Archive for the Animation Category

2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on February 3, 2016 by Mark Hobin

In honor of the Academy Awards, ShortsHD has once again made all three (animated, live action, documentary) of the the Oscar Nominated Short Film programs available to audiences around the world.

Live-Action

Along with the animated program, the live action collection was released to theaters on January 29th, a month before the Oscars presentation on February 28th.

In addition to the theatrical schedule, the nominated live action and animated shorts will also be accessible online and on VOD/pay-per-view platforms.

Where the animated segment encompasses the gamut of emotion – joy to sorrow, the live action segment is much more mired in misery. This category is arguably the hardest of all the Oscar categories to call. None of the shorts star famous people, as in previous years’ winners like The Phone Call (Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent) or The Shore (Ciarán Hinds). This makes forecasting the winner even more difficult.

I’ve ranked the shorts in order of best to worst in terms of my own personal taste. However I’ll attempt to predict the prizewinner too.

 

Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
GERMANY/AUSTRIA/30MINS/2015
Director, Writer & Producer: Patrick Vollrath
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The uncharacteristically upbeat title belies a heartbreaking tale. A divorced father picks up his eight-year-old daughter, Lea, for a day of fun. They spend every second weekend together, but after awhile she senses a change in the mood that signifies this outing is different.

I love films where the audience slowly develops an understanding of the situation. The story just pulls you in. It’s rather simple in scope, but it extracts emotion even better than a production that is four times as long. My absolute favorite of the bunch, which means it has absolutely zero chance of winning. (10/10)

 

Stutterer
UK/IRELAND/12MINS/2015
Director: Benjamin Cleary
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Greenwood (Matthew Needham) is a shy typographer with a severe speech impediment but a passionate spirit. His internet relationship with a woman named Ellie (Chloe Pirrie) has progressed nicely. After six months of online chatting, she is ready to meet face to face, but he is loath to reveal the truth about himself. He worries whether she will lose interest.

Irish director Benjamin Cleary recounts a succinct and well crafted fable about self doubt. Who can’t identify on some level with that dilemma? Scores extra points for taking the least amount of time to tell a sweet story. Ends on a clever note that makes everything worthwhile. A real charmer. (9/10)

 

Day One
USA/25MINS/2014
Director: Henry Hughes
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American woman who has joined the United States military as an interpreter is on her first mission in Afghanistan. However she’ll be asked to do a lot more than just translate before the day is over.

Director Henry Hughes spent five years as a paratrooper conducting two combat tours in Afghanistan. This film was based on an experience with his own female interpreter. The way gender and religion must dictate behavior in Muslim culture, is addressed. The first hand approach is uniquely told from an insider’s perspective. (7/10)

 

Shok (Friend)
KOSOVO/UK/21MINS/2015
Director & Writer: Jamie Donoughue
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The place is war torn Kosovo in 1998. The friendship of two children, Petrit and Oki, is tested when one enters into a dangerous business relationship with enemy Serbian soldiers who now occupy the territory.

Every year it seems there is at least one entry where war and children are united in a depressing narrative. Shok satisfies that niche which is why I’m predicting it will take the award. The drama is competent, but predictably dismal up to and including the extreme “shock” ending. (6/10)

 

Ave Maria
PALESTINE/FRANCE/GERMANY/15MINS/2015
Director: Basil Khalil
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A family of religious Israeli settlers has their car break down in a rural area of the West Bank. They seek the assistance of five nuns in a convent in the middle of the Palestinian territories. The nuns have taken a vow of silence. The Jewish family are forbidden to even use a phone on the sabbath. Culture clash comedy mines humor out of their difficulty to communicate.

Not bad, but it’s essentially a one-note joke built around a convoluted setup. My least favorite which makes it ironic that most prognosticators have selected as the odds on favorite to win. It’s a bit more lighthearted in tone which I suppose makes it stand apart from the more intense stories. (6/10)

01-28-16

2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on January 31, 2016 by Mark Hobin

In honor of the Academy Awards, ShortsHD has once again made all three of the Oscar nominated short film programs (animated, live action, documentary) available to audiences around the world.

Animation

The animated compilation was released to theaters on January 29th, giving the public the opportunity to see the nominated entries before the Oscar Awards ceremony on February 28th.

