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Hark, hark, this film's a lark...

Just had the pleasure of watching Tsui Hark's Black Mask 2: City of Masks, a loony, loopy movie that made me feel (in the best sense of the words) ten years old.

I never saw the original BM which starred Jet Li, but in this one some guy named Andy On (drugs?) takes over as the genetically messed-over superhero. He's fighting a bunch of grunting wrestlers whose DNA has likewise been altered, giving them bestial powers & uncontrollable metamorphoses into nasty animal hybrids.

For a while back in the 90's, it looked like cgi effects were going to wipe out modest little B-movie genre pix, with sci-fi/fantasy films given A-budgets & big name directors. Then PC's & Macs started making lower-end, lower-priced cgi efx possible. Combine that with Hong Kong style wire work, martial-arts mishegas (choreographed by Woo-ping Yuen, who did the same on Kung-Fu Hustle), cleverly chosen ultra-modern architectural backgrounds and snappy, vivid direction (from Hark, helmer of Iron Monkey, a Tarantino fave) and you have a high-energy nutsoid action flick that's a pleasure top to bottom. The opening credits of multiple silhouetted martial artists going through their paces on a computer screen background get you in the mood right off the bat.

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THE DEVILS (1971) (BOMB)

This pseudo-critique of the Catholic church has as much depth as a piece of artistic social rebellion as someone running into a church and screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs when no one else is around. Possibly amusing to the perpetrator, but no one else. Director Ken Russell strings together every possible image and/or action that could offend a devotee without any real substance behind it. Further diluting this "expose" is the setting of 17th Century France when it is clear the modern church is its target, yet never clearly laying out what point, if any, it wants to make about the modern church. This self-indulgent mess will most certainly ruffle the feathers of the more prudish viewer, however everyone else will be laughing their pants off at the absurdity of it all.

Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates AFI 100 Newbies Part I

A few months back the American Film Institute announced its 10th anniversary edition of its 100 Years 100 Movies List of the best American films of all time. Taking a note from Sight & Sound's famed best of all time list, AFI will be revamping the list every 10 years to allow in newer films that were not eligible previously as well as gauge changing thoughts on cinema. Films moved up and down the list and 23 films were replaced with other films. Only three films that fell off really surprised me. THE THIRD MAN, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and PATTON really deserve to stay on the list. With GIANT falling off too, does it mean that James Dean has lost some of his iconic status in the last 10 years? Other films that fell out of favor, which deserve the place as the best of all time include AMADEUS, FANTASIA, CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE THIRD KIND and FARGO. But I'm not going to shed any tears that JAZZ SINGER or AN AMERICAN IN PARIS dropped from the list.

Blogs

SICKO (2007) (****)

Dedicated rabble-rouser and liberal advocate Michael Moore has returned with a new documentary skewering the U.S. health care system. Whether you're liberal or conservative, most Americans have or most likely will have some horror story, thanks to our broken medical establishment. This is the footing from which Moore comes from, making his least divisive and most emotional film ever.

Possibly taking a note from his critics that he mucked the camera in his other films, Moore doesn't make an appearance in SICKO until far after the mid-point. The film starts with personal stories from folks who have been affected by bad HMOs. One uninsured man had to chose whether to reattach the tip his ring finger or his middle finger after a sawing accident. A woman's ambulance ride after a bad accident was rejected by her insurance because it wasn't pre-approved. Another woman was approved for surgery, but later rejected because her insurance company said she failed to list a yeast infection on her application, thus voiding her policy for withholding a prior medical condition. In two heartrending sequences, a mother talks about being forced to take her sick infant from one hospital to another because the closer hospital was not in her medical group and another woman who works at a hospital talks about the hospital's medical board rejecting her husband's bone marrow transplant, because it's an "experimental" treatment.

Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Pulpy Pleasures

Sorry ahead of time for the lateness on this week's edition. This Weekend's Film Festival drips of pulpy cool, bloody gore and a heap load of fun. With HOT FUZZ and 300 both arriving on DVD this week, the exuberant and over-the-top fun of cinema needs to be showcased. I've collected five flicks that have directors in common, genres in common and creators in common. But what all these films have in common is a love for genre filmmaking and its excesses. It's not a marathon of style over substance, but a parade of how style can enhance substance. These are dark entertainments that have tongues pressed firmly in their cheeks around many hairpin turns. Others know exactly what something needs to be to become iconically cool. It's two fisted gun totin' action this week. You might just have to install seat belts on your sofa.

