The Three Stooges in: Crime On Their Hands

I’m going to be off taking a tour of the sites in Hollywood tomorrow with some friends visiting from out of town. I hope to have a post later documenting our tour.  In the meantime, tonight at my 16mm gathering with my film friends, we saw a terrific 3 Stooges short. I don’t want to give away a lot of the great surprises in this short, but I’ll tell you up front a few reasons why I think this short is awesome.  It not only has some great funny gags, but it’s also got some darkness in it, as well as one of the characters that’s actually played as a serious threat.  This short pulls no punches (well, pokes in the eye anyway).  Take a moment to check it out!

(Minor Spoilers) A second look at Side Effects (2013) Dir. Steven Soderbergh

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“In the U.K. you’re given psychiatric medication because your sick.  Here in the U.S., the attitude is, ‘you’re getting better.” – Dr. Jonathan Banks (played by Jude Law)

I saw Side Effects a second time last night (You can check out my first Spoiler Review Here).  It’s a terrific movie, with some especially powerful commentary on psychiatric medication, the people who prescribe it, and the industry as a whole.  Dr. Banks (Jude Law) comments about the idea of psychiatric meds helping people “get better” is a theme at the center of the film.  On the one end, the idea of getting better reflects much of the propaganda surrounding the need to put more people on medication without actually addressing the deeper psychological problems of the individual receiving treatment.  The fascinating aspect of this film is how things change from the moment Dr. Banks believes he is using medication to treat Emily (Rooney Mara), to the end where the medication is used for the purpose of complete control over a sane person.  That’s not to say Emily didn’t get what was coming to her at the end of the film.  But the ending is telling, putting all characters involved into a very gray area.

There moments, such as in Dr. Banks court room testimony where he talks about medication used to suppress the conscious mind, like say, a person who is depressed, and the anti depressant that builds up serotonin levels in your mind to block the part of your brain telling you it’s depressed.  It’s not that the drug makes you a better person.  The drug instead is suppressing the problem, like for instance taking your problems and locking them away in a kind of pandora’s box. People are labeled and judged by doctors as depressed, schizophrenic, bipolar, schizo-affective, etc.  Those people being labeled are in fact more in tune with other, more powerful aspects parts of their psyche, but the rest of society judges them to keep them down and under control.  It’s easy to be trapped with that label your whole life when the real situation is the patient may simply be a person on a search to open up who they are.

The introduction scene to Dr. Banks reveals some awareness and understanding of this at first, but he labels it as the aspects of a different culture.  In his introductory scene, the police bring to him a manic Haitian man who rambles on about seeing ghosts.  Dr. Banks understands his language and translates for the officers that he’s stricken with grief and that for the Haitian man’s culture, to see visions of dead relatives after they’ve died it’s perfectly normal, where as our culture would see it as something unusual.  Of course, what’s unsaid is what if the man was a white American who went on about seeing ghosts.  He would be labeled as schizophrenic and put on meds.  But Dr. Banks talks about a difference in culture where the Haitian is “excused” and allowed to see these visions because he is considered in some way “different” than us because of his background.  But with American culture, those feelings and spiritual intuition are going to be blocked or suppressed because this country is more inclined to label and judge what we don’t understand.  Stick on a diagnosis, tell this person to take these pills every night, and you are reintegrated into the rest of society.

There was a story I remember that came from Joseph Campbell where he talked about the journey of a schizophrenic, and in certain cultures, the man or woman who would be considered schizophrenic is someone who has fallen off the edge, and the question is “can he/she be pulled back”?  That person has drowned in their own subconscious.  There are sacred rituals the person is put through.  There were some cultures where they would literally drill a hole in the patients skull as a way to release dark spirits (Trust me, they didn’t have an anesthetic for that).  But the thing about being mentally ill is that it’s not just a physical illness, but that person is drowning in their own pain in need of a life preserver.  Medication can be that life preserver, but the truth is your still going to be stuck in the water until you see a ship come by.  But that ship may be a religion, or a kind of belief system, and depending whether your headed for any sort of land, the problems remain and you could be trapped over that water for a very long time.

In Side Effects, Emily winds up becoming a prisoner of her own pain.  Her pain is transferred through others by her manipulation.  By the end of the film she is described as somebody who would be technically “sane”.  But her manipulating is forced back on her 10 fold, and she is absorbed by the psychiatric system (trapped in a mental institution).  Medication can block your signals and your own intuition, where you can never tell just when or what you’re supposed to be feeling, except that you’re just there.  Emily’s final words to the doctor at the end sum it up, as the doctor asks, “How are you doing today, Emily?”, and she says, under several tranquilizers and anti psychotics, “Better.  Much Better.”    Dr. Banks may be seen as a hero by the end of the film in giving Emily what she deserves.  But the doctor goes to a dark place by the end, starting as somebody helping people, to someone getting revenge, and using the psychiatric system to be just as controlling and manipulative to put Emily in her place and give her what he thinks she deserves.

