Friday, July 24, 2020

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse (1918) directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Every once and long while a film comes up with something truly new and innovative and this movie is 100% in that category. The story of the Mile Morals version of Spiderman from the comic book series is integrated with several other versions of Spiderman in a truly engaging and exciting story filled with humour and a good share of drama. Spider dies at the start of the films, murdered by the Kingpin, which pretty shocking for an animated film but he is far from the only killing by the end of this story. 

Story really is front and centre in this production, but it also outshines pretty much any other modern animated project in the visuals. It is hard to describe the look of this movie except to say it's a comic book come to life. That doesn't nearly cover it though. The animation is far beyond just mimicking a comic book style... it's layered approach and combination of both CGI and 2D to achieve its unique presentation of the material is revolutionary and will change how you look at "cartoons" forever more. Every shot, the lighting the movement is stunning to look at and it's in total service to the top notch story telling and performances. 

Marvel knew the Miles Morals story needed to be told on the big screen and came up with a way to do that and not step on the toes of the I've action films. The movie literally references the comics it's drawing from as plot point, including the bizarre, Peter Porker - the amazing Spiderham. As wild and weird as it it is this film has real heart behind it and matches that with technical brilliance. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Ad Adstra (2019) Directed by James Gray

Ad Astra ("to the stars" in latin) is a film that attempts to tell the story of emotional and physical detachment with Brad Pitt as an exceptional astronaut put on a mission to find his long supposed dead father who was working near Neptune on a project to discover extraterrestrial life but somehow caused some sort of antimatter reaction in the sun causing intense solar flares that are knocking out electronics and communications everywhere humans have settled in the solar system. This problem, though it is never really shown visually or explained adequately, could lead to the possible death of life in the solar system. 


Pitt's mission is top secret and in the end he does what all heroes do - he finds his absent father, saves the solar system and himself in the process. If that sounds like a bunch of tropes put together, it is.

Overall, the film is visually stunning with effects that look completely natural, maybe too natural as beautiful as they are, they come off as understated. Brad Pitt's performance is excellent - speaking understated. The other actors, an impressive cast of them including Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, Live styler and others follow his low key acting style which keeps Pitt's astronaut from becoming unlikable and cold while letting him remain distant. Even in his emotional painful transition from detached, compartmentalized loner to a more humanized version of himself that realizes he does not want to become what his father was and learns to reach out to others he remains calm, and almost monotone. This is not a critique, it works and Pitt show how good an actor he is by pulling it off. 

Where the film falls down is the script. It doesn't seem to know what it is or where it wants to go. It references Kubrick's 2001 Overton enough but throws in elements that distract from what makes that film hypnotizing to watch. A huge problem is the use of voiceover, I am not a fan. It over explains and could have be used sparingly. Instead, we get a constant inner monologue better left to out imaginations and told through visual cues and symbolism. The film and director seem more than capable of succeeding in giving us a purely visual driven story but the script keeps inserting "exciting" diversions like a chase soon the moon and a diversion to another spaceship that has sent out a distress signal. While back of those storylines could have been a film of their own, they come off as attempts to add action and general public pleasing effects and some gore to spice up what should be a much more intellectual and personal journey. They distract rather than add anything useful. 

It's east to forgive some of the handwaving and missing explanations in a movie like that, the visual are stunning and we accept right away that the solar flare thing is a McMuffin to propel the story of a man's search to find himself. I do think they spaceships would be less wasteful and instead of duding sections into space after launch like the Apollo missions did would be more like the shuttle program reuse as much as possible. In the future building rockets on other planets will require more reusability not less, it seems. The time to get form one place to another is really short for a film that want stories depict space travel in a realistic way. What should take many years takes a few months and as a result the dialogue about isolation and the long term effects of that loses some of its impact.

The meeting of father and son near the end is a mess. I really did not get any sense from it at all. There is a deep story there but it's hidden in tropes and cliches. If I were the director/writer I might have replaced that section of the plot with the main character getting to the Neptune station and finding out then, rather than earlier that his father had killed the crew and inadvertently caused the anti-matter catastrophe. The father would be found dead and Pitt's emotion journey would  make more sense. Finding out your dad is the jerk you always thought he was in space is less motivating to me than finding out his obsession and detachment and obsession with his one work goal is a much better to change your life around to avoid becoming him.

This is a movie that has all the bits and pieces of greatness in it but fails to go the distance because it plays it too safe and tried to appeal to everyone by including needed action on top of what is a slow personal journey. It relies heavily on well worn tropes when it could have veered off into other more meaningful directions. 

