Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Off the Beaten Path: IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY (2012)

Running time: 62 minutes  

Animated and Narrated by Don Hertzfeldt 

Plot: "Bill struggles to put together his shattered psyche, in this new feature film version of Don Hertzfeldt's animated short film trilogy." - From IMDB.

What the above plot synopsis does not include is that the majority of the film is performed by stick figures.

How I discovered it: I was first introduced to Don Hertzfeldt's animation in college when a couple of friends shared with me his short, entitled Rejected.  It was without a doubt one of the funniest things I had ever seen, but I had no idea the emotional magnitude that this animator was capable of reaching with his work.

While taking an animation class we watched one of his earlier shorts, Billy's Balloon


Seriously, watch this all the way through, it's worth it.  (Unless you have kids.  In which case it might just be unsettling....or even more funny.)

 Finally, I discovered his masterpiece, It's Such a Beautiful Day, on Time out London's list of the 100 Best Animated Movies Ever Made.  Where it appears as number 16 between Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

 (I should add that this is a fantastic list for searching for animated gems.  I will undoubtedly return to it for more "Off the beaten path" movies.)

Memorable Moment: When Bill's psyche finally goes through the final stages of breaking down and the stick figure world he inhabits begins to waver in and out and flow into a vivid live action universe.   

After nearly an hour of seeing almost nothing but simple, black and white stick figures, the shock we receive from the colors and details makes the scene almost as overwhelming for the audience as it is for Bill.  We finally see why the rest of the story had to be told with such simple animation.   

BackgroundIt's Such a Beautiful Day is the closest thing to a one man show you're going to get in cinema.  With the exception of music and "special thanks" there is only one individual other than Don Hertzfeldt listed in the ending credits.  A Brian Hamblin is listed as editor.

The movie was originally released as three separate short films.  Everything Will Be OK (2006), I Am So Proud of You (2008) and It's Such a Beautiful Day (2011).  Supposedly the three films combined earned ninety awards.

 Apparently the Los Angeles Film Critics Association liked this movie enough to name it their runner-up for Best Animated Feature Film of the year, but they liked Frankenweenie more because it won top prize.

"There is a moment in each installment of Don Hertzfeldt's masterful trilogy of animated shorts where you feel something in your chest. It's an unmistakably cardiac event, the kind that great art can elicit when something profound and undeniably true is conveyed about the human condition. That's when you say to yourself: are stick figures supposed to make me feel this way? -Steven Pate of The Chicagoist

Who Should Embrace it:  This is a movie for anyone who wants to see a surrealistic film that covers heavy philosophical topics involving mortality, memories, and terminal illness and is (for the most part) performed by stick figures.

OK, there aren't many people who fall in that category.

To be honest, there isn't a person I know who I wouldn't recommend this movie too.  It is almost unbearably heavy at times.  Some of the lightest moments are drenched in melancholy.  However, it is a movie you should see because there is nothing else like it out there.  I have seen few movies that are as sincere or as profound as this one.      
It's Such a Beautiful Day is even further proof of my conviction that "high art" can come in any format.

Even if you think you'll hate it, give it a shot.  It's barely longer than an hour.  

Connections:  Along with the shorts I already posted above, Don Hertzfeldt also animated one of The Simpson's most unique couch gags.

His most recent film is World of Tomorrow.  


  Where you can watch it:  Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Off the Beaten Path: 8 1/2

As much as I love mega budget Hollywood blockbusters (with some exceptions), I’ve been trying to watch movies (both live action and animated) that are a little “off the beaten path.” 

Of course which movies fall into this category is a matter of opinion.  A lot of films I call "off the beaten path" are movies that would be very popular in some circles. 

In general I’ve been looking for films that are a little (or extremely) quirky.  Most of them were either released decades ago or created outside the Hollywood system and never made it into our pop culture consciousness. 

The most recent “off the beaten path” movie I’ve seen was Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8 ½ (1963)

"Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi, a director whose new project is collapsing around him, along with his life. One of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini's 8½ turns one man's artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema. An early working title was The Beautiful Confusion, and Fellini's masterpiece is exactly that: a shimmering dream, a circus, and a magic act."- Description on Amazon.

(At least watch the trailer to the 30 second mark before you declare "what the hell?" and turn it off)

How I discovered the film:  I first saw this movie years ago.  I had heard about it in passing while in graduate school and randomly decided to check it out on Netflix.  It is the only cinema masterpiece I have ever seen where I wasn’t aware of its reputation before I went into it.  Obviously, this is extremely rare in an age of Internet trailers and continuing franchises.   

Memorable moment:  This is without a doubt one of the most memorable openings of any movie I have ever seen.  


  •  Supposedly, while filming 8 ½, Fellini wrote, “Remember that this is a comic film,” on a piece of paper and stuck it to the side of the camera.  (Obviously, this reminder was probably written in Italian.)
  • Fellini considered this his eighth-and-a-half film. He counted each of his shorts and productions where he was a co-director as being ½ of a film.  
  • The original ending was supposedly considerably darker.  The conclusion that appears in the final film was originally shot to be the trailer. 

(Keep in mind, this is the last scene in a movie so, you know, spoilers.)

Who should embrace it:  Obviously, anyone who is into surrealist cinema.  David Lynch has said that he was heavily influenced by Fellini, but this movie might be more accessible than many of Lynch's films simply because 8 1/2 is not as nightmarish.

Even if you watched the clips above and said, "That might be a little too weird for me," keep in mind the story does settle into a concrete plot.  It just happens to be interrupted by memories and fantasies.  Think Citizen Kane if the flashbacks of Kane's past intertwined with the frame story.

If you're even slightly interested in something quirky and offbeat, I'd say go for it.  It really is a hilarious film.  Don't worry about analyzing the symbolism or themes during your first viewing.  Just enjoy it for what it is.    

Who should avoid it:   No movie is for everyone.

Well, maybe one movie is.

8 1/2 is definitely not something you want to have on as background noise while you're doing the dishes (which is, unfortunately, how I watch a lot of movies and TV shows) or when you're hanging out with friends at one in the morning.

If you're looking for a movie that has a clear explanation for everything that takes place then you might want to look elsewhere.    

Connections to other movies:  Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories was a parody of this movie. I was not aware of this when I first took that movie out of the library and it wasn’t until years later while I was watching 8 ½ for the first time that I asked myself, “Why does this look familiar?”

The Broadway musical Nine was heavily inspired by this movies.  In 2009 it was made into a movie.  (No, not this one.)  I have never seen Nine but from what I understand, the universal consensus was, “eh.”

Apparently, this R.E.M. music video was inspired by the opening scene. 

Where you can watch it: Hulu or Amazon’s instant video.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Skydiving Trip

Here are some more pictures of the skydiving trip from a couple weeks back. 

  •  The most terrifying part of the entire experience was when I actually had to step out of the plane.  Every part of my body was saying, "No!  This isn't right! Don't do that!"and my legs had to override basic common sense. 

  • Once I jumped the whole experience was so unreal I forgot that I was supposed to be scared and just started goofing off.

  • I have no idea what I was trying to do here.   

  • So remember that scene from Dr. Strangelove where Major Kong rides the bomb?  I tried my hardest to imitate his "whoops."  That's right, I made a movie reference while falling from two miles in the air!  My mom would be so proud of me.  

  • The first time Kimmy and I went skydiving I spent most of the fall thinking, "When is the shoot going to open?  Why hasn't it opened yet?"  To be honest, that didn't really cross my mind this time.  Either because I was more comfortable with the experience or because the fall just was a lot shorter.  I'll let you decide.  

  • My favorite part was just chilling over the countryside.  

  •  It's a fun thought that someday I might get trained and do this solo but not in this lifetime.
  • This really was a blast.  I recommend it for anyone who is physically able and from what I understand it's as dangerous as it seems.  Our instructors could potentially make over ten drops in a day and they're with this job for years or even decades.  I really wanted to ask if they even feel the adrenaline anymore.