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Screen Reviews

The Don and Bill Show: Slightly Bent

The Don and Bill Show: Slightly Bent

Short animated films by Don Hertzfeldt and Bill Plympton

These guys are sick. Sick, but in a good way. These two independent animators have cranked out some of the most interesting and disturbing ‘toons of the past two decades – Plympton with his colored pencil sketch from hell style, and Hertzfeld’s Satanic stick figures. Some of these shorts will be familiar if you’ve attended any of the Sick and Twisted animation festivals, but if you haven’t, this is a great sample program. Some of the highlights are Plympton’s Your Face, with a smarmy singer’s head warping into itself in the most unlikely ways, while never dropping a beat. Then there’s the notorious More Sex and Violence, replete with people sneezing their guts out and sexy airbags for a little oral sex after a sudden stop. Surprise Cinema presents host Al Merton doing horrible things to innocent people like replacing a restroom blower with a 727 engine, a electric razor with a chain saw, and replacing a guy’s wife with and octopus. Turns out, the octopus is a really a sensitive cephalopod, and love can cross species lines. The final Plympton flick is the impressionistic Eat, a complex study of a nice little French bistro, and when things seem to be getting a bit to maudlin for this master of mayhem, a burst of vomitus will have you thinking “One wafer thin mint?”

Hertzfeldt films are even more cynical – after all, his production company is “Bitter Films.” The famous Billy’s Balloon features gangs of evil balloons hoisting children to the clouds and dropping them, beating them up, and otherwise doing the sort of stuff that would get you banned in Boston if it weren’t done to stick figures. There’s a lengthy and bitter study of a blind date that falls apart, Lily And Jim. Both seek love, both avoid saying the right thing, and after a few minutes, it’s obvious who caused this insta-breakup — the other person! But, as Jim summarizes, love is like those little packets of condiments. They last forever, but if you open them up they become useless pretty fast.

Some of these prints are pretty rough, with lots of surface damage and degraded sound tracks. But even if you’ve seen them before, they are so bizarre you need another viewing. Take your friends, take a blind date, and just keep telling yourself “I AM a consumer whore!”

http://www.apollocinema.com/donbill/

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Screen Reviews

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

Directed by Hayao Mizayaki

Japanese, Animated, in English

Long ago, in a Japan far far away, the Amici village suffers attack by the horrid, worm-infested Boar monster. Brave Ashitaka saves the village only to suffer an incurable wound. A quest to the far western lands holds his only hope for cure, for without the grace of the Forest Spirit, he’s toast. Riding his trusty red elk Yarkul, he leaves home searching for the source of a mysterious iron ball. Noxious Iron Town holds an answer, consuming the vast forest with its creeping industrialism. Princess Mononoke and her wolf parents defend the forest, home to the cannibal ape tribe, great Boars, Casper-like Kadamos and the supernatural Forest Spirit himself. Reasonable Lady Oshi runs Iron Town when not building fine rifles or liberating brothel girls to work the foundry. As evil villains go, Oshi has some amazingly modern personal policies, and operates a fairly sophisticated Bessemer steel process. When swords and body parts fly, big daddy Forest Spirit loses his head to bounty hunter Ji-go. The industrial revolution is winning, and the times they are a changin’.

Stunningly drawn and expertly dubbed, Princess Mononoke is a multi-layered movie. Superficially an exciting adventure with a modicum of romance, the story combines elements of Japanese folklore with the ambiguously rendered tale of modern technology displacing traditional animist beliefs. The gods fade as mankind’s clever manipulation of the earthly elements represses the spirit world’s dominance of those very same elements. In the depths of the story lies a fable about Japan’s response to the recent Asian financial crisis. As western practices change Japan, traditional groups and the environment suffer. Just as the Ministry of Trade fights to protect the old ways, the Wolves and Princes M struggle against Iron Town and the free market forces Lady Oshi embody. Stubborn Boars would rather risk all in a final battle, rather than change as must the industrial combines that once dominated the landscape. Apes and Yakuza both see opportunity shrink. As now the Forest Spirit must transform upon decapitation, so must the Bank of Japan change its ways, lest everything be lost. These are trying times not only for the Kamado who inhabit the great forest, but for the Japanese people. Is America the villain? Perhaps. A new world dawns, and the old irrecoverably fades. When you kill a god, better let someone else do your dirty work.

Categories
Screen Reviews

The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant

Directed by Brad Bird

Animated, featuring the voice talents of: Jennifer Anniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, Eli Marienthal, and one kick-ass robot.

Rated: PG

At first glance, you might be tempted to write this off as some ineffectual piece of non-Disney animation. But the touching story of a Boy and His Robot offers something for everyone, action, comedy and yes, even a little romance.

Set in a small Maine sea-town in 1957, the Iron Giant has the misfortune to crash to Earth in the midst of Cold War paranoia. Saved from being fried on electrical lines by the irrepressible Hogarth Hughes, a red-haired, freckled scrap of mischief, the Robot is quickly befriended by Hogarth, who (for the most part) successfully hides the Robot from his mother. In his quest to keep the Robot hidden, Hogarth enlists the help of Dean, the town’s junk dealer/artist/beatnik/hottie. Everything would be just swell, however the US. Government is tipped off to a UFO in the area and decides to investigate. The agent they send is the subtly slimy Kent Mansley, who attempts to coerce Hogarth (by various means, everything from ice cream sundaes to threatening to separate Hogarth from his mother) into revealing information about the Robot’s whereabouts. Valiantly, Hogarth tries to save his colossal friend; however, the Robot’s location is discovered and plans are set to destroy it. The story is filled with gentle sentimentality and is played nicely against some truly comedic scenes (Dean taking Hogarth and the Robot “swimming” is just classic.)

Young Eli Marienthal does an excellent job providing the voice of the film’s young protagonist, Hogarth, while Jennifer Anniston admirably voices Annie, Hogarth’s single mother. Harry Connick, Jr. channels Dean, and Vin Diesel’s rumbling tones are digitally processed to vocalize the Giant itself. Director Brad Bird (who has also worked on The Simpsons and King of the Hill ) skillfully blends modern animation with a crisp, uncluttered style reminiscent of the classic ’40s Superman cartoons, with lovely, clean lines and gorgeous color.

The story is well-crafted and satisfying (with a couple of treats for comic geeks,) and already spawning some neat toys, from an Iron Giant “beanie” to a towering 20 inch toy robot that comes complete with metal items for it to “eat.” It really doesn’t get any better than this.

http://www.theirongiant.com