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Blogs JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (1996) (***)

Based on the Roald Dahl’s book, director Henry Selick made this project his follow-up to the successful NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Bookended by a live-action opening and closing, this stop-motion feature is generally an episodic adventure following a classic tale of a young boy dreaming beyond his circumstances.

After the death of his parents, James Trotter (Paul Terry) becomes a virtual slave to his ghoulish aunts Spiker (Joanna Lumley, TV’s ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes, BABE). One day he meets a wandering old man (Pete Postlewaite, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER), who gives him magic worms that he claims will help him attain his dream of getting from England to New York City. Spilling the worms on the ground, James sets off a series of events that grows a giant peach on a barren tree where human-sized bugs come to live.

Blogs Blu-ray: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (1996)

Read my review of JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH

Henry Selick's children's film is dark in both its tone and look. That is translated over into the new 1080p release from Disney. The color palette is muted, so one doesn't get the pop that animation often brings to Blu-ray. The images don't have the same depth as other animated films on Blu-ray do as well. I believe this is certainly more to do with the source than the transfer. Just looking at the standard definition trailer you can see a huge improvement. The picture is much clearer than the murky DVD transfer. There is noise throughout, especially in the live-action sequences, but no artifacting or banding. I'm not convinced this is the best the film could look, but it's the best available for home viewing to date by far.

Blogs Blu-ray Buzz – Prophetic Week for Blu-ray

This is one awesome week for Blu-ray. The best film released in 2010 thus far arrives. Four other titles appear in the Queue Qualified section for films I highly recommend. And the Buzzed About section has three films I've been eagerly awaiting their arrival.

Pick of the Week
A Prophet
While this was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film last year, this French film didn’t get a release until February of this year. I haven’t seen a better film released in 2010. When I thought there can’t be a new twist on the gangster flick, this film came along and proved me wrong. Malik (Tahar Rahim) is a smart, but naïve teen that is thrown in jail seemingly because he is an Arab. The scrappy kid draws the attention of Corsican gang boss Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), who enlists him quickly and he has to develop a killer’s spirit under fire. The film underlines how people don’t get rehabilitated in prison; they only become better criminals. Watching Malik learn is an impressive and frightening thing.

Blogs Blu-ray: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (1996)

Henry Selick's children's film is dark in both its tone and look. That is translated over into the new 1080p release from Disney. The color palette is muted, so one doesn't get the pop that animation often brings to Blu-ray. The images don't have the same depth as other animated films on Blu-ray do as well. I believe this is certainly more to do with the source than the transfer. Just looking at the standard definition trailer you can see a huge improvement. The picture is much clearer than the murky DVD transfer. There is noise throughout, especially in the live-action sequences, but no artifacting or banding. I'm not convinced this is the best the film could look, but it's the best available for home viewing to date by far.

Blogs JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (1996) (***)

Based on the Roald Dahl’s book, director Henry Selick made this project his follow-up to the successful NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Bookended by a live-action opening and closing, this stop-motion feature is generally an episodic adventure following a classic tale of a young boy dreaming beyond his circumstances.

Blogs Please Touch at the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery

By Dan Sarto | Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 2:21pm

The 2010 SIGGRAPH Art Gallery has done away with the old phrase “look but don’t touch.”

The 14 juried pieces exhibited this year absolutely require human interaction with a focus on haptics (touch). Richard Elaver from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne has taken the cross disciplinary theme of Leonardo and applied it to the selection process for the exhibits on display. Leonardo is a journal that has a philosophy of combining science, technology and art. Leonardo can be explored at www.leonardo.info.

Blogs SIGGRAPH: Peace, Love and Computer Graphics

ACM stands for Association of Computing Machinery, a group brought together by the advent of, well, computing machinery. And by computing machinery, I mean the Wild West of computer machinery. Computer’s the size of large rooms, punch hole language, rogue code writers with amazing ideas about what computing could do. ACM has a subgroup of Special Interest Groups, called SIGs.

Blogs A chance for your idea: Billboard offering live pitches for Mobile concepts

Billboard offering live pitches for Mobile concepts Billboard says the opportunity will allow companies to present their new technology, product or service in front of a crowd of senior execs from the telco and entertainment worlds. Hurry though, the deadline for submissions is August 3rd.

