SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 2 (ABE, ELEPHANT QUEEN, FAREWELL)

day 2

Day 2 of the Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and despite having only gotten 4 hours of sleep last night I powered through and saw 4 films in 3 different venues today! Maiden is still my favorite of the festival but there were some interesting films today I’m glad I saw.

abe

Abe

The first movie of the day is a film called Abe that was screened at the SLC Library and it is part of the Sundance Kids lineup. It stars Noah Schnapp as a young man of both Muslim and Jewish ethnicity who is trying to balance his backgrounds and the people in his life carefully all through his love of cooking and food.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved everything with Abe and Noah Schnapp does a great job. He’s a very easy character to root for. I also liked all of the cooking and food scenes (particularly when he goes to work for a local Latin American fusion chef it’s very strong. What I didn’t like was all the other adults. They all claimed to love Abe but then would act in such shrill, inconsiderate ways. At one point he makes an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner for his grandparents and instead of eating it like grownups they start a big fight ending with one of them saying Abe should never have been born. I just don’t think a loving Grandparent would behave in such a way in front of their grandchild. It didn’t feel authentic so it was frustrating.

But in the end Abe is a strong enough character to carry his movie. One warning it should not be in the kids section as there is the f word 6 times. It would definitely be rated R by the MPAA.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

elephant queen

The Elephant Queen

Next up in the Sundance Kids section is a nature documentary called The Elephant Queen. Director’s Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone spent 4 years following a group of elephants to make this incredible film. The shots they get from the very small dung beetle to the giant savannas full of elephants are very impressive.

Like Disney Nature films we get names and a narrative to all the characters but it all worked for me and was very charming. I particularly liked the ‘late to everything’ geese hatchling named Steven. Chiwetel Ejiofor narrates and aside from being a touch too long for small kids it’s an adorable film the whole family will love.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sister - Still 1

Animation Spotlight

I must admit I go to the Animation Spotlight each year more out of obligation as an animation blogger than anything else. The selected shorts are almost always disappointing. It feels like all the creators are either trying too hard to be Don Hertzfeldt or to be too grown-up and edgy. Last year was a pretty good year with The Driver is Red and The Burden being standouts but there was nothing that strong this year.

The best of the group were Untravel and Obon. My least favorite of the group was Acid Rain which went on forever and was unpleasant in every way.

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

farewell

The Farewell

Last of the night is the family drama The Farewell which stars Awkwafina as a young woman who goes to China to be with her dying Grandma. The only problem is her Grandma doesn’t know she is dying. The whole family is visiting under a farce that her cousin is getting married (did he actually get married though? It was a little unclear).

Anyone who is part of a big family will be able to relate to this story. Both in the lies we tell each other to get through family gatherings but also how every family has that person who is a treasure to everyone in the family- usually a grandparent. If the ending doesn’t make you tear up than I don’t know what to say!

There are some pacing problems but all the acting is good and overall I really enjoyed The Farewell. Watch it with your Grandma.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Pixar 41: Bao

Watching the latest Pixar movie is always a treat but sometimes we get a special bonus of a new Pixar short. I loved the latest Incredibles 2 film and will post my review of that sometime this week, but I thought I would talk about the short that played before it: the delightful Bao.

Much has been talked about Bao being the first Pixar short directed by a woman, Domee Shi. While I think that is great, I worry that it may give the appearance of praise based on the sex of the director rather than the actual quality of the short. Shi is not only a trailblazer but did a tremendous job creating a short that is sweet and heartfelt that any parent (or child for that matter) will be able to relate with.

Bao is an allegorical tale about a woman who struggles with her son growing up and misses the love he used to show her. One day she is making dumplings and to her shock one of the dumplings smiles at her and becomes a type of child to her that grows and makes friends. This dumpling boy is adorable.

As Boa Boy grows the Mother must deal with her own feelings of loneliness and ultimate rejection. Of course, this story is an allegory of her struggles with her actual son (who looks hilariously like Bao Boy). But I don’t think you have to be a parent to relate to her feelings. What person hasn’t struggled with change or felt rejected by a loved one? Everyone goes through tough times and the ending with her and her son was pitch-perfect and very truthful.

