My Top Five Animated Shorts of 2013

End-of-the-year lists are typically, by their fashion, posted approximately before or at the end of a year. But I’m anything but typical. 2013’s seen its fair share of exceptional animated shorts. Working with ‘Awesome Robo’, I’ve had the privelege to discover and write about a dizzying amount of spectacular artists, kickass music, and breathtakingly beautiful short-films. Here are the choice few that really caught my attention.

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1. Keloid, by Big Lazy Robot

Keloid was the one of the first posts I ever wrote for Awesome Robo, and in a weird sort-of seredipitious way it felt like a full-circle moment. I remember (oh so politely) badgering my friends in early 2012 to watch this gritty animated teaser short that I excitedly described as, “imagine Se7en, only with Mechs.” Who would’ve though I’d be writing about the follow-up short nearly a year later for a major art-blog? Craziness. The “full-length” Keloid retains many of the characteristics that made the original so memorable, but escalates the scope of the initial conflict to a much larger and frigthening scale.

The dark, quasi-european metropolis of a not so distant future and Aaron Beck’s characterisically insectile, SWAT team mechs make their full-fledged return. Gone however is the shrill cacophonous soundtrack of Amon Tobin’s Machine Gun, as well as the sinister repartee of the malicious A.I. antagonist. Instead we have a balls-to-the wall action movie; rogue viruses co-opting lumbering military mechs that battle it out against the dwindling robotic forces that still pledge some loyalty(?) to the human race.

Whether Keloid as a project will continue is a question to which I don’t have an answer, but if nothing else, this short and the original trailer are enough to tide us over until BLR blows our minds with something awesome again.

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2. Myosis, Directed by GOBELINS pro

Myosis is so damn beautiful it makes my heart hurt. The short follows a man moments after he is torn from the woman he loves to be assimliated into  a dark shifting body of oppressive autocracy. But the man refuses to let go of his lover and, despite all odds, attempts to assert his freedom and come back to her. It’s equal parts visually and thematically inspiring; metaphorically and vibrantly colorful. The visual parallel between the amorphous fluidity of the two lovers (think Osmosis Jones) compared to the stark solidity of the black monolith in which the protagonist is indoctrinated is especially novel.

This is easily of the most gorgeous shorts I’ve seen all year, and that’s really saying something. Perhaps Myosis’ greatest strength is that manages to be both sensual and visually sensational without either overpowering the other. A moving testament to perseverance in the face of overwhelming opposition; An act of defiance canonizing two stalwart lovers. C2C-Deltaa9-640x360

3.  Delta, Directed by CRCR

I had some brief but enjoyable experiences in high-school listening to the collaborative eccentricities of french turntablism bands such as Birdy Nam Nam and C2C, but this was one of my first times listening to the latter in many years. And what a re-introduction. Delta follows the story of an alien kingdom besieged by an ominous triangular harbringer of destruction drawing ever closer. The populace attempt to evacuate, a lone crier pronounces the destruction of the city and the exaltation of the Delta, and the warrior king futilely sends his armies in an attempt to defy the inevitable.

C2C’s track is a superb soundtrack; a funkadelic turntable dance track accompanying an impending apocalypse. Delta is a satisfying self-contained narrative, whose color palate and sci-fi strangeness brings to mind the surreal works of the late french illustrator Jean Giraud aka Moebius. If you be looking for one of the year’s best music videos, look no further.ContreTemps08

4. Contre Temps, Directed by:  Jérémi Boutelet and Associates

Y’know how I said that Myosis was one of the most gorgeous animations of this past year? Well I still stand by that statement, but Contre Temps sure does stand shoulder-to-shoulder beside it. French for “Against Time”, Contre Temps is the story of a chisel-chined, petticoated clock-maker fixated on the excavation & restoration of time-pieces in the ruins of a metropolis long-swallowed by the sea. One day, the clock-maker makes a precious discovery in the midst of his routine search of the city between the recession of the ocean. What follows is a life or death decision in which the clockmaker is forced to choose between preserving the past or living for the future.

Contre Temps is a gorgeous, near-seamless blend between dynamic, cel-shaded 3-D animation and static, portraitesque 2-D backgrounds. Corral-coated jalopies, barnacle staircases, and beautiful fluidity of a harsh, indifferent ocean are some of this animation’s main attractions. The shot framing of the short carries the weight of much of Contre Temps appeal (such as the fantastic one pictured above.)

I had so many wonderful deja-vu moments to animated show like Big O and the Aeon Flux short “Tide” while watching this for the first time, not to mention one particular chase scene that reminded me BioShock. To paraphrase a good friend of mine, Contre Temps may be one of choice few animations shorts I would sincerely like to see turned into a full-length feature. Regardless, I hope to see the team behind this collaborate on more projects in the future.
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5. The Scarecrow, Directed by Moonbot Studios

This short garnered an overwhelming amount of accolades when it first premiered this past September. The Scarecrow is impeccably animated, if narratively heavy-handed commercial for the Mexican Food chain Chipotle denouncing factory farming  and antibiotically-infused livestock. However, the double-standard disacknowledgement of Chipotle’s own troubled relationship with antibiotic meat and the short’s faux-vegetarian appeal to higher integrity has not been lost on its critics. All that glitters is not gold.

Still, the short remains a phenomenal piece of animation with intricately crafted backgrounds and a likeable, empathetic protagonist. Scarescrow resembles a straw-headed Abe of Oddworld fame, caught in a macabre disney-esque reality bent sideways with looming skyscrapers painted sickly shades of saccharine sweet, all the while bordered by stretches of agricultural desert. A literal food desert.

I haven’t even mention the real centerpiece of the entire ad; a hauntingly dystopic, chillingly beautiful rendtion of Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” by the unimitable Fiona Apple. For her contribution alone, I name this one of my favorite shorts of 2013. One does not have to choose between being a socially-conscious consumer and a appreciator of impressive animation. I highly recommend you watch the short for yourself and reach your own decison.

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The Ideological Dichotomy of The Joker and Bane

A lot has already been said of the “The Dark Knight Rises” and the significance of its place in not just the Christopher Nolan film trilogy, but in the collective mythos of Batman as a whole. The latest of these commentaries is in the obvious comparisons between the central antagonists of Nolan’s own “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises”.

Bane and the Joker. The Joker and Bane. The debate and discussion gravitating around the comparison of these on-screen depictions of two of Batman’s most iconic nemesis’ is not surprising in the least, as the existence of both characters in their respective films encapsulates and defines the themes or central thematic message of those films. Although, the general boiling point of most of these discussions comes down to which of the villains is “better” than the other.

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Summer Movie Retrospect: Marvel’s The Avengers, Prometheus, and The Dark Knight Rises.

Hi there! I’ve neglected this blog for a large part of the summer, but I thought that it would be good to come back and reflect on a couple of the major films that I’ve seen these past three months and just put my thoughts out there for what it’s worth. I’m not going to pretend that I’m the only one on the Internet to have written a blog post about these films (ha, imagine the thought), but this is more of a way of getting my opinions down for future refinement, discussion, and reflection. And so, without further preamble….

Marvel’s The Avengers

I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t expect this movie to be good. This is not out of abject insult to the capacities of Joss Whedon or the Marvel Movie Universe as a whole, as I’ve more or less enjoyed the creative products of both over the years.  My withdrawn skepticism was rather more of a defense mechanism than a  knee jerk response of cynical criticism. It’s just that the build up and ambition of this film reeked just too much of being “too big to fail” that I prematurely sought out to curb my own enthusiasm to save myself from the potential of disappointment.

I mean c’mon, look at the premise of The Avengers:

“A superhero film with 6 protagonists, portrayed by an ensemble cast of leading actors, each major character (with the exception of two) introduced in their own independent film, with this film acting as the coordinated culmination point of the five films that preceded it.”

That’s a monster of a task to undertake, for any studio or filmmaker for that matter. There are accomplished directors who can’t satisfyingly pull off ONE superhero film with ONE protagonist, let alone SIX iconic superheroes cooperating (and conflicting) with one another over the course of a single film! The scope and method of this film’s adaptation of an intellectual property is unprecedented, and the past has shown significant disappointments by many other talented directors put forward with much lesser tasks.

How good could The Avengers be, realistically?  Can it even be done?

Fortunately for many movie and comic fans, the answer is yes. Joss Whedon fully comes into his own element at the helm of The Avengers, adeptly steering what could have otherwise been in lesser hands a landlocked super-freighter of a film into the narratively smooth (and commercially lucrative) waters of success. The Avengers ultimately benefits from Whedon’s involvement and serves as  proof positive of how a single director can take the same characters and actors of another and somehow manage to pull so much more out of them. Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans resonate with believable contempt and reluctant respect for one another as Iron Man and Captain America on screen, and Mike Ruffalo’s portrayal as the Hulk serves as the quiet center of pathos and relatability in the film before erupting into triumphant action and amazement.

