Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Animated Events: 2023 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts at the DFT

Well, I made it to Detroit to see the animated short films that were nominated for the 2023 Academy Awards. And while I don't follow the Oscars, per se, I do have some friends that are voting members of the Academy--and watching the shorts program at the DIA's Detroit Film Theater is a fun experience, so off to the Motor City I went.

I spent a couple hours drifting around the DIA, mostly looking at paintings and sculptures up in the third floor -- the Dutch Masters galleries. Then had a brief, yet pleasant talk with one of the docents about 'Veiled Lady', a marble sculpture by Giovanni Maria Benzoni from back in 1872. A quick lunch later, and I checked out the Impressionists gallery to see that the four van Gogh paintings owned by the DIA were back in their home again.

After which, it was time to see the films!

An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It.
This is the story of a salesman working in a call center who has an existential crisis. It's a clever concept with competent execution. I don't think that they broke any new ground with the story or animation here but it was an entertaining film with good production values. 

For the time being, you can watch this film on the Troy | Movies | Videos YouTube channel at this hyperlink.

The Flying Sailor
Always good to see the National Film Board of Canada with a film in competition. And when the film is directed by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, you know that it's going to be entertaining. This one was the story of a Canadian sailor who was caught in an explosion when two ships collide. It was a really trippy film that looked at the nature of existence but without becoming pretentious or drawn out for too long. If you've ever had a near-death experience (or thought you were having one), you'll relate to what transpires on the screen. Watch to the end because even when you think that it's over, this film sneaks in a really good endcap. 

For the time being, you can watch this film on the New Yorker's YouTube channel at this hyperlink.

Ice Merchants
Delightfully quirky with a good payoff. This film reminds me of the fun and quirky films that I would see at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The story is all about a father and son who live on the side of a cliff, harvesting ice and selling it to the townspeople below. I was able to figure out the payoff at the ending about halfway into the film, but wow was it a fun ride to get there. This was my choice for the Oscar. Unfortunately, it lost out to 'Boy, Mole, Fox & Horse', but having seen all the contenders, you pretty much knew who the Academy members were going to cast their votes for. 

For the time being, you can watch this film on the New Yorker's YouTube channel at this hyperlink.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Gorgeous visuals and smooth animation. There was some clever dialog throughout the story of a boy learning life lessons from animals whilst finding his courage. A little too saccharine and simplistic for my tastes, but it was adapted from a children's book, so you know what to expect going in. It's worth seeing once and I'm sure that parents will enjoy watching this film with their children. Definitely stay seated through the ending credit sequence and pay attention. 

Last I knew, this film was only available to watch through the Apple+ streaming service.

My Year of Dicks
An interesting, entertaining story. Visuals were reminiscent of Joanna Priestley's Voices with some nods to Richard Linklater's Waking Life. The main problem with this film wasn't the story--a teenage girl who decides that she wants to lose her virginity and the hi-jinks that follow--no, it was that the music and sound effects drowned out the dialog, so there was a lot of nuance and character development that I ended up missing. It was a quirky film with some interesting notes and the final sequence was painfully funny and relatable to men and women alike. Honestly, I'd watch it again (though only if it came with subtitles). This short film is rated "R" for content, however, overall it was pretty tame. I don't recall any nudity or anything like that, just some foul language and its mature subject matter. The DFT and Shorts International did it right: before the film was announced, they gave time for parents to remove their children from the theater. I don't know where this film is available for viewing right now, but if you're into "coming of age" stories, this one is worth a look.

And to end this blog post with the obligatory foodie photo, I have to say: the DIA Cafeteria has a superior bowl of chicken soup!

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Sunday, February 26, 2023

Animated Thoughts: The 50th Annual Annie Awards


Well, tonight was the 50th anniversary of ASIFA Hollywood's Annie Awards and also my ramblings on the always entertaining awards ceremony.

