Monday, December 31, 2012

New Trailer For Dreamworks' "Turbo" Is Actually Really Good

I don't think that I have bashed Dreamworks Animation trailers enough recently. So, once more with feeling, they suck. Badly. To be fair, they haven't been sucking quite as much with more recent movies — certainly nowhere near the colossal mountain of suck that were trailers for The Road to El Dorado and Over The Hedge. And I absolutely give them some benefit of doubt, what with the trailers to Madagascar 3 being an absolute eye-sore to me but apparently being very popular.

But in the main, their trailers fail to do anything more than make the movies seem far more juvenile than they actually are.

Trailers must have structure just as any movie must, because the trailer should an essence be a mini-movie. I frequently joke that the best trailer that I have ever seen was for the movie Bratz, where quite literally the entire movie happens in the trailer. It's a masterpiece.

The theoretically ideal trailer has an exposition where the basic characters and plot are introduced, conflict is introduced as the action rises, the climax, as it were, of the trailer is usually music and a montage of clips meant to give an overview of how the movie is going to feel, and the trailer will sometimes stop suddenly, thus not giving the satisfaction of a completed story, thus forming the desire to see the film. Always leave them wanting more, is how it goes.

This trailer for Turbo is a teaser trailer, and teaser trailers are in many ways both easier and harder to make. One, the company making the trailer is usually working with a smaller pile of completed scenes, and movies frequently don't achieve their final form until right before release. Two, the point of a teaser trailer is to do just that, tease. The question of what element of the film is going to be the biggest tease thus needs to be decided upon. This is easier in high-concept films, like Turbo obviously is, but then you have the problem of not wanting to reveal too much of the concept for fear of giving it away.

I think that this trailer gets the balance just right. It has the comedy, the music, the visual impact, the dramatic impact. It is the best teaser trailer that Dreamworks Animation has made. And, unlike shockingly awful concepts like Rise of the Guardians, this concept actually seems like a cute enough idea to really drive characters and humor. Thumbs up, Dreamworks. Thumbs up.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph Limps to $240 Million

I loved Wreck-It Ralph. I think it is the best animated film of 2012. That said, I find its financial under-performance to be somewhat satisfying.

The geniuses running Disney — and by geniuses I mean complete idiots — named Tangled Tangled because they wanted to de-emphasize the female character to attract a male audience. The same logic is undoubtedly  underlying their renaming of The Snow Queen to Frozen. Honestly. Where do they get these ideas? I wish that I was as smart as them.

They believed that The Princess and the Frog under-performed because, I'm not kidding, the word "princess" was in the title. As such, one would expect a movie with the word "wreck" in the title to perform amazingly, because, ya'know, boys like violence... or whatever.

Instead, Ralph is trailing Princess's receipts by over $25 million. Account for inflation, and it's probably over $30 million. Suck it, Disney.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I am reveling in Ralph's performance in the way that I hate Disney executives, but not in the way that I hate to see artists who have dedicated five years of their life to a project only to see it not set the world on fire. The amount of work that goes into an animated film is enough to make me desire that every animated film, almost regardless of its quality, sells millions of tickets. The consummate artists behind the scenes deserve it.

But what I hate more than anything is when a movie studio condescends to us, and animation companies do it more often than anyone this side of romantic comedies. I cannot help but derive some degree of satisfaction when that condescension is proven wrong.

A Very Short Review Of Paranorman

The second exceptional animated film to break from the Disney mold in as many years? We're going to get spoiled.

Paranorman opens with scenes from faux 1950's monster movies to explicitly state where they acquired their inspiration, and indeed, the movie does derive a good deal of texture from these old concepts. It's only a gloss, though, and the underlying script, character construction, and wholly progressive undertones are far beyond anything Robot Monster, or Them could have ever hoped for.

Before I get into any detail, you should go see this movie immediately. Judging from box office receipts, there are many people who didn't, and this is a shame. I can't say that this is the best animated film of 2012--we had some exceptional films this year and choosing an absolute best is mostly academic--but it is in the top five.

If you haven't yet seen it, I also cannot blame you. The trailers are some of the worst that I have seen this side of Dreamworks Animation. They completely, totally, 100% fail to effectively advertise what the movie was going to be about and what mood the movie was going to capture. The trailers make the movie appear to be goofy and corny, and it is anything but. It is quiet and contemplative at times, and far from the constant stream of silly one-liners that comprised the advertisements.

The animation is mind-blowing. I thought that Coraline made Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas look dated. Well, this movie makes Coraline look old and unrefined. Not only is there a stunning amount of detail and life to the character designs, not only is the film possessing of texture that other movies would kill for, but the animation itself raises the bar for stop-motion work. It's like nothing I have ever seen. It bobs and weaves, crackles and jumps, all with a jaw-dropping smoothness and vivacity. This makes Frankenweenie, released about a month later, look uninspired in comparison.

Similarly upgraded from Coraline is the sound production. Coraline's audio was disappointing, lacking depth, complexity and impact. The scene that I remember most distinctly was when Coraline spins around a door, with her yelling not fading in and out as she went behind and in front of the door. None of that in Paranorman! The audio is loaded with detail and punch. Truly, they seem to jump to scenarios that are tailor-made for wild audio after only fifteen minutes.

The problems are those that equally affected Coraline. I don't know what it is about the writers at Laika, but they don't seem to like traditional dramatic structure. Coraline had odd rises and falls in its action, culminating in a double climax that made almost no sense. Paranorman has character and concept exposition, then a stratospheric leap to maximum action, which drops off for a period of time before maxing out again, then finally the falling action and denouement.

