British Animation Classics Vol. 2

Cafe Bar (1974, Alison De Vere)

Imaginative – couple sitting at a cafe table create and remove disguises, fight dinosaurs and minotaurs, turn into The Red Baron, trek across each other’s heads and ski down each other’s fronts. Looks like this was the first of a few essential animated films De Vere made.


Manipulation (1991, Daniel Greaves)

Covered this before in an Oscar-winning shorts roundup, but rewatching with much nicer picture quality. Generic dude is drawn by animator then discarded, but the dude becomes sentient, plays with drops of ink, worries about his 2D nature. Animator torments the dude for a while until he explodes with rage, becoming freed from his paper prison. It’s fully wonderful. Looks like Greaves put out a new short, Mr. Plastimime, since last time I watched this, playing last year’s Edinburgh fest.


Little Wolf (1992, An Vrombaut)

The littlest wolf in a sheep-hunting wolf parade gets himself stuck on the moon. The others try to get him down while the sheep interferes. I especially liked the “doyyng-doyyng” sound effects. The director is Belgian, has lately been making animated kids’ TV series. According to her website, she likes giraffes very much.


Oozat (1992, Darren Walsh)

I love stop-motion with human actors. Here they’ve got replaceable facemasks with different expressions. Dude meets some guys, drinks with them at the pub, shows a different face to the lady sitting next to him, eventually mixing up his faces. I think Walsh is the creator of Angry Kid, the red-haired Aardman stop-motion hooligan I used to see… somewhere. MTV? Cartoon Network? And he worked on a Black Mirror episode I haven’t watched yet.


Deadsy (1990, David Anderson)

I think Deadsy was a disturbed young man who became a rock star then a transsexual, his story told through beat-poem narration and a mishmash of animation techniques. Not my favorite. Writer/narrator Russell Hoban was a prolific sci-fi and childrens book author… not sure what happened to Anderson.


The Sandman (1991, Paul Berry)

Timburtonian stop-motion. Kid goes to bed and a moon-faced birdman stalks into his room and steals his eyeballs to feed to baby birdmen. Cool and creepy. Based on a tale of Hoffmann. You wouldn’t think this story had been adapted for film ten times, but according to IMDB you would be wrong. Oscar-nominated the year Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase won. Unsurprisingly, Berry was later an animator on The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Rosetta (1999, Dardennes)

Doesn’t seem like my kind of thing, as I assumed it wouldn’t be from seeing L’Enfant, but at least on the HD screen at home it’s easier to take their handheld follow-cam asthetic without feeling ill, and at least now I’ve seen both of their Cannes top-prize-winning films and don’t feel like I’m missing something. I get that it’s empathetic filmmaking, and Rosetta shares with their Two Days, One Night lead character a desperate drive to survive (not some huge success, just to keep a simple, steady job) alternating with bouts of depression – both realistic and moving portrayals. But it’s also just dismal enough (ends with Rosetta unable to commit suicide because she runs out of gas) that I felt more bummed out by the scenario than uplifted by the great humanist filmmaking. Admittedly it grows on you after a few days – and now I’m behind on the blog so it’s been a month, and it has definitely stuck with me.

Rosetta lives in a trailer park with her drunk mom, has stomach pains, and is seriously pissed at having lost her job in the opening scene. Soon she takes another girl’s job making waffle batter, loses it almost immediately when the boss decides to hire his son instead, so she rats on her only friend Riquet (who has been selling his own homemade waffles on the sly) and takes his job. Yes, it’s a Belgian movie with a serious emphasis on waffle making. Being stalked by Riquet, she phones in her resignation and goes home to kill herself and her mom, which she hasn’t managed to do by the time Riquet shows up, so I suppose it’s a happy ending?

Waffler confrontation:

Slant:

What makes Rosetta unique, though, is its lead character’s determination to reveal and destroy any hint of surrounding weakness threatening to subvert her singular direction in life. Rosetta would rather risk Riquet physically retaliating against her than be linked to his illegal operation—or die trying to save her mother from the bottle instead of sticking her head in the sand. Both scenarios prove the character’s fundamental need to exist within a state of hardened reality, not soft fantasy.

