Burn Out is an animated short about a space worker who had emergency land on a desert planet. The place seems uninhabited at first, but the heroine soon meets a little girl, who is apparently living there in some cave. The girl dreams of going to the Sirius space school and eventually becoming a space researcher, which reminds our heroine of her own dreams.
On the one hand, the essence of this short is pretty clear – it’s an inspirational call, follow-your-dreams, stay-true-to-yourself, etc. But upon a closer view, the story is kinda weird. So, we have a woman who landed on some space rock, on which, she assumes, there’s no atmosphere. Then she meets a little girl, who lives there by herself in a cave. Was it a real person? Was it a hallucination? Was it a walk down a memory lane? There are no clues that would indicate any of those options with any kind of certainty.
The animation looks like a Disney wannabe only not as brightly coloured, – at that, I’m talking Disney of the 1990s, not the modern kind. Personally, I do not care for that style – it’s too rough and mellow at the same time.
All in all, considering senseless optimism of the message and approximateness of the science, the film looks like a load of crap. Not a large load, just a middle-sized one.
Warmachine is an animated action short film that looks like a teaser to some videogame. Weird technobeasts pursue a warrior directed by the will of some techno-villain. Then they fight.
Animation seems to be rather good quality, but it lacks subtlety. The story looks like a part of a bigger one, but neither that larger picture, nor this piece are very interesting and/or original. Characters are voiced by the same person, and it’s painfully evident. All in all, it’s not clear why this thing should even exist.
Street of Crocodiles by the Quay brothers is a screen adaptation of Bruno Schulz’s work. It’s a surreal tale of a puppet who got freed from the strings, in ‘a dusty and forlorn commercial area. The explorer becomes ensnared into miniature tailor shop by baby-faced dolls’.
This is rather superb work of animation – a highly detailed world, distinct heroes, obscure story with strong but weird and misty relationship ties between the characters. It is extremely interesting to follow the events of the movie, even though most of the time it’s hard to understand what exactly is going on. As it often happens with the Quay brothers works, the most impressive are separate images: here these are the baby-face dolls and their dance in the finale; the uncoiling screws; the bulb-headed person; what seems to be a confrontation between the puppet and the baby-face master; masterful but unsettling incorporation of meat into the otherwise inorganic world; and many others.
Soar is a fantasy animated short about a little boy, a wanna-be aircraft designer, who witnesses a tiny person experiencing a plane crash in the moment of exodus. In order to help him get back with the rest of his people, the boy eventually comes up with a design that work.
This is a pretty neat movie – the story is internally consistent (even though lacks context), and the characters are interesting enough to make it work, albeit underdeveloped due to the shortness of the form. The underlying idea (with the origin of stars) is rather cute. As a pure fantasy, the film seems pretty great, and the only thing I didn’t like about it is the absence of speech – it felt strained and unnatural. But all in all quite alright.
The Looking Planet is an animated short that tells about the creation of our solar system by a race of infinitely superior aliens. The crew involved in the construction is behind schedule and is rushing to finish the job. Lufo, the son of the chief engineer, finds out something odd about the 3rd planet from the star, and, instead of working on the planetary rings, which is his usual assignment, decides to mess with the original design and attach a moon to the planet.
This is kind of weird film. On the one hand, the story is internally consistent, the characters are well-defined, and the animation is rather superb, all of which makes it a nice entertainment.
On the other – notwithstanding heavy use of sciency-sounding terminology, the story is essentially non-scientific, and even, I would say, anti-scientific. Simply because it asserts the bullshit idea of intelligent design, only incorporating certain scientific findings to make it seem more valid. The director was basically celebrating the life, but not the science. Why would he try to disguise it I don’t really know, but it all feels very shifty to me. Considering also that the story is not very original as to its basic attributes (a brilliant son softly going against the will of his not as bright family), the film produces a really ambiguous impression.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a comedy action, a parody on private detective investigation stories that aptly combines traits of a traditional feature and animation, creating a special kind of augmented reality. The story is set in the universe, where the cartoon characters (toons) belong to the physical world same as common actors, although originate differently and are subject to their own set of laws. It tells about a human detective Eddie Valiant who unwillingly got tangled in the murder of Marvin Acme, the master of the Toontown. Valiant quickly finds out that Roger Rabbit, the primary suspect, is being set up, and that everything is tied to Acme’s will, in which he is supposed to bequeath his property to the collective ownership of the toons. Valiant, who has mixed feelings about all the toons due to the fact that his brother was killed by one of them, surmounts his prejudice and helps Roger, his wife Jessica, and other benign cartoons to get to the bottom of things.
