The Lion and the Song (1959, Bretislav Pojar)

Accordion player wandering the sand dunes finds an oasis and amuses the desert creatures with a pantomime dance, with his cape representing his lost love. Lion is more hungry than amused, eats our man, then dies of internal accordion-related pains. Czech stop-motion puppetry, obviously very good even in my old SD copy.


My Green Crocodile (1967, Vadim Kurchevsky)

A crocodile who adores flowers meets a beautiful cow, and they fall in love based on their shared interests, though the other crocs and hippos scoff at their relationship. When autumn arrives, the cow declares their love is gone with the flowers and leaves, so the croc in desperation climbs a tree and transforms himself into a green leaf. The narrator seems to approve of this action, though it feels like a downer ending. Loved the harpist moon.


Film Film Film (1968, Fyodor Khitruk)

Opens with a slideshow/montage music video, then goes into a comic parody of the process of feature filmmaking. After the tormented, sporadically inspired, often suicidal screenwriter creates a perfect script, the valium-popping director takes a hundred meetings, modifying the script each time. And so on – equipment problems, child actors, a tense premiere. 2D animation with a few cool bits and a sixties-rockin’ theme song. I wouldn’t have pegged this as the same guy who started making Winnie the Pooh shorts the next year.

how a cinematographer works:


How A Sausage Dog Works (1971, Julian Antonisz)

Some animation techniques using gels and layers and liquids that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Narrator with a high, irritating voice, untranslated. Based on the title, I might’ve assumed the vision of a dachshund full of gears with a heart in the middle, but I didn’t predict the dachshund being squished underfoot by the devil. Without translation, I don’t have a clear idea of what is happening here, but it looks like pure lunacy, and I love it.


Apel (The Roll-Call, 1971, Ryszard Czekala)

Shadowy semi-figures – smeary motion-blurs and tops of heads.
Not much of a roll call – the only words are Down/Up/Fire – a military commander or prison guard yells commands at a mass of bald figures. After one refuses to obey and is killed, all the rest refuse to obey and are killed. Not the most uplifting little movie but it has a cool look I guess?


Crane’s Feathers (1977, Ideya Garanina)

Convincingly Japanese-looking stop-motion tale of the Crane Wife. I do love cranes, and ten-minute tragedies. Does our lead guy hang his head low at the end? You bet he does.


King’s Sandwich (1985, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy)

Weird intro, steampunk imagery over the sound of a workout video. So far, all the stop-motion shorts – the Lion, the Crocodile and the Crane – have featured butterflies. This is 2D animation with a nude man and a sausage dog and a cigar-smoking cat dancing with a busty cow – but no butterflies… oops, I watched this thinking it was Khrzhanovskiy’s Butterfly from 1972. This one’s the story of a fussy king who just wants butter for his bread, despite the gigantic queen and the dairymaid trying to convince him to try marmalade instead, while shadowy security agents lurk absolutely everywhere. Bleepy electronic soundtrack.


Repeat (1995, Michaela Pavlatova)

Sketchbook 2D with crosshatch texture. Tight repeating behaviors: a man taking his dog for a walk, a wife feeding her husband, an interrupted tryst, a dramatic breakup, repeating and colliding until the dog brings the whole thing to a halt, wakes everyone up from their motion loops, leading to an orgy, before it all starts again.


Adagio (2000, Garri Bardin)

A stop-motion funeral procession through a terrible storm by origami monk crows. All seems hopeless until a white Jesus-crow leads the way. When the white crow displays his magical powers of cleanliness, the others beat the shit out of him, but after his dramatic resurrection, they all worship him with white-crow billboards. Kind of a dour little movie with halfway decent origami.


Deputy Droopy (1955, Tex Avery)

The one where two safecrackers have to be quiet, Droopy torments them into making noise, so they keep running out to a nearby mountain to unleash their yells. Droopy’s attacks range from silly (get ’em to sit on a snapping lobster) to quite violent (wailing on ’em with a spiked board while their feet are stuck in glue). Anticlimactic hearing-aid joke at the end.

Don’t know if it counts as a short film, but we watched Spike Lee’s NYC pandemic montage, psyched that he has a new feature out in a couple weeks.