In addition to the theatrical release, the nominated live action and animated shorts will also be accessible online and on VOD/Pay Per View Platforms.

The animated segment is often my favorite of the three shorts programs because they illicit the most diverse array of feelings – ranging from joy to sadness, sometimes within the same vignette.

I’ve ranked them in the order from best to worst. Also included in the theatrical program are a few honorable mentions including Cordell Barker’s If I Was God. All things considered, it’s a shame this didn’t earn a nomination.

 

World of Tomorrow
USA/17MINS/2015
Director & Writer: Don Hertzfeldt
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An adorable stick figure toddler is visited by her future self, a 3rd generation clone designed to live forever. She imparts wisdom and the script is literally one brilliant piece of wisdom after another. “I am very proud of my sadness because it means I am more alive.” The contrast between her happy but oblivious younger self and her melancholy older reproduction is heartbreaking.

American Don Hertzfeldt’s animated films (It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Rejected) have made him a bit of cult figure in this field. World of Tomorrow only adds to his mystique. (10/10)

 

Sanjay’s Super Team
USA/7MINS/2015
Director: Sanjay Patel
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A young Indian boy wants to watch superheroes on TV while his religious father is trying to mediate. After being forced to join him in prayer, the boy uses his imagination to envision Hindu gods combating in superhero adventures. Deeply personal tale obviously influenced by director Sanjay Patel’s real life relationship with his own father. Actual photos of the animator and his dad at the end complete the touching story arc.

This is from Pixar studios. Their entry originally ran before The Good Dinosaur so this is the most widely seen and the heavy favorite. (8/10)

 

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
RUSSIA/16MINS/2014
Director & Writer: Konstantin Bronzit
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Tale concerning two friends since childhood who go through the training program to become cosmonauts. The cartoon is from Russia so I’m making an attempt to use the correct terminology. Starts out lighthearted and silly and ends up rather sad and poignant. It isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s refreshing to see a short where the narrative takes precedence over the visuals. (7/10)

 

Bear Story
CHILE/11MINS/2014
Director: Gabriel Osorio
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Lonely bear who presents a mechanical theater of windup toys contained within a musical diorama . Passersby may peer inside for the price of a coin. The somber, dialogue-free story about animals captured to perform in the circus may or may not actually mirror the history of his own family. You decide. Just kidding. There’s nothing to decide. That’s exactly what it is. Cute. (6/10)

 

Prologue
UK/6MINS/2015
Director: Richard Williams
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Hand drawn Spartan and Athenian soldiers rendered in charcoal, engage in an extreme battle to the death. Here’s where you should escort the little ones out of the theater and get a snack. There’s nudity and lots of blood. A warrior is brutally stabbed in the groin. The animation is hypnotic but after it’s over, you’ll be scratching your head. What was the point? Well named because it feels like the beginning of something unfinished. (4/10)

01-28-16

Anomalisa

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Drama, Uncategorized with tags on December 23, 2015 by Mark Hobin

 photo anomalisa_ver2_zpses0g7amc.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgAnomalisa is unlike any animated movie I’ve ever seen. Past the muddled din of inane chatter, the picture opens to a cloud bank. A plane is flying through the sky. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is traveling to Cincinnati. A successful writer, he’s going there to give a motivational speech on customer service. It’s not immediately apparent at first but something is amiss. Right from the get-go we’re confronted with an angry letter from what appears to be an ex-girlfriend. As he reads the note we hear the words in voiceover from a male speaker (Tom Noonan). It’s an bitter missive full of expletives. The F-word repeatedly used over and over. Once on land, he picks up his iPod and plays the “Flower Duet” from the opera Lakmé. Observant viewers will notice the portable player says sung by Dame Joan Sutherland, but it’s clearly not her. That man’s voice again, overdubbed several times, intones the melody. It doesn’t end there. Every articulation is an exact duplicate of the next. The passenger on the plane, his cab driver, the desk clerk at the hotel, the waitress in the lounge. After awhile we figure out it’s not just auditory. Although people appear as male and female individuals of various shapes and sizes, they all have identical faces too. Every last one.

