Category Archives: Animated

“Space Pirate Captain Harlock” (2013) – Review

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Director:  Shinji Aramaki

Writers:  Leiji Matsumoto (Manga), Harutoshi Fukui & Kiyoto Takeuchi (Screenplay)

IMDb Logline:  Space Pirate Captain Harlock and his fearless crew face off against the space invaders who seek to conquer the planet Earth.

Pros:

  1. Excellent CGI work
  2. Steampunk look of the Arcadia and its crew and technology
  3. Fairly well-developed characters

Cons:

  1. The train comes off the track in the third act with some head scratching developments
  2. The protagonist is Logan and not Captain Harlock

Review:  A very surprising update of another late 70s anime cartoon based off the manga of Leiji Matsumoto; fun for the whole family even though the finale doesn’t live-up to the build-up.  The characters are well-defined with both the protagonist and antagonist having complete story arcs.  The look of the film is incredible as well as well detailed.

Grade = B

Click on image to view trailer.

Click on image to view trailer.


Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films (2013) – Reviews

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This was the first year where I have watched all the animated shorts, and a few honorable mentions.  I’m happy I did so.  The stories and animation styles were all varied and worthwhile.  The amount of time and effort used to craft these short films is apparent in each one.  Though there was none that was dark, neither were they all happy happy joy joy.

Adam & Dog

Click on image to view trailer.

Click on image to view trailer.

Writer / Director: Minkyu Lee

At its simplest, this is the story of how dog became man’s best friend–from the dog’s perspective.  The director, Minkyu Lee, does an excellent job of making you identify with and care for the dog, as well as his relationship with Adam.  As usual, Eve gets the short end of the story by not only leading to Adam & her being cast out from the garden, but also being the reason for Adam and the dog’s initial separation.

Grade = B

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Fresh Guacamole

Click on image to view other PES SHORT FILM

Click on image to view other PES SHORT FILM

Writer / Director: PES

The story of Fresh Guacamole  is basically the story of how guacamole is made.  In this case we have stop motion claymation where the avocado is a grenade and nachos are poker chips.  The short is not so much a story but an art piece.  The link above will take you to other PES videos-similar in style.

Grade = C (as a short) / A (as a cool video)

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Head Over Heels

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer

Writer / Director: Timothy Reckart

Stars: Nigel Anthony and Rayyah McCaul

Head Over Heels is a stop-motion gem about the marriage of Walter (Nigel Anthony) and Madge (Rayyah McCaul).  Walter & Madge have devolved into a loveless marriage of two different individuals living under the same roof.  They have grown so far apart from each other their world has turned literally upside down.  As their house tumbles through space you cannot tell which end is up, and the same applies for the inside.  Walter lives on the floor and Madge on the ceiling; or is it the other way around?  The animation and story are original.  By the end you genuinely care about Walter & Madge and their predicament.

Grade = A

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The Longest Daycare

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer

 

Director:  David Silverman

Writers: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, David Mirkin, Joel H. Cohen, and Michael Price

Maggie Simpson must confront her nemesis, the unibrowed baby, at the Ayn Rand Daycare.  Befriending a caterpillar, Maggie protects it as it transforms into a beautiful butterfly from the pounding mallet of Unibrow.  The story and animation are classic Simpsons’; which will most likely lead to its downfall as a potential winner.  In the end, the short is bringing nothing new to us.  Funny, yes; original, no.

Grade = B

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Paperman

Click on image to view featurette

Click on image to view featurette

Director: Joh Kahrs

Writers: Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer

Stars: Joh Kahrs, Jeff Turley, Kahri Wahlgren

Paperman is gorgeous to watch.  The animation style is reminiscent of the Fleischer Studios Superman series from the early 40s.  The story is simple and sweet, but with one flaw.  I would have preferred if the eventual reunion of George (John Kahrs) & Meg (Kahri Wahlgren)  would have succeeded because of his effort in lieu of the “magic” of the paper.

