Posted 2 months ago

I’ll have limited access to the Internet until mid-August. Expect updates to be even more sparse than usual. 

Posted 2 months ago

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much of my life in the southern United States, where people in snakeskin boots actually do decorate with cow skulls and wave Confederate flags, but I’ve never particularly wanted anything to do with cowboys. I don’t know if I’ve misjudged the wild west or if The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is simply better than other movies that share its setting, but I do know that I love it, and I’d highly recommend it to anybody, regardless of their preconceived notions.

The 19th century west presented here is one of ruthlessness and brutality where anything goes for a couple of bucks or a swig of a hard drink; where the even the good guys aren’t so good. The story is one of betrayal, uneasy alliances, and cool manipulation, where the powerful are those who have a near-mystical command of where their bullets fly. The rules are flexible, the eyes are squinted, and the path to gold is a war-torn desert wasteland with shifting borders and nothing to break up the emptiness but cannon fire and the roar of a locomotive.

But, honestly, anything could be happening in this movie and I’d be happy to go along for the ride as long as long as it meant a chance to enjoy the incredible cinematography. Each shot is masterfully composed, and the juxtaposition of music and imagery puts the vast majority of movies to shame. I certainly wouldn’t call it perfect - there’s a lot of lousy ADR work, and the three-hour cut I watched was unnecessarily long - but it’s a fun time, and if you have any love for movies as an art form, this is essential viewing.

Posted 2 months ago

A Talking CAT!?!

Reasons you need to see this masterpiece:

  • It’s called “A Talking CAT!?!”
  • For a while you think, “That cat’s not gonna talk,” and then that cat totally talks.
  • Look up. Look at that image. Look at those exclamation points. Do you see those? There are eight exclamation points. And EIGHT IS ENOUGH!
  • When Duffy the talking cat (played by Squeaky the non-talking cat and voiced by Julia Roberts drunk brother) talks, he suddenly grows a little superimposed cartoon mouth that isn’t even the same shape as a cat’s mouth
  • A scene in a house, followed by a full minute of establishing shots of forests and beaches, followed by another scene in the same house with no clear passage of time. Why were we looking at the Vancouver wilderness for a minute? MOVIE MAGIC!
  • Sorry, did I say “a” scene like that? I meant “at least a dozen”.
  • Shooting day for night. Why wait for the sun to go down when you can just tint everything blue in post-production? Bonus: The red laser pointer they use to guide the cat is even more visible in the “dark.”
  • Poorly acted, meandering conversations that provide no new information. (All of them.)
  • Poorly acted, meandering monologues that provide no new information. (Most of the time when someone in this movie is talking, no one else is in the room.)
  • A soundtrack that sounds like the DEMO feature on a cheap keyboard, but without the soul.
  • There’s a bland reggae version of “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” that plays over the ending credits for no reason. I’m not making up any of this, by the way.
  • Movement between locations is never implied. You get the complete journey every time. If someone walks upstairs, you’re there for every single unhurried step.
  • Romance!?! I guess!?!
  • A cavernous mansion where every other line is drowned in echos.
  • Do you like swimming pools? So does the screenwriter.
  • Not one frame of film left on the cutting room floor. If they pointed a camera at something, you’re going to see it. Probably several times. I hope you like watching cats go through doors.
  • "And introducing Daniel Dannas"
  • Magic collar in the woods!
  • Magic computer software that lets you scan clothing with a high-tech scanner that’s definitely not a cheap reading light and then it tells you how to dress, but apparently it doesn’t remind you to button your shirt so your belly doesn’t peek out.
  • Two identical laptops that look less like real computers and more like they were swiped from an Ikea display.
  • Hey, can I swim in your pool?
  • Reminder after reminder after reminder that you could be watching a good Humphrey Bogart movie instead of watching A Talking Cat!?!
  • A slowly moving car that makes noises like a fast car. What a maniac that driver is!
  • Spoiler: The cat gets hit by the crazy driver, leaving him in critical condition. Apparently cats who are in critical condition after being slammed by a speeding car look just like regular, healthy cats, only they have a single strip of gauze haphazardly thrown on their head.

I can’t remember the last movie I watched that was this much fun. I give it nine lives out of nine. Two paws up. It’s the talking cat’s pajamas.

Posted 2 months ago

My little sister wins:

gimme $100. It’s the emotion “I accidentally got superglue on me lips and now me gots to smile but look sneaky-determined”

Posted 2 months ago
“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very—you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to—you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough.”I have a hundred bucks for anyone who can successfully tell me what emotion this is. You know what? Might as well make it a million.SOURCEWith thanks to Daniel Feit. More thoughts on the subject here.

