Archive for the 'Screenings' Category

Secret of Kells Now Playing!


I’ve just discovered that The Secret of Kells is screening in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and other select cities. As Dave Letterman says, I just pray to God your city has been selected! Here’s a U.S. map from IMDb, showing screening locations as of April 4th, 2010. Check your local listings and go see this lovely film!


In Los Angeles, it is currently screening at The Landmark theater on Pico. This is a nice new theater with assigned seating. I personally prefer it over the Arclight in Hollywood, which is much-loved by many, but I find to be a bit of a clusterf**k. For some reason, however, local listings for The Landmark are often unreliable. Best to go directly to The Landmark site for times, tickets, and seat selections.

Video: Sylvain Chomet discusses The Illusionist

In case you missed the link to the Berlinale Festival page in my previous post or didn’t happen to notice, there is a press conference video on that page from the premiere of Sylvain Chomet’s “The Illusionist” (original story by Jacques Tati).


Click on “Press Conference” to start the video stream and skip ahead to 5:55 for the discussion. Most of it is spoken in English and those parts that aren’t have a live voice-over translation. Chomet talks about the origin of the project, correlations between Tati’s style of directing and directing for animation, possible advantages to producing the story a half-century after its conception, and the inspiration to set scenes in Scotland instead of Prague. If you’re anticipating this film as much as I am, this is definitely worth a viewing. Again, here’s the link.

The Illusionist: Tati via Chomet


I’m excited about The Illusionist, the latest animated feature from Sylvain Chomet (Triplets of Belleville), adapted from an unproduced script written by filmmaker, comedic actor, mime, performer savant Jacques Tati in 1956. I first learned of this project about six months back when I discovered a new title in Chomet’s filmography on IMDb, listing Chomet and Tati as co-writers. I was struck with confusion and elation, and immediately looked for more information about the film, only to find a little more backstory on the origin. The script was in the possession of Tati’s daughter, Sophie Tatischeff, and she specifically chose Chomet to create the film adaptation. She expressed her preference that the iconic image of her father be portrayed and performed on the screen by way of animation, as opposed to live-action. I think she found a sublime match.


As evidenced by its February screening at the Berlinale festival, the film is now complete and I’m antsy to see it arrive on screens in the United States. The stills and clips that are beginning to pop-up are intriguing.

Here is a clip (in German) containing footage from The Illusionist:

A trailer (with russian titles) can also be found here:

And for anyone who’s never seen Tati before, here is a short clip from Mon Oncle:

Symposium Report: Selick, Anderson, Musker, Clements, Moore, and Docter


I would just like to give a quick report and say that the Academy’s Animated Feature Symposium was a great event. Wes Anderson was in London and couldn’t make it, but Henry Selick, John Musker, Ron Clements, Tomm Moore, and Pete Docter were all there. We saw clips from each of the films nominated for the Animated Feature Oscar for 2009 (2010 ceremony). I had already seen all the films, a few of them more than once, but it was a treat to see slices of them placed side-by-side on the big screen. It helped to remind me of each of their strengths.


As of this writing, the Oscars ceremony has already ended and we know that Up was the winner. A big “up” to Pete Docter and the many tremendous artists and technicians that went into its production. Watching the clips from Up on Thursday night reminded me yet again, just what a delightful film this is. I honestly do not say that to be popular, though I realize I’m in good company. One of the clips that was shown at the symposium was the sequence that takes us from Carl and Ellie as little kids to the beginning of Carl’s life as an elderly widower. It is such a profoundly well-crafted piece of film making and of animation. Anyone who disagrees, I’m inclined to set them up for an appointment at the nearest radiologist to see if they still have a heart.


However, I think perhaps the biggest winner in all of this is The Secret of Kells and its director Tomm Moore. I saw the film when it screened here as part of the Los Angeles Irish Film Festival and found it absolutely beautiful. Having visited Ireland for the first time only months prior and having had the opportunity to view the real Book of Kells in person certainly added a great deal to my experience of the film, as well. I’ve also had an appreciation for the Celtic Manuscripts since studying them in my college Art History class. But I think it makes an enjoyable film for anyone, regardless of their familiarity with Ireland or the Book of Kells. It is a visually rich and appealing experience. I loved the simplified, almost geometric designs tempered by fluid, expressive animation. I loved the warm-hearted, appealing characters. And I loved the playfulness with the picture plane and illusion of space. I do hope the nomination of The Secret of Kells brings it much-deserved attention and I hope we can get some more screenings of it in those big dark rooms we call theaters.

I have a great deal of admiration for all the directors who participated in the Symposium (and also for Wes Anderson). Henry Selick is a madman and a genius, whose happiest place is in the middle of production. When posed the first question of how the Coraline project began, he was quick to point out that someone (Neil Gaiman) actually looked in the credits of a Nightmare Before Christmas and saw that it was not directed by Tim Burton. John Musker and Ron Clements made a comic duo as they jokingly bickered about whether or not they bickered as co-directors.

I could go on, but I’ll try to cut this short. I’ll just say that it was a pleasure getting to see all of these guys together in person. Listening to their stories, perspectives, advice, opinions, etc., was inspiring. Thanks to the Academy for organizing events like this one and making them available to the public.


I just saw Jim Capobianco’s film Leonardo at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 theater in Hollywood and it was great! It’s an animated short set in (perhaps?) Renaissance Italy, about a familiar-looking character named, um, Leonardo, trying desperately to invent a way to fly (with comedic results). My only complaint is that it wasn’t longer. The gags went by so quickly, I could hardly catch them all. That’s probably a good thing, however, as the film will stand up well to multiple viewings. Anyway, there was some priceless hand-drawn animation in there and beautifully simplified line work overall. I like the idea of a pencil-test sort of look as a stylistic choice for a film. It especially makes sense here, given the parchment or vellum-like treatment serving as backdrop for the drawings — a reference to Leonardo Da Vinci’s own sketches and notes. Ultimately, it is a short and sweet piece that I would like to watch again and again. Big up to all the folks involved!

Trailer is available here:
Jim Capobianco has also kept a blog about the film making process here:

This screening was to qualify the film for Oscar consideration and so I also wish it the greatest success in that endeavor.

Ollie Johnston, 1912 - 2008


I just watched the documentary film “Frank and Ollie” last week for the first time. I knew that these two guys (Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston) were legendary Disney animators and two of the “Nine Old Men.” I also had some idea that Frank and Ollie were good friends. I didn’t know just what good friends they were. What a very special friendship they had. A deep understanding of each other’s minds, immense wisdom and patience and love for life. It’s a wonderful story about two friends, really. And two great people. In addition, they created these wonderful works of animation that are and forever will be such huge contributions to our culture. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio, Bambi, just to name a few examples. That’s big. And yet, their contributions were so often such little things when it came down to it. A slight change in expression. The shape of the eye changing, a lean of the body one way or another, beautifully pushed, yet understated mannerisms. And the feeling behind those movements so wonderfully conveyed so that we really feel there is a living entity there, even if only in our imaginations (which is a lot). All embodied by some lines drawn on a piece of paper.

After watching “Frank and Ollie,” which was produced in 1995, I was saddened to learn that Ollie’s wife and his best friend Frank had both since passed away. Saddened after seeing what beautiful relationships Ollie had with these two, I imagined him then quite elderly and alone, but at least he might still have those friends, the trains. I wondered if maybe he was too elderly to care for his trains anymore. Then I learned that his train, the actual, life-size, restored steam engine, had since been purchased by John Lasseter (a long-time friend of Ollie’s). Where was Ollie now? And was he happy? It seemed to me, or so I hoped, that in spite of the loss of loved ones and the difficulties that come with age, he might still find some solace in his living an exceptionally good life. Which means having dear friendships, making a contribution to humanity… and what I saw in that film was a radiant inner joy, peace, and spirit that Ollie seemed to have. Of course, I think it’s pretty unlikely that he was alone. He was living in a long-term care facility in Sequim, Washington. That’s on the Olympic Peninsula, not far from Seattle (where I lived for 8 years), and it’s a beautiful area. The Olympic mountain range is there, Hoh Rainforest, hot springs nearby, Pugent sound to the north and east, and further west is the Pacific Ocean.

Ollie died of natural causes on Monday, April 14th, 2008, at the age of 95.


We’ll miss you Ollie. Your passing puts a final page on the story of the Nine Old Men, but your work and your legend will live on forever in some of the finest animation that we have ever (and may ever) experience.

