This was better than it looked from posters/trailers/hype. I am gonna need to watch again ASAP. The Back to the Future disappearing-hand trick is employed, I guessed early on that lead kid Miguel’s real great-grandpa is the desperate loser and not the famous crooner, and the big dramatic goal is to right a historical wrong and unite loved ones in the afterlife before one of them is forgotten by the living. Some beautiful stuff, giving me nice flashbacks to Kubo.
Pearl (Patrick Osborne)
Machinima/cutscene clip about a girl growing up with her dad with a car and music then getting too old for dad and hanging out with friends with the car and music then remembering poor dad and going back to visit. It felt kinda like an extended commercial, but not as good, surprising from the guy who made Feast. Ah, it was created with VR software, how cutting edge.
Borrowed Time (Coats & Hamou-Lhadj)
Bummer cowboy story, sad man goes to cliff edge where he accidentally killed his dad whom he was trying to help up with the use of a shotgun. It doesn’t feel like 3D animation is best suited for this sort of thing. The codirectors are seasoned Pixar animators.
Blind Vaysha (Theodore Ushev)
Girl is born with a left eye that only sees the past and a right eye that only sees the future, sometimes by a few hours and sometimes by thousands of years. Maybe you could do some cool things with this concept, but the movie’s only concerned with grabbing the viewer and saying look, wouldn’t this be terrible? Imagine if you had to live like this. Wouldn’t it be just awful? Wouldn’t it? Huh? The end. Ushev is a prolific shorts director and this is the first I’ve seen.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Robert Valley)
Long story of the narrator’s troubled friend Techno who gets rich then needs a liver transplant. At least this one has cooler visual style and music than the others, though it’s another sadness drama, and all women be sexy-ass bitches. The director was an Aeon Flux artist!
Piper (Alan Barillaro)
Still the best. Sandpipers rule.
The White Helmets (Orlando von Einsiedel)
Wrenching doc about self-appointed post-bombing rescuers in Syria, mostly set during a training session in Turkey. It would also turn out to be a really useful movie to use when looking for IMDB or Letterboxd users with terrible opinions to block, if either of those sites allowed me to block users with terrible opinions.
The Exquisite Corpus (2015 Peter Tscherkassky)
More exquisite, sensorial film manipulations from the great Tscherkassky, this time with lots of nudity. And as always with his films, I had to watch it twice, and it’s completely incredible.
The film’s odd mismatches of erotic styles and tendencies (70s Eurotrash, early stag loops, bucolic nudist films, hardcore porn, surprisingly genuine-looking lesbian expression) ultimately comprise some kind of whole. Tscherkassky never employs technique to put pornography at arm’s length. Indeed, in some ways his experimental treatment of the material actually heightens its capacity to titillate. Indeed, the sheer visual excess of bodies on film produces a highly singular new “film body,” a sort of structuralist orgy.
Tscherkassky in Cinema Scope: “My approach was to show the naked body of cinema. So it made sense to use films whose main goal was to show the human body.”
I never really have a fixed image of what the film is going to look like. It’s always about time. Time to study the footage and then learn it by heart, so it seeps into your memory and there it sits and waits for the ideas to come. The second aspect is the production time itself, when you sit in the darkroom, exposing your individual frames – frame by frame by frame – and that takes a lot of time, time during which the film grows. Time to memorize, to remember something completely differently than how you thought about it three years ago. That’s the beauty of my way, my style of filmmaking.
There’s a famous Roland Barthes quotation that the erotic takes place where the woven textile has ripped. You look inside of something that is not meant to be seen. I wanted to move from straight porn and transform it into something that might fit this Barthes quotation.
Watched a few, scattered animated shorts over the last couple months – since I didn’t have anything to pair with The Exquisite Corpus, here’s a round-up of those.
Harvie Krumpet (2003, Adam Elliot)
One night nobody felt like watching a full-length movie so I weirded them out with this instead. Harvie is a unique stop-motion guy, not so bright but armed with rules and bits of wisdom, like your Forrest Gumps and your Chance The Gardeners. And like those movies, this one won an oscar (impressively beating both Boundin’ and Destino). The award is well-deserved – it’s a bittersweet narrative of a vividly drawn, damaged character who ends up happily nude at a bus stop. “He knew it would never come, but… he didn’t mind.” I still haven’t watched Elliot’s feature Mary and Max, but now I’m more likely to.