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This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates True Crime

With the release of David Fincher's ZODIAC on DVD, I thought it was a great time to devote This Weekend's Film Festival to true crime films. I've picked five films covering three real killings and/or killers. Four are fiction accounts of real events while one is a documentary where we hear directly from the killer. Murder, especially serial killings, often draws our attention, because it deals with the darkest reaches of the human condition. Bloody conflict between men has been part of our art and entertainment forever. We are fascinated with the fringe and extreme behavior, but why? Hopefully this lineup will address the reasons.

ZODIAC, starting off the festival, follows the killer that stalked the San Francisco area during the 1960s and 1970s. Fincher's procedural approach doesn't ramp up the drama, but uses the facts to drive along the narrative. Robert Graysmith's obsession to discover the identity of the Zodiac killer becomes the viewer's obsession, moving the film over decades of time with a brisk pace. Graysmith, a cartoonist for the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, is fascinated with the killings and unraveling the clues left by the killers. His desire to find the killer addresses one of the key fascinations with serial killers. How do they elude capture for as long as they do? Read more in my original review.

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31st Annecy International Festival of Animation



31st ANNECY INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ANIMATION by Nancy Denney-Phelps


I don't know if it's that I have finally accepted the fact that the Annecy International Festival of Animation

is about money and big business or simply that I got to spend some time with so many good friends that I don't get to see often enough, but I did have the best time I've had in years at the 31st Annecy International Festival of Animation held in Annecy, France this June 11th through the 16th. From the moment Nik and I arrived on Sunday evening until we headed home to Gent, Belgium the next Sunday afternoon, I couldn't walk down the main street, sit on the patio in front of the Leffe Bar, or walk through the Festival center at Bonlieu without running into people that I was delighted to see.

Blogs

BOBBY (2006) (***)

Emilio Estevez wrote and directed this drama following the lives of 22 people in the Ambassador Hotel the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Though his name supplies the title to this Altman-esque feature, Bobby Kennedy is not a character. The real politician is however seen in archival footage woven throughout the narrative. The various stories are meant to peek into the various cultural currents that were running through America at the time from the hippie movement to the war in Vietnam. The stronger stories keep the film from lagging under its own ambitions, making it a compelling look into the ways RFK's death altered the course of America and the lives of its people.

One of the film's best stories is kitchen worker Jose, who has tickets to go see Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale beat the consecutive shut out record. However, racist kitchen manager Timmons (Christian Slater, ROBIN HOOD) has assigned him a double shift without telling him. So Jose gives his tickets to the dignified cook Edward Robinson (Laurence Fishburne, WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?), much to the dismay of angry fellow kitchen worker Miguel (Jacob Vargas, 2004's FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX), who wants to make money on it. Diane (Lindsay Lohan, MEAN GIRLS) plans to marry fellow high school student William (Elijah Wood, LORD OF THE RINGS) in an effort to keep him out of Vietnam. Kennedy campaign workers Cooper (Shia LaBeouf, TRANSFORMERS) and Jimmy (Brian Geraghty, JARHEAD) play hooky from their duties to find drug dealer Fisher (Ashton Kutcher, TV's THAT 70S SHOW), who gives them acid so they can get closer to God. And waitress/wanna-be actress Susan Taylor (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, GRINDHOUSE) knows they're high. Wade (Joshua Jackson, TV's DAWSON'S CREEK) is running RFK's campaign and sets up a meeting with Bobby and dedicated black campaign worker Dwayne (Nick Cannon, DRUMLINE), who is just shy of militant.

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RIZE (2005) (***1/2)

Inspiring is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this compulsively watchable documentary on the rise of the clowning/krumping dance movement in South Central Los Angeles. Involving face-painting (and in some cases all-out clown outfits), the dance style is a unique blend of aggressive hip-hop, moshing and African tribal. The speed at which the best dancers move is astonishing. The fact that it all grew as a positive alternative to gangs makes its central characters heroic.