Worth seeing for the visuals and performances but is a thinking person's film that falls apart if you think about it too deeply. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Cask of Amontillado (2020) directed by Vincent-louis Apruzzese

After about two years of preparation and animation my animated "The Cask of Amontillado" is finished. Mike Luce is the voice of Montresor and Michael Z. Keamy is Fortunato. I tried to be the voice of Montresor at first but I was beyond terrible and Mike Luce kindly redid that audio for me. I went with human like animal characters this time instead of cartoon humans. I thought it might work better and give me more options with the animation plus added some symbolism. 

I used Cinema 4D as I am not ready for something like this in Blender yet. It was edited in Final Cut X and I did not use After effects for the compositing but used Apple's underrated and often ignored Motion software instead and it worked out great. The animation still has some issues I am having trouble with, such as decent walk cycles and some of the movements were not as smooth as I would have liked but overallI am very happy with the results. Nothing is ever perfect, is it? The settings were a long haul to make as the upper and lower catacombs are huge and cavernous and lit by torches. The sound was a little more complex as I had to record a bunch of foley and sound effects to flesh out the sound and add more atmosphere and detail to the short. 

During the final edit, I noticed a bunch of things I had somehow missed, one was the wrong source files were used for a sequence which made the image looked pixelated and another was a terrible clicking noise during a dialog scene I can't believe I had not heard during the editing process. My excuse is that the noise here is non stop between the construction and the fact I am not in glorious isolation but home with my spouse which does not give me the solitude I need to work efficiently. Constant distraction is death to a project like this so I am glad I was able to get it done and be happy with the end result. 

I have two posters ready in case I decide to enter it in some festivals. I have had the luck to be in one or another over the last 6 years so having promotional stuff ready is a fun way to tie up a project in a nice bow. 

If you like the animation, tell me! Like it on Youtube and pass it around so maybe it can get some attention and love! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Star Wars poster series

Well... why not?  Click to see larger versions.

* A quick update on pushing the idea  a little further.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

2001: A space odyssey Poster series

I had an itch to do something with 2001, one of my favourite films but didn't think doing one of my icon drawings would work. Instead I imagined a new set of posters and used information from the original posters such as the studio logos and the credits. I decided not to use the two tag lines on the 60's posters... too wordy. I wanted to really highlight one element and make it front and centre. I used 3D models - positioned and lit them instead of trying to find and alter images from the film. This way I was able to get exactly what I needed. I felt they needed an insane amount of detail. The star field is real, I took it in Colorado a few years ago.

Not all of these work as well as the others but I decided to show all 4 just for comparison.  The first two are my preferred images. The second are sort of runner ups, but I like them and put a good amount of effort into all of them.

Click any image to see more detail.


Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Rise of Skywalker (and the end of Star Wars) 2019 directed by J.J. Abrahms

I won't belabour too much of the plot of this film which pretty much everyone in the known universe has seen already it. It ends the 43 years long Star Wars Saga and opens the way for new stories while tying up the loose ends for the original series characters. The First Order it turns out is being controlled by the old, presumed dead Emperor from the middle trilogy of the series and that Rey is somehow his grand daughter. The resistance must find his hiding place and hope that they can inspire the regular people to rise up and help them destroy a new fleet of star Destroyers, each with the ability to destroy a planet much faster than the previous Death Stars could. Klyo Ren is trying to turn Rey to the dark side of the force and have her rule the galaxy with him. This all ends in a SPECTACULAR space battle.

This film suffers from cramming in too much plot as most blockbusters these days do. Things move so quickly and back forth that its becomes hard to keep track of what is important or even what is going on all the time. The film is chock full of fan service as well, which would be more annoying if this wasn't the end of the saga and there was no escaping pulling every reference and minor character they could out for the final outing.

Even for a movie that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away; there is a lot of inconsistency in the world building and far too many convenient plot points and red herrings designed to pull at the heart strings that lead to nothing. I am not sure there was ever going to be a way out of those problems as tying up a generations spanning storyline in a pleasing for everyone is an impossibility. We do get a solid enough, exciting film with great effects decent acting and a conclusion to most of storylines introduced over the last 40 years. It avoids going to three prequels for much source material or inspiration which is truly the best decision they ever made. I tried to rewatch that trilogy and ended up tossing all three. They don't add anything, and in fact, take away from the series as whole. The film's pace and dependence on action does rob us of moments that should have been more impactful. The death a Lea was handled well enough and since it was brought about because of the real life death of actress Carrie Fisher before this film was made, it cannot help but bring a tear, but the relationships even after three films were not established enough to give a real emotional punch. We were promised that Carries Fisher would not be replaced by a digital double and they didn't... sort of. There is no CGU replacement for the current version of Princess Lea but in a flashback there are digital versions of Luke and his Jedi in training sister that leaps right out of the uncanny valley and into your nightmares.

