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.

They Might Be Giants “I Left My Body” still has the edge, but this was good too. Told out of order, we see two-handed Naoufel stalking a girl he likes, getting a job with her carpenter uncle and building her a wooden igloo (Neil: “isn’t a wooden igloo just a hut?”). Meanwhile his hand, severed through his incompetence with power saws, can apparently see eyelessly, kill pigeons, and have little hand-flashbacks on its quest to get back to Naoufel. When it arrives, he’s listening to tapes of his dead parents and thinking about jumping off buildings, and the hand wanders off again.

Mark Kermode:

The primary tone is gentle and melancholic – an almost existential evocation of memory, and the longing to be made whole … Just as the themes of I Lost My Body dextrously juggle light and shade, so the film seamlessly blends 2D and 3D-animation techniques with elements of rotoscoped live-action to create what Clapin calls “an animated world halfway between the tangible and the imaginary”.

We saw Clapin’s Skhizein in an animated shorts program a decade ago – can’t remember it well, but it’s also about a guy who lives in two different places at once. The writer worked on my favorite Jean-Pierre Jeunet movies. Played (won!) Cannes Critics’ Week with a bunch of fascinating-looking features that I could spend all week watching, if I could find any of them.

Maria flees her town and moves into a house in the woods along with two pigs that she transforms into children and names Pedro and Ana. I think they’re hiding from a wolf outside, and after they almost die in a house fire Pedro drinks honey and turns white, and Ana swallows a songbird and gets a golden voice, then Maria is rescued after they try eating her… I dunno, I was too busy marveling at the look of this thing.

Smeary, drippy painting inside a real (model?) house, with doorways and props. But painted scenes will overwhelm doors and props as if they weren’t there, then form free-standing stop-motion models within the room, 2D artworks interacting with 3D objects, the wall art constantly shifting and the models always making and unmaking themselves, styles of the characters changing. Rustling and rubbing sounds accompany all the visual shifting, wires and cellophane hold the models in place, and I think it’s all fluid transitions with no traditional editing.

I’d forgotten about the brief TV-footage framing story, but did wonder why Maria sometimes spoke German. Apparently this is a fairy-tale reference to a notorious German-led cult and Pinochet torture compound, active in Chile for decades.

Cartoon Brew:

During the research process, the filmmakers discovered that the German members of the community used to call their Chilean neighbors ‘schweine’. This led them to conceive of the two children in the story as piglets, and depict their progressive transformation into Aryan humans as an ironic joke aping the community’s racial ideology.

Walker has an interview with the directors, including some amazing production details, and their self-set rules for animation and sound design:

We had a literary script, with the dialogues of the film, a really simple storyboard, basically with one image per scene … Our day-to-day work was to find a way to connect one image with the other … The specific actions of each scene were improvised.