Sunday, September 28, 2008


TLA Releasing is presenting one of my FAVORITE features of the 2007 SF IndieFest, "Dante's Inferno" (dir. Sean Meredith, US, 2007, 77 mins.) This is a brilliantly conceived adaptation of Dante's "Inferno", set in the present time and using contemporary figures, settings and situations to illustrate the nine circles of hell. And when I say 'illustrate', I mean that most literally, as the story is performed by paper-and-stick puppets. The artwork is outstanding and the meticulous manipulation of the puppets is simply awesome. The script alone is too clever for words and would make as great of a live action feature as it does as a semi-animated/puppet piece. However, the expense involved to bring to life Sandow Birk's beautifully realized drawings and paintings of a contemporary hell, which have been brought to 'puppet life' by co-art designer, Elyse Pignolet,
would have been astronomical! Director and co-writer Sean Meredith ably adapted the art design and integrated the puppetry skills of Paul Zaloom into a unique cinematic experience. By using a centuries old puppet technique, the story of Dante's "Inferno" retains an antique mood, even if it is presented in extremely modern vernacular. Dermot Mulroney and James Cromwell provide the voices for Dante and Virgil. Also in the cast are Martha Plimpton and head puppeteer, Paul Zaloom. The music score by Mark McAdam is outstanding, including a huge musical number at the 8th Circle of Hell, called "We Are The Lobbyists"!

TLA includes a number of extra features. "12 Days in the Underground" a 'making of' featurette, which is fairly fascinating and could be considered a short-hand version of the conent of the screen-specific commentary by Director Sean Meredith, art driector Sandow Birk and head puppeteer Paul Zaloom. This commentary, combined with the production stills gallery, and the featurette, contribute to one of the most thorough and entertaining analysis of a feature's production that I've seen amongst MANY 'making of/special edition/etc.' dvds! There is a second commentary featuring puppet theatre historian John Bell and Dante Alighieri scholar Peter Hawkins, which is an exceptionally eductional, if not professorial analysis of the visual and textual elements of the film. It is an exceptional way to introduce Dante's INFERNO to a literature class, though due to the explicit visual content, the film would not be suitable for high school, but is more suitable for college curriculum. However, it may be a bit too academic for the casual viewer.

The disc also includes the Mark McAdam's film score in MP3 files, accessible by CD-ROM!! THIS is an all too rare feature!! In other words, it is as if you have purchased the film AND the soundtrack CD in one package! I do not know why TLA has not publicized this feature more. There is also the theatrical trailer (which does NOT do the film justice!), and several trailers of other TLA Releasing products.

Overall, I LOVE the film and am thrilled by the tasteful and excellent behind-the-scenes packaging the producers have given it! It is available at TLA for $16.99.

Maxxxxx says
re DANTE'S INFERNO: Whoooooooo!

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Mill Valley Film Festival - 2008 - Preview: Animation Programs

The Mill Valley Film Festival held its press conference and preview this morning at the Dolby Labs screening room in San Francisco. (A HUGE Thank you to Karen Larsen, aka Larsen Associates, for including me!) There are several animation programs scattered among the various sidebars. In fact, there are enough presentations that I think the form deserves a sidebar to itself! There are the compulsory animated shorts program, as well as a program for young audiences. However, MVFF has actually scheduled a couple event worthy screenings.

Bill Plympton will be present with his latest feature, IDIOTS AND ANGELS, which features a score by 3 Leg Torso, who will also be present and performing at a post-screening reception, on Sunday, October 5, 2:45 pm. (The film will play a second time on October 7.) Plympton's short subject HOT DOG will also screen in the shorts program, which I hope he attends, as well.

The animated shorts program, under the title Lost Souls and Malcontent Beasties, will screen: Hsiao-wen Chiu's BREATH, Dennis Tuipicoff's CHAINSAW, Tom Schroeder's YELLOW BIRD, Dana Dorian's SNOWTIME, Johannes Nyholm's TALE OF LITTLE PUPPET BOY, Madevi Dailly's WESTI and a pair of films from Germany: MY DATE FROM HELL, by Tom Bracht and Tim Weimann, and MY HAPPY END by Milen Vitanov. The entire program runs 85 minutes and screens on October 4 and 7.

Another program which sounds fascinating to any cineaste, and should be of even more interest to animation fans looking for something "adult" before launching into the matinees, is David Peters' presentation TYPECAST: THE ART OF FILM TITLES. According to the MVFF program, he "presents a grand and glorious tour through some of the most innovative title sequences in Western cinema," including the work of Saul Bass amongst many others!

The Children's Film Festival features an exceptionally international selection. Foremost for the more serious animation fan will be the collection of Osamu Tezuka shorts, entitled appropriately enough, The Amazing Osamu Tezuka. Fred Ladd will present and speak after the screenings of three of Tezuka's non-anime works: LEGEND OF THE FOREST, JUMPING and BROKEN DOWN FILM, as well as a restored episode of the American TV version of ASTRO BOY: EXPEDITION TO MARS. He will also speak about the new Astro Boy movie to be released in 2009. Ladd will be making the presentation on October 4 and 5, at the (un-festival-friendly) hours of noon and 10:30 am, respectively.

Of the eleven Children's Film Festival full-length features, four of them are fully animated. (Of the live action films, I am sure there might be extensive animated elements, though not noted in the program notes.) They include TERRA (dir. Aristomenis Tsirbas, US), LOTTE FROM GADGETVILLE (Janno Poldma, Heiki Ernitz, Estonia/Latvia), NOCTURNA (Victor Maldonado, Adria Gracia, Spain/France) and QUEST FOR A HEART (Pekka Lehtosaari, Finland).

I am sure there are also a great number of animated shorts in You Can't Do That!, the children's shorts program. The MVFF specifically points out taht "fans of puppet animation director Janis Cimermanis will find two of his films in this collection, HUNTING and SMILE MY FRIEND!"

The Mill Valley Film Festival also has a sidebar dedicated to expermimental film, called v(ision)fest, aka VFest. The previously mentioned TYPECAST is in this group, as are seven other features. There is also the program of eleven shorts in Decoupage Digital VFest Experimental Shorts Program, which should hold some visual surprises for the animation oriented.

The Mill Valley Film Festival runs October 2 - 12 at various venues around San Rafael. Full schedule and ticketing information can be found at the Mill Valley Film Festival website:

Maxxxxx says
re 'toons: "Wooooooo!"

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