Sunday, April 12, 2020

Heavy Metal (1981) - Comic Book Psychedelic Fantasy

Sexy "Heavy Metal" Has Something for All Mature Audiences

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com
Elon Musk reportedly used this sequence from the "Soft Landing" segment of "Heavy Metal" as inspiration for his "starman" project.
"Heavy Metal" (1981) is largely forgotten by most people, but it has a devout cult following among lovers of both animated sci-fi fantasy films and 1970s rock music. It is a film of its time, but if you were there, you recognize the style and the ethos. "Heavy Metal" is enjoyable by modern audiences as long as they can appreciate a wild tale of savage beauty.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

Yes, it contains drug and sexual references and a whole lot of violence. However, "Heavy Metal" also offers some wry commentary on cultural conditions amidst a lot of unrestrained and thoughtful imagination. There is a lot of serious insight right beneath the surface of "Heavy Metal" if you care to look and see it.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com
I consider this scene of Taarna flying one of the highlights of "Heavy Metal" and strikingly good animation.
An anthology mélange like the eponymous magazine on which it is based, "Heavy Metal" is a collection of disparate tales that are tied together with the loosest of thread - much like the outfit of one of the main characters, Taarna.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

Despite getting little respect from professional film critics, "Heavy Metal" has served as inspiration for many later works including "The Fifth Element" (scruffy futuristic taxi driver saves redhead), "Blade Runner" (flying cars), an episode of the animated television series "South Park" and "Heavy Metal's own 2000 sequel. That's not a bad legacy at all for a low-key animated feature film not made by one of the major studios.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

Produced by Ivan Reitman and Leonard Mogel, who also was the publisher of Heavy Metal magazine, "Heavy Metal" was rated "R." How it escaped an "X" rating is a bit of a mystery, but those were different times with different standards. Be advised that "Heavy Metal" is for mature audiences only due to its violence, adult themes, and sexual imagery.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

Many veterans of "Second City," a comedy troupe based in Chicago and who were friends of Reitman, voiced the characters. These included John Candy (voicing several characters), Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis, Percy Rodriguez, Susan Roman, Richard Romanus, August Schellenberg, John Vernon (the principal from "Animal House"), and Zal Yanovsky.

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Begun in 1977, Heavy Metal magazine was owned by the National Lampoon company, which did "Animal House" and many other very irreverent motion pictures. That explains the irreverent tone of Heavy Metal.

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"Heavy Metal" has many different animation styles. They are not all top-flight, but they are original and highly personal. To use one word to describe them all, I would use "gritty." Some of the styles harken back to the 1960s "Yellow Submarine" era, while others are extremely sophisticated and approach CGI quality (which was not available in 1981). Like the magazine, "Heavy Metal" has images that look more like pop art than typical comic book poses.

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The rotoscoping technique, wherein actors play out scenes and then are traced as animation, is used throughout. This gives "Heavy Metal" a very realistic appearance.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

The "Heavy Metal" storyline is tied together by a mysterious orb known as the Loc-Nar that travels throughout the universe, including Earth. The Loc-Nar takes on different forms throughout "Heavy Metal" and exhibits magical and very dangerous properties. Let's be real - the Loc-Nar is the weakest part of "Heavy Metal" because it is just this undefined "thing" whose only substance is that it serves to frame the other stories. The film drifts far and wide during its different stories, but ultimately they are tied together by a tenuous but ultimately satisfying framing device.

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The stories in order are:
  • Soft Landing
  • Grimaldi
  • Harry Canyon
  • Den
  • Captain Sternn
  • Neverwhere Land
  • B-17
  • So Beautiful and Dangerous
  • Taarna
  • Epilogue
Rather than go through the different plots, I'm just going to point out the parts of the film that really stand out.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com
The B-17 story is tight and surprisingly realistic despite the supernatural theme.
The animators basically went where they wanted to go - the B-17 story was made by a World War II veteran who just wanted to tell a supernatural tale from that conflict - and things branch off in different directions. "Heavy Metal" thus features creativity run wild, which either comports with what you want from an animated feature film or doesn't. Any fan of animation should get a thrill out of it.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

After the brilliantly drawn introduction, "Soft Landing," the first memorable sequence is "Harry Canyon." This tale follows a savvy cab driver in a dystopian New York City. The city of "Harry Canyon" is an obvious extension of trends that had been playing out in the decaying NYC of the 1970s. It is full of seediness and squalor with nobody really giving a damn about anything but their own self-preservation and enrichment. However, the city tableaus are instantly recognizable despite the futuristic elements of being set in 2031 if you are at all familiar with the New York of the late 1970s.