Plus, if I was Disney I would have a whole Bao themed restaurant in Disneyland because all of the food looked so delicious. I love bao buns with roasted pork and vegetables in them. Yum! I also love the sweet rolls that become a symbol of forgiveness at the end of the short. They are so good!

I don’t think Bao is one of my all time favorite Pixar shorts but it was definitely in the higher portion. I really enjoyed the watercolor-influenced backgrounds, the adorable character design and the score by Toby Chu.

Bao was sweet and lovely short and in many ways reminded me of Sanjay’s Super Team with its focus on a parent and child relationship. Both are great, and I hope Disney puts a new volume of Pixar shorts out soon so we can watch all of these more recent entries together.

What did you think of Bao? How does it rank for you amongst all the Pixar shorts?

Pixar 38: Lou

I am going to see Cars 3 at least one more time before I write my review but I thought I would go ahead and write my thoughts about the short before it entitled Lou. This was a charming short that teaches a nice message for kids. I really enjoyed it.

I mean how can you not like that face?

The premise for Lou is very clever. Set in a playground at a school, Lou focuses on the lost and found box full of various misplaced items. These items include hoodies, rackets, mitts, baseballs and more. Through some kind of magic all of the items have combined together to make a creature called Lou.

I really liked the look of Lou and the way he flopped around as one cohesive unit while still keeping the individual items separate. It was very creative.  He kind of reminded me of a mixture of Telly and Elmo from Sesame Street. His eyes and mouth had the expressions of a Muppet and his body reminded me of how Hank from Finding Dory moved around the room.

Lou kind of takes ownership of the playground and picks up all the lost items after the kids leave. One day a boy named J.J. starts bullying the other kids and taking away their stuff (toys, backpacks etc).

I won’t give away the ending but Lou finds a way to get to the heart of the bully and help him realize what he is doing.

There is also some nice physical comedy between J.J and Lou that I enjoyed. I liked how the balls of Lou’s eyes bulged out when he was thrown about. It was a lot of fun.

Obviously the message of Lou is something many kids will be able to relate with. I certainly would have related to it very strongly. I liked also that they were able to teach J.J. a lesson without overly shaming him. He just sees what is the right thing to do and makes the correct choices.

Lou was directed by Dave Mullins and features the music by Christophe Beck of Frozen fame, which I enjoyed. I particularly liked how bubbly it was as we see Lou explore the playground and what is happening. You can see a little clip here:

It would have been very easy to make Lou a PSA and not a short but I think they straddled that line quite well. It’s funny, balanced and nuanced enough to work as a story, not just a message. Just Lou’s design and expressions are inventive enough to entertain me.

I don’t really have much to criticize about Lou. It’s not my favorite Pixar short but that’s a high bar to cross. This is sweet and a lot of fun with a nice message kids will love.

Overall Grade- B+

Now I will go off to see Cars 3 again!

Pixar Review 36: Piper

piper disney pixar finalIn some ways something like Pixar’s latest short Piper is hard to talk about because it is deceptively simple. On the surface it is a cute little short about a baby bird at the beach but the more I thought about the more there was to it. Piper is a real Pixar gem and one of their best shorts in years.

Let’s start off with the animation. I think you can tell from the above photo that Piper is incredibly realistic. Most of the short if you hadn’t told me it was animated I would not have known. Everything from Piper’s feathers to her little legs looks so real.  There is a little hermit crab that looks animated but the ocean and the water looks amazing. Little details like the way the water reflects Piper and the look of the sand are perfect. You can really see what they learned from the Good Dinosaur and took it into Piper and it makes me excited for future Pixar properties.

piper+2Like I said, Piper is a simple story.  It’s about a baby bird who must learn to conquer its fears of the ocean. The thing that is great is it’s a valid fear.  She (or he?) gets hit pretty hard with a wave and so naturally shrinks from it, not wanting to go near the tide. Unfortunately, she is hungry and finally her stomach rules the day, so she ventures back. With each new wave she is more scared until she looks under the water and see’s the world underneath. This new vision of the world excites her and helps Piper to overcome her fears.

piper4Composer Adrian Belew does a great job with the music in Piper and the whole thing is just completely adorable. I liked it so much I could see an entire Piper movie! Look at the detail in the above shot- the coarseness of the sand, the fluffiness of her feathers.  Amazing! And it is winning without being too saccharine or sweet.

