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BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (2007) (***1/2)

Do not go by the ads and trailer for this film; it's not a CHRONICLES OF NARNIA wanna-be. If you're familiar with Katherine Paterson's award-winning young adult book, then you know the story is a coming-of-age tale about friendship, which happens to include some fantasy elements. It's more akin to MY GIRL than NARNIA.

Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, ZATHURA) is a tween whose family is very poor. He's subjected to not only the ridicule of having to wear hand-me-down sneakers, but having to wear hand-me-down sneakers from his older sister. Jesse is a bit scared of his imposing and gruff father (Robert Patrick, TERMINATOR 2), who seems to treat Jesse's youngest sister May Belle (Bailee Madison) with more friendliness and kindness.



Another addition to the superior group of films about the plight of Africa, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND is a social drama with the tension of a thriller and is capped with a tour de force performance from Forest Whitaker. This historical biopic puts a fictional protagonist in the center of real life dramas surrounding the rise and fall of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA) is a recent medical school grad who doesn't want to stay in Scotland and go into boring family practice like his father. So he heads off to Uganda to make a difference as well as have some fun. General Idi Amin (Whitaker, THE CRYING GAME) has just come to power and his pro-poor rhetoric is quickly making him a national hero. Nicholas couldn't imagine the poverty and need that he encounters when he comes to serve at the rural hospital with Dr. Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his wife Sarah (Gillian Anderson, TV's X-FILES).


OPEN SEASON (2006) (***)

Overcoming some clunky moments, Sony's first foray into fully animated features is charming and fun due to its likeable central characters and beautiful visuals. Boog (Martin Lawrence, BAD BOYS) is a performing bear who was rescued as a cub by forest ranger Beth (Debra Messing, TV's WILL & GRACE). One day Boog helps free Elliot the deer (Ashton Kutcher, TV's THAT '70S SHOW) from hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise, FORREST GUMP), which sets in motion a series of incidents that ends in Beth deciding to return Boog to the woods. With little natural survival skills, Boog enlists Elliot to take him back to town before open hunting season begins. Along the way Boog and Elliot will have run-ins with Scottish warrior squirrel McSquizzy (Billy Connolly, MRS. BROWN) and alpha male buck Ian (Patrick Warburton, TV's SEINFELD) along with a host of other woodland creatures.


HALF NELSON (2006) (****)

Combining the inspirational inner city teacher tale with a drug abuse story, HALF NELSON bucks all the stereotypes of the similar tales that came before. The film is brought to life with complete dedication by the central performers Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps.

Gosling (THE NOTEBOOK) plays Dan Dunne, a middle school teacher in the inner city, who also happens to be a semi-functional drug addict. He coaches the girls' basketball team, which includes Drey (Epps). Dunne is an unconventional teacher, who strives to make his students think rather than sticking to the school board approved material. His passion for teaching is one of the traits that attracts fellow teacher Isabel (Monique Curnen, LADY IN THE WATER) to him. However, when his now clean ex Rachel (Tina Holmes, TV's SIX FEET UNDER) shows up, it's the start of Dunne's downward spiral, which begins with Drey discovering him smoking crack.


Winners of the 1st Annual RFP Overlooked Awards

Welcome to the 1st annual Overlooked Awards. This is a chance to recognize those films, performances, directors, screenplays and animated shorts, which are all worthy of award recognition, but didn't received nominations at the big awards. Even though its one of those categories that the typical fan dreads to pick for polls, I'm privileged to see many of the wonderful short animated films that are made each year. So I thought it was my duty to recognize the shorts that I felt deserved nods as well.

Only second to PAN'S LABYRINTH on my top 25 of 2006 list, LITTLE CHILDREN is a masterful step forward for Todd Field, who was earlier nominated for IN THE BEDROOM as a producer. Early buzz had this film in the running for the Oscars, but it just never gained traction. Its tongue-in-cheek voice-over is the best and most original use of voice-over I've seen in years. It's nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay was extremely well deserved. Field pulled career best performances from his entire cast, including Oscar nominees Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley as well as Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Noah Emmerich and Phyllis Somerville. Field poetically realizes his screenplay, which he adapted with the original book's author Tom Perrotta. It tackles delicate topics with intelligence and open-mindedness. This is one of the few masterpieces of the year and needs to be seen from everyone.