Tom is not well – mentally, that is. By the time he calls his wife, we realize he’s a supremely unhappy man. She wants to put their son on the phone and he greets the prospect like he’s about to undergo a root canal. Life around him is ugly. He looks out the window and spies a man in the building across the way at a computer touching himself. Then he walks past a couple locked in a heated argument in the hallway. More F-words echo down the corridor behind him. All of this informs the misanthropic outlook of his own reality. Then while staring at his own visage in the bathroom mirror, he suddenly hears a different voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh) coming though the walls of his hotel room.

The writing is exceptionally smart. I’d expect nothing less from the writer/director of Synecdoche, New York who drew thematic parallels between a figure of speech and the city of Schenectady. Our protagonist is utterly lonely. He talks with a world weariness that is more palpable than the emotion I’ve felt from some live actors. Michael is the author of “How May I Help You Help Them?” and he’s oh-so-much smarter than the philistines around him. Little jokes abound. When he whistles part of the opera Lakmé, the taxi driver “educates” him that it’s the British Airways ad. He checks into the Hotel Fregoli – that’s Fregoli as in the delusional belief that everyone is somehow the same person. He turns on the TV in his hotel room and catches a glimpse of the 1936 classic My Man Godfrey. His date sings “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, first in English, then an Italian version by Sarah Brightman. There’s no such thing….right?

Michael Stone is a miserable person. He’s emotionally disabled from connecting with another human being. That is until he meets Lisa, a woman who may or may not be the love of his life. She is an exception – an anomaly, if you will. She looks and sounds different. However she’s downright clumsy, tripping and literally falling flat on her face at one point. She’s also a bit of a rube. Upon entering his hotel room, she marvels at the way he has prepared his sheets and slippers for bed, only to learn of “turndown service” for the first time. Then she recites the lyrics of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, like it’s her highest aspiration. “I wanna be the one to walk in the sun,” she coos. It’s never quite evident whether her ignorance is supposed to be legitimately charming or if Michael has achieved some level of humanity by being able to look past her provincial charm and see the real beauty within. Regardless he falls in love with her. Then they have sex in an unforgettable scene I cannot even begin to describe. The less said, the better.

On one level it’s impossible not to admire the remarkable craft that went into making this production. The detailed sets create an environment that feels lived in and substantive. Charlie Kaufman has created an extraordinarily realistic setting. The characters inhabit this environment in such a human way that it’s easy to forget we’re watching animation.  His existential ennui is handled in a pretty adult way, but Anomalisa is about routine. Tom has an abnormally misanthropic worldview. He’s bored with life and the public at large. Everyone has the same face. Everyone has the same voice. Their upbeat monotone is pleasant but insincere. Michael doesn’t connect with any of these drones, except one.  Even the object of his affection is intentionally imbued with a two dimensional personality.  The mundanity of his existence is manifested in the banality of the narrative. The abrupt non-ending leaves a unsatisfying finish. An unresolved narrative that is all foreplay, no climax. A spiritual malaise hangs heavy over the film. Michael’s total apathy becomes our boredom too and the experience is disheartening.

12-21-15

The Good Dinosaur

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy on November 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

 photo good_dinosaur_ver3_zpsykoytrdq.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt would be easy to dismiss The Good Dinosaur‘s simple narrative as minor Pixar. The tale’s themes touch upon the importance of family and finding your place in this world. These lessons have certainly been done before. But delve deeper and what the studio has done here is no less magical than some of their very best. In many ways, the blend of ideas is one of their most subversive. To begin with, it relies on less dialogue than virtually all of their productions. They explored this abstraction in the first half of Wall-E then abandoned it in the second. A cursory look at production stills show a little boy and his dinosaur, a seemingly clichéd set-up that suggests that the dinosaur is a substitute for the boy’s proverbial dog. Leave it to Pixar to flip the script.

The saga begins with a vignette that might not even register if you’ve managed to avoid press materials for this picture. An asteroid flies overhead. Dinosaurs look up. Go back to eating. What the visual tableau is hypothesizing without words is, what if the theoretical asteroid that was supposed to hit earth rendering dinosaurs extinct, never did. How would they evolve, and even more intriguingly, how would they interact with humans? The answer is one of Pixar’s most radical concepts. Naturally the dinosaurs talk. Animals do that in animated films all the time.  But Pixar takes the conceit one step further. They’re now highly evolved creatures, developing a sophisticated ecosystem. They grow crops, store grain in a silo and raise what appears to be dino-chickens in a coop.

