April 16th, 2008
02:54 PM ET

The Disney tradition

Ollie Johnston, the last of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men," died Monday. He was 95.

Ollie Johnston was the last of the Disney stable of animators known as the "Nine Old Men."

Johnston and his colleagues, including Frank Thomas, Eric Larson and Ward Kimball, are the animators responsible for that distinctive invention: the "Disney film," the feature-length animated classics that include "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio," "Fantasia" and "Lady and the Tramp." The early films, in particular, are flawless combinations of art and story, so timeless and indestructible the studio could release them every seven years and instill a sense of wonder each time.

Today we live in an age of computer animation, technologically spectacular but sometimes wanting creatively. Too many films substitute artistic detail for story, something that Walt Disney didn't tolerate, especially in the early days. (As noted in Neal Gabler's brilliant biography "Walt Disney," he rode his animators hard but maintained a paternal relationship until a mid-'40s union dispute. Indeed, the contrasts between the buttoned-down Disney and the wild men over at Warner Bros.' "Termite Terrace," chafing under the stewardship of Leon Schlesinger, say much about the style of their productions.)

There are notable exceptions, none better than Disney's natural successor (and affiliate), Pixar. In the "Toy Story" films, "Monsters Inc." and particularly Brad Bird's amazing work, you can see the attention to detail - including story detail - Disney would have enjoyed. The Nine Old Men would be proud.

It's no surprise that both Johnston and Thomas had small roles in Bird's "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles." They knew who upheld tradition.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
April 11th, 2008
01:57 PM ET

Coming up 'big'

Did "big" make a difference?

(Clockwise from top left) Lil' Brotha, Scar, Khujo Goodie, Janelle Monae and Sam Chris arrive at "big."

The new ballet, a collaboration between OutKast's Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and the Atlanta Ballet, premiered Thursday night to a packed house at Atlanta's 4,500-seat Fox Theater. The idea of pairing one of hip-hop's biggest stars with the often staid world of the ballet was innovative enough - but how would the audience react?

During the intermission hip-hop fans said the night would be a critical turning point for the artistic community. One man echoed a sentiment I heard throughout the night, saying it was time to "take the stigma of hip-hop off the streets and back onto the stage."

The night was pivotal to the ballet regulars, too. Many said the ballet community was feeling a lag, with attendance numbers dropping and a lack of enthusiasm. If putting a hip-hop star on stage performing with a live band reinvigorated the ballet community, most were all for it.

One 75-year-old woman I spoke to observed she had no idea who Big Boi was or what any of his songs were saying - but it didn't matter. Seeing a room filled with children, teens and young adults at the ballet. ­That was priceless, she said.

Indeed, one of the most telling signs of "big's" success was the number of families in the audience. As parents ushered their kids to their seats, one father told me he never goes to the ballet; his wife and daughters usually go, but he and the boys stay at home. But tonight, he said, he was going to be there.

The audience's enthusiasm was evident throughout the evening. It seemed if the crowd would jump up any moment to dance along with the show, which at times gave off more of a concert vibe than a ballet. Stifled by perhaps the more subdued atmosphere of the Fox, many chose instead to dance in their seats.

And no classical show I've ever been to has ended with the cast on stage and some of the youngest performers tearing it up with their freestyle dance. As the entire audience rose to its feet, howling and applauding, Big Boi broke out one of OutKast's biggest hits: "I Like the Way You Move." Move they sure did, and moving it was.

- Mallory Simon, CNN.com Writer

Filed under: Uncategorized
April 9th, 2008
02:38 PM ET

Magic at the Stone Temple Pilots reunion

A swarthy man in black pants and a ruffled shirt walked into the room.

Scott Weiland and Dean DeLeo perform at the Stone Temple Pilots show Monday night.

"Are you the fire eater?" asked the bass player of Stone Temple Pilots.

"Yes. Are you Robert DeLeo?" replied Ted the Fire Eater.

