Disneynature 2- Earth

earthAfter reviewing Monkey Kingdom, Disney’s most recent Disneynature effort I am going back and starting at the beginning with their first film Earth.

Unlike Monkey Kingdom which tells a single narrative of Maya, Earth tells 3 stories but doesn’t give names or that kind of thing.  It’s more of a traditional nature documentary.

As the poster might imply Earth follows animals from different parts of the earth, mainly polar bears, humback whales and elephants, for a year.  It was filmed along with the Planet Earth project which aired on the Discovery Channel.

earth2It starts out in the Arctic with some adorable polar bears and 2 new cubs.  She must find food for herself and the cubs and the ice is melting.  The Papa polar bear is lost trying to get food.

earth3Then we go to Africa and follow a herd of elephants.  They have cute little baby elephants and have to find water and keep the babies safe from lions.  It’s pretty intense really when lions corner a lone elephant and all attack it.

earth5The last set is the whales who must travel 4000 miles to find new feeding grounds with all kinds of challenges.

In between these 3 main stories we get smaller stories of birds, sea lions, dolphins, caribou and possibly the worlds cutest animal penguins.

earth4Watching Earth is a pretty amazing experience and it did fill me with awe at the Earth God has created.  It’s so diverse and beautiful.  However, this film does not sugarcoat the realities of these species lives.  I was surprised how much preying and attacks they did.  Some kids might be upset seeing a wolf kill a caribou or what happens with the polar bear Dad or the elephant that gets attacked.  It depends on the kid but I would have probably found that upsetting.

If you hate nature documentaries and find them boring than this is not the one that will convert you.  It does drag in sections and with James Earl Jones doing the narration it feels very old school nature documentary.  I didn’t mind it but it’s not for everyone. It certainly is a natural choice with his iconic voice especially when we see lions.

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Some of the details felt a little bit dated to me like the time lapse photography.  I think that was really mind blowing in 2007 but it doesn’t hold the same grip in 2015 and they use the technique a lot.  Some of their global warming science also is a little bit dated; although, certainly a good message for kids to hear.

I think there are some kids that will absolutely love this, mainly for the visual beauty and not the storytelling.  Same with adults actually.  If you don’t require a plot and just like seeing all these animals and learning about them than you’ll enjoy it.  If that sounds really dull to you it will be.  Simple as that.   And like I said some of the scenes might be upsetting to small or sensitive children.

As with all Disneynature movies the ending showing how they got shots including a collision with a tree while riding a gyrocopter type device was pretty amazing.  There’s scenes where lions and bears try to follow them and the crew looks scared.  I’d be scared!  They certainly have guts at Disneynature!

Here’s the trailer.

Rewrite Movie Review

The-Rewrite-movie-posterApril is just my month for liking movies that other people don’t like or that at least aren’t championed by many. That said movies like Jupiter Ascending and Longest Ride I enjoyed for what they were but didn’t love them. Now let me get behind a movie I really love that nobody saw called The Rewrite.  It is exactly the kind of movie I LOVE.

Nora Ephron is my literary muse.  I love her writing.  The little moments of commentary about books, movies, Starbucks, New York, whatever it is.  I love how funny her scripts are and yet her characters feel real and have moments of depth and compassion rarely captured in a light comedy.  I mention Ephron because The Rewrite was as close to a Nora Ephron movie I have seen since her passing in 2012.

Since 2012 very few romantic comedies have even been made let alone good one’s and for a huge fan of the genre it has been very sad. I miss going to the movies to feel good and be with people that I liked and who made me laugh.  I sincerely miss it, so that is part of the reason The Rewrite made me so excited.

rewrite 8It is perhaps appropriate a return to the romcom would star the key of the genre, Hugh Grant.  In The Rewrite he plays Keith Michaels an Oscar winning screenwriter who has fallen on hard times after the luster of his youthful career has faded (and his wife leaves him for the director of his big hit…).  He doesn’t have a relationship with his son, has no creative energy,  can’t get a script sold and is even considering a sequel to his Oscar winning film- something he said he would never do.

His agent played by Caroline Aaron convinces him to go and teach in a small town called Binghampton and having little else to do he agrees. Naturally he starts out feeling that teaching is beneath him and he dismisses class rationalizing that ‘talent can’t be taught so why waste everyone’s time’.

The cast is uniformly excellent with Marisa Tomei, JK Simmons, Allison  Janney, Chris Elliott, Bella Heathcote and more.

