Hollywood Animation Archive Project Blog

Cartoons are great. The International Animated Film Society have a fascinating online blog that might be in it's early stages now but will expand, over time, into an online archive of images, museum and encyclopedia/wiki thing, with downloads like the cheeky number above . The link is here.

Frequent Flier

An increasingly stringy-looking Jodie Foster plays another threatened mother (as she did to middling effect in David Fincher’s Panic Room), in the taut airborne thriller Flight Plan, a high-concept titty-twister we will call ‘Hitchcockian’ for the lack of another neat descriptive word that means ‘movie that picks your pocket through pat co-incidence, suspense and plot twists’ The seriously flinty Foster plays Kyle Pratt, an aeronautical engineer who boards the same enormous jet she has spent the past year working on, in order to bring the coffin containing her recently deceased husband back to the US. A couple of hours after takeoff from a snowbound Berlin, Kyle and her six year old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) fall asleep. When mommy wakes up, the kid has vanished.

Watching her every move is federal air marshal Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), concerned about the safety of the flight after Kyle, teetering on the edge of hysteria, sees an Arab passenger (Michael Irby) and tells him she is convinced he is spying on her. Already barely holding it together, Kyle methodically searches the airplane, having the advantage of knowing it inside out. Appearing far more sane and rational to the cabin crew than the cinema audience, who have the advantage of knowing her mind inside out, Kyle’s search appears over when a stewardess (Erika Christensen) tells her that Julia’s name doesn’t appear on the passenger manifest, the departure gate at Munich says she did not get on the plane, her boarding pass and backpack are nowhere to be found and that the girl was never on board. The flight captain, played by a suitably square-jawed Sean Bean, while initially concerned about the disappearance, applies strict procedure when told the child wasn’t on the plane and that this bereaved woman has lost her senses.

And that's all you'll get from me. Regardless of the films qualities, it wouldn’t be fair to tell you any more. With this kind of thriller, the more you know in advance, the less effective the film will be. With such strong story elements at his disposal; separation, claustrophobia, unsympathetic officials and shifty-eyed, suspicious passengers, German director Robert Schwentke constructs a sweaty, cleverly convoluted story that is nevertheless a touch too cold and remote to connect with the impact it could have had.

Foster is good as the tough, resilient woman who uses her strengths to defend her child against an unknown threat, but she is in danger of running herself into a groove here. It’s the torturous unravelling of the exact nature of that threat that this film balances precariously upon, with the ultimate revelation bound to dismay as many as it delights. Why this is hapenning to her, out of all the people on the plane, is the key here and as with any other ‘sealed room’ Agatha Christie body-in-the-library mystery, that individually fashioned key might just barely fit the logical lock the storytellers have constructed around it. The great debt here is to Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, and the novel that inspired it, Ethel Lina White's The Wheel Spins, from where the central notions have been extracted, without credit. Like the train itself in Hitchcock's yarn, the Titanic-sized aircraft becomes a character, initially a suffocating, claustrophobic presence, but as the film explores every nook and cranny of the metal tube, there is far more made of it than is entirely necessary.

Cunningly, and crucially for interest levels, Schwentke and his screenwriters Peter Dowling and Billy Ray ask the audience another, deeper question, one that adds a sustaining nuance to Kyle’s motivations and makes our heroine completely, and satisfyingly, unreliable. Is she mad, from grief, or just madness itself, unexpected and terrible. For her part, when faced with this nightmare, Foster's character asks the same questions as we the viewers would, and for the most part, does what we would expect a woman in her position to do, keeping pace with the audience’s own internal logic as the plot unravels itself. But, and there’s almost always a but, the rush of unlikely co-incidences and hysterical revelations in the final third of the film go way too far, taking most of the painstakingly generated tension along with them. For all its shiny production values, A-list cast and swooping widescreen photography, Flightplan ultimately touches down on a well-worn runway about twenty minutes after you will.

Trial And Error

It would appear the Americans won’t be happy until God himself appears astride a beam of divine light, wrapped in Old Glory and swearing on his autobiography, to testify against Satan and Charles Darwin and Michael Moore and Harry Potter and anyone else, real or unreal, who doesn’t fit with their increasingly monochromatic notions of what constitutes right and wrong. As right-wing and reactionary as it’s possible to be without being composed of aborted stem cells, the daft horror The Exorcism of Emily Rose, directed by Scott Derrickson from a script he wrote with Paul Harris Boardman, is a bewilderingly empirical discussion about the existence of cosmic good guys and bad guys wrapped in a shabby splatter movie, itself stapled to a moribund and seemingly eternal courtroom drama.

