Monday, March 5, 2018

Oscars 2018 / "Mind Game"

As most of you movie fans did last night, I watched the Oscars telecast - and here are some of my observations. 

Jimmy Kimmel did a super job as M.C. - he was low-key, relaxed and very funny - I loved the bit where he too some celebrity actors across the street to a screening of "A Wrinkle in Time", and of course, the audience went nuts.  The only problem is, if they were such great cinema fans, why weren't they watching the Oscars? 

I also loved his jet-ski prize for the shortest speech, it was hilarious.  If I were a winner, I certainly would have given a very short speech - I love jet-skis! 

I was hoping that Frances McDormand would win for "Three Billboards...", she totally deserved it.  And I was amazed by her specch and shout-out to other female nominees - however, why couldn't she get a decent gown for the event?

Also I totally agree with Sam Rockwell's win for Best Supporting Actor for "Three Billboards" and Allison Janney's win for "I, Tonya".  I thought "I, Tonya" and "Good Time" (starring Robert Pattinson) should have received much more attention.  But of course, they were comedies and you know how the Academy prefers serious, issue-oriented films. 

Regarding "The Shape of Water", it was my second favorite film, after the great "Three Billboards", and I love Guillermo del Toro (he should have directed "Ferdinand", the bull - get it?) and I'm very happy that he won Best Director, and that "The Shape of Water" won Best Picture.  It's a great "genre" film. 

As for the animation categories, "Coco" was a shoo-in, there was no real competition.  But I was surprised about "Dear Basketball" - I believed that either "Lou" from Pixar (which I was not crazy about) or "Nursery Rhymes" would take home the Oscar.  Plus, "Dear Basketball" was hand-drawn, not a technique that the Academy tends to favor. 

Even though Glen Keane is a master and a legend of animation, I believe "Dear Basketball" could have been done better.  Glen used rotoscoping, which I don't mind, except that the result was so realistic that it missed the whole exaggeration and stylization available for animation.  If I had done it, the drawings would have been a lot more distorted and bent - it could have been so cool.  Yet the combination of NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant and Disney All-Star Glen Keane was too powerful to lose.

On another note, the great animated feature "Mind Game", directed by Masaaki Yuasa and Koji Morimoto, is being released for the first time in the U.S. by GKids.  Please run, don't walk, to a theater near you to see this brilliant film.  In my opinion, it's the "Citizen Kane" of animation - you can thank me later.


Friday, February 23, 2018

"Early Man"

I've been a big fan of Nick Park since I first saw his amazing short "Creature Comforts" in Annecy, way back in 1989.  He's such a nice guy, very modest - but what a terrific talent!

He now has a new feature film produced by Aardman Studios - and I went to see it last night.  It's a pure Nick Park film, in terms of style, design and humor. 

But one of the problems with the film is that it's about soccer (called football in the rest of the world) and even though that's a popular sport in the U.S., it's not as popular as the other U.S. sports.  However, soccer (football) has a massive audience worldwide. 

Also, it just wasn't as funny as all of his other films, like "Chicken Run" or "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit".  The script is clever and has a great message, but the audience I was with seemed very subdued. 

To me, Nick Park is a singular genius in animation, so I was a bit disappointed that the film wasn't a laugh riot.  However, not to worry, the film should do well everywhere else. 

I give it a "B".

Bill Plympton

Friday, February 16, 2018

My Favorite Films for 2017 Oscars

Now that it's Oscar season and the nominations are out, it's a wonderful opportunity for my to declare my favorite films of last year.  Because of my busy schedule (I just completed a 30-minute long set of music videos for Jackie Greene) I have to admit that I haven't seen all of the nominated or eligible movies, so this list will be just from the films I've watched. 

I'll start with the foreign films, with a brief description of each: 

"The Insult", a very engaging look at the long-simmering political battles between Catholics and Muslims in Beirut.  A very dramatic film directed by Ziad Doueiri.

"Foxtrot", directed by Samuel Maoz.  A wonderful mix of amazing style, great acting, humor and tragedy on the Israeli border. 

