After Cars 3 and Onward, we nearly skipped another Pixar movie, but Luca was rescued by our needing to find something light to watch with family after Eurovision. Sea monsters can appear/act convincingly human when dry, and while their adults warn of brutal fishermen above the waves the kids dream of earthly wonders (book-learnin’, Vespas). The Call Me By Your Name joke similarities fell away pretty quickly, and it eventually becomes an uplifting story of universal acceptance without any of the hard parts in between, when local kids are exposed as sea monsters in the middle of a town with a generations-old fear of sea monsters, and everyone shrugs and celebrates a minute later. Sponsored by Vespa. Casarosa was last seen on the short before Brave with another story of sailors doing magical things.
Another Pete Docter Pixar feature set in an imagined space that is about determining a girl’s destiny. This time she’s purgatorial soul Tina Fey (I spent all movie wishing she was Sarah Silverman) with teacher Jamie Foxx, a just-deceased jazz-pianist schoolteacher, who accidentally teaches Tina to treasure the material world while anxiously trying to return there himself. Longer and less inspiring than the God Baby scene in World of Tomorrow 3, but the abstract-shaped beings that oversee the soul realm are great, especially the Rachel House-voiced accountant who follows our heroes to earth and hides in 2D images within the 3D world.
LOL Forky. But was it worth making a whole theatrical sequel to showcase a makeshift toy who wants to be trash? Sure, why not, these have been reliably good, and it looked beautiful on the big screen, where we finally caught it before it closed so Joker could take over every theater. I suppose having the missing Bo Peep reappear as a bold carnival adventurer with misfit action-hero friends was a fun move, though I’m suspicious of Pixar/Disney’s intentions and read it as faux feminism. The door is open to more sequels, though Woody’s talkbox got removed by a ventriloquist-dummy surgeon and given to a friendless antique-shop Gabby Gabby doll, so there will be no more snakes in my boot.
It was maybe a mistake to watch this right after Mission: Impossible, but it was fun to see the characters again, and I’ll probably appreciate it more after a rewatch. The movie makes a big surprise deal out of baby Jack-Jack’s powers even though they were revealed in both the original movie and the Jack-Jack Attack short, and it’s obvious that the casually-mentioned tech-genius sister of the telecom company president is gonna turn out to be Screenslaver (the anti-superhero TV-mind-control supervillain), and Edna Mode is kinda pried in there, and the whole plot where the townspeople are made to think superheroes are actually bad then they have to redeem themselves is played out, and the whole plot where mom gets a cool job and dad has trouble managing the domestic life is really played out.
The short before the feature was Bao by Inside Out story artist Domee Shi, about a woman who relives the joys and pains of raising a son through her dumplings. This and Sanjay’s Super Team join Coco in the new ranks of culturally interesting Pixar movies.
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”