If you have not seen Side Effects yet, I really highly recommend you check it out.  It’s really one of the most thought provoking films on psychiatric medicine, talking about not only the drug industry, but the relationships between doctors and patients, the use of drugs for control and manipulation, and so much more.  In my first review, I even saw the film as a kind of satire, where most people get angry when a person is labeled as mentally ill when they commit a murder.  People like to hold onto the belief that the person was totally sane the whole time as if it was part of their master plan to get away with it.  So in this film Soderbergh gives the audience exactly what they want to see!  And the funny thing was, at both screenings I saw, there was no laughing.  There was no reaction when Dr. Banks had Emily incarcerated in a mental institution.  All the while the film plays like a fun Hitchcock thriller.  Again, I highly recommend to all that you check out this terrific film.  It’s the first great film of 2013.

More Important Than Any Reward

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I’m not crazy about the Oscars or most awards ceremonies for that matter. I was invited to the Annie Awards this year (The “Animation Academy Awards”) with some friends and we were there for about an hour before we finally decided to just get up and leave. It was a horrible show. There was one screw up after another, technical difficulties, problems with the teleprompter. The animation that was actually nominated for awards….a lot of it was just crap. Seriously awful, loud and obnoxious animated shows were being rewarded with almost no pleasing aesthetics to the designs and animation of the characters (If there was any place we could reward mediocrity even more…). Then there was also one surprising thing my friend pointed out that I have to agree was strange. The whole event was run by voice actors. Not animators. A voice actor hosted the show. The awards were presented by voice actors. And the awards show itself was started 40 years ago by….a voice actor. And then the life time achievement award was given to a voice actor.

So to tell you the truth, I found myself kind of dumfounded when the Oscars rolled around this year, and for the first time in its history it was hosted by an animator, Seth MacFarlane. The huge juxtaposition between the awards shows and the irony of it all is just so…funny. It’s possible for an animator to host the Oscars, but not their own awards show. In a strange way the Annies is an awards show animators never decided for themselves they wanted in the first place. Somebody else did it for them. On the surface it might be seen as an act of good will by the voice actor that started it. But if anything, the show should have been started by a voice actor so that animators could take it over and embrace the awards show as their own thing….if that’s what animators really wanted and asked for. But after 40 years of this ceremony, voice actors are still running the show. Why? And at what point will animators have enough self-worth to decide what they want for themselves instead of having an outside influence decide for them?

The Annies feel like they are finally being taken seriously by the Academy as an influence for the Oscars for Best Animated Feature and animated short. But this is exactly the problem though. There is this desire for approval that is VERY STRONG in most animation artists. There’s this desire to want to be taken seriously by the rest of Hollywood. But the rest of Hollywood doesn’t really get animation beyond seeing it as a medium for children, nor do they care. And animators themselves aren’t doing very much to change that. They’ll convince themselves American animation is more mature now. But why does the rest of Hollywood still not want to take it seriously? It was a major thing when Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film nominated for an Academy award. But now that we have a “Best Animated Feature” Oscar, it all but ensures that animation will continue to be segregated as separate from the rest of Hollywood. One of the reasons I don’t care about awards shows like the Annies or the Oscars is that Hollywood doesn’t really care either. It’s almost like they set up the Animated Feature Award just to shut us up, and pretend like they’re actually taking us seriously. But then the placement of the presentation of the award during the Oscars is at the beginning of the show, at the bottom of the totem, to get it out of the way and move on to the “more important awards”. That should tell you how much the Academy could really care less, by not even having an animated feature award placed closer to the “Best Picture” award.

As far as the Annies go, animators should have been given the capacity to run it themselves, and it never should matter to begin with whether or not they are taken seriously by the Academy. At one time, it didn’t matter. But the Annie Awards are set up and geared towards pleasing another outside influence. And it’s started by an outside influence: actors instead of animators. What’s the real motivating factor here? The animation community was better off celebrating their own, with their peers and people who do take them seriously. So to be blunt, I can’t stand these award shows, which only serve to fuel more frustration, leading to shows that are about nothing but pandering and inspiring boredom.

Much of my realizations and feelings about the Annies and the Oscars were summed up recently. But before I came to this realization about my real feelings about these awards shows, I have an interesting story to share, that at first may not sound like its related to what I’ve just said. But there is a connection.

I was invited to go to the Oscars this year. Back in December, my best friend and his girlfriend were visiting from New Mexico. My friend’s girl is the relative of a very famous, prestigious Hollywood icon. This year her family was invited to the Academy Awards ceremony, and I got the invite to go with my friends. Now, here’s the thing. For all the complaining, I have to admit to some degree getting invited to the Oscars is a pretty exciting thing. When you’re working to get into the business, there’s the potential to meet a lot of people. The actual awards show I really couldn’t have given a crap about. But the opportunity to meet a lot of people high up in the Hollywood chain was something I looked forward to.

So over the next few months till February, my friends were getting pumped up for the Oscars. I also had a few animator friends who would be at the ceremony who had some animation work that was nominated. It was bound to be an interesting night. The week before the big event, I rented a tux, paid for it and picked it up 4 days before the event. Somebody suggested to me that I should make some business cards as well for any potential people I meet. So I threw in an extra $20 cards and a few days to quickly get some business cards made. Everything was all set, and my friends were on the train Friday, on their way to Los Angeles from New Mexico.

Friday night around 9pm, I got a phone call from my friend. I was listening to my friend as she spoke, but I already had a feeling I knew what was coming. She found out there had been a mistake with our tickets. Something happened when our reservations were mailed to the Academy, and through some error, our ticket reservations ended up in the wrong department. It turned out we were not going to the Oscars after all. This was discovered all at the very last minute as my friend and her dad were on the phone arguing with obnoxious Academy people. Despite the fact that they were related to this prestigious film icon, it was no sale and there were no seats left. We lost our chance to go.

My friend apologized profusely to me on the phone, saying that definitely next year it would happen, but what really happened on my end is when I listened to my friend…I wasn’t really upset at all, and not terribly disappointed. Granted, I paid for a tux I couldn’t get a refund on, as well as put $20 ahead in paying for business cards…it was more amusing what just happened to anything. My friend continued to apologize on the phone, and I just said, “It’s okay, hon. It’s no big deal, that’s just the way it happens. It’s alright.” In the back of my mind, I thought at the time…well, the universe works in strange unexpected ways. Maybe this will work out.

The next day I contacted some friends of mine closely connected to people in the Academy and tried to explain the situation. But I didn’t get an answer back in time, and when Sunday finally came it was pretty much a sure bet our trip to the Oscars was dead in the water. My dad offered to return my tux, and I said, “yeah, go ahead.” Again, I wasn’t upset, but admittedly I felt a bit of disappointment that the trip didn’t work in our favor this time.

In the meantime, my parents decided to have a small Oscar party at our house. When talking with my friends while they were staying with us, I mentioned to the girlfriend about her 5 year old nephew Andy, and asked if he’d like to come over during the Oscars and play with my 6 year old cousin Kyla. We managed to arrange it and the kids came over to play while the adults sat in the living room to watch the Oscars. I had no real interest in watching the Oscars ceremony for all reasons I stated above, so instead went and hung out with the kids in my room for a little bit. Kyla and Andy were meeting for the first time. In the back of my mind I was praying in some way that this would work out, because I really liked both Andy and Kyla, and I was watching them to see how they got would get along. At one point my aunt just reassuringly came in and said, “they’ll be all right. Come out and watch the Oscars.”

I went to the living room to watch the show a little bit, but got bored pretty fast. So I told my dad I was going into my studio to do a little work. I started working, when I heard Kyla from my room go, “Lets see what Mike’s doing!”, and the two kids stormed into my studio. I was amused, so I stopped working and showed them my animation program I was working with on my Cintiq. And then I let them draw on my Cintiq. The two of them would take turns, so when one of them was using the Cintiq, for the other I set up a little art space where they could draw on paper. Kyla and I had made our own movies together, so I worked with Andy to help him make his very own animated cartoon. He was thrilled to see his drawings move. Both kids started tossing ideas back and forth to each other, some of which were very funny! Sometimes they would argue a bit, but then one would concede to what the other wanted. One was more flighty and imaginative, and the other was more grounded, but I watched as the two of them helped each other out. When the Oscars were over and the kids went home, I later found out my cousin had a great time with him and wanted to see him again. At the party after my cousin left I went to Andy and said, “You we’re very nice and polite to my cousin, so thank you. Would you like to play with her again sometime?” Andy in a funny posture, looked up and thought for a moment, then turned and said “Yeah, I think I’d like that!”

When I thought about this entire situation afterwards, looking back on the build up and the money I had spent to go the Oscars, only to have the situation change entirely so I could spend my evening helping to bring to kids together as friends, I came to this conclusion:

Everything happened exactly in the way I wanted it to.

I’m not talking about “what was meant to be”, or that “it was really my purpose not to go to the Oscars and help these kids be friends”. I’m say that deep down without needing to articulate it, the universe gave me exactly what I wanted. I never really wanted to go the Oscars to begin with. I don’t like awards ceremonies. At home, I didn’t want to sit in my living room pretending to wish I was there when I really could have cared less. And when those two kids showed up to my house, it was my deep down desire for those two kids to meet and become friends. I really wanted it for my cousin, but also for Andy, who I spent time with at Disneyland with her aunt and my friend. The two of them may not realize it right away, and their likes and dislikes are very different. But their personalities complimented each other. Only time will tell how it plays out between the two of them. But I think what I discovered in that moment is how powerful a persons “Will” deep down inside to make something happen can be, whether its something you want or don’t want. When I look back on it, everything that did happen was exactly what I wanted to happen. That’s a pretty damn powerful realization! It’s the notion that underneath all your perceptions of the things you think you want are really in fact all the things that other people want. Hidden beneath all that is the real you, that knows all the things you truly want, and it’s a matter of allowing yourself the realization that you have the power to give yourself what you want any time you want.

So coming to this realization as an animator, and looking at the entire animation community as a collective, it made me contemplate on an awards show like the Annies, and the fact that it was an influence by the will of somebody who was not an animator at all (instead a voice actor). But the torch was never passed to the animators. It’s a showcase for voice actors. Animators never really asked for this and the community is acting on it simply because somebody else told them this is what they wanted. If this is what the animation community really desired, an actual animator somewhere would have done this long before the Annie awards started. To be perfectly honest, when you look at what animation was like before the Annies started, the work content was so much better! The nine old men, the WB animators, UPA, Jay Ward, all those people who started this medium….I don’t think they really cared about awards. They just did it because its what they loved. Our will as people, whether its in a community or if it’s the entire world, is very powerful. To think how powerful it is when one person imposes their will versus an entire community working together for the same desire. But being interconnected, it’s the desire deep down we all feel that we have the power as animators to change the industry if we want to. If I can search for my own realization, my deep down true desire for what I want that isn’t the influence of anyone else but me…there is the possibility to achieve that desire for happiness. Not just in yourself, but for all the people around you who chose to share in that desire as well.

Movies About Spiritual Awakening: American Beauty

AB7
Lester’s Written Job Description: “My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men’s room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn’t so closely resemble Hell.”

“I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die.”

AB2
Carolyn: “Ah…whose care is that out front?” Lester:”Mine. 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I’ve always wanted and now I have it. I RULE!”

“First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time…”

AB4
“Your wife is with another man….and you don’t care?”  Lester:”Our marriage is just for show.  A commercial for how normal we are when we’re anything but.”

” For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird…”

AB6
“You have nothing to be sorry about.”

” And Janie… And Janie… And… Carolyn.”

AB3

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure.  But don’t worry….”

AB8
“Wow.”

“….you will someday.”

-Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey), AMERICAN BEAUTY

Oscars Tonight and A Year in Review

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Tonight is the Academy Awards Show.  I thought the list of nominations this year were extremely disappointing.  In my opinion none of the films that received the highest honors were great, with a handful being good and some just downright terrible (Why exactly are there 9 films nominated for Best Picture?).  I’ve compiled for you my film reviews for 2012 for the ones that are up for Oscars, and below I listed my favorite movies of the year which I felt were completely snubbed by the Academy (Especially my two favorite movies last year, Looper and Moonrise Kingdom.  What gives?!)  I have not seen all the films that were nominated this year, but these were all the films I happened to write reviews for.  I did see Argo, which is probably the strongest of the films I’ve seen, but never got around to writing a review for it.

BEST PICTURE NOMINATIONS:
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Django Unchained

ANIMATED SHORT FILM NOMINATIONS:
Head Over Heels
Adam and Dog
Paperman

ANIMATED FEATURE NOMINATION REVIEWS:
The Pirates!:Band of Misfits
Brave
Paranorman
Wreck-it Ralph

GREAT FILMS THAT WERE ROBBED!:
Looper, including my SPOILER REVIEW
Moonrise Kingdom
Dredd
Cloud Atlas
Flight