Grade = A-


NostalgiThon – “Pete’s Dragon” (1977)

Click on banner to see other participants

Click on banner to see other participants

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer

Director:  Don Chaffey

Writer:  Malcolm Marmorstein

Stars:  Sean Marshall, Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, and Shelly Winters

Probably a little over a year ago we decided to watch old kids movies we liked while we where growing-up, but wondered what we would think of today.  For the most part it was not a found trip down memory lane.  I genuinely felt for my parents for having to sit through the Cat From Outer Space and Escape to Witch Mountain.  But an interesting thing happened with Pete’s Dragon.

Before I continue you need to know some information about me.  I was born in 1973 and I am gay, but do not have the stereotypical gay gene that makes me automatically love musicals and song & dance numbers.

That being said, an interesting thing started to happen as we watched the movie.  I started singing along to the songs and even anticipated lines of dialogue.  After mutual shocked looks at each other, very clear memories of me as a child came rushing into my head of listening to the album of Pete’s Dragon on a turntable with headphones on.  I was amazed by the memories, and that I completely forgot about them.  The other thing that threw me off was trying to figure out how old I was when I first watched the film.

My best guess is I watched somewhere between 1979-1982, putting me between 5-9 years old.  These would be the years where I would go to summer camp and once a week we would see afternoon screenings of children’s films.  I’m assuming it was probably in ’79 or ’80.  I have clear memories of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen, and most definitely all the classic films from 1982.  In other words, my movie tastes where moving away from young kiddy fair and I would not have been hooked onto listening to the album.  And by the way, I mean the movie was on an album you could listen to–not just the soundtrack, but everything including dialogue.

But what about the movie itself?  Does it hold-up?  For the most part yes.  It’s aimed squarely at young kids, but it doesn’t bore the adults.  The songs are catching and stay in your head.  The acting is adequate.  The special effects fair surprisingly well.

As for the story, here is the plot summary from IMDb:

“A young troubled boy named Pete (Sean Marshall) and his guardian dragon Elliott elude the abusive Gogan family, who all use Pete as a slave instead of a loved child. When Pete can successfully run away from them with his dragon, he stumbles into the town of Passamaquaddy- an ocean front harbor town filled with superstitious fishermen, drunken hooligans and wary townsfolk. Pete’s arrival does not mix well with the citizens, as his dragon Elliott accidentally causes town rioting and gossip among the town drunks about the dragon. Expecting to be an outcast yet again, Pete is taken in by the kind Nora (Helen Reddy) who lives in a lighthouse with her father Lampy (Mickey Rooney). While Pete bonds with Nora and Lampy, the townsfolk have not lowered their guards and suspicions about the dragon. And when Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) arrives, a phony con artist posing as a doctor, he sees Elliott the Dragon as the ultimate profit to his fame. With Passamaquaddy filled with superstition, greed and lack of imagination, life will not be easy before the town can ever believe Pete’s dragon. Written by commanderblue

I can’t tell you this is a must watch as an essential childhood experience, but if it happens to be on TV one day give it a go.  You’ll have fun with Pete and his dragon Elliot.


“A Cat in Paris” (2010) – Movie Review

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Directors:  Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol

Writers:  Alain Gagnol and Jacques-Remy Girerd

Stars:  JB Blanc, Steve Blum, Marcia Gay Harden, Angelica Huston, and Matthew Modine

A Cat in Paris is a very cute animated film aimed more at kids then adults.  It follows the double life of the Cat.  By night he is the companion of Nico (Steve Blum), the cat burglar.  By day he is the pet of Zoe, the daughter of the Parisian Chief of Police Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden).  Both lives of the cat become intertwined through the nefarious plans of the mobster Victor Costa (JB Blanc).

