84 posts categorized "Animation"

January 06, 2016

Spirited Away — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Spiritedaway

Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s divinely imaginative display of madcap surrealism is virtuosic in this episodic coming of age classic. Incredible attention to details of animated visual elements such as deep perspective, fog, smoke, and fire, inform the film’s contrasting elements of realism and absurdist thought that pull in various thematic directions at once. Miyazaki’s similar devotion to the minutiae of human behavior, as exhibited by a young girl on an odyssey of outrageous fantasy, lends the picture an emotional anchor of empathy. When the little girl runs into a wall at the bottom of a long stairway, we feel it. Regardless of how crazy things get (witness three dancing severed green male heads that transform into a giant baby boy), we are comforted by Miyazaki’s best intentions. Freud would have a field day with this ingenious filmmaker’s twisted nightmare sensibilities.

The picture takes on an epic quality.

Significant to the film’s English translation release is Pixar director John Lasseter’s championing of the family movie to Walt Disney Pictures. Lasseter hired a producer, screenwriters, and talent to translate “Spirited Away” for the Western palate. The effect is a seamless English translation of the original Japanese version that nonetheless retains all of Hayao Miyazaki’s thought-provoking intent, and wonderful sense of humor and surprise.

Chihiro Ogino (voiced by Daveigh Chase) is a 10-year-old Japanese girl, sulky at her parents’ decision to move the family to a new town. Whiny Chihiro needs to learn some trial-by-fire lessons in discipline that her parents aren’t giving her. The girl’s powerful imagination provides just the vehicle for such a transformation into a young adult.

En route their new house, dad takes a “short-cut” leading to a disused theme park that Chihiro’s irresponsible parents insist on exploring with their daughter in tow. Unperturbed by the lack of any other people in or around the park, mom and dad seize the opportunity to gorge themselves on a cornucopia of fresh meats inexplicably displayed at the park’s only open shop. All these two want to do is consume as much food as possible. Dad insists he will pay the bill whenever, if ever, it comes. Miyazaki’s sideways commentary on Japanese society runs deep and personal. Satire bubbles throughout the storyline involving shenanigans at an exotic bathhouse for spirits who are typically more evil than good. The film’s innumerable caricatures are revealed in bizarre forms born of Miyazaki’s wicked vision. Ralph Steadman has nothing on Miyazaki in the department of the abstract grotesque.

Spirited-away

All rational thought flies out the window as mom and dad are transformed into giant pigs before Chihiro’s eyes. The same weird voodoo that robs Chihiro of her parents’ ability to look after her, introduces her to a boy named Haku (voiced by Jason Marsden). Haku is a dragon spirit, which means that he transforms into a giant white flying dragon. The phallic imagery is intentional. Chihiro has something to long for, other than merely her parents’ liberation from their incarnation as unrecognizable swine. Haku's flying abilities (in dragon form) allow for Miyazaki's signature flying sequences to take your breath away. This is big spectacle animation as only Miyazaki can deliver. The author-director handles the tempo and nuance of the flight sequences is ever so delicately to give the sense of the liberation of flight.

Haku instructs Chihiro to ask for a job in the bathhouse. Haku may not the most reliable counselor, yet Chihiro follows his confident command. Once hired by the establishment’s giant-headed witch Yubaba, Chihiro is at liberty to interact with the bizarre spirit creatures that visit the baths to cleanse their bodies and souls. The shocks and lessons that Chihiro receives, matures her into a young adult, able to see beyond the limitations of her parents, and also her own.  

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November 14, 2015

ANOMALISA

AnomalisaCharlie Kaufman, cinema's standard-bearer of magical realism, continues to mine slippery tunnels of flawed romantic human emotion with film titles geared to trip up the average moviegoer. The same would-be audiences who stayed away from Kaufman's estimable last feature ("Synecdoche, New York), because they couldn't be bothered to learn a new word, will have just as much reason to skip over "Anomalisa." But, if you have the slightest sense of daring about the movies you watch, this unconventional picture is worth your while. The title comes from a reference in the dialogue.

The faces of Kaufman’s stop-action puppet characters have seams that lend a purposefully artificial construct to the filmmaker's deadpan, if refreshing, representation of such personal moments as a hotel room seduction between two strangers.

Indeed, this film's most powerful sequence occurs before, during, and after Michael (David Thewlis) and Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) take a roll in the hey in his hotel room. Michael is a family man and respected author of corporate-themed books, visiting Cincinnati overnight to deliver a speech before a group of industry professionals. His primary objective is to get laid. An obnoxious cabbie orders Michael to visit the city zoo and eat some of the town’s “famous” chili during his limited time in town.

Upon arrival at his hotel Michael calls up an old lover from a decade ago. Her voice is masculine. For awhile it seems that Michael is gay. Michael's sense of hearing a feminine voice is a key to his defenses, of which there are many. Things don’t go so well when the ex shows up at the hotel bar to meet Michael for a drink. She gets quickly insulted when he invites her up to his room for some hanky panky.

Writer/co-director Kaufman gets inside the microelements that make human communication so fraught with confusion. The dialogue hits your ear wrong because it comes from characters for which painful interactions are what’s on the menu.

Anomalisa-
Although Kaufman rushes the film’s ending (budgetary constraints perhaps?), he delivers an exquisite romantic interaction between two imperfect people. The shy small talk they make while flirting and drinking, rings with soulful romantic truths that few filmmakers could capture so patiently. Okay, I’ll say it; “Anomalisa” is what they call a gem.

Rated R. 90 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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November 02, 2012

WRECK-IT RALPH

Wreck-It RalphCinema has finally delivered a winning movie based on a video game — or in the case of Disney’s animated treat — based on numerous video games. The filmmakers take a risk in combining various styles of video game graphics to render characters we can thoroughly enjoy. The risk pays off. Surprisingly, “Wreck-It Ralph” is a mixed-medium animated delight.

John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman put so much expression into the voices of their comic avatars (Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz) that you can’t help but fall under their spell. For their part, the film’s army of animation artists create a bold scale, and a clever color-pallet that functions precisely inside the well-written narrative by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee.

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Ralph is sick of being the bad guy in the video game where he’s worked for 30 years. Fix-It Felix is the “good guy” to Ralph’s “bad guy” stereotype. When Ralph isn’t on the guest list for a penthouse party where Fix-It Felix receives a medal, Ralph abandons ship to take the place of a soldier in a war derby game called “Hero’s Duty” — think “Halo.” Ralph gets more than just a medal before landing in a girls’ game called “Sugar Rush Speedway.” There, Ralph befriends Vanellope, a quirky “glitch”-character living in a candy-covered race car kingdom a la “Mario Kart.”

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Amusing verbal interplay feeds the heartfelt friendship that develops between Ralph and Vanellope. Fresh, witty repartee keeps the fast-paced comedy accessible to adult audiences without taking anything away from its kid-friendly storyline. “Wreck-It Ralph” is one of the best animated movies of 2012 — alongside Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.”

Rated PG. 92 mins.

4 Stars

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