The Hockey Sweater
★ ★ 1/2 out of 5
Directed by Sheldon Cohen
A young boy is mortified when he receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey instead of a Montrael Canadians jersey.
This is the second short film which my English teacher showed me, saying that it’s one of the quintessential Canadian films, and as a Canadian, I need to watch it. Yes, I’m Canadian, but I’m really not a hockey fan, which is maybe why I didn’t find much to relate to in The Hockey Sweater. The film is basically a small anecdote about a child needing a new jersey, and getting the jersey for a different team instead of the one he wanted. There isn’t much more to it than that. It’s just a not very amusing anecdote, animated in an interesting way. At the end of the short, I found myself asking “well, what was the point?” Usually, if you tell a story like this, there’s some moral ending, a message to it. There isn’t a message in The Hockey Sweater, it just ends. I kept thinking there would be more, and there would be a pay off somewhere, but there wasn’t. It’s just a little slice of French Canadian life. Like I said though, it is really well animated. I love the look of the film, crudely illustrated. The film is adapted from a children’s book, and you can tell. The animation style looks like it was ripped right off the page of a Robert Munsch book or really any other children’s book with illustrations. I’m not sure I could watch two hours of that, but I loved it for ten minutes.
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5
Directed by Don Hertzfeldt
A selection of commercials made by animator Don Hertzfeldt, that were all rejected because of their creators failing grip on sanity.
This was an old favorite YouTube video of eight year old me. My friend and I watched it pretty much every time we were together. I haven’t seen it for at least six years now, but I was just waiting after school, and I saw on Reddit that this was actually an Oscar nominated short film. So I watched it again to get a fresh opinion. I don’t even know what to say about Rejected. This is the most absolutely ridiculous, batshit crazy, surreal, and hilarious short I’ve seen in a long time. I didn’t expect to still find it as funny as I did, the humor might not be for everyone, but it’s definitely not just something lame I found funny when I was eight years old. The opening, “my spoon is too big” and “I am a banana” is one of the most inexplicably funny scenes I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why a lot of this is funny, but it is. One of the most surreal, and fun animated shorts out there.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda
Starring Ryûnosuke Kamiki as Kenji
A computer programmer, Kenji, works for the world’s largest Internet company, Oz. The most popular girl in his school asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend to appease her grandmother, and Kenji spends a weekend with her crazy family, while Oz is hacked into by a military artificial intelligence.
I’m not a huge fan of anime outside of Studio Ghibli’s work, and don’t often watch it, but I’d been told that Summer Wars is fantastic, so I decided I might as well give it a shot. It really was fantastic. This movie is everything I want out of an animated film. It has great visuals, a heartwarming story, really funny dialogue, and a concept that is absolutely ridiculous. The animation is beautiful, and it looks like so much more than “just another anime”, with some truly brilliant coloring choices (mainly in Oz, where everything is white but the characters, so they stand out in a vibrant way). The story’s human part is really sweet, with characters that suit it perfectly, including one of the most badass grannies I’ve ever seen on film, and a very dynamic protagonist. The parts set inside a computer are completely ridiculous and the premise behind Oz just would not work when you think about it, but what makes it work in Summer Wars is the fact that it makes you believe it would work so fully. Then of course, one thing I was really happy about was the fact that it didn’t take itself seriously at all. One thing I find with a lot of anime I don’t like (COUGHpaprika) is that even though the premise is ridiculous and the visuals are outlandish, it feels the need to be some super serious sci-fi drama. Summer Wars was all about having fun, you can tell the writers had fun writing it, the actors had fun voicing it, the director had fun creating it, and the audience has a fun time watching it. It’s just one of those movies that is just two hours of pure enjoyment. It’s really a fun, funny, and visually beautiful movie that I recommend to all.
★ ★ ★ out of 5
Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman
Starring James Franco as Allen Ginsburg
Allen Ginsbourg is a poet, whose poem Howl is being tried for being obscene literature. We see him talk about his poem, as well as animation over a reading of the poem, and a court case.