  • Opening the 50th with Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob Squarepants.
  • Hrm, don't recall seeing Ice Merchants. Looks to be worth a look. Fortunately, it's on the New Yorker's YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/mhj74ZjfaQ8).
  • Best Special Production: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse. I just love the visual style of this film. Can't wait to watch it.
  • June Foray Award goes to animation historian Mindy Johnson and is well deserved!
  • I'm reminded of the fact that I need to watch Phil Tippett's Mad God.
  • Best Character Design in TV/Media goes to Blur Studio's Alberto Mieglo for the Jibaro episode of Love Death + Robots! What an awesome win for an incredible episode of animated film.
  • Best Character Animation in TV/Media goes to Tim Watts for The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse.
  • Another great win for Love, Death + Robots: Animated Effects in an Animated TV/Media Production for the Bad Traveling episode.
  • Editing in an Animated TV/Media Production, another win for The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse. This film is having a really good night!
  • Was very touching to see Evelyn Lambart posthumously receive the Winsor McCay award. I really loved seeing the montage of films, photos, and interviews featuring Evelyn. It's always a treat to see her work shown to a larger audience.
  • Was even more touching to see how ASIFA Hollywood brought out Lauren Faust to present the Winsor McCay award to her husband Craig McCracken.
  • Hrm. So they bring in Bob Iger to present Pete Docter's Winsor McCay award. And when they do the montage for Pete Docter's career, they blank out the video that's being streamed to online audiences "Due to copyright and clearance issues..." Ooookay...
  • Another win for Love, Death + Robots: Andrew Kevin Walker won Best Writing/ TV/Media for the Bad Traveling episode.
  • They produced a stop-mo segment for when the Tiny Chef Show won Best Animated TV Production for Preschool Children--with the Tiny Chef presenting the congratulatory speech. That was pretty clever.
  • Really like how they've added the 'Best Animated TV/Media Production, Limited Series' category. That was a really classy decision--to shine light on some shows that would otherwise be overlooked.
  • Not sure if Guillermo del Toro ad-libbed some of his lines but he sure was funny.
  • Love, Death + Robots is having a great night as Emily Dean won the award for Storyboarding in an Animated Televison/Media Production for the Very Pulse of the Machine episode.
  • I make a mental note to track down exception / エクセプション and watch the Misprint episode.
  • Another win for the Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, this time Directing in an Animated television/Media Production. Now I really can't wait to watch this film.
  • I bump My Father's Dragon up on the list of features I want to watch.
  • A very gracious and humbling yet energetic speech from Guillermo del Toro when he won the Annie for Directing in an Animated Feature Production for Pinocchio.
  • Am a little embarrassed that I haven't seen any of the entries in the Best Indie Feature category.
  • And Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio wins the Best Animated Feature. I quickly log on Netflix to add it to my queue.
Congratulations to all the winners and the nominees.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Animated Reviews: Sword Art Online - Progressive

Sword Art Online - Progressive -
Scherzo of Deep Night

It's not always easy to find a series that inspires loyalty as a consumer, especially due to the length of time that transpires between seasons of an animated show since production times are usually longer for an animated series as opposed to live-action. It's really easy to find yourself drifting away from the shows that you loved during the down-time between seasons as you're drawn away by the next big thing. But occasionally you find that show that pulls you in and keeps you coming back season after season like clockwork. For me, Danmachi is one of those shows. Ghost in the Shell is another. As is the Venture Bros. and Rick and Morty. 

Sword Art Online also falls into that category of one of those long running shows I keep returning to season after season, movie after movie. I've watched SAO ever since it started back in 2012. Went to see the first movie in the theaters, twice -- the first time in the original Japanese with English subtitles, the second in the English dub version. I've watched the spin-off show Gun Gale Online and I've kept up with the more recent movies. I've also rewatched the first story arc ("Aincrad") a couple times. So. Yes, I'm officially a fan of the show.

Now, I will admit that I haven't watched the latest story arc, titled SAO:Alicization and SAO:Alicization - War of Underworld. As it's about a total of 47 episodes and had a break in the middle between parts one and two, I made the decision to hold off until the entire story arc was released. And as both 2022 and early 2023 have been has been filled with good shows, it made the waiting rather easy. As we're nearing the end of the Winter season, I'm expecting to get back to SAO in the Spring and hopefully ration those episodes out over a couple months.

Sword Art Online - Progressive
Aria of a Starless Night

Well after the show's timeline moved forward, two movies have since been released: "SAO - Progressive - Aria of a Starless Night" and "SAO - Progressive - Scherzo of Deep Night" (released in 2021 and 2022, respectively). These two films held a lot of interest for me as they told the first season story from the perspective of the female main character, Asuna. So they're using these feature-length movies to flesh out the backstory and provide a lot more depth and motivation to her character. Danmachi did this with a spin-off series (Sword Oratoria) that followed the "Sword Princess", so I was interested in seeing how the writers of SAO tackled the challenge of telling a story from another main character's perspective.