An understandably worried-looking Catholic priest (played by Tom Wilkinson) is accused of manslaughter because a devout young student (Jennifer Carpenter), who believed herself to be possessed by demons, has died after a failed exorcism ritual. Appearing for the defence is Laura Linney, playing the ambitious lawyer Erin Bruner, all trendy atheism, sharp tailoring and minimalist furnishings. For the state, subtlety grey and moustachioed, is the patrician Campbell Scott, whose efforts to imprison the priest for negligently denying her medication, become increasingly strained. “Your honour, I object!” he shouts in true courtroom-drama lawyer style. On what grounds? “Well, silliness, for one.”


Based on a true story, in the same way as The Cat In The Hat might have a real-life counterpart somewhere licking it’s own arse in a jaunty beret, the film employs a succession of cross-genre techniques to try and have it’s audience accept as real the supernatural, specially-effected events it depicts. Never for a moment just another spooky November release, Emily Rose posits itself as being a matter of (eternal) life or death, a frothing evangelical tract rejecting science and championing faith through well-timed lightning storms, cawing ravens, black cats and hooded devils.

We know from the first scene that the stigmata-carrying martyr Emily didn’t survive the experience; that the priest (astonishingly, neither Irish nor alcoholic) is in jug and that the defence is having trouble believing there is a celestial battle being waged in the battered body of a theology student. It is left to Laura Linney to carry the story, and while her grace and intelligence are occasionally well served, she can do nothing about the pre-ordained direction the film takes. Presenting itself as a debate, it is anything but. As a horror movie, it has its moments. As a courtroom drama, it is especially dull. But as propaganda bedecked in the familiar raiments of popular entertainment, in the days of powerful politicians on missions from God and ‘intelligent design’, Emily Rose is priceless.

Pavee Lackeen

Perry Ogden has the unblinking eye of a cinema sniper and the soul of an angry poet. His debut film is a portrait of a people set apart, adrift in poverty and indifference, whose whole story can’t be told in a soundbite and once seen, somehow remains forever indelible. As Ireland & Co. Ltd (well, we have decided to live in an economy, rather than a society) rushes forward, those who, for whatever reason, can’t keep pace are being left behind, and for that shameful, sobering reason Pavee Lackeen: The Traveller Girl is a film that’s as necessary as oxygen.

Influenced by the ultra-naturalistic films of the Dardenne Brothers (most notably Rosetta), in seamlessly melding documentary and fiction, Ogden tells the story of Winnie Maughan, a tough, sensitive 10-year-old traveller living with her mother Rose and the rest of the family in a small camp of caravans beside an industrial road in North Dublin. Excluded from school for fighting, and with little else to do but shoplift and sniff solvents, Winnie spends her days messing about with her sister while their bewildered mother tries to deal with the council representatives (who want to move her to a different spot) and the Guards (who are there to do what the council wants) and tired-looking social workers and busy doctors concerned about the children’s health and welfare. There is nothing that represents a plot or narrative in the classical sense, just an unsentimental look at real life for these people.

The cast are excellent without exception, little wonder as they are essentially playing themselves. Where Pavee Lackeen stands out is in its beautiful photography, sensitive editing and a moving soundtrack, all well above standard for homegrown cinema. But for all that I found the film hard to watch. It is uncomfortable to say the least to have one’s own blithe middle-class prejudices and attitudes challenged, but far worse is the sense of hopelessness and irreparable isolation, that coppery tang that comes from the realisation that these are lives lived without any hope of a future unless significant changes are made. It should be screened for the Dáil.

You’ve got to get over the idea that a fashion photographer can go to a halting site and point his camera and not be compromised. Opening himself up to an accusation of exploitation is courageous to say the least, yet the director and his co-writer Mark Venner make no moral judgements, on anyone, and neatly avoid being patronising or romantic. Pavee Lackeen is a tough sell to any audience but one that will simultaneously reward and anger those adventurous enough to seek it out. The dinner-party revolutionaries who cooed over Paul Haggis’ Crash and bleated on about racism and discrimination in Black America should put down their salad forks and go see it right now.

"One of these days the sun's gonna come up and burn a hole clean through the planet like a giant electrical x-ray".

