Only Yesterday (1991, Isao Takahata)

Thirty-ish Taeko is helping harvest crops with relatives in the country as a vacation, hanging out with a hottie neighbor who will obviously be a love interest. Meanwhile Taeko is reviewing her life to this point with extended flashback stories of when she was ten, the frequency of cuts between time periods gradually increasing until they blend wonderfully over the closing credits. In a few spots it’s overly slow or precious or obvious, but it also has 10-12 moments of magical beauty like that final scene.

Nice stylistic choice to make backgrounds in the memory scenes pale and faded at the edges, lacking the environmental details of the present-day. The highest grossing Japanese film of 1991, but poorly treated in the states… it wasn’t supposed to be The Menstruation Movie until Disney acted like the film’s third-graders and refused to touch it unless the icky girl stuff was removed.

Noel Murray:

Only Yesterday can sometimes seem a little too random in what it chooses to show, but it has a cumulative power as Taeko comes to understand that the past that shaped her needn’t define her. That’s a remarkably sophisticated theme for any film, let alone a cartoon. But then what else should we expect from a filmmaker so precise that he’d spend five minutes describing the exact texture and taste of a piece of fruit?

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1997)

We’re dumped into the middle of a complex situation in a mechanized future city, where teenage kids are piloting giant robots to fend off invading aliens, or “angels,” then as the show settles into a groove of one angel per episode (each requiring either skill, strategy, or brute force/rage to defeat) it gradually fills in the details – some of them, anyway. Plenty of questions remain: why teenagers? Where do the alien-angels come from, and how are they connected to the apparently partly-biological robots (or “evas”)? Who’s the shadowy organization that runs the shadowy organization that runs the eva program and where did they get their plans and prophecies from? Why do the main characters have a pet penguin? And why is every single character in this show extremely neurotic?

I get that we’re in Japan, so of course there are teenagers piloting giant robots and of course there’s an out-of-place, comic-relief pet penguin. These traditions endure from Voltron to Macross/Robotech to Gundam to American movies like Robot Jox and Pacific Rim. I just played a 2015 Japanese video game in which cool dudes and underdressed sexy ladies pilot giant robots to kill marauding aliens, accompanied by a comic-relief talking potato, so it’s still going strong.

Our heroes:

Things get dark quickly:

The show is obsessed with numbering things (the third child, unit 04, seventh construction phase of tokyo-3, twelfth angel, second branch, code 707), feeling at times like the script was written in Excel. Set in the futuristic time of 2015-2016.

Seele or Nerv or something:

Our tormented lead character is Shinji. He lives with Misato, a hard-drinkin’ penguin-owner who runs mission control along with ex-rival Ritsuko and ex-flame Kaji, or actually I’m not sure what any of their jobs are because I watched the show slowly and missed or forgot some details. Also living with them is super-cocky pilot Asuka, whose whole world falls apart if she can’t be the best at everything. And living on her own is the quiet, often-injured Rei. Everyone has major, major parental and/or love-life issues, the worst of which is that Shinji’s dad Ikari runs the shadowy Eva organization Nerv but has never once spoken to his son with affection, and has a weird offscreen relationship with Rei, who he might be cloning.

Rei-clones:

Ikari-hand:

Then in the final episodes, instead of polishing off the story it dives into the tortured minds of the lead characters for an experimental-film psychoanalysis session. “This is the me that exists in your mind.” Shinji meets the perfect friend who turns out to be the final angel and must be killed by Shinji’s own hands. Asuka’s and Shinji’s moms die repeatedly in flashback. Ikari talks to an eyeball in his disfigured hand. Rei keeps being resurrected. Even the penguin is sent to live with someone else. Finally, Shinji reaches self-acceptance. “It’s okay for me to be here.” I found parts of the final episodes whiny and repetitive, but over the next few days warmed up to the idea of the whole series having been a prolonged Shinji therapy session.


The End of Evangelion (1997)

Then, the movie remakes those last two episodes the way the fans preferred: with mad apocalypse instead of therapy. There are still sexual and parental hangups, petty grievances, inter-agency power struggles, and everyone’s still super lonely and unhappy, but now there’s more sci-fi storyline to go with it. Nine new winged evas are unleashed along with military forces upon our Tokyo base, decimating it. Asuka goes on the biggest homicidal rampage of all time, taking down all the new evas, then Shinji has the biggest crippling self-doubt paralysis of all time, then every other character in the entire series is killed, then Rei becomes a planet-sized god, rapturing and absorbing the souls of all humanity. Unfortunately, the underground control panel nerds stay alive until the very end so they can keep spouting nonsense:

“Ikari has installed a Type 666 firewall on the MAGI’s external feed circuits.”

“Psychograph signal down!”

and my favorite,

“Pilot response approaching infinite zero!”

Said to be one of the best anime series ever… after this and Paranoia Agent I wonder what I should try next. Apparently Death & Rebirth is a skippable movie, condensed from the series and End of Evangelion movie, and there’s a trilogy of remake movies from 2007-2012 from the original creative team, which might be good, but I’ll hold off watching those since Wikipedia says there’s a part four coming. Writer/director Hideaki Anno apparently created the series (particularly the finale) in response to his own battle with depression. He started out as an animator on Nausicaa, also made Cutie Honey (which I enjoyed), some other kid/teen animated shows, and I guess he’s making the next Godzilla movie. Codirector Kazuya Tsurumaki directed the weirdo series FLCL.

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.