Pixar has designed a fully realized world that pushes graphic technology to the next level. The plot concerns an Apatosaurus family. There’s Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma Ida (Frances McDormand) who witness the birth of their three children at the outset: Libby (Maleah Padilla), Buck (Marcus Scribner) and runt of the litter, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa). Though the main character is cute and cartoonish, the environment created is not. To say this is the studio’s most visually impressive movie, is an accomplishment that should not be taken lightly or negated. Some of these awe-inspiring landscapes are photo realistic achievements that dazzle the eye. This isn’t a film, it’s an experience. You can get lost in the mood, particularly during the wordless spectacles. After a not so spectacular intro, something tragic happens (Pixar is known for this) and young Arlo is separated from his family. He meets a caveboy named Spot (Jack Bright). Spot is an unexpected individual full of facial expressions and body language. His dirty mangled hair, fair skin, slightly red from the sun and piercing green eyes embody a mesmerizing soul that captivates with tangible cues. In one episode he forages for food and offers some to Arlo. The moment manages to be funny, gross and tender in mere moments. The charm slowly sneaks up on you. I fell in love with this kid.

The Good Dinosaur is a deceptively slight narrative that belies a philosophical exploration of humanity. Is it about a spirit journey? Is it a coming-of-age movie? Is it a western? Pay attention, because there is a lot being covered. Much of the drama evolves like seeds that grow in the mind well after the film is over. It stays with you. Let’s start with the notion that fear is something you learn to live with, not conquer. That’s pretty “out of the box” thinking for a children’s story. Oh but there’s so much more. On the surface, you might not even realize what’s being promoted here because it’s never expressly stated. The evolutionary relationship between Arlo and Spot is a completely subversive idea that caught me quite by surprise. Pixar has drawn inspiration from classics of the past. The close alliance between two species has been explored before. There are many examples but perhaps never done better than in something like The Black Stallion. The Good Dinosaur ranks up there in tender sophistication. When Arlo and Spot “discuss” their families, the communication is a pantomime where sticks are used. Their interaction presents a harsh reality in such a refreshingly simple way, it’s profound. The scene is heartbreaking. I’ll admit I teared up. Ok Pixar, you win again.

11-24-15

The Peanuts Movie

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on November 9, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Peanuts Movie photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Peanuts characters have been animated before, but never quite like this. Charles Schultz’ creations debuted as a comic strip way back in 1950 and ran for 50 years until 2000. It continued on in reruns. During those years Peanuts expanded on its success with television specials. A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are so iconic, they’re still run today. In addition 4 feature films were released between 1969 and 1980. Each relied on traditional hand-drawn techniques. The comics were pitched at adults but the cartoons had a childlike mentality with a nod to adults who might be watching as well. That’s likewise the sensibility of The Peanuts Movie.

The animation comes courtesy of Blue Sky Studios, the CGI team behind those barely tolerable Ice Age flicks. The artists have done a beautiful job at portraying the gang in this medium. The characters look exactly like you’d expect if they were magically made whole and became 3D designs. There’s a visual depth to these renderings. For example Frieda’s naturally curly red hair and Pig Pen’s dust cloud are so vivid you see distinct strands and dirt particles. It’s the originals you know, only to the second power. Director Steve Martino has had experience turning illustrations into cinematic sagas. He helmed Horton Hears a Who! in 2008. Charles Schulz’s son Craig, his grandson Bryan Schulz and Cornelius Uliano, co-write the screenplay.

Honoring a 2D property and modernizing it as a computer animated feature, in 3D no less, is a difficult balancing act. This nostalgia connects people across generational lines. Peanuts have seemingly been around forever so virtually everyone has at least some connection to these kids. Mess with the memory, you mess with our childhood. Despite the visually modern update, the account is a slavishly faithful manifestation of previous incarnations. That’s good news and bad. The positive is the story doesn’t taint the dignity of Charles Schultz’ beloved work. These are the same cherished icons dealing with identical conundrums. Now the dilemma.

