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Creepy, But Nice

Oh boy, who doesn’t love a list?

Lately, when I’m not working or playing videogames, I’ve been drifting around YouTube for just random things. When it’s not cats, creepypasta, or children falling over, I find some nice short films to watch. So here’s a list of four short films, in no particular order, that I’ve found to dub creepy, but nice.

He Took His Skin Off For Me
2015, Directed by Ben Aston – 11mins

Behind this gory facade lies a lovely tale of the sacrifices we make for loved ones, and the love we show and return. Sweet, intimate, and at times, uncomfortable, He Took His Skin Off For Me is a lovely metaphor for trust and vulnerability – not to mention how far we’re willing to go for the ones we love.

Elefante
2012, Directed by Pablo Larcuen – 9mins

This is a movie that genuinely melted my heart to the point that it was oozing from my eye sockets. Elefante is the tale of Manuel, an average pencil-pusher who hates his job, his only friend, and struggles to be loved by his family. Things only get worse when he discovers that he’s turning into an elephant. Just watch and see.

Skin
2015, Directed by Jordana Spiro – 13mins

Oh hey, there’s that word “skin” again. This one’s a little…different. More of a coming-of-age story about isolation, puppy love, and just generally wanting to be accepted. And there’s bad taxidermy, which is a plus.

Death and the Robot
2013, Directed by Austin Taylor – 11mins

This short is beautiful. Two lonely entities discover one another, creating a legacy to change their world, despite heartbreaking sacrifices. Not really “creepy” per se, but nice none-the-less.

That’s all I wanted to share for now. Perhaps I’ll throw together more lists in the future. Have any to recommend? Please feel free to share!

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WYSHW: Mary and Max

You know how I feel about stop-motion.

You know how I feel about stop-motion.

This is a film I came across some time ago. It stuck to the back of my memory and never left. Sadly, it is no longer streaming on Netflix, but you should see it if you get a chance; Adam Elliot’s Max and Mary– an animated tale of isolation, second-chances, and condensed milk. Among other things.

Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore/Toni Collette) is a lonely Aussie girl who lives with her alcoholic mother and removed father. Max Jerrry Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is an obese 40-something with Aspergers living in New York.

After a mishap with her mother at the post office, Mary reaches out to Max on a whim, with the hopes of gaining a pen pal. Max obliges, and the two strike a friendship which spans years, complete with misunderstandings and ups and downs – without ever meeting face-to-face.

What struck me most about Mary and Maxis it’s odd combination of charm and crudeness – the same sort of traits found in Elliot’s Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet. Additionally, there’s something wonderful, magical even, about the heaviness and intangibility of depression and anxiety crossed with such tangible media as clay figurines. Personally, I’m also a fan of more adult-themed stop-motion films (the more that disbands the thought that all animated features are for children, the better).

Perchance this film is not for everybody, but I think that Mary and Maxis at least worth a glance for the dry wit and dark humor.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s get some Julie Taymor in here.

The Lego Movie

If you’re like me and a little behind, The Lego Movie is the story of Emmet Brickowski, voiced by Chris Pratt. Emmet is a generic-faced construction worker who learns that he may be the key to stopping the insidious President Business (Will Ferrell) from turning the universe as we know it into permanent, sterile “perfection.” Better late than never to see what all the commotion is about, eh?

I am never not impressed by the use of lighting in this movie.

I am never not impressed by the use of lighting in this movie.

Hype aside, the animation on this movie is pretty spectacular – there were times that I actually thought that stop-motion was being implemented (which was intentional). I’d be surprised if the animation alone doesn’t earn The Lego Movie a nomination next year. Unfortunately, with the incredible amount of detail put into each scene, it’s a shame that the film’s pacing was so frantic.

Now that I think about it, this movie really held itself back in many ways, which is ironic, considering that the entire plot is built on the idea of imagination. It’s also ironic that the film jokes about consumerism, while a covetable Lego set costs about $50, but I digress. The story beats you to death with the idea that everyone is a special and unique snowflake, but doesn’t really have any more depth than that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super sweet, but not that interesting after the 50th time.