The Danish Poet (2006, Torill Kove)
We liked Kove’s Me and My Moulton, so it was time to find her earlier oscar winner. And it’s just wonderful. Maybe not as visually stylized as the follow-up (can’t remember for sure), but a beautifully designed movie both in its visuals and story (a roundabout telling of how the narrator’s parents first met). Narrated by Liv Ullmann – another indie(?) short that beat both Pixar (Lifted) and Disney (The Little Match Girl) at the oscars.
Black Soul (2000, Martine Chartrand)
Beautiful paint on glass technique shows a mother taking her son through stories of black history, which are mostly nightmarish. Chartrand studied in Russia with Alexander Petrov, won the top prize for shorts in Berlin with this film.
Triangle (1994, Erica Russell)
Nude line-drawing dancers are interrupted by black-cloaked triangle person and a red ninja square. The dancers grow more and less abstract, combining and separating, the force of the triangle warping the very frame of the movie, until it settles as a happy, sexy threesome. Lovely work – every frame a painting, as they say. Oscar-nominated against The Monk and the Fish and Bob’s Birthday. Russell is from New Zealand and South Africa, and created a “dance trilogy” with this film in between Feet of Song (1988) and Soma (2001).
Snop / Candy (1991, Jan Konings)
Meaningless reminiscing about the popularity of candy when the narrator was young, with below-average animation. From a blu-ray of Norwegian animation that I suppose I won’t be running out to buy.
Protege (2000, Levni Yilmaz)
Drawing paper shot from the other side as the pencil finishes drawing each panel, just like The Mystery of Picasso, but with a monotone voiceover guy explaining his history of imitating people he thought cooler than himself. Cute, and I suppose it technically counts as animation. Since I don’t have the book this disc came with, I’m not sure if this short predates Lev’s long-running Tales of Mere Existence youtube series, or if it’s part of it.
Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014, Steve Purcell)
Another toy story is always nice but this is more of the same ol’ thing. Bonnie from part three is on a post-Christmas playdate at a spoiled boy’s house, neglecting his complete set of some fantasy war toy collection to play a VR videogame, and our gang discovers that the war creatures haven’t yet figured out that they’re toys. Reptilius Maximus (Kevin McKidd) and tree ornament Angel Kitty probably won’t make it to the next theatrical sequel. Purcell is credited as a writer/director of Brave, and with animation on some 1990 video games (Loom and Monkey Island, wow).
Dory starts to remember things about her home and family, goes on an adventure, discovering she was born at an aquatic park. The others follow, and all are assisted by a couple whales and an Ed O’Neill octopus.
I told Katy it felt good, but not necessary – Matt Singer nails why:
Like so many of the studio’s previous features, Dory is a story about the unbreakable bonds between parents and children, mismatched partners bonding over the course of a long adventure, and the pleasures of a team working together to achieve a common goal. After 21 years, that formula is still very satisfying. But it also feels more like a formula than ever before.
Piper (2016, Alan Barillaro)
Dory and The Good Dinosaur have started an upsetting trend where the opening short is better than the feature. I’m probably biased because I love birds, and especially love watching sandpipers, but this story of a baby sandpiper learning to deal with the surf is the greatest film of all time. Director Barillaro has been a Pixar animator since A Bug’s Life.
I’ve been watching more shorts lately and posting then in thematic batches by director (Len Lye, Emile Cohl) and collection (Disney, Oscar-nominated) and time period (The Movies Begin, 1920’s & 1930’s). Here are some miscellaneous shorts that didn’t get their own thematic post.
False Aging (2008 Lewis Klahr)
Cut-out animation with a recurring yellow bird and a comic-book Adam & Eve. Looks charmingly handmade. Generally slow and dreamy but sometimes the objects flicker maniacally.
I think it’s about drugs. Soundtrack: clips from Valley of the Dolls, a Jefferson Airplane song, and John Cale reading Andy Warhol’s journals.
Klahr was ranked a top-five experimental filmmaker of the 2000’s by Film Comment, and is on the cover of this month’s Cinema Scope. “Klahr’s films construct archetypal narratives and mood trances out of the middle-class utopia we promised ourselves and never got” – M. Atkinson.
Lend/Flight (1973, Rein Raamat)
An ode to flight. Tiny red person rides some dandelion floof through the clouds, performs acrobatics up there, then comes plummetting down upon reaching the atmosphere’s edge. A series of new ideas for flying machines based on existing objects are proposed, scored by a groovy rock song, until finally a plane (and a rocket) is built, based instead on natural flying creatures. I love the color scheme and the multi-layered sky.
