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REVIEW: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

December 4, 2013 5 comments
Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerDirected by: Larry Roemer
Produced by: Arthur Rankin, Jr. (producer), Jules Bass (co-producer)
Written by: Romeo Muller, Robert L. May
Animation supervised by: Tadahito Mochinaga
Music by: Johnny Marks
Starring: Burl Ives, Billie Mae Richards, Paul Soles, Larry D. Mann, Stan Francis, Paul Kligman, Janis Orenstein, Alfie Scopp, Carl Banas, Corinne Conley, Peg Dixon
Based on the story and song written by Robert L. May
Year: 1964

 

I’m going to allow for my first 2013 Christmas movie review to make me out to be a Scrooge.

A 1964 TV special done in the medium of stop motion capture, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has become one of the most beloved and influential examples of the medium – if someone doesn’t know what the term “stop motion” means, you could undoubtedly point to Rudolph or one of its other Rankin/Bass Christmastime siblings as an example that nearly everyone will then immediately understand. It’s arguable that even the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas owes its aesthetic style to these holiday productions, albeit with the obligatory Tim Burton-esque macabre twist, not to mention the countless spoofs, knockoffs, and affectionate references that followed across TV and film. Beyond the aesthetics and styling, however, this short TV movie also stands as one of the longest running TV traditions, airing annually each Christmas season since it was first shown. Read more…

REVIEW: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

October 19, 2013 3 comments
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie BrownDirected by: Bill Melendez
Produced by: Bill Melendez; Lee Mendelson (executive producer)
Written by: Charles M. Schulz
Edited by: Robert T. Gillis
Camera by: Nick Vasu
Music by: Vince Guaraldi
Starring: Christopher Shea, Peter Robbins, Sally Dryer, Kathy Steinberg, Gail Defaria, Ann Altieri, Lisa DeFaria, Bill Melendez, Glenn Mendelson
Based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
Year: 1966

 

I was originally going to write a review of The Mist next (and it’s still coming), but, given a recent bout of some emotional issues I had this week, I decided instead to do something out of left field and pick something a little more optimistic and positive – something a little more lighthearted (which The Mist is absolutely not). So, yeah, this is totally not an actual movie so much as a TV special. I don’t normally do TV shows – the closest I’ve come so far are TV movies, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and Ballet Shoes – but I’m making an exception for this one. It’s not so much a TV show, anyway. Let’s just call it a short film and let that be that, eh? Besides, if you were feeling as down as I was this week, you’d probably be thankful for something a little more spirited than the standard horror fair, now wouldn’t you? Read more…

Review: “The Animatrix”

August 23, 2013 1 comment

The AnimatrixThe Matrix has remained one of the most influential action films ever created. Naturally, its financial success and popularity with critics and audiences meant that Warner Bros. would most certainly capitalize on their new property. The lead up to the sequels saw a big marketing push, leading to plenty of tie-in products, such as Nokia’s cellphones that resembled the ones in the films and PowerAde’s infamous product placement. This also meant that the Wachowskis gained a lot of clout with studio execs, who seem to still think that the sequels’ poor critical reception should be ignored in the name of hoping that, one day, the duo would once again deliver a Matrix­-level franchise for them.

Not all of the marketing for the films consisted solely of cynical product placements, however. Though it was a complete disaster, the video game Enter the Matrix was still one of the first efforts on behalf of filmmakers to synergize the film and video game mediums and tell an even bigger story than you would get from having just seen the films, a tradition that would continue with The Matrix Online, which functioned as a direct, totally canonical follow up to the final film, The Matrix Revolutions.

Similarly, the Wachowskis, who were influenced heavily by anime, also commissioned various animation studios to produce a series of shorts that would tie into their universe – some of them directly into the movies, others giving us an even greater perspective outside the narrative of how Neo would fulfill the prophesy of The One. The resulting collection of nine shorts (eight, if you wish to see the single two-parter as a whole work) was The Animatrix, a collection that was deemed so essential to the overall Matrix narrative that it’s included in every iteration of the films’ box sets, including the cheap-o barebones 4-film collections you see on Walmart shelves every now and then.

Below you will find eight mini-reviews of the shorts, each of them being rated and reviewed on their own merits, followed, in the end, by an overall rating of the complete Animatrix anthology.

Please note that clicking on the titles before each reviews will lead you to a free and legal (but admittedly low quality) streaming version of the shorts straight from TheWB.com (the embedding doesn’t work on WordPress), so feel free to watch the shorts on your own and see if you agree with my assessments, too! Read more…

Theatrical Review: “Wreck-It Ralph” / Sub-Review: “Paperman”

November 6, 2012 4 comments
Directed by: Rich Moore
Produced by: Clark Spencer
Written by: Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee (screenplay); Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jim Reardon (story)
Music by: Henry Jackman
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Adam Carolla, Horatio Sanz, Mindy Kaling
Year: 2012

 

Video games were probably my first passion. I’ve been a game player since my grandpa first introduced me to his Nintendo Entertainment System back when I was only 4, and while video games have largely become more of a rare hobby of mine since I left high school, I still love the medium and I try to find new favorites (the Uncharted series) while keeping up with my old ones (The Legend of Zelda primarily). So I was pretty excited to hear that Disney was making a film that many were calling the Who Framed Roger Rabbit of video games. Here was the world’s biggest animation studio finally acknowledging the mainstream popularity of video games by not only making a film centered around one, as they did with Tron, but actually making the film part of its prestigious “Disney Animation Canon,” placing it in the same ranks as the revolutionary Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the Best Picture Oscar-nominated Beauty and the Beast. Read more…

The 84th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony: My Rough Summation

February 28, 2012 1 comment

I always call the Oscars “My Super Bowl,” if only because it often comes around the same time every year and roughly has the same amount of buzz surrounding it, though I’m not so sure it has the same number of viewers. (That’s a lie. I know it doesn’t. Didn’t stop me from pigging out on a nice enchilada-style chimichanga like it was the Super Bowl!)

This year saw a decidedly milder ceremony, which some see as a nice turn after the somewhat disastrous choice to have Anne Hathaway and a mannequin host last year. They also brought back Billy Crystal for the hosting gig after Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy left the production thanks to a disagreement about whether it was okay to call gay names. (It’s not.)

Gone were the musical performances of the nominated songs probably because there were only two, and they were silly songs that would have likely taken away from the retrospective feel of this year’s ceremonies. With 2011 being a relative disappointment for movie fans, there was much uncertainty as to who would be nominated and who would win for many of the categories, though there were a few more obvious than others. (Again with the songs.)

There were some major snubs (all things Drive and Shame) and some very unexpected choices (Extremely Loud & Very Close for Best Picture and Jonah Hill vs. Christopher Plummer). Overall, though, this was a relatively tame and bland ceremony that had me wishing they had at least tried something experimental again. I rather liked Hugh Jackman’s turn at the helm and its “creating a film” theme. This year’s “film nostalgia” experience felt like it was just Hollywood patting itself on the back while foreshadowing of the eventual winners.

Still, it was the Academy Awards, and I watched it all with relative interest. Below, for you, I have given my rough summation of each winner in my own eyes, whether I was familiar with the work (or even the category) or not. Why? Because I can. And frankly, this blog is as much about my growing film knowledge as it is yours, whoever you may be! Read more…

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Short Film: “Gertie the Dinosaur,” The Grandmother of Jurassic Park

November 6, 2011 1 comment
Directed, Produced, and Written by: Winsor McCay
Starring: Winsor McCay, George McManus, Roy McCardell, Max Fleischer, “Gertie the Dinosaur”
Tracing by: John A Fitzsimmons
Year: 1914

 

Remember that short animated film that featured in Jurassic Park? You know, the one where the science behind the creation of the dinosaurs in the film was explained to us by an anthropomorphic DNA strand? Well meet its inspiration, Gertie the Dinosaur.

You’ve probably seen pieces of this short film before. It’s a pretty iconic piece of animation that, nonetheless, a lot of people haven’t really fully seen. To be honest, I hadn’t seen any of the live action stuff up until this point, and I, too, didn’t really know the history behind any of it, but that’s kind of the point of me writing here: I learn along the way and hope to help you learn along with me!

Originally conceived as a vaudeville stage act, cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay’s original concept for Gertie involved him performing live on stage while the animation was projected. Much like John Hammond did with Mr. DNA in Jurassic Park, he would then interact with his dinosaur counterpart through careful timing.

McCay would issue Gertie commands, and the precocious dinosaur would seem to obey! McCay could even appear to toss Gertie an apple through sleight of hand. Then McCay would walk off stage, show up on screen, and ride Gertie offstage. I can’t imagine how amazing this must have seemed at the time, and, even today, would be pretty impressive thanks to the careful timing it would have required.

When McCay was approached by William Fox (whose name lives on in 20th Century Fox studios, etc.) to adapt the act to film, McCay added live action scenes to frame the animated sequence, creating a story about a bet he makes with fellow cartoonist George McManus that he could bring a “dinosaurus” back to life through the use of animation after they are inspired by a fossil display in a museum. After months of work, McCay presents his animated creation, Gertie, at a dinner gathering.

Winsor McCay, creator or Gertie as well as "Little Nemo"

Predating the widespread popularity of talkies, McCay’s interactions with Gertie are limited to the standard intertitles used in silent films. The film also predates cel animation, which allowed animators to save time and energy by layering the images on top of each other. McCay enlisted an art student, John A. Fitzsimmons, to assist him in the animation, and, together they redrew every detail of every frame of animation for the film on rice paper.

Though he didn’t have the convenience of cel animation at the time, McCay did pioneer the use of a technique that would later be called “key framing” — a technique that involves drawing two reference frames of animation, point A and point B, and then going back and drawing the frames that would go in between, creating a smooth, realistic sense of motion in even the most elaborate pieces of action. He also saved time through the use of cycling, or reusing frames of animation.

Gertie is widely recognized as the first animated character with a recognizable personality of her own. She’s stubborn and has an insatiable appetite, eating everything from trees to rocks. She’s easily distracted by her surroundings, is kind of a bully to her fellow prehistoric companions, and, when she’s scolded for her misbehavior, she sulks and cries like a child. Oh, and she loves music, which explains why she’s always swaying about happily when she’s not in full on dance mode!

Gertie paved the way for future animated stars, including Mickey Mouse, who wouldn’t make his first appearance for another 14 years! Though she suffered a sophomore slump in her second, incomplete film, Gertie on Tour, Gertie lives on as one of the most influential animated characters ever, and her debut short has gone on to be preserved in the National Film Registry, alongside classics like Gone with the Wind and Casablanca.

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