Friday, December 6, 2019

New film round-up

As an Academy member, each day I get a shipment or two of DVDs containing Oscar-eligible hopeful films.  Some are well-known films that I missed in the cinema and others are obscure docs, foreign films or even more obscure art films.  But I endeavor to see everything - which is an impossible task since I'm still trying to create two feature films of my own, and I have very little spare time.  So I'll avoid talking about the "duds" and only review my favorites here.


"Yesterday" is a curious film that was released over the summer, it's about a failed musician who discovers that nobody remembers the Beatles or their music except for him.  And as he begins to perform their music, he becomes a giant genius of rock.  It was written by the great screenwriter Richard Curtis of "Love, Actually" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" fame.  It was directed by Danny Boyle, who made "Slumdog Millionaire" - somehow these two worked miracles with the storytelling, humor and great Beatles music.  I love this film.  It's a delