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Nick's Pics
Nick Nicholson
Film & Home Entertainment Critic
 

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


 

MOVIE PICS

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

The Princess and the Frog begins with a light little fairy tale as two little girls sit together listening to a story of wishing on stars. The difference is that one of the girls belongs to an unbelievably rich family and the other is from a hard working, blue collar home from across the tracks. There are a number of parallels between this animated film and other Disney projects I have seen over the years, however this isn’t your typical Disney cartoon. The Princess and the Frog takes place in the 1920’s during the Jazz era in New Orleans. Young Tiana’s parents are double shift, hardworking folks who do the best they can to provide for their daughter. They have a collective dream to open their own restaurant on the bayou. Their dreams are honest and sincere, but there is just never an opportunity for them. Soon Tiana’s father passes away and both she and her mother have to work even harder to make ends meet. Tiana, now a young adult never lets go of her dream to open a restaurant. She saves every penny she can in order to reach her goal. Just when she seems on the cusp of making it happen, the real estate agents tell young African-American that they “won’t be doing business form a woman with your background.”

Then, Prince Naveen enters the picture. The Prince has been cutoff financially from his parents and he has come to New Orleans to find a rich wife who can provide him with the funds necessary to live in the manner he desires. When the voodoo dude, Dr Facilier, shows up he decides that he wants the money that the Prince seeks. He turns both Tiana and the Prince into frogs and that is when the story really picks up from there. The characters are abundant as the two work to turn themselves back into their human form. Along the way, they meet a jazz trumpeting alligator, a firefly with moxy, a voodoo priestess, and multiple others that will tug at your heartstrings.

To finally see the Disney animation department return their roots and utilize hand drawn animation is applaudable! The animation provides a sense of character and is less sterile that some of the more recent projects. Numerous big band numbers pepper the picture and are brilliantly written by Randy Newman, who is a genius in his own right. The Princess and the Frog will no doubt delight all who take the time to see it. Another round of applause for the creative machine called Disney!

The Princess and the Frog
Starring: Anika Noni Rose
& John Goodman
Director: John Musker
& Ron Clements
Company: Disney
Now Showing: In area
Theatres
MPAA Rating: G
Grade: A

An interview with the animation team
from Disney’s The Princess And The Frog

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Henn and Michael Surre, two of the lead animators on Disney’s latest creation, The Princess and the Frog. One of the most fascinating aspects of this particular project was the return to hand drawn, two dimensional animation. The last Disney project to utilize hand drawn animation was the 2004 animated film, Home on the Range. With the lack of success by Range, it was no surprise that Disney decided to look to the future and use computer animation (CGI) for their projects. However, theater goers and critics alike felt something was missing regarding this new animated technology. Oftentimes, the drawings seems sterile or too perfect. After five or six years of utilizing the new system, Disney was ready for another change. “The legacy of Disney has always been hand drawn animation,” commented Mark Henn. Fellow animator Michael Surrey went on to add that “There is just something about the soul that a character takes on when drawn by hand.” Most cinema fans tend to agree.

The animation process is an unbelievably laborious process. The average animated film takes approximately three to four years to complete. When asked how long it took an hour to animated one minute of movie, Mr. Henn laughed heartily. He replied that “it takes on average 40 hours of work to animate three seconds of film.” Without question that garnered my attention. “The technique and the discipline that all the artists utilize in the process is deliberate,” mentioned Michael. “However, the gratification that the animators receive when they see their finished product on screen, dancing in the moonlight, with the bayou creatures playing instruments is an unbelievably fulfilling feeling.” I inquired as to how much fun it was to working with the brilliant Randy Newman, who created the musical score these gentlemen used to bring the character dance sequences to life. Both men agreed, “there isn’t a better composer we could have used on this project,” mentioned Michael and Mark agreed. “Randy is the best and people are going to absolutely love his score.” The score is fantastic and enhances the film perfectly. This is a tremendous Disney picture and will be loved by all, whether you are five years old or fifty. It will leave you smiling.

THE UNIVERSAL MONSTER LEGACY - The Wolfman

Beginning in 1923, Universal Studios single-handedly invented the Horror Genre by introducing the world to the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolfman. These timeless classics, amongst many others, are still revered and admired today. In 1941 Curt Siodmak sat down at his desk with the intention of writing a horror story that would draw on Greek Mythology and the belief that somehow a man could transform into an animal, a common legend that ran through the folklore of just about every culture on Earth. Little could he have realized that the script he was about to write, The Wolfman, would not only have an effect of the future of horror films, but the future of the occult as well.

The Wolfman was not the first werewolf film to be produced by Universal, that distinction belongs to Werewolf of London which flopped at the box office in 1935. The film starred popular character actor Henry Hull in a far more subtle makeup job by Jack Pierce, the same man who transformed Lon Chaney Jr. Into the Wolf Man six years later. Many fans that have seen this earlier effort have commented that the werewolf looked far more menacing than the version that came after.

Universal convinced the reluctant Lon Chaney Jr. to follow in his father’s footsteps and endure the six-hour makeup sessions to portray Larry Talbot and his harry alter ego the Wolfman. The character transformed Cheney into a superstar. The Wolf Man would prove to be so popular that it would appear in a total of five films (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) all of which were played by Cheney. Universal has always been the top dog regarding horror and monster films and the Wolfman is just one of the many incredible characters the should be both revered and feared amongst the classic genre.


DVD REVIEWS

World’s Greatest Dad, along with Bobcat Goldthwait’s previous directing outings, Shakes the Clown and Sleeping Dogs Lie, is a weird, outrageous, but fundamentally serious movie. Robin Williams plays high-school teacher Lance Clayton, who still harbors dreams of writerly glory; he wants to be a novelist not because he has something compelling to say but because he images a life of fame and money and women. His teenage son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is a disappointment, too: a truly nasty little freak who makes life unpleasant for everyone around him. A single horrifying plot twist suddenly brings Lance some publishing fame, and gives him a chance to exercise his writing skills--and here’s where the movie’s already black comedy turns a deep indigo. Williams has played quite a few quietly desperate types, but Lance is one of his better flings at the profile, and he does a memorable on-air meltdown when invited to talk about his sudden fame.

Fabrice Luchini stars as a brilliant and neurotic attorney who goes to Monaco to defend a famous criminal. As luck would have it, Luchini falls in love instead of focusing his attention on the case at hand. Unfortunately, the chick he falls for is a beautiful she-devil (Louise Bourgoin), who turns him into a complete wreck. This film is a comedy of errors that is sure to put a smile on your face. Be sure to pick up your copy today.

Scholastic Storybook Treasures presents a menagerie of make-believe mayhem with the release of a new gift set for preschool children with “Treasury of 50 Storybook Classics: Animal Antics and More!” Offering more than seven hours of quality children’s entertainment, whimsically animated to charm children who love the world of animals, the new set collects the most sought-after animal stories in the series. These 50 award-winning and classic children’s stories are faithfully adapted and brought to life for this 7-DVD boxed set, priced for holiday gift giving! Don’t be a scrooge! Pick this up for the kids today!

The focus of A Christmas Tale has been told numerous times before - a dysfunctional family coming together for the holidays, repleat with all of the uncomfortable greetings, the infighting, decade long grudges, and the sadness everyone imbues. The difference here is that midway through the film, you realize you genuinely care for the characters and feel the pain they have endured for so very long. Junon Vuillard (Catherine Deneuve) and her husband Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) lost their oldest child Joseph to lymphoma at age seven. The pain that has existed amongst their three children stems from their not being a compatible donor with any of them. The family also has a black sheep that was banished from the family for multiple reasons years before. As it turns out, another medical procedure is needed within the family and the black sheep of the group, Henri, is the only match. With the family all back together for the first time in years, you could cut the tension with a knife. The acting is superb and the audio/visual is impeccable. A tremendously well done film that will push all who watch it into a wide array of emotions.

At the start of Season Three, Henry is married to Jane Seymour, a gentle woman who thrills her husband by giving him a son. Unfortunately, Jane’s reign as Queen of England is short-lived, and Henry soon finds himself mourning the only one of his wives thus far who he has truly loved (or at least been able to appreciate at the very end). The impertinent Thomas Cromwell then convinces Henry that a new marriage to Anne of Cleaves would benefit the country. Henry reluctantly goes through with the marriage, but never consummates the union because, according to him, his new bride “looks like a horse.” It doesn’t take long for Henry to tire of this marriage as well, and he passes the time in the company of the ditzy young Katherine Howard. This is a brilliant show that will capture your interest.

This filmed version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, adapted from the wildly popular book by J.K. Rowling, stunningly brings to life Harry Potter’s world of Hogwarts, the school for young witches and wizards. The greatest strength of the film comes from its faithfulness to the novel, and this new cinematic world is filled with all the details of Rowling’s imagination, thanks to exuberant sets, elaborate costumes, clever makeup and visual effects, and a crème de la crème cast, including Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, and more. Especially fine is the interplay between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his schoolmates Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), as well as his protector, the looming Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). The second-half adventure--involving the titular sorcerer’s stone--doesn’t translate perfectly from page to screen, ultimately because of the film’s fidelity to the novel; this is a case of making a movie for the book’s fans, as opposed to a transcending film. Writer Steve Kloves and director Chris Columbus keep the spooks in check, making this a true family film, and with its resourceful hero wide-eyed and ready, one can’t wait for Harry’s return.

Expanding upon the lavish sets, special effects, and grand adventure of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry involves a darker, more malevolent tale. We begin with the petrified bodies of several Hogwarts students and magical clues leading Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) to a 50-year-old mystery in the monster-laden Chamber of Secrets. House elves, squealing mandrakes, giant spiders, and venomous serpents populate this loyal adaptation, and Kenneth Branagh delightfully tops the supreme supporting cast as the vainglorious charlatan Gilderoy Lockhart.

The premise of G Force isn’t earth-shattering: oddball, unexpected heroes are called on to save the day. But the lowly guinea pig has been long overdue to get its moment in the spotlight. And now the free world knows whom it can really trust. The film mixes the animated heroes with real-life actors, including the sardonic British character actor Bill Nighy, who plays an evil mogul out to take over and/or destroy the world. The U.S. government, it turns out, has been nurturing a special squad for occasions just such as this. It’s just that it’s been nurturing them in small pens with wood shavings on the floor and running wheels for exercise. Will Arnett, deadpan and spot-on, plays the human agent who has the unenviable task of wrangling the guinea pig G-Force, and is a deft foil for the bad guys as well as for the mini-heroes. Another feather in the Disney cap that is sure to please all who view this picture.

Though each individual episode of the hit Disney Channel TV show Wizards of Waverly Place is fun and quirky in its own right, all the material seems to fly by so fast that the viewer isn’t left with much real emotion. It’s almost as if the show gets so caught up in the formula that it doesn’t take enough time to slow down and really examine the relationships between any of the characters. Luckily movie solves that problem. The pacing in the film, the action and the story have enough time to unfold naturally and this program is sure to please anyone who enjoys the television show.

The legendary queen of television comedy, Lucille Ball, is joined by her real-life children in her third long-running sitcom success. Ball plays Lucille Carter, widowed mother of teenagers Kim and Craig, portrayed by Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. Lucy works for her brother-in-law, played by Gale Gordon, who owns Carter’s Unique Employment Agency, leading Lucy into endless predicaments and hilarious hijinks. This complete second season features all 24 color episodes, digitally remastered for superior quality plus a wealth of new and never-before-seen bonus features.

This series chronicles the military, political and social history of the Civil War. The program utilizes battle reenactments, footage of the battlefields, period visuals, artifacts, National Geological Survey maps and interviews with a historical advisory board. A very educational program that breaks down the importance of each battle and what the general tacticians had in mind for why they did essentially what they did. A must own for any historical buff.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce star in the roles that only they could star in as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in this wonderful double feature! The first film in the series is Spiderwoman. London is in a panic over a series of apparent Pajama Suicides. Sherlock Holmes, however, is more inclined to believe that they are calculated murders. It is up to the great detective and his faithful cohort Dr. Watson to discover the motive and the means of these crimes and to unmask the murderer. Plot twists abound in this telling tale of intrigue and mayhem. The second film is The Voice of Terror. When taunting saboteurs warn of a Nazi invasion of the British Isles through their horrific radio menace the Voice of Terror, the British Intelligence s Inner Council calls in Sherlock Holmes to help in the crisis. On the first night of their inquiry, Holmes and Watson find a dying man on their doorstep. His last word sends Holmes to London s seedy Limehouse district, where he enlists the aid of Kitty, the sweetheart of the slain man, to help find the saboteurs.

Into the Storm follows British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Brendan Gleeson) as he launches ferociously into World War II. The movie’s greatest strength comes from a shifting back and forth in time, portraying Churchill’s post-war life as well, when the very qualities that made him so effective as a military leader threaten both his career and his marriage. Anyone seeking a detailed analysis of the war will be disappointed; Into the Storm skips through history, less interested in the ebb and flow of combat than the weighing of decisions and the composition of speeches. Although this may sound uncinematic, Gleeson does a remarkable job articulating Churchill’s creative thoughts as he walks to and fro in his bedclothes, mulling over the right phrase to sustain his country’s morale, or facing FDR and Stalin across a table, working to shape an effective alliance.

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Contact Filmlords@gmail.com if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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   Last Update:
December 9 , 2009