The Peanuts Movie is amiable, but if you’re looking for creativity or imagination, you’re watching the wrong movie. The plot is merely a compendium of replicated gags. Charlie Brown develops a crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl who moves in next door. He wants to make a good first impression. Meanwhile Ace pilot Snoopy writes a novel where he faces his arch nemesis, the Red Baron. He’s supported by Woodstock. The rest of the gang says and does things you remember from past iterations. Lucy dispenses psychiatric advice. Schroeder plays the piano. Marcie calls Peppermint Patty “sir”. Sally pines for her sweet baboo, Linus, who clutches a security blanket, and so forth. They go ice skating and play hockey. There’s a talent show and a dance. Its warm nostalgia and it’s pleasant. The nicest thing I can say is that it honors the source. Yet there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. Peanuts is a “greatest hits” of recycled vignettes. Its gentle pabulum is guaranteed not to upset the status quo. I was hoping for more.

11-07-15

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

Posted in Animation, Drama with tags on August 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgKahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a cartoon, yes. However before you rush out to see this movie with the kids in tow, you really should read this review first. It’s not that there’s anything here that young minds shouldn’t see. On the contrary, it’s filled with inspirational life lessons that are perfectly acceptable. It’s just that it is not something a child would find particularly entertaining nor, dare I say it, most adults.

Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer. Born in the Ottoman Empire on January 6, 1883, he immigrated with his family to the United States as a young man. He is best known in the English-speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet which is an English collection of 26 prose essays. It was wildly successful and has been translated into over 40 different languages. In the Arab world, political leaders considered Gibran a literary rebel. In Lebanon, he is a literary hero to this day.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet doesn’t have a strong narrative per se. Rather it’s a succession of animated poems, each one taken from his seminal work. The subjects are freedom, children, marriage, work, eating & drinking, love, good & evil, and death, with different animators for each. Segment directors include Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea), Bill Plympton (Guard Dog, Cheatin’), Joan Gratz (Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (“Firebird Suite” in Fantasia 2000), Michal Socha (Simpson’s couch gag from “What To Expect When Bart’s Expecting”) and Mohammed Harib (Freej). The displays are loosely strung together by the tale of an imprisoned poet named Mustafa (Liam Neeson), who has just been released. He’s on his way to board a ship that will take him home. Along the way, he gives the advice that forms the foundation of the various segments.

The obvious audience for this are devotees of Kahlil Gibran. He is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu, so he obviously has his admirers. If an array of animated shorts depicting his words sounds captivating, then I’d surely recommend this to you. The series of 8 videos presented here are all of noble quality – pretty images with spoken word narration. A couple have music to accompany them. My favorite was Nina Paley’s “On Children”. The shadow puppets of Indonesia inspire a mesmerizing visual tableau accompanied by a song by Damien Rice. It presents a pregnant female archer who shoots an arrow into the belly of another pregnant woman, thus giving birth to another human being. It’s utterly hypnotic. The entire movie was produced by actress Salma Hayek, who also gives voice to one of the characters, and supervised by director Roger Allers (The Lion King). The talent behind the camera is considerable and the intentions are clearly heartfelt. It’s a pleasant diversion, but far from necessary viewing. For die-hard fans of Kahlil Gibran’s poetry, however, it should prove enchanting.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on August 11, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Shaun the Sheep Movie photo starrating-4stars.jpgDelightful confection about a sheep who simply dreams about having a day off at the farm. Shaun (Justin Fletcher) is the de facto leader of a flock of sheep. He hatches a scheme so they can have a break from their daily routine. Naturally things don’t go quite as planned.

Despite the title, Shaun the Sheep is actually an ensemble piece. There’s the oblivious bespectacled Farmer (John Sparkes). His odyssey after accidentality winding up in the Big City is just as important as Shaun’s narrative. There’s the rest of the flock too, some of whom get distinct personalities. This includes Nuts, Hazel, Shirley, the largest member and little Timmy, Shaun’s nephew. There’s Bitzer the Sheepdog, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Gromit, another Nick Park creation. Bitzer is loyally devoted to the Farmer and the calm yin to Shaun’s wild yang. Their adventures allow them to meet a variety of animals including Slip, a lovable little stray dog with the longest eyelashes ever. But it’s not all fun and games. They must contend with Trumper (Omid Djalili) an animal control officer who is the traditional nemesis of any stray pet.

