Tag Archives: animated movies

Seder-Masochism

When director Nina Paley’s father was on his deathbed, she and he had conversation about Passover that turned into a discussion about her long-ago decision to drop out of college to pursue her art, and how he wished she would have found a way to increase her savings.  It strikes me as a typical conversation between a father and daughter, particularly a Jewish father and daughter.  But it becomes much less typical when animated into a conversation between seder masochisma bearded dollar bill and a goat.  Those pieces form the heart of Seder-Masochism, a unique look at the story of Exodus from the perspective of a couple lapsed Jews.

In between, the story of Moses is told as a musical, with the Jews dancing their way through oppression in Egypt and then chaos in the desert to a collection of toe-tapping classics, one of which, naturally, is “Go Down Moses”.  Underlying the whole thing is the reality that in escaping from under the Pharaoh’s thumb, the Jewish patriarchy remained a source of oppression for women.  Paley admits that she had no idea how to seder masochism 2resolve the conflict between the Jewish God and the goddesses, but she does an excellent job of highlighting that conflict in the sunniest way possible.

The animation, all done by Paley, is unbelievably cheerful and bright, contrasting in every way with the subject matter.   That cheery art style, combined with the upbeat soundtrack, ends up making the film feel even darker as we see these awful events depicted as if in a Saturday morning cartoon, enhanced with the largely upbeat (and unlicensed) music.  Paley was up front about not having paid for the music in order to keep costs down while using the songs that best fit her vision.  The strongest scenes from the film, though, are those featuring the conversation between Paley and her father, as they are funny and starkly honest at the same time.

Whether or not you know anything about Judaism or Exodus, Seder Masochism is a well-made, charming, and surprisingly personal film.  And once Paley has completed the festival circuit this fall, she plans on making this movie available for free, so you’ll soon be able to see Seder Masochism yourself even if you aren’t able to catch it on the festival circuit.

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This Magnificent Cake!

There’s a definite trend toward using gimmicks to give depth to films, and it’s particularly prevalent in animated movies.  These days, almost everything is available in 3D, and often for new releases it’s hard to find a screening that’s NOT in 3D.  This Magnificent Cake! (Ce Magnifique Gateau!) is not in 3D but in no danger whatsoever of feeling two dimensional.  ThereCMG_concert is so much texture here, you’ll want to pet the screen.

The texture comes from the animators’ use of felt and yarn for basically everything you will see on screen.  Co-creators Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels have ensured that the characters, the animals, and even the water are fuzzy.  All the texture will captivate you throughout the film’s short 45 minute run time.  Every frame is packed with a ton of details and textures for the viewer to notice and absorb.  So even if you are lost in the narrative, which will happen due to its nature, you never mind all that much and are happy to just absorb what’s on screen.  The animation is incredible, and I would say that the visuals are the main reason that This Magnificent Cake! was the Grand Prize Winner (Best Feature) at the 2018 Ottawa Inter
national Animation Festival
.

The narrative is easy to get lost in because it’s left to the viewer to determine what is real and what is a dream or a hallucination.  This Magnificent Cake! features five interconnected episodes that revolve around Belgium’s colonization of Africa in the late 19th century.  The episodes begin and end abruptly and usually the next in the sequence starts soon after the previous one ended, but tells the story from a different perspective.  Most of the episodes unfold in Africa, but there is also some Belgium backstory as well as some bonding to take place during the several months (?) it took to travel by steamer from Europe to the colony.  How many of these events were imagined is hard to say (intentionally, I’m sure) but I “felt” at least half of it only happened in the characters’ minds, which hopefully includes a particularly memorable snail adoption by a lonely colonist.

This Magnificent Cake! is a unique experience that may leave you scratching your head when it ends, but your eyes will thank you for taking the trip.

 

Smallfoot

Shocking information of the day: Smallfoot is actually quite charming.