Why, this is a beautiful work! As is characteristic to all the parodies, the story is a bit simplistic, but it’s also warm and kind, and very well-constructed, which atones to the all its possible drawbacks. The combination of animation and feature is incredible as to the humor of it, and also – to the quality of execution. Considering it’s the end of the 1980s, I bet it wasn’t an easy thing to do, and yet Zemeckis and his crew handled it all perfectly. Even now, 30 years later, the film is a pure delight.
The acting is pretty good, and not just for the genre. The direction is quite perfect. In every its aspect this is certainly a superior work of art, and one of the best Zemeckis’s movies.
Stille Nacht is a series of surrealistic shorts created by the Quay brothers over the period of 14 years. There are 5 of them right now, and more can appear in the future. Some of these films are made to fit some particular music, others present merely a visual sequence, but all share the gloomy, depressive disposition and ultimate weirdness of what’s going on in the shot. Of course, all of them are also superior as to the quality of animation and their artistic value.
Time: ~2m; Released in: 1988; Qualities: (5-/5); IMDB: (link); Written and directed by: Stephen and Timothy Quay
Freaky doll; everything is overgrown with dust? needles?; spoons are growing from the wall.
II: Are We Still Married?
Time: ~3m; Released in: 1992; Qualities: (5-/5); IMDB: (link); Written and directed by: Stephen and Timothy Quay
Eyes; ping-pong ball; rabbit; girl’s calves in stripped socks.
III: Tales from Vienna Woods
Time: ~4m; Released in: 1993; Qualities: (5/5); IMDB: (link); Written and directed by: Stephen and Timothy Quay
In death have I blossomed; quotes about the Ukrainian night; a hand; hanging table.
IV: Can’t Go Wrong Without You
Time: ~4m; Released in: 1993; Qualities: (5/5); IMDB: (link); Written and directed by: Stephen and Timothy Quay
Girl’s calves and rabbit once again; bleeding; peeking through the keyhole; 167; stealing eggs; no gravitation.
V: Dog Door
Time: ~4m; Released in: 2001; Qualities: (5/5); IMDB: (link); Written and directed by: Stephen and Timothy Quay
Wolf with bleeding chaps; a doll in an unsettlingly erotic position.
Nochnye Vedmy is an animated short about the flight squadron of female pilots in the times of some war (presumably, WWII) called the “Night Witches”, because they usually went on missions during the night time. The story, while composed more or less fine, seems to be glorifying the warfare through the notion of sisterhood, which I believe to be really wrong. Worse than that, the animation is really shitty, and the voicing of the characters is poorly directed. Generally speaking, it’s not worth even the 4 minutes of time of its length.
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies is an experimental animated film by brothers Quay. As Michael Brooke put it “The thematic content was initially sourced from Le Verrou, an ambiguous painting (and subsequent engraving) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) which depicts a man reaching for the lock of a door and a woman lying on a bed – and to this they added elements taken from the work of the artist’s cousin, the anatomist Honoré Fragonard (1732-1799), whose disturbing yet fascinating ‘écorchés’ preserved flayed human and animal corpses in poses designed to reveal cross-sections of their interior structure.”
I had to search online for additional keys, because the film itself left me completely bewildered. The article quoted above is, perhaps, the most comprehensive text on the subject. After reading it I realized that the movie does indeed have serious cultural significance. But the point still stands: the film by itself is not be enough to grasp it. Though it looks interesting and weird, there is no obvious thread that would’ve united all the pieces into a single entity.