Howl is a strange little experimental film that’s unlike any other I have ever seen. It jumps back and forth between interviews, black and white flashbacks, a court case, and gorgeous animated versions of the titular poem. All the interviews and court scenes are word for word taken from actual interviews and the actual Howl obscenity trial. The way the story is told is completely unconventional, and it feels a lot more like a documentary filmed with actors rather than a film. It achieves exactly what it’s going for, and the key to that is a line in the interview section, where Ginsburg says something to the like of “People have this idea of what literature should be, but it doesn’t have to be that way.” He wrote Howl as a screw you to conventional literature, these filmmakers made Howl as a screw you to conventional filmmaking. Of course the fact that it succeeds doesn’t make it good. I admired it, but I didn’t enjoy it, I found it to be incredibly stilted in the way the film was put together and the dialogue was delivered. The actors, even while saying real people’s words, all seemed to be just acting, no one made you believe that these were real words, it just felt acted. Even from James Franco, who is one of the best actors out there under the right direction, gave a really flat performance. Just overall, it’s an admirable movie, but it’s not very enjoyable. I would possibly recommend it because it’s interesting, but not for much else.
Fritz the Cat
★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Starring Skip Hinnant as Fritz
In the 1960s, anthropomorphic cat Fritz goes to NYU, where he raises hell, doing lots of drugs and having lots of sex.
I decided to watch this because I had a little extra time right after finishing Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings and Fritz the Cat has been on my watchlist for a few months now. I actually don’t know what to think about this film. On one hand, it was a comedy that wasn’t very funny, but on the other, somehow I really enjoyed it none the less. Fritz the Cat is just one crazy ass film. It doesn’t have much of a story, it replaces people with animals in a scummy swingin’ New York City, and it really feels like Ralph Bakshi saw the source material, and then started thinking about how much crazy, offensive shit he could cram into a single film. Yet even though it may be wildly offensive, racist, sexist, and pretty much everything else, somehow Fritz the Cat manages to actually hit some truths, and tell a story of the time period it’s set in. I had just finished reading Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice” the day before, so I was on a bit of a psychedelic sixties, swinging hippies kind of phase, and Fritz the Cat does an incredible job at capturing the same atmosphere that Pynchon’s novel captures. Except our main character in Fritz the Cat is a college student who’s just a huge phony and wants to be a cooler cat than he actually is. Fritz the Cat does such a good job at creating a perfectly ridiculous, hallucinatory view of the world Fritz lives in, the sex, the racial issues, the drugs, the urge to start a revolution, the scumminess of New York, it all feels right. Of course I really like the animation style here, it doesn’t look pretty, but it’s cool in that it looks like an old Saturday morning cartoon, but completely explicit. Fritz the Cat is a film that really doesn’t give a shit about what people think about it. It’s vulgar for the sake of it, and it’s often unfunny, I can see why people hate it, but I think it’s a pretty damn good film.
The Lord of the Rings
★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Starring Christopher Guard as Frodo
William Squire as Gandalf
John Hurt as Aragorn
A hobbit, Frodo Baggins, and his fellowship of eight others must take the world’s most powerful instrument of evil across Middle Earth to destroy it.
So I heard that the animated version of The Lord of the Rings was just terrible from nearly everyone, nearly everyone except for my English teacher, who has a poster of the film on his wall and simply raves about it. He told me that I should watch it so I decided to give it a go, and you know what? It was not all that bad. I’m going to avoid comparing this to Peter Jackson’s trilogy much, because that’s just unfair. Anyways, I know most people seem to really hate Ralph Bakshi and his style, but to be honest I like the kind of elementary, rough look of his animation style. It may not look beautiful (although at many times in The Lord of the Rings the imagery is simply stunning), but it does look cool. Especially with the fact that this was the first film that was fully rotoscoped. Now that was one of the things I didn’t like, the rotoscoping was very uneven. Sometimes characters would look animated, then there were the orcs/men of brie who looked kind of awful, because they were a weird mix of photorealistic and cartoon. They definitely fell in the uncanny valley for me, and just looked strange. Of course the thing I was worried about the most was actually not a big issue. I was worried that the pacing would feel awful, seeing as it’s two and a half hours long and squished the first two books in. Seeing how Peter Jackson covered the same material in 6 and some odd hours. That said, Bakshi seemed to have a steady pace going, and you just got accustomed to the book cuts, and the rapid fire pace. Anyways, Bakshi’s version of The Lord of the Rings is much better than people credit it to be, it has some good music, solid direction, and cool animation, as well as having inspired the animated films of Richard Linklater and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy itself. Bakshi may not hold a candle to Jackson, but it’s still a good movie if you separate the two.
