Thursday, January 28, 2010

Up: Animation Isn't Just For Kids

I've been reading a lot of comics recently.  Comics have always had this thing going on where no one takes them seriously.  You've got all these great stories like Sandman and Watchmen and all the really famous ones like Maus and Persepolis (or however you spell it), but no one respects them because the medium has such a bad rep.  Just because the people who wrote comics in the 30s and 40s made pulp superhero novels doesn't mean that all comics are about superheroes or that all comics are mediocre pulp in quality.  There's some seriously good stuff going down out there and a teeny-tiny audience appreciating it.  Web comics have helped, but there's still very little in the way of comic "books", graphic novels if you will.  Most of the well appreciated stuff is single strip at a time ala xkcd or Questionable Content.  One joke a day, soap opera plots at best (good ones mind you), etc.  I freakin' love those comics, but I still don't see much in the way of more serious stories being told with comics.

Animation, I feel, is in a very similar boat.  People have done awesome things with animation - look at Bugs Bunny, etc.  The Simpsons is a landmark television series.  Disney has (had?) been winning awards for decades by putting out amazing animated movies.  But when you get down to it, there hasn't been a lot of "adult" stories told with animation.  It has the reputation of being a medium, you know, for kids.  That's fine since it gives us stuff like Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story, and so forth, but there's this huge untapped potential for animation that involves telling the same kinds of heart-wrenching, gotta see 'em love stories, fast paced action, blockbuster, cry-all-the-way-through, beautiful tales that you get in great live action film.  Occasionally you get the great innovative piece ala The Triplets of Belleville, but that's not often.  Then you've got all the stuff the Japanese have been up to... In fact, if you speak Japanese, a lot of what I've just said is just lies.  They're way ahead of us in comics and animation.

Whatever.  Animation is a hugely untapped medium for story-telling.  Thankfully, the guys who founded Pixar figured this out back in college and have been slowly getting us, the public, ready to accept animated movies for adults.  There's always been jokes for the adults - pop culture references if nothing else - but Pixar has been pushing the morals of their stories farther and farther with every movie.  The Incredibles was all about suburban life, a topic the depths of which elude most tweens that I know this sort of movie is classically marketed towards.  WALL.E was something special.  That opening sequence could've just gone on for ages... I feel like the world building they did there was for an ageless audience.  Then the lesson about nature was for adults as much as it was for kids.  Still felt kiddy once they left Earth, though.

Up, however...  Up is not a kids movie.  The whole plot is about letting go of the dead.  That whole opening montage of Mr. Fredrickson's life is just... beautiful.  That sequence is probably entertaining for kids, but I just can't imagine the full impact of it hitting anyone under a certain age.  Honestly, I don't believe the full impact will hit me until I'm middle aged at least.  Sure the whole movie is peppered with stuff for the kids.  The talking dogs, Kevin, most of what's going on with the boyscout...  It's all kid stuff.  Not that I didn't like it, quite the opposite.  It's just that's the sort of kid targeted stuff I've come to expect from animation.  I have not come to expect shots like the one of the house floating down through the clouds as Mr. Fredrickson finally lets go of his wife.  That's just... That's just amazing.

So bravo, Pixar.  Your master plan of introducing animation to adults has finally come to fruition.  And I, for one, applaud you for it.  Bravo indeed.  I loved everything about this movie except for the fact that I had to pause in the middle of it.

Before I go, I want to step back to my more broad points about animation to say that I'm sort of lying.  After all, we see more and more CG in every summer blockbuster, and what is CG but animation?  Motion capture is blending the line between animation and live action more and more, redefining what we think of as "cinema" at every turn.  Already we don't notice the line between the real and the computer generated.  And really, who's to say what constitutes "real" on the silver screen?  That sounds like a whole paper all by itself.  In a couple years, maybe "animation" will be the standard for all films.

Anyway, I just hope the ride through uncanny valley isn't too bumpy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Watching Movies - With Who?