The biggest take away I had from the film when I first walked out of the theater (and which still resonates with me to this day) is how funny The Avengers really is. That’s weird right, walking into a superhero film and coming out with the same level of bemusement one would expect from a comedy? But somehow it just…works.

The Avengers is a character study of clashing egos and noble intentions. The humor exists not only to break up the pace of the film but to give the audience a chance to “pause in motion” so to speak, to take a step back and recognize the ridiculousness of the situations that the movie proposes without descending into self effacing parody or derision.Whether it’s a throw away anecdote about Galaga or a simple deadpan retort of  “he’s adopted”, there’s a wealth of humor to experience in this film. But the jokes remain just far apart from one another to punctuate meaningfully with the action onscreen, the quips never feel too abrasively quippish or too terribly forced.

Joss Whedon writes better humor than most screenwriters and directors who make their entire working profession from writing comedy.

The film does subscribe to some of the more predictable tropes and nuances of the Superhero Action Genre (Giant space army spills out of the sky, cue coordinated pyrotechnical explosions down busy streets, suddenly everyone’s working together?), but The Avengers was never a film that set out to reinvent the wheel or break from convention. It was meant to show if the formula, if handled capably, could work on this scale. And it does, more or less.

Ultimately, I walked out a little taller for having seen the film in theaters. Head held high, decidedly satisfied with what I had come to see.

Prometheus

My favorite screen shot from the entire film

I’ve already said quite a lot  about Prometheus in the past and there’s even more that I can say about it now two months after its initial release (and little of it is glowing). The film is a curious mix of overblown grandiosity, convolution disguised as depth, and perplexing stupidity that  coalesces into just the perfect storm of polarizing interpretation and divisive debate for nerds like me.

I remember telling a friend after watching the film that  it was like starring into a vacuum of ideas, and that interpretation’s not far off from being true. Many different opinions have spawned out Prometheus, some vitriolic and other poignant and contemplative. Prometheus is a “vacuum of ideas” in the way that it appears to be a film that different viewers and audiences pour their own inferences and aesthetic temperaments into it and get back totally different interpretations, sometimes between viewers who are otherwise in agreement with one another.

If you walk into the film looking for a story, that is a plot-line with paces of rewarding revelation and emotional payoff, your experience will instead be reminiscent of peeling back the assorted layers of an “onion of disappointment” or a “matryoshka doll of frustration”,  finding little internal plausibility or enjoyment even in derision.

What Prometheus really is is a thought experiment hampered by an otherwise hackneyed plot with forgettable characters, a meditation on the contentious inherent relationship between the creator and the created. (Or at least that’s the conclusion that I’ve come to on my own to otherwise assuage my burning contempt for the film otherwise.)

It’s easily one of my most talked about film of this summer and despite as vehemently of a reaction I had to it upon first watch I would still go to see a sequel, if only to see the tantalizing concept of a Gigerian “Paradise” realized on screen. But not without a substantial amount of improvements to the plot structure and character portrayals of the original.

The Dark Knight Rises

Right, so we’re on that film now.

First things first, No, The Dark Knight Rises is not better than The Dark Knight. What it is is a good movie, not without its assorted plot holes and narrative inconsistencies, but still an otherwise satisfying conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy.

I think what I particular like the most about The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s up front about what the “intent” behind the film is  right from the beginning. What I mean to say is, this Batman film is one about endings moreso than anything else and it shows throughout everything in the film. For the first time in the Dark Knight Trilogy, I actually care about Bruce Wayne more than the costumed vigilante persona that he dons. He actually has an arc in this film, he’s actually forced to confront some of the demons of his past and stare face to face at the life that he has built for himself. The question of “Can Bruce Wayne keep going on like this?” dominates the narrative completely. How long will it take before he’s ready move on from the pain of loss and the vindication of his rage? Does he intend to die like this?

I was going to come back to this article and make a lengthy character analysis between The Joker from The Dark Knight and Bane in this movie and how their motivations and the way that they are portrayed set them apart and drive home in a larger sense the major difference between the two films, but I’m not sure If I feel like doing that anymore. Maybe that’s a topic for another article (hmm…)

Overall, I enjoyed the film and how it tied up the entire Nolan trilogy as a whole. I think it deftly treaded the line between “not as good as the second film” and “it’s better than most third film” while being a good movie just as itself.