Tommy the Clown is one of the originators of the clowning faction of the dance movement. Less aggressive in some aspects than krumping, the main differences are all in style. Clowning, apparent from its name, has a more comical bent, while krumping is more of an outlet to unload anger. Lil C. (guest choreographer on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE) was once a dancer for Tommy and left his crew to form his own, which spawned the krumping style. At the time of the making of this film, there were more than 50 active clowning/krumping groups in Los Angeles.

Blogs

This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates The Hot Days of Summer

With the summer reaching its mid point, my wife suggested that I center this week's This Weekend's Film Festival on films set during summer. This week's lineup deals with vacations, amusement parks, picnics, fishing, scuba diving and hungry CG dinosaurs. There is something for everyone this time around — drama, comedy, action and horror. I have to say this is one of the most fun This Weekend's Film Festivals yet.

Kicking off the fest is NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION. Possibly the best film made on family vacations, this comedy finds every angle to skewer family road trips as well as American family values. Chevy Chase played Clark Griswold several times, but never as perfect as this outing. The material is good enough that he doesn't have to stretch for laughs. In the hands of director Harold Ramis, based on a script by John Hughes, this comedy is the best of all the National Lampoon branded films, because it's not just about potty humor, it uses potty humor with purpose, which you can find out more about in my original review.

Blogs

STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006) (***1/2)

Taking a page from the work of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Zach Helm’s screenplay about a man who keeps hearing a narrator in his head is brought to the screen by director Marc Forster (MONSTER’S BALL) as both a parable about living one’s life more fully and the tormented process of a writer. It’s really not as innovative an idea as Kaufman’s ADAPTATION or BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, but the film is intriguing with solid performances from the entire cast, especially lead Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Harold Crick (Ferrell, ANCHORMAN) is an IRS auditor, who pretty much wakes up, goes to work, comes home, goes to bed and then repeats the process all over again. He meticulously plans out his day on a perfect time frame. One day he starts hearing a voice in his head that is narrating his actions. When the voice warns him of his emanate death, he is frightened and turns to literary expert Prof. Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman, RAIN MAN), who tries to determine if Harold is in either a comedy or tragedy. Meanwhile, Harold is assigned to investigate the case of baker Amy Pascal (Gyllenhaal, WORLD TRADE CENTER), who only paid part of her taxes because she objects to paying for things like wars. Of course, she hates Harold at first, but soon falls for his innocence and dry wit. As this is going on, writer Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson, DEAD AGAIN) is looking for a way to kill the main character in her next novel, which happens to be Harold Crick. She is a very depressive type, who isn’t too receptive to her book publisher strapping her with an unwanted aide named Penny Escher (Queen Latifah, CHICAGO).

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HOLES (2003) (***1/2)

Novelist Louis Sachar adapts his own young adult novel into this strange, but emotionally honest story about troubled kids and friendship. The real surprising thing about this film is not the originality of its story, but the lack of pandering toward its intended audience. Thus, the film rises above the tween set and becomes something truly for the entire family.

Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf, TRANSFORMERS) is from a long line of cursed men in his family ever since his great grandfather didn't follow through with the demands of the gypsy Madame Zeroni (Eartha Kitt, TV's BATMAN), who was trying to help him win a wife. Stanley is blamed for stealing a pair of sneakers and is given the option of either going to jail or going to Camp Greenlake, a reform camp for troubled boys. Now Camp Greenlake has no lake in sight. There, caretaker Mr. Sir (Jon Voight, DELIVERENCE), counselor Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) and Warden Walker (Sigourney Weaver, ALIEN), make the boys dig holes in the desert all day. As Mr. Sir states, "You make a bad boy dig a hole in the hot sun all day and you turn him into a good boy."

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WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? (2006) (***1/2)

Chris Paine's documentary looks at the history of the electric car production from what first spurred it to the many factors that led to its death. The EV1 was a completely electric car, which ran completely clean. It's manufacturer, General Motors, pulled the entire fleet of vehicles from the market, taking them from their lessees, and destroyed them.

