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NASHVILLE (1975) (****)

The quintessential "Altman" feature follows 24 major characters through five days in Nashville, leading up to a political rally/ country concert. More free flowing than any of director Robert Altman's other hyperlink films, this feature clearly has no main character and moves along on the simplest plot theme, building wonderful character moments, which lead back to its core themes of fame and politics. The "plot" is thin, but the narrative is a complex and brilliantly constructed tapestry of intertwining narratives, surrounded by nearly an hour of music.

Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson, MAGNOLIA) is a Nashville icon with his big hair and white, spangled jump suit. The film begins with him recording an insipid ballad about the bicentennial. Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin, 9 TO 5) is a white gospel singer, who is married to lawyer Delbert (Ned Beatty, DELIVERENCE), who is helping organize the political rally for third party candidate Hal Phillip Walker, who is unseen throughout the film. Linnea and Delbert have two deaf sons, which Delbert cannot relate to at all. Linnea is hounded by womanizing folk rocker Tom Frank (Keith Carradine, CHOOSE ME), who is having an affair with his bandmate Mary (Cristina Raines, THE SENTINEL), who is married to his other bandmate Bill (Allan Nicholls, SLAP SHOT). Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) is a reigning queen of Nashville, but she is mentally and physically burnt out by the pressures of the music business and her controlling manager/husband Barnett (Allen Garfield, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY).


THE BRIDGE (2006) (****)

More than 20 people leap from the Golden Gate Bridge each year and this film watches them do it. There is an allure to the location that draws more people to end their lives there than any other spot on Earth. It's a dramatic way to go. Eric Steel's gripping documentary about the phenomenon is chilling as we watch in horror as 24 people jump from the bridge. For many this film will certainly fall into the category of a great film that they will never want to see again. For others it may be a film too disturbing to watch one time. It profoundly tries to step into the darkness that causes people to take their own lives and it's not a comfortable place to go.

Through the course of the film, we see many people jump, we see a few people stopped, we hear from the family and friends of the dead and also hear from one very lucky survivor. The 220-foot fall takes 4 seconds; most die on impact, others drown. Roughly 1,300 people have killed themselves at the Golden Gate Bridge, only 26 jumpers have survived.


ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN (2006) (**1/2)

Luckily there's a 4-star Scrat short interspersed between the weak sitcom plot of this disappointing sequel to Blue Sky's surprisingly good debut film, ICE AGE. The characters made the original so wonderful. The new characters in MELTDOWN make the sequel annoying. And there are too many of them. This overshadows poor Manny, Sid and Diego. Scrat fares much better because he's out on his own.

Our loveable trio each has their own separate issues to deal with this time around. Manny (Ray Romano, TV's EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND) is sad over the possibility that he may be the last mammoth alive. Sid (John Leguizamo, SUMMER OF SAM) gets no respect from the kids in their new larger tribe of various prehistoric animals. Diego (Denis Leary, TV's RESCUE ME) fears water, which is a real problem when the land of ice you live in is melting all around you. It appears that the valley where they all reside is going to flood soon, so they head off to the far end toward a rumored boat. Along the way Manny, Sid and Diego get separated from the mass of annoying characters, to end up with three other annoying characters — possums Crash (Sean William Scott, AMERICAN PIE) and Eddie (Josh Peck, MEAN CREEK) and their adopted mammoth sister Ellie (Queen Latifah, CHICAGO), who doggedly refuses to accept that she is indeed a mammoth.


ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976) (**1/2)

Originally titled COMMUNION upon its theatrical release, this horror thriller peaked my interest when it made Bravo's top-50 horror list and features Brooke Shields first film performance. Horror fans may find the core premise an interesting twist on the slasher genre, but others will find the tone and pacing all wrong. Most of the ingredients are fresh, but the meal gets overheated and goes down rough.

Catherine Spages (Linda Miller, AN UNMARRIED WOMAN) has two daughters — the perfect beauty Karen (Shields) and the troublemaker Alice (Paula Sheppard). Alice torments her sister with creepy masks and mean pranks. We suspect that she is up to no good. Then on the day of her first communion, Karen is strangled by a masked killer who hides her body and sets it on fire. Catherine is devastated. Her strict sister Annie (Jane Lowry) moves in with her. The beloved Father Tom (Rudolph Willrich, THE NUMBER 23) tries to consol her. Her estranged husband Dom (Niles McMaster) comes into town. Det. Spina (Michael Hardstark) and Brennan (Tom Signorelli, THE COTTON CLUB) want to talk to Alice about the murder, but her family can't believe that she could be involved. But Karen's attack will not be the only victim of this killer.



Prior to making this film, director Joseph Ruben made another film called THE STEPFATHER, which dealt with a domineering male who loams over his family. Both films share similar plot themes, positive points and problems. They start convincingly and contain strong performances, but spiral off into ridiculous slasher movies in the end. Ruben sets up well, but doesn't deliver.