Ranking this within the current trilogy I would say the first "The Force Awakens" was the least successful as it simply rehashed "A New Hope" from the first film. "The Last Jedi" was pretty fairly unpopular among super fans but I think it went in some interesting directions "Awakens" should have gone. This one is more on par with "Last Jedi" for me but with better acting and higher stakes. It should be noted that the "controversy" of this last trilogy is mostly overblown twitter nonsense and trolls looking for attention. They all made a boatload of cash and brought in new and old fans. They were never going to satisfy everyone, everywhere as basically the entire planet has ideas what Star Wars is about. To say any of them were terrible or silly means you never saw the prequels or know what an Ewok is. The entire storyline has always had its problems since the start.

Overall this isn't a bad film by any means and likely the best sort of send off these characters were ever going to get. I was surprised at how little was spoiled for me ahead of my watching it, months after the release. To me, that says many people who may not have got the film they imagined, liked it and those who followed the series enough not to ruin it for new viewers.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Has the Marvel Cinematic Universe ruined the movies?

There is a lot of talk going around that the Marvel superhero universe has ruined the film industry and movies in general. The basics talking points seem to be that they have overtaken the industry with films that lack depth or artistry, have budgets so high they leave nothing left for smaller films, take over multiplexes and cinemas in general so no other films can be shown and cater to the lowest common denominator of film goer.

There are some good observations in there but I'm not sure they add up to Marvel Studios having "ruined" cinema as we know it any more than the sci-fi rush after Star Wars, any number of the horror eras we have survived or the big western fads of times past. There is also an argument to be made they are more a sign of the changing habits of the average movie goer, who now has other things vying for their attention like streaming services and the sudden rise in high quality TV shows.

We have been here before and survived but this time there is new technology and new ways to watch things that rival the arrival of television on the scene in the 50s. Marvel movies have a long, interconnected series of films now behind them which more to come. This is more like a TV model than a film model, which traditionally had sequels that did not have to follow a storyline throughout. (See the James Bond series, for example.) Marvel movies are forged in comic book fandom, a group of people notoriously hard to please and meticulous in their opinions of what is or isn't canon in a series. Most of the properties in the films have many decades of history behind them and any changes or mistakes are debated endlessly among fans. It limits what they can do with a story. On the streaming side of things,  services like Netflix offer very high end productions and no real limitations on the content they offer. In many ways they are much freer than the film world with its hierarchy, studio controls and rating system and they take full advantage of that.

Money for smaller independent directors has been moving to online platforms where they have money and more freedom while the cineplexes are selling spectacle and HUGE stories that would have impossible to pull off even 15 years ago. So independent and middle range films are without a doubt being squeezed out of the big venues and with many repertory theatres already closed for a decade now, streaming has started to scoop them up. This does rob us of seeing these projects in a communal setting on a large screen, but it has given us another way to see them at least. The average ticket price now is ridiculously high and while we cry and moan that Herzog's latest documentary can't get shown on the big screen, the truth is - not many of us would pay that price to see it larger than life anymore.

Marvel films overall are not bad films by any definition. In fact, many are fantastic, visually exciting with compelling characters even if the plots are complicated in some ways but pretty generic in many others. Even some of the worst of them are entertaining and the best are inspiring and affecting millions of viewers, except perhaps the strictly art house set. Many of the same things can be said about the Star Wars franchise, though those films seem to be in their own world, pun intended.

Are they a fad? Well a decade plus into it... maybe. But it's a long term fad and to Marvel's credit they are not just churning out sequels of the latest popular films like we used to get. Instead they are putting a large effort into each one, trying to make them as different in tone and scale to keep them for getting too repetitive even if they don't always succeed. The budgets are, however, the roof and there is something to be said abut making 100 smaller films less effects driven than one 600 million dollar Affinity War movie. It would be nice to see some of that cash go to ideas that don't need to break a billion to be a hit. There are still smaller films that manage to break out and rule the box office from time to time which shows the audience is there for new and more grounded (or totally off the wall) films to be shown.