This stupid year is trying to kill my blog, but it still lives.

Movie follows tantrummy four-year-old boy Kun, voiced very unconvincingly by an 18-year-old girl, as he gradually learns simple lessons. He resents his new sister Mirai until she visits from the future and shows him scenes from their family history. He becomes the family dog, goes on a motorcycle ride with his post-WWII grandpa, flies around with the swallows, and gets Christmas Caroled into being nicer to his baby sister. I never got over Kun’s voice – maybe the English version is better.

Now I’ve seen all of the 2018 animated feature oscar nominees – the worthy winner, an all-time fave, two disappointing sequels, and… this. We’re following Hosoda’s career but seeing diminishing returns.

Cool train station agent, tho:

Quick stop-motion pans across photograph backgrounds
Cutouts and objects (paper, flowers) puppeteered across the photos,
some set to dramatic music

Circles/dots, repeating as texture, single circles used as punctuation

Multiple episodes, a series of shorts, made over 13 years.
Dedication at the end of each one, then title of the next.

Some episodes have music, some have audio from a movie or show, some silent.
Halfway in, one uses music in reverse.

Pretty consistent visual approaches, with some surprises.
Round and rectangular chiclets appear in scenes.

Long hypodermic story at the end is the most narrative yet
Word bubbles and actions that tell a story, woman seems to be in afterlife.

I finally finished the 2018 Black Mirrors… but wikipedia says while I was postponing watching this season, they went and made another season, oh no. So, only three episodes to go, not counting Bandersnatch, then I guess Charlie Brooker is gone, and we’ll see if the show continues without him.


USS Callister

Opens in a space exploration simulation run by the very Kirk-like captain Daly. Jesse Plemons is kind of a Phil Seymour Hoffman type with a Matt Damon face (haha, he played Hoffman’s son in The Master). Outside the sim, he’s the genius programmer at a gaming company run by Jimmi Simpson (lately from Under the Silver Lake), but inside, Daly’s the omnipotent tyrant boss, Jimmi his lackey, and the new girl at work (Cristin Milioti from Fargo the series) is his latest sexy captive, via some DNA-scanning tech (saliva from a drinking glass also includes the person’s consciousness, hmmm). While he’s messing up his job focusing on the simulated game-world, sim-Cristin contacts her outside self to turn the tables. Mostly this episode is notable for its fun retro Star Trek vibe. Directed by a Dr. Who vet and cowritten by a Stranger Things producer.


Arkangel

“This is your parental hub – I’m just pairing it with Sarah’s implant.” When Sarah is 3, she goes missing for a short time at the park, so her panicked mom agrees to a free trial, “completely safe,” of a permanent tracking implant that includes a sensory v-chip, keeping Sarah from seeing or hearing anything “troubling” (like her grandpa having a heart attack) for years. Not the first Black Mirror where people can be blocked like twitter trolls. When her mom finally turns off the filter, a kid at school shows her all the worst things on the internet all at once, haha. Mom (Rosemarie DeWitt, the bride in Rachel Getting Married) intervenes again when Sarah is 15, watching her experiment with drugs and sex as if her daughter is a streaming series, until Sarah finds out and smashes the surveillance tablet against her mom’s face. Directed by Jodie Foster!


Crocodile

Rob and Mia are returning from a rave when he runs over a biker on a lonely snowy road, and they throw the guy off a cliff (there are always nearby cliffs in movies) and move on with their lives. Years later, Mia (Andrea Riseborough, Mandy in Mandy) is an architect mom going to a corporate thing in The Future, when she catches up with Rob (Outlander‘s Andrew Gower), who is having major guilty thoughts about the past. She cannot deal with the past coming back to haunt her at this point in her career, so she chokes him and throws him in a room service cart, getting pretty confident about disposing of bodies. Meanwhile, an insurance investigator (Kiran Sonia Sawar of the new Riz Ahmed movie) hooks people up to a memory reading machine to find out how an orchestra musician got hit by a driverless pizza truck. Mia was a witness, and certain unwanted memories come to light during the scan, so she kills Kiran and her husband and their baby. I mean it’s kinda dystopian, but usually we get innocent victims and this time it’s “in the future if you do a murder, you’ll get caught.” Director John Hillcoat – after The Road, he made two crime movies that didn’t sound essential, and is supposedly working on a Witchfinder General remake.