Shaun the Sheep is the sixth feature from Aardman Studios and based on the BBC television show. The production almost exists in another world apart from other animated films. However the visual and comedic stylings are very much in line with the British animation studio’s other pictures. Located in Bristol, they are best known for using stop-motion claymation techniques. The company first gained fame with several shorts starring the adventures of Wallace & Gromit. In 2000 they released their theatrical debut with Chicken Run and it was a huge success.

Shaun the Sheep is warm, clever, witty, hilarious, touching, sweet, cute.  I could go on. A delight for those who appreciate a whimsical romp. It’s refreshingly slight clocking in at a mere 85 minutes. For those whose tastes run toward more electrifying fare, this placid tale may seem a bit soporific. There’s nary a word of spoken dialogue. Everything is expressed through gestures and vocal cues. I, on the other hand, truly appreciated this undemanding tale’s lighthearted take. It’s rather impressive how much story be conveyed through mutters and grunts and baas and bleats. As such, witty sight gags abound. Gentle G rated humor references Inception, Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver and The Terminator. Stick around for an end-credits homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Early on, the sheep lull Farmer to sleep by continuously jumping over a fence. But my absolute favorite interlude is a disguise sequence where the sheep dress up as humans and go out to a fancy French restaurant. It’s so visually brilliant it could only be described as Chaplin-esque.

08-06-15

Minions

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on July 11, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Minions photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgIt was only a matter of time before the Minions, those breakout stars from the Despicable Me movies, got their own picture. You already know whether you’re going to enjoy this. If you appreciated their antics in the aforementioned films, then you should find this to be the bee’s knees. On the other hand, if you walk in begrudgingly detesting those lovable rapscallions, then you’ll undoubtedly just go on hating them with clenched fists and a closed heart. Theirs is a physical comedy part of a rich tradition that is an evolution of slapstick and farce. Buster Keaton begat The Three Stooges who begat Jerry Lewis who begat Benny Hill who begat the Minions.

The word evolution is particularly apropos in this case. Minions commences with the very dawn of time. Starting as single-celled organisms, we see the Minions evolve through the ages. In every era they unceasingly serve a litany of only the most despicable of masters. From Tyrannosaurus Rex to Dracula to Napoleon, they go through one boss after another, accidentally killing off each one due to their own clumsiness. Our proper adventure begins when the Minions (all voiced by director Pierre Coffin) find themselves without a master to serve. Then one Minion named Kevin decides to change things. He has a plan to find a new master. He’s taking two buddies, Stuart and Bob. These three, who bear a striking style similarity to Gru’s 3 daughters, travel cross the ocean. They visit New York City first – circa 1968 or 42 years B.G (Before Gru) – before winding up in swinging mod London.

The setup lays the groundwork for a nonstop silly fun fest. Granted, the Minions are not known for their sophisticated wit. In fact most of their communication is a dialect that is mixture of English words peppered with foreign phrases. It’s a creative amalgamation of vernacular where syntax is key. Humor is derived from being able to interpret their Minionese within the right context. Although you don’t understand the vocabulary, you feel what they’re saying. It’s not hard to grasp. Kids in particular appreciate their lighthearted ability to adapt to whatever situation they must face. It’s an admirable quality.

Their business takes them to something called Villain-Con in Orlando. The city is presented as swampland in 1968 but it’s perhaps no small coincidence that the studio responsible for this, built a resort there in 1990. Villain-Con is clearly based on San Diego’s Comic Con but functions as sort of a delegation for the most evil supervillains ever assembled. Look carefully and you’ll notice Dr Nefario from the previous films. Gru and his mother are there too. With a nod to female empowerment, the undisputed leader in the field is Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the baddest criminal of them all. With her perfect 1960’s flip, she recalls Mary Tyler Moore. Her husband Herb (Jon Hamm) suggests Ringo Starr…or is it Pete Townshend? I’m not too sure. The rocking 60s soundtrack features both The Beatles (“Got To Get You Into My Life”) and The Who (“My Generation”) so I suppose it could be either. Which leads into my next point.

On the surface Minions is silly fun, but the narrative highlights a lot of delightful in-jokes that should entice hip viewers. Kids won’t get them and frankly many adults won’t either. The floor in Scarlet Overkill’s abode resembles the carpet in The Shining. Stuart greets the fire hydrant he fancies with “Papagena” which sounds like nonsense unless you realize it’s a character in The Magic Flute. Kevin whistles a tune from Mozart’s opera later. Scarlet Overkill’s bedtime story about a big bad wolf is underscored by Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. But it’s not all classical music. Baby boomers should dig the 60s fan service. Minions pop up out of a manhole cover just as the Beatles are crossing the street à la Abbey Road. The minions sing “Revolution”, the “Theme from the Monkees”, and “Hair”. They watch TV while flipping past The Saint, Bewitched & The Dating Game. Alas there are instances where toilet humor shows up like an unwelcome house guest. In those brief moments, taste takes a regrettable detour. However, more often than not, Minions is a feast for savvy pop culture aesthetes and their children as well.

07-09-15

Inside Out

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family on June 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Inside Out photo starrating-4stars.jpgPixar’s ode to the emotions of a little girl, Inside Out is a sophisticated journey into the physical expression of the psyche. Sounds pretty philosophical for a cartoon, right? However Pixar brilliantly distills the idea into an interpretation that is surprisingly lucid.  It manages to be gracefully enlightened in what it conceptualizes too. OK but just how many emotions are there really? In the 4th century BC Aristotle came up with 14: Anger, Calm, Friendship, Enmity, Fear, Confidence, Shame, Shamelessness, Kindness, Pity, Indignation, Envy, Emulation, and Contempt. Whew! That’s a lot of characters. Experts say it’s your facial muscles that tell the real story. As a result, many scientists have since agreed to reduce the core number all the way down to 4. Well Pixar chose 5: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader) and then granted Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) their own separate entities.

In the physical world, a girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is born to a loving mother (Diane Lane ) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) in Minnesota. When her dad gets a new job, the family must relocate to San Francisco. Moving is a particularly troublesome experience for the by now 11 year old: new home, new school, new people. On the outside, we see the facial expressions that belie her feelings. On the inside, we see the emotions argue, persuade, pressure and praise in the “Headquarters” of Riley’s mind. Joy is an effervescent pixie with a haircut to match. She is most often in control of Riley’s memories which are housed in glowing color coded orbs. Each one the shade of their overriding emotion. The spheres considered the most relevant are known as “core memories”. These power five “islands” in Riley’s subconscious, each highlighting a different aspect of her personality.

Then one day, Riley’s emotional world falls apart. Everything comes to a head on her first day of school. Sadness is a blue bespeckled awkward girl with bad posture. Sadness inadvertently touches a happy memory and turns it “sad”.  So Joy tries to eliminate the negative recollection.  Complications arise causing Riley’s 5 core memories to get knocked from their container. Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked through a tube and displaced along with Riley’s essential thoughts into the far reaches of Riley’s mind.  Disgust, Fear, and Anger become the de facto masters at the control of decisions that could ruin her life.

As a saga, Inside Out is The Incredible Journey or it’s Fantastic Voyage. Joy and Sadness must navigate their way across this bizarro world back to the command center. Indeed navigating the subconscious mind is pretty surreal. It’s not unlike the Beatles trying to get to Pepperland in Yellow Submarine. Inside Out isn’t anywhere near as psychedelic, but it still includes the realm of Abstract Thought, an Imagination Land, Dream Productions, and a dizzying labyrinth of Long Term Memory. Denizens include a clown, a unicorn and Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend from early childhood. Voiced by Richard Kind he is a cotton candy colored creature that fuses the trunk of an elephant with the tail of a cat and the squeal of a dolphin. A fun loving fellow wearing a porkpie hat and a purple bow tie, this hybrid creature is one of the more surreal entities on the Pixar roster. Anyone remember Jeremy Hillary Boob? That’s another reference to Yellow Submarine, a character that was also a bit of a nowhere man. Now a forgotten friend, Bing Boing consistently radiates joyful exuberance, although his selfless act later in the narrative has an elegiac quality.