It’s also incredibly disappointing that the chance at an original badass female character is wasted on a complete Mary Sue…but then again, there may be a reason for that, as well as the inclusion of other characters, but I’m not sure if it’s a good reason or just a cop-out. Nope, no spoilers here. I just feel as if the movie decided to dumb itself down to be more kid friendly or something, but they really didn’t need to.

Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) was easily the coolest original character - he had to rebuild his body out of ship parts. Well, okay, I like Bad Cop a lot, too.

Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) was easily the coolest original character – he had to rebuild his body out of ship parts.
Well, okay, I like Bad Cop a lot, too.

Perhaps I’m just thinking a little too hard about it, because The Lego Movie really is a good time. Perhaps it was a little too spastic for my taste at times, but I could easily see how there’d be something for everyone in this movie. After all, the intent of the toy has always been to inspire imaginative creation and play.

Yes it’s spastic and the story stretches thin, but the sheer amount of goofy enthusiasm is something to be admired. And if Toy Story taught me anything, there’s a definite joy in sentimentality, and The Lego Movie has plenty of that. Personally, I just think it’s worth watching for the animation alone.

Final Grade: B 

WYSHW: Howl

Franco, Hamm, and poetry. It's a good time.

Franco, Hamm, and poetry. It’s a good time.

When I made an allusion to Ginsberg in last week’s What You Should Have Watched, sadly, I was not referring to the much-anticipated Kill Your Darlings – you see, while James Franco was busy running around doing everything, he did a spectacular little film that didn’t receive much hype, despite its crucial subject matter. This film is simply entitled Howl, and it dives into the epic poem‘s genesis as well as its controversy, which helped shape a revolution in the history of art and publication.

Essentially, there really isn’t much more to it then that. We’re given the 1957 obscenity trial, with Franco as Ginsberg weaving his poem throughout the trial – the crux of each phrase then punctuated by breathtaking animation. The best part is, the rest is history.

It’s one thing to be a fan of Ginsberg before going into this, but I personally think that the subject matter is so strong that anyone who appreciates the power of art, literature and creative liberty will truly admire the message of the film.  The beauty is in the film’s simplicity: this was an action that sparked a generation, delivered with a delicate balance of poignancy and reserve. Check. It. Out.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk a little more about one of Ginsberg’s best buddies – all six of them.

Tear Down The Wall!

pink-floyd-the-wall-posterPink Floyd’s conceptual album The Wall may have received mixed reviews from critics – one even saying, “I’m not sure whether it’s brilliant or terrible, but I find it utterly compelling” – but it has remained a favorite for many fans, at least those who happily accepted Roger Waters over Sid Barret, but I digress – it’s a neat album.  Then when the movie was released three years later…it also received mixed reviews, only this time, many hardcore Floyd fans weren’t digging it, especially due to preconceived notions about the album – which is understandable, like when a favorite book is adapted.  The odd thing is, the album was originally written with the intent of being a film.  Personally, I find The Wall to be a fairly under appreciated work.

I realize that I’m a little biased because I really dig the album, or maybe because I adore all kinds of weird animation, so I’ll really try to ignore these things…or at least for a little while.

We don't talk about what happened between Live Aid and Live 8

We don’t talk about what happened between Live Aid and Live 8.

For now let’s focus on the story, which is about a young man named Pink and his complete psychological break.  Normally this sort of thing would be fairly uneventful, but when you throw in the fact that Pink’s a rock star who realizes the potential of his power over his followers.  And of course there’s some Oedipal things going on with the early death of his father in the war and then his overbearing mother and cheating wife – it’s all very dynamic.

I say there’s no better fodder for a rock epic.

Pink’s story is told completely through Pink Floyd melodies, accompanied by strong audible and visual metaphors.  Granted some of the imagery is fairly repetitive, practically beating you over the head with some things (yes, I get it, your daddy’s dead Roger!), but overall I think the repetition is fairly effective in driving the point home on Pink’s isolation and desire for control.