And "The Square", directed by Ruben Östlund from Sweden.  A hilarious look at an avant-garde art gallery director and his problems with thieves, the press and a crazy lover.  Not to be missed!

And next, here are my favorite films of the year:

7. "Good Time", directed by Benny and Josh Safdie.  The darkest and strangest film of the year.  Robert Pattinson stars as a totally corrupt grifter who attempts to save his mentally deficient brother.  And he barely escapes one disaster after another using his lying charms.  A crazy move that was barely seen. 

6. "I, Tonya", directed by Craig Gillespie, starring Margot Robbie.  My sister was one of Tonya Harding's teachers in West Linn, Oregon, and she said that the portrayal of her mother in the film is not really a caricature - it's true!  I loved this film!  And even though it's a true story, it's still the funniest film of the year.  Every character is true-to-life and hilarious. 

5. "Get Out", directed by Jordan Peele.  It's a true horror film, with a racial twist.  I'm not usually a big fan of the scary film genre, but this one is so well done and truly frightening, I'm putting it on my list.

4. "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets", directed by Luc Besson.  A truly visionary film.  His visuals are wonderfully mind-blowing.  A while back I did a blog post about stoner films, and this one should be at the top of that list.  The only problems is that it ends on a whole bunch of talking, which ruins the momentum.  Too bad, because I loved the movie.

3. "Coco", directed by Lee Unkrich.  I've written about this Pixar movie before in an earlier post, nevertheless, it's still an amazing and emotional film. 

2. "The Shape of Water", directed by Guillermo del Toro.  It's got everything I love in a film - 1950's alien paranoia, surreal monsters and an alien/young girl romance.  One of my favorite films from one of my favorite directors.

1. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri", directed by Martin McDonagh.  Both Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell should win Oscars for this movie.  A very powerful story told with wit and very dark humor.  You've got to go see it, my favorite film of the year.

And here's the film that I think is the most overrated film of the year - "Call Me By Your Name".  All the reviews say how beautiful it is and what a terrific love story it has - but I've seen a lot of films that were more visual, I thought the acting was mediocre and the music sucked.  They must have spent a lot of money on promotion, because to me, the film's a big loser.

--Bill P.

Friday, February 9, 2018

"Have a Nice Day"

I heard about this new animated film from China from two of my closest friends, it's called "Have a Nice Day'.  They both loved it and said it was done by an indie filmmaker from China.  I didn't even know that China HAD indie filmmakers - and with me being the "King of Indie Animation", I thought I should go check it out.

Fortunately, the film was still playing at a cinema very close to me, the Angelika Film Center down on Houston St., which has really good popcorn.  I raced down there and really enjoyed myself.  The film's backgrounds are very realistic and grainy, the characters are done in a very limited rotoscope technique, which basically means that the director, Jian Liu, took still photos of the actors and then animated small parts of their bodies, like their lips or arm or whatever.  So, it's almost like a slide show.

The story is very noir-like and violent - which is why the film was pulled out of the Annecy Animation Festival, because it showed the darker, sleazy side of China, and politicians felt it would be bad P.R. for their country.  However, the film premiered at the prestigious Berlinale, and now it's getting good distribution in the U.S.

I have a few complaints about the film - it was hard to follow the story because the timeline is all chopped up.  And also it was difficult to keep the different characters straight, who they were and how they get involved in the drama.

But listen, I'm a big supporter of adult indie animation, and I believe it's going to be the next big thing.  Plus it seemed like this guy did a lot of the film by himself, like I do, so I'll wish a great success for this film.  I give it a B-.

Also I want to remind everyone about THREE big events coming up:

1) On February 27, my new animated feature film "Revengeance", co-directed with Jim Lujan, will be screening at the famous Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they fashion food to match each film.  I wonder what they'll cook up for "Revengeance" ?

2) Then on Sunday night, March 18, you'll get to see my brand-new epic couch gag for "The Simpsons", which came in at two minutes long, I think that's a record for couch gags.  This is the SIXTH couch gag that I've been able to animate for this amazing cartoon on FOX, and if you're any kind of Bill Plympton fan, you WON'T want to miss this one!