What did you think of Piper? Where does it rank for you in the Pixar shorts? It will be pretty high for me although I love all of the Pixar shorts so it is tough.

Overall Grade- A+

I posted my spoiler free review of Finding Dory on my youtube channel last night. I will post a detailed review here after I’ve seen it again, but just know it’s wonderful. I highly recommend checking out Finding Dory and Piper! If you guys could give this a thumbs up if you like that would be awesome. Thanks!

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: World of Tomorrow and True Skin

This week for Hit Me with Your Best Shot Nathaniel over at Film Experience has given us a different task. Instead of our normal film watching and picking a great shot, we are asked to look at 2 short films and pick shots. Both shorts are scifi films and I think they are both fine but not my favorite.

True Skin-

This 6 minute short is by Stephan Zlotescu and it has recently been picked up as a series for Amazon and I can see why. It feels like a pitch or pilot for a TV series rather than a stand alone film.

True Skin is about a future society where augmenting our bodies is the norm and only beggars and outsiders have their natural bodies. Our main character has journeyed to Bangkok to get a chip in his eyes and when it is installed he realizes he is going to die. But in the world of this movie it is actually a good thing because he can take the step ‘to live forever’ as a robot.

It does look very impressive and is an intriguing premise but to me that’s all it was is a premise. That leaves me feeling slightly unfulfilled but I’m sure the upcoming series will fill in all the holes and tell the actual story.

For what it is, it’s pretty creative and I’m glad I watched it. I thought this was a pretty cool shot of the lead character just after he installs the new eyes.

true skin best shotWorld of Tomorrow-

I’ve talked about World of Tomorrow a little bit in my reviews of 2015 animated shorts but never given it a complete review. The truth is I never did because I kept waiting to understand why it is as brilliant as I keep hearing. It seems like kind of similar to Watership Down- a book and movie I didn’t get at first but eventually it finally clicked. It could happen with World of Tomorrow but as of my 10th viewing I must be honest- I don’t really get it?

Directed by Don Hertzfeldt, World of Tomorrow,  still seems like a lot of science fiction mumbo-jumbo that is more trying to appear smart rather than actually being smart.

Basically the story is a little girl meets a clone of her future self. She finds out about the new world of cloning and is shown 3 memories from her upcoming life.

The first memory is Emily visiting an exhibit in a museum displaying a male clone named David.

The second memory is of Emily’s first job programming robots. Emily falls in love with a rock and is fired. Then the third memory she falls in love with a clone of David named Simon.  This is after falling in love with a fuel pump.

Emily is hoping to get a memory that only Emily Prime has and warn her about appreciating life because there are only 60 days left on earth.

I don’t know. I guess World of Tomorrow is just smarter than me because I don’t get it. Yes, appreciate the moments of life- how profound…I can learn that from a Hallmark card. I don’t see why this is so brilliant?

If you want to watch something great about memories watch Hirokazu Koreeda’s film After Life or Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life.  Those have much more nuance and subtlety about life, memories and living well. Even Inside Out was much more insightful on this topic with the memory balls and core memories. None of those films are trying so hard to be important like World of Tomorrow is. They are just good stories with characters we get to know, so we care about their memories, the world building and what is happening to them.

I really have tried to love World of Tomorrow. I don’ t hate it but I fail to see what makes it as special as other people seem to think it is. I’ll let you know if on subsequent rewatches it finally clicks for me but for now that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, for my best shot I have the scene where Emily falls in love with the fuel pump just because I thought it was weird.

world of tomorrow

 

2016 Oscar Nominated Short Reviews

I’ve been wanting to do this post for some time but I had a hard time finding 2 of the nominated animated shorts for this years Oscars.  I finally was able to watch them all and thought I would give you my thoughts.

animated shorts5Bear Story

Coming out of Chili by director Gabriel Osorio Vargas Bear Story is about a bear who builds diorama’s kind of like what we saw in Hugo.  He is a lonely bear and tells the story of that loneliness through the diorama.  The animation is beautiful with a heavy steampunk feel to it.