Okay, here comes the fun part – animation!  You have to admit, the most memorable parts of this film are the animated sequences.  This one, without a doubt is my favorite, in which Pink’s lavish lifestyle collides with a damaged psyche, building his isolation higher and higher:

I was kind of upset that “What Shall We Do Now?” wasn’t on the album after I saw this (I owned the album before seeing the film, by the way).  Anywhoo, the animation is incredible, combining the beautiful with the grotesque with hardly any effort.  I kind of wish the whole thing was animated to be honest – someone contact Gerald Scarfe and get him and Roger on this.

In retrospect, it seems for me The Wall is a complete guilty pleasure: good music, gorgeous animation, and strong metaphors.  Even if it is a complete guilty pleasure, I think it’s still worth a gander in one way or another if you haven’t already taken a peek.

Frankenweenie

After the death of his dog Sparky, an inventive young boy named Victor Frankenstein is inspired by his science teacher to bring him back to life with the power of electricity.  His experiment is a success, but Sparky’s presence is unsettling the quiet life of New Holland’s suburbs and opens a can of worms in a competition amongst Victor’s classmates.  Frankenweenie was originally a live-action short Burton made in 1984.  I was excited to hear that he was in-charge of a stop-motion remake, though nervous about exactly how he was going to flesh it out and what Disney was going to do once  they got their mitts on the production.  As a result, well, sorry folks but there are going to be some spoilers.

Less Barret Oliver is a good start.

I loved how this movie referenced classic horror films – sure the references weren’t at all subtle but I just love how they were engrained into this weird little world Burton created.  For instance, that scene where the parents are watching Christopher Lee’s Dracula in their quiet little suburban home, that moment feels like pure nostalgia to me – I can’t really explain it.  And of course the animation looks fantastic and everything – on the surface this film is just pure fun and plain adorable.

Impossibru!

Here comes the big fat however: I really just wish that they didn’t go with every convention for these types of weird kid movies.  Only this time all the kids were weird in their own ways, so I guess that leaves a little food for thought.  Regardless, we still get all the stuff about embracing differences and listening to our children and blah blah blah.  At first I thought ParaNorman topped this idea off for good, but when Mr. Frankenstein (long time no see, Martin Short) just says, “Sometimes adults don’t know what they’re talking about,” I think that just totally hit the nail on the head.  I mean I appreciate these messages, but they just get so draining after awhile.

I also still have mixed feelings about the character of Toshiaki – the character’s a complete stereotype but also voiced by a Japanese person, and I guess he was never made fun of other than his really thick accent.  At the same time he was also villainous and provided the Godzilla element.  I’m not sure if this is referential humor or kind of insensitive.  It’s not like this would be the first time Disney’s done something like this.

I liked this girl’s mystic poop cat.

On the other hand, I thought it was interesting how this film handled the explanation for the other kids’ experiments.   By focusing on the intent of the creation as opposed to the logic behind the results is something really refreshing.  After all, if something isn’t done with noble intent the results are well, monstrous.  There really was no sense to the happenings with the lightning, but I think that relates back to the sort of mysticism of this movie’s universe.  There’s a thunderstorm every night and there’s no explanation why.  Was it the miners or the graveyard?  We’ll just never know.

Frankenweenie is pure Burton fun just in time for Halloween.  It may lack depth but it still carries a genuine warmth, which is greatly appreciated.

Final Grade: A-

ParaNorman

This toothbrush. I want it.

ParaNorman is the story of Norman Babcock, an eleven-year old boy who was born with the ability to speak with the dead.  Naturally, everyone thinks he’s crazy – especially because he’s one of those hooligans who loves old zombie movies and has a mild obsession with the mentioned undead.  Unbeknownst to Norman, he isn’t the only one with this gift, and soon he will be put to the test in order to put an end to a 300 year-old curse on the town of Blithe Hollow.