One day Zoe, who has become psychologically mute after the death of her father through the actions of Victor Costa, decides to follow the Cat on his night journey.  While trekking Zoe inadvertently  stumbles onto Costa and his plans.  He gives chase with his men and Claudine (Angelica Huston).  The same Claudine who babysits for Zoe and secretly keeps Costa abreast of police action.  Zoe follows the Cat to Nino’s house and hides.  She is almost discovered by Costa when one of his henchman calls to him after finding Nino’s loot.  It is at this time Nino arrives, allows Zoe to escape, and holds off the gangsters.  In the meantime, Jeanne and one of her officers, Lucas (Matthew Modine), determine Nino is the cat burglar.  On route to arrest him they catch him with Zoe and believe he has kidnapped her.  With  Zoe unable to talk and Claudine falsify a story about Zoe’s abduction Jeanne & Lucas arrest Nino; thereby leaving Zoe vulnerable to Costa and his crew.  Eventually Jeanne discovers Costa’s involvement, and what follows is a cat-and-mouse chase through the rooftops of Paris.

The animation is very stylized and fluid; with characters contorting themselves into odd shapes as they navigate the city.  Though certain aspects of the story play to an adult audience, it’s aimed squarely at children.  The characters’ actions and motivations are not always believable but follow a child-like logic.  Whereas it makes sense to a younger viewer that an animated character of an older mob boss can keep-up with a much younger and dextrous cat burglar, to an adult audience it doesn’t.

Given a choice to watch the film again, I would elect for the subtitled version.  Having American voices come out of French characters throws you out of the story.  I would even say having French voice over actors speaking English with French accents would have been preferable.

A Cat in Paris is a good film to take your kids to but not your date.

Grade = B-


“Chico & Rita” – Movie Review

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Directors:  Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, and Fernando Trueba

Writers:  Ignacio Martinez de Pison and Fernando Trueba

Stars (Voices):  Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Ona, and Mario Guerra

Disclaimer:  I watched Chico & Rita when it was the opening film of the 2011 Miami International Film Festival almost one year ago, so my memory on details is a little fuzzy.

Chico & Rita is the story of two bohemian artists in Cuba before and through the revolution.  Chico is a talented pianist, and Rita an equally talented nightclub singer.  One night they meet at a club where Rita is performing.  Chico is immediately entranced and aggressively makes advances toward Rita, only to be spurned.  The indignation does not last long.  Soon after hearing him play piano they sleep together.  The next morning the story of their lives is quickly encapsulated:  Chico’s (ex)girlfriend arrives and calamity ensues.  The story of their lives together is one of combustible chemistry.

Chico & Rita come together as a couple and a performing duo.  They make names for themselves in Havana and release a record. But then their careers diverge.  An American wants to bring Rita to New York and make her a star.  She initially insists on bringing Chico but the American will have none of it, and she is off to the Big Apple.  Eventually Chico makes his way to New York with his manager and joins the Latin Jazz Scene in the City.  He finds Rita and they rekindle their passionate relationship.  But as always it is not meant to be.  Eventually the American discovers their relationship.  On his way to meet Rita at a motel in Las Vegas, Chico is set up and deported back to Cuba.  There he remains through the revolution to eventually disappear into obscurity.  But their story does not end there, and time brings them back together in an unexpected way but at a preordained place.

Chico & Rita is beautiful film.  Havana is vibrant with color during its heyday.  New York appears to be lighted with neon.  The animation is both fluid and choppy.  Fluid as Rita dances in her yellow dress the first time she hears Chico play piano.  Choppy–in a good way–during a car chase on the streets of Havana.  The hand drawn two-dimensional animation serves the story well.

As for the story, it would impress if this was a live action movie.  What I loved most is that it showed me a part of Cuba I knew nothing about.  I’m Cuban-American and my parents came from families with professional backgrounds–architects, bankers, attorneys.  The stories I heard of Cuba were not this Cuba.

And lets not forget about the music.  Even if latin and latin-jazz is not your cup of tea, you will be impressed with the score.  It has life.  When Chico plays to Rita and she sings to him you can feel the heat.

This film was rightly nominated for an Academy Award, and I hope it wins.  If Chico & Rita is playing at your local Art-House cinema grab a ticket and be prepared to be impressed.

Grade = A