March 25, 2010

Cats of Rome (2007)

ATTENTION, CAT LOVERS: Here’s an interesting documentary about a situation over in Rome involving our feline friends – many whose ancestors were unwillingly brought to the city from another country, but now must fend for themselves.


Over 200,000 stray cats live in Rome, Italy – the descendants of Egyptian cats brought there 3,000 years ago. The cats aren’t wild, but they need human help to survive. Problem is, some Romans consider these strays equal to rodents – and view those who feed or care for them with equal contempt.

Cats of Rome documents six months at Torre Argentina, Rome’s largest cat sanctuary. With its many feline inhabitants – and constant threats from overpopulation, overcrowding, disease, and detractors – life at Torre Argentina is a never-ending struggle for the cats and the people who care for them.


Any romantic notions the viewer may have about Rome and its abundant cat population are quickly dispelled in Cats of Rome, as director Michael W. Hunt promptly hones in on the endless demands put upon Torre Argentina to care for and house the multitude of cats that come through their doors. (Hunt does, however, sprinkle a handful of scenic shots of Rome, its people, and its landmarks throughout the film.)

The caretakers and supporters of Torre Argentina are an interesting cross-section of native Italians, transplanted Americans, and other random expatriates. It’s inspiring to see different nationalities and ethnicities unite for a common cause, yet it’s also hard to watch them struggle against the many obstacles in the way of saving the scores of cats at the sanctuary (the aftermath of an attack by vandals is especially hard to take).

Until Cats of Rome was being shot, Torre Argentina had to survive solely on donations from the local community (Rome has no government-funded cat shelters). But during the shoot, we watch a team of Dutch web designers create, where people can make donations or “adopt” a Torre Argentina cat from anywhere in the world.

With Cats of Rome, Hunt has created a film that’s at times endearing and entertaining, at other times frustrating and heartbreaking. But ultimately, he succeeds in doing what a good documentary should: He educates the viewer and raises awareness for the subject – or in this case, the hundreds of four-footed, feline subjects.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Cats of Rome’s subject matter is suitable for any age, though seeing some cats who are blind, disabled, or suffering from nasty infections may be hard for younger kids to take. And for those who are a bit squeamish, the film shows a veterinarian performing sterilization surgery on a cat in great detail.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a cat or animal lover, Cats of Rome is essential viewing that focuses on a noble cause – just make sure she can handle seeing some of the less fortunate cats as described in the above paragraph.

When in Rome, groom as the Romans groom.

Cats of Rome
* Director: Michael W. Hunt
* Screenwriters: Gerald Hunt, Randi Graham, Jenna Dolan, Barbara Palmer, Hope Traficanti
* Stars: A couple hundred cats, Keith Burberry (narrator)
* MPAA Rating: N/A

Rent Cats of Rome from Netflix >>

March 17, 2010

He likes me! He really likes me!

"HE" IS CAL OVER AT Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness, who has bestowed upon FilmFather the Creative Blogger Award. As I said in my reply to him, thank you're quite a creative fellow as well.

Based on what Cal did for his "acceptance speech" post, it looks like I have to give the Creative Blogger Award to seven other bloggers, then state five facts about me. Here goes...

Steve at You're Only As Good As Your Last Picture
Gilligan at retrospace
Kristin at Peanuts and Pumpkins (and not just because she's my wife; she often writes more creative headlines than I do at my paying job)
Michael at Cinema du Meep
Lance and John at Kindertrauma
Chris at When is Evil Cool?
Jason at Out-Numbered

And now, five fascinating facts about me...
  1. I used to live down the block from Jon Bon Jovi's cousin's funeral home.
  2. My favorite Spider-Man villain is The Lizard.
  3. My favorite Batman villain is Two-Face.
  4. My adult film name (first pet's name + street you grew up on) would be Smokey Arlington.
  5. If given the choice, my last meal would be Alaskan king crab legs, Laffy Taffy, and a shot of Jim Beam.

March 11, 2010

Bolt (2008)

ONCE AGAIN, my wife and I have dipped our toes into PG-rated waters with Dash and Jack-Jack. (Previous toe-dipping includes The Incredibles and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.) This week’s parentally-guided film: Disney’s 2008 feature Bolt.

Bolt (John Travolta) is the canine star of his own TV show, where every week he saves his human friend Penny (Miley Cyrus) from the clutches of evil Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell). However, Bolt believes that everything that happens on his show is real. At the end of shooting a cliffhanger episode, Bolt believes Penny’s actually been kidnapped by Dr. Calico – prompting Bolt to escape the Hollywood set of his show to “rescue” her. He winds up falling into a shipping box and sent to New York City, where he recruits the help of alley cat Mittens (Susie Essman) to get him back home to Los Angeles and reunite with Penny. While stopping to beg for food at an RV campsite, Bolt and Mittens meet Rhino (Mark Walton), a hamster in an exercise ball who also happens to be a huge fan of Bolt’s TV show (which Rhino also thinks is real). Needless to say, Rhino doesn’t hesitate to join Bolt and Mittens on their journey, hoping to encounter danger along the way.


Compared to Pixar’s vastly superior films, Disney’s own CGI features have sputtered a bit – producing the pretty good (Chicken Little) as well as the forgettable (The Wild). But with Bolt, the Mouse House take a sizable step forward, thanks largely to a solid script by Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams that focuses on storytelling and character development with minimal pop culture references (I’m looking at you, DreamWorks).