This is honestly a movie you cannot afford to miss.  It’s just that good.  The story and characters are interesting and dynamic, and there were honestly bits that had me laughing out loud.  Not to mention, there were some moments that were also legitimately creepy.  And even though this film seems to beat you senseless with the importance of empathy, that didn’t manage to make it any less touching (which is a rarity nowadays).

It broke my heart when I learned Henry Selick didn’t have a hand in this. Then I just shrugged it off.

True, I did not see the movie in 3D, the visuals were still absolutely stunning.  Perhaps I’m biased because I simply adore the art of stop-motion, but this film’s aesthetic completely blew me away.

I need to stop myself before I gush on how pretty it was: go, see ParaNorman, have fun, I hope you like it as much as I did.  If you didn’t like it, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Final Grade: A

Despicable Me

Despicable Me is the story of an old-school French/Russian/Frussian(?) villain named Gru (Steve Carell) – and by old-school, I mean classic mansion, secret lab, minions (who look kinda like jelly-bean-tater-tots, one of which is Flight of the Conchords member Jemaine Clement – who knew?), mad scientist partner (Russell Brand), and a slew of endangered animal furniture.  Gru’s reputation is at stake when a younger, Mandarkesque manchild of a villain named Vector (Jason Segel) shows him up and the race is on to steal the moon.  Somewhere in the mix, Gru pawns some cute orphans into his scheme and gets more than he bargains for – oh the shenanigans!

     Personally, I really dug the concept of the film before I knew there were orphans involved.  I was like, “quirky villain movie, I could get into this,” and then, “HOLY CRAP HE JUST PUNCHED A SHARK!”  But once small children enter the plot, the dookie just hits the fan, dunnit it?  A simple concept add-on becomes a completely predictable farce.  Side note: as weird as this is, the more I think about the two villains’ (Gru and the moon and Vector and his fish) obsessions, the more Frueidian this movie gets…huh.  Must investigate further.   (And you folk looking deep between the lines for some pedo-ties, seriously, get your mind out of that “deep” gutter.  I looked – there’s really nothing there, everything else is pushing it.)

     But, I really did dig the characters, Gru and Dr. Nofario in particular.  I thought the casting was great – totally didn’t know that was our beloved Julie Andrews behind Gru’s ever-disapproving mom.  The minions…well, people can’t seem to stop going on about them…personally I found them kinda hit and miss as far as their comedy bits went.  But if you really think you’ll love them, folks, sit through the credits.  Animation was good, too – I liked how you could really see Steve Carell in Gru’s face.  And yeh know, the story was pretty original.  Was.  As mentioned, once the kids were tossed in, everything just kinda fell apart, plot-wise.  Still doesn’t make it any less of a kinda sweet belated Father’s Day film.

     So, Despicable Me?  How’s about Predictable Me!  HAhahahaha…ahhhhh oh god I need to see Inception.

 

Final Grade: B-


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Fantastic Mr. Fox

     When I heard that the ever-astounding Wes Anderson was to be filming an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was absolutely thrilled; the charming tale of an old fox getting the last of three vicious farmers, and the outcome, is an absolute classic – filled with wit and charm only Dahl could pen.  Wes did not let me down.  In fact, I might go out on a limb and suggest that he might have improved the tale.  Before I get ahead of myself I will tell you folks why.  Anderson takes the tale of Fantastic Mr. Fox and totally fleshes out the characters, no doubt to allow these critters to be better related to the common person.

You have Mr. Fox (George Clooney), an ex-chicken thief still adapting to twelve fox-years (two human years) of family life – inevitably growing bored and wanting better for himself and family.  Then there’s Mrs. Felicity Fox (Meryl Streep), the saucy ex-wild child who adores her family life and paints scenery on tiny canvases for a hobby – however, that doesn’t mean she’s lost her wild streak.  The Foxes only have one cub, Ash (Jason Schwartzman) – as opposed to a litter in the book – and a subplot is added between him and visiting cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), creating drama between both the cubs and between Ash and Mr. Fox, as Ash strives to be an athlete (like dad and Kristofferson) but can’t help being a little…different.  Anderson also thickens the plot by giving the audience a short day-in-the-life experience of Ash and Kristofferson at school, an original opportunity left out of the book.