DSC_5395.NEFI particularly loved Janney who is an English professor who loves Jane Austen and has some very funny dialogue with Grant on that topic and many others.  It is especially funny because Hugh Grant was in a Jane Austen movie (Sense and Sensibility) so there are more than one winks to the audience in the script.

rewrite 4Simmons and Elliott are a lot of fun as fellow teachers.  Simmons is in love with his family.  He cries every time he mentions them.  Elliott is Grant’s neighbor and he has a lot of funny observations of those around him.

I loved the students and even though they are tropes they are well written tropes.  There’s the feminist girl, nerd, slut etc but they are funny and the scripts they are writing have a lot of good jokes that made me laugh (like the Bar Mitzvah gone wrong crossed with Dirty Dancing…).

rewrite 2Tomei is lovely as an older student in Grant’s class who is writing a script based on her life as a single Mom. They have terrific chemistry which is essential in this type of movie.

I have mostly male readers of this blog for some reason so I am sure most of you will probably discount this as a ‘chick flick’ and if you do that’s a shame.  It has so many funny lines about work, entertainment, pop culture, movies, writing, education etc.  It really reminded me of a Nora Ephron script and maybe even a lighter Woody Allen like Midnight in Paris.

All I know is this is exactly the kind of movie I love.  You might say it is the Rachel hat trick- funny, romantic, with a nice heart to it. If you are a writer or love movies I think you will particularly enjoy it.  Have an open mind and give it a shot.  If any of you do see it let me know what you think.

As far as content there is a little language and talk of an affair with a student although nothing is shown.

Overall Grade- A+  Content Grade- A

Youtube April Reviews

Just sharing with you all my end of the month April youtube reviews.  If you aren’t subscribed to my channel please do.  I try to improve with each video and I particularly have been working on my thumbnails lately which I think turned out nicely on all 3.

I occasionally will mention things I don’t include on posts for this blog so if you like the blog I think you will want to subscribe to the channel. .  For instance, there are several reviews in these videos I have not had on the blog yet. If you like any of the videos a thumbs up would be great as well.  Thank you!

My review on the blog and channel for Avengers should be up on Friday (I see it Thursday).

Pixar Review 4- Tin Toy

Hi guys!  I’m back from Georgia and it is time for another Pixar short review and we are getting our baby on with the landmark animated film Tin Toy.

tin toy3Tin Toy was created for SIGGRAPH in 1988. The genesis for the project happened when John Lasseter was watching his niece play with her toys.  She was sucking on, throwing, stomping on them.  The idea occurred to him that to the toys this sweet adorable baby would be seen as a monster.

So they got hard at work and designing an actual baby proved to be a mammoth task and they invented new facial recognition software and was the first computer graphics with bendable joints and a fluid body.

tin toy2The story of Tin Toy is a baby named Billy who has a toy named Tin Toy that is an old school Japanese one man band type toy.  Both the toy and the baby turned out very cute and the sound mixing is perfect.

tin toyWhen the toy see’s Billy sucking and throwing his toys he naturally becomes terrified and flees leading to the big laugh of the movie- All of Billy’s toys are hiding under the sofa shivering in fear from the monster that is Billy.

tin toy 8Each of the animators was given the task of designing one of the toys under the bed and it was this shot that started the idea of Toy Story.  In fact, Disney was so impressed with Tin Toy that they sealed an agreement with Pixar to create their first feature film about toys.

Tin Toy also is of note because it is their first Oscar win for Best Animated Short and the first CG animation to win an Academy Award in 1988.

The great thing about Tin Toy is how many emotions they manage to show in a 4 minute film we get joy, anger, hurt, fear, remorse, envy, desperation and more.  Tin-Toy-Sad-web

When I think of what makes a character like Woody so great he has all those emotions, sometimes very rapidly and who knows if the storytelling would have grown if such robust characters weren’t cultivated in these shorts first.

Here is John Lasseter and Bill Reeves getting their Oscar for Tin Toy.  It helps give you a sense of who they were and the community that built Pixar as we know today.

It’s worthy of the Oscar and is certainly an A+.  A great early short.  (Only 1 more short to go till Toy Story!)

Pixar Review 3- Red’s Dream

reds dream6Of Pixar’s first 5 early shorts Red’s Dream is probably my favorite.  It’s so beautifully realized and has tremendous heart.

Released in 1987 for the SIGGRAPH conference Red’s Dream feels less like a proof of concept and more like an actual story.  It is not one that I have to make excuses saying ‘it would look better but they developed the technology while making it”.  No, this one looks great on its own.