Blogs Highlights from the SIGGRAPH 2010 Electronic Theatre

By Dan Sarto | Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 12:05am

At the end of the two hour presentation my viewing partner kept muttering to me about “sensory overload” as we shuffled out the door. It’s one of the dangers of today’s world. The big Hollywood movie was well represented by The Last Airbender, Iron Man 2, Alice in Wonderland, 2012 and Avatar. The digital work on these films is, of course, excellent but overwrought compared to the smaller films and shorts. Simple stories told using the computer took the day.

Blogs DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (2010) (***)

Steve Carell really kicked off his big screen career with the awkward innocent in THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN. Now he plays another awkward innocent, however Barry makes VIRGIN’s Andy look world weary. This mouse taxidermist might be the most clueless character to arrive in theaters since DUMB AND DUMBER.

Barry becomes the perfect idiot for Tim (Paul Rudd, ROLE MODELS), an eager analyst at an equity firm. He’s hoping for a big promotion and his boss Lance (Bruce Greenwood, STAR TREK) has invited him to a big wigs’ dinner where each person must bring the biggest misfit they can find so that they can make fun of them. Tim desperately wants to get the promotion so he can impress his successful art curator girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA). But Julie thinks the whole idea of this “dinner for winners” is cruel.

Blogs ORPHAN (2009) (***1/2)

This orphan from hell flick is one of the best killer kids movies I’ve ever seen. It takes its premise and genuinely develops its characters in compelling ways. It begins down clichés of this type of film, but does so with creepiness and real dread thanks to the time spent making us care for the characters. Then it delivers a whopper of a twist that is simply fabulous trash.

Kate (Vera Farmiga, UP IN THE AIR) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard, AN EDUCATION) have a stillborn child. The tragedy hits Kate particularly hard. We jump forward in time and Kate and John have decided to adopt. They go to an orphanage where they meet the smart, talented Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman, HOUNDDOG). She's a bit of an outsider, dressed in clothes out of the American Girl catalog. The Colemans’ son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett, STAR TREK) gets jealous of the attention his parents give the strange new girl in their house, but their deaf-mute daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) finds a new friend.

Blogs Emerging from SIGGRAPH's Emerging Technology

By Dan Sarto | Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 4:11pm

Preston Smith began with SIGGRAPH as a volunteer 15 years ago and is the current Chair of the Emerging Technologies section. Preston is a network administrator. When he graduated from college, he thought seriously about getting involved in CG. The more he watched what the kids in this industry were doing with technology, the more he became interested in supporting that technology. Today, Preston is the Linux administrator at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research. He supports the fMRI, or function Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine.

Blogs Pixar's Jim Morris Keynotes SIGGRAPH 2010

By Dan Sarto | Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 4:02pm

Jim Morris, General Manager and Executive Vice President of Production at Pixar Animation Studios has over 23 years experience as a producer and production executive in the motion picture industry. He came to the 37th Annual SIGGRAPH, his 20th time in attendance, with a message.

Jim posed the rhetorical question, “Who comes to SIGGRAPH?” It is the people who, at some point early in life, watched a movie that lit a spark in them. For Jim, it was stop animation in some of the older movies like Jason and the Argonauts.

Blogs SIGGRAPH 2010 Day 1 –Tron Looks Awesome, SIGGRAPH Dailies Jammed, Morris’ Keynote Hits Home

By Dan Sarto | Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:29am

My SIGGRAPH Day 1 was actually the 3rd day of the entire event, the first day of the main exhibits. Either I’m getting old (which I am) or it’s just getting harder and harder to focus and keep track of people I’ve met, sessions I’ve attended, screenings I’ve sat through. Despite 20 pages of notes and a handful of photos, I’m still trying to make proper account of my day before starting all over again today. Here goes nothing…

Blogs Why Do You Animate?

By Ed Hooks | Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 8:39am

The decision to be a professional artist is unlike any other. There is no single well-trod path to success and, anyway, how is success measured when it comes to an art? Is it a dollar amount? Is an animator who worked on, say, “Up” more successful than one who worked on, say, “Waltz with Bashir” or “Triplets of Belleville” or the game “Fable II”?Or perhaps you consider animation to be a craft more than an art? Why do you animate?