Also shocking:  I heard Milli Vanilli on the radio this morning. Unironic, unabashed Milli Vanilli from start to finish. Girl you know it’s true. I told Matt, of course, which obligated us to watch all their (3) videos and tumble down the rabbit hole of shoulder pads and dance moves. Which had us thinking about all our favourite cheesy 90s music, and that moment we discovered what sampling was (looking at you, Will Smith) and that embarrassing time in my life when I’d hear the opening beat and pray to Zeus that it was about to be Vanilla Ice and not that annoying song by Queen & Bowie. Can you imagine? Even being 6 doesn’t excuse that level of ignorance.

But back to the movie.

Migo is a BIGfoot, a happy-go-lucky guy, excited to be the next gong ringer in his bigfoot village above the clouds at the top of the mountain. They’re a rule-abiding, no-question-asking society until one day Migo (Channing Tatum) sees a plane crash (“flying thingie”) and a human (“smallfoot”) tumble out, and all the things he believed to be true were called into question. The Stonekeeper (Common) wears a robe that’s inscribed with all MV5BM2ZkM2MwYTQtYTNhNi00MWRjLThjMWItZDljNDg2ZjE5ZDFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_the village laws, and the robe says Smallfoots don’t exist. For once in his life, Migo disobeys the stone laws and gets cast out of town for sticking to his guns. Only the village crackpots\conspiracy theorists believe him, but they turn out to have a beautiful leader, Meechee (Zendaya), so Migo is persuaded to jump either to his death or his edification on behalf of the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, over the mountain and through the clouds. Down, down he goes. He falls so far he can’t sustain his scream; it falters so he can rest his voice.

Below, he finds the Smallfoot (James Corden) but would you believe that only gets him in a whole whack of trouble?

Smallfoot has some delightful animation. Dozens of Bigfoots mean millions of hairs to animate, but they add up to a metric fucktonne of cuteness. There are some pretty good songs too – the first two numbers are poppy and catchy, the numbers choreographed with maximum fun. They burst with happiness. And then a third song. The opening beat…sounds familiar. Wait, is this about to be Ice Ice Baby, or Under Pressure? You’re wrong either way. James Corden changes up the lyrics so that fans of both are equally appeased\disappointed. But even when the musical numbers dissipate, the action and the story hold up. Our no-nosed yeti friends are a lot of fun, even if they have to learn some hard lessons about truth and who exactly it protects.

Smallfoot makes us wait longer than usual for the requisite fart joke, and it has some beautiful messaging integral to its story. Common tells us “the only thing stronger than fear is curiosity.” Once that curiosity is unleashed, the Bigfoots learn to put a dicey past behind them and overcome their fear to take care of each other despite their differences. I had no expectations for the movie Smallfoot which perhaps made it even sweeter when it turned out to be cute and funny and nearly everything you’d want from a kids movie – plus or minus a few pooping yak jokes.

Fantasia Film Festival Wrap Up

Cinderella The Cat

Um.

Where to start. This is an animated film, but do not let that that mistake you into thinking this is benign in anyway.  Mia, the “Cinderella” in question, was a little girl aboard a ship of dreams, a ship her father was going to turn into some wildly successful, hologram heavy, extremely technologically advanced…something. MV5BMjMyNTFkYzEtNmI3Mi00MGVkLTkyYTgtMTJhN2Q1MzQzMjgyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_Cruiseship? Tourist destination? Curiosity? Lab? Impossible to say because it never happens. Instead her father gets tricked into marrying an evil woman, a woman who has schemed with her evil boyfriend to steal Mia’s dad’s fortune by murdering him on their wedding day, directly after the vows. And they do. And then they for some reason have to wait 12 long years until Mia comes of age and inherits her fortune, which they’re certain she’ll sign over to them. Which makes no sense because for 12 years, Mia’s evil stepmother and her 6 evil stepsisters force her to be their maid as they all live aboard the crumbling ghost of the ship. They hate her for sure and the feeling is mutual but in this case I can’t help but think that the maid fate is actually quite lucky – stepmother forces her own daughters into prostitution.