Ebert, who mentions Mouchette and Vagabond:

It doesn’t strive for our sympathy or make any effort to portray Rosetta as colorful, winning or sympathetic. It’s a film of economic determinism, the story of a young woman for whom employment equals happiness. Or so she thinks until she has employment and is no happier, perhaps because that is something she has simply never learned to be.

Rosetta: Émilie Dequenne was later in a Téchiné movie and Brotherhood of the Wolf. Her semi-friend Riquet: Fabrizio Rongione has been in most Dardenne movies since, also La Sapienza. As the waffle boss: Olivier Gourmet, which sounds like a French name I’d make up as a joke, who has been in every Dardenne movie since La Promesse, also Time of the Wolf (not Brotherhood of the Wolf). This won the palme and best actress at Cannes (up against All About My Mother, Pola X, Kikujiro, Ghost Dog) but the Césars preferred Venus Beauty Institute.

Those Dardennes:

The documentaries that we used to make, you go to film a reality that exists outside of you and you don’t have control over it — it resists your camera. You have to take it as it is. So we try to keep that aspect of documentary into our fiction, to film something that resists us … We want to remain on the level of the things as they are and not impose on them.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, David Lynch)

I have mixed feelings about this one. Felt like Lynch already reclaimed Twin Peaks for himself in the final episode of the series. Sheryl Lee is great, and it’s a good movie about her increasingly troubled youth, dodging her upright boyfriend James to hang out with drug-supplying Bobby (who kills a guy in the woods), and grappling with her realization that her tormentor “Bob” is actually her father. Lynch’s heart may have been on poor Laura’s side, wanting to spend time with her while she was alive, but it comes off as a redundant prequel, full of fan-servicing cameos by the show’s cast and decisions based more on actor availability than artistic concerns.

Lynch practically writes Agent Cooper out of the show, replacing him with Chris Isaak (and wonderful sidekick Kiefer Sutherland) in a long opening segment about the disappearance of Laura’s associate Teresa Banks and her mysterious ring, but he can’t write out Laura’s best friend Donna. Lara Flynn Boyle was a superstar in 1992, appearing in Wayne’s World and Matthew Modine identical-twin thriller Equinox, so Moira Kelly (With Honors, The Cutting Edge) is the new Donna. The whole Horne family is missing too (Sherilyn Fenn was costarring with Danny Aiello in a movie about the JFK assassination from Jack Ruby’s point of view) though they’re mentioned in the deleted scenes.

Peaceful domestic scene:

Rewatched this the night Bowie died. He has a tiny role in the movie, but fits into Lynch’s netherworld perfectly. I forget some of the Twin Peaks mythology (planning to rewatch some episodes before the new one comes out), but I’m into this brigade Lynch was building of dimension-hopping special agents: Kyle, Bowie and Isaak. Re-reading a Cinema Scope article from when the deleted scenes came out, there are plenty of interesting connections to the series that I missed from not having watched it in 14 years.

Who can identify all the people in Whatever Lodge This Is? There’s Bob and MJ Anderson up front, then we’ve got papier-mache-face, cane fella, old woman, suit kid, and the fake beard brothers. According to a Twin Peaks-dedicated wiki, the old woman is Mrs. Tremond and “her intentions are unclear”.

Thanks, Wikipedia… so the red-curtained, zigzag-floored place is The Black Lodge, and that’s one-armed Mike sitting with MJ Anderson (who refers to himself as “the arm” in the film) facing Bob and Leland.

Same ending as Orlando?

A Bug’s Life (1998, John Lasseter & Andrew Stanton)

Haven’t watched this since theaters. Blu-ray version 17 years later reinforces first impression that it’s pretty good. Man, Pixar has come a long way with 3D textures. Misfit inventor ant is exiled for causing havoc and getting the ants in trouble with the bully grasshoppers, finds help in the form of failed circus act, returns and fails to save the day but succeeds in convincing his fellow ants to stand up to oppression.

Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino)

Haven’t seen this in 18 years, so I’d forgotten most of it, and didn’t realize it contains The Definitive Samuel L. Jackson Performance.