There's something about watching movies that has always prevented me from doing so by myself.  Somehwere along the line it was ingrained in my head that watching movies is something you do with other people, while playing video games and watching TV is something you do by yourself.  As a result, I watch far fewer movies than I'd like.  Occasionally I'm able to find an environment where I'm comfortable watching solo - the inspiration for this blog was that I'd started watching movies late at night over the summer.  But I've never been able to watch them alone at my home computer.

I can identify a few possible explanations for this.  Maybe I think movies are a social experience because I'm more interested in discussing them with people right after they finish, and I can't do that if I watch them by myself.  Though this is probably a lie given how most of my post movie discussions can be reduced to
That was pretty good.
[Random funny quote from the movie.]
Haha!  [Random other quote, possibly in response to the first one.]
Haha!  Yeah.
So... Settlers of Catan, anyone?
Comedies are always better with other people.  It's just easier to laugh when other people are around.  Your laughter fuels theirs and theirs fuels yours in this loop that exagerates how funny everything is.  This is why bad comedians on television still get people laughing at them, and why live readings by David Sedaris are much better than reading his books.

I have this theory that I don't like watching movies by myself is that I don't like pausing movies in the middle, and when I'm by myself I'm always secretly hoping someone will call me up and get me to go do something cool with them.  TV is easier because you only have to commit to 45 minutes, and video games can be left.  This fits in with the other OCD thing I do where in public places I'm always looking at the entrance to whatever room I'm in checking to see if people I know come in.  I'm always hoping for someone to hang out with.  I don't know how accurate this is, since there's been plenty of times I've just holed up for the evening with no intention of seeing anyone and still been unable to put on a movie, but I think it's a start.  I am weird.

The most likely explanation is just habit.  I'm a creature of habit - moreso than anyone else I can think of.  I like the routine.  I'm totally fine if people invite me to do things, but I don't take the initiative towards the new by myself.  And simply put, my routine is that I don't watch movies by myself.  To break that routine I would need someone else to step in and break it for me, but by that point we're at least two in number, and the routine hasn't been broken after all.

Whatever the case, I think it's time for a change.  I'm tired of having an enormous list of movies to see that only ever gets longer.  It's time to sit down, boot up the compy, turn on utorrent, head to the library, badger my friends, or whatever it takes to get me to watch more movies.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Serious Man





So I'm a total Coen Brothers fanboy.  It's cool, I know it's true.  If I watched movies by myself more often, I might need an intervention.  Thankfully, I usually need other people to help fuel my addiction...  Whatever.  The point is that I love their erratic story-telling style in which things often happen for no reason, totally out of the blue.  In which every character is more often than not bat-shit insane in one way or another.  In which we have iPods in the 1960s.  I mean, wait, what?

Doesn't matter.  A Serious Man is a movie about a middle aged Jewish guy in the 60s who just can't keep it together.  Through no fault of his own he just has too many things thrown on to his plate, and all of them just keep dragging him down.  It's horrible to watch, but as someone who is currently experiencing that "too many things" syndrome it was nice to watch this guy be much worse off than myself.  Really just depressing stuff, folks.  And then, in predictable Coen Brothers fashion, everything seems about to get better, then everything gets a lot worse, and then there's a smash cut to credits.  Hilarious.

I don't know, man.  What does it all mean?  I feel like they're almost parodying themselves with the dentist story.  It's this bizarre fable that clearly wants an ending, a lesson, but then provides no such thing.  The story teller just doesn't give his audience what they're looking for; in fact, the teller doesn't give the audience anything.  So what was the freaking point of telling the story?  This is what troubles me about the brothers Coen:  they keep telling these compelling stories, and I keep being unable to make any sense of them.  What were they trying to say?  If they're astute enough to make all the clever jokes that they do and to parody their own story-telling style with the second rabbi, why won't they give us some sort of closure?  "What did we learn, Palmer?"  I don't fuckin' know either.

I guess we can find some sort of moral in that tornado, and the fact that our hero gets that fateful telephone call right as he gives in right at the end of the movie.  But is it enough?  And what was the deal with the opening fable?  Why was that included?

I think I'm not Jewish enough to get all of this movie.  Still loved it a lot, though.  I'm intentionally keeping this short because this is one of the places where I actually care about spoilers (and I have to go to bed).  I'm still kind of just in awe.  If you've got stuff you want to talk about from the movie, though, let me know.  I'd love to talk about more specific stuff.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The White Messiah Fable

Someone on Facebook linked me to this excellent article by David Brooks about Avatar and the "White Messiah Fable".  It's basically what I wish I'd written in my review of the movie, and you should go read it because it's short and interesting.

EDIT:  Credit where credit is do.  "Someone" was Hal Edmonson, my RA from last year and an awesome dude.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Year in Review 2009 Edition, Or "Why Didn't I See This, Either?"

Over Christmas my dad and I sat down (along with some other family spectators) and went over the list of all movies released in 2009 in preparation for the Oscar nominations.  Neither of us could remember many good movies that came out this past year, and with the change in number of Best Picture nominees, we were very intrigued by what would likely be nominated.  Seriously Academy, why would you up the number of Best Picture nominees in a year as bad for movies as this past one?

Whatever.  Just go quickly scan this Wikipedia page so we can all be on the same... page... for the rest of this post.

First reaction:  that list of highest grossing films makes me die a little inside.  Thanks, society.

Let's move beyond that, though, and take a look at the movie list.  Here's all the movies I saw in the order they were released, not the order in which I saw them:

The Class (Entre Les Mures)
Star Trek
The Hangover
The Taking of Pelham 123
(500) Days of Summer
The Ugly Truth
Funny People
District 9
Inglourious Basterds
Taking Woodstock
Where the Wild Things Are
The Blind Side
Sherlock Holmes

And here's all the movies I wish I'd seen but didn't in a similar order:

I Love You, Man
Drag Me to Hell
Up (Why didn't I see this?*)
Public Enemies
The Informant!
The Invention of Lying
Zombieland (Why didn't I see this, either?**)
A Serious Man (Or this?***)
An Education
The Road
Up in the Air
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I saw a lot of good movies, a lot more than I thought, and I didn't see a lot of movies I wanted to.  I saw a lot of chaff, though.  I'd say my top 5 movies of 2009 were, in best to also good order:
(500) Days of Summer
Inglourious Basterds
Funny People
Sherlock Holmes

It's kind of sad that Holmes made that list.  Of course this doesn't include Up, Up in the Air, or A Serious Man, all of which looked fabulous.  When you add those to the list of movies that I didn't feel motivated to see but that will certainly be in contention for Best Picture (The Soloist, Invictus), you get a list that may actually have 10 good(ish) movies on it.  Not bad.

And now for some related ramblings

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the project Heath Ledger was working on when he died.  It's a Terry Gilliam piece - you know, the guy from Monty Python that made 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas - so it's probably good.  Should probs see it.

After getting Forgetting Sarah Marshall for Christmas and lamenting my lack of a copy of (500) Days of Summer, it began to startle me how many of my favorite movies are love stories, usually ones that start with a break up.  Those two, High Fidelity, Eternal Sunshine, Harold and Maude... this list goes on.  And they're all basically about the same variation on a theme.  I guess I'm just in to love.  Or maybe it's the way real people interact (or at least the way they think they interact... or the way they want to portray themselves as acting to us... ow my head) is what intrigues me, and that you don't get to see that much in movies that aren't about relationships.  Hmm.  I guess I like Big Fish more than most of the above movies, and stuff like Inglourious Basterds doesn't have much love going on.  Still "hmm" worthy.

I hope Up gets nominated for Best Picture now that they've got 10 to give away.  Animation deserves more respect than it gets.  Comics, too.  Freakin' sweet.

I'm sure there's more to be said, but I've said a lot of it in other articles.  How did you feel about 2009 in terms of movies?  What deserves to win Best Pic?  Other nominations?  You can be sure I'll revisit this topic when the Academy starts doing their thing.

Until next time!


* I don't know.
** Danl saw it without me.
*** It never came out in wider circulation.