Raamat is known as the father of Estonian animation, founded his own animation studio in 1971. Writer Paul-Eerik Rummo was a poet who later became Minister of Culture. Music composer Rein Rannap is best known for judging Estonian Idol.
The Apple (1969, Kurt Weiler)
Whoa, this is amazing. Lively puppet stop-motion telling an anti-greed/ignorance parable – art vs. science vs. the state vs. religion – with rhyming (in German) narration. Kinda hard to explain, but involves rival scientists competing for attentions of the ruler, and trying not to get thrown in jail or burned at the stake for their ideas.
One guy invents the drug “hormosexulin” which increases egg production from friendly bulbil creatures, and the ruler goes nuts with it, injects his henchmen, who also start laying eggs. Sometimes reminds me of Jirí Trnka’s The Hand, like when a traumatic scaffold collapse provokes genuinely disturbing cries of pain.
Placid Bulbil interrupts scientist face-off:
Riley’s First Date (2015, Josh Cooley)
Inside Out spinoff short, in which snotnosed boy (with Flea inside his head) comes to pick up Riley, sitting with her increasingly angry father while she gets ready. Mainly focused on the parents’ emotions, which according to one of the Inside Out reviews I read was the feature’s weak point, throwing out all the movie’s Riley-emotion lessons for easy retro-sitcom gender jokes. And there’s more of that here, but it’s still fun. Cooley has been in Pixar credits since The Incredibles, and taking over a spinoff short means he’s probably being groomed to codirect an upcoming feature sequel… yep, there’s his name on Toy Story 4.
Porter Springs 3 (1977, Henry Hills)
Distant trees swaying in the breeze for a minute… then what looks like a circular pan from the center of a lake sped up a hundred times. Then the trees, calmer, then the lake, crazier. If I’d known it was gonna be silent I’d have picked my own John Zorn track.
Gotham (1990, Henry Hills)
Shots of modern NYC mixed with clips from cop shows and set to a cartoony jazz track, awesome.
Goa Lawah (1992, Henry Hills)
Bats! A cave full of squeaking bats! They squabble when they get too close together while sleeping – just like our birds, who somehow didn’t respond to me playing four minutes of bat noises.
In an earlier post I reductively described actionism and watched Kurt Kren’s Leda and the Swan and Silver Action Brus. Checking out a few more from the Action Films disc.
6/64 Mama und Papa (Kurt Kren)
Hurling food and paint and dirt all over a naked woman, then Kren edits it all to pieces with no sound. He’s doing something wrong, because every time there’s an edit (so, 1-10 times per second) we see tape marks at the bottom of frame.
9/64 O Tannenbaum (Kurt Kren)
Naked man under a Christmas tree, naked woman in a shower, covered in food and paint and dirt. I’m sensing a pattern here. “Action” is by Otto Mühl in both films, and both feature men humping women with a balloon full of feathers between them.
16/67 20. September (Kurt Kren)
Remember Brus? Now he’s pissing and shitting in close-up, and now I realize why I didn’t watch the rest of this DVD last time I started it. Jesus, Kren. No screenshot for this one.
Hardwood Process (1996, David Gatten)
Flickering textures, crossfaded. Some Brakhagey slow/fast pattern-shifting. Some photographed action, slowed or sped, some filmstrip hacking. Texture fetish. Each section its own rhythm and style, separated with title cards:
“Day 203 – several hours in the library reading the history of”
“Day 296 – coming to terms with a new vocabulary, slowly”
Roughly in descending order of how much I loved ’em.
World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt)
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Konstantin Bronzit)
An ode to friendship and space travel. Pretty traditional-looking animation with some fun effects (I loved when the stars turned into falling snow) and a beautiful story. Bronzit has made a bunch of shorts including the oscar-nom Lavatory Lovestory.
Prologue (Richard Williams)
Firstly, holy crap, Richard Williams is still working. Looks like a very good figure-drawing exercise come to life – a single “shot” detailing a violent gladiator fight and the moments before and after.
If I Was God (Cordell Barker)
That’s National Film Board of Canada legend Cordell Barker, of The Cat Came Back and Strange Invaders fame. The animation here does not disappoint, terrific stop-motion, though the story’s just alright: reminiscing of schoolday fantasies.
Sanjay’s Super Team (Sanjay Patel)
Saw this with The Good Dinosaur.
Bear Story (Gabriel Osorio Vargas)
From Chile – Lonely bear has a complicated mechanical box that tells his life story of being kidnapped and imprisoned by
Pinochet’s police zookeepers, losing his family while away – though in the mechanical version his family stays. Not wowed by the animation but I loved the inventiveness of the “mechanics”. Doesn’t Osorio mean “bear river”? Was that bear the director?