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Easily the most memorable and exciting story, however, is "Taarna" near the end. She is a Taarakian warrior, the last one, in fact. Taarna is summoned by city leaders who are under attack by the Loc-Nar (it is never explained why the Loc-Nar does what it does, it just... does it). This story obviously was strongly influenced, if not directly inspired, by the comic book story "Arzach" by Moebius (real name Jean Giraud, who founded the French magazine "Métal hurlant" that led directly to "Heavy Metal" magazine). "Taarna" is replete with scenes of righteous fury, sheer savagery, and absolutely stunning animation. This ain't Disney, folks. The wicked tale of revenge and retribution in "Taarna" serves as a fitting and fulfilling climax to "Heavy Metal."

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

Strong, beautiful, and mute (like the character in "Arzach"), Taarna acts like a gunfighter from the Spaghetti Western genre, although she uses a sword instead of a gun. The "Taarna" segment exemplifies fantasy fulfillment for both men and women. Taarna's physical attributes are amply on display for the guys while her cool, savage, effective dispatch of the bad guys portrays a unique female superhero that has not been equaled.

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

By now, I hope you have a good idea of what "Heavy Metal" is about. While full of obvious 1970s drug references, it is not a film only for potheads or lovers of "Dungeons and Dragons." "Heavy Metal" some real art and some amazingly good rock songs from the likes of Don Felder of the Eagles (his "Heavy Metal (Takin' a Ride)" is a showstopper tune),  Blue Öyster Cult (yes, they did songs other than "Fear the Reaper"), Sammy Hagar, Devo, Cheap Trick, and Stevie Nicks). Elmer Bernstein of all people did the score, which shows clear echoes of his score the same year for "An American Werewolf in Paris."

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

This is an animation by adults for adults. It is uplifting in a very strange and savage sort of way and is a virtual peek into a certain mindset of the late 1970s. If you are interested in animation other than Disney princesses and are adventurous, I say, give it a whirl.


Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

Heavy Metal (1981) aniamtedfilmreviews.filminwpctor.com

2020

Monday, March 2, 2020

Israeli Politicians Animation

Battle of the Titans?

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"State of Israel."
Israeli politics reached a critical point in early 2020 with the battle between Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, and Avigdor Liberman. So, some animators decided to look at the situation anime-style. The result was their series of videos of which two are reproduced below, “State of Israel Anime.”

The video was the brainchild of Theo Dolev and Akim Dolinsky, who run their business called Frankendo. The company uses a variation of the famous "Nintendo" logo.

Israeli election anime animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

Benjamin Netanyahu, in particular, is a larger-than-life character, and the anime brings out the qualities that the public has become familiar with during his long service as the Prime Minister of Israel.

The illustrations in typical anime over-the-top style are by Ophir Sheriff. Two Japanese voice actors also lend their talents.

Even if you are not too familiar with Israeli politics, this series incorporates an interesting blend of animation styles.



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2020

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Frozen II: Learn More About Anna and Elsa

Anna and Elsa Return in a Darker Frozen 2

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"Frozen II" (2019) features more magic by Elsa (all pictures courtesy of Disney).
The long-awaited sequel to the hugely successful animated feature film "Frozen" (2013) finally arrived in November 2019, and audiences flocked to see it. While the story is slightly different and there are new songs to sing on those road trips, essentially the entire Disney team that created "Frozen" returned for the sequel.

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As you might expect, the experience of watching "Frozen II" thus is similar to watching the original film. Let's take a close look at "Frozen II" both as an individual film the continuation of a franchise.

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Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee directed "Frozen II," and the screenplay was written by Buck, Lee, Marc E. Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and Robert Lopez. It stars Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad. The Lopez husband-and-wife team wrote the songs, while Christopher Beck wrote the score. The "Frozen II" production company was Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures distributed it.

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The Frozen II Storyline

The events of "Frozen II" are set three years after the conclusion of "Frozen." Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, and their travel team of Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven undertake a journey of exploration from their kingdom of Arendelle.

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King Agnarr with young Elsa and Anna.
The story begins in flashback style when King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) of Arendelle tells his children Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) about their grandfather, King Runeard (Jeremy Sisto). Many years earlier, King Runeard established a treaty with the tribe of Northuldra by building a dam where they lived in the Enchanted Forest.

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Unfortunately, King Runeard perishes when a fight occurs, and in response, the basic spirits of the elements of earth, air, fire, and water depart the Enchanted Forest. Runeard's son, Agnarr, somehow escapes from the Enchanted Forest with the help of a mysterious entity, but everyone else is trapped there until the basic elements return.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Grand Pabbie gives Elsa some advice.
Returning to the present, Queen Elsa hears a mysterious voice calling out to her. She follows its call and accidentally awakens the spirits of the basic elements which had departed from the Enchanted Forest. This causes problems in Arendelle which must be solved, and Grand Pabbie and the Trolls arrive to advise Elsa on what to do. She learns that the only way to make things right in Arendelle is to undertake a journey to learn Arendelle's past and fix things at that destination.