It starts out with a gorgeous cityscape.  It’s a rainy night and we focus in on a bike store and then on a little unicycle who is dreaming of an incompetent clown.  Red of course is the true star not the Bozzo clown.

Director John Lasseter says in the audio commentary they picked the project because Eben Ostby (hint Eben’s bikes) had taken up a fascination with bikes and they had a 3D digitizer that could load sculptures and animate.

reds dream5Early animator Bill Reeves used it as a chance to work on animating rain which it looks flawless.  Lasseter says “I’d say it’s the Pixar blue period” because there isn’t really a happy ending to the piece.  It is really quite sad for our little unicycle but there is something about that which makes it feel vintage and old school animation like a Dumbo or Pinocchio.

This was also the first time they animated something at night and again they did an amazing job.

reds dreamAs with all these shorts it has the feel of a silent movie like a sketch you might see Chaplin or Buster Keaton do but certainly with enough pizazz to appeal to a modern audience.

Evidently Ollie Johnson, one of the 9 Old Men, saw the short and “he shook Lasseter’s hand aferward and said meaningfully ‘John, you did it'”

reds dream4

The music is by David Slusser and there is an article at http://www.sfgate.com that says “pixar sound editor by day, saxman by night”   Evidently he is the one playing the perfect bluesy saxaphone accompanying Red’s Dream.  I think he wrote the music too.  Pretty great.

Like I said it is probably my favorite of the shorts and so I give it an A+

Disneynature 1: Monkey Kingdom

monkey kingdomFor my Disneynature reviews I am going to review the current film Monkey Kingdom and then go back and review the previous films, so it will be a little bit out of synch but it makes the  most sense to me.

This weekend Disneynature releases Monkey Kingdom about the toque macaques (or monkeys) of Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka.  The lead monkey is named Maya and is at the bottom of the monkey class divisions.

monkey kingdom mayaThe monkey clan is quite the totalitarian regime with a strict hierarchy led by Raja and a trio of sisters who boss everyone around and take all the good warm sleeping spots.

monkey kingdom3Monkey Kingdom follows the clan for entire year and has a lot of monkey eating, grooming, and sleeping.  The variety of food the monkeys eat surprised me a little bit and how rigid the social structure seemed to be (if you believe the movie at least which I have no other knowledge about monkeys to say otherwise).

There is a point where they even swim to get food!  Who knew that monkeys could swim! We also get glimpses of other animals both predators and friendly folks like elephants and squirrels. They even branch into human world and the big city for a stretch which is a lot of fun.

Tina Fey is the narrator and she does an okay job.  I’m not normally her  biggest fan but it works for the cute monkeys.  Normally we expect someone with gravitas for such narration but I liked her motherly warmth for Maya’s story.

Here is the trailer to give you a better idea.

Monkey Kingdom is an engaging story that is simple enough for kids to understand and shouldn’t bore their parents.  Plus it is a cute way to explain complex social orders and the way we treat those of other classes through the examples of the monkeys.  It also may give kids an appreciation for the effort it really takes to do the basics of provide food and shelter.  Plus, the monkeys are just so darn cute (and they do give us a ‘hey, hey, we’re the monkeys’ musical number).

monkey kingdom5

Director Mark Linfield and cinematographers Martyn Colbeck and Gavin Thurston give us a lush beautiful look into the monkey habitat and the film could be appreciated on silence just for the gorgeous earth visuals.

monkey kingdom4

As with all the Disneynature films Disney will donate a portion of proceeds to charitable causes.  For Monkey Kingdom they will go to Conservation International.

Overall Grade- B (wasn’t anything super exciting to worthy an A but a solid effort).

Pixar Review 2: Luxo Jr

luxo3So now we get to review our first ever actual Pixar branded short, Luxo Jr.  In 1986 Steve Jobs bought the computer animation division from Lucasfilms and branded it Pixar.

John Lasetter was borrowed from Disney and he was being trained on how to build models.  As his source material he started to look at a luxo lamp he  had on his desk because “it was geometric and would show the shadow algorithm well”.  At this time computer animation was done with equations and ‘art school math’ as Lasetter puts it.