Laura (Julia Roberts, PRETTY WOMAN) meets and marries Martin Burney (Patrick Bergin, PATRIOT GAMES), who is suave, charming and wealthy. He seems like a catch. But after the honeymoon is over, he becomes controlling and ultimately abusive both mentally and physically. After three years of being trapped, Laura devises a plan to fake her own death then run away to Iowa to start her life anew. In her new life, she meets theater professor Ben Woodward (Kevin Anderson, CHARLOTTE'S WEB), who she has a problem opening up to. Laura is afraid that Martin will find out about her deception and come looking for her and she has every right to fear this happening.


BREACH (2007) (***1/2)

Based on the true story of the worst case of spying in U.S. history, this taut thriller relies on an intriguing central character, brought to life brilliantly by Chris Cooper (AMERICAN BEAUTY). Director Billy Ray brings the same examining eye he brought to his previous film, SHATTERED GLASS, which chronicled Stephen Glass's deception in filing fake news reports to his newspaper in an effort to succeed. Many of the same themes are addressed in this sad tale of former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who for decades gave up American secrets to Russia.

We begin with hot agent in training Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe, CRASH) on a stakeout, where he outshines the other trainees. He's called in by senior agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney, KINSEY), who wants Eric to ride the desk of Hanssen, who is being reassigned to plan out the agency's new computer security structure and needs to be watched because he is a sexual deviant. Eric keeps an eye on the cocky Hanssen, who on the surface appears to be a staunchly religious man dedicated to his family. Hanssen pushes Eric to embrace his Catholic faith and along with his wife Bonnie (Kathleen Quinlan, APOLLO 13) tries to push Eric's lax protestant wife Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas, HOLLYWOODLAND) into their beliefs. Hanssen is blunt and can be demeaning when Eric slips up. He isn't shy about sharing his distain with the politics of the FBI, which have kept him from being promoted to a higher level. Eric is torn about keeping secrets from his wife and spying on a boss he has come to respect until Burroughs reveals that Hanssen is a traitor.


THE FOUNTAIN (2006) (**1/2)

Darren Aronofsky is a smart filmmaker. This REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is a devastating piece of cinema, which asked tough questions within a deeply layered narrative. For his follow-up, THE FOUNTAIN is a sci-fi epic that looks a various generations' attempts at finding immortal life. This topic is presented in an ethereal way with a complex plot structure that is unnecessarily convoluted creating an air of pretension when the thin concept delivers nothing all that profound in the end.

Hugh Jackman (X-MEN) and Rachel Weisz (THE CONSTANT GARDENER) play three roles each separated by 500 years. Tomas is a Spanish conquistador who travels to the Americas to locate the Tree of Life for Queen Isabel, who has promised her hand in return. Dr. Tom Creo is a current researcher looking for a cure to his wife Izzi's cancer. Then 500 years in the future, Tommy travels with the Tree of Life in a space bubble to a dying star. It is alluded to that they are reincarnated versions of the same soul, but this is more implied than made explicit. In actuality, the 2005 male and the future male are the same person, which makes the connection to the Spanish male fuzzy.


This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates The 5 Best Live-Action Family Films of the Past 5 Years

With BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA hitting DVD this week, it felt like a perfect time to look at some of the best live-action family films of the past five years. Adults without kids tend to avoid family films, but they're often missing out on some great movies. I kind of cheated though I left out the two HARRY POTTER films and CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, because they were monster hits and kind of transcend the "family" label anyways. Plus, they'd take up more than half the list and overshadow some other lower key films that deserve some praise and extra attention. And I'm sure there are some good family films that I missed such as HOLES. I encourage readers to post their picks for the best live-action family films in the comments.


GHOST WORLD (2001) (****)

Very rarely do I see a film more than one time in the theaters. It takes a lot to spur me to give my hard earned money to a film more than once. GHOST WORLD so blew me away when I first discovered it that I didn't want it to end and I went back (while laid off from my job) to take two separate groups of friends to see it. It was the best film released in 2001 and remains one of the best films ever made about self-discovery following high school graduation.

Enid (Thora Birch, AMERICAN BEAUTY) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson, MATCH POINT) have just graduated from high school, where they were the resident eccentrics. Rebecca is excited about getting a job and moving out on her own. Enid, on the other hand, seems unwilling to accept her need to become a cog in the "real world." Via a pretty cruel prank, Enid meets Seymour (Steve Buscemi, FARGO), a forty-something manager at the corporate office of a fast food chicken chain, who can't relate to 99% of humanity so he consumes his life with collecting old jazz records and memorabilia. Enid finds a kindred spirit in the cranky old "nerd," who exists outside of the norms of society.


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



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.


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…”


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...


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.


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.)


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.


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...)


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!


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.


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.



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)


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?


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.