Schoolkids of the Future performing a play of Hillcoat’s bootlegger drama Lawless:


Hang the DJ

The Netflix mind-reading device hidden inside our Roku knows that the Black Mirror episodes I think about most often are Video Game Horror Tester and Two Girls in Retro Land, so it gave me this right after USS Callister. Georgina Campbell (from the Geraldine Chaplin episode of Electric Dreams) and Joe Cole (of Green Room and Woodshock) go through the latest dating app, which puts expiration dates of extremely different lengths (from hours to years) on each relationship. Near the beginning, the two joke about being stuck in a simulation, and that turns out to be the case. A program exposing people to a series of experiences of different lengths to determine their precise individual tastes feels like a swipe at new Black Mirror overlords Netflix. It does finally play the Smiths song at the end, yay. Directed by Timothy “Master Ninja” Van Patten.


Metalhead

3 Scots drive a filthy car through a postapocalyptic landscape. Two are taken out quickly by the robot dogs armed with guns and tracking-device frag grenades that have decimated humanity, but Bella (Maxine Peake of this year’s Peterloo) fights back. Terminator-eye view as it chases her, but she knocks it off a cliff to buy time – there are always nearby cliffs in movies – and sets her tracking bug adrift in a bottle. Not sure I buy the resourcefulness of the murderdog, which replaces its lost limb with a kitchen knife, but I definitely buy that the security systems of cars and houses in The Future are programmed to let the dogs – presumably state security devices or Amazon delivery agents – have full access. Bella doesn’t make it. Slade made Hard Candy, hey, I was just thinking about that movie.


Black Museum

Nish (Letitia Wright, the techno-sister of Black Panther, who was nominated for an Emmy for this) is driving alone through the usual wasteland, stops at a gas station/museum, and lets proprietor Douglas Hodge (Pennyworth in the new Joker, film debut was Salome’s Last Dance) lead her around and tell overlong stories about the horror artifacts within, Nish claiming ignorance even though she’s here for revenge. Three long sections follow… first, doctor Daniel Laplaine (who played Handsome Internet Expert in Double Jeopardy) gets a transmitter so he can feel the pain of his patients, but becomes addicted to feeling sensation without any bodily repercussions and goes on a torture/murder spree. Then, Alexandra Roach (young Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady) falls into a coma and her husband Aldis Hodge (who just made waves in Clemency) agrees to let her consciousness cohabitate in his brain – but she gets annoying and he has a pause button (shades of the White Christmas episode). Both of these stories implicate the museum owner, who came up with the dodgy technologies that made them possible, but fired from the hospital after the mad doctor incident, he opened this museum with its main attraction: the VR consciousness of a condemned killer (Babs Olusanmokun of Where Is Kyra?) whom visitors can pay to electrocute on an endless loop – until Nish turns the tables, ends her dad’s torment-loop and throws in Hodge instead. Colm McCarthy also made The Girl with All the Gifts – really an all-star director slate this season.

Dr. Driller Killer:


Bojack Horseman season 3 (2016)

The one where Bojack thinks he was oscar-nominated for Secretariat, but was not… Princess Carolyn is fired as his agent… and they kill Kristen Schaal, oh no. Loved the wordless underwater episode, dug the Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard reference.


The Good Place season 4 (2019)

They try the neighborhood thing one more time, Shawn and Michael square off, the Judge lets them redo the points system instead of rebooting Earth, and in exchange for their help, our heroes go to the actual Good Place… for a while.


In other TV news, I’m savoring my Cowboy Bebops and waiting for Rick & Morty season 4 to return from hiatus. Avenue 5 and Final Space didn’t seem like my thing, need to check out a few more new shows before Search Party s3 comes out and dominates my time.