The film looks at many factors to why the electric vehicle died from the oil companies, the viability of battery technology, consumers, the California Clean Air Board, the hydrogen car, the U.S. government and the car companies themselves. A mandate by the California state government to have no emissions cars available forced the major auto companies to create the electric car or be pushed out of the California market. So while several car producers were making electric vehicles, they were systematically trying to kill their own product. What kind of business would want to undermine it's own advanced technology?

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This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates The Best of the Wacky on the Guardian 1000

I love lists. So, best of film lists are like an addiction to crack for me. I can't get enough. THE GUARDIAN has put together its list of the 1,000 films to see before you die. Not as complete as Steven Jay Schneider's book, 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE — it's missing THE GODFATHER: PART II and Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST — the Guardian list skews toward more modern films, shies away from sequels and certainly has eclectic taste. So I decided to highlight some of its more wacky choices that I think deserve your attention.

I commend choices like ONE FALSE MOVE, THREE KINGS, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, GHOST WORLD, GHOST DOG and GRIZZLY MAN, but question picks like DODGEBALL, NEAR DARK, ZOOLANDER, ACE VENTURA and THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE. (Yes, THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE). Maybe not cinematic perfection, but it does pick modern successes that have influenced the business like AMERICAN PIE, BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, CROCODILE DUNDEE, X-MEN, SPIDER-MAN, TERMINATOR, T2 and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL. There are a lot of good films that I don't really think of landmarks like BAD SANTA, 8 MILE, ROMEO + JULIET and HOT FUZZ. Kevin Smith's CLERKS was a landmark film of the '90s, but MALLRATS instead of CHASING AMY? Lots of fun cult films like BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, ROBOCOP, STRICTLY BALLROOM, TWO LANE BLACKTOP, OFFICE SPACE, TOUCHING THE VOID and TIMECODE. It doesn't miss great animated films like SPIRITED AWAY, SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT, THE IRON GIANT, CHICKEN RUN and Starewicz's THE TALE OF THE FOX. It also doesn't miss some the "baser" genres like horror, picking such films as RE-ANIMATOR and SCREAM. But are films like DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID, OUT OF SIGHT or PARENTS, really that good?

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Nik and Nancy have a new family member!

As most of you know Nik and I lost our beloved 15 year old Dalmatian Kirby earlier this year and he was soon followed to dog heaven by our equally beloved 15 year old Molly. It was very painful for us to lose both of them so close together but we are dog people and we knew that somewhere down the road there would be another dog that needed a good home and a lot of love. We had planned not to even think about a dog until after we returned from KROK in the Ukraine in early October but low but as we all know life does not always go the way we plan.

Last Sunday Nik and I saw a sign on a tree in a little park near our house for a homeless 4 year old West Highland Terrier that was free but must be taken before the next day or it would be go to the pound. It turned out that his mistress is dead, the master is in jail and their two sons put the dog out on the street. The family that took him in after a week on the streets already have 2 Skiperkeys and couldn't keep a third dog but they did take him to a vet to be checked out and an implanted chip was found. The vet tracked down the children who said that they didn't want anything to do with their father, the dog, or anything that the father had ever touched! Please do not write for more details -- we don't have any and don't really want to know what happened.

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HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007) (****)

More than any of the other HARRY POTTER films, this one got the emotional core of the story perfect. This edition in the series is less spectacle and more dramatic. It puts Harry's emotional struggle — fighting his inner anger with the world — front and center. The characterization of the new characters is perfect. Director David Yates (THE GIRL IN THE CAFE) and writer Michael Goldenberg (2003's PETER PAN), who are both new to the series, take the biggest of the novels and pare it down to its essence. Remarkably, the HARRY POTTER films just keep getting better.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) feels isolated back home with his non-magical Muggle family. After he is forced to use magic outside of school to save himself and his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling), he is expelled from Hogwarts, but then is taken from his aunt and uncle's home to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, which includes his godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman, THE PROFESSIONAL), former teachers Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson, GANGS OF NEW YORK) and werewolf Remus Lupin (David Thewlis, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN), veteran wizards Kingsley Shacklebolt (George Harris, LAYER CAKE) and Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena, ABOUT A BOY) and Ron's parents Mr. and Mrs. Weasley (Mark Williams, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE & Julie Walters, BILLY ELLIOT). The minister of magic Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy, AN IDEAL HUSBAND) is denying the return of the dark lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, THE ENGLISH PATIENT), putting sugary sweet dictator Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, VERA DRAKE) in the role of Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, where she refuses to teach real magic that could save the teens and rules over the student body with decrees controlling all forms of behavior and thought.