Ice Age

I just saw Ice Age on DVD last night. It was my first time seeing it since its theatrical release in 2002. I remember enjoying it then, but there was a lot I forgot and a lot of new things I think I noticed this time around. The thing I remember enjoying about it in 2002 is its cartooniness. It has a goofy playfulness I love that hearkens back to those Saturday mornings, savoring every second I could of Bugs Bunny and Daffy. It’s character-driven comedy, most of it physical. Some of that is pure slapstick (guy-steps-on-a-rake kind of thing) which isn’t too specific to the character, but the majority of it is derived from and defines/reveals the character in its unique circumstance. Though the comedy may be physical, it’s really telling us something about the mind of that character — something funny.
Which character am I thinking of in particular? Sid, of course! The sloth (pictured above) so geniusly voiced by John Leguizamo. He’s the star of the picture. Not only is he the primary source of comedy in the film, he’s the one driving the whole story forward. What a goldmine of a character. He’s the most manic sloth you could ever imagine, which gets a tad annoying at times, I’ll admit, but heck that’s one of his key character traits. He’s incredibly annoying. The thing is he’s just so funny and endearing while he’s being annoying that we tend to forgive him for it. Also, thank goodness, he is tempered by the cool and down-beat qualities of Manfred the Mammoth and Diego the Saber-toothed Tiger (voiced by Ray Romano and Denis Leary, respectively — wow, Denis Leary down-beat. Who knew?). Also, Sid starts to even seem a bit normal set against the character and running gag of impossibly-manic Scrat the Saber-toothed Squirrel (voiced by the film’s director, Chris Wedge), who is thankfully used just as a sort of seasoning, appearing only for brief periods throughout the film (and making it all the more hilarious).
Leguizamo is so terrific in this role as Sid the Sloth. He seems to really understand what it means to act for a cartoon and the animators really eat it up! I can’t remember what scene it was, but there was this one awkward kind of nervous laugh he does that had me cracking up. There’s so much in the sound of that laugh alone and the subtle little head and eye movement the animator provided are just the perfect micro-storm example of the kind of collaborative performance you can find in animation. Mo-cap has nothing on this stuff! I mean, this is magic. This is the power of raw imagination and talent and a lot of hard work! It’s a joy to watch.

Le Petit Chef

A big round of applause to the entire cast and crew of Pixar’s Ratatouille! It was a true delight! Superbe! Genial! Credit must be given to Jan Pinkava as originator of the film, but accolades to Brad Bird’s script and his unbeatable skills of direction, omission, and selection. The timing of the action sequences was just spot-on. I loved all the little touches. All the characters were a joy to watch (and superbly voiced — I couldn’t believe that was Janeane Garofolo doing a french accent), and I loved the designs of the rats. I could go on and on. Little rats are dancing in my head.
See story artist Jenny Lerew’s post on Ratatouille for much more thoughtful and eloquently stated observations, of which I wish I could plagiarize word for word.

Oscar-Nominated Animation Shorts of 2006

Last weekend I saw a screening of the Animated Short Films nominated in this year’s Academy Awards ceremony (2006 films, 2007 ceremony). I planned to write a more critical analysis of the films here, but that plan has been causing a delay in posting so I’ve decided to scrap it. I’ll just say that all the films were great. Blue Sky’s No Time for Nuts and Pixar’s Lifted were both funny and well-crafted 3D-animation and it was refreshing to see Disney’s return to more traditional animation and storytelling with the painterly film, The Little Matchgirl. Interestingly, however, while all of these films are probably most akin to my own style both visually and in storytelling, it was The Danish Poet that impressed me the most and stuck with me the longest after viewing. Certainly, all the films are worthy of the award and it will be interesting to see who gets it. I’ll enjoy having a little more insight into this part of the awards show than I have in the past. My expectation is that one of the larger studios will win, but while I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those studios, it certainly would be wonderful if The Danish Poet received the award.
Check your local listings. If you want to see these films on the big screen, pre-Oscars, your last chance might be Thursday, February 22nd, as most theatres run on a Fri-Thurs schedule. [UPDATE: Some cities have screenings extending into Oscars weekend and some opening later. Follow the "local listings" link above.] Both the live action and animation shorts are screening at L.A.’s Nuart Theatre until Thurs, Feb 22, distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Incidentally, before the shorts, I saw a preview for Tears of the Black Tiger, a most surreally beautiful and amazing looking Thai Western!