I am sure a day will come when the public is tired of spectacle and goes into something else, something more personal and smaller. This sort of happened in the 70s when films were slower and more personal even as the trend started giving into the blockbuster phenomenon. Until then, the films we used look for are now on TV, computers and other devices in various forms, unhindered by time limits and getting bigger budgets than ever was allotted to them for the big screen. I say we can enjoy them both and be aware that the entertainment landscape has changed not because Marvel is an evil supervillain but because WE (the general filmgoing public, that is) have changed the terrain with our viewing habits and need for convenience over shared experience. Not sure where it will end up but we do have some say in where and how we spend out money. That might not be enough to beat market forces currently in play, but in some ways we gained some things while losing other things and blaming superhero movies for all of these changes seems simplistic and ignores everything else going on around them. I guess the moral is to support the films we love, wherever they are found.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Lost in Space (2018- 2019) Netflix TV series

I will admit I was never a big fan of the original Lost in Space TV show. The first season was dead serious and then it went into high camp without warning. This new version of the show does a great job updating the basic idea, letting the family Robinson be lost but not alone. There are a ton of colonists lost for them to play off of.

While I will love Jonathan Harris forever, his Dr. Smith was super campy and shrill. This reboot sees Dr. Smith played by Parker Posey who really shines as a psychopathic version of the character whose real name (June Harris) is a nod one of the original series actors. She is truly scary at times. The robot, one of best known elements of the original show is now and alien robot who befriends the youngest Robinson, Will and has its own complicated back story.

It is a life changing  experience? No, not at all. It is a ton of fun with beautiful visuals and engaging enough characters. The situations they get in, one after another, after another do make you wish for an episode of them just sitting around playing space "go fish" or something but the characters themselves reference how over the top it is often enough that you just go along with it all.

The crew of the Jupiter 2 et al are of course all super attractive including sexy smart mommy Robinson and hot ginger daddy Robinson

Sunday, March 29, 2020

J'ai perdu mon corps (I lost My Body) 2019 Directed by Jeremey Clapin

This traditionally animated film (2D with some digital elements) is an odd one to be sure and some attention for its originality and skilled animation, all well deserved.

The story is that of a young man who loses his hand in an accident and the detached hand's attempt to be reunited with him. Along the way we are treated to his tragic life story from his childhood up to the point where the accident happened and slightly beyond. It's at time macabre, humorous and touching. My father had a similar accident a few years back and I found that aspect hard to watch personally, but discomfort aside, as strange as this movie is it does captivate and draw you in. The characters are relatable and real feeling, even the hand has a personality of its own.

The poetry of the story and its presentation keep it from seeming campy or gory. Its pace is fairly slow, but deliberate and it never drags. I guess the subject alone says this isn't a movie for everyone but I think many more people than one might think would get something from it if given a chance.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Godzilla Raids Again (1955) directed by Motoyoshi Oda

This is the second Godzilla film, coming only months after the first was released and it already gave us a signal of what was to come next for series in the next decades. While the first was a moody, political tale of the atom bomb, this one goes in the simple "giant monsters fighting"  direction pretty much immediately.

A plane is down on an isolated island and the pilot's best friend has flown there to save him. They immediately run into Godzilla, who has inexplicably survived dying in the first film, fighting Anguirus who resembles a porcupine/dinosaur hybrid. They fall into the ocean and soon are taking their personal issues to the coast of Japan. At first Godzilla arrives and is lead away from the sure by "light bombs" but that plan falls short when escaped convicts crash a truck into some sort of oil refinery causing a much bigger sours of attention for Godzilla to latch onto. Anguirus arrives and they go on a rampage, destroying everything in their paths.

There is a love story of sorts where the bridegroom gets killed trying to stop Godzilla and a big company relocates as a result of the monster damage so we get to hear about that... but who cares about the human parts? Unlike the first outing where human interactions actually meant something, this movie created the path all others would follow... threadbare human story to pad out the master battles. And there are plenty of monster bottles in this one! Known for "man in a monster suit" effects this film seems to have its share of that mixed with equal amounts of hand puppets. I would not say it is ineffective, however. The effects overall are pretty good for such a quickly produced, low budget production.

In the end Anguirus is defeated and kill by the king of the monsters and the king himself is buried in a mountain of ice. Never to return again, Well until 1962 when Godzilla VS King Kong came out.

I had to confess this was the first time I saw this film. I grew up seeing the Godzilla series at the local Everett Park theatre just outside of Boston and on TV when we got a TV in the side 70s but I somehow missed this gem. I think the local movie house limited itself to colour films and this is black and white and this might have somehow fallen through the cracks in the TV creature double feature distribution deal.

If you like Godzilla films... you'll love this one. It is not to be taken seriously but it's a lot of fun and doesn't disappoint for monster on monster action.