very cool webcast from Annecy 2006. It gives the flavor of the event along with some animation...their site:


Yes, I am NOT there this year- Annecy 2005 was my third time there- I am already planning to attend next year.

I love that festival and the town.

On Monday the films begin - in 2005, we attended 5 screenings - almost overload. Our last screening of the day was a Frederick Back retrospective what began at 11:00 p.m. at night in a venue in the old part of the city....amazing!

Blogs The power of The Force and 41 cents will get your letter mailed

Saw those 'Star Wars' stamps at the PO, featuring the real-life likenesses of (along with Alec Guiness) Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer and Harrison Ford. Excuse me, but I always heard that you had to be dead for ten years to get on a stamp.

Well, maybe the PO was looking at their careers.

Blogs Triumph of the Penguin Will

Not Chilly Willy, but that totalitarian dude Mumble. In last year's Oscar winner Happy Feet this guy waddles along and forces an entire penguin community to give up their generations-old tradition of covering a pop song to seduce a potential mate. Yes, individuality and free will are tossed off the ice floe so that they can all dance in absolute, fascistic lockstep. This is the message the Academy of MP A&S thinks worthwhile of conveying to our children? Well fie and fiddlesticks, I say! (Actually, I say 'fie and fiddlesticks' several times a day)

Seriously, am I the only one who had problems with this film? Mumble returns from his Quest to the Human World, and in about 30 seconds of screen time bends a few million exquisitely rendered digital penguins to his will. COMBINE singing and dancing like in an old-time musical, synthesizing the old and the new? I guess that idea never occurred to George Miller. That 10-second scene in the ice cave where Mumble converts his clinically-depressed dad to his cause? Phony, phony, phony; they probably realized it was time to wrap up the picture toot-sweet.

Blogs REVENGE (DIRECTOR'S CUT) (1990) (***)

There is something primordial about the characters in REVENGE. A throw back to misogynistic conventions of men and women where men possessed a beautiful woman and valued loyalty between friends and respect over everything else. Director Tony Scott is a perfect fit for this testosterone filled story. Quentin Tarantino calls it his masterpiece, which I find a strong word, even if it is the director's best work that I've seen. The film works for two reasons 1) the actors make us believe in the characters and 2) the screenplay has no pretension to be anything more than what it was meant to be.

Jay Cochran (Kevin Costner, DANCES WITH WOLVES) has just retired as a pilot from the Navy. Years before he helped save the life of Tibby Mendez (Anthony Quinn, GUNS OF NAVARONE) on a hunting trip and they have been friends for years. Cochran goes to visit the rich older man at his Mexican estate where he meets his friend's young, gorgeous wife, Miryea (Madeleine Stowe, BAD GIRLS). Cochran knows that his friend is wrapped up in shady dealings, but doesn't care. Part of why he doesn't care is that he is reckless and a hot head, which leads to an uncontrollable attraction to his dangerous friend's wife. The opening sequence only hints at the violence to come when Tibby finds out.


Dear Friends:

For any of our animator friends who will be at Annecy please save Friday evening for ANNECY PLUS which I have programmed this year. The attached poster and press release gives all the details. If you are not part of our animation community you can skip this message.

Warm Regards,



Le Venitien Bar and Lounge Square de l’ Eveche
(by the canal, less than 500 meters from the Bon Lieu)

Blogs This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Visual Effects

With the Visual Effects Society Festival this coming weekend, I thought it would be a great idea to center This Weekend's Film Festival on movies featured on the VES' 50 most influential visual effects films list. The lineup comes from a sampling of four-star films from across the list. I selected one film from the first ten films on the list then another one from the next ten films and so on.

What struck me when I looked over the complete list of 50 films (which you can find here) is that for the most part they're all good films. The list does seem to skew toward recent visual effects accomplishments, but it doesn't leave out many of the obvious landmark achievements of yesteryear. Many of the films are some of the greatest entertainments of all time. So does this mean that great visual effects only appear in great films or is it that we only remember the great visual effects if they are in great films?

Blogs CITIZEN KANE (1941) (****)

Widely considered the greatest film ever made, and for good reason, CITIZEN KANE matured filmmaking by combining established techniques with new innovations. No first film has ever been as influential as Orson Welles freshman turn behind the camera. The fact that he also starred in, co-wrote and produced the film only heightens the accomplishment. But does the label of "the greatest film ever made" hurt it? I'm sure the label and it's stark black & white cinematography scare away younger audiences, who have all seen THE GODFATHER (which is often a close second as the greatest of all time). What those film viewers are missing is a thoroughly modern film. Made over 60 years ago, the film has not aged a bit.