Ever wonder what the weather is like in LA? David Lynch provides a personal, daily, remarkably coherent 10 second report on his website, so we need wonder no more.

Curiously, the fascinating 'outsider' artist Henry Darger was also obsessed with the weather and kept a comprehensive weather log.

Thin Lizzy

The aggressively non-filmic, anti-entertainment precedent established in American goo-merchant Cameron Crowe’s last effort, the vacant and pretentious Vanilla Sky, continues unabated with this awful romantic comedy, as plain-old-bad a movie as the Hollywood schmaltz machine will puke up this year and unarguable proof that Orlando Bloom is near helpless on screen without the cover provided by a pair of pointy prosthetic ears.

Although presumably in development for years, the basic set-up of Elizabethtown is essentially a more optimistic, focus-grouped version of Zach Braff's infinitely more interesting and complete Garden State, where a depressed young man returning home for a family funeral falls in love with a gorgeous local girl. But where that film had an angsty, contemporary mood and offbeat, prickly characters, Crowe’s approach is to fire indiscriminate love-bombs at his madly meandering story and then, after a few studio-mandated re-edits and a trim of twenty minutes, attempt to present a film from the resulting rainbow-drenched carnage.

The plot is an absolute mess. Bloom is Drew Baylor, an introverted shoe designer who just lost his Nike-inspired company a billion dollars. Later, while preparing a meticulously planned suicide, he gets a call from his neurotic sister (Judy Greer) to tell him his father has died while visiting his family in Kentucky and Drew must go and collect his remains. On the plane, he meets the pushy, free-spirited air stewardess Claire (Kirsten Dunst), with the two inexplicably linked from that point forward. Together Dunst and Bloom register an absolute zero on the chemistry gauge, and little wonder. The one-dimensional characters they're forced to play couldn't be more teeth-grindingly irritating if they were street charity muggers hustling your sort-code while playing Bohemian Rhapsody on broken kazoos and kicking you in the shins. Bloom's Drew is an inert, mostly re-active cipher for Crowe’s own fixations and never once a fully formed, three-dimensional cinema character. Dunst, saddled with some awful dialogue and struggling with the eye-lash fluttering Southern Belle accent, nervously grins and mugs her way through the elaborate staging, rescuing what she can from the resulting inferno before the ceiling collapses. That smoking crash comes when Susan Sarandon, playing the very merry Widow Baylor, gives a simpleminded five minute eulogy before a spontaneous, and similarly lengthy, tap dance at her dead husband’s memorial. What is supposed to be charming and quirky is just wrong and weird and worse, terminally boring.

A whole other movies worth of subplots frame the smoking craters here, offering fox-holes for Crowe and his wide-eyed cast to briefly escape the devastation but adding absolutely nothing to the drama while bloating the already patience-testing running-time to a fantastically grand level. The writer/director then adds a Ghandi-esque crowd of supporting players; Drew’s co-workers, extended family and childhood friends, all playing high notes in full voice. There’s barely room to move with cameos from a host of yet another level of supporting players, non-actors (TV chefs and folk singers among them) delivering every gumbo-stained stereotype imaginable, and then some. Whatever hopes Crowe had for his lead cutie-pies burgeoning romance is lost in the scrum of wise elders, eccentrics, screeching children and affectionate drunks.

This is jukebox cinema; a meandering mix tape of Crowe’s own back catalogue rattled out in an uncomfortably arch and distracted style and edited, apparently, by a combine harvester with no sense of comic timing. Elizabethtown is littered throughout with the chaff of Crowe’s peculiar obsessions – a never-ending soundtrack of dinosaur rock music (every scene has it’s own accompaniment), quirky girls in red hats and that golden 35mm lens flare flashing off the asphalt on the lumbering director’s well-travelled road to nowhere. Crowe’s dwindling efforts to mine the rich seam of screwball comedy that his heroes Preston Sturges, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder could tap into, seemingly at will but actually through hard graft at the typewriter and clarity of vision, is both bafflingly obtuse and criminally negligent of his own clumsy conceit. Very little gets resolved, but very few will care.

When, finally, Drew takes a sentimental road trip back across America - in what felt to me like real time - and Elizabethtown sputtered to its idiosyncratically candyfloss conclusion I hardly had the strength left to protest. “There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco”, someone says early on. Not from where I’m sitting.