Flip the Frog in “Spooks”

More Halloween Cartoon fun stuff this week, thanks again to Your Daily Cartoon.  This time it’s Flip the Frog in Spooks.  This one is kind of interesting, as Ub Iwerks the creator and animator of Flip the Frog, he also animated the classic Disney Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance (see a few posts back).  There’s a lot more solid drawing in this short, and plenty of good skeleton gags that don’t make this feel like a retread of his previous work.  Definitely a fun short.  

I’ll just say, though, my favorite gag is the bit with the dog.  😉

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Dir. Don Siegel

“They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, You’re next…!”

Great, fun film.  I saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the first time last night at a friend’s Halloween party.  On one level, it is an interesting film to watch as it is a product of its time, during the Cold War era…as well as being a commentary on McCarthyism, with the story of everyone emotions and feelings dissolving, and their memories being absorbed into copies of people born from space seed pods, essentially turning the planet into a fleet of mindless human drones.  Don’t go to sleep or your done for.  And of course the big question is, what happens to the original bodies once the copies are made?

Thankfully the film doesn’t veer too far into hokey science fiction, and the story manages to stay grounded and have its own sense of fun and humor.  There are some pretty funny lines:    
Becky: Is this an example of your bedside manner, doctor?
Dr. Miles J. Bennell: No, ma’am. That comes later.  

And some slightly unintentionally funny lines:
 Dr. Miles J. Bennell: I never knew fear until I kissed Becky.

For a film with a low budget, its a testament to the strength of the story that manages to hold its own.  There are some genuinely creepy moments in the film.  Like for example, the discovery of one of the human pod people being developed, and the discovery that the copy has no fingerprints.  There are also great moments of human intuition.  Where relatives of people who have been replaced become panicked when they know something is missing from their loved ones, but they can’t explain it, even though they appear to act and remember things like they always did.  And just for sheer goofiness, I love the scene where Dr. Miles and Becky have to walk through the town full of drones with a glass eyed stare pretending as if they have already been taken over.  Then Becky blowing their cover when she freaks that a dog is about to be hit by a truck.  I also liked the scene at the gas station where the gas station guys pretend to fix they’re car only to put two pods for them in the trunk.  

 At the end of the film, they do try to spin a somewhat hopeful ending (not necessarily a happy ending), but to show at least that what’s left of humanity will try to fight off the pod people.  Anyone who knows me knows I love a good dark ending.  But I suppose with the ending of this film, I can humanity trying to put up a fight, but if logic works the way it does in this film, I think it’s pretty inevitable that the Earth is screwed.

There’s some enjoyable performances in this.  Kevin McCarthy is great as Dr. Miles, as well as Dana Wynter who plays Becky.  I only really know Kevin McCarthy from his performances later in his career as an older actor, so it was nice to see what he did in his heyday.  Also enjoyable in this was Larry Gates as Dr. Kaufman, Dr. Miles’ comrade, who starts as his friend only to become a threat as a pod person.  His voice is familiar to me, thought I have trouble pin pointing where else I’ve seen him.  There’s also a couple of top actors and film professionals in smaller roles.  The great director Sam Peckinpah plays Charlie, the Gas man in a small role.  Also in the film is Richard Deacon, who is most famous as Dick Van Dyke’s boss on The Dick Van Dyke show.  He plays a small role as a psychiatric doctor in the beginning of the film, when Dr. Hill bursts in raving about the Pod people.  Oh yes!  And one other cameo appearence…if you’ve every been to Papoo’s Hot Dog Show in Toluca Lake (it closed unfortunately early last year), it appears in this film when it was just a Hot Dog stand!  

While its true the message of this film is primarily a product of its time, it still holds up pretty well.  It’s grounded with a good story, and for Halloween at least, its just good creepy fun.   

Academy Screening in Hollywood

I saw a classic 80’s film tonight at the Academy theater in Hollywood. What a phenomenal presentation it was too, I’ll be writing more about it in my next post. In the lobby were props and costumes worn by a famous actor. I think these pictures are pretty self explanatory 😉

There probably won’t be a lot of reviews or commentary posts for a little bit as my project has swung back into full gear.  We’re hitting the home stretch now, so its getting very exciting now.  But I will try to still post something everyday, even if it’s just pictures or a quote for the day, whatever cool thing I can find.    

Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941) Dir. Dave Fleschier

This weekend was a good time for animation.  On TCM as I write this they are showing rare animation from as early as the 1900’s to the late 50’s.  The first feature film shown was the Fleischer’s first feature Gulliver’s Travels, a superb film, one of my favorite animated films, and then after I got the opportunity to see Mr. Bug Goes to Town, the Fleischer’s 2nd and final animated feature.  Unfortunately this film was sabotaged by extremely poor timing, when the film opened only two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and all that month no one in America could even think about going to the movies.  This marked the end of the collaboration between brothers Max and Dave, who split apart after this film.  Paramount had loaned them the money to make this feature, but when it fell apart, Paramount took their studio away from them turning it into what became known as Famous Studios, which continued for a little while to make Popeye cartoons and other shorts, but none of them were ever as brilliant as when the Fleischer’s made them.  Mr. Bug had a second life on television for many years until eventually classic cartoons were stopped being shown on TV.