So, while I do not regret watching it at all, there’s probably no chance I would want to do it again.
Maska is a short animated film, a screen adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novella of the same name. It’s a story about an alien entity that has a specific algorithm guiding its decisions, but one that also tries to comprehend itself and its place in the conflict between predestination and free will.
Perhaps, the best word to describe this Quay brothers duo film would be ‘obscure’. Not only everything happens in the dark, it’s also pretty damn hard to understand what it is that is happening there in the first place. Of course, by the end of the movie I had some idea about what the story actually is, but… I dunno, I wasn’t sure until I read the description of the plot of the original novella, and though my understanding turned out to be correct in general, I – or the directors – definitely missed on many details. More importantly, it was pretty uncomfortable to watch, and for no obvious purpose at all.
It still might be that this is a great film, but I feel rather skeptical about this.
Igor: The Paris Years is an animated short by the Quay brothers that tells about Igor Stravinskiy living in the 1920s in Paris. It touches upon his contacts with Mayakovskiy (who is called simply ‘bolshevik’ here) and Jean Cocteau, as well as his fasination with pianola. The animation is in cardboard cut-out technique, but the film consists mostly of music. It also includes inserts of historical footage.
On the one hand, it looks rather simple and kind of crude – all the ‘dolls’ are just photographs folded in a particular manner, the setting is bright and mostly fixed; on the other – the physics of movement is really well-done. I liked how the cacophony of voices sort of fuzes into something comprehensible. The music is pretty nice.
But even though it’s a decent work, I didn’t find it very interesting. At the end of the day it’s a depiction of a casual episode from the life of the composer, coupled with general representation of his life, which combination seems pretty random; if there are deeper implications, they remain unclear. You probably need to go into this film already prepared, and I don’t think it’s the best approach anywhere.
Continental Drift is the 4th film in the Ice Age series of full-length animations. As the story goes, the existing mega-continent suddenly splinters into smaller ones, which forces the mammoth family apart: Manny, the head of the family, along with Sid the sloth, Diego the saber, and Sid’s granny, finds himself on an iceberg drifting away from the mainland, while his wife and daughter, as well as lots of other animals remain on the continent in mortal danger of moving land. Manny then tries hard to reunite with his loved ones, but that proves to be more difficult than he thought, especially when the company of heroes runs into a band of pirates led by vicious captain Grunt. In parallel to the main story arc, the proverbial squirrel still chases the nut.
Well, this was boring. Which is, probably, the worst thing that can be said about an animated film for children, as it should be the embodiment of entertainment. The large story, of course, doesn’t make any sense, but that’s not really important – it never had with Ice Age movies anyway, and it’s actually okay, as long as the small story is internally consistent, interesting and funny. And while the 1st element (consistency) is more or less alright, the rest is not so much. I don’t even care that it’s all about family values, the most tedious subject ever, the fact that there is nothing new, – no fresh angle, no challenging conflict, nothing at all, – is way worse. The characters are merely functional, and some are quire grotesque. None of the jokes are funny – amusing at best. The movie doesn’t have a single acute element, which means it would be erased from a viewer’s memory in a matter of hours after the showing, if not minutes. All in all, this film seems absolutely worthless to me.
The Blacksmith is a fantasy short about a powerful entity in the situation of defending his status from an infinitely inferior human. It is not so much a story as a teaser to one, – on top of demonstrating the power of the Unity engine, of course. The animation is incredibly detailed; the overall execution, with the music and the context that is deeper than the appearance, is really great. I hope it would result in something bigger.