There are also lots of funny scenes and sequences woven throughout the story, including Mittens teaching Bolt the proper way to beg; a hilarious trio of Noo Yawk pigeons (voiced by Lino DiSalvo, Todd Cummings, and Tim Mertens); and an ongoing bit about the supposed Kryptonite-like powers of Styrofoam.

In addition to a strong story and characters, the animation of this Disney-only production is nearly on par with its Disney/Pixar brethren. None of this should come as a shock, since Pixar co-founder (and Disney Chief Creative Officer) John Lasseter executive-produced the film.

Bolt is enjoyable to watch, not contrived or derived. It’s definitely a contender for repeat viewings – and it’ll have a longer shelf life than the latest Madagascar or Shrek sequel. Here’s hoping the Pixar influence continues to help Disney’s own animated films blossom.

* In addition to several Annie Award nominations, Bolt was also nominated for a 2008 Oscar for Best Animated Film, but there was another nominee that deservedly won.
* Much like Lou Romano (Linguini) in Ratatouille, Disney writer/animator Walton got the job as the voice of Rhino from the strength of his “scratch track” (a recording used as a temporary placeholder during the recording and editing process).


What did Dash think?
* Dash really liked it, and hands-down the biggest hit for both him and Jack-Jack was Rhino. They were talking about and quoting that little hamster for days afterwards, particularly a little victory song and dance Rhino does to celebrate a daring escape.
* In the better-late-than-never department: With about 20 minutes left in the film, Jack-Jack asked us, “Why is the white dog talking?”

Is it suitable for your kids?
Bolt is rated PG for “mild action and peril.” To wit: Bolt is chased by bad guys who launch rockets at him, and helicopters are blown up with pilots inside them (both part of Bolt's TV show); Bolt dangles Mittens over a busy highway; and there’s a fiery climax that may be a bit much for very young children. There’s also one use of pepper spray and one scene of dog butt-sniffing.

Will your FilmMother like it?
Very much so. Bolt has all the ingredients of a winning film: good story, good animation, laughs, themes of friendship and believing in yourself. In fact, if you don’t have kids or they’re too little to watch, it’s also a great rental for grown-ups, too.

“Well it’s-a Greased Lightninnn’ (Bolt)!”
Y’know, because John Travolta sang that song in Grease,
and he’s the voice of Bolt…

Lightning...Bolt...Lightning bolt.
Whatever. Think you can do better?

* Directors: Byron Howard, Chris Williams
* Screenwriters: Dan Fogelman, Chris Williams
* Stars: John Travolta, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Miley Cyrus, Malcolm McDowell
* MPAA Rating: PG (mild action and peril)

March 2, 2010

Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies (2001)

Schlock! chronicles the decades-long business of exploitation cinema, which first appeared during America’s post-WWII boom of prosperity. Finding an outlet on TV with the dawn of Vampira’s “Movie Macabre” TV show of the 1950s, the exploitation film biz churned out countless B-movies every year, including titles from the ’50 and early ‘60s such as The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Saucer Men, War of the Colossal Beast, The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, and Carnival of Souls. As years passed, these low-budget cheapies shifted their core themes from Atomic-Age fears and teenage adolescence to the sexploitation comedies of the ‘60s, followed by more graphic, gory exploitation films of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.


Schlock! features numerous interviews with pioneers of the exploitation movement, such as directors Roger Corman and David F. Friedman, actor Dick Miller, and producer Samuel Z. Arkoff. It’s interesting to hear these filmmakers give firsthand descriptions of how they approached their work, and how they kept it highly profitable while the big studios struggled to reach the same audiences.

But beyond the interviewees, Schlock! – while informative and impressive in its roundup of archival footage – lacks in execution. It comes off as a bit textbook or pedestrian for tackling such a salacious subject. (Writer/director Ray Greene’s mellow, subdued narration doesn’t help matters.)

However, what Greene may have accomplished with Schlock! is what any good documentary does: It drives you to explore more about the subject matter. And that’s exactly what Schlock! achieves: It whets your appetite just enough to make you want to seek out the movies that appear in Greene’s film. So in that aspect, congrats to him.

Side note: In my career in advertising, I’ve actually had the chance to meet exploitation filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis (director of Blood Feast and partner of Friedman). After he stopped making movies in the early ‘70s, Lewis became a guru in the world of direct marketing. If you saw Juno, you’ll remember Ellen Page and Jason Bateman discussing Lewis’ work versus legendary horror director Dario Argento. Bateman then has Page watch Lewis’ film The Wizard of Gore. (For the record, I agree with Bateman's character that Argento is merely “okay.”)


Is it appropriate for kids?
Despite the campiness and kitsch of the subject matter, Schlock! has some scenes of drug use (LSD and marijuana), plus copious amounts of nudity and graphic violence – as well as graphic close-ups of childbirth and venereal disease symptoms (thanks to scenes from the so-called “clap opera” social hygiene films of the ‘50s).

Will your FilmMother like it?
Eh. It might be more fun to sit down with her and rent some of the films that were covered in Schlock!, rather than watch the documentary itself.

Up next for the Supreme Court: The case of Water v. Wet.

Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies
* Director: Ray Greene
* Screenwriter: Ray Greene
* Stars: Roger Corman, David F. Friedman, Dick Miller, Vampira, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Harry Novak, Doris Wishman
* MPAA Rating: N/A


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