“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very—you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to—you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough.”

I have a hundred bucks for anyone who can successfully tell me what emotion this is. You know what? Might as well make it a million.


With thanks to Daniel Feit. More thoughts on the subject here.

Posted 2 months ago

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is one of those books that I’ve probably read, but I don’t remember a thing about it. I saw the movie, too, and all I can tell you about it is that I thought it was funny. The sequel will be completely gone from my mind in a week. It’s already starting to fade, but don’t take that as a complaint. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is light and forgetable, but, whoa, I love this movie.

The plot is weirdly similar to Up - dude travels to an exotic island with unwanted companions, including a talking animal, where he meets his secretly-evil (Twist! Not really!) childhood hero, and learns who his true friends are - only I don’t hate it. You guys, I seriously hate Up, but 2 Cloudy 2 Meatballs trades in the phony, unearned, manipulative pathos and idiotic Star Wars dogs for genuine imagination, wit, and joy. And it’s an infinitely better movie for it.

Up wanted so, so badly to make me cry; to pause and think, “Huh, that’s really deep and sad… Ha! Star Wars dogs! Awesome!” Chance of Me2tballz don’t care what you think. It just wants to make silly visual puns and have lots of fun with crazy-looking movement. It’s fast and it’s clever and it’s not even slightly concerned with giving you emotions. Yeah, it’s shallow, and not every single joke lands, but it’s fun in a way cartoons have all but forgotten how to be, and for that, I love it so much more than any terrible movie that wants to introduce an obnoxious little CG girl only fast forward several decades and tell me I have to feel bad about her dying.

I hate Up so much.

Posted 2 months ago


Anon asks:

PRIVATE PLEASE I understand the representation problems that Disney has in general, but could you explain what the problem with the Frozen picture was? Bc I thought that was the Queen and her two daughters- like, I thought it was clever that they made them look so closely alike but also recognizably different. I’m sorry to ramble!! I’m just confused- is there anything you consider bad about that picture specifically, or was your comment more about the general problems that Disney has?


I have to say that I disagree with the tags you added to the Frozen character post. I think people forget that those three characters are related. It’s a mother and her two daughters, so of course they’re going to look alike. The other characters in the movie have different physical appearances; it’s just Anna, Elsa, and their mother who look almost identical!

That post, at least to me is in reference to, or within the context of, the fact that Disney animators have been quoted as saying that it’s hard to animate protagonist women because it’s hard to make them pretty AND show emotions.  The actual famous quote is:
"Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry."
Which, at least to me, looking at how the character design for Frozen came out, tells me 4 things:
  1. The animators only see beauty as an incredibly narrow, Eurocentric spectrum (basically what the Frozen sisters look like)
  2. Looking pretty is a vital characteristic of a female protagonist  You can’t show any emotion without losing the prettiness, or else something about the character is lost (Her human value? Her fuckability?  Who knows).  Either way, if a character isn’t pretty according to their (again, extremely narrow) standards, she can’t be a main character or love interest.
  3. Disney animators think emotionality is more inherent to women or that it’s more important to show emotion on female character’s faces than male characters, otherwise wouldn’t they have already complained about having to animate emotions onto the two lead males from Wreck It Ralph, or Toy Story?
  4. The animators at Disney aren’t interested in challenging themselves in order to have more female representation in their films.
Another way to look at that quote is that animators have literally bound themselves into this cyclical, imaginary cage that doesn’t allow them to animate a lot of diverse female characters, because every lead female has to be pretty according to a ridiculously limited standard (like, the standard is ONE face that she can have), but she must show emotions that appear different from another character that they intentionally CHOSE to look nearly identical.  It’s a problem they created and then whine about how hard it is to work around.  It’s a bunch of garbage.

See, the thing about going off-model is…that’s the part where animation gets expressive and fun! Why would you ever want to watch animation built out of generic, pre-made, stock expressions? Go on YouTube and look up a video of a pretty person talking. Then pause while he or she is mid-syllable. You’re going to see some goofy looking faces.

If you can’t make characters look unique, maybe stop Mr.-Potato-Head-ing the same old eyes and mouths on the same old models. Weird and goofy is good! And it can still be pretty! Betty Boop is known for her looks, and let me tell you, that is one funky-looking doglady if you freeze frame her.

Back when I taught improv, I would tell the boys they were allowed to play girls and the girls could be boys, and inevitably it would be followed by a guy talking in a squeaky falsetto. I’d stop the scene and start a conversation with a girl who would, of course, speak in an actual, human voice. We’d start over and the guy would play a character instead of playing a copy of a copy of a stereotype. Not only was the voice less grating and more believable, but the content of the scene was dramatically better 100% of the time, too.

Most boy people hear girl people speak every single day, but if you ask a guy to act like a girl, he immediately forgets everything he knows, and you see the same thing in animation. We could be enjoying better shows and movies, and all we need is a bit of course correction to remind animators that women shouldn’t all be drawn as the same bland thing.

Here are some cute, thin, presumably white girls - and they look nothing like Frozen characters.

Milt Kahl based the look of Madame Medusa on his ex-wife. It may not have been the most flattering tribute, but the character sure is specific and fun to watch.

A woman can be white, thin, and pretty without being limited to just being white, thin, and pretty. A good animator pushes the boundaries of creativity and visual interest. An animator or character designer who obsesses over staying on-model and pretty should find a job outside of art and entertainment.

[All images swiped from John Kricfalusi’s blog, where you can read a lot more about cartoony cartoons (although it’s not always the very best place for feminism and racial sensitivity).]

Posted 3 months ago



The Visual Comedy of Edgar Wright (by Tony Zhou)

Edgar Wright is the best comedy director working today by a factor of one million.

Posted 3 months ago


Someone from work insisted that I needed to watch this. I think maybe she thought it would make an anime fan out of me. No such luck on that front, but, gosh, this movie is pretty.

The colours. Goodness. They’re wonderful. And the wild-looking characters. It’s like if Brad Neely had limitless time and money to draw people, but he suddenly started taking himself seriously - everyone’s weird and misshapen, but in a deliberate way. Oh! Oh! Oh! The backgrounds! They’re this hyper-detailed mix of 2D and 3D, and every inch is covered in cracks and grime and graffiti. Anime may have started off as an imitation of big-eyed Disney cartoons, but I don’t think it could have evolved as it has in any country but Japan. It’s hard to imagine living in a place with centuries of such distinct architecture and fashion, and not wanting to constantly, obsessively capture it in drawings.

The animation itself is a little funky, with maybe only 4-6 wobbly-lined frames per second, and there’s a lot of unnecessary camera shaking and blur, but the drawings, backgrounds, and colours are so magnificent, you could pause at just about any moment and land on a image suitable for framing. This is a movie worth watching for the visuals alone.

…Which is good, because the rest sort of stinks. The plot is about two rough-and-tumble homeless kids in an urban wasteland. The yakuza move into town and there is fighting and meandering, pseudo-philosophical anime dialogue. Every stupid thought is the most important thing in the word. “I hate night time… It’s dark… It makes me think of death…” Or some equally trite nonsense.

The English-language cast is pretty awesome - Maurice LaMarche, John DiMaggio, Phil Lamarr, Tom Kenny - this is a voice actors’ vocal cast, and they actually do great work with the lousy material they were given, but it’s not enough to save a bad script.

Tekkonkinkreet goes on far too long and doesn’t have much to say, but it’s easy to recommend on the strength of its looks. I sat and watched it closely from beginning to end, and I didn’t totally love it, but if you were to, like, mute it and leave it on in the background at a party, just occasionally glancing over to get a peek at all those crazy colours, you’ll probably think it’s the best thing ever made.

Posted 3 months ago


I really wanted to love Zodiac, but it’s very much one of those “not quite” movies. The story starts promisingly enough, with a serial killer sending cryptic clues and taunts to several California news outlets, while continuing to set and break patterns in his bizarre killing spree. It’s all based on the true story of the infamous Zodiac killer of the late sixties and seventies, and it’s not hard to see why someone would be interested in adapting the intriguing investigation to a screenplay. Assemble a cast of vaguely-likeable white dudes (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Elias Koteas), toss David Fincher in the director’s seat, and it sounds like you’re on your way to a hit.

The trouble with basing a thriller on a real, very famous case instead of working from fiction is that the excitement in actual police work is rarely as action packed and conclusive as what you want out of a movie. Zodiac's principle players are cops and journalists who were lucky to get one meaningful hunch in a year. The movie's more than two-and-a-half hours long, and while I never found it boring, most of that time is spent watching men in offices talk over the din of a few dozen ringing phones. There's solid acting and solid direction here, without which the whole thing would be unwatchably dull, but it doesn't change the fact that the story just doesn't give anybody enough to do.

Totally decent flick, but you’d probably get more out of a YouTube supercut of all the shots of Jake Gyllenhaal staring at stuff. I don’t know if such a video exists, but it should.