So this was my first time watching Mr. Bug Goes to Town.  And quite honestly….its a very nice film.  But I don’t think it’s as funny or enjoyable as Gulliver.  Mr. Bug has a lot of good things going for it.  For one, it was the first animated feature to have an original story (set in modern times).  Most animated stories were based on children’s literature or fairy tales.  This one stands on its own.  There are also some great, well developed characters.  The one thing I like about the Fleischer characters over Disney is that no one is inherently good or evil.  The villains in most of their shorts (like Bluto, King Bombo, and Bagley Beetle) aren’t so much evil as they are just kind of….sons of bitches!  And that’s great.  Mr. Beetle in this film causes trouble, but he’s in just as much danger as everyone else when the shit hits the fan.  He was my favorite character in the film.  Hoppity the lead bug, I wasn’t so enthralled with.  He’s happy go lucky, but some of that would come off as annoying, with some really corny lines (“Gee Weeds!”).  I liked that much of the time while Hoppity is ever the optimist, most of the time he would fall on bad luck, where every time the other bugs would side with his plans, they almost always fall apart.  One other character I loved was Mr. Creeper, a crabby, antagonistic snail character always spelling doom for Hoppity (“I told ya so!”).

There is also some lovely animation, and terrific use of rotoscope on the human characters (which we never see the faces of).  It’s feature quality animation, but the characters still exude charm with their designs, and often very funny bits of character animation.  There is also an interesting sequence where Hoppity gets electrocuted, with the animation drawings seen with a glowing orange outline against a black backdrop.  Its a very unique and technically cool little moment.  As opposed to Gulliver, the story for Mr. Bug isn’t as engaging.  It moves at a fairly slow pace, and it feels like it takes awhile for the story get going.  Bagley Beetle has plans to marry Hoppity’s girlfriend, Honey, and Bagley occasionally tries to ruin things for Hoppity.  But despite being well designed and being an engaging character, many times he never really felt like a serious threat.  In Gulliver, Bombo was very bombastic and cartoonish, but the threat with his spies using Gulliver’s gun to try and kill Gulliver built more tension, and it was a very real danger scenario.  Beetle doesn’t quite achieve that level of threat, and usually his celebrations for victory are premature (like in one scene when he kicks a burning cigar butt towards Honey and Mr. Bumble’s home, and Beetle celebrates before the cigar has a chance to set the house on fire.  There’s also a good moment in that sequence where Hoppity tries to get water to put the fire out, but accidentally goes to a puddle of gasoline, and we assume Hoppity is going to get the blame when he causes Mr. Bumble’s house to explode.  But that doesn’t happen, and Hoppity merely gets black faced when the cigar just explodes by itself instead, and tension dies.

While Mr. Bug is not a great film, it has its moments of fun, and there are plenty of technical achievements that the Fleischer’s developed with this film, as there are some beautiful backgrounds, camera moves, and definitely some fine character animation.  There are some pretty good gags too.  The Fleischer’s didn’t deserve to have their studio run into the ground after this, and there was just some tremendous unfortunate bad luck that resulted in the studios downfall.  But if you haven’t seen this film, its worth discovering and checking out.  And then go back and watch all the Fleischer’s great work from the 1920’s and 30’s, with Popeye, Betty Boop, Koko the Klown, Bimbo, and many more.  Many of their technical achievements in animation are still used today.  They were a truly great and innovative studio, and it would have been amazing to see the competition continue with Disney had they gotten to make more feature films.  The one thing I admire most about the Fleischer’s is that while they were Disney’s biggest competitors, they rarely ever copied Disney in their storytelling.  They had their own unique voice, as this was the first animated feature to have an original story.  By all means check it out if you can.    

Looper Review 2.0 SPOILERS AHEAD

Well, it’s been out for at least 2 or 3 weeks, so I think its appropriate to talk about the film Looper in full spoilerage mode!  What a great film.  I went and saw it again over the weekend, and its even more interesting to watch once you know where the story is going.  There were a couple of funny moments I didn’t catch on to the first time around (The girl Sara, who is TK tells a story about a guy who was TK trying to impress her with a floating quarter, only she used her ability to keep it down and the guy nearly burst a blood vessel trying to float it).  It’s such an intricate, fully developed world that Rian Johnson as created.  Even though Joe’s story is basically over, I would love to see a story about Cid now…possibly see what happens in the future when he’s older and time travel has been invented.  It will inevitably still be invented, so if its not used by criminal syndicates, then who?  Will it end up in the hands of a higher power?  What’s going to happen now that the time line has changed?  There is potential there for another story which could be very interesting.