Basically the story is the bear is taken from his family to perform in the circus.  You get that sadness mixed in with the fun of the circus. Each scene is layered with movement and details.  It is extremely charming.

Overall Grade B+

animated shorts1Prologue

Animator Richard Williams vision of ancient warfare is definitely a unique nominee.  It is done using a pencil, hand drawn style and the animation is quite striking.  When it focuses on a characters eyes or face it reminded me of a lithograph or an etching.

However, this film is ADULTS ONLY!  I am not being quaint or hesitant when I say that.  It is extremely bloody and  the nudity is graphic and repeated.  For a short that is just over 5 minutes it is kind of astonishing how R rated it could be!

Evidently it is accurate to ancient warriors for them to fight naked (who knew?) but there really isn’t any story here that I could see at least.  It is people brutally killing each other and then at the end a girl stands in shock over the blood.  I guess that is a message about war but not particularly inventive or thought provoking in my opinion.

Maybe we will learn more in future episodes? It is called Prologue after all

Overall Grade- C-

animated shorts44We Can’t Live Without Cosmos

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos is out of Russia and directed and written by Konstantin Bronzit.  It may not have the most stunning animation but the story makes up for any failings in that department.

It is 2D animation in the style of TV animation like The Simpsons, and tells the story of 2 best friends who dream of becoming cosmonauts.  It starts with them in training and they joyously complete every task.  At one point they even leap off of their beds trying to get a feeling of zero gravity.

I don’t want to spoil it for you but suffice it to say I love stories of friendship and this one had my heart. It is very sweet and lovely.

Overall Grade- A

animated shorts2World of Tomorrow

Oh boy…how do I explain World of Tomorrow?  To be honest Don Hertzfeldt’s sci-fi study of human nature makes me feel kind of dumb.  I’ve seen it a lot and I still don’t really get it.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but did it need to be quite so obtuse?  I guess for Don’s artistic vision it did.

Basically it is about a little girl named Emily who receives a video transmission of a clone version of herself from the future.  This clone takes Little Emily into her current world where they have a land called ‘the Outernet’.

Clone Emily then takes Little Emily through different memories and then tells her that the earth will be destroyed by a meteoroid. Then Clone Emily reveals she came to see Little Emily to retrieve a memory she had forgotten.  She hopes this memory will be comforting for the end of the world.

So there you have it.  The main message is we should focus on the important stuff. That when the end comes the trivial will dissolve and only the most special memories will remain.  Technology  obscures the hear and now and makes us focus only on the fluff.

Clone Emily says

“Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty detail. For all of these things melt away and drift apart within the obscure traffic of time. Live well and live broadly. You are alive and living now. Now is the envy of all of the dead.”

The animation is brilliant and different in World of Tomorrow and I think it will win, and it is probably deserved.  On one hand I like it is layered and tricky to decipher it’s meaning, but I think it goes a little too far in that department, to the point of ostracizing me a bit as a viewer.  It’s great but I still don’t love it like some people do.

That said Overall Grade- A

animated shorts3

Sanjay’s Super Team

I have already done a whole blog post on Sanjay’s Super Team.  This is Pixar’s offering (Lava was actually submitted in 2014).  Everyone seems to think it is shoe-in for Sanjay to win this category but I did some research and Pixar actually doesn’t have a great track record here.  They haven’t won since 2001!  Even something like La Luna (my favorite Pixar short) was beat by Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore which is completely charming so I get it.  The academy seems to like to reward smaller studios in animated short category.

Anyway, Sanjay’s Super Team is directed by Sanjay Patel and it is inspired by his childhood growing up as an American boy with Hindu observant parents.  The story is little Sanjay is watching his favorite superhero show when his father is praying and meditating.  His father insists he join him and Sanjay starts out bored but imagines the Hindu Gods as superheroes.

It is a beautiful film about how a meeting of the minds can occur and generations can understand each other better.  The animation is bright and colorful, some of Pixar’s best, and the lesson Sanjay learns is very sweet.  He see’s that maybe his Dad’s crazy ideas aren’t so bad after all.

Overall Grade- A+

 

My thoughts on all 5.  Prologue is too R rated for me and lacks a good story so it is my least favorite. The other 4 I like a lot, even if World of Tomorrow makes my head hurt.  I would probably order them

  1. Sanjay’s Super Team
  2. We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  3. World of Tomorrow
  4. Bear Story
  5. Prologue

Have you had a chance to see the animated shorts? I would love your thoughts. Which do you like the best? Do you think World of Tomorrow will win or are you pulling for another choice?

Best of 2015 Animated Shorts

Hi guys!  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.  This week I am going to be sharing my ranking for the 2015 animated films but before that I wanted to talk animated shorts!  I love animated shorts and 2015 was actually a really terrific year for the medium.  I haven’t seen all of them as they aren’t all available but I watched a lot and I came up with my top 11.  I worked really hard on this video and would love if you gave it a watch.

But if you don’t want to watch the video I will give the list here.  I did include shorts from anthology films like The Prophet and Extraordinary Tales because I feel they stand on their own as shorts without needing the framing device.  In fact, they are much better without it.

So here are my top 11 2015 animated shorts

11. Frozen Fever

frozen fever5Yep, this die hard Frozen fan puts Frozen Fever at 11 because it is sweet and pleasant but not as artistically ambitious as the others on this list.  Frozen fans like myself will really enjoy seeing Anna and Elsa’s relationship grow and the new song is very enjoyable but it isn’t spectacular or anything.  Just really enjoyable for fans and there is nothing wrong with that.

10. A Bear’s Story

shorts 2015 bears10This animated short from Gabriel Osorio and it has a bit of a steampunk feel (shorts are the best place for steampunk IMO) about a bear that makes pictograph machines with a mechanical version of his family.  It reminded me a lot of Hugo and was very sweet and beautiful.

9. Lava

lava2I’m sure you guys are shocked this isn’t higher but when it came down to it the 8 shorts were more artistically ambitious than Lava.  I love Lava!  I love the music.  The song I have been singing all year and nearly anything with Hawaii has my heart but I just couldn’t get it higher.  It’s a delightful, sweet short.

8. An Object at Rest

shorts 2015 object5Similar to Lava, An Object at Rest tells the story of a mountain, that becomes a boulder, that becomes a stone, and continues on.  It is animated by Seth Boyden and it has a sketchy sweet style like Ernest and Celestine.

7. Le Gouffre

le gouffreThis short was a big surprise for me but it is beautiful.  It is about 2 adventurers that have to cross a chasm and build a bridge to get to the other side.  It sounds mundane but it is exciting and striking with great character designs.  It is from a studio out of Montreal called Lightning Bay Studio and it makes me very curious to see what the studio will do next.

6. On Eating and Drinking

Plympton_ProphetThis short is from The Prophet by amazing animator Bill Plympton who does all his artwork by hand and I love his sketchy style.  (Check out this year’s Cheatin’ to see more of his style).  This is a poem about eating and drinking and the imagery and flow with the poem are beautiful.

5. The Tell-Tale Heart

extraordinary tales8From the Edgar Allen Poe anthology film Extraordinary Tales we get the depiction of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart.  The art design with the black and white contrasting is really striking and Bella Legosi narrating gave great ambiance and immersed me in the story.

4. World of Tomorrow

shorts 2015 world of tomorrow5I wouldn’t be surprised if after watching it a dozen more times World of Tomorrow is at the top of my list.  It’s very obtuse and out there but I was intrigued by it.  Created by animated Don Hertzfeldt it is basically the animated sci-fi musings of a leader and a little girl.  It’s trippy and weird and different but I liked it for those reasons.

3. On Work

prophet on workThis short from The Prophet reminded me of a Van Gogh painting with the harvesters collecting the wheat from the field.  The poem was beautiful and the animation fit it perfectly.  It is bright and vivid and I loved it.