Blogs SURF'S UP (2007) (***)

Last year penguins danced in HAPPY FEET; now penguins catch the big wave in SURF'S UP. This animated mockumentary looks great and has enough heart and laughs to be a step up from Sony Picture Animation's first animated film, OPEN SEASON. But more so than Sony's MONSTER HOUSE, the film suffers a bit from having a stock hero, leaving the flare to the supporting cast. Nonetheless, the characters are likeable and the laughs are enough that this film is the best time I've had at the movies this summer so far.

Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf, HOLES) lives in Shiverpool, Antarctica and has dreamed of becoming a professional surfer ever since famed Big Z came to visit his town when he was a small child. A film crew interviews Cody as he sets out to prove his mother Edna (Dana Belben, HAPPY TREE FRIENDS) and older brother Glen (Brian Posehn, TV's THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM) wrong and make it off the block of ice where he was born, succeeding as a pro athlete. Determined, he all but forces himself on talent scout Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone, TV's LAUGH WHORE), who works for the Don King-like surf promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods, SALVADOR). We learn that Cody's idol Big Z disappeared during a surf tournament, leaving the arrogant Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader, TV's THE DREW CAREY SHOW) behind as the reigning champion. Cody makes friends with laid-back Chicken Joe (Jon Heder, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE) and pretty lifeguard Lani Aliikai (Zooey Deschanel, THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY), but a clash with Tank leaves Cody finally in the care of the Zen-like Geek (Jeff Bridges, THE BIG LEBOWSKI).

Blogs THE DEAD GIRL (2006) (****)

Practically an anthology of five short films that share plot and thematic similarities, this gripping independent production shows how one particular brutal death effects many lives as well as universal issues of life and death. Director and writer Karen Moncrieff, whose first film BLUE CAR dealt with dark, touchy emotional territory as well, brilliantly constructs an episodic feature that feels like a whole, but could conceivably work as parts. This is a remarkably good film.

The story begins with Arden (Toni Collette, THE NIGHT LISTENER), a mousey woman who cares for her bedridden and mentally abusive mother (Piper Laurie, CARRIE), finding the mutilated body of a woman in a field. The media attention that surrounds the murder just upsets Arden's mother more and brings Arden to the attention of an intense, tattooed grocery store worker named Rudy (Giovanni Ribisi, SKY CAPTAIN), who is obsessed with serial killers.


After a triumphant start to this franchise, I'm sad to report that the final installment in the original trilogy is only partly successful, leaving me vastly disappointed in all the potential wasted. Convoluted, over-long, dramatically weak in too many areas, contrived and often unfunny, this bloated exercise in over spending on razzle-dazzle to distract audiences from a void of enough new ideas will probably satisfy some with a solid conclusion, but others might find the time invested not worth the journey.

With Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander, THE LIBERTINE) wielding his control over Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, SHAUN OF THE DEAD), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, ELIZABETHTOWN), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, PRIDE & PREJUDICE), Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, SHINE) and Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris, TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY) must begrudgingly team up to help save Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, ED WOOD) from Davy Jones's locker, so that the nine members of the pirate alliance can free goddess of the ocean, Calypso, and stop Davy Jones from terrorizing the sea.

Blogs This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Romance

Well, I'm three for three on keeping the This Weekend's Film Festival alive as a weekly segment on this site. Because there wasn't any worthwhile DVD releases this Tuesday to build the lineup around, I had to come up with another theme to tie the films together. It's far from Valentine's Day, so why romance you might be thinking. Well, it's my 5th wedding anniversary on June 1st and in celebration I thought it was as good as time for any to look at five great films for the romantic at heart. Some of the films in the lineup are fairly straight forward… but I know you're gonna want to know how a zombie film, which I referred to in my original review as "the goriest film I've ever seen," works into this week's group of films.

Blogs FAST FOOD NATION (2006) (***1/2)

Despite some structural problems, FAST FOOD NATION shines with intelligent debate, an impressive cast and a layered approach at looking at the entire fast food industry from the corporate level to the meat supply level to the store level. Based on the bestselling non-fiction book, director Richard Linklater and co-writer Eric Schlosser find a way to bring out a bit of the human side behind the disturbing facts that were revealed in the original tome. Seen side by side with the documentary SUPER SIZE ME, one may never eat a fast food hamburger ever again.

