Ain’t no fun (If my generals can’t have none)
Motion by hand.
Satan Solutions, pushing your company DOWN.
The ills of media parenting.
One of the more obscure films to pop into this year’s Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards was the Cuban-born cartoon Chico & Rita. (It lost out to the American-made Rango.) The roots of the film’s existence can be traced back to director Fernando Trueba (one of three directors credited on Chico & Rita). Trueba produced and directed the Latin jazz documentary Calle 54. It was on that watershed 2000 film that Trueba met legendary Cuban pianist/bandleader Bebo Valdés. Valdés provides the music as well as the loose biographical inspiration for Chico & Rita.
From My Neighbor Totoro to Princess Mononoke to Spirited Away to Howl's Moving Castle, the release of a new animated masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki is cause for major celebration. This cartoon fantasy centers on the adventures of a 5-year-old boy who befriends a goldfish princess name Ponyo who dreams of becoming human. This adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is clearly aimed at younger audiences, but the visuals are a trippy treat for all ages.
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Rail Runner: back on schedule, DUH.
The other Loch Ness Monster.
Funniest thing you will read today.
Now this is what I like to see on the Netflix Instant Watching roster: another digital-only release of an otherwise almost-
Despite the heavily Americanized redubbing (Jonathan Winters!) and rescoring (Frankie Avalon!), Alakazam (née Saiyu-ki) remains a high water mark in animation. This film is nothing more nor less than the epic Journey to the West, with Buddha renamed to King Amo and the Monkey King to Alakazam. Certain story elements are glossed over or awkwardly repurposed, but the English-language script retains a certain cracked logic that more than suffices to glue together the fabulous animated set-pieces, and the songs aren’t half-bad either. (Once you’ve seen Alakazam, you’ll instantly spot the film’s reference in the 2006 anime Paprika.) Sadly, the Netflix copy, while properly widescreen, is emphatically not HD. If you wanna borrow my laserdisc, drop me a line.
Ponyo is a great film. Some have dismissed it as sub-par Miyazaki, but those people are wrong. The intrusion of a cosmic magical force into an everyday community could be terrifying, but here it is only a source of joy and playfulness as the normal rules of reality are temporarily suspended. I saw this film five times in the theater, mostly just so I could watch the scene where Sosuke’s toy pop-pop boat grows big enough to carry him (and Ponyo) on a journey through a flooded town as prehistoric fish prowl through the water below. Wow.
So I have mixed feelings about Ponyo being on Netflix WI. On the one hand, this criminally-
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I remember the exact moment I fell in love with moving image arts. It was September of 2002, somewhere on the upper spiral of New York City’s Guggenheim Museum. I entered a little room and there, projected on the wall, was Shirin Neshat’s “Passage,” an approximately 12-minute film depicting the funeral processions of Iranian men and women. I happened to walk into the screening room just at the beginning of the film and sat through it twice, unable to articulate what I had just seen and felt. Afterward, I wandered through the rest of the exhibition Moving Pictures in something of a daze.
In the early ’90s the first handful of Peter Chung’s “Aeon Flux” shorts totally blew the minds of flannel-clad, bong-huffing, MTV watchers everywhere, and it’s easy to see why: They still stand up as quite unlike anything before or since.
Totally non-verbal, these mini-non-episodes delight in carefully setting up audience expectation, then sadistically subverting it by killing off the heroine (a trope in these early shorts) or suddenly depicting the army of pursuing bad guys as abused victims crying out for help. And what about the transgressive depiction of tongues and orifices and oozing alien eggs? Oh yes. The biological gross-out, as with David Cronenberg’s yuckier films, is high art here.
Unfortunately, whatever temporary autonomous zone that was in effect to allow Chung the freedom to make these uncompromising experiments evaporated as the character and her dystopian world were suddenly crammed into a 22-minute format burdened with tedious dialogue and labored plots, in effect becoming what the initial “Aeon Flux” incarnation had been parodying. Aeon Flux died a final and permanent death after that, except for a crappy in-name-only film from 2005. Oh well.
You can watch all the episodes on YouTube, but the Netflix WI versions are higher quality (as good as a fresh VHS copy from 1992 anyway) and commercial-free. You can watch all the good ones in slightly over 30 minutes. If you want to taste just one, try “Tide” (my personal favorite).
Big-screen animation is a cinematic pleasure like no other, an alchemical transmutation of ideas into forms, a way to share visions that otherwise could not exist. At its best, it’s like stepping into someone else’s dream. Hayao Miyazaki’s films achieve this Stendahl-
Last month I road-tripped to Santa Fe to see The Secret of Kells, which the Guild Cinema has wisely picked up as its main attraction this Memorial Day weekend. The film is a stylish delight with another idea-heavy, dark (and dare I say psychedelic?) story interwoven with delightful kid-friendly inventiveness. (This film isn’t a “Mom’s Matinee” per se, but could be. If your kids can hack a (highly stylized) Viking massacre scene and some other scary bits, their new favorite cartoon cat will definitely be Pangur Bán.)
Inexplicably (to me), Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo didn't get an Oscar nod for Best Animated Picture, but maybe (just maybe) it was nudged out of the way by this very cool-looking Irish cartoon that New Mexicans can see starting tonight (and running through at least April 15) at Santa Fe's Center for Contemporary Arts. I'll be hitting the 11:30 a.m. Sunday showing if I'm not too hung over, and I recommend you do the same.
The 75-minute film seems entirely OK for kids used to concepts like death and violence and beauty but is Not Rated. CCA says "this fantastical, breathtaking spiritual animation follows as the 12-year-old Brendan fights Vikings and a serpent god to find a crystal and complete the legendary Book of Kells. The story begins when Brother Aidan, a celebrated master illuminator, initiates Brendan into the art of illustration, awakening his hidden, but extraordinary talents. But finishing the magnificent book means a remarkable quest beyond the abbey walls and deep into an enchanted forest." Sounds awesome. See ya there.
This weekend the Guild Cinema’s “Mom’s Matinee” series scores big points for originality by programming Don Bluth’s 1982 animated feature The Secret of NIMH (loosely adapted from Robert O’Brien’s novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH). Back when it came out, this weird, suspenseful film (made by disgruntled ex-Disney animators) was up against sappy old E.T. in theaters and never really broke out as a hit, but time has been kind to its oddball mix of genuine scares, dorky comic relief, and inspired animated sequences set against shaggy, organic backgrounds. If you’ve never even heard of this movie, you might be surprised by the number of internet shrines out there praising its goodness.
The casting is notable, especially John Carradine (as the ominous Great Owl) and Derek Jacobi (as Nicodemus, aging leader of the rats). The story expands mightily on the fairly tame original text, introducing sci-fi elements, magic and some fairly violent fight scenes, mostly to good effect. Fairy tales are supposed to be scary, though, so I have no qualms about bringing my 3- and 5-year-old kids.
I’ve been personally nagging Keif at the Guild to program more big-screen animation, so I’m very pleased to note that he’s also got Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning Spirited Away scheduled in April. Hooray for repertory cinema!