Oscar Tour Wraps Up at Sony and CAA

By Dan Sarto | Sunday, February 25, 2007 at 12:54pm

When it came time for the Q&A, many of the Sony artists had some of the same questions as the other studios like whether Geza Toth’s single camera move was intended from the start, which it was, and how Roger and Don Hahn convinced Disney to go with the sad ending on Little Matchgirl, which was by waiting until Michael Eisner had left the studio.


Ron’s Pics from DreamWorks, Fox, the Academy, Disney & ICM

By Dan Sarto | Friday, February 23, 2007 at 3:40pm

Here it is the long awaited gallery of select pics from Ron’s camera from the Oscar Showcase tour’s swing by DreamWorks, Fox, the Academy, Disney and ICM. There’s also a couple special pics at the end courtesy of No Time for Nuts director Mike Thurmeier.


Canadians, William Morris & the AWN/Acme Filmworks Oscar Party

By Dan Sarto | Friday, February 23, 2007 at 1:46pm

I’ve been to two previous Oscar functions at the Canadian consulate general’s beautiful house in Hancock Park and couldn’t pass up the chance to go again. The luncheon took place in the lovely courtyard in back by the pool. They were prepared for the rain and had tents and heaters set up, making it comfortable on the rainy L.A. day.


Katzenberg, Fox Lot, Mirren: Another Whirlwind Day on the Oscar Tour

By Dan Sarto | Wednesday, February 21, 2007 at 9:22pm

As we arrived back at The Little Theater for the screening, Ron introduced all the nominees to Vanessa Morrison, the new president of Fox Animation. It seems to me this screening will be hard to top. Tomorrow is yet another busy day with a screening at Disney and our first agency screening at ICM, which will be very interesting.



 First with drawing, we would explore very simple basic structure with basic shapes (although we really meant forms – more of a 3D approach) and then build upon these forms. Next, a drawn model sheet was created and from that the participants had to take their characters to 3D in the form of MAQUETTES.

The goal was to see what happened when 2D was translated into 3D.

Many students put a extraordinary amount of effort into their characters. They began with a base, built a wire armature, layered the supper sculpey around and there worked on the details and smoothing - before baking it in their ovens.


This endeavor was an excellent exercise for them since most were headed into 3D CG animation.


At a later time, I will show some layouts and model sheets.


Keep Animated!


Nominee Valentine’s Dinner Minus Four

By Dan Sarto | Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 9:55pm

In talking about the making of the film, Mike told us that the home entertainment department at Fox funded No Time for Nuts as supplemental material for the Ice Age 2 DVD. Mike’s use of the term “noise” succinctly summed up the home entertainment division’s thoughts on supplemental material.


Lion King’s Allers Talks About 1st Oscar Nod for Matchgirl

By Dan Sarto | Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 10:01pm

Allers, who wasn’t even awake when the nominations were announced, doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who makes films to win awards, however, I still wanted to find out what the Oscar experience has been like for him as well as his feelings about making Matchgirl and his other work.


CATCH A FIRE (2006) (***1/2)

Of late, the plight of Africans has been providing ample inspiration for English language filmmakers. Along with African produced films like TSOTSI and YESTERDAY and documentaries like DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE, a great deal of light is being shed on the continent's dark past and bloody present. CATCH A FIRE tells a story set in Apartheid-era South Africa and delves into the blurry line between freedom fighter and terrorist.

Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke, ANTWONE FISHER) is a mine foreman who doesn't want anything to do with rebels fighting the white government. He wants to live a simple life with his wife Precious (Bonnie Mbuli) and his two young daughters. Then when he plays hooky from work one day to couch his village's soccer team, a bomb is explodes at the mine. White investigator Nic Vos (Tim Robbins, MYSTIC RIVER) points suspicion toward Patrick, who is arrested and beaten. When his whereabouts seem to get even fishier, Vos brings in Precious and beats her. But when his story pans out, he and his wife are set free. Emboldened, the innocent man joins the rebels and sets out to bomb the mine he used to work at.