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Queen Iduna helps to set things in motion in "Frozen II."
So, Elsa and Anna rejoin their travel companions from "Frozen" for the journey. These are Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad), Kristoff the ice harvester (Jonathan Groff), and reindeer Sven. Following the mysterious voice, Elsa leads the team to the Enchanted Forest. They find it enshrouded in mist, but Elsa is able to part it.

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A tornado attacks, but Elsa uses her magic powers to turn it into ice sculptures. These sculptures are images from Agnarr's past and show that his mysterious savior was their mother, Queen Iduna of Northuldra (Evan Rachel Wood).

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The fire spirit turns out to be a cute salamander.
Encountering the Northuldra and some lost Arendellian soldiers who are still fighting each other even after all this time, Elsa and her party are attacked next by the fire spirit. Once again, Elsa is able to stop this attack and calm down the spirit, which turns out to be a magic salamander. This leads to a truce between the warring men of Northuldra and Arendelle. At this time, Elsa learns of the existence of a fifth spirit which may solve Arendelle's problems.

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Elsa confronts Nokk, the water spirit, in "Frozen II."
Elsa, Anna, and Olaf head north leaving Sven and Kristoff behind. Discovering the wreck of her parents' ship and a map showing a route to Ahtolhallan, a mythical river which is reputed to explain the past, Elsa continues on alone. The water spirit, Nokk, now appears guarding the way to Ahtohallan. Elsa calms him down, too, and continues to the river.

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There, Elsa learns that the mysterious voice which initiated their journey was that of her mother, Queen Iduna. She further learns that nature bestowed upon her magic powers due to Iduna's rescue of Agnarr. This makes Elsa the fifth spirit.

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Somewhat ironically, Elsa freezes solid in "Frozen II."
Learning more about the past, Elsa discovers that King Runeard only built the dam to hurt Northuldra, which he viewed as a threat due to their use of magic. Runeard himself caused the conflict with Northuldra by killing their leader. Suddenly, Elsa freezes solid due to venturing too far into Ahtohallan, but first, she is able to get a message to Anna. When Elsa freezes, Olaf disappears.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
The earth giant in "Frozen II."
Alerted, Anna realizes that the only way to set things right is to destroy the dam. She finds the enormous earth spirit and manages to draw it to the dam. The earth spirit accidentally destroys the dam, which sends water flowing toward Arendelle. However, destroying the dam frees Elsa, who manages to return to Arendelle and stop the flood.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Anna and Kristoff in "Frozen II."
With the dam broken and the kingdom saved, Elsa and Anna reunite and Olaf returns to life. Kristoff proposes to Anna, who accepts. Elsa decides to abdicate as Queen in order to return to the Enchanted Forest and be its protector. Thus, "Frozen II" ends with Anna as the Queen of Arendelle and Elsa the protector of the Enchanted Forest.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
The prominent "Frozen II" billboard in Hollywood places Anna in a distinctly secondary position and gives Elsa a sinister appearance.

The Impact of Frozen II

"Frozen II" greatly expands upon the "Frozen" universe and gives it context. Elsa's magic powers now have an explanation and both Anna and Elsa have specific roles to play with important purposes to maintain peace. In that sense, "Frozen II" is a fitting companion to "Frozen" and not just a completely new adventure using the same characters. "Frozen II" is a beautiful film with new animation techniques which give the character of Nokki a realistic liquid-like appearance. The storyline is a bit darker, with some subthemes that seem misplaced in a children's film. Overall, as a sequel, "Frozen II" is quite worthy of the original film.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Another "Frozen II" billboard dispenses with the secondary characters altogether. Advertising like this seems to be saying, "I'm back, and boy and I mad."
No film is perfect, and that includes "Frozen II." The story is engaging, but not as original as the original "Frozen." The storyline is a bit sketchy, focusing on a "sins of the fathers" theme which is darker than the original film. The screenwriters seem determined to shoehorn in environmental issues that are a bit preachy. Implying that dams are bad is weird and inexplicable, but perhaps that is taken as a given in California where "Frozen II" was produced. Are dams intrinsically bad things that rob people of natural resources? That's an underlying premise that must seem perfectly mainstream to the filmmakers (or perhaps they just want it to be mainstream). Also, blaming the kingdom of Arendelle and its leaders for wreaking havoc on others also raises some potentially intriguing moral questions that are completely glossed over.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Elsa learns the dark secret of Arendelle in "Frozen II."
The original source material for "Frozen," Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen," was very dark and not at all the whimsical tales of derring-do that the "Frozen" films became. There are hints that the "Frozen" films are edging back toward that serious quality, and this is reflected in Elsa's grim expression and defiant attitude on billboards and in other advertising. Darkness always has hovered over Disney animated feature films, with witches destroyed, people such as Cinderella treated poorly, and, most famously, the shocking ending of "Bambi." In "Frozen II," good things happen because things are destroyed and powerful creatures are subdued. The lasting consequences of bad choices are portrayed at length, though affixing blame is absent. There is a definite moral subtext to "Frozen II" which keeps trying to burst out from beneath the colorful animation and happy ending.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Anna and Olaf go for a ride in "Frozen II."
The "Frozen II" songs are catchy, but there are no breakout hits like "Let It Go." The characters are fun, but they were more fun and original in "Frozen." The absence of a true villain drains "Frozen II" of tension. You have to really care about Anna and Elsa for "Frozen II" to matter to you, and that is unlikely unless you are a fan of "Frozen" to begin with. The bottom line is that "Frozen II" is best seen as a pedestrian continuation film and not one that can stand alone on its own merits as a masterpiece. While this is a typical issue with sequels, "Frozen II" does not really hit new heights of greatness which some sequels manage to do by recalibrating the entire spirit of the franchise. This was the case for "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and "Godfather II," for instance, but not "Frozen II."