2. Sanjay’s Super Teamsanjay4I loved this story from Pixar about a little boy and a father trying to reconcile their differing views of the world.  You have little Sanjay who loves superheroes and his Dad who worships and prays to the Hindi Gods.  It’s not about polytheism or superheroes but about how we can take the best of the old and new and make something unique and great. The animation is bright, colorful and very creative.

1.  On Love

shorts 2015 on loveIf you haven’t caught on I am kind of obsessed with Tomm Moore.  His animation is so beautiful.  I loved Song of the Sea- one of my favorite animated films of all time and I think Secret of the Kells is wonderful.  Naturally, his short in The Prophet was my favorite of the group and of the year.  It is called On Love and is of course about love.  We get joy, passion, rejection, and belonging perfectly animated with the Khalil Gibran poem accompanying the stirring images.

 

So that is my ranking.  What do you think about my picks and what are your favorite animated shorts from the year?  I hopefully introduced you to a few you haven’t heard of and I would encourage you to check them out.

I know there are many I missed so please put in the comments section.  Thanks!

November Youtube Videos

So considering I was doing Nanowrimo I think I did pretty well on my youtube channel in November.  Most of the videos I shared with you already but there are a few I haven’t.  Here you go! Would love your feedback.  If you haven’t subscribed or given thumbs up I’d appreciate it.

This video is my monthly summary of films I saw in the theater.  It was a pretty good month for us movie fans.

My Family Movie Night review of White Christmas

This is called The Chocolate tag where I get to talk about both books and movies.

My Family Movie Night Review of Chicken Run

My Family Movie Night Review of High School Musical

My Family Movie Night Review of Fox and the Hound

My Family Movie Night review of Disney Animated Short Collection

 

I have also been doing videos on my Top 50 Animated Countdown you will want to check out.

Pixar Review 34: Sanjay’s Super Team

sanjay2Hi from California guys!  I am going to try and write my reviews of Creed and Good Dinosaur in the next few days but I have to fit it in with spending time with my nieces, which of course takes first priority (and taking them to see Good Dinosaur tomorrow!).

In meantime, let’s talk about the newest Pixar Short, Sanjay’s Super Team.  It is a delightful short and unlike anything Pixar has really done with their shorts.  It’s brighter, it explores culture and is one that isn’t based around a gag or joke.

sanjay6Sanjay’s Super Team is directed by Sanjay Patel and it is based on his childhood growing up with traditional Indian immigrant parents.  As a young American kid Sanjay loved superheroes, Looney Tunes and other shows and was often bored with the Hindu rituals and traditions of his parents. He said “”Our worlds were diametrically apart. I just wanted my name to be Travis, not Sanjay.”

sanjay7You really get this sense of conflict in the short. Young Sanjay wants to watch his superhero show but he has to be quiet while his father prays and performs the Hindu rituals to the Gods (sorry I don’t know the specific names).

sanjay5His father gets more annoyed with the TV and turns it off forcing Sanjay to come and pray with him. It’s then that Sanjay starts to daydream about the Gods becoming the superheroes from his show.

sanjay4This combination of modern pop culture and traditional beliefs was really great to see, and I really liked how Sanjay learns to appreciate his father’s point of view while also developing his own ideas.  I think this is great for kids to see.

It’s also refreshing to see an animated Indian, darker skinned little boy and honestly I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this father and son.  They were very sweet and relatable.

sanjay3As someone who was raised and still practices a rather traditional faith I really thought they got the tone right on the struggle kids like Sanjay experience as they try to figure out what they believe.  It’s easy to want to throw off the old as archaic when really there is a merging of both new and old that can happen.

I think you can probably tell from the images in this post the animation is stunning in Sanjay’s Super Team.  It is bright and colorful and I really enjoyed the character design of Sanjay and his father.  I liked how the backdrops sparkled and looked like embossing more than paint.

I like they didn’t feel a need to explain the Gods or culture because those details don’t matter.  It’s a story about generational conflict and so the source of that conflict is largely incidental although certainly beautiful here.

I loved Lava but I think Sanjay’s Super Team is even better.  Let me know what you think when you see it before Good Dinosaur.

Overall Grade- A