Not as Wes Andersonny as I’d been led to believe, just thoughtfully designed with attention to light and color, and ends with one of the characters putting on a play for all the others. Both Jimmie’s insistence on reclaiming his (false) heritage to find a place he belongs, and Monty’s long-suffering loyal hanger-on who can only speak his mind through the voices of others, are terrific characters. Jimmie Fails was in Talbot’s previous short film, and Jonathan Majors will be in the new Spike Lee.

Jimmie with a nudist who is not Neil Young:


Hair Love (2019, Cherry & Downing & Smith)

Before the feature, we watched this short, just a few minutes after it won the Oscar. It’s cute, the character poses very Disneyfied. Seemed minor to me, and I preferred the unruly hair drama of Random Acts of Flyness, but it’s also the only nominee I’ve seen, seems to be connecting with a lotta people, and it’s an indie kickstarter project, which is a welcome change since Pixar has won half the awards lately.

Another supernatural teenage love story from the Your Name creator, this time involving weather-control instead of time/body-swapping. Shinkai is terrific with light and cloud and sky, so this was lovely on the big screen – we watched one of the few subtitled screenings before the GKids dub opened wide.

In a future Tokyo where it rains constantly, Hina is the sunshine girl who can clear the clouds with a prayer, but every time she uses her powers she gets closer to losing herself forever to the skies, a human sacrifice who will fix the weather imbalance, the countdown marked on her body like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. The boy who likes her, Hodaka, works with a couple of gruff-but-generous reporters (Crows Zero star Shun Oguri, and The Mole Song 2‘s Tsubasa Honda), and would rescue her from the clouds even if it meant dooming the city to an existence of small cubes. Too much side-plot involving cops and guns and gangsters, but I forget all that stuff when staring at the pretty clouds on the poster hanging next to my laptop.

After a solid Loch Ness Monster open, the movie spends ten long minutes watching men with big egos converse in fancy rooms, and never really recovers. I mean it’s an overall good time, and Hugh Jackman does better as the explorer than most celebrity voice actors can manage – it’s just a hard comedown after Laika’s masterpiece Kubo. The missing link is lonely, writes a letter to summon a famous adventurer, they collect a bustley Zoe Saldana and go on adventures, chased at times by bounty hunters, rival explorers and a race of abominable snowmen. Mostly we came for the armatures, which were just fabulous. What cool dude was in charge of all those armatures?

Darkness/Light/Darkness (1989 Jan Svankmajer)

I’ve seen stills from this, but somehow never watched it before. Peak Svankmajer claymation, a human gradually assembled from pieces entering a cramped apartment, including a dumb dick joke.

Won an award at Berlin alongside a Petrov short, a Bruno Bozzetto animation, The Asthenic Syndrome and, oh, Driving Miss Daisy. One of Svank’s final shorts, post-Alice, before he turned exclusively to features.


Prometheus’ Garden (1988 Bruce Bickford)

The Svankmajer turned out to be a gentle Claymation intro course compared to this batshit epic. Like a long, vaguely narrative music video, with no fixed sense of scale or permanence of scene or set or character. Watched in SD, would be amazing to see in a larger format

Casual synth-rock on the soundtrack… in the machine-gun massacre scene, I appreciated the use of outer-space raygun effects instead of ratatatat.

Apparently unreleased for twenty years until it came out on a 2008 DVD. RIP 2019 Bruce – I need to dig up his final feature Cas’l and the other doc about him, Monster Road.


Printed Rainbow (2006 Gitanjali Rao)

Gramma lives a dreary, blurry b/w Rear Window existence until she opens a case full of colorful matchbooks and experiences an open-eyed smiley-faced adventure in crisp color fantasy. The b/w segments are in that smeary, charcoaly style where it appears that each frame is partially erased, the next frame drawn on top of it, leaving a smudge trail behind the action…OR ELSE it wasn’t animated that way at all, and my digital copy needed more keyframes. Kinda not my thing, but the ending is pretty good, and you can’t laugh off the dedication “to my mother and her cat.”

Rao also acts, appeared in a Seven Samurai remake in 1998, and she recently completed a hand-painted animated feature about Bombay’s history with Bollywood.