Anyway, it’s an ugly, sordid tale that I didn’t enjoy. There were no glass slippers, though there are shoes used for drug trafficking. Did you always secretly want your Cinderella with a side of tits and guns and racial slurs? Boy have I got an Italian film for you.

Ajin: Demi Human

An Ajin is a demi-human, as in a human who comes back to life after death. Immediately. 46 are known to exist worldwide, but more are likely in hiding, because their fates are undesirable. These ‘immortals’ are being captured in Japan, by their own government, for sadistic testing. Alive while their limbs are systematically amputated, for example, they are tortured day in and day out until MV5BMzIwYzFiNWItZTM0OC00ZDE0LWE4MTktMTkxY2M2NDRmZjM4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQxNjcxNQ@@._V1_they succumb. And then they live to do it again.

When demi-human Kei Nagai is sprung from such a lab by another Ajin and former captive, he’s only relieved for a few minutes before realizing that his saviour is going to ask something in return. Something big. But the movie doesn’t dwell on complicated facts or feelings or characters or situations. It’s time for violence! Stunning, beautifully-choreographed violence, which includes a nifty (and probably unnecessary) Ajin perk: a ghost monster who comes out of them and fights alongside them – there’s something familiar about it, maybe not quite Transformery or Pacific Rimy, because it’s smaller scale, but still. The fight scenes are crazy. And the director knows that’s all you came for, so dispenses of all the details.

 

 

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Confession #1: I had no earthy idea what or who the teen titans were. We had tickets to a press screening and passed them to some kids we knew who were keen to go – we were at a comedy festival seeing Will Forte and not that sad to miss it. The kids were big fans of the movie and it was only a couple of days later I found myself actually paying to see this movie because it was in the right time and place.

Confession #2: When the movie started, I was surprised to find that it was about young, recognizable super heroes – super girl, bat girl, etc. Then it ended. Because it wasn’t the movie, it was just a short before the movie. So, okay, not super heroes then. That makesMV5BNGZlZjYwZjEtMDQzYS00MThlLTljNGYtM2ZkYWRmYmQ4ZGNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzExMzc0MDg@._V1_ more sense. Then the real movie begins, and it turns out it IS about young, recognizable super heroes, just different ones. The group is helmed by a young Robin, and includes Cyborg, and 3 others who I’d never heard of before: Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy.

Confession #3: Okay, I lied. I have heard of Beast Boy before. In fact, I’ve played it with my little nephew, Ben. It’s just that at the time I assumed Beast Boy was a PJ Mask, a compatriot of Catboy, perhaps. Turns out these are DC characters who have been around as long as I have (do not be fooled by an extensive Stan Lee cameo!). Though they live in Jump City, they exist in the same world as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, who all make appearances in this film.

In fact, the old guard kind of get the whole thing going. The Teen Titans kind of live in their shadow, never really getting the opportunity to fight true crime, and certainly never getting to star in their own movie. And it’s the movie big that really rankles, particularly for Robin. He pursues fame quite single-mindedly. And if the only way he can land a movie deal is to find an arch nemesis, he’s not afraid to put friendship on the line and travel back in time to get the job done.

Surprisingly (to me), Teen Titans is full of songs and in-jokes. There were definitely a few winks to the parental audience, but this is firmly a kids’ movie, barely more than an extended episode. Charming enough, I suppose, with bright colours and a certain brand of zany fun. Fart joke within the first 5 minutes. That kind of thing. The kind of movie where every single kid the audience can take a bathroom break, maybe two (AND THEY DID) and not miss much at all. On the upside, I’ve really informed my Beast Boy cosplay, and I know a 4 year old who’s about to be super impressed! That’s right, Ben, Aunt Jay has done some research!

Duck Duck Goose

Peng is the self-proclaimed best flyer in his gaggle. He’s a loose canon, an inveterate bachelor – the kind of gander who’d rather stick to himself and fly solo (other than that attractive goose, JingJing, but her dad’s a real pill). When he accidentally plows through a whole flock of ducks, he’s labelled as “not family friendly” and is asked to leave the park. This is ironic because a) Peng is voiced by Jim Gaffigan, often styled the “family friendly” comedian because of his clean humour (and his 5 children), and b) Peng’s about to act as a “mother” to a couple of ducklings, Chi (Zendaya) and Chao (Lance Lim), who happen to imprint upon him.