Sam Goody:

Shot by Tarantino buddy Robert Rodriguez’s cinematographer Guillermo Navarro – close-ups galore and terrific acting. Part of a mid-90’s cinematic Elmore Leonard craze, between Get Shorty and Out of Sight. Grier, Forster and Jackson got various awards and nominations. Only Forster made it to the oscars, though… jeez, it was an all-white year at the oscars except for a 4 Little Girls documentary nomination.

Keaton, the year after Multiplicity. De Niro shortly before he turned to self-mocking comedy in Analyze This and never looked back. Bridget Fonda apparently retired after 2002. Jackson would continue the 1970’s references with his Shaft remakquel. Chris Tucker’s Fifth Element costar Tiny Lister appears as Forster’s employee at the bail-bond place.

Unfortunately Pam Grier’s follow-ups don’t look so good: Chris Elliott comedy Snow Day, Fortress 2, Snoop Dogg’s Bones, Ghosts of Mars, and finally the career-killing Adventures of Pluto Nash. I assumed Jackie Brown was a comeback for her, but it looks like the movies she made the year before were better than any that came after: Mars Attacks, Escape From L.A. and Larry Cohen’s Original Gangstas.

Mindwarp (1992, Steve Barnett)

Rebellious young Judy (Marta Alicia of Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure) is rebelling against Infinisynth, the mind-control company that provides her family with virtual-reality escapism via a data port in the back of their necks. She’s chastised by the Systems Operator for invading her mom’s dreams and soon expelled into the wastelands outside their cushy VR-fueled apartment building, where she’s discovered and protected by post-apocalyptic survivalist Bruce Campbell and threatened by a cult of underground mutants led by Angus Scrimm.

Angus displays his ID card:

Bruce displays a possum:

So it’s Ash vs. The Tall Man in a post-apocalyptic virtual-reality sci-fi/horror… in HD. But it’s poorly made, dingy looking and dull, all those promising ideas and cast members wasted on a movie that doesn’t quite work. At least it continues to get weirder, Angus having his mutants comb through the ruins of civilization for useful junk, occasionally sacrificing a mutant via his person-juicing-machine. He reveals that he’s Judy’s father and reveals his plan to repopulate the earth with her in the same scene. Bruce proves an ineffective protector, is fed to pirahnas. Then Angus says it was all a test, that he’s the SysOp of the VR universe and he wants his daughter to take over. Then that was all a dream – then that was all a dream. The Matrix and Existenz would use similar ideas with improved cinematography.

Judy’s mutant army:

Sleep pods from Je t’aime, je t’aime:

SysOp Guy Fieri:

Produced by the short-lived Fangoria Films, who at least attracted good casts, with Oliver Reed and Karen Black in their other early-90’s movies. From the director of Scanner Cop II and Hollywood Boulevard II (no way), written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3 and 4, The Net). At least something good came out of this movie – Bruce Campbell married the costume designer. Also, it appears to have invented the roomba.

Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (1993, Charles Band)

“Full Moon Entertainment Presents”

1993 was the year of Puppet Master 4, Remote (IMDB: “my best advice is to skip it”), Mandroid (from the writer of Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain), Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (sequel to Mandroid), Arcade (with Seth Green, “a virtual reality game begins taking over the minds of teenagers”), dinosaur flick Prehysteria, Robot Wars (Robot Jox sequel starring Barbara Crampton) and Subspecies 2.

Dollman and the nurse… can you tell how tiny they are?

Another guy is breaking into the toy warehouse from Demonic Toys? New security guard (Phil Fondacaro, the troll in Troll) doesn’t notice this guy just wandering in and dying on the floor, then the toys are back in town – plus an army guy and minus the teddy bear I think, taking the Puppet Master approach of adding and removing evil toys on a whim.

I like the new PTSD-GI-Joe doll:

Weirdly power-hungry dwarf security guard:

Elsewhere, tiny Dollman finds a hot tiny girl who “got shrunk by aliens” – I don’t remember this happening. Turns out this is a crossover between Dollman, Demonic Toys, and something called Bad Channels (“in space, no one is safe from rock ‘n’ roll”). How do I know? Because Dollman vs. Demonic Toys – only a one-hour movie – spends as much time as possible running flashbacks from its three predecessors.