I appreciate that not everything needs to follow the traditional dramatic pyramid, but it became a thing because it works. It is very hard to write something that doesn't follow the standard structure and still "works," and Paranorman doesn't quite work. There's very little drama in the lead-up to the action, and then there is so much drama piled on top of itself that it is hard to appreciate it. It becomes all the more important for a movie, if it is rejecting traditional dramatic structure, to ensure that its cause-and-effect chain is strong, with each cause and each effect emphasized in the dialog and direction. Paranorman fails at this on more than one occasion.

This is a structural and somewhat academic analysis and criticism of the story. My more personal view is that the story is one that has been done many times before, with characters that have been done before, but the entire thing is constructed with so much color and inventiveness that these faults are immediately lost. Yes, this is another story about an outsider, with geeks and bullies at odds, with parents that don't understand, blah, blah, blah. I didn't care though!

The voice overs are somewhat muted in comparison to the highly emotive work done by professional voice actors, but this goes well with the tone of the film. They also go well in creating the unique characters that, much like Coraline, feel as though they come from a different universe than the characters in Disney or Dreamworks films.

I mentioned how the trailers fail to capture the personality of the film, and this is a tragedy. Paranorman is an exceptional film with an atmosphere that is just this side of comedy as opposed to a traditional horror flick. It is a movie that relies heavily on atmosphere and mise-en-scène to communicate emotions and takes all of these aspects beyond Coraline's already notable achievements.

More over, the film never once condescends to the children watching the film. It is entirely sincere. It is also one of a recent batch of animated films that recognizes that children are not innocent little things that need to only be exposed to pure, traditional subject matter, or ironic takes on pure, traditional subject matter. Monster House, Coraline, Rango, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Secret of Kells, The Adventures of Tin Tin, and even some work from the major studios like Up, Puss in Boots, and Kung Fu Panda., all of them are part of a large renaissance of animation that I assumed would happen in the smaller, independent studios, but appears to have begun in the large studios.

These films understand that for movies to have an impact, they must have real drama. They must have danger, and violence, and dirty words, and all of the other things that comprise real drama in the real world. While Paranorman may not take place in the real world, it feels more real, more alive, than anything that Disney has produced in twenty years. If they had left the script in the oven for a little while longer, they would have had a masterpiece. As it stands, Paranorman is an exceptional film, utterly deserving of your attention, with many parts so good as to make the parts where it fails all the more frustrating.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Disappointed By Disney's Frozen

Some early images of Disney's Frozen have come out, and I can't help but be disappointed. Early reports and sketches were giving the impression that the movie would dare to be different, as it were, and contain some non-traditional elements. This stands in contrast to Tangled, which tried desperately to be hip, but was square as a Canadian wheel (South Park reference), and was super-traditional Disney through and through.

And it looks like Frozen is going to be yet another Tangled. The bright-eyed manic pixie female, the world-weary, cynical male. Puh-leeze. I'm going to wait to pass judgment, of course. While I was disappointed in Tangled, and I knew that I was going to be long before watching it, it was still an enjoyable movie. And lord knows, Disney's stuff from the 90's was a constant flow of traditional values, and I enjoyed many of those. I guess that I can only hope for the same from

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Very Short Review Of The Hobbit

I've been looking forward to The Hobbit for some time. Not just because I liked The Lord of the Rings, but because it is the first technical demonstration of cinema development since Avatar. And being a total cinema geek, for better or worse, I was giddy as a school girl. A very large, hairy, school girl.

First, the movie. It is better than I was expecting. After learning that Jackson was going to be stretching what is arguably a simple, twee, children's adventure story into three movies, giving them the benefit of the doubt was a difficult task. The film mostly pays back that benefit.

Many have complained about the slow pacing of the film, and I didn't mind that at all. I liked the leisurely walk through Tolkien/Jackson's world, and enjoy the time given to appreciate the texture of everything. I disliked the overly-goofy portrayal of some things. The Hobbit book was distinctly more childish than The Lord of the Rings, and I don't mind that element coming into the movie, but they went a bit over the top with the trolls and especially Radagast the wizard, who is borderline Pythonesque.

But now for the part that actually got me out of my hovel and into a theater for a midnight premier: 48 frames per second.

It's not bad! I was honestly expecting it to be worse than it was. In recognition of Jackson's push to have this done, The Hobbit successfully convinces me that there may, in fact, be potential in 48fps at some point in the future. That is still only a possibility, though, and my initial beliefs may yet hold true.

Many people have had a hard time describing the sensation of 48fps. Some call it too real, but I actually see it as less real. Anyone who has ever played extensive video games knows that one of the reasons why they don't look real, regardless of the polygon count or texture detail, is because they lack blur. It doesn't matter if it is at 30fps or 300fps. Since there is no actual object moving through the visual field, there is no blur. There are, instead, 300 perfectly clear, distinct images flashing in front of the player.

Game companies tried implementing motion blur to increase realism, but that generally had a negative effect on the game play, because it is actually better to have everything crystal clear to better facilitate navigation of the world in which the game takes place. But for movies, there are no bad guys that the player needs to dispatch. No details that the player must discern else fail at the game. A movie is a movie — an artistic creation intended to be experienced, not interacted with. The director has absolute control of whether what appears on screen is clear or indistinct. Realism via blur is thus desirable.

It is for this reason why sets and props looked fake. Not because they actually looked fake, indeed, in photographs, everything looks great, and at 24fps, everything looks great. No, they looked fake for the same reason that video games look fake, no matter how detailed they get.

Perhaps think of it another way. A film is a series of still images. We need to get motion out of these images. A very short exposure for each individual frame will give very clear individual images, but it will fail to catch much motion. Much like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, where measurements of particles can either be accurate about location or direction, but not both at the same time, a photo can either tell us where something is going when the photo is taken, or tell us where something is when the photo is taken, but it cannot tell us both.

Movies are not about where things are, they are about where things are going. The more we know about where things are, the less we know about where they are going, and this plays tricks on our minds when happening forty-eight times per second.

Importantly, and this is something that has been lost in the discussion, is that frame rate only tells part of the story. As I'm sure you started considering as you read the above paragraphs, the exposure time is just as important as frame rate, because it is the exposure time that determines the amount of blur. Cinema cameras are based on exposure time in the terminology of rotary disc shutters, and an excellent work up of this is available at Wikipedia.

So with all of that description out of the way, back to my belief that 48fps may actually be useful. Once I got accustomed to the new rate, it provided a unique and enjoyable texture in many of the scenes. The large, sweeping shots that would have otherwise suffered severe strobing, such as the mountain shots and field chase scenes, were buttery smooth. And since these shots would have had very little motion blur at 24fps, the majesty of the image is not greatly altered.

Likewise, any scenes that involved slow motions, such as discussions and activity in Rivendell, looked great. The water flowing and trickling around the elven city was wonderfully detailed and smooth. And during these scenes, the 3D looked great. Jackson was correct in saying that 3D looks better at a higher frame rate. Unfortunately, Jackson had a penchant for severely deep focus, which produced shots that were cluttered and overwhelming in 3D. Doubly unfortunately, not doing deep focus causes its own problems, when the eye naturally tries to refocus to see objects in the background and foreground.

And perhaps because of the skill of Jackson and his team, there are even a few high-speed scenes that look magnificent at 48fps, most memorable is the stone giants fighting with one another. It needs to be seen to be believed. And scenes shot in slow-motion, because we are accustomed to no blur, such as when Thorin walks through flame to fight his nemesis, looked awesome.

Sadly, for every scene that looked good in 48fps, there were five scenes that looked awful. The shot that most perfectly embodied every issue was when Radagast the wizard is being pulled on his sled by... magic bunnies... and there is a brief shot of the camera rushing forward through leaves. It is one of the worst-looking shots that I have seen in recent films. It looked exactly like a video game.

All things considered, The Hobbit is a success. The 48fps is only a partial failure, and while it is stretched a bit far, it's not nearly as thin as I feared. In fact, I think that it works pretty well. Moreover, Jackson's additions like the Pale Orc Azog, the conflict between the dwarves, elves, and Saruman really add some gravitas to what wasn't a really epic story to begin with. It builds excitement at seeing what else Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro have added, and turns the entire thing into something unique.

I liked The Hobbit. I liked the early extended stay in Bilbo's house. I liked the time given to appreciate the details. And while it doesn't elicit the same gleeful impatience that I felt for the second part of LOTR, I can still scarcely wait for next December.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Bimbo Artwork

There's a pretty popular image of Betty Boop in a chair and Bimbo acting as a director. I'm re-doing it with high-resolution vectors, and as I work, I'll upload the individual characters. So here is Bimbo, being all directorial.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Very Short Wreck-It Ralph Review

I loved Wreck-It Ralph. It was colorful, high-contrast, efficiently written, with very good voice performances by all parties, especially Alan Tudyk as King Candy and Jane Lynch as Sergeant Calhoun. The character designs were strong and identifiable, as opposed to the complete crap that Dreamworks so frequently puts out.

There's very little about this film that is bad. As expected, the worst part is Sarah Silverman's character, Vanellope Von Schweetz. Early on, she is as annoying as Silverman herself, which isn't surprising, since the character is apparently based on Silverman's memoir. Luckily, she gets much better as the movie goes on, and by the halfway point, she is a fully-formed character complete with pathos.

The mechanics of the movie are worth singling out; they are perfectly consistent. That is a big achievement considering that the characters jump from game to game. A significant problem with movies with extreme premises is that, almost inevitably, an inconsistency or plot hole arises. The writer had a certain scene, line, character, or event that he or she absolutely wanted, and in a less extreme premise would be completely fine, but in the more extreme movie, it makes no sense. Wreck-It Ralph has none of these inconsistencies. It is excellent.

As far as message goes, I think that they should have stressed Ralph's subjugation much more. All he seeks is acceptance, and the characters in his game are outright violent to him, and that is never fully addressed. That, to me, is a major narrative shortcoming. But much like Vanellope, that failing is soon forgotten as the rest of the movie joyfully bounds onward.

In many ways, I am perhaps a poor measure of this movie's quality since I am so affected by the nostalgia that it evokes. I watched with glee as I attempted to pick out references to old video games, frantically searching every scene, every shot, for characters wandering the background, images flashing by, or props lying around. I nearly lost my shit when Sonic gets hit by the out-of-control escape pod in Central Station and loses all his rings.

That said, I like to think that I can provide some significant analysis separate from my giddiness at seeing Pac-Man eating shrimp cocktails. Wreck-It Ralph is the best non-Pixar CGI film made by Disney. It is paced well, with perfect consistency, and rises with great work from all involved. It is the best animated film of 2012.

An Even Shorter Review Of Paperman.

As with all CGI movies, it is preceded by an animated short. Paperman is good, but a bit too twee for its own good. The story is of a man and woman office workers who meet on a train platform. They are attracted to each other, but the meeting fails in a way that only a cartoon could present. He then sees her across the street from his high-rise office, and commences making tons of paper airplanes in an attempt to reach her. The short only gets cuter from there. My personal criticism of it is that, while they set it in the 1950's (or so it appears), the female character is so painfully demure as to be annoying.

The animation is very cool. It's CGI but is rendered to look like a 2D sketch. The effect is very believable and adds a great texture to the entire work. Overall, it was a solid B+ appetizer before the full meal.

Friday, October 12, 2012

"The Croods" Trailer Is Surprisingly Not Awful

Dreamworks Animation is nigh-on-legendary for god-awful trailers. They can take good movies and make them look abysmal, ripping the proverbial defeat from the jaws of success.

The Croods lies slightly in between. First, and unfortunately most saliently, the name of the movie sucks. It sounds like something Nickelodeon conjured up, which is one of the worst insults that I can imagine. Second, the trailer makes it seem like it's trying to be Brave, which I doubt will appear in the actual movie, and this trailer is specifically calculated to make it appear as though the movie is similar to Brave. Third, is it just me, or are these some of the worst character designs since Tin Toy's baby? And finally, why do the cavemen appear to be living on Pandora?

That said, the trailer's drama is good. The movie appears to be suitably epic. The tempo is good. And aside from Nic Cage's flat voice, the others look decent. I wish Dreamworks would understand what other animation houses understand: you don't simply get stars to do voice work. You get voice actors to do voice work. Actors learn to act with everything, thus making overacting with any one element bad. They learn not to do it. But when one is a voice actor, doing 100% of acting with voice is required! Sigh. Regardless... moving on.

The trailer makes the movie look big, colorful, and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we have a bit more information than the trailer lets on and know that a more "evolved" human named Guy, voiced by Ryan Reynolds shows up. This character, and everything associated with him, is going to be a giant cliche. I know this because the pictures of Guy are absolutely dripping with 'tude. He may as well be Sonic The Hedgehog. Seriously. How the fuck haven't be moved past 'tude? Wasn't ever male character from 1988 to 2002 having 'tude enough for people?! Why do we need more?!

So yeah. Here's the trailer.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Another Random Betty Boop

I'm re-uploading various images directly to the blog to better help people find them. Apparently, non-photographic images have a tendency to moulder in obscurity when uploaded directly to Picasa.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cartoon Network's Birthday

I'm sorry that I missed the celebration, but this music video is great. It highlights the surreal nature of Cartoon Network and the influence that it has had on animation in general. CN is far from perfect. They are, in many ways, just as stupid and conservative as every other corporate monstrosity. But there has always been something different about them. I don't know where it comes from. All I can say is that they are in a different league than the garbage at Disney and Nickelodeon. Happy birthday, CN.

Make sure to watch this at high resolution, full screen, with the volume turned up.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Betty Boop

I'm getting back into the swing of things with making original images. Because of the bizarre way that Google "weights" their images, I think that many people are never finding my various images of Betty Boop, Red Hot Riding Hood, Jessica Rabbit, Princess Yum Yum, and my own work. So I'm going to start re-posting it using Blogger's image upload tool. The images are never full-resolution, but at least people can find them. Annoying.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dino Time 3D Trailer Causes Acute Case of WTF?

Holy crap on a crap cracker, what the hell is this?

What is it with animation and the ability to get total garbage produced? This reminds me of that bizzare debacle known as Delgo, where the movie was awful, but was loaded with acting luminaries like Anne Bancroft. Who the hell greenlights these things?

In response, I shall post the intro to a far superior "mixed-race group of skateboarding kids meets dinosaur" cartoon, Denver: The Last Dinosaur. Denver gets bonus points for more neon and more 80's.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Wreck-It Ralph Trailer Looks Good

General audience-oriented animated films frequently have awful trailers. Dreamworks trailers, I think, work against the actual movie more often than they help. For example, Over The Hedge was a funny, entertaining film. Did the trailers make it look like a cliche piece of crap? Yep!

Wreck-It Ralph is in the middle. All three trailers thus far have tried a little too hard for gags, which generally indicates a bad film (it looks like we will have immediate precedent for this in Hotel Transylvania), but the premise is just so great that I can't imagine the movie not having some charms.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

3D Is A Freaking Gimmick

Industry analysts and Disney are all surprised and dismayed by the disappointment of Finding Nemo in 3D. I'm not. First, 3D is a gimmick. Plain and simple. It might be a cool gimmick, but it doesn't add anything to the experience of a movie other than a little "wow." That small amount of "wow" isn't enough to increase the value of the movie going experience to where more people are willing to pay. The industry instead has a smaller number of people willing to pay the same or more. This is the direct opposite of industry growth and the reason why we have seen a decrease in tickets sold from a peak way back in 2002.

Those numbers are actually much worse than they appear. The US population continues to grow at a rate of about 1.0% per year. All things being equal, we should be seeing a 1% annual increase in ticket sales. We are not. They do nothing but go down.

Second, and this is the biggest reason why I'm not surprised: movie studios and theaters seem to think that 3D is the magic bullet that will allow them to continue their constant increase in ticket prices. It is not something that is used to increase value. It is something to balance out an extant equation that is going in the wrong direction. If your business is not increasing value, it is dying.

Slapping 3D onto a nine-year-old movie and then trying to sell it at current prices is no way to add value. It does not overcome the loss of value from the movie being old and seen by pretty much everyone that would want to see it. The huge success of The Lion King in 3D was novelty, just as the massive success of Avatar was novelty. Once that novelty is gone, it's gone. Not just a studio, but the industry cannot get it back.

Monsters Inc. 3D will do worse than Nemo, and the percentage of movie sales going to more expensive 3D showings will continue to drop. Unless the studios and theaters drop 3D to the same prices as ordinary tickets, they will kill this frail golden goose. And even then, I suspect that it will fade. I hate 3D. I would pay more to avoid 3D, and I know many people who feel the same way.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Horus: Prince Of The Sun" Is Back Up!

Horus: Prince of the Sun, also known as Hols: Prince of the Sun, is the first film on which Hayao Miyazaki worked. It was produced by Toei, and apparently because of the attention paid to it from Youtube uploads, Toei decided to have them ALL taken down and put up the god-awful English dub on Hulu. I don't know what they hope to get. They will not get any money for this. It's from 1969, for Pete's sake. No one but hard-core fans care and none of them are on Hulu because Hulu sucks.

Thankfully, fans continue to upload the subtitled version to Youtube, in defiance of Toei's stupidity. This newest version is great, being available in glorious high-resolution. Enjoy it while it's up!

UPDATE: And down it goes. Toei, if you're reading this, from the deepest part of my heart, go fuck yourselves.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Very Short Brave Review

Before you read any further, I reveal some things that may be considered spoilers, in that they were not directly stated in the trailers. There are also a few points that are definitely spoilers. So, be forewarned. In fact, you may as well watch the movie first so you can more fully understand the points that I'm trying to make.

Brave is the least Pixary Pixar film since The Incredibles. There are no cute characters to add levity to the universe a la Monsters Inc. Finding Nemo, or the god-awful cuteness shoehorned into Up. There is very little about this movie that lends itself to Disney-style merchandising. The lead character is also the most classically Shakespearean character to ever come from Pixar. It is fitting that she should be placed in a fairy tale.

Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. This is a fairy tale and, for whatever reason, Pixar didn't have the balls to fully dive into that universe. They also didn't want to apply the full Disney gloss to the story, like Disney became so good at doing in the 1990's. Perhaps because they recognized that there are very significant limitations to the Disney gloss. For example, even when Disney was at its peak, their just isn't enough of that special sauce in the galaxy to make The Hunchback of Notre Dame not dark. Stories must exist in a universe, and that universe must be created specifically to contain a system of cause and effect. If that system is going to be dangerous, don't make the movie.

Pixar tried to walk this odd line between Disney and Brothers Grimm, and was not completely successful. I criticize them because they didn't have to fail. There is nothing that said that Pixar had to attempt full fairy tale, because fairy tales have become so ingrained in our zeitgeist that their gross elements can be used to create any system that a studio wants. They can make The Brothers Grimm and Snow White And The Huntsman, and they can be used equally well to create to Tangled and Shrek. Pixar shouldn't have tried to walk into true Fairy Tale Land. They did, and the movie is less for it.

But before I get to into that, I want to talk about where this movie succeeds. The animation is without doubt the most impressive CGI work ever. Even if you mentally consider the time in which a movie was made, sort of like taking into account creative inflation, Brave is a stunning achievement. There is texture and magic to the world that simply does not exist in any other CGI work. Only Finding Nemo comes close.

I also liked how they changed the way that they rendered the characters. They are not like previous Pixar films, nor are they the Disney style seen in Tangled. They are still obviously the products of Cal Arts students, but different enough as to be refreshing.

The script is pretty tight, bumps along at good speed, and all of the action is quite entertaining. Dialog is fantastic, and scenes of comedy are at times amazingly hilarious. I loved Merida. She is the most vibrant, strongest, and singular character that Pixar has created, with the possible exception of Carl Fredrickson from Up.

Problematically, one of the biggest weaknesses with the film was also one of the best parts: the witch. As you can guess from the trailers, Merida meets a witch who gives her a spell that causes a whole bunch of trouble. The witch is not a bad witch. She's actually quite nice. Instead of simply being some evil forest-dwelling crone, she's a long-lived salesman of spells and bear-themed wood carvings (spot the Pizza Planet truck in her wood shop!). I really loved the different take on the witch, and her sidekick talking crow is a great character. So why is she also one of the biggest problems? Because she is one of the most glaring elements of the film that I suspect was originally darker and more truly Fairy Tale.

So now on to the negative bits. The witch is portrayed as being generally nice. But she gives Merida the spell that turns her mother into a bear, and does so seemingly without malice. But that makes her obfuscation as to the actual effects of the spell completely unexplained. It is also a gargantuan stretch of dialog for Merida to not even come close to asking what the spell is going to do. After the interaction, Merida is magically transported away from the Witch's cabin for no reason at all. Indeed, the entire interaction with the witch is very entertaining but entirely incoherent.

I'm glad that they wanted to do something different with the witch, but her actions could not come from a disinterested third party, as the story says. She would either have to evil, and purposely obfuscate the spell's effects, or be benevolent and obfuscate the effects for the sake of teaching Merida a lesson, or for greater purposes. By greater purposes, I mean that the story spends a great deal of time talking about fate, and they had a chance to create a physical manifestation of fate in the witch, and didn't. Similarly, they never explain the appearance of the Wisps to only Merida. There's a great deal of conflict between fate and choosing one's own path that is never addressed, nor is the question in the trailer of "paying the price for freedom" ever answered. Merida only pays the price for not asking what the freaking spell does.

Perhaps causing this lack of narrative depth is the lack of narrative itself. The story is very simple, and two extended action sequences take up about a third of the movie: getting the mother out of the castle and then getting the mother back into the castle. One of the points in the film where they could have had real character development, they fall into that bastion of lazy filmmakers everywhere, the getting better montage1. Montage in general is the fallback of poor films, but the "getting better" variant is one of the worst. It can sometimes be used for humorous effect and to explain quickly what took time. Pixar is no stranger to this trick having used it in The IncrediblesRatatouille, and even Cars. But in Brave, it butters over the fact that very little development takes place between Merida and her mother. This is made glaringly obvious when the dual epiphanies near the end of the film have nary a drop of dramatic heft to them.

Epiphany is a difficult thing to write. It requires enormous care, time for the events to stew in the minds of the audience, and enough dialog and behavior to effectively communicate the internal world of the characters. Frequently, the best time to have epiphany is at the very end of the film. The epiphany is literally the climax, and the characters don't expect the event until it happens. One of the best epiphanies that I can think of is Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. One of the worst is Anakin Skywalker at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

They didn't completely fail in Brave, but they missed the mark. I put 100% of the blame on the aofrementioned overly long action sequences. When over half of the movie is action, with little chance for character and dialog, it's no surprise that the epiphany at the end is a dud. They should have either cut the actions scenes significantly, integrated more dialog and development into the action scenes, or extended the time of the film. Ratatouille, Cars, The Incredibles, and Cars 2 were all fifteen minutes longer or more. There are certain stories that just can't effectively be told in the 90-minute "kid block." Mark Andrews, the second director, said in a review that they stripped the Merida story down to the core. They stripped it too far.

Again, I think the root of every problem in the film is that they didn't want to invest into a fully fairy tale universe, but they also didn't want to add a Disney-style sheen to the fabric of the universe. This internal conflict meant that character development that was necessary didn't take place and caused inconsistencies in the plot.

Fairy tales frequently work without much character development --Sleeping Beauty, Snow White-- because the characters are all archetypes, sometimes even bordering on cliche. This means that development is simply not needed. We all know what this person is because it is stated from the outset. It's fine to play around with the characters a bit, but they more or less remain the same. Build off of the archetypes.

I suspect that this is what Brave originally was, and caused the "creative differences" that resulted in Brenda Chapman's dismissal as director. We know that her version was filled with snow and was generally colder and more magical in its outlook. This lines up very well with the original title of the movie, The Bear And The Bow. That name just drips with traditional fairy tale values.

A traditional fairy tale is going to be dark. Those old fairy tales were almost always a narrative over an underlying story of hellfire and death. The consequences were dark and brutal because they were trying to represent a world that was dark and brutal. I mean, for Christ's sake, in an early version of Cinderella, the prince beheads the evil stepsisters.

I think that because Brave was by Pixar, they should have gone full-comic. Ditch the real bad guys, go for an anthropomorphic bear that's more a highwayman and swindler than a real, deadly threat. I would have personally preferred the dark, true fairy tale, but I understand that that sort of film doesn't really fit well with the Pixar canon. The film that they gave us is neither. It isn't satisfying from a fairy tale perspective, and isn't comic enough to fit in with other Pixar films. I very much enjoyed Brave, but there's so much there that could have been better, it's almost painful for me to watch.

Finally, this is nitpicking, I know, but when the fuck does this movie take place? The architecture is early second millennium. The characters are all wearing traditional modern kilts that weren't created until the mid 1500's (Braveheart made the same mistake). They refer to "clans" which is a concept that dates from the 1000's, although some clans claim lineage back to the 500's. One of the characters is said to have repelled Romans(!?) during a battle. Merida wears a corset, which wasn't invented, at least in the form shown in the movie, until Elizabethan times. And they are still fighting bears, which went extinct in Britain during the late first millennium during the Dark Ages.

An Even Shorter Review of La Luna.

La Luna is the requisite short that precedes Brave, and it was very cute. Not the best short that they have ever done, but light, twee, fun, and incredibly European. I am not surprised that it was created by a guy named Enrico.


1: I stole this wording of the phenomenon from my partner, Danielle.

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Mysterious Cities Of Gold Trailer!

AHHHHH!!! My childhood, reborn! AHHHHHH!!!

I'm a little disappointed that they didn't go for a similar texture to the first series, and have instead gone for this quasi-CGI look. I don't mind it, and I appreciate that this modern gloss is likely to play better in a variety of markets, but the aged, hand-crafted texture of the first show was truly exceptional.

There's little to go on in the trailer, but it appears that the anime/adult edge has not been excised from the show. That was one of the reasons why I loved this show so much as kid back in the 80's, precisely because so much of it was very adult. It was wondrous to me.

Remember, that was quite new. Anime sensibilities were yet to be an American phenomenon. Robotech was three years away and Akira was five. All the US had hitherto experienced was Gigantor and Speed Racer, neither of which were paragons of serious story telling.

Similarly, I had quite a few examples in film of wondrous craft in unforgettable movies like The Dark Crystal, The Secret of NIMH, and The Last Unicorn. But television remained purely for the kids. And aside from a few pieces of pretty high quality work from Hannah-Barbera, it was purely for kids and really awful. For the five-year-old me, The Mysterious Cities of Gold was an experience.

Oh, and I totally peed myself at the first shot of the golden condor.

Friday, June 22, 2012

More Evidence As To Why The MPAA Is Evil

If you haven't already seen This Film Is Not Yet Rated, I recommend it. But along with everything discussed in it, this very short, succinct, beautifully-stated video, the creators of South Park explain why the MPAA is evil to small filmmakers, regardless of the kinds of movies that they are making.

And just for fun, the entirety of This Film Is Not Yet Rated. For some reason, part one has embedding disabled, so you will have to go to YouTube to watch it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Disney Releases "Wreck-It Ralph" Trailer

It's been awhile since they revealed the existence of the movie, and they have finally gotten around to releasing the first trailer.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Is This Real?

I found a teaser poster for American Reunion, the fourth movie in the American Pie series, and... what?

Is this real? Can it be real? Am I missing something? When I first saw it, I assumed that it was some sly joke, created by someone trying to subtly communicate the stupidity of the movies. But after a quick Google search, this poster cropped up in a number of places. I think it might actually be legit!

This is mind-blowing. In the book Keys To The Kingdom, Kim Masters interviewed a bunch of industry insiders who recounted an interaction between Michael Eisner and Dawn Steel.
"Forget what you want to do," Eisner interrupted. "This is what I've done. Get 'Star Trek' finished up, then your vice-president of production in features. Congratulations."

"I don't know anything about movies."

"Neither does anybody else. Good-bye, good luck, and break a leg."
How true that must be.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Favorite Movie Poster

I'm a child of the 80's. This causes me a great deal of consternation since I frequently worry that I'm simply being a curmudgeon when I say that kids today don't know what good movies and cartoons look like. I feel decently confident that this isn't the case, and actually have some data to back up that belief, but it's always in the back of my mind.

One thing that keeps my mind at ease is that I don't rate things based on whether they were in my personal childhood or not. In fact, I feel that I can trace the downward spiral of children's entertainment to the early 1990's, which was very much still in my childhood, and I frequently find works from the 1980's and 70's that I didn't even know existed, but are leaps and bounds ahead of the crap being produced today.

A decent theory that to explain this decline, while not covering everything necessary to explain the phenomenon, is that cable TV fragmented the child market, triggering a drop in quality to both increase profit while also catering to the lowest common denominator. Companies saw profit vectors shrink or simply fail completely, and they responded by retracting investment and development.

Whatever the reason, there are few examples more stark to me than An American Tail. The movie was a case study in not talking down to children. And much to the joy of any movie fan, the poster was also a fantastic example of what can be done when an artist decides what should be painted and not an executive.

The entire poster is dreary and dark, with brown, rusty, desaturated colors. Roger Ebert, in a negative review, even described the movie as "dark and gloomy." The only two points of the poster that are uplifting are Feivel, standing out from the poster in both color and structure, and the glaring light of the Statue of Liberty, which was just completed in the timeline of the movie.

The poster was painted by Drew Struzan, who's painted nearly every great movie poster of the past thirty years. I also chose to include the poster that doesn't have the movie info on it. This is simply as how Struzan painted it. It is magnificent. Fievel lets you know what the movie will be about, but the rest of the poster lets you know what the texture will be. This poster is a work of art.

The success of the first poster stands in contrast to the failure of the second. It's here where I see the degradation of children's entertainment.

This poster is so god-awful twee that it makes me want to vomit. You've got tons of bright, smiling characters, a tag-line so stupid that it could only have been written by an executive, and some character renditions with posing so poor that they may have been drawn by an intern.

There is no symbolism, no message. It does communicate something from the poster, though, and that is "adults need not apply," and holy shit, is that an accurate statement. The movie was 100% kiddie-fare, which is why everyone remembers the first one and not the second one.

Let's go back a bit further still, to the release of Don Bluth's first film, The Secret of NIMH.

Just look at the difference. This was a time where what mattered was the wonder and magic of the story. It was about making kids sit back in awe and think about what they had seen. It wasn't just about delivering bright, screaming characters, thrown on screen to spout stupid one-liners to drooling children.

During this time, from the 1980's into the 1990's, we saw a transition in entertainment. For whatever reason -rising budgets, cable TV, home video- movie inventiveness and quality, especially in productions aimed at children, took a nose-dive. Children's entertainment became engineered. The Disney Renaissance birthed an explosion of quality that, I think, saw its zenith on television with Batman The Animated Series and on the big screen with The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Both of those productions were essentially born in the 1980's, and were the last of their breed.

I am very happy to be seeing a new increase in quality. Cartoon Network has produced some really fantastic shows, and both the new Thundercats and The Legend of Korra have breathed new life into the adventure cartoon. Brave looks primed to deliver a new family film like we had in the early and mid-eighties. Truly, I feel that we may very well be entering a new renaissance.

But that's material for another post. This post is about how two movies, five years apart, and exemplified by their posters, represented the fall of a golden age, and the rise of engineered ultra-mass-media.

Monday, May 21, 2012

WATCH THIS: Redux Riding Hood

It only took over a decade to finally make this available to the public, Disney is good at shit like that, but here it finally is. The Oscar-nominated short Redux Riding Hood.

And the trailer, just for the hell of it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

4k Home Theater Cinema Test

The Sony 4k VPL-VW1000ES projector in all its glory
Engadget has published a good comparison of 4k cinema in comparison to 720p and 1080p. They did their tests with a Sony 4k projector, since there are very few monitors that can produce resolution that high.

The tests reveal what many people, myself included, have thought for some time: even with 1080p, huge resolutions are only necessary for those with huge displays. I have a 42" TV in my living room. I absolutely cannot tell the difference between 1080p and 720p unless I am sitting very close.

The only way that this resolution will EVER make sense is with a huge projector screen. I have never been one to say "Ennh! Crazy Kids! Black & white TV's are good enough!" I am not that guy. But when a technological advance is indistinguishable from the previous generation in standard use, there is no point aside from numbers.

For the home-theater aficionados among us, though, this is kick-ass. As Engadget showed, the 4k resolution is quite noticeable on a large screen, and the Sony doesn't suffer the significant drop in brightness that many home projectors did back in the transition to HD from SD in the late 1990's. If you have the money, and more important I think, the space, this is one delicious luxury. For the first time in history, a well-funded home theater can be a comparable experience to a real theater.

Monday, May 7, 2012


38-39°C is a truly remarkably film. I had no idea that stuff of this experimental level was coming out of CalArts. The story is pretty abstract, to its detriment, and unless told, you would be unable to figure out that it is an artistic take on a father/son relationship. But I don't care about that. I care about the eye-popping richness of the animation. This is epic work.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

$200mil Opening For "The Avengers"

I am in the middle of writing an article about the state of the movie industry. In a section discussing the growing disconnect between the all-time best performing movies and the best opening weekend movies, I made the prediction that with the trajectory as it is, we would see a $200 million opening within the next five years.

Well, I was so incredibly conservative in that estimate that it is now funny. The Avengers just took in $200 million on its opening weekend, essentially guaranteeing it a $1 billion worldwide take. Truly epic. And even if we assume that this movie bucks general trends and only earns 1/3 of its take on opening weekend, that still wouldn't put it in the top-25 all time movies. I see that as a problem.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

48fps Will NEVER Look Good

Peter Jackson's The Hobbit is coming for a holiday release, and early previews of the semi-completed film are garnering quite a bit of WTF.

The complaints are coming because of the 48fps process as opposed to the 24fps that is usually used for films.

This is apparently being done because the film is being produced in full 3D straight from the camera, which as far as I know, only a few movies thus far have been done this way. They claim that 3D with 24fps causes issues for many people.

I think that this just goes to show that 3D is total crap, but I digress. There is a good reason why 24fps was chosen for cinema and why it looks more "real" than higher fps film: it blurs like human vision.

Most film is recorded at 24fps with a 1/48th second exposure of each frame, and then 1/48th second of black shutter. Sometimes, they will shoot with faster exposures, creating a hard, defined, and edgy look. You'll see this sort of effect in scenes intended to give a starkly dramatic look, like the beach landing scene at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.

Human vision blurs the world as it moves around us. 24fps, or more precisely a 1/48th second exposure, does a very good job of capturing that blur on film. Without it, things appear hard and lifeless, because life exists between the frames, not on them.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Surprisingly Good Poster

Apparently, the movie is awful, but the poster is fantastically inspired. Again, very much in the vein of Saul Bass posters, and it works very well.

All of the elements explain something about the film. You can tell just from the poster that whoever the guy in the hat is the bad guy, his entire presence on the poster being off-putting and creepy. He is apparently a doctor, making his odd silhouette all the weirder. Finally, the woman indicates some female in the movie will be the target of the bad guy, or perhaps be the one who stands against him.

What's important is that the poster says something. And for that, the creators of the film should be commended.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Final Brave Trailer

The third and likely final trailer for Pixar's Brave has been released, and while not as disappointing as the first, it's still among Pixar's worst trailers. Honestly, what were they thinking with this thing?

In one sense, this gives me hope. That they had such a hard time making a happy, h'yuk kind of trailer (which is the kind of trailer for which all of these idiotic studios seem to shoot) leads me to believe that the movie has very few h'yuk kind of moments. It reminds me of Wall-e, where its trailers featured almost nothing from the second half of the film. It was two solid minutes of Wall-e being cute on Earth.

It also gives me hope that we will see something different. Because, man, after Rango, I'm not sure that good ol' cartoon formula will ever sate me again.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Great Reel Of 80's CGI

It's sometimes impressive to see, one, how far we've come in the past few decades regarding computer animation. But conversely, it's also impressive to see how far along development was back in the 80's. This was a full decade before Toy Story. came out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bill Plympton Animates The Simpsons Intro

The Simpsons, created by animation and comic fan Matt Groening, has brought on another underground animation great to do the intro. I only became aware of Bill Plympton a few years ago when I picked up The Animation Show Seasons 1 & 2 on sale. You might not recognize the name, but you will recognize the style instantly. There is a playful, haphazard, almost dark quality to it that positively courses with energy. A work of his has appeared in all four seasons of the Animation Show, which should give you an idea of how respected he is. In fact, in his last full production, Hair High, two of the characters were voiced by Matt Groening and Don Hertzfeldt.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Favorite Movie Poster

When talking about movie posters, one can't avoid talking about Quentin Tarantino. Truly, it's hard to pick out just one of his movies for an example of a great poster. Kill Bill was bright and bold. Reservoir Dogs has become an icon on the walls of frat rooms the world over. I've always loved Pulp Fiction, though. It is an interpretation that seems obvious, but considering the number of obvious movie posters that get ignored every year in modern Hollywood, perhaps obviousness is not something that is very... obvious.

Every element of the film is represented in the poster. The nostalgia, the sex, the violence, even the attitude of the film is represented in Uma Thurman's face. Very few movie posters are this perfect.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Elvgren Girls In Photos

Gil Elvgren would frequently work from photographs as opposed to a live model who sat there for long periods of time. Not always, but since he did, we have these great photos to compare with his own works.

Again, we see an artist playing with lines. When created, the fact that some of the lines on the girl have been subtly, and sometimes even wildly, exaggerated isn't very salient. It doesn't stand out as it does with Photoshopped models of today because it hasn't entered the uncanny valley. Every element of the image has been built from the ground up by the artist to match every other element. When the same principles that make these images coherent and sexy are applied to photos of real women, the results are awful.

The below photos were scavenged from multiple websites, and the bulk of them appear to be of a model named Janet Rae; you can see her in the first photo. Compliments of a single collector (her son, I believe), who uploaded them to his Flickr page, the images are available to the net-addicted public. Fans of Elvgren everywhere thank you very much. He is rumored to be working on a book about his mother's work, which would be fantastic. It would be a perfect companion piece for Louis K. Meisel's book on Elvgren.

A Grand Slam - 1961

A Fair Shake - 1960

The Right Touch - 1958

A Lot At Steak - 1955

A Neat Package - 1961

A New Wrinkle - 1961

A Sharp Lookout - 1961

A Surprising Turn - 1960

A Warm Welcome - 1959

All Yours - 1958

Appreciative Audience - 1960

Be My Guest - 1963

Best Foot Forward - 1958

Bewitching - 1956

Charming Trick - 1961

Claws For Alarm - 1958

Cooling Off - 1958

Curving Around - 1960

Ditzler Advertisement

Eye Popper - 1960

Fall Changeover - 1952

Fit To Kill - 1965

Fresh Breeze - 1956

Gina - 1959

Going Places - 1959

Have a Heart - 1964

Help Wanted - 1960

Just For You - 1961

Last Stand - 1961

Lucky Chaps - 1962

Lucky Dog - 1958

Measuring Up - 1961

Mimi - 1956

Modest Maneuver - 1969

Partial Coverage - 1960

Phone-a-Vision - 1969

Plenty Sharp - 1959

Pot Luck - 1961

Pretty Cagey - 1953

Puppy Love - 1957

Real Swinger - 1965

Riding High - 1958

Success! - 1958

Ruffled Feathers - 1967

Screen Test - 1968

Sheer Comfort - 1959

Sitting Pretty - 1953

Skirting the Issue - 1956

Something New - 1957

Swingin' Sweety - 1968

Taking a Chance - 1962

The Right Scale - 1960

The Right Touch - 1958

TV Spectacular - 1959

Unexpected Lift - 1961

Unknown date and title

Up and Cunning - 1955

Upsetting Upset - 1969

Wanted - 1961

Welcome Traveler - 1955

Well Built - 1961

Well Picked - 1965

Wish You Were Near - 1969

With The Greatest of Ease - 1959

Worth Crowing About - 1954