Blogs BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD (2010) (***1/2)

This character-driven animated feature reminded me of the landmark BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. The production from Warner Premiere takes the "Under the Hood" story arc from the comics and creates the best filmic treatment of the relationship between Batman and Robin.

Shockingly the story begins with The Joker (John DiMaggio, TV’s FUTURAMA) beating Robin with a crowbar. Batman (Bruce Greenwood, STAR TREK) races to save him, but as he arrives and explosion rocks the building and he carries out the body of his dead ward Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles, TV’s SUPERNATURAL). Struggling to cope with the loss, Batman continues his crusade against the underbelly of Gotham City. However, he’s more brutal and cold than ever. His original ward Dick Grayson (Neil Patrick Harris, TV’s HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER), who moved on from being Robin to don the identity of Nightwing, can’t even get him to open up.

Blogs Blu-ray: BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD (2010)

From Warner Bros. Animation comes another beautiful looking HD release. The most memorable element is the vibrant colors. Darkly lit sets often find their way to bright locations whether it be the glow orange ooze bubbling in vats or train stations. Flashbacks to happier times utilize a wider color palette, helped by the presence of Robin’s costume. I say this with every one of these DC Direct titles, but animation looks so good in 1080p and Warner Direct serves it up well. The picture is so crystal clear that it makes for increased engagement. The stormy title sequence looks amazing. Just seeing the episodes of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES on the disc one can see the difference high definition makes in picture quality. Now this isn’t a perfect release. There is some banding in backgrounds, but I never noticed artifacts, aliasing, pixelation or noise like I read in other reviews. But the problems are minor in the larger scope of the release.

Blogs Blu-ray Buzz – Blu-ray Turns Red With Batman Animated Feature

This is another packed week with some great new releases and a slew of titles I'm curious to hear what others think about. Lots of action and intrigue… and some laughs too.

Pick of the Week
Batman: Under the Red Hood
The DC Direct and Warner Premiere titles have been consistently good. This is one of the best. The story delves into the death of the second Robin — Jason Todd — and in the process tells a compelling story about Batman's relationship with his wards. Stellar voice cast includes Bruce Greenwood, Neil Patrick Harris, Jensen Ackles, Jason Issaacs, Wade Williams and John "Bender" DiMaggio, who puts a unique stamp on the iconic Joker. For fans of the animated Batman incarnations, this is like BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, but with a harder edge. Don't let direct-to-Blu-ray or animated make you think less of this film. I'm sure if Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale saw this they might rethink their objections to bringing Robin into the live-action series.

Blogs Blu-ray: BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD (2010)

From Warner Bros. Animation comes another beautiful looking HD release. The most memorable element is the vibrant colors. Darkly lit sets often find their way to bright locations whether it be the glow orange ooze bubbling in vats or train stations. Flashbacks to happier times utilize a wider color palette, helped by the presence of Robin’s costume. I say this with every one of these DC Direct titles, but animation looks so good in 1080p and Warner Direct serves it up well. The picture is so crystal clear that it makes for increased engagement. The stormy title sequence looks amazing. Just seeing the episodes of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES on the disc one can see the difference high definition makes in picture quality. Now this isn’t a perfect release. There is some banding in backgrounds, but I never noticed artifacts, aliasing, pixelation or noise like I read in other reviews. But the problems are minor in the larger scope of the release.

Blogs THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007) (**)

Based on Jack Ketchum’s book, which is based on the real life murder of Sylvia Likens, this realistic horror flick suffers more depending on what you take into it. The more you know about the real life story the film’s exaggerations seem gratuitous. If you’ve seen the film AN AMERICAN CRIME, which is based more directly on the real story, you’ll find the acting in this film lacking. But the biggest problem with the film is Gregory Wilson’s voyeuristic direction, which makes the audience uncomfortable in all the wrong ways.

Following the death of their parents, Meg (Blythe Auffarth, KEEPING THE FAITH) and Susan Loughlin (Madeline Taylor, JOHN ADAMS) go to live with their Aunt Ruth (Blanche Baker, SIXTEEN CANDLES), who has too many kids of her own to handle. She rules over Meg like a warden, severely punishing her for any presumed offense. Meg does everything she can to deflect the abuse away from her sickly little sister. Eventually Ruth chains Meg up in the basement subjecting her to continuous torture, including branding and rape. She encourages her own children and the neighbor kids to join in.

