Friday, May 31, 2019

The Twilight Zone (TV show) 2019 show runner: Jordan Peele

There have been a few attempts to recreate Rod Serling's Classic anthology show, The Twilight Zone. The original is a highlight in TV history and a monument to how good writing  and acting can produce truly remarkable and important art that can change how people think and feel. Those that followed were lesser shows, not always bad, but Serling is an act impossible to follow.

When the 2019 version as announced with Peele in charge I was reticent, but excited. He seemed a good choice. He was a Serling fan and had a sense of how to mix social commentary with great entertainment that made you think.

I won't be spring anything, just making a general comment of the show for his 10 episode run.

Overall: Pretty damn good. Great acting, actors, cinematography and the ideas were all solid. Does it live up to the original? Of course not, or not yet, anyway. It's a different show in a different time and Peele does not shy away from that while at the same time reminding us he knows he is treading on eggshells with fans and new viewers alike. Everyone has an idea what the Twilight Zone is - including those who have never seen even one episode. The entire season plays with the idea of recreating the original, then years off into its own thing, a smart move in my opinion.

Not every episode is successful but that can be said for the 60s version as well. We all know the classics stories over its 5 year run, but they weren't all classics. Some were pretty bad in fact, like every other show with 156 episodes and filmed on a time and money budget. The 2019 version looks fantastic and casting was amazing, but not every story will appeal to every viewer and I think most would have profited from a 30 minute over and hour format. There are plenty of Easter eggs to keep long time fans happy and it does not shy away from some biting social commentary. Sometimes it's way too on the nose for it's own good. There are connections from one episode to another and it seemed there was a theme beyond the stated "When the truth is not the truth - what dimension are you even in?". These connections and themes come around in the last episode which is totally meta commentary on the show itself and what it is trying to do.

One thing I wanted more of and didn't get were twists that hit me like they did in Serling's incarnation. Even knowing what the twist was, on repeated viewing they repeatedly shocked you. I had the opportunity to watch some Serling episodes with people who had somehow never seen the show and the look on their faces and how those twists suddenly opened them up to new ideas was amazing.

There is time for this show to do all that - it has been renewed and I have to say I am looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The legend of Leigh Bowery 2002 directed by Charles Atlas

Leigh Bowery was one of those 80s club and fashion legends whose name seems to have been, like too many others, lost because of time and the avalanche of death caused by the AIDS crisis. This movie goes a long way to remedy that and give the current generation a better idea of the world that allowed people like him to flourish, a world that is lost forever it seems.

The 80s were crazy in ways the 60s and 70s were not, they were self-aware and in your face - all things Bowery exemplified. He was outrageous, but his work was his art and he was a true artist. I would put him in the same drawer as Klaus Nomi as they were both outcasts with immense talent that were able to steer their eccentricities into a sort of fame. It's impossible to believe that if they came around today that they would succeed at all in their world of easy offence, nuance and context. Watching this documentary brought back memories of how subjects like Nazism, black face, gay sex and fashion were sometimes combined as a form a parody and the back lash was minimal because we at the time knew the context and intent of what was being presented, but not promoted.

He made the way for some current drag performers and fashionistas but was able to go much farther than they could dream of going.

Thanks to Michael Z. Keamy for finding this complete documentary online.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Dog & Weasel: Occurrence at Lake Mess 2019 directed by Vincent-louis Apruzzese

A new cartoon done! This time I tried to make the motion slightly smoother and avoid having too much movement, I sometimes get in the habit of making an action for each sentence spoken and that is just too hectic to be effective much of the time. Poor Mike Luce did 2 voices this time!

If you like it, let us know and pass it around. We are running out of money to feed the immates here at the slammer so maybe more exposure will get us more work and avoid a prison riot!

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Horrifically Real Virtuality

The Horrifically Real Virtuality is hard to categorize. It's a theatre piece mixed with a 3D movie mixed with audience participation in a virtual world. It when a small group (us) enters what looks like a cheap sound stage to witness Ed Wood filming a scene for his latest movie starring Bela Lugosi. Lugosi, however, is only seen on the monitor screens as a 3D character, in the real world, he is played by an actor in virtual reality suit that transfers his movements to the 3D puppet. The audience is asked to help in the production which goes wrong, of course, while Wood enthusiastically declare it's all perfect and great. I began to think this was the experience the show was going to give me and was pretty disappointed. Not badly done, but hardly what I imagined a VR experience to be.

Then it all changed. We were escorted to a small hallway, suited up in VR gear with VR headsets and told to enter the cinema for the premiere of the film we just aided in the filming of. The world is now in black and white and appropriately suited up, the hallway is now the entry to the screening room, we walked through the virtual door, sat down and the film started. There were virtual spectators and real ones, we were all... aliens? ... basically we had very similar faces and costumes with our lower bodies replaces by floating flying saucers. You couldn't tell who those you came in with were anymore. The film titles stop and we then could walk directly into the film, a cemetery set with a strange box that had a reproduction of the set we filmed in inside of it. You can touch the box with your virtual hands... a very strange thing to see hand that you move but aren't your own. Then the house in the distance move forward and we enter it, into the set and Bela Lugosi exits the toilet and starts giving us instructions on how we can save his bring his wife, kidnapped by aliens back to him. You can sit on the couches, turn the TV on an off and interact with Lugosi. At the end, you take the headsets off and you are still in the hallway you put them on in.

What just happened? It was amazing and really disturbing and totally fun.

Critiques are minor. The writers obviously did a lot of research on Wood but ignored and managed to somehow miss the mark on the feel of his life and films, I thought. Much of that can be explained by the enormous task of bringing it to a live audience in a virtual set up I would guess. Still, I do think he should have been in an angora sweater at the end while reading the terrible reviews the film got as we exited the show. Despite that not happening we left feeling giddy, excited and unsure what was real or not.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Fox and the Whale (2018) directed by Robin Joseph

Many animations and short films are personal endeavours, but few come close to the beauty of the Fox and the Whale.  This 12-minute contemplative film is so full of amazing imagery that the only to show how beautiful it is to show the film to someone. A still shot doesn't come close to the refined compositions and the painterly look of every scene as they unfold.

If you want to learn more about the production,  Cartoon Brew has a great piece on it. Click the link, it's worth reading.

Not exactly a "one-man show" there is a surprisingly small list of people involved and it's clear that is the deeply persona work of animator Robin Joseph. It combines 2D and 3D animation techniques, lovely music and tells a story that has humour and melancholy combined in an original way.

It’s the sort of film every animator wishes they could make.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Comments are back!

Not sure what changed, but comments seem to be working again!  Feel free to leave one!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Dog &Weasel: Conquest from Space! 2019 directed by Vincent-louis Apruzzese

A new little animatedseries. Mike Luce does the voices and it's a lighter fim from the Raven for sure. Jon Bellette (weasel) and Watson (dog) must fight off an invasion from a robot from space. The weasel's voice was inspried by Paul Lynde and the dog was inspired by my dog, Watson. I have the voices ofr a second one recorded so there will be at least two in this series!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Lion 2016 directed by Garth Davis

Based on the non-fiction book, The Long Way Home  by Luke Davies , this film is a tear jerker to be sure. Unlike some other films with multi-Oscar nominations, the tears are well-earned. As the story of 5-year-old boy in India who gets lost and eventually adopted by an Australian couple unfolds, the plight of young missing children from the country is made real for the viewer. You realize that where we are in life is pretty much completely by chance and you can't help but feeling for the main character. 20 years after his adoption, a random memory surfaces after having some food from his native country at  a party and he begins a journey to find his birth mother, whom he is convinced must be looking for him still.

I won't go into spoilers because if you haven't seen this film already, it's good to go into it fresh and let it unfold at it's own pace. The performances, especially by Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo. his performance is real and pulls you in. Nicole Kidman is also great as is everyone else.

On a critical level, there isn't much to say against this film. I would have liked to know more about Saroo's adopted brother with the behavorial issues and his adopted parents, though.  I understand time is limited in a movie but just a little more information would have gone a long way I think.

I would say this movie is somewhat a "feel-good" film... but not 100%. there is too much strategy in this life story and the ending is satisfying, but not completely uplifting. A good thing since while Saroo may have been lucky, there 80 000 young children missing every year in India who are not.

Lo and Behold 2016 directed by Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog is a truly great, f not unique film director and his documentary work stands out for its presentation and subject matter. Into the Abyss and From One Second to the Next are two more recent of his documentaries that show how powerful that medium can be. Lo and Behold, sadly is not in that league or even close to it. It rambles, but goes nowhere and it shows, to me at least that Herzog has little to know understanding of the subject matter.

That is not to say it doesn't have it's moments. It does. I particularly liked the interview with Lawrence Krauss who comes across as reasonable person while some of the other experts, like the guy giving the tour of the birthplace of the Internet come across as total crackpots. Elon Musk makes his points well and a couple others refute some of his ideas in ways that I think show there is more than one way to think about the subjects discussed.

My biggest problems are two parts I find offensive or irresponsible, respectively.  The first is the interview with the family who lost a daughter in an accident and then started getting emails of her decapitated body in emails with truly horrible statements about her. That situation is bad enough but Herzog lets the interview include a clip of the mother going all "the Internet is real the Antichrist" and it makes her look foolish and not like the grieving parent she is. I also don't see how they can blame the Internet for what happened... it didn't cause the crash and even the emails are not something new... people would sent horrifying photos and letters to people in the mail before it could be electronically. People have always been inhumane to each others in ways that are hard to understand. I find her being used in a way that is unfeeling and unnecessary.  The second is the group who live in an area where the placement of radio telescopes forbids electronic devices, and all wifi signals. Some are there for work but he concentrates on a few that talks about their sensitivity to wifi... it's not a real thing. Humans have no ways to sense that sort of low level radiation and they HAVE been tested to see if there is an affect they can somehow sense something somehow and they never have, not even once. I think it's pretty obvious these people are suffering but giving them a made up answer just prevents them from finding a real one. That is harmful to them and it continues one of the most basic misconceptions about how these things work and encourages being willfully ignorant of real world physics.

So with a heavy heart, I have to put this Herzog film as one of his few disappointments for me.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Witch 2015 directed by Robert Eggers


An overly devout family, in 1630s New England is too extreme, even for their Puriton town, and are banished to the woods where they build a small farm and live as they see fit. One day youngest child, a baby, suddenly disappears and it is revealed pretty much right away that it is killed and ground up for use by a witch in the woods. This sets in motion a series of accusations, spiritual doubts and strange occult events that end in violence and destruction for all but one member of the clan. 

Made for only 4 million dollars, this movie proves that budget is not everything when it comes to making a great film. Horror movies in general are masters of small budgets but this takes it to another level. The performances are dead on, the cinematography is amazing and the shots are lit entirely with natural light and candlelight. It is slow moving but never dull and relies on creeping you out and disturbing ideas over gore and jump scares. It uses the language of the era it takes place in, which, to be fair, might be hard to understand for many people, and it also goes DEEP into actual witch lore from that period. That was a detail I personally appreciated as someone who finds actual folklore much more fascinating than the water downed versions of tales we have to suffer through at Halloween every year. The use of animals in this film is pretty horrifying. I never though a bunny rabbit woudl be the stuff nightmares by simply looking into the camera. 

While the fact of witches existing or not is never a question in the film, who they are is left mysterious and also why they are attacking the family is up for debate. My take was it was the father's pride that got them banished and starving that attracted evil and doomed his own family. The lead character, Thomasin, played by Anya Taylor-Joy is the soul survivor - but only because she surrenders to Satan in a scene that is too wonderfully disturbing, subtle and visual to describe here. 

Do you want to live deliciously? See this movie.