But what we get the Looper film we have is just amazing.  The story is so tight and woven so well together.  It’s an intense thriller. There’s also a saddness that hangs over the film.  Older Joe’s inability to let go of his wife leads to a horrific dark side as he kills off children, hoping to eventually kill The Rainmaker as a child in hopes that he will get his life back.  What’s most interesting viewing the film a second time is that the scene between Old Joe and Young Joe at the Diner plays completely different.  The first time you watch it, you think of Old Joe being the wiser, especially when he warns his younger self about how screwed up he’s going to become on drugs, and his speech about how his wife will become his salvation, clean him up and allow him to start a new life.  But when you watch it the second time, you realize its really Young Joe who is the smarter of the two, who tells his old self to get over wife and move on (“Just show me the picture of her, and when I see her I’ll walk away”).  As the timeline changes, Old Joe becomes more desperate as he starts to loose his memory of his wife, as the younger Joe starts heading off on a new path, driving him to change his destiny.  Old Joe has become corrupted by his memory, and it really shows the danger of what happens when we can’t let go.  This is especially noticable in the scene where Old Joe looses it and kills just about everyone in the Looper home office, severely altering the future in the process.  While this is a great scene, its probably the one hole in the entire plot, as Abe warns earlier about not killing Seth because it would alter the timeline, if Old Joe kills everyone in the Looper office, wouldn’t his destiny be changed?  The mafia in the future would obviously know what he will do in the past and put a stop to him somehow.  It’s a bit of a paradox, but then again what time travel film doesn’t have them?  The essence of the story remains true, and for the most part this scene was an after thought because I was so caught up in the story.   Young Joe’s sacrifice at the end, when he finally sees the “time loop” that will create so much destruction and death, is powerful and moving.  Where as Old Joe winds up on a path of murdering a child (a symbolic gesture of destroying his own inner child), Young Joe heroically sacrifices himself to save the life and the destiny of a child from becoming corrupted.  Which is absolutely fitting.  The storytelling in this film is above and beyond brilliant.

There is a lot to admire in this film about the world that was created within this film.  There has been a lot of admiration for the actor Noah Segan who plays Kid Blue in the film.  He’s a terrific villain, which is an irony in mentioning because he’s also the ultimate screw up who can’t seem to please his boss or do anything right.  He is funny as much as he can be a dangerous threat, and we sympathize with him as a guy who is trying hard (maybe too hard) to prove himself to Abe (Jeff Daniels), who is a kind of father figure/overseer of the Loopers.  Kid is kind of the bastard son, screaming for attention from dad, while Young Joe next to him gets all the praise and the attention.  Our sympathy for him leads to a great showdown at the end, especially when Kid sees Abe dead and goes out for blood…we can see Kid’s relationship with Abe as the one father figure in his life he worked so hard to please. 

I also want to talk about the young actor Pierce Gagnon who plays Cid.  It is an incredible performance from a child actor, as this kid who looks like he’s six or seven (he’s probably older in real life) shows incredible intellegence.  I have to laugh when I hear this six year old kid saying, “hand me that Phillips”, while he uses his intelligence with machines to create a communicator device for Joe from a frog toy.  While we know Cid possesses incredible TK powers, he must also have some psychic intuition as he see’s Young Joe will be able to protect him and his mother.  There is a lot of mystery to who Cid is and why his powers are so far beyond others (especially his powerful dark side when he’s able to makes Jesse’s heart explode.)  We see The Rainmaker being born, and Sara’s struggle (his foster mother) to help him contain his rage and raise him to be a good person.  Some things I didn’t understand the first time, but got the second was when Cid gets angry early on (before we know the extent of his powers), she walks away and climbs into a large safe to protect herself.  It’s a subtle hint, but it makes sense the second time around.  Their relationship is a painful one, as Cid refuses to accept Sara as his mother, until the final painful end after Joes self sacrifice that he is able to accept her.

Emily Blunt is terrific as Sara, hardened from a struggling life in the future, the farm is her one sanctuary from the violence of the outside world, and she means to keep it that way.  Young Joe underestimates her at first, believing she won’t shoot him and that she’s not a killer, but once she realizes Joe may be a threat to her son, her mother instinct kicks in, and she shoots Joe in the arm when he tries to move towards her.  It’s a terrific scene. 

That’s the great thing about this film.  It’s just a masterpiece of character and relationships.  Almost everyone in the film has an arc.  No character is arbitrarily used and forgot, everyone has a purpose and everyone has their moment.  Supporting characters such as Seth (Paul Dano), while he’s a victim set up to show the consequences of being a Looper and what happens when you let your older self get away, he still stands out, and briefly we understand his relationship and his friendship with Young Joe before everything turns to shit.  It’s very quick that this relationship, but writer Rian allows us to invest in these brief relationships.  Even Old Joe’s wife, who never speaks, we believe how much he loves her without a single word having to be uttered.  It’s great storytelling.

So if you’ve seen Looper already, I hope this review encourages you to check it out again.  It is a masterful, well crafted film, and it may be my favorite movie to come out this year.  This is how it’s done.  This is truly great storytelling.