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A MIGHTY HEART (2007) (***1/2)

A MIGHTY HEART turns the kidnapping of WALL STREET JOURNAL reporter Daniel Pearl into a powerful procedural. Director Michael Winterbottom (THE CLAIM) and star Angelina Jolie bring energy and emotion to the political and personal side of the story that gripped headlines across the world. The production honors the life of Daniel Pearl, the courage of his life Mariane and the passion of dedicated journalists.

Daniel (Dan Futterman, TV's JUDGING AMY) and pregnant Mariane Pearl (Jolie, GIRL, INTERRUPTED) moved to Karachi, Pakistan where he continues his investigation into a link between "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and extremist cleric Mubarisk Ali Gilani. They move into the house of colleague and long-time friend Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi, THE CONSTANT GARDNER). Danny meets with Randall Bennett (Will Patton, REMEMBER THE TITANS) at the U.S. consulate about whether he should go through with a planned meeting with Gilani and Bennett advises him not to. But after getting assurances from a Pakistani government official that as long as they are in public he will be safe, Danny takes a taxi to meet Gilani, but never returns.

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1408 (2007) (***1/2)

With horror these days either going to torture porn or weak PG-13 remakes of Asian scarefests, it is refreshing to see a classic horror tale that takes the viewer into the hell of its characters' minds. But what do you expect from the master of horror Stephen King. This is one of the better horror adaptations of his work in some time. Less interested in the twists and turns of the plot (but there are some), this film is more interested in the twisted turns inside its main character's psyche.

Mike Enslin (John Cusack, HIGH FIDELITY) is a failed novelist who now writes travel guides of haunted locations across the U.S. Estranged from his wife Lily (Mary McCormack, DEEP IMPACT), he is struggling with the death of his young daughter Katie (Jasmine Jessica Anthony, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN). He gets an anonymous postcard warning him not to stay in room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Enslin's interest in peaked and he is willing to face some of his demons to see what lies in the haunted hotel room where more than 50 people have died. Hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson, SNAKES ON A PLANE) nearly begs him not to stay in the room and warns him that no one has lasted longer than an hour.

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STRAW DOGS (1971) (**1/2)

When I first saw this film in college, I hated it. Loathed its misogyny. Now seeing it 10 or so years later, I respect it more, but my issues with the film have not changed. Sam Peckinpah is a man fighting his own 19th Century view of male-female relations as well as violence. You see this over many of his films. He is a great filmmaker, who skillful plays out his stories and fills them with provocative ideas. But what does he leave the audience feeling? What is he saying? STRAW DOGS represents Peckinpah's own dark internal struggle and the dark wins out too many times over the truth.

David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman, THE GRADUATE) is an American intellectual who moves to England with his British wife Amy (Susan George, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY) to do his research. David is very non-confrontational, allowing local thugs to push him around. Amy resents him for it and flirts with her burly ex-boyfriend Charlie Venner (Del Henney). Tensions grow between David, Amy and the townsfolk, which turn to violence.

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This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of America

With it being the 4th of July, I thought a great theme for this week's This Weekend's Film Festival would be America — the good, the bad and the ugly. Once I had my theme lots of ideas and sub-themes came to mind. It's a ripe area to explore and I will definitely be visiting it again sometime. However, the lineup I have come up with captures the American spirit though politics and sports. I truly feel that American holidays celebrating America should be a time for us to not only wave flags and remember that we are lucky to be Americans, but also to reflect on the bad and the ugly parts of what being an American means to us as well as the rest of the world. This week's five films address some of our shortcomings as well as our triumphs.

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An Event Honoring Walter Lantz and Woody Woodpecker

A few days ago I received an email regarding this event in Los Angeles on July 11th

Here is the link to a site for FREE tickets and more information....just click here

The text of the email follows....wish I was in L.A. on the 11th....

Headline: An Animator’s Grand Salute to Woody Woodpecker! Guess Who!

On July 11, StoryMakers Studio brings several of the biggest names in the cartoon world to the Grauman’s Chinese Theatres Complex in Hollywood:

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SHOOTER (2007) (**)

Outside of an earnest performance from Mark Wahlberg and a half decent role for Michael Pena, this stupid film has very little else to offer. This film falls into the category of films that I like to call 15-minute Google movies — they're films that pretend to know what they are talking about by using what seems like about 15 minutes of Googling the given topic. Reportedly this film is based off a novel by Stephen Hunter, who is either a hack writer or very mad at the film studio. Jonathan Lemkin's screenplay actually feels like it was based on a million other films just like it. Additionally, director Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY) seems to know this and just goes through the motions on this one.

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Find your fantasy

Very interesting contrast last week when I caught back-to-back screenings of a pair of fantasy flicks: Stardust and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

For one, the Stardust screening was deserted - just me, one other person and a friend I brought along. (A tumbling tumbleweed blocked my view of the screen for a while). The Phoenix screening was packed - they had to bring in folding chairs for the overflow, and held the start until some bigshot could make it.

And the movies deserved their respective audiences. Want to see an uninspired, you'll-leave-the-theater-humming-the(adequate)-special-effects fantasy? Stardust (directed by Matthew Vaughn of Layer Cake) is your film. Everything's pro-forma, out of the twinkly, twee, Edwardian-British faerie school of literary fantasy, without an ounce of conviction showing anywhere; I've had more believable experiences at your average Renaissance Festival.

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TRANSFORMERS (2007) (**1/2)

TRANSFORMERS starts off as a fun summer cruise, but then crashes head on into the medium strip at 100 mph and subsequently kicks it into autopilot. The first third is an entertaining global alien invasion flick in the mold of INDEPENDENCE DAY, but sadly once the Autobots show up the script flips into a juvenile, sitcom-like version of IRON GIANT. Finally in the end, we are given a conclusion with so many plot holes you could drive Optimus Prime right through them.

In Qatar, a U.S. military base is attacked by a transforming helicopter, leaving soldiers Sgt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel, TV's LAS VEGAS), USAF Tech Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson, BABY BOY) and their teammates stranded in the desert. Then we move to the American suburbs, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, HOLES) is trying to save up for his first car, going to the point where he's willing to sell his grandfather's glasses on eBay. He pines over the pretty, popular girl Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox, TV's HOPE & FAITH), who turns out to be a grease monkey. Defense Secretary John Keller (Jon Voight, DELIVERENCE) tries to make heads or tails of the robot attack, which includes a hack into the government's computer systems. To do so he calls in tech experts from all walks of life. Young, pretty, Aussie techie Maggie Madsen (Rachael Taylor, SEE NO EVIL) discovers the alien robots hacking into Air Force One computers and when she gets resistance to her idea about the hacks coming from DNA based machines, she goes to her hacker friend Glen Whitmann (Anthony Anderson, HUSTLE & FLOW) for help. Later Sam discovers that his beat-up Camero is really an alien robot named Bumblebee (Mark Ryan, THE PRESTIGE) and that his grandfather's glasses are key to saving Earth from the evil alien robot Decepticons.

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RATATOUILLE (2007) (****)

I'd like to introduce you to the first real contender for Best Film of 2007. Brad Bird is the best American director working in animation today. Knowing that he came onto the project midway is amazing, because he has made the best American animated film since TOY STORY 2 and his own IRON GIANT. He has also pushed the boundaries of American animation into a more adult realm. It's still a film for the whole family, but I suspect parents will get more out of it than their kids.

Remy (Patton Oswalt, TV's THE KING OF QUEENS) is a rat with a keen sense of smell. He loves fine cooking, which puts him at odds with is moldy meat-and-potatoes father, Django (Brian Dennehy, COCOON) and simple taste brother, Emile (Peter Sohn, story artist at Pixar). When they get forced out of their home in the country, the rat clan ends up in Paris. Remy gets separated from the rest and is inspired to check the city out by a figment of his imagination in the form of his favorite chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett, TV's EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND). He ends up in the deceased Gusteau's famed restaurant, which is now run by the short tyrant Skinner (Ian Holm, LORD OF THE RINGS), who is more interested in using Gusteau's fame to sell a line of frozen foods than to run the once five-star eatery.

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