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
It's all about Elsa in "Frozen II."
Regardless of quibbles, audiences quickly made "Frozen II" a success. "Frozen II" proved particularly popular with girls and women while also drawing a good crowd of boys and men. It had the highest opening for an animated film of all time and most viewers seemed to like it as much as the original. Based on its opening weekend, "Frozen II" appeared likely to match the box office performance of "Frozen." It quickly set records for the best opening of all time for an animated feature film in France and the United Kingdom, and the best opening for a Disney or Pixar film in China, Japan, Germany, and Spain. There is no question that "Frozen II" is a success and that Disney was wise to make it.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

Conclusion

Everyone experiences film differently, which is part of their magic. Personally, to this viewer, "Frozen II" was a bit underwhelming. It did not capture the magic of the original "Frozen," admittedly a groundbreaking film that managed to capture the public's imagination and become a cultural touchstone. Those types of experiences are very rare. I am not in the target demographic, while "Frozen II" is virtually obligatory viewing for tween girls. I can only say that the craftsmanship is there and "Frozen 2" does what it sets out to do: add a new chapter to the continuing saga of Anna and Elsa. And, it does so in a superior but hardly groundbreaking visual style. Anyone who wants more of the same likely will be pleased, but expecting the same kind of exciting experience of the original, which was fresh and new, is likely to lead you only to disappointment.

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

The creators of "Frozen II" know their intended audience and oriented things with that in mind without taking too many creative chances. There is nothing groundbreaking in "Frozen II." In fact, "Frozen II" is exactly the type of sequel that you would expect when the powers-that-be don't want to tinker with a winning formula. If you saw the original "Frozen," you know exactly what to expect in "Frozen II."

Frozen II animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Elsa and Anna, together again.
In terms of impact, I place "Frozen II" squarely in the company of "Toy Story 4" and "Ghostbusters II." These types of films simply place the same characters into new adventures as audiences expect. In sum, "Frozen II" is more of the same, which isn't a bad thing in a franchise as warmly received as the world of "Frozen."


2020

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Frozen 2 Trailer is Out!

Frozen 2 Coming Into View

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"Frozen 2" is guaranteed to be one of the biggest animation feature film successes of all time. Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced "Frozen 2."


The "Frozen" films follow the two royal sisters Queen Elsa and Princess Anna of the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa is voiced by Idina Menzel and Kristen is voiced by Kristen Bell.

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Plot details for "Frozen 2" have not been released. However, that hasn't stopped people from speculating on the plot based upon the trailers released so far.

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It is thought that the two sisters engage on a journey to explore the origins of Elsa's icy magical powers.

Frozen 2 trailer animatedfilmreview.filminspector.com

There also is some kind of threat looming over Arendelle.

Frozen 2 trailer animatedfilmreview.filminspector.com

Most of the characters from the original "Frozen" reprise their roles in "Frozen 2."

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The trailer for "Frozen 2" released in February 2019 became the most-watched trailer for an animated movie of all time.

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In fact, the February 2019 "teaser" trailer accumulated 113.6 million views in its first 24 hours.

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"Frozen" grossed over $1 billion worldwide after its release in 2013.

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Among those returning in "Frozen 2" are Jonathan Groff as Kristoff, Josh Gad as Olaf, and Santino Fontana as Hans.

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"Frozen 2" appears in US theaters on 22 November 2019.

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2020