Four Animated Films Off The Beaten Path Worth Your While (with lotsa clips!)

Funny how we usually still think of animation as a cinematic art form delegated mostly to children’s entertainment. All of the animated features coming from Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks or Ghibli are aimed at kids primarily, with material for adults put in around it all to keep parents interested and build cult following appeal. And usually the best of those films are much, much more for adults in the end – the nostalgia for childhood running through all the Toy Story movies, for example, elevates those films beyond the light-hearted kiddie adventure of talking toys questing after some small thing. Up can’t really be appreciated until you actually develop enough of a sense of your own mortality to relate to the characters. Miyazaki’s films are so multilayered with folk tales, mythology and magic that their complexity outdoes that of mainstream grownup entertainment by a bunch.

The films I watched (one of ’em re-watched after many years) over the last few days fall into the same category – two of them seem to be for kids on the surface but once you start watching, you realize they’re not. And the other two are clearly made for a grownup audience, utilizing forms of animation to accentuate the themes of the story.

Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) comes from Hungarian artist and (impressively) first-time film maker Milorad Krstic. It’s about a psychologist having nightmares of figures from great works of art trying to kill him – so he recruits some of his criminal patients to steal the actual works for him, figuring that the control of ownership will free him from his dreams. Beyond the interesting ideas on why people enjoy art, or need art, the film follows a lot of the conventions of the modern heist film, with action set pieces, car chases, a nicely woven complex plot with some nice surprises (especially a very ambiguous ending, although the doppelganger-from-my-dream-world theory seems to work here), and interesting characters. Each of the thieves has some sort of psychological problem that turns up in their manner of thievery. Brandt exploits this, but also provides them with artistic paths towards their control over their issues, just like the possession of the art will give him control over his own. The visual style adds a lot to it – the character design mixes elements of Cubism (especially Picasso) and Surrealism, with backgrounds and action mixing both 3D and 2D rendering for an effect of giving us an experience much like one of Ruben’s art dreams.

Check out the trailer!

Even if the trailer, I bet you caught little references to all sorts of stuff beyond the art works too… a little homage to Tarantino here, a little bit of Mission: Impossible there… and there are famous works of art everywhere in the background, either in museum scenes or on t-shirts, posters, ice cubes that look like Hitchcock, you name it… the whole thing feels amazingly original. I can’t really say I’ve seen anything quite like the totality of it, and I liked it a lot.

Continue reading “Four Animated Films Off The Beaten Path Worth Your While (with lotsa clips!)”
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Friday Art: The Pony Express by Frank Tenney Johnson (1924)

So the other day when I had some free time, I dropped into one of my more preferred dumpy thrift stores and came up with a copy of The Searchers: Making of An American Classic, which looks like it’ll be an interesting read for a buck and a half. Granted, most of it is not about the making of the film (one of my favorite old westerns) but about the true history story that inspired the film: the Comanche kidnapping of Cynthia Parker and how she became one of their tribe, becoming a wife and mother, including a son who became a Comanche chieftain before her Uncle found her after years of searching & took her back against her will.

The film takes that set-up, with Natalie Wood kidnapped and Uncle John Wayne searchin’ and searchin’, while giving us John Ford’s version of the settlement of the west and what sorts of bigotries and barbarities cleared the way for what is presumably a more civilized nation.

So I thought I’d offer one of the kind of American western paintings that inspired a lot of Ford’s imagery – in terms of landscape, character and even lighting. Frank Tenney Johnson’s Pony Express gives us a wonderful night time view of the western wilderness, with a set of mail riders departing from a very lonely looking stone outpost, the kind that’d turn up as a safe stopover for Ford’s Stagecoach passengers, or contain some creepy would-be bushwhackers like Futterman’s general store in The Searchers.

Johnson was mostly known for works like this, where he painted cowboys by moonlight. He gives us a wonderful cloudy moonlit sky against the weak competition of the glowing lamps from inside the outpost. I love the reflection of moonlight off the body of the big brown and white horse in the lead, too.

WHADDYA WANT ME TO DO, SPELL IT OUT FOR YA? DRAW YA A PICTURE? DON’T EVER ASK ME ABOUT IT AGAIN!

That’ll be the day.

Weekend Entertainment for May 25-27, 2019

Some books and movies to discuss this Memorial Day weekend, thanks to several days of clouds ‘n’ drizzle that kept me inside most of the time. So while I’m letting a seasoned porterhouse come to room temperature before I sizzle it up for dinner (I posted a wonderful steak recipe & method here), I’ll tell ya about them.