Inside Out is a dazzling manifestation of the emotional mind, both visually and aurally. Last time director Pete Docter and composer Michael Giacchino collaborated, it earned them both Oscars (for Up). It could easily happen again. Pixar has long been the animation studio that combines the weight of poignant drama with dazzling visuals. Inside Out’s greatest gift is the presentation of the psyche as a landscape for which thoughts and memories are accounted and sorted. I realize Pixar didn’t invent this construct. The early 90s Fox sitcom Herman’s Head (It followed Married… with Children on Sunday nights) did a variation on this theme over 2 decades ago. But Pixar gets credit for expounding on the abstraction in a way that makes you question the way you experience your own life. The “Personality Islands” are a nice touch in making concepts tangible. That’s just one example of an idea that could be taught in the field of psychology.

After a series of perfectly adequate films that began in 2011, Inside Out is a welcome return to cinema par excellence for the Pixar studio. First and foremost, the adventure is an affecting story. Anthropomorphic emotions in red, yellow, green, blue and purple hues articulated as individual characters we can embrace. Joy and Sadness are the real stars here. They dominate the narrative with their odyssey back to the central hub. Call it Journey to the Center of the Mind. However Disgust, Fear and Anger all have their their moments too. Every emotion is key to a well adjusted human being. Pixar staddles the line between presenting it all as something a young child can comprehend but allowing just enough depth to captivate the adults in the audience. It’s still pretty straightforward, but there’s beauty in simplifying a complicated subject. Inside Out makes it all seem effortless.

06-18-15

When Marnie Was There

Posted in Animation, Drama, Family with tags on June 13, 2015 by Mark Hobin

When Marnie Was There photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe difference between what this chronicle suggests it might be, and what it truly is, are night and day. Anna Sasaki (Hailee Steinfeld) is a 12 year old girl that has yet to find her place in this world. An orphan, she is being raised by loving foster parents Yoriko (Geena Davis) and her husband. Unfortunately Anna still suffers from the emotional scars of the past. “I hate myself” she cries out early on. Indeed she begins from a very dark place. Her reclusive state lends the narrative a grim context not often associated with animation. One day at school she collapses from an asthma attack. Her parents decide to have Anna spend the summer with her aunt (Grey DeLisle) and uncle (John C. Reilly) in Kushiro, a seaside town with fresher air. There she meets a mysterious girl named Marnie (Kiernan Shipka).

When Marnie Was There has similar national ties that sort of make it a spiritual successor to The Secret World of Arrietty, a 2010 Studio Ghibli film. The story also began as a British young adult novel.  This one published in 1967 by author Joan G. Robinson. Studio head Hayao Miyazaki had it among his recommended list of 50 children’s books. The same director of Arrietty, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, then adapted it with help from Keiko Niwa and Masashi Andō, into a movie of the same name.

When Marnie Was There is an extremely slow saga but I am reluctant to call it plodding. I admire the gradually unfolding nature of the drama. Its reflective nature allows the viewer to kind of luxuriate in its mood. This is a plot that earns its drama from the heartbreaking turmoil of a teen going through adolescence. At first you want to embrace Anna. She feels isolated and alone. Yet she isn’t beyond reproach for her current circumstance either.  Anna is rather nasty at times, calling one of her new friends a “fat pig” out of nowhere. However Anna responds differently to the beautiful blonde Marnie, a friend her own age who lives in the dilapidated mansion across the pond. Except it isn’t in ruins whenever she visits her. At night there are even parties where Anna is invited to attend disguised as a flower girl. “You look like a girl from my dreams” Anna confides in Marnie.  Does Marnie really exist or is she merely a figment of Anna’s imagination?

When Marnie Was There never fulfills on its grand promise of something profound. Anna and Marnie strike up a friendship and their interactions allow the previously withdrawn Anna to open up. The two frequently abscond away together in clandestine meetings that suggest a rapport that is far more intimate. It reaches an apex when a jealous Anna questions Marnie about dancing with a boy. You’re certain that something more will come of this. But nothing does. Later there is a scary interlude that resembles a Gothic tale involving an old abandoned silo that terrifies Marnie. More suggestions of something grander than what is actually presented. The denouement ultimately ignores all of these plot threads and settles into a resolution that doesn’t effectively address the issues with which this poor kid is struggling. She was really messed up and the reveal is totally disconnected from what this girl had been feeling. Sill, the picture is too visually hypnotic to ignore. The soundtrack, both the music and the sounds of the environment, create a lavish atmosphere that is spellbinding. I liked When Marnie Was There. I just didn’t love it.

06-13-15

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