Peng is not exactly in this arrangement for selfless reasons, but he agrees to help the ducks migrate south. He’s injured and can’t fly, they’re small and helpless, and he figures MV5BYmYzODQ4YjktYTI0OC00OGI2LTkyN2YtYTYwZTkzOTRkYzgyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_if he can’t take to the sky to dodge predators, at least he can outrun two fluffy baby ducks. Not exactly honourable motivation.

In addition to Jim Gaffigan, who is a favourite of mine, the voice cast comprises several other stand-up comics, like Greg Proops, and Natasha Leggero, and all-around funny folk such as Carl Reiner, and Stephen Fry. This movie is a Netflix original, and newly released, and couldn’t come at a better time, comedy wise, since Just For Laughs is just starting up down the street from us in Montreal, where we’ll be seeing other favourites of ours like Will Forte, Maria Bamford, and Tig Notaro.

Anyway, given even this very vague set up, I bet you know how the movie unfolds. It feels like an 80s sitcom in a lot of ways: unlikely dad is in over his head with hilarious parenting issues, has as much to learn from the kids as they do from him. Sound familiar?

For the most part this movie is a throw-away. It’s not garbage but there’s nothing new about it, and nothing particularly good. It’s adequate animation, a predictable, bare-bones script, some charming characters, a couple of laughs. Kids may find it acceptable, although it’s not as flashy or frantic as most other cartoons. It’s generic and safe and it stays just on the other side of bad thanks to a heartwarming ending.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

In my opinion, the Hotel Transylvania franchise is completely devoid of charm, wit, imagination, or life. It’s the barest of bare minimums. It treats children like nitwits and may actually be worsening their little attention spans by assuming they have none.

But if your kids are already attached to this hotel full of monsters, chances are you’re going to have to sit through this one too, so here’s what you’re dealing with: Drac (a vampire voiced by Adam Sandler) manages a hotel for monsters. His daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) shocked the monster community by marrying a human, Johnny (Andy Samberg) and producing a half-human, half-dracula child they inexplicably named Dennis. So that’s basically the first two movies, distilled into two sentences, and let’s faceMV5BY2ZiMWFkZDEtMTgxNy00ZDdkLTlkYzgtYWNlYTcxN2M0NDcwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_ it, with some clever punctuation, it could have been just the one. Anyway. The hotel is populated by various monsters such as Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his lovely wife Eunice (Fran Drescher), Mr & Mrs Werewolf (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), the invisible man (David Spade), and a mummy called Murray (Keegan-Michael Key). And in this third installment, Mavis gets it in her head that her dad has devoted his life to perfecting other people’s vacations and deserves one of his own. So somehow the whole gang schleps off to a monster cruise, helmed by the beautiful captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Only problem is: Drac has already “zinged” once (“zing” being the monster version of love at first sight, and true love forever, and love being once in a lifetime). So he’s nervous about it, and Mavis is unexpected not that cool with it. But even more worryingly, Drac’s old nemesis Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) might still be after him after decades of cat and mouse. So that’s disappointing.

Spelling it out like this actually makes it seem like this movie has a plot, and I guess it does in the very vaguest of terms. But plot in this case is just filler in between out of the blue musical numbers \ dance sequences where it is clear that a) Sony isn’t shelling out for good or current music and b) the animators are super duper lazy and praying we won’t notice.

Anyway, Hotel Transylvania is as big a snore as the first and second. The only thing it has going for it is a giant puppy named Tinkles, even though he’s criminally and surprisingly effectively disguised by a small hat for most of the movie (which manages to confound all of the grown-ups until it falls off and his true identity is revealed). I was never in danger of laughing. I had low expectations for this movie and it met them – good thing it was the only thing playing at the drive-in.