The Loneliest Stoplight (Bill Plympton)
Not Plympton’s best work about inanimate objects in love (that’d be The Fan and the Flower), but cute. Patton Oswalt voices a stoplight who’s had some good times but is now mostly forgotten since everyone takes the highway.
The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse (bunch of French directors)
Hard to focus with the girl behind me saying “soooo cute!” over and over, but I guess a fox and a mouse take turns saving each other’s lives and become friends. Second animated movie I’ve seen this month casting owls as the villains.
Catch It (bunch of French directors)
A wannabe Ice Age, meerkats vs. a vulture. Every year when this program needs to fill time it throws in something animated by a gang of French people.
These shorts programs are fun, even though World of Tomorrow looked better on my TV than on the movie screen somehow. Watched the 2014 program at The Ross and the 2013 in Atlanta… and I guess the 2006… so I’d have some catching up to do if I got a sudden urge to watch all the oscar-nominated animated shorts ever… not that I’d do a thing like that.
First film watched in 2016 and it’s… pretty good? Kinda of a Lion King-cribbing story with dialogue mainly consisting of Big Life Lessons and setup for them. We liked the concept – talking, farming dinosaurs and barking, feral humans – but I paid more attention to the (beautiful!) lighting than the characters. Only voice I definitely recognized was Sam Elliott as the daddy t-rex rancher, but we’ve also got Jeffrey Wright as Mufasa and Steve Zahn as an evil pterodactyl.
Arlo is small, afraid of everything, bad at his chores, and present when the river floods and his dad dies. Will he go on a great adventure and learn how to overcome his fears and become a responsible adult? Yes! He and the human he names Spot help each other out, dodge carnivorous dinos, find food and figure how to get home, all set to blandly soaring music. I sound like I’m being dismissive, but I got so emotional my head hurt.
Director Peter Sohn made Partly Cloudy, the stork short. Original/replaced director Bob Peterson cowrote Pixar’s best features, but even better, he’s the voice of Roz in Monsters Inc and Dug in Up. Changes between the cancelled version of the movie and the final release: Arlo is younger, major unspecified story changes and whole voice cast replaced except for Frances McDormand as Arlo’s mom.
Sanjay’s Super Team (2015, Sanjay Patel)
Imagination-memoir, in which young Sanjay learns to fuse his interest in a televised superhero team and his dad’s Hindu prayers. A bit of culturally-diverse fun, and a massive improvement over Lava. Looks like Patel has been with Pixar since at least A Bug’s Life.
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.
Whew. Pixar is back in a big way. Happy Amy Poehler leads a Herman’s Head of emotions inside a girl’s brain, and when the girl’s family moves across the country, shaking up her life (see also: Coraline, Totoro) and crumbling the “islands” that represent her core personalities, Sad Phyllis Smith (of Butter) slowly gains influence. And weirdly, that’s the “happy” ending, that it’s okay to be sad. Maybe too much frantic running around through the long-term memories department in the second half, but mostly it’s brilliant.
Eventually, in another moment that will cause 3-D lenses to get misty, Joy sees that in many of the supposedly purely happy Riley memories, melancholy and disappointment were present, too. Light can’t exist without dark: It’s something most grown-ups know, but when Joy finally understands this, it feels as though we olds are really getting it for the first time, too.
The script makes the stakes bigger than whether one 11-year-old can learn to be happy again. Joy and her fellow emotions conflict on how to react to Riley’s circumstances, but they all care deeply about her, and worry about where she’s headed. And through their passionate concern, Docter builds the audience’s deep engagement with how Riley feels, how she expresses it, whether she can make herself understood to other people around her, and where her feelings take her. … Pixar vets will remember the profound emotions brought up by the opening sequences of Up, the final scenes of Toy Story 3 and Monsters, Inc., and so many other watershed moments in the company’s library of films. Inside Out not only evokes that profundity of emotion, it does it with emotions capable of examining their own response.
And I quote heavily from The Dissolve, my favorite film site, because I had these articles bookmarked to read after I saw Inside Out, and by the time I saw it, the site had shut down, causing Sadness to start touching all my film-criticism memory balls.
Lava (2014, James Murphy)
Two volcanoes sing each other a song of longing, looking for somebody to love-a (lava). Tasha: “The story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But hey, at least those sad volcanos get to date each other, right?” And at least Katy liked it.
EDIT: Watched Inside Out again on New Year’s Eve 2017/18