The infamous farmers and nemeses to Mr. Fox, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, are depicted as malevolently as they are described in Dahl’s tale.  These men are as gruesome and violent as they are cartoonish and delightful to watch – almost like a dark, Brit cross between the Three Stooges (think the banter without the slapstick) and Elmer Fudd – but far more cynical, if that makes any sense at all.

The results of such changes are a remarkably charming, pleasant film; nominated for an Oscar, it’s just a shame that it’s taken me so long to see it.  One of the greatest aspects of this film is that though these animals dress and act like people, one never forgets they’re wild animals – mostly due to subtle (or in some cases, blatant) actions, such as when they eat, or argue or do other small animalistic things.  And then to contrast the cuteness of our protagonists, the antagonizing humans are portrayed as hideously as possible, without being too unrealistic – not even Bean’s son or wife is safe from the ugly!  Gawd it’s adorable – not just the characters, but the entire film; even scenes with the psychotic Rat (as voiced by Willem Dafoe…fitting) are just so cute!  I just gush “aw”s every time Mr. Fox and Kylie (a flighty opossum) mount a tiny fox-sized motor bike and speed off.  And the dancing!  Oy!  Excuse me while I go squee.

As cute as this is, some may argue that the content is not suitable for small children.  Then again, how small are we talking?  The humor in this film, though comes off as mature, can be enjoyed by the smaller set…if they’re educated – that and can catch the fast-paced dialogue.  (Remember, this is like any other Wes Anderson film, with the sets, dialogue, even costumes.) The violence is pretty mild – the worse things that happen includes when Foxy gets his tail shot off (happens in the book), which is then used as Bean’s necktie, then retrieved and fully detachable – no worse than when Daffy Duck gets his beak shot off.  Let’s see, that and when the farmers and their men are comically set aflame by lit pinecones – but no actual burning takes place.  Sure, they talk about alcoholic cider (reminder, the book was blatantly European), but no one’s ever drunk – it can be argued that Rat’s insanity was helped by the drink, but it’s never stated.  And they don’t even swear, they say “cuss”!  Can this movie get any cuter?

 Okay, enough with my cutesy talk before I throw up.  Putting that aside, Fantastic Mr. Fox, is well, for lack of a better word (don’t say it, don’t say it), fantastic! (D’oh!)  This is an absolute marvel and not to mention a marvel as far as stop-motion animation goes.  The story is charming, and the result is absolutely entertaining, deserving its place amongst Wes’s other feats.  Bravo.


Final Grade: A
     


“Got the Oscar?  Good!  That old man will never catch us!” *whistle, click click*

The Princess and the Frog

Yeh know, I really had some hope here. I thought, with the addition of their traditional animators and an untouched tale, Disney could bring back their old-school vibe that was lost after a franchise of crappy live-action films, most of which featured their own attractions or talking animals. Don’t get me wrong, some of these films are pretty decent, but they simply don’t match the caliber of the original films that created their family-friendly legacy. Oh the excitement of nostalgia!

Fail Disney, epic fail. The movie was cheesy and 100% predictable. The only tolerable bit was the villain, a voodoo priest named Dr. Facilier (Keith David), and he was one badass MF. Other than that, it’s some unmemorable tunes, talking animals, and butt jokes. And then they play out the climax like this was a serious Disney film, like it was The Lion King or something. *Spoiler alert* I mean really, do they really expect me to mourn the death of a Cajun firefly who makes butt jokes?

But at least I can give Disney some credit for giving us a well-animated story about a heroine who actually works hard for what she wants in life…not unlike Mulan. Wow, that even had the thing about her dad in that…so much for originality. They also payed a little homage to The Lion King, with the fireflies in the sky and all that. Jeezus.

Final Grade: C-  


I believe Tiana has the right idea about this one.