Third episode of the Adam project maintained by Neill Blomkamp digresses from the story shared by the first 2 episodes (but stays in the same universe of discourse, of course). A sick woman comes for help to a miracle worker, a priest who is known to have cured others. He agrees to help her, but for a dire price: she has to not only declare her loyalty to the priest’s cause, but to make the ultimate sacrifice. Too bad that might just be for nothing…
Well, the story is pretty interesting – a little bit cruel, but that’s only a good thing. I think that in the fact that the android just so happened to be woman’s brother is too much of a coincidence, but the story is so ambiguous that it might work after all. The animation is rather great, but it seems to me that daylight is a problem for the Unity engine, as the image kinda looks like a video game at times. Of course, it’s my subjective view, and I’m probably wrong about it. I wonder what would Blomkamp bring out next, but so
Off to the Vet by Simon Tofield is a Simon’s Cat special created within the framework of the project but aimed at the offline audience. As it is quite usual with Tofield’s works, the story is very simple and revolves around the cat’s minor injury that still required a visit to a vet.
If you haven’t yet seen Simon’s Cat’s movies, you should – they are funny and smart and inventive; if you need to cheer somebody up, this would be a good way to do it. This special is in line with the rest of them, only a little brighter, maybe, with animation more refined, – which is no suprise, considering how long Tofield’s been doing that.
I didn’t quite like the human sounds solution, though, – I think it could’ve been done better, but the human is not too important in any of these aminations, so it doesn’t really influence the overall result all that much.
Second episode of the Adam project keeps exploring the weird world of people turned into machines. Supervision is overtaken by Neill Blomkamp, but continuity is preserved. After long and exhausting journey through the desert, a group of newly freed androids learns about the world they found themselves in, and why they don’t have any memories. They meet the Mirror, an odd entity able to find out and disclose certain details of their respective past lives.
Like 1st episode, this one looks pretty amazing. Unity engine (which is used in both cases) is definitely something intersting. The story evolves in a logical manner; as distinct from the previous chapter, it is mostly told through the words of the characters. There are still a lot of questions about the universe of discourse, and it’s rather obvious that the writers make up that stuff as they go, but so far they’ve been doing a pretty good job. And, like I said, the image and the animation are astonishing.
Gdansk is short animated film set in some fantasy version of medieval Europe. It’s not really a story, not yet, – basically, it’s a sample of one. But it gives you a good taste of what it might become. It’s dark and violent, and also pretty realistic despite obvious fiction – at least in regard to ordinary people standing in contrast to military.
A nyalintás nesze is a silent animated short about a woman who lived alone, and a neighbour’s cat who liked to watch her watering the flowers. At some point the cat stopped coming, and then re-appeared as a man.
The animation, although obviously not everybody’s cup of tea, is quite interesting; it’s certainly distinctive. The story is not the easiest one to read, but it is curious. I’m not sure, if this style can be applied to a larger story, but even if not, it doesn’t make this work any less curious. Have a look for yourself:
Adam: Episode 1 is an animated CGI short set in futuristic scenery. According to the official annotation, “A convict awakens to the grim reality of having been transferred into a mechanical shell,” which corresponds perfectly with what is happening on the screen, although one would never surmise this disposition from the 1st episode alone as nothing of the sort is stated there in any form; rather it serves as grassroots for the plot environment.
The animation is quite perfect: it looks beautiful and feels very nice; physics seems to be in order as well. The story, as you can imagine is very subtle, maybe a little too much; but even though some of the twists and characters remain a mystery to the viewer after watching it, it is obvious that they are in harmony with each other and the story, and the continuation (already available) would probably cross all the necessary ‘T’s. Here, see for yourself:
Black Holes is a pilot short film about an astronaut on a mission to Mars. Shortly before tha launch, he was informed about a change in his menu: instead of his favourite snack he will be given a watermelon. Even the news on its own unhinged the hero a little bit, but what followed after was much, much worse. Very quickly it was established that the melon not only can think and communicate (courtesy of the technical progress), but is actually much better at it than most humans, which is why his status on the mission gets upgraded from food to a full-fledged partner.
Well, I think it’s brilliant. The animation is kinda weird – it seemed unpleasant to me at first, but it’s actually pretty great, albeit a little too original, plus the physics is perfect, plus there’s a ton of humor that smooths everything even remotely thorny. The story is weird, and very lively at the same time, which is a fun combination. All in all, it’s a wonderful work of animated cinema – funny, interesting, bizarre.