As he attempts to actually animate his lamp Lasetter grows increasingly more frustrated with the math:

“I’m sitting there with a hand calculator at these expensive computers trying to figure it out using my art school math if a ball is this size how far would it move and I was like ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ so I went to Eben [Ostby] ‘please can you do something with the computer to help me with this?  And that was the beginning of our procedural animation so I just animated the path of the ball and this amazing program Eben developed made it so the ball rotated accurately”

Sounds like we should all be grateful to Eben Ostby for some art we’ve gotten since 1986!

Here he is

Lasseter also got some key inspiration that we can see in his later leadership while making Luxo Jr from a man named Raoul Servais.  At first Lasseter just wanted to make a “plotless character study” of his lamp.  Servais told him “No matter how short it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Don’t forget the story.  You can tell a story in ten seconds”.

So that’s what he does.  As you will see in Luxo Jr we get a clear story.  Most of these early shorts are like silent movies with no dialogue but a clear beginning, middle and end.

It’s a charming little short and did great things for Pixar.  Lasseter said in the audio commentary the hardest part was getting the cord right “It was the cord.  I will never forget.  The cord was so hard.  The rolling of the ball was such a pain.  [Eben’s program] didn’t help with the cord.  The ripples in the cord were done by hand and it was painful!”

Never forget the cord! 🙂

What Lasseter is able to do in Luxo Jr is create emotion extremely quickly and establish a relationship between the two lamps, something that when I  write it sounds insane and yet there it is.  Some say it is a mother and baby lamp.  Lasseter has said it is a father son lamp but either way it is amazing any such connection can be made with a lamp!

luxoThis little short, Luxo Jr, “sent shock waves through the entire industry- to all corners of computer and traditional animation.  At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer.  They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist’s kit” (Edwin Catmult, Computer Animation: A Whole New World)

Luxo Jr also became the first computer animated short to be nominated for an Oscar in 1986.

So it’s another of these shorts that is simple on the surface but anything but when you consider its influence in the world of animation.  In many ways it may be the most important animated short since Steamboat Willie.

You got to give it an A+.  It has emotion where it shouldn’t.  It tells a sweet simple story.  It was groundbreaking and it is completely charming.  It also became the face of Pixar from then on.

pixar-animation-studio-logo

Pegs and My First Interview

I’m really excited to share with you my first interview I’ve done on my youtube channel! My friend Heidi was kind enough to let me interview her for my channel. She is an artist that paints these peg dolls that are so adorable. I am really proud of the video so would LOVE if you checked it out and gave me a thumbs up if you think it is a good effort.

I’ve certainly learned a lot and will continue to learn about videography, speaking before a camera, editing, creating thumbnails in photoshop etc. Still, I think it is a good effort and anything you could do to promote it I would be so grateful.

To learn more about Heidi’s pegs you can follow her at instagram https://instagram.com/pegsinasquarehole/

If you know of other local artists that might be interested in a profile or anyone who would make a good interview please let me know. I’m also at 499 subscribers so if you aren’t subscribed you could be 500! Please subscribe! Thanks so much!

Star Wars Teaser Trailer 2 Reaction

Can I just fangirl out on you all for a minute?  I know some of you aren’t as big of Star Wars fans as me but holy cow what a great trailer was released today!!!!  I am so pumped!  It had everything you could want.  We got to hear Luke’s voice.  We got an image of Vader from Return of the Jedi (and anyone else notice he said ‘his father HAS the force’…) harkening back to the old movies and then we hear about Leia who has the force (which I don’t recall ever seeing her use the force in original trilogy? Anyone know?) and his son (we can presume) also has the force!

Then we get chrome troopers, John Bodega in storm trooper outfit, battles, Poe Dameron in the Xwing craft!!!  Daisy Ridley looks like she is going to have a real gritty role to play.  This excites me as Star Wars could be a little bit male heavy (need I remind you of Leia and the gold bikini in most of Jedi…).

And then at the end to get Chewie and Han “we’re home”.  Nerdgasm!!!!  So cool!

It just makes me so excited that they are doing this right.  It doesn’t look all green screen.  It looks like there will be sand and real fighting and grittiness.  That’s what I want to see.  I want to see chemistry and a story with relationships I care about, not a fluffy soap opera.  I just want it to be good so bad!

It was just a perfect trailer.  It didn’t show too much.  It showed exactly what all the fans wanted to see without spoiling anything.  I loved it!  Chris Stuckmann and the Schmoes Know described it as bringing on ‘nerd tears’ and I’d agree.  Chris said it was ‘the best trailer I’ve ever seen and not just because I’m a fan”.  I’d agree.

Anyway I loved it.  What did you guys think?