I knocked off a couple of Hollywood gossipy quasi-bios this weekend, starting out with the one I grabbed a week back aong with a nice haul of other volumes at a big annual library sale – George Jacobs’ Mr. S – My Life With Frank Sinatra. Jacobs was Sinatra’s personal valet from the early 1950s to 1968, the PERFECT time to get all the dish ‘n’ dirt about bad marriages, Rat Pack Tales, the prime years of his music (if you ask me), dalliances with the Kennedys, and so forth. Jacobs mostly focuses on the sex lives of everyone he discusses, so this one was a very entertaining page turner. Sinatra would be incredibly loyal, sentimental and generous to people he liked, and could turn on a dime if he felt betrayed, cutting people completely out of his life & taking the grudge to his grave. Jacobs incurred Frank’s wrath by dancing with Mia Farrow at a Hollywood club, setting off gossip and rumors about affairs and such…. all perfectly innocent in Jacobs’ version, but Frank could never ever forgive the other men who he thought had eyes on “his” women – most often Ava Gardner, who he never could get over – but also the mismatched Farrow. Jacobs spins wonderful anecdotes – little wisps of his observations of Sinatra, and none of ’em disappoint. When I picked it up at the library sale and flipped through it to see if it’d be worth reading, every page I landed on contained another story about Frank getting pissed off at something or someone, smashing a phone, kicking a car radio, or threatening to kill himself – and I said “SOLD!” It was certainly a must-read item, an entertaining behind-the-scenes description of truly monstrous behavior towards people and especially lovers by the overly entitled – just perfect to make me feel both morally superior AND entertained.

Continue reading “Weekend Entertainment for May 25-27, 2019”

Friday Art: Movies, Five Cents by John Sloan (1907)

I’ve posted Sloan before and will again since I’m a big fan of the Ashcan School material. Even if much of it centers around city life in New York where I’ve never lived, everyday modern city life is, well, everyday modern city life everywhere, really. So I always like seeing the simple scenes of everyday people livin’ the life.

And what a tiny movie theater Sloan shows us here – such a small, cramped space with that hint of a wall and lowering ceiling in the upper left – but that’s the way it was in 1907, barely out of the nickelodeon era, right around the time DeMille and others began filming in Hollywood and not New Jersey. In 1907, no American knew who Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or even who DW Griffith was yet. It was all in its infancy, usually depicting plain and boring domestic dramas, hints of which Sloan gives us on that black and white screen.

Our audience is prety well dressed, racially mixed, and unlike modern audiences, not texting on their damn smartphones. They’re all fixated on the screen, except for the center figure looking right at us, as if we’re the ones coming down the aisle with the popcorn to sit next to her.

And if movies were five cents again, maybe I’d go more often.

Edward G. Robinson Needs To Behave Himself, Twice

In 1944 & 1945, Edward G. Robinson appeared in two similar noirs alongside Joan Bennett as the femme fatale and Dan Duryea as the sleazy blackmailer/crook in a pair of films directed by Fritz Lang. And both of them are well worth seeing.

Robinson finally got to stop being typecast as tough-guy gangsters by the late 1930s, and made a bunch of films in the 1940s where he played more dweebish and often psychologically damaged men confronted with the awful price of their desires, like his role in The Red House (1947) (No, not THAT Red House with best youtube ad ever). While his Pete in The Red House is crazy with a deep dark secret, the pair of characters he plays in Lang’s The Woman In The Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945) are simply nebbishes who wind up way in over their heads when they fall for characters played by Joan Bennett.

In “Window,” Robinson plays a bookish professor who sends his family off on vacay and then swoons over a painting hanging in a gallery outside his stuffy men’s club, only to meet the model herself, played by Bennett. Soon he’s having a drink with her, her angry boyfriend shows up, starts a fight and winds up dead. Robinson and Bennett conspire to hide the body, and then Raymond Massey as the District Attorney friend of Robinson’s actually calls him in to work on the case, even though the truth of it will lead to him. And then, things get more complicated when blackmailer Dan Duryea shows up…

Continue reading “Edward G. Robinson Needs To Behave Himself, Twice”

Oscar 2019

And that’ll be me, during the awards.

I used to watch the thing at a big gathering akin to a Superbowl party, every year.

No more.

It broke me, what can I say? I can’t sit through what is perennially an AWFUL show where a very, very troubled industry that feels like a total shell of its glamorous past kisses its own ass in front of an ever-shrinking TV audience. Sure, if they brought back Rob Lowe singing to Snow White, maybe… but I’ll pass.