Blogs RE-CYCLE (2006) (**)

This horror/sci-fi film comes from the Hong Kong filmmakers Oxide and Danny Pang, who are best known for making the Chinese horror film THE EYE. The story places a writer in a fantasy world where her discarded ideas go. Writers discard a lot of ideas. Like a writers trash bin this film is filled with a bunch of disjointed and under developed ideas.

Ting-yin (Angelica Lee, THE EYE) is the successful writer of a series of romance novels. She’s having trouble coming up with new material and her publisher is eager to get another book from the hot writer on shelves. In a very unfair push during a press conference for the film adaptation of her love stories, her agent Lawrence (Laurence Chou, THE EYE) announces that her new book is titled “The Recycle” and will deal with supernatural themes. Ting-yin gets to work on the new book, but isn’t satisfied. During the writing, she seems to be plagued by inexplicable events. Finally she decides to delete her novel and start over. Once she does she’s transported into the world she created, trapped within a series of her rejected things.

Blogs ROLE MODELS (2008) (***1/2)

This comedy actually does something that raunchy comedies rarely do – develop a full cast of compelling and original characters. Raunchy comedies often have man-boys acting like idiots, but this comedy has unique and realistic immature men at its center. They’re not role models, but that might be exactly what the kids they mentor need.

Danny Donahue (Paul Rudd, I LOVE YOU, MAN) is very unhappy with the way his life has turned out. But instead of changing anything, he just complains… a lot. His girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks, ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO), an up-and-coming lawyer, is getting tired of his cocky, pessimistic attitude. He works with his best friend Anson Wheeler (Seann William Scott, AMERICAN PIE) as a spokesperson for an energy drink, travelling from middle school to middle school giving out free samples. On one particularly pissy day, he ends up driving the work vehicle into a statue while it’s still attached to a tow truck. As part of their punishment, they are ordered to volunteer as mentors to children.

Blogs LAND OF THE LOST (2009) (*1/2)

I haven’t seen the original LAND OF THE LOST kids’ program since I was a kid, but I have fond memories of it being one of my favorite Sid and Marty Krofft production. But it’s been so long I can’t really say if it’s something worthy of a big screen adaptation. But what I know is that it certainly deserved a better adaption than this crude debacle.

Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell, ANCHORMAN) goes on TV and tells Matt Lauer that he needs millions of dollars in government grants to study time warps. This cocky blowhard is humiliated and relegated to teaching elementary school science classes. But graduate student Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel, TV’s PUSHING DAISIES) believes in his theories and encourages him to complete his tachyon amplifier and exploit a nearby time warp, which is located at a rundown roadside attraction run by Will Stanton (Danny McBride, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS). There the trio is warped into a lost land where artifacts from all over time and space are sucked in.

Blogs OLD SCHOOL (2003) (**)

This weak attempt at college humor takes all the juvenile escapades of ANIMAL HOUSE and blows them out into cartoonish proportions. All the sense of nostalgia and youthful rebellion that was in the National Lampoon classic has been replaced with pointless man-boy raunchiness. ANIMAL HOUSE relied on characterization, while OLD SCHOOL barely reaches caricature.

Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson, BOTTLE ROCKET) comes home from a business trip to find his girlfriend Heidi (Juliette Lewis, NATURAL BORN KILLERS) engaged in an orgy in their bedroom. Distraught, Mitch gets plastered at the wedding of his friend Frank Ricard (Will Ferrell, ANCHORMAN) and tries to suck spilled coffee off the dress of his high school sweetheart Nicole (Ellen Pompeo, MIDNIGHT MILE). Set up at a house close to the campus of their alma mater, Harrison University, Mitch’s best friend Bernard (Vince Vaughn, WEDDING CRASHERS), a married stereo store owner, throws an elaborate bash to lift Mitch’s spirits. The party makes Mitch a legend, but the bash draws the attention of Dead Gordon Pritchard (Jeremy Piven, TV’s ENTOURAGE), who was the butt of jokes from Mitch and friends during high school. Dean Pritchard wants to get them kicked out of the house, so the man-boys devise a plan to turn the house into a frat.

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