Can Dollman, shrunken Nurse Jude and Demonic Toys survivor Tracy Scoggins keep the Toys from taking over? Yes, easily. Dollman shoots them with his little gun and they explode. Sorry for the total lack of suspense. Before that, the Toys are warping prostitutes into another dimension in order to summon their master (the Puppet Master?), and the final showdown involves the Baby toy trying to rape the shrunken nurse. Directed by madman Charles Band himself and written by Tarantino friend Craig Hamann, both of whom should stay away from children.

Life Is Sweet (1990, Mike Leigh)

Sometimes in the middle of SHOCKtober you need to take a break and watch something called Life Is Sweet. Hoping the title isn’t a pun on the faux-punk character’s episodes of binging on candy bars then vomiting them up. The whole thing’s a bit less cheerful than the title would suggest, but it’s implied that everyone (except maybe poor Timothy Spall) will turn out alright.

Jim Broadbent (not yet an internationally beloved figure, he was at the time a Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam regular who’d recently appeared in Superman IV) and Alison Steadman (also in a Gilliam movie, and Mrs. Bennett in the Pride & Prejudice mini-series) live in a row house with twin daughters Nat (a boyish plumber) and Nicola (unemployed punk with gross food issues). There’s not much to the movie plot-wise – Jim buys a fixer-upper food truck from buddy Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, V for Vendetta) but doesn’t fix it up, and the family helps a very goofy Timothy Spall (who was unsurprisingly absent from cinemas for a half-decade after this performance, hopefully toning it down for Leigh’s Secrets & Lies in 1996) with his restaurant opening.

The restaurant thing is a huge failure and seems to take up half of the movie’s runtime. The simple family relations held more of my interest, especially when involving the grounded Nat (Claire Skinner of Leigh’s Naked) and unstable Nicola (Jane Horrocks in Roeg’s The Witches the same year, later star of Little Voice) who has a breakdown after her poseur politics get taken down by boyfriend David Thewlis, finally allowing herself to be consoled by her mom. Also, Broadbent and Steadman laugh constantly, all movie long, which is extremely comforting given what’s going on around them.

Mike D’A:

The mid-film reveal of Andy as a chef in charge of a large staff remains one of my all-time favorite “plot twists” … Life Is Sweet accomplishes everything Leigh would later attempt in Happy-Go-Lucky, except far more subtly and spread across multiple characters.

Autumn Tale (1998, Eric Rohmer)

Last of the Four Seasons, and the only one I had to watch at home (in HD, at least) since I missed the theatrical screening. Still a total pleasure. Maybe the happiest of the four, with no heartbreaking decisions to make, just a will-they-or-won’t-they with a couple that’s obviously good for each other.

Magali:

Actually there’s a bit of craziness in the middle, when Isabelle reveals to the man she’s dating that she’s actually married. Isabelle (Marie Rivière, star of The Green Ray and The Aviator’s Wife) has posted a personals ad and attracted Gerald (Alain Libolt of Lady and the Duke, also thief Renaud of Out 1), then after screening him on a few outings, she admits she was acting on a friend’s behalf – prickly vineyard owner Magali (Béatrice Romand of A Good Marriage and Claire’s Knee) who is lonely but refuses to go looking for love.

Gerald & Isabelle:

Magali finally meets Gerald at Isabelle’s daughter Emilia’s wedding, where, not knowing of Isabelle’s plot, Rosine (Magali’s son’s girlfriend) also tries to hook her professor ex-boyfriend up with Magali. That fails immediately – after all the build-up, the two spend about thirty seconds together then the professor wanders off to talk with younger women. Magali misunderstands the Gerald situation and runs off angrily, then she and Gerald return to the wedding looking for each other, and all is well.

Rosine introduces Magali to the professor:

Interesting that all three leads are Rohmer regulars, since the other movies were mostly cast with unknowns. Maybe the Béatrice Romand-starring A Good Marriage should be my next Rohmer, since she was such fun to watch in this movie. This played at Venice alongside Run Lola Run, New Rose Hotel and Black Cat White Cat, winning best screenplay.