There are some good and great movies among the nominees and eventual winners, I’m sure. A lot of the people being honored are great talents, both in front of and behind the camera.

And I can always watch the movies themselves later. I don’t need to sit through the award show drek.

I don’t even bother making predictions anymore, as I used to on this blog in advance of filling out a betting pool ballot at whatever part I attended that year. Best Picture? Probably Roma, but who knows? Glenn Close will probably get a career nod and win Best Actress. Rami Malek has won every other award so far, so Best Actor won’t be a surprise. And the rest…. I just don’t care.

The only 2018 films I saw (so far) were The Incredibles II (disappointing after loving the first one so much, all the noms you’d expect and it will probably lose to Spiderman Into The Spiderverse for animated feature), The Death of Stalin (excellent, and did not get any major noms, which figures) and The Favourite (not bad, not great, maybe I’ll write a detailed review soon, got a ton of noms). There are others I’ll see eventually. Whatever. But I’ll have to cull my way through the overloaded landscape of assembly-line Marvel/DC/Star Wars comic book adolescent crap and find whatever they made for adults.

And get off my lawn.

I’d rather have an Oscarcast overloaded with big-name glamorous movie stars whose presence in a film immediately sparked your interest in seeing it… and that explains why I watch so many old movies. I’ll have a post on a couple of old Fritz Lang noirs with Edward G. Robinson up soon. And if you love film, don’t those 2 names spark your interest? I’d be hard pressed to think of nearly any leading actor/actress in 2019 whose mere presence in a cast would get me interested in seeing the movie. Maybe Hollywood should work on that.

A Pair Of ’70s Crime Capers: The Silent Partner (1978) and St. Ives (1976)

The vast majority of the crime ‘n’ mayhem category in my to-watch list are old black & white b-movies from the ’40s and ’50s, and I was more in the mood to see some out of date fashion and even more out of date social mores in living color, so I watched these two. One was very good nearly great, the other not so good but not terrible.

Do you like my precise review categories? Why, you’re welcome.

Let’s start with the good-to-great The Silent Partner, directed by long-time TV director Daryl Duke and scripted by none other than Curtis Hanson, from the novel “Pick Any Number.” Gould plays a nerdish bank teller in Toronto who puts himself into a chess-like battle of power and brains with a psycho robber played by Christopher Plummer. Gould figures out that Plummer is casing the bank, sets it up to skim money from the robbery, but then Plummer finds out, and wants his money…. and then the two of them keep trying to screw the other one over. And it’s wonderfully clever and fun.

Continue reading “A Pair Of ’70s Crime Capers: The Silent Partner (1978) and St. Ives (1976)”

When An Army Of Cats Doesn’t Kill Enough: “Eye of The Cat” (1969)

You’d think a movie about a house full of cats who’d kill to protect their crazy sick old lady owner from a murder-inheritance scam would be a great movie, but alas… this one fell way short.

I was surprised I’d never heard of this one before last week, and it went right to the top of my considerably long to-watch list. (I know how most men brag about the length of their to-watch list, but mine really is huge.)

Eleanor Parker was only in her late 40s when this got made, yet she plays the crazy old dying-of-emphasema aunt living in a big ol’ San Francisco mansion filled with hundreds of cats. (I guess that’s where you end up after being so thoughtlessly used by Stephen Boyd in The Oscar). Michael Sarrazin plays the free wheelin’ free lovin’ wayward nephew recruited by Parker’s hairstylist (Gayle Hunnicut, pictured above) to return home, get the will changed in his favor away from the cats, and then to knock off the Aunt for the money, to be split with said hairstylist.

But he has a DEATHLY AND PARALYZING FEAR OF CATS dating back to childhood, so this will…

Oh Gawd…. this movie took what was a decent basic concept and blew its potential in so many ways, I don’t know where to begin.

Continue reading “When An Army Of Cats Doesn’t Kill Enough: “Eye of The Cat” (1969)”

Some Fun Science: How Dolphins Get High

Pufferfish will spew out a toxin when threatened that’ll paralyze or kill their enemies.

But dolphins only get stoned off it. And being dolphins, amazingly intelligent animals, they’ve learned to seek out & pass pufferfish amongst themselves, all taking hits off the bong, according to this Smithsonian article.

Money quote: “The dolphins’ expert, deliberate handling of the terrorized puffer fish, Pilley told the Daily News, implies that this is not their first time at the hallucinogenic rodeo.”

Fa loves pa, but loves getting blasted a bit more, I guess.

Me? I’ll be finishing a bottle of wine I started the other day with my dinner tonight. Flipper was not invited.

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