3) Finally, on Wednesday, March 28 at 7 pm I'll be appearing at the SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St. in Manhattan, with great singer-songwriter Jacke Greene for the world premiere of our 30-minute long music video compilation "The Modern Lives".  Jackie will be there to perform two songs LIVE and we'll talk about the process of making music videos.  I'll also be showing four of my previous music videos for Madonna, Kanye West, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Parson Brown.  (Sorry, Kanye and Madonna are not scheduled to appear...)

The best thing, it's a FREE show and everyone who attends will get a FREE sketch from me!  So please tell all your friends and I hope to see you there!

--Bill Plympton

For more details:

"Revengeance" at Nitehawk Cinema:

"Jackie Greene's Music Video Extravaganza" at SVA Theatre:

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Big Show !!!

Boy, have I got hot news for you!  As you may know, for the last 8 months, I've been working night and day on an epic set of music videos for blues rock phenom Jackie Greene.  Well, it's finally finished and we've scheduled a world premiere at the great SVA Theater on 23rd St. & 8th Ave. in Manhattan. 

But even cooler than that, I'm going to make it a music video extravaganza. 

As most of you probably are aware, I got my start doing animated music videos and interstitials (aka station ID's) for MTV back in the early years.  So, I've decided to show some of my early music videos as a warm-up for the world premiere of Jackie Greene's "Modern Lives". 

I'll be showing my work on Madonna's "Who's That Girl?" Also a very strange video for Parson Brown, called "Mexican Standoff", and of course, a video for "Weird Al" Yankovic called "TMZ".  Then there's my classic Kanye West video, "Heard 'em Say".  I'll be talking about my experiences working for MTV and making these music videos - how I got the jobs and how they work. 

Then I'll introduce the great Jackie Greene and we'll talk about working together on this epic featurette, "Modern Lives".  All this before the world premiere of this fantastic film - and to top it all off, we'll have the pleasure of hearing Jackie perform one of his songs LIVE and in person.

OK, if that's not enough to explode your head, how about this - it's all FREE!!!

Yes, thanks to the nice people at the School of Visual Arts, like Adam Natale and Reeves Lehman, we're able to put on this fantastic show without charging admission.  So please, tell all your friends, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  March 28, 7 pm at the SVA Theater, 333 West 23rd St., NYC.

You'll soon be hearing these awesome songs all over the net and on the Grammys, but here's your chance to hear (and see) them first!  See you there!

Bill P.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Live-action Films

Early in my career, back in the early 1990's, after I had a modest success with my first animated feature film "The Tune", I was feeling like I could do anything.  My ambitions were flying high (and my animating hand was tired) so I decided to make a live-action feature film.  After all, hadn't Frank Tashlin, the great Warner Brothers writer, successfully moved from animation into directing some of the funniest Jerry Lewis films, like "The Geisha Boy" and "The Disorderly Orderly"?  Didn't Tim Burton move from being a Disney animator to a very successful live-action director?  Also, didn't David Lynch start out as an animator?  Well, if they could do it, why couldn't I?  Also, this was around the time of low-budget DIY films like "Clerks" and "El Mariachi".

I had what I thought was a great idea for a live-action film, and proceeded to create a feature film named "J. Lyle", it was a moral fable about a lawyer who owned a building and was trying to evict all of the tenants so he could make more money by turning the property into a toxic waste dump.  Only he fell in love with the attractive last tenant, while a magical talking dog tried to show him the error of his ways by "zapping" his soul into the bodies of the people he was mistreating.  Despite an incident during the shoot where I got attacked by a naked transvestite in the street, I finished the film and took it on the festival circuit with very little success.  However, it's still one of my favorite films, it's very weird.  (There is SOME animation in it, a little stop-motion and a dog with a "cartoon mouth"...)

I was not to be denied, and my next idea was a surefire, can't miss winner - it was a mockumentary about the making of a fictional Western film, sort of a cross between "Blazing Saddles" and "This Is Spinal Tap".  It was shot mostly on my folks' place on the Clackamas River in Oregon, which saved a lot of money, and it was called "Guns on the Clackamas".  This film did a little better, I actually made some money on it, but, alas, not enough to pay off my investment in it.  You'd probably love it, it's a crazy film, part of the inspiration came from a film titled "Saratoga" that had to be completed after one of its stars, Jean Harlow, died.  So they hired a stand-in and shot her only from the back or with her face covered.  (see also: Ed Wood finishing "Plan Nine From Outer Space" with a stand-in after Bela Lugosi died)

At this point, my savings were starting to run low, so I decided to make one last stab at a live-action feature film.  I had a buddy from Oregon, Walt Curtis, who was a crazy, brilliant poet.  I thought it would be funny to follow him around Portland with a camera and make a documentary about his memories, feelings and poems.  I know it might sound incredibly boring, but it's not - Walt has a sense of humor very similar to mine, which is surreal, provocative, and outrageous.  This 70-minute film is called "Walt Curtis, Peckerneck Poet".  And this film actually showed a profit, because after Walt became known as the writer of "Mala Noche", which became Gus Van Sant's first film, then a DVD company bought the rights to my documentary to include it on a special DVD release of that film. 

Walt Curtis reading poetry in front of a painted flag, in the summer of 1995
You may ask why I'm talking about all of my old live-action films.  Well, the situation is that moved my studio to a smaller space last year, and I'm finding that I have boxes of DVDs that I'd love to sell to make more room for new items.  Plus I'm finally going through all of my master tapes after the move and getting these films out on DVD has been on my to-do list for quite some time.  So it's great news for any of my fans that want to complete their set of Bill Plympton films! 

I've decided that once we get copies of "J. Lyle" and "Walt Curtis, Peckerneck Poet" available on DVD, I'm going to sell all of my live-action films at a tremendous discount, just $5 each!!  Can you believe it?  Four Bill Plympton features for only $5 each? 

Here are all the films that will be available from my web-site store for 5 bucks:
"J. Lyle" (1994) - coming soon
"Guns on the Clackamas" (1995) - available now
"Walt Curtis, Peckerneck Poet" (1997) - coming soon
"The Flying House" (2011) - available now

That last one is a documentary I made about the world's greatest animator, Winsor McCay, in which I also update his famous silent animated short "The Flying House" with spoken dialogue, music and color. 

So for all you "completists", here's your chance to get every feature film from the King of Indie Animation, even the ones made in live-action.  Tell your friends, it's an amazing offer.  Check my web-site next week for the "new" items and the updated prices.



Friday, January 5, 2018

Jackie Greene update

I believe you've all heard that I'm working on an epic set of music videos for the acclaimed singer/songwriter Jackie Greene.  Well, it's turning into an awesome project - it's become what we call in the business a "featurette", which is a longer short film - this one may have a running time of about 30 minutes.

There are six different songs & videos, each around four minutes long, with a 3-minute wrap-around animated documentary about Jackie and his bus tour around America.  Each of the individual music videos was animated in a different style, with different techniques, designs and color sets - in fact, one of the shorts is being created and animated by one of my artists, Alena Krizenecky, and it's gorgeous. 

I designed these different styles because I was afraid that using just one style would become too boring, plus I wanted each style to reflect each different style of music. 

It looks like this massive project will be finished in February, and we're now planning a world premiere screening here in NYC.  I'm hoping it will be a music-video extravaganza.  I want to also show some of my favorite music video's that I've created: Madonna's "Who's That Girl", Weird Al Yankovic's "TMZ", Parson Brown's "Mexican Standoff" and Kanye West's "Heard 'em Say".  Then I'll bring out the man himself, Jackie Greene, to play one of his songs.  And finally we'll show the music featurette called "Modern Lives".  Then to top it all off, Jackie and I will talk about various topics - music, art, working together, whatever the audience wants us to discuss.  It should be a glorious, glorious evening. 

People say music videos are a dying art form because MTV stopped showing them.  But I believe that music plus animation is one of the greatest art forms we have.  Just look at "Yellow Submarine". 

I'll be making an announcement in a few days about the time and place for this monumental event.  Meanwhile, here are some images from the upcoming Jackie Greene "Modern Lives" project - I hope you like them! 

Bill P.