★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5
Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable
Starring Isaac Hempstead Wright as Eggs
Ben Kingsley as Archibald Snatcher
Elle Fanning as Winnie
In Cheesetown, everyone is afraid of the monsters that live under their streets, the boxtrolls, which they believe to be horrible, baby snatching creatures. A man promises to get rid of all the boxtrolls in Cheesetown in exchange for a position of power. Meanwhile, the boxtrolls raise a human boy as their own.
I took my 5 year old cousin to see this for his birthday, but really that was only an excuse to go see it. I would have ended up seeing this movie anyways, because I really do enjoy Laika animation’s style, and some of their films have been really great. The Boxtrolls might actually be my favorite one of their films that I’ve seen (it’s definitely more enjoyable than ParaNorman in my opinion, though I have not seen Coraline in a while and don’t have much memory of how good it was). This is a wacky, off the walls, ridiculous fantasy that involves cheese, trolls living in boxes (obviously), nearly every British comedian you could hope for, as well a song written by one of the Monty Python. In terms of voice casting, this is just about as good as it gets. They assembled quite the team, I didn’t have a clue that Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Ben Kingsley or Tracy Morgan were in it till the end credits. I did figure out that Richard Ayoade was in it, mainly because he has an unmistakable voice. But everyone did such a great job with their voices, if nothing else, The Boxtrolls is voice acting done right. Beyond that though, it’s a really well crafted and beautiful animation. The claymation is outstanding, I actually don’t remember the last time I’ve seen stop motion look so smooth. It almost looks too smooth to be stop motion at times. Of course there were some flaws, mainly in the pacing, which flipped back and forth from rapid to slow moving. The storytelling was pretty good other than for the constantly shifting tone. In the end though, I definitely recommend watching this one, with kids or without. It’s a fun time. Also it has maybe the most creative end credits scene ever done.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5
Directed by Sol Friedman
When God tells a crazy old religious man, Noah, to build an ark to save the animals, Noah complies, and it was good. That is until the animals on the ark start to get a little rowdy and embrace sin.
This is definitely one of the most insane, brilliant short films I have ever seen. Day 40 is of course an R-rated animated retelling of Noah’s Ark, and it is absolutely insane. When the film started I didn’t know what to expect. The film starts with genesis, drawn in a pencil and paper style. I was actually kind of expecting the film to just be an ordinary “Bible story”, but as soon as we’re introduced to Adam, more specifically, Adam’s pencil drawn penis, you know that this movie is not going to be an ordinary bible film. Then we get to Noah’s Ark, where animals smoke, have a lot of sex, eat each other alive, play poker. Then the film ends with zombies and a robot. Day 40 is pretty much the most insane version of this story that I’ve ever seen. Forget Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, this is the real Noah’s Ark film of the year. If this doesn’t get nominated for best animated short film at the Oscars, I will eat my shorts.
Beauty and the Beast
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5
Directed by Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale
Starring Paige O’Hara as Belle
Robby Benson as Beast
An enchanted castle in the woods of France is full of talking objects and a beast. When a man stumbles into the castle, he’s held prisoner by the beast, but is let go when his daughter Belle offers herself to take his place.
Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite movie to come out of Disney animation studios, and by far the best film in the Disney renaissance that I’ve seen. This is one of those movies that I watched over and over as a kid, it was just a default “road-trip” movie, or movie night film. It’s one of those movies that still stands up over time as one of my favorites. Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful movie. It’s got an amazing soundtrack (arguably one of the best Disney soundtracks ever written), a creative storyline and great characters, as well as being enjoyable in all the Disney clichés that it kind of spits at. I’ll start by talking about the soundtrack, which is of course beautiful. The soundtrack is packed with songs like “Beauty and the Beast” to “Be Our Guest”, all of them iconic in some way or another. Personally, my favorite has to be “Be Our Guest”, every time I hear that song it gets stuck in my head for weeks. It’s one of those Disney songs that does everything right. Then of course, there’s the story and characters. The story is just so good, it’s a great fable, and the translation to film works brilliantly. Of course, where the real strength of Beauty and the Beast lies is in it’s characters. This film is so good at creating relatable characters, and dynamic characters. I’ll give an example of Beast. Who is probably the best written character in the film. We start the film seeing him as a monster, but as we learn more about him, we see he’s a gentle but tormented soul. The character development with Beast is great, we don’t get much of a backstory, we know he was a prince, who was turned into a beast when he turned 21. But the way things are implied, we can piece together his story even more, which shows great character development. We know he’s not so monstrous just because he looks the part, but when we think about it, he doesn’t have parents around, he’s very privileged, and must have never been taught how to behave. He’s lonely, powerful, and doesn’t know how to act. When you think of it this way, you start to see how well written and believable the majority of the characters in Beauty and the Beast are. Finally, I love how this film makes fun of the typical tropes and clichés of Disney movies. Everyone gave Frozen a ton of credit for being the “first” Disney film to enforce that the Prince Charming myth is kind of BS. However, Beauty and the Beast did it 22 years earlier. The story takes the general character roles and turns them on their heads. The villain of Beauty and the Beast is the typical “Prince Charming”, and probably in a normal Disney film would be the hero. The Beast is the good guy, but of course normally he would be a villain. The film subverts the clichés by making us think Gaston could be a hero, and Beast will be a villain at first, making us see how shallow we are as well. This works really well, and when you think of it, Beauty and the Beast is the only Disney movie that isn’t really shallow in it’s use of “pretty=good ugly=bad”. So, wrapping up, Beauty and the Beast rocks. Definitely one of the best animated musicals out there.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5
Directed by Isao Takahata
Starring Aki Asakura as Princess Kaguya
A bamboo cutter is working in the woods one day, when he sees a little, finger sized princess. He takes this princess in his hands and returns home, where she turns into a baby, and grows rapidly. The bamboo cutter knows that he needs to give the princess a life worthy of royalty, and so he buys a mansion in the capital.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is unlike any other Studio Ghibli movie I’ve seen before, and yet it’s the most Studio Ghibli feeling film to come out in a long while. I say both because this film has an animation style unlike any other film from the legendary animation studio. It has a completely unique look to it. And yet, the spirit of the film, though it looks different, the whole vibe that The Tale of Princess Kaguya gives off is reminiscent of My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away. It’s a beautiful fairy tale, and a beautiful look at a girl growing up, just like those two films. Isao Takahata has made here one of the most original feeling animated movies in a long while. This is a movie that takes risks, this is a movie that pushes boundaries that not many other family films dare to push. Which makes Takahata’s Princess Kaguya feel so refreshing and unique. For one, it’s incredibly long (though it doesn’t feel that way), the longest Ghibli film to date. Also, it doesn’t feel like it has to have something happening at all times. There’s many times when not much is going on, but we just take in the beauty of the animation and the music. I’m not sure how western audiences will react to that, hopefully they’ll react well. Speaking of beauty though, Princess Kaguya is both beautiful to look at and beautiful to listen to. Like I’ve said, the animation is incredible, it looks absolutely stunning, straight out of the pages of an illustrated book of fairy tales. Then there’s also the music by Joe Hisaishi, which of course, as with any of his musical scores, is gorgeous. Really, I can’t express how much I loved this movie. It’s a grand triumph from Isao Takahata. I would actually call it his masterpiece.