And that pretty much summed up the carnival atmosphere Monday night at Los Angeles’ Houdini Mansion, once the home of the famed magician, where a Fellini-esque assortment of contortionists, sword swallowers and waiters serving up hot dogs and churros set the stage for the return of the Stone Temple Pilots.

But then everything surrounding the band has been a three-ring circus.

Monday night's private event in Laurel Canyon officially announced STP's first national tour in eight years. They'd been broken up for five, after several years of alternately pumping out hits and trying to hold it together during Scott Weiland's well-publicized battle with drugs.

In 2008, the mood backstage is quite different than it was during the Grammy-winning quartet's tumultuous heyday. Guitarist Dean DeLeo - who's struggled with his own demons - will notch his fourth year of sobriety in a few days. Their happy-go-lucky drummer, Eric Kretz, is even happier these days, with a wife and young child. In the meantime, Robert DeLeo's angelic two-year-old son, Duke, walked in, sporting a miniature peace-sign shirt. He serenaded the room with "It's a small world after all," perfectly on-pitch. His father groaned and mumbled something about how he'd better not grow up and become a singer. Weiland glanced over, unfazed.

Outside, 300 radio contest winners and VIPs gathered in front of a platform draped with bunting. It looked like a life-sized marionette stage - a giant toy strangely nestled among the trees in the middle of a residential community. The band was scheduled to perform at 8:15 p.m. Just before 9, STP casually strolled onto the stage. Weiland spoke into the mic.

"Sorry to keep you waiting - for five years," he said.

They also apologized for Ted the Fire Eater, saying the fire marshal wouldn't allow him to do his thing.

A sea of cell phone cameras immediately popped up as the reunited Stone Temple Pilots launched into the slow, psychedlic groove of 1994's "Big Empty." For the next 30 minutes, they presented faithful renditions of some of their biggest hits, including "Plush," "Lady Picture Show" and "Interstate Love Song." Weiland leaned into Dean's back during a guitar solo on one song; he draped an arm around Robert's shoulders during another.

The set abruptly ended at 9:30 - a victim of the local noise ordinance. Amid chants of "S-T-P! S-T-P!," the four bandmates returned to the stage for a bow, their arms linked. Fans will just have to wait for their 65-date tour for a real encore. Like Ted the Fire Eater, Stone Temple Pilots are waiting for their chance to truly ignite once again.

- Denise Quan, CNN Entertainment Reporter

Check out Denise Quan's one-on-one interview with the Stone Temple Pilots on CNN Headine News and CNN.com this weekend.

Filed under: Uncategorized
April 3rd, 2008
12:33 PM ET

No words

Jules Dassin died the other day. You may know the director's name from his best-known films, “Never on Sunday” and “Topkapi,” the former for the performance by Dassin’s future wife, Melina Mercouri, and the latter for its Oscar-winning turn by Peter Ustinov.

Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin are shown in 1960. Dassin's films included "Topkapi," "Never on Sunday" and "Rififi."

But then there’s “Rififi,” which should be more famous than it is.

At the heart of “Rififi,” which Dassin directed in 1954 when he was down on his luck due to the Hollywood blacklist, is an almost 30-minute sequence showing a robbery. Not a word is spoken, not a note of music is heard. (After all, the thieves need complete silence.) You want tension? “Rififi” builds it beautifully.

“Rififi” has me thinking of other wordless (if not necessarily music-less) sequences in the movies. “There Will Be Blood,” which is due for release on DVD Tuesday, begins with essentially no speech for the first 15 minutes or so – a thematic echo (pardon the word choice), down to the occasional ominous music, of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which has no dialogue for the first 20 minutes. (“Blood” director Paul Thomas Anderson has talked about his affinity for “2001” director Stanley Kubrick.)

And though it’s melodramatic, complete with musical stings, I can’t help but remember (SPOILER!) the climactic scene of “Bang the Drum Slowly,” in which Robert De Niro’s ailing baseball catcher loses track of a pop-up, quietly hammering home his fate.

A dialogue-less sequence can be difficult to pull off, but when it works, the result can ... well, leave you speechless.

What are some of your favorites?

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
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