For the film's corporate look, the fast food chain Mickey's is riding the success of their new burger the Big One. Marketing exec Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) is sent to Colorado to investigate one of their beef supply facilities after an independent report reveals a high level of crap in the meat, literally. For the supplier side, we follow a group of illegal Mexican immigrants — Raul (Wilmer Valderrama, TV's THAT 70S SHOW), Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno, MARIA FULL OF GRACE) and Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon, THE CRIME OF FATHER AMARO) — as they cross the border and get jobs at the meat packing plant. On the local store level, Amber (Ashley Johnson, TV'S GROWING PAINS) is working to make enough money to go to college, because her mother Cindy (Patricia Arquette, FLIRTING WITH DISASTER) can't afford to send her.


Dear Animators:

This year Bill Plympton will be attending THE PLATFORM FESTIVAL OF ANIMATION in Portland, Oregon instead of The Annecy Festival of Animation. Bill has asked Nik, Jonas Raeber and myself to carry on the ANNECY PLUS tradition that he started two years ago. If you had a piece of work rejected by Annecy please send it to us so that we can consider screening it at the ANNECY PLUS show.

We are now into day 15 of a postal strike in Gent and no one is sure how long the strike will last so it is best to send DVD's via UPS or Fed Ex to:

Nancy Denney-Phelps

Donkersteeg 31

B-9000 Gent Belgium

We will be leaving for Annecy on 8 June so please send your work right away!!!

Blogs This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Letters From Iwo Jima & Apocalypto

Wow here it is the second weekly This Weekend's Film Festival. I never know how difficult it will be to get around to a regular column on Rick's Flicks Picks, but I'm at least two for two. Like last week, I'm building this week's theme around film(s) newly released on DVD. Two of my favorite from 2006 arrived on DVD yesterday — LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA and APOCALYPTO. They're completely different films, but I've found some interesting companion pieces for the lineup that will pull this week's festival all together.

The Friday night, opening night film, WE WERE SOLDIERS, ties together the two films in the obvious themes of war and Mel Gibson. The APOCALYPTO director stars in this Vietnam war film, which like the companion pieces of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA looks at both sides of a single battle. Another similarity is that SOLDIERS looks at the affects of war at home like FLAGS. America "wins" in both SOLDIERS and FLAGS/LETTERS, however America far outnumbers the Japanese in the latter while America is the underdog in the former film. It's an interesting contrast to look at the unflinching way all three films deal with war and the uncertainty of it all. How does being outnumbered feel when you win in the end versus losing in the end? How is battle different yet the same when decades separate the battles of World War II and Vietnam? While SOLDIERS may be more flag waving than Clint Eastwood's two epic movies, the three films all share an even handed tone that never undermines the complexity of human conflict during war. If you want to learn more about this film, read my original review.

Blogs THE OFFICIAL STORY (1985) (****)

Winner Best Foreign Film at the 1986 Oscars, this harrowing tale of political awakening works more so on an emotional level than an intellectual one. This does not mean that the film is absent of ideas, because it is filled with Argentinean history and the political strife that enveloped the nation in the 1980s when the government was rounding up dissidents, who were often never seen from again.

Alicia (Norma Aleandro, SON OF THE BRIDE) is a high school history teacher. Her husband Roberto (Hector Alterio, SON OF THE BRIDE) is a rich businessman, who has dealings with the country's elite as well as the government. Alicia knows little about the rallies in the streets of her city where poor mothers seek information about their missing children. She only knows what has been written down in books. Alicia is a great mother to her adopted daughter Gaby (Analia Castro), who just turned five.

Blogs MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) (****)

One of the key reasons MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON works at all is that the aw-shucks attitude of its title character isn't the attitude of the whole film. This isn't a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER worldview going on here. Director Frank Capra, known for his flag-waving sentiment, is fairly cynical about how government works. The Senate in this 1930s film almost feels modern. The film is actually a cry for a noble institution to hold up to its noble ideals.

When a vacancy opens up in the U.S. Senate, naïve Midwesterner Jefferson Smith, who has made a name for himself working with underprivileged boys, is picked to fill the spot. His father was good friends with Sen. Joseph Paine (Claude Rains, CASABLANCA), who supported Smith's appointment. Smith idolizes Paine, but he doesn't know that he's been chosen as a patsy. Paine hopes to use Smith as a way to help pass a bill, which will make corrupt businessman Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER) a lot of money and insure him a shot at the presidency.