CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sundae Monday - Post Oscar Noms

I know you're all sick of Oscar talk . . . and it's only been 6 days. And so I stop the talk here. I have my thoughts, but we don't need to talk about that yet. I just thought it was important to remind people that these two men are now Oscar Nominated Actors. I repeat: These men are Academy Award Nominated Actors. I'm not saying they don't deserve it. But who saw this coming in 1986 or 1992?

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

I Wish I Could Believe That . . .

Well, one thing's for sure. Bill Plympton cannot predict the Oscars. He said that of the eleven short films presented in this year's The Animation Show Program, three would be on the shortlist for this year's Oscars. But when January 23 came along, Everything Will Be OK, Dreams and Desires - Family Ties, and Guide Dog were nowhere to be found.

Too bad, since Everything Will Be OK and Dreams and Desires are both superb shorts and deserve to be recognized. At least Everything Will Be OK won at Sundance. It's stunning, even more so given that it was made by Don Hertzfeldt. I don't mean that as an insult to Hertzfeldt, whose films have always been extremely entertaining and honest with regards to the bleakness and hostility of the world. But his cartoons, as you can watch below, have never been particularly deep. But this changes with Everything Will Be OK.

Everything Will Be OK tells the story of Bill. Bill is just an average guy. Sometimes his mind wanders, but it's nothing strange. Unfortunately, Bill starts developing a mental illness. This is the heart of the story and where it achieves its greatest successes. The film turns into a meditation on the state of mental illness and general philosophy. Where most live action films look on philosophical matters with long, near silent, empty shots, Everything Will Be OK takes the opposite approach. Almost every moment in Everything Will Be OK is dominated by a narrator. The voice tells us everything that happens on screen, including the conversations Bill has with other people. By taking this approach, combined with the sparse animation, Hertzfeldt uses the general simplicity and banality of the style to elevate Bill's story to sublime heights. I guess the closest comparison I can make is being moved by Nirvana's simplified melodies and disconnected lyrics. Having it described just doesn't do it justice.

What impressed me most about Everything Will Be OK was the way it portrayed overstimulation and mental illness in general. Where most films look at overstimulation with overlapping dialogue and quick cutting, Everything Will Be OK just puts everything out there. The frame fractures into sections. One follows Bill with the voiceover narration continuing uninterrupted. One follows part of Bill's thoughts, with all the sounds associated with it. And yet another section follows the events happening around Bill. As usual, the sounds overlap, preventing any one track from holding our attention. But in literally fracturing the screen, Hertzfeldt gives a more accurate representation of the conditions of mental illness than any film I can think of.

Everything Will Be OK is shows an animator growing. Though he is able to maintain the same artistic sensibility that has grown him an endearing cult, his subject matter is constantly evolving. Where Rejected stands as a wonderfully entertaining piece about just what happens when commercialism meets art, Everything Will Be OK goes for a more general sensibility. It's Hertzfeldt's best film to date, and I desperately hope he continues in this direction.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Sundae Monday - Triple Videos!

My next post will be on the short film Everything Will Be Ok by Don Hertzfeldt. I saw it as part of The Animation Show 3, and it struck me with its deft handling of serious matters. And so I present to you three works by Don Hertzfeldt.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Obey Your Master

I guess it's a bit strange that the music that calms me down the most is renowned as one of the angriest albums of all time. But even so, I feel the need to reflect on the beauty that hides beneath Master of Puppets.

Master of Puppets is not your average speed metal album. It's not your average metal album. It's not even an average album by any means. Of the eight tracks, not one is less than 5 minutes. It's so thematically united that it could easily be a concept album. It achieves a rare feat for any type of music; it expresses human emotion in its rawest form. And, most importantly, it reveals the underlying psyche behind so much anger.

Every song in Master of Puppets deals with the notion of being powerless. Whether it be slavery to alcoholism ("Master of Puppets"), religion ("Leper Messiah"), or higher powers in general ("Sanitarium" and "Disposable Heroes"), the subjects taken on by James Hetfield have a deep resonance with our own fears. We all want to be in control of our fates, and it hurts to find out that there's always someone else behind the wheel. Imposters control your beliefs. "Experts" decide if you're fit to be in society. Men go off and die because some figurehead says it's for the "greater good." And when you try to escape from the system, you sink yourself in a pit of drugs and alcohol. You've lost all control. But it's only when you have nothing left to lose that you can strike out against those who have hurt you. This is what Metallica speaks about from the first words of "Battery" to the final utterings of "Damage, Inc."

But the messages of Master of Puppets would be lost without the expertly crafted music behind it. "Battery" lulls you into a false sense of security with it's acoustic opening before shattering all expectations with its grandiosity. The main feature Master of Puppets holds over the similar sounding Ride the Lightning, besides the lyrical supremacy, is the massiveness of its sonic landscape. It's immaculately composed, with Hetfield's rhythm guitar driving the charge that holds most of the album together. Even when the album slows down for a breather, as in "Sanitarium" or "Orion," it is the epic nature of each song, with strong guitar harmonies and separate segments of each song bordeing on operatic, that keeps the album's sound unified.

Of course, the show-stopper of the album is the title track. It is the longest track at 8:38 and represents the apotheosis of the album's thematic heft. It has become emblematic of the entire underground metal movement of the 80's (and in fact, all of heavy metal music) through the sheer intensity of its sound and subject matter. The song, which talks about alcoholism from the point of view of the bottle, even includes a section in which the tempo slows down, representing the possibility of the bottle relinquishing its grasp on the helpless victim. But just when you have your hope, the music quickens again, and all hope is lost. The bottle is your master and you must obey.

Master of Puppets is an unrelenting album. It is not for those with weak eardrums, and I wouldn't recommend it if the sun is shining through your window. It is dark, complex, and so filled with rage that you might get infected. But there is a beauty hiding under the surface. Its complexity comes from the intricacies of the compositions, and one who is willing to go the distance with it can find it to be one of the few pieces of music that can so eloquently express the anger that sits in our hearts. You may join in the anger, but I can only revel in the underlying textures. Somehow it's soothing to know that, even in this most rageful of works, there is still beauty in this world, even if it's hidden.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Sundae Monday - Golden Globes Edition

I was gonna save this one for later in the year, but with Babel winning Best Picture at the Globes, and the memory of Crash last year, I present my interpretation of awards shows recently . . .

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Friday, January 12, 2007

The Power of Imagination

I guess it's only fitting that Pan's Labyrinth, the latest from Guillermo Del Toro, is coming out no more than three months after a Terry Gilliam film has come and gone from our theaters. Both Pan's and Tideland are films about children and imagination. Pan's has a more defined plotline, following Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) in Franco-era Spain. After being approached by a fairy, Ofelia learns that she was once the princess of the underworld. In order to win back her title, she must complete 3 tasks. Tideland follows Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) after both of her parents have died. She talks to dollheads, which she's kept with her for a while, and she makes friends with Dell (Janet McTeer) and Dickens (Brendan Fletcher).

I hate to be one of the "Plausibles" Peter Gelderblom wrote about here, but a significant part of Pan's Labyrinth is incredibly frustrating when pressed with even a small amount of logic. To perfectly summarize the most annoying scene, I point you to Travis Mackenzie Hoover's thoughtful piece on Pan's, found here. In Peet's piece on the Plausibles, he writes that the Plausibles are yet another side effect of a culture steeped in narrative traditions that limit the way we see the world. While I certainly agree that being a Plausible can ruin a great cinematic experience (the ending of Rear Window comes to mind), in the case of the Pale Man scene, I felt that the poor choices Ofelia made in the scene caused it to conform to our cinematic expectations. Instead of having a narrative fault that increased the value of the scene or made it more original, Del Toro's logic problems lessen the impact of the scene, lowering it to the level of "just another boulder."

I guess that's my main problem with Pan's Labyrinth and the praise that has been heaped upon it. The film, though well made, has nothing distinctive about it. The moral compass that has been so lauded is simplified beyond belief. The villain, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), is a sadistic fascist who cares only about killing the rebels and maintaining his bloodline. Ofelia's relation to the faun who gives her the tasks (Doug Jones) is supposed to put her in the position of a fascist underling, forced to choose between what she is told and what is right. The choice isn't really a hard one, yet the film and its defenders don't see it that way.

On the other end of the imagination range sits Tideland. There is very little in the way of imaginary diversions. This is a film that shows change. Pan's Labyrinth gives no indication that Ofelia has changed at all from the beginning of the story to the end. In fact, the only thing that keeps Pan's Labyrinth from being the family hit of the holiday season is the level of gore.

Jeliza-Rose, on the other hand, takes up no great tasks. She can only slowly come to terms with her parents' deaths and her own development. She undergoes amazing changes, yet never loses her imaginative spirit. It's the sort of character study that is so rarely seen today, especially a character study of a child. We've seen the power of imagination at work many times, but rarely are the battles fought strictly within. Tideland is the sort of film that stands out from the rest of the film world. And it's the sort of film that deserves closer to the 97 Pan's Labyrinth is getting on Metacritic than to the 26 it's getting now

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Confession, I Guess

I'm not sure that confession is the right word. I was in the Boston Globe yesterday. I didn't get a review published or anything like that. In fact, I would have written about this yesterday, but I've been trying to decide whether or not to say anything. You can read the article here. I have Asperger's Syndrome. If you don't know, Asperger's Syndrome is a mild form of autism. You can learn more about it here. My feelings are in the article.

This is a unique event in my life, putting my greatest - I don't want to say flaw, but I can't think of the right word - on display for the whole world to see. It's liberating, and yet it's incredibly terrifying. I can only hope that you'll accept me for who I am.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Sundae Monday - Happy New Year

I was thinking of putting something about this being my first post of the New Year. But with the BCS Championship Game and the first week of NFL Playoffs over, I figured something football would be apprpriate. And well, with Tony Romo (who has the best name in the NFL until Colt McCoy gets drafted) taking snaps . . .

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