Old Man and the Sea (1999 Aleksandr Petrov)

Glorious paint or watercolor, with such good light and water and cloud – made for imax! English dialogue, new agey music. Shades of the Monk when he becomes one with the Fish. Won a ton of awards including the oscar – fellow winners that year were Sam Mendes, All About My Mother, The Matrix and Phil Collins.


The House of Small Cubes (2008 Kunio Kato)

Another old man in the sea, also beautiful. Dystopian story of a rising flood, building a new house atop the old one every few years, losing more items and people with each story. Hunched old man lives alone at the top, takes a diving expedition through his past.

Kato is my age, has made a bunch more shorts. This one won the oscar too, beating that great undertaker short and one of my favorite Pixars, with fellow winners Penelope Cruz, the late Heath Ledger, Danny Boyle, A.R. Rahman, Benjamin Button’s makeup artists, WALL-E, and Man on Wire.

The Night Before Christmas (1933, Wilfred Jackson)

Classic color Disney short. Santa does his thing at a poor family’s house, repairs their torn stockings, dresses their tree with the help of many pre-Toy Story living toys, laughs a LOT, then wakes them up with all the noise and runs. We saw the uncensored version where the youngest boy gets sooty and blackfacey. Jackson directed about fifty Disney shorts while still in his 20’s.


Peace on Earth (1939, Hugh Harman)

Meanwhile, they’re having a post-apocalyptic Christmas at MGM, with talking woodland creatures who started wearing pants after an encounter with a bible. I remembered this short well enough to recall the “good will to men” line kicks off the backstory, when a kid asks his squirrel grandma what men are, but did not recall that they sing that line a hundred times in the first two minutes. Inspired by WWI battles the animators lived through, this is a hell of a movie, rightly acclaimed.

Before Pants:

After Pants:


Santa’s Workshop (1932, Wilfred Jackson)

And tonal whiplash, as we return to the predecessor to the other Jackson/Disney movie, Santa pre-delivery-day building all the toys for tots. Some of the assembly line stuff was cute, anyway.


Bedtime for Sniffles (1940, Chuck Jones)

This was rough going – Katy was already tired, and it’s eight minutes of a mouse struggling to stay awake. A few puns (Haxwell Mouse coffee) and mouse-in-human-world gags (eyedroppers for water faucets) can’t compete with the movie’s desire to make us sleepy. Still better than the Disneys, at least. Katy asked why rival studios would make a mouse their lead character – we didn’t realize there were about ten more Sniffles shorts.


The Snowman (1982, Dianne Jackson)

Storybook-looking animation of a non-Frosty snowman who comes alive at midnight, gets invited into the house by his creator, becomes the boy’s friend and goes on a flying adventure, meets Santa Claus, then melts in the sun the next day. It’s all perfectly nice, but I think more for six year olds (or grown-ups who first watched it as six year olds). Oscar-nominated against a Will Vinton claymation short and winner Tango. The same producer made a sequel thirty years later, and he and Snowman codirector Jimmy Murakami made a feature based on the same author’s story of nuclear devastation.


Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952, Jack Hannah)

We put on a 2000’s Disney special which was just unbearable, throwing every character from every movie into a room with nonstop dialogue and incident, so we skipped ahead to the classic shorts contained within. This featured Chip & Dale vs. Pluto, with Mickey intervening to protect the chipmunks at the end. A huge improvement over the Santa shorts and the House of Mouse framing story, so we’re happy.


Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983, Burny Mattinson)

Maybe the only version of A Christmas Carol named after the “actor” who plays Bob Cratchit. Mickey Mouse had inexplicably been sitting in Disney’s Vault for thirty years, and Scrooge McDuck, named after the Dickens story, had been a Disney comics feature for decades, when some corporate genius realized they could use the two characters to profit off some public domain literature. Goofy plays Marley, Jiminy Cricket is Christmas Past, the rest are characters from Robin Hood, Mickey & The Beanstalk, and Wind in the Willows (not Great Mouse Detective, which was my guess for the charity collectors below). In 26 minutes it’s all a bit rushed, and no match for the Muppet version. Burny worked on everything from Lady and the Tramp to Big Hero 6. Codirector Richy Rich followed up with The Black Cauldron before forming his own studio to make an animated Book of Mormon.