Now, while I love how they're expanding her story, it does take place in a period of time where you already know the fates of the primary and secondary characters. One of the difficult things about making movies that are inserted into an earlier season of such a long-running show like SAO is maintaining a level of peril for the main characters. At the time these two movies are released, we already know who lives and who dies in the Aincrad story arc. To combat this, the creators added a couple new characters (Asuna's real-world friend Misumi "Mito" Tozawa and the information broker "Argo the Rat"). In doing so, the creators imbued them with real purpose for being in the story and then let us wonder if they were going to survive -- since they weren't featured in the original story arc.

The nice thing that the writers did with these new characters is they were scripted in such a way that them not being featured (or even mentioned, really) in the Aincrad story arc until now makes logical sense. And if they survive to the end, it still makes sense why they wouldn't be featured in the television series. So having these extra characters never feels like a form of deus ex machina.

In the end, both Aria and Scherzo tread the well-worn paths of fighting minions and boss monsters in the game but the story is kept fresh by the inclusion of additional character development, political intrigue, and enough screen time devoted to the new characters to make you really care for them and their outcomes. By the time the movie was over, I was hoping not just for a third feature, but also left with the desire to go back and watch the entire Aincrad arc once more before diving into the current Alicization story arc.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Animated Events: the 50th Annual Annie Awards

Well, the nominees for the 50th annual Annie Awards have been announced by ASIFA Hollywood. The following are the nominees for the three main categories that I'm most interested in:

Best Feature

  • Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio
  • Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
  • The Sea Beast
  • Turning Red
  • Wendell & Wild

Best Indie Feature

  • Charlotte
  • Inu-Oh
  • Little Nicholas, Happy As Can Be
  • Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
  • My Father's Dragon

Best Short Subject

  • Amok
  • Black Slide
  • Ice Merchants
  • Love, Dad
  • The Flying Sailor

Sadly, due to the lingering travel restrictions preventing me from attending animation festivals, this is the first time in recent memory that I haven't seen any of the nominees. On the bright side, I do have Netflix, so a private screening of Wendell & Wild and My Father's Dragon is in my future.

The awards ceremony will be held on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at 7 p.m. PST.

Congratulations to all the nominees. I look forward to seeing who wins in February. You can see a full list of the nominees and watch the ceremony streamed online at: https://annieawards.org.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Animated Events: Van Gogh at the DIA

The DIA's own "Vincent Pop-up Cafe"

Well, I finally made it to the DIA's Van Gogh exhibition before it closed out. After watching the Van Gogh animated installation in Grand Rapids it was time to see the real thing in Detroit. I have to say that I was left awestruck by the breadth of the man's ability. So often in the books and classes, all you get to see are Vincent's paintings like The Starry Night. However, in addition to his paintings, this exhibit showed examples of his drawings with ink, charcoal, and crayon. And it was in those pieces that you really started to grasp the tremendous amount of skill and talent that Van Gogh was blessed with. What really struck a chord with me is when they mentioned how Van Gogh studied pointillism. Then, as you looked at his paintings, you saw how Van Gogh expanded upon the technique and made it his own before incorporating it into his own style.

The following photos really aren't the best examples of Van Gogh's diversity of talent, but these were the paintings that really spoke to me, the ones I spent more time observing (and appreciating) than all the others.

Landscape with Figures, 1889

Sheaves of Wheat, 1890

Grapes, Lemons, Pears and Apples, 1887

Roses, 1890

Vase with Carnations, 1886

Peach Trees in Blossom, 1889

I'm not much of a fan of the television show Doctor Who. To be honest, the show is just not to my tastes (excepting the season with Christopher Eccleston, of course). But there was this one episode in the later seasons where the Doctor takes Vincent Van Gogh forward in time to the Musee d'Orsay and has a chat with a curator. Probably one of the most poignant yet beautiful scenes of science fiction out there. And while I related to it on an emotional level since it was a very well written, well produced scene of television, after seeing the breadth of Van Gogh's skill on display, the curator's monologue made so much more sense, on an intellectual level.

The Doctor: "Between you and me, in a hundred words, where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art?"

Curator: "Well... um... big question, but, to me Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived."

It was after this exhibit at the DIA that I truly began to grasp the above statement and both how and why people hold Vincent Van Gogh's artwork in such high regard.

I'll end this post with the obligatory foodie photo of the lovely meal that I had at the Vincent café before going on to enjoy the exhibit.

Beef Bourguignon and Chocolate Pot de Crème

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