The finale is open – something appeared before the heroes when they reached the destination point, but we don’t know what; that is done intentionally as the authors want to make this into a full-featured series. For this they launched and successfully concluded in the spring of 2017 a Kickstarter campaign, which means that right now they are probably working on the said series. You can still help the team by going to the project’s website and buying some swag from there. You decide if it’s worth it:
Louchebem is a short about a grieving butcher who escapes his memories in a dance when he sees a fly.
It’s more of an artwork, than a movie, and as such it’s pretty well-done – at least, I find the animation quite curious. But, instead of a story there’s a lot of blues, which may be poetic but doesn’t make it interesting to watch. In other words, there is something in this for the eye, but almost nothing – for the mind.
Sam is an animated short about an office worker who gets himself into some sort of science fiction drama when attending an expo about future technology, and is trying to handle the consequences since then.
First thing that arrests attention here is the animation, which is extremely poor in quality and elaboration of details. The story at first seems quite boring; the development with the expo was pretty good, but then it turned out it’s only to justify at least somehow all the subsequent science-fictional bullshit like the gun that restructures the matter. And then there was open finale, i.e. the film was basically suggested as a prologue to a full-length feature story, which was so obviously speculative and groundless, it really pissed me off. It’s not really worth it, but you have the choice anyway:
Alike is an animated short about the resemblance children and their parents bear on so many levels, with a clear message that everyday routine, however tiresome, must not become the reason to allow indifference into the family relationships, because it would probably destroy it altogether. The characters are schematic, there are almost no individual traits in any of them, everything about them screams “placeholder”. Which, I guess, makes it not a story, but rather a parable – one that strives against didacticism and tries to be entertaining instead. And it sort of is; the animation, notwithstanding the crudeness of people representation, is pretty subtle, which can be seen in small details, plus there is certain humor intrinsic to the narrative – it’s not much, but still. All in all, it’s nothing really special, nor original, but it may briefly elevate your mood, so here goes:
Rise of the Guardians is an animated movie about a team of guardians consisting of Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Rabbit and Sand Man, all of whom has to abandon their ordinary duties to fight this great villain (name’s Pitch Dark) who returns after centuries of absence to conquer them all. The Man on the Moon, who organized the guardians team in the first place, also decides the team should be reinforced with a new member – Jack Frost, who has been wandering the Earth for 3 hundred years by then. The five heroes manage to overcome their differences and join forces in the fight against the mighty enemy.
I see 2 significant drawbacks in this movie, – significant enough to make it unnecessary and even potentially harmful. The first that comes into attention is, of course, the animation. To some degree it’s probably a matter of habit, as thanks to the efforts of Disney, Pixar, Miyazaki and others, we got used to faces less gnarled, lineaments – smoother, colors – more balanced. But even adjusted for the habit thing, the movie still would leave a weird impression because of the characters: Santa Claus, for one thing, is Russian with a stupid accent, who uses classic music composers’ last names for expressing his amazement; Tooth Fairy looks really bizarre, and she’s surrounded with tiny fairies who do all the job for her; Sandman never says a word; Rabbit looks like a kangaroo (which, to do them justice, is embraced by the authors, and in a funny way, too). Claus’s elves look quite repugnant, plus there are many small details in the animation style and execution in general that kept throwing me off all the time.
And then, there’s the story. There is nothing original about it; it is the story of the evil returning in the most basic form of all possible only slightly (and loosely) sugar-coated here and there with gimmicks that are either middling, or crude. The set of primary characters is an indicator strong enough as it is, but in combination with the primitive, predictable, childish story, it becomes an alarming signal.
Also, I wouldn’t recommend showing this to the children, albeit they are the only ones who may take it seriously, – simply because it may educate bad taste in them.
Black Tape is a tiny little animation with no particular plot, but a far-reaching concept. Swift-passing characters here are broken down into pairs who are engaged in a sort-of dance, a tango of oppression. Everything happening is in absolute harmony with the music, and looks absolutely stunning. There are probably some elevated ideas this movie should (and surely can) awaken in a person’s mind, but me – I just enjoy the precision and the beauty. Here, you try it: