Animation and Anime

Red Princess Blues Animated: The Book of Violence

Red Princess Blues Animated: The Book of Violence is an animated short film prequel to Alex Ferrari’s upcoming feature film Red Princess Blues and provides some of the backstory of “Princess” - the main character in both films – as well as giving us an opportunity to see some of her world. And what a world it is.

The story centres on the 12-year-old Princess (voiced by Paula Garcés) who – following a violent incident - finds herself in a foreign country trying to find her father. Here, she encounters Nino (Larry Robinson), who tells her that her father is dead and that he had promised to take care of her.

Nino puts her to work in his book shop and its here, while cleaning the back room, that she discovers The Book of Violence. On learning that she has found the book, and seeing that she has some talent, Nino agrees to give her some training. The results of this training, of course, will be seen in the upcoming feature.

Alex Ferrari and Dan Cregan have worked together on several films all of which are very striking visually, and this film is no exception. The hand-drawn animation is beautiful to look at and very detailed, but quite static. This approach works very much in the films favour by creating a mood of barely suppressed emotion throughout and the suggestion of the violence to come – something made explicit in the films final shot.

Paula Garcés puts in a stunning performance here as well. Even though most of the dialogue is in the form of a voice-over narrative she still manages to draw the audience into her character so that we really do want to know how things will pan out for Princess.

Red Princess Blues Animated is an exceptionally stylish film harks back to the sort of anime that many of us grew up with. It can currently be seen online at Latino Review (until February 7th), after which it will its festival run. The film is well worth seeing and I cant recommend strongly enough that you do so.

Xperimental Eros

Xperimental Eros Anthology films are often a mixed bag. Whatever the theme, some of the films in the collection will, inevitably, be better than others and – in this case – the question of whether the hits outnumber the misses really will come down to how you feel about both experimental films and pornography.

The first film in the collection is King of Porn, is a sympathetic – and often amusing - portrait of Ralph Whittington, government worker, devoted father, ex-husband, man of leisure and collector of pornography. The film allows him to speak for himself as he shows off his stash – which has pretty much taken over his house – of over 400 videos, thousands of magazines and a horde of articles on the subject. Whittington comes off rather well in this film. Rather geeky, obviously, but fundamentally no worse than anyone else feeding an obsession with collecting pop-cultural ephemera.

Then we have two films (not sequentially) which I’m going to deal with together because, for me, Blue Movie and Removed highlight the difficulty that many filmmakers face when trying to bring an art-house or experimental sensibility to pornography. Both films take vintage porn – stag films, in the case of Blue Movie, and a piece of 70s Euro-smut in the case the case of Removed – and then rework it, over and over again, until the pornographic elements are thoroughly obscured.

The problem that both films run into is that porn and erotica are not the same and by simply removing or concealing the pornographic, we are left with a pair of films that are neither pornographic nor erotic. And, I have to admit, that I was left wondering what the point was.

I almost included The Colour of Love with the above two films, but this one is distinguished by some genuinely disturbing imagery buried under all of the reworking. The film – heavily reworked again – is dedicated to Doris Wishman and revolves around two women having bloody sex with a dead man. It’s an interesting film and one that could have been very powerful if the footage hadn’t been quite so (deliberately) degraded.

Similarly, Downs are Feminine attempts to rework sexual images. This time around, the approach is to use cut-out animation of pornographic photos against a tacky 1970s background. It all drifts along in a dreamy, vaguely surreal fashion and – visually – there are some good ideas in there. But, ultimately, it really isn’t very clear what the film makers are trying to say, if anything.

The snappily titled The Influence of Ocular Light Perception on Metabolism in Man and Animal is a lot more effective. The film is built from a collection of seemingly random images, some of which are sexual and others more innocuous, thrown at the screen in rapid succession and it’s the rapid juxtaposition of the images that imbues the more mundane images with an often unexpected sexuality.

On a more cheerful note is Sneakin’ and Peekin’, which comes to us from 1976 and shows the results of two documentary film makers sneaking into a nudist camp. The film very successfully evokes the innocent sexuality of the George Harrison Marks’ early films.

Sexjunkie, the penultimate film in the anthology is by far the strongest. Both erotic and disturbing, this film takes the form of a video confessional of a nymphomaniac and her obsession with sex – not as love but as a physical craving.

The final film in the collection is Pacifier, an adolescent ode to porn. The premise is that when he was 13 Oscar Perez wrote a couple of stories for Penthouse Forum. Then, unable to find where to send them, he forgot about them. Years later when he rediscovered his stories, he decided to turn them into films.

While the script for Pacifier supposedly taken directly from the letter, the film is very much played for laughs and very effectively captures a 13 year old’s understanding of – and fantasies about – adult sex. As well as being very funny, this film more than any of the others, asks the audience to consider who consumes porn and why.

Overall, I found Xperimental Eros to be a very mixed collection and I think that, more than anything, this reflects the mixed state of art-house erotica. As such, it’s an interesting, rather than consistently enjoyable collection, but one that is worth seeing if you are both reasonably open minded and interested in experimental films.

Saul Goodman

Saul Goodman I have to admit that I found the animation style used in Saul Goodman a little misleading initially. It has a very strong video game aesthetic which, initially, led me to expect the rest of the film to retain the usual computer game trappings. Whether this piece of misdirection is intentional or accidental I don’t know, but it certainly sets the tone for what is to follow.

Saul Goodman is the story of a conversation. An elderly man and a student both miss a train out of Boston and find themselves stranded on a deserted station. As they wait for the next train, a conversation starts to develop – initially around the crossword the older man is trying to solve but progressing easily into a more general discussion.

It emerges that the older man is - or was, or claims to be – a political fixer for a presidential campaign and he has a few stories to tell. These stories sound increasingly implausible but, as the old man fleshes out his anecdotes – each of which is challenged, debunked or flatly disbelieved by the younger man - a larger conspiracy slowly starts to emerge.

The story structure of Saul Goodman is established quite quickly, with the older man’s tales told in flashback, and this is where the use of animation really comes into its own. Writer/director Jim Connell is able to effectively employ the sort of set design and special effects that would otherwise be impossible in any film that doesn’t come with a multi-million dollar price tag.

But there is also a more subtle use of the animation going on here as well. As I’ve already mentioned, the older guy’s anecdotes are, individually, less than convincing – all the little details that you would normally expect are either missing or vague and this is very nicely underscored visually.

But by this time, of course, my interest in the nature and style of animation had become very much secondary to the story, which becomes increasingly gripping as you find yourself slowly being drawn into the older man’s world and trying to fill in the blanks that are constantly being hinted at.

The characterisation is worth mentioning here. Saul Goodman is essentially a two-hander between two strangers and the fact that the conversation flows so smoothly and believably is a testament to both the scripting and the voice acting of John Cammarata and Eric Scheiner, both of whom manage to bring some real humanity to their roles.

Ultimately, Saul Goodman is a strongly written, creatively original and well made political thriller which finishes with a very effective twist. This is also a film that improves on repeated viewings and one that demonstrates that, regardless of the budget, a good story well told is always engrossing.

Peoples Broken Noses Compliment Their Broken Faces

DVD cover You know the experience where you gou out to the pub, settle in for the envening, and enf up having an outrageously funny conversation about something very silly – Shakespeare the transport radical, for example, or how Eastenders is filmed by ants. And then, for whatever reason, you find yourself repeating the conversation to someone the next day and they look at you as if you are mad?

Well, maybe it’s just me.

I mention this because every one of the six short films that make up People’s Broken Noses Compliment Their Broken Faces struck me as being one of those ideas that sounded great in the pub, but really shouldn’t have been filmed.

We have, for example The Shitter, a film about a serial shitter that attempts to use the word shit as repetitively as possible. This is a four beer idea and whoever wrote it down should have thrown the beermat away the following morning.

Next up is Daubit Crigh, which at a mere four minutes is mercifully short. The film takes the form of a one sided conversation set in a diner. So far so good, but jerky camerawork and florescent green subtitles do not go well together.

And then there is Mr Blast which starts with our eponymous hero being thrown out of a pub and continues to follow him as he staggers down the street attacking everyone he meets. I’m sure Mr Blast had a blast. I didn’t.

Next up is Tretmikaria Trilobite a largely animated experimental film. Maybe there was something in there about who is the puppetmaster’s puppetmaster but the film simply isn’t engrossing enough to make me want to care.

The Gamut of Now Destroy is essentially soft porn shot in negative. This sort of visual gimmickry worked in small doses for Michael Nin but, when stretched over nearly 28 minutes, it becomes merely unpleasant.

This short did have quite an effective twist at the end, but it took far, far too long to get there.

And all that I can say about Vexed is that I’m glad I don’t suffer from epilepsy.

Independent films can be incredibly original and, at their best, can explore themes that more mainstream filmmakers simply can’t or won’t touch. On the other hand, independent films at their worst can be gimmicky, self indulgent and painful to watch.

Unfortunately, People’s Broken Noses Compliment Their Broken Faces, falls very firmly into the latter category.

Shrek 2

Shrek 2
Newly married Shrek (Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) travel to the kingdom of Far, Far Away to meet Fionas parents, the king and queen of Far, Far Away played by John Cleese and Julie Andrews. The king, especially, is not too happy to discover that his daughter has married an ogre and her Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) is furious that Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is out of the picture.

No prizes for guessing how it all ends.

Shrek 2 is an attempt to satirize Hollywood and its conventions. It doesnt even get close to achieving this and instead simply makes the blindingly obvious observation that this is a glamorous, shallow and very commercial place.

Its not a great film, but it does manage to provide plenty of laughs - Eddie Murphy as the Donkey and Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots are both on great form - and the nods to a whole slew of films from Frankenstein to Mission Impossible were never less than entertaining.

Its a fun film and worth seeing, but not a patch on the original.