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OCEAN’S THIRTEEN (2007) (**1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 5:20pm

If this film were not part of the OCEAN'S franchise, it would be just an average, plot-heavy, slightly absurd heist comedy. With great stars and some of the familiar wit of the first two installments, the film does entertain, but it's a franchise that's truly showing its age. The motivation for the caper was promising, but it never hits home, because the details of the fantastic caper take up way too much time. With the screenplay taking up minute after minute explaining just how high tech the new casino is and how difficult it will be to pull off the job, all those details are just smoke and mirrors to obscure the same old tricks from before.

Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould, THE LONG GOODBYE) has gotten into business with heavy hitter hotel entrepreneur Willie Bank (Al Pacino, HEAT). Once Bank gets what he needs from Tishoff, he cuts him out of the deal, leaving the old-timer penniless and bed ridden due to a heart attack. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) hears of the tragedy and calls the old crew back together to avenge their friend. They set out to rig it so the casino's games pay out big on opening night, thus bankrupting Bank. But when problems arise, they ask for help from their old adversary Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS), who demands that they also steal Bank's prized diamond necklaces, which are extremely well protected. The new wrinkle needs someone to get close to Bank's right hand Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin, THE BIG EASY) and Linus (Matt Damon, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) takes on the mission of a love con. Meanwhile, the crew's opponent from the second film, Francois Toulour (Vincent Cassel, EASTERN PROMISES), keeps popping up around town.

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More Art from the Holiday

Our holiday was very relaxing and it gave me a chance to enjoy "being lazy" and having some fun with my sketching...

everything from ink and watercolors to different types of pencils.
Here are a few more....

The blue thumbnail in the upper right corner is now a Christmas Card.

Another sketch that turned into a Ty B. Bear Christmas card

More art later...

Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Five of the Best Films of 2007

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 12:01am

Because I don't get a chance to see all the films I want in theaters, I get a treat when some of the better films in a year arrive on DVD. So I decided to circle back and highlight some of my recent discoveries on DVD, which I feel represent some of the best films of 2007. Due to the hectic holidays, I'm behind in several reviews, so I picked the five films that are out on DVD that I have already reviewed and gave three-and-a-half to four stars to. Keep an eye out for my upcoming reviews of RESCUE DAWN and HAIRSPRAY, which also could have made the cut. Three of the films are very good, but probably won't make my top 25 when the year comes to a close. The other two films are likely to make my top 10. So you're in for a treat.

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Thanksgiving Holiday in the Mountains

The second part of the trip was to Greenville, SC. We stayed at a hotel and reserved tickets for the national traveling troupe of MY FAIR LADY at the Peace Center. Greenville is such a beautiful town- with a natural waterfall downtown and then there are the cafes, shops and galleries strewn about the city. The town featured an old fashioned Christmas Market and a Festival of Trees (decorated Christmas trees throughout the city). It was a great way to ease into Christmas Holidays.

More art on the way!

Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Contemplates How Certain Films Make Us Think of Our Loved Ones

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 12:02am

For This Weekend's Film Festival, the lineup has a personal spin to it; however, the discussion I hope to create is universal. Various elements of cinema remind us of our loved ones for different reasons. As it is Thanksgiving this week and some of you will be spending it with family, I felt it was a fun idea to think about what films make you think of the people you are close to. Why do those films make you think of the person? The five selections this week remind me of my wife, who I am very thankful for. For readers, read on to see some of the various details that conjure thoughts of our friends and family. For viewers, this lineup is just a group of fun films to check out over the holiday weekend.

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ENCHANTED (2007) (***)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 12:01am

Disney's attempt to Shrek itself, ENCHANTED benefits from the serendipity of a perfect cast. Flat material and story problems are quickly forgotten in light of lively and humorous musical numbers and a feel good theme that finds a way to be sugary sweet without threatening tooth decay. Oscar nominee Amy Adams carries the film, as well the audience, with a performance that couldn't be better.

In a 2D animated opening sequence, the fair maiden Giselle (Adams, JUNEBUG) sings of finding love's true kiss when she literally falls for Prince Edward (James Marsden, X-MEN). Fearful that her stepson's marriage will lead to her losing her crown, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon, DEAD MAN WALKING) tricks Giselle into a portal that sends her to New York City, where her animated self is transformed into a real human. Desperately looking for Edward, Giselle is kindly taken in by divorce lawyer Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey, TV's GREY ANATOMY), who has a six-year-old daughter named Megan (Rachel Covey, DUANE HOPWOOD). After Edward, along with the chipmunk Pip, heads to NYC to rescue Giselle, Narissa sends her devoted henchman Nathaniel (Timothy Spall, SECRETS & LIES) to Earth to kill Giselle with poison apples. Meanwhile, Giselle's endlessly chipper attitude doesn't mesh with modern urban life, putting a kink in Robert's life, especially with his girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel, RENT).

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Happy Thanksgiving Day to Everyone!

My warmest wishes to everyone for a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

Here is my latest painting - just completed a couple of days ago... two more in the hopper and more on the way. The Thanksgiving break will give me more time to be with family and to draw...

While living in Ireland we had to go to the butchers, choose a bird (hanging in the window) with feathers and the parts still on...have it plucked, gutted, cleaned and dressed.

We would ALWAYS have Irish friends and students over to celebrate our American Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your Turkey Day!

Blogs

BEOWULF (2007) (***1/2)

"Don't judge a film by its trailer," my mother always said. Well, she didn't really say that, but in one of the nth alternative timelines of my life I'm sure she would say it. This statement fits this film perfectly, for the trailer made the film seem like a soulless videogame, while the actual film is a digital hyper-real alternative reality that brings new life to the ancient tale of BEOWULF.

In the film, the vice ridden king Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) has his kingdom plagued by the demon Grendel (Crispin Glover, BACK TO THE FUTURE). The king calls for a hero to kill the beast and the cocky Beowulf (Ray Winstone, THE DEPARTED) arrives to do the job. The king's chief adviser Unferth (John Malkovich, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) questions Beowulf's accomplishments, which seem exaggerated. Beowulf's right hand man Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson, BRAVEHEART) knows his boss is a braggart, but he believes in him unconditionally. Along his journey, Beowulf will be tempted by many women, including the king's beautiful wife Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn, FORREST GUMP), as well as Grendel's shape-shifting mother (Angelina Jolie, TOMB RAIDER).

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THE HOAX (2007) (***1/2)

Director Lasse Hallstrom is a filmmaker that I look forward to seeing new work from, because he made two of my favorite films, MY LIFE AS A DOG and WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?, and I'm a great admirer of his ONCE AROUND. Though flawed, his best film since GRAPE was THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, which was released back in 1999. He's been making safe films ever since. Now with the release of THE HOAX, he has something meatier to deal with that delivers.

The film is based on the true story of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere, CHICAGO), a struggling writer who sells a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes to publisher McGraw-Hill. In weaving his deception, Irving enlists his friend Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina, FRIDA) to serve as his researcher. Irving fakes handwritten notes from Hughes that fool experts. Along with Suskind, they listen to congressional testimony to get down the reclusive millionaire's speech patterns. The more money that begins changing hands, the more scrutiny Irving comes under, which makes his story more and more outlandish. When he says Hughes wants $1 million for the book, he gets it. Soon his painter wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden, POLLACK) gets wrapped up in the scam.

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This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates 2007's Sequels That Were Better Left As Singles

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 1:00am

This summer was surely the summer of sequels, three-quels and in some cases quad-quels. I don't have any particular objection to sequels, especially in the action/adventure category, because you set good heroes on new adventures. As long as the story doesn't spin its wheels then it can still be fun. Look at the James Bond series. Last year's CASINO ROYALE is one of the best Bond films ever made.

However, this summer we got a lot of passable to poor sequels. Just peruse this list SPIDER-MAN 3, 28 WEEKS LATER, SHREK THE THIRD, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END, HOSTEL PART II, OCEAN'S THIRTEEN, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, EVAN ALMIGHTY, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, DADDY DAY CAMP and RUSH HOUR 3. One could also add remakes like THE INVASION (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) and HALLOWEEN to this déjà vu cinema experience as well. Is this a sign of the lack of new ideas in Hollywood or the lack of nerve to film new ideas in Hollywood?

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A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (2006) (**)

Youngsters might find this picture amusing, but it's not for the whole family. The tired premise isn't given much new to stand on except for some snazzy visual effects. The humor is of the simple slack stick variety, which goes for the lowest common denominator over and over again. It's a harmless piece of confection, but tastes quite stale.

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller, DODGEBALL) tries hard, but he fails at everything he attempts. His son Nick (Jake Cherry, TV's DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) is embarrassed with his father's unstable life, and his ex Erica (Kim Raver, TV's 24) doesn't think Nick should be around him until he gets his life together. In order to keep close to his son, Larry takes the night watchmen job at the Natural History Museum. Cecil (Dick Van Dyke) and his fellow old-timers Gus (Mickey Rooney) and Reginald (Bill Cobbs, AIR BUD) show him the ropes, giving him a list of specific tasks he must perform each night. However, when the museum closes down, Larry is on the run as the exhibits come to life. With the aid of a wax version of Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, PATCH ADAMS), Larry must put everything back in place and make sure nothing escapes.

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THE CONVERSATION (1974) (****)

THE CONVERSATION is a film that I have seen twice. I wasn't all that impressed with it the first time I saw it, but considering its reputation I decided to give it a second viewing. For whatever reason sometimes certain films don't hit you the first time, but then startle you the second time around. This is the same experience I had with DR. STRANGELOVE (now one of my favorite films) and David Gordon Green's GEORGE WASHINGTON. I believe the pacing of Francis Ford Coppola's thriller is part of why this happened. I think upon my first viewing, I was beguiled by the slow build and missed the point of the ending. Upon seeing it again, I was beguiled by the unique anti-hero unlike any seen elsewhere on screen and an ending that blew me away with its depth and style.

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DIE HARD (1988) (****)

One of the great action films of all time, Bruce Willis will forever be remembered for his role as the "monkey in your wrench" cop who single-handedly takes down a group of terrorists. The developing plot plays out naturally with increasing levels of tension. At its core, the film is more than just a good guy versus bad guys tale — it's about guys who do their jobs well and those who let ego get in the way of doing their jobs well.

John McClane (Willis) is a New York City cop who has come to L.A. for Christmas to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia, TV's THE DIVISION), who left NYC to take a high-powered position at the Nakatomi Corp. As he gets comfortable in her office while the company Christmas party takes place in the other room, John is sent into action when terrorists take over the building. Led by the highly intelligent Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, GALAXY QUEST), the terrorists are there to steal bonds worth millions. Their scheme has been planned out perfectly, except for the wrinkle of officer John McClane, who calls himself Roy when asked.

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28 WEEKS LATER (2007) (***)

Danny Boyle's 2002 28 DAYS LATER was a hardcore revamp of the zombie genre, viscerally brought to life in a star making turn by Cillian Murphy. Produced by Boyle, the sequel is under the leadership of new filmmakers. Writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo made his English debut on the film, which was co-written by Rowan Joffe, Jesus Olmo and E.L. Lavigne. It's a tale of two stories; the first half is filled with dark irony, while the second half is a chase flick copying what George Romero did in THE CRAZIES.

The story begins where the first film begins, but following new characters. Donald and Alice Harris (Robert Carlyle, TRAINSPOTTING & Catherine McCormack, DANGEROUS BEAUTY) are holed up in a cottage in England, hiding from an outbreak that turns humans into crazed flesh-eaters. But when the zombies strike, wrong choices are made. In a montage, the film lays out what has transpired for the past 28 weeks since this event. The population of England has died off. U.S. led NATO forces have taken over the country. Survivors have been rounded up into a single section in London and refugees have started to be reintegrated into the military occupied U.K. Major Scarlet (Rose Byrne, WICKER PARK) is the chief medical officer, who worries that though they haven't seen an infected person in two months that the disease might come back. Gen. Stone (Idris Elba, AMERICAN GANGSTER) is sure the soldiers can handle another outbreak if it comes. Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner, DAHMER) and helicopter pilot Flynn (Harold Perrineau, ROMEO + JULIET) find their patrols of virtually dead city quite boring. However, when a new outbreak does come, chaos quickly takes over and it seems that the Harris' children Andy and Tammy (Mackintosh Muggleton, film debut & Imogen Poots, V FOR VENDETTA) might be the key to saving humanity.

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NO END IN SIGHT (2007) (****)

Who is Charles Ferguson, the maker of the best film thus far on the Iraq War? He made millions selling his company Vermeer Technologies, the creator of the first visual website development tool FrontPage, to Microsoft. He served as a senior fellow at the political think tank, the Brookings Institute. He holds degrees from Berkeley and MIT, where he has also taught. He was originally a supporter of the invasion of Iraq. And now he has made a sobering, infuriating and honest chronicling of the Bush administration's disastrous handling of the war from the lips of those who served in the administration.

Ferguson doesn't go for theatrics or sentiment with his film. The facts are damning enough. Thirty-five people were interviewed for the film including: General Jay Garner, who ran Iraq reconstruction before L. Paul Bremer replaced him; Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who headed the Baghdad embassy until her differing opinions led to the Bush administration firing her; Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State; Robert Hutchings, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council; Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff; and Col. Paul Hughes, who worked for both the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

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CLUELESS (1995) (***1/2)

Classic literature is mined for teen films quite often. How many ROMEO AND JULIETs in high school have we seen? Director Amy Heckerling (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) based CLUELESS on Jane Austen's EMMA and infused it with hip Beverly Hills glamour and slang. As for teen versions of classic lit, this is about as good as it gets.

Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone, LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST) is the prototypical dumb blonde, it seems. She obsesses about clothes, boys and the here and now. Along with best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash, RENAISSANCE MAN) and Dionne's boyfriend Murray (Donald Faison, TV's SCRUBS), they make it their mission to transform New York City transplant Tai (Brittany Murphy, DEAD GIRL) into the next cast member of BEVERLY HILLS 90210. Cher deeply disapproves of Tai's initial choice of boys — a tokin' skater named Travis (Breckin Meyer, GARFIELD). She tries to find Tai a more suitable suitor like the hottie Elton (Jeremy Sito, TV's SIX FEET UNDER). While she is playing matchmaker, Cher sets her eyes on the new boy in school Christian (Justin Walker). All along, Cher's former stepbrother and law student Josh (Paul Rudd, KNOCKED UP) watches Cher's manipulations with a wry smile, injecting a sardonic comment from time to time as he helps Cher's father Mel (Dan Hedaya, THE HURRICANE) work on a big lawsuit.

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This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates One Damn Good Week for New DVD Releases

As I was looking down the list of films hitting DVD this week, I was struck by how many good titles were being released. I didn't want to deny extra exposure for any of them, because they're all so good. So I just decided to dedicate this week's lineup of This Weekend's Film Festival to five great new titles on DVD. It's an eclectic mix to say the least. Three films are new to DVD, one is an older films getting re-released and one of them is actually a short film collection. We have animated masterpieces, a humorous and touching documentary, a fun true-life biopic and a mysterious neo-noir.

The Friday night feature is the only cheat in the overall premise for this week's lineup. TALK TO ME (which actually came out last week) didn't fit into my Halloween theme, but I feel it well deserves special attention. Don Cheadle's performance as the original shock jock, Petey Greene, is Oscar worthy. Chiwetel Ejiofor, as the radio exec that believes in the ex convict, and Taraji P. Henson, as Petey's faithful girlfriend, both reserve recognition for their work as well. The film chronicles the rise of Greene from his time in prison to his fame on the radio to his disastrous performance on the Tonight Show. Director Kasi Lemmons doesn't direct in a flashy way; she just allows the pace to naturally flow, driven by the strength of her spectacular cast. Cheadle is electric and completely convincing as the abrasive and smart DJ. As I said in my original review, "What makes Petey Greene’s story so captivating is the man’s honesty. He tells it how it is whether you want to hear it or not."

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LIFTED (2007) (****)

This brilliant spoof of alien abduction stories is the first film from famed soundman Gary Rydstrom. Of course, the sound is perfect, but Rydstrom translates his sound skills to make a hilarious short with perfect timing.

In the story, teen alien Stu must look over a huge board of switches to lift a deeply slumbering farmer from his bed. For each mistake, the looming glutinous supervisor, Mr. B, scribbles down notes on a clip board. Will Stu succeed or will be lose his cool?

Rydstrom's timing and pacing is impeccable. For all intents and purposes, the film is a single joke, however it's still funny upon repeated viewings. The slapstick is perfectly combined with character. Stu's reactions are wonderfully exaggerated. There is a classic squash and stretch cartoon vibe to this short, which is a landmark for CG animation. The character design is also superb. The gelatin-like bodies of the aliens are unique. Stu with his oversized helmet adds to the character's emotions and personalities. You get a quick sense that he is young and inexperienced just by his look, while you sense the opposite from the stoic Mr. B.

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MATER AND THE GHOSTLIGHT (2006) (***)

Featured as a supplement on the CARS DVD, this short is the worst one based on characters from a Pixar feature and is one of the weaker shorts the studio has done. More so than MIKE'S NEW CAR and JACK-JACK ATTACK, the film feels like a product not a short that needed to be made.

Filled with the characters from CARS, Mater the Tow Truck (Larry the Cable Guy) sneaks around Radiator Springs trying to scare or play tricks on various inhabitants. As a way to get back at him, Sheriff (Michael Wallis) tells Mater the spooky tale of the ghostlight, which haunts the streets of the town in the dark. So as Mater heads home, his tires shake with fear that the ghostly blue light will find him.

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ONE MAN BAND (2006) (***)

With its three previous shorts featuring dialogue, Pixar goes back to its tradition of no dialogue shorts with this entertaining production. Directed and written by Mark Andrews and Andrew Jimenez, the film relies on music strongly to tell its simple story.

Bass is a busker who plays various percussion instruments all at once. A young girl named Tippy comes to the courtyard where Bass performs to make a wish in the fountain. So Bass plays her a tune to earn her coin instead. But then Treble, a one-man string section, shows up to lure the little girl away. Each musician will pull out all the stops to convince Tippy that they deserve her lone gold piece.

With its piazza and period setting, this short has a worldly style that is new to Pixar shorts. Like many the Pixar shorts, the story is simple, but what makes it fun is the great gags that the filmmakers come up with. The directors worked closely with the composer to come up with the music, which is key. The tunes work as the voices of the characters, helping build their personalities. Bass is subtly built as a tired veteran performer, while Treble is flashier and comes off as a bit of a shyster.

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JACK-JACK ATTACK (2005) (***)

Out of all the Pixar shorts featuring characters from their feature films, this is the best one. Originally included as bonus material on THE INCREDIBLES DVD, the short actually began as a scene in the movie, but was cut when Brad Bird felt it was funnier to reveal Jack-Jack's powers at the end of the film.

The bookend story features Kari, the Parr's babysitter, being interviewed by secret agent Rick Dicker about what happened when she was babysitting Jack-Jack. At first Kari reassures Mrs. Parr (aka Elastigirl) over the phone that she can handle anything the baby can throw at her. Well, soon Kari will discover how over her head she is when little Jack-Jack starts to wreck havoc in the house with his superpowers. As Kari frantically tries to take control of the situation, the events lead up to the final events in THE INCREDIBLES feature.

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BOUNDIN' (2004) (***1/2)

Writer/director Bud Luckey, who is best known at Pixar for designing TOY STORY's Woody, makes a singularly original short in the canon of the studio. The tone skews unapologetically young and old fashioned. The tale is told in song and springs forward with a moral unlike any other film from Pixar.

A young sheep dances proudly with his impressive coat of wool. However, when he is sheered and left in the rain, everyone around can't help to laugh at the pathetic sight. Then along comes the mythical creature, the jackalope, who teaches the young lamb that life will have its ups and its downs and all you have to do is bound and rebound.

The design work on this Oscar nominated short is bright to the point of adding energy to the story. It also features some amazingly subtle animation that wonderfully captures the emotions of the poor little lamb. The animators wonderfully balance the lamb's bravado at the start and his sheepishness (couldn't help myself) once his white coat is gone. The message of taking life's problems in stride is full of optimism, which in our cynical age is quite striking. Luckey was inspired to make the film from the image of a newly shorn lamp, which was an image ingrained in his mind since his childhood on the Great Plains. The film is sentimental, but in a good way.

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MIKE'S NEW CAR (2002) (***)

Made for the MONSTERS, INC. DVD release, MIKE'S NEW CAR seems like an afterthought. Not that the film isn't funny, but it seems like an average gag that just happens to feature the lovable Mike Wazowski and Sulley characters. It's little confectionary compared to many of the other Pixar shorts.

In the story, Mike is excited to show Sulley his brand new six-wheel car. However, when they get inside to take a ride, nothing goes right. That's the story. In addition to being the first Pixar short to star characters from their features, the short is also the first to contain dialogue. One of the treats is that Billy Crystal and John Goodman returned to play Mike and Sulley, respectively. Crystal is especially funny.

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FOR THE BIRDS (2001) (***1/2)

Making it two in a row, FOR THE BIRDS won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short for this simple and quite funny cartoon. Like GERI'S GAME, the short was a technical experiment. This time the Pixar wizards were testing realistic feathers. And also like GERI'S GAME, the technical never gets in the way of story.

A flock of small, plump birds begin to perch on a telephone wire. Then a large bird lands on the telephone pole and dopily waves to the feathered clique, who can't help but make fun of her. However, their rudeness finally lays their true personalities bare in the end.

Truly past technical constraints at this point, the film, directed by Ralph Eggleston, is bright and colorful. The design work nicely conveys the personalities of the characters. Four of the birds have names — Chipper, Bully, Snob and Neurotic. That says it all. With a nice subtly, one can easily pick out which bird is which via their actions. It’s that kind of attention to detail that makes the film special. A lesser filmmaker would have made the flock of birds one collective personality, however Eggleston adds nuance to each of the callous feathered foursome. FOR THE BIRDS is a crowd pleaser that proves that when it comes to story sometimes, simplicity can work wonders.

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GERI'S GAME (1998) (****)

Pixar's second Oscar winning short, GERI'S GAME, was the first film made after the success of TOY STORY. Though the film was a research and development tool to test CG humans and cloth simulation, none of the experimenting hurts the ability of the filmmakers to tell their story. Directed and written by Jan Pinkava, it's Pixar's masterpiece in the short form.

Geri is an old codger who sets out to play a game of chess in the park one day. His opponent is himself. The first Geri is a slower, spectacles-wearing fellow with a gentler personality. The second Geri is sprier and likes to taunt the other Geri as he makes one successful move after another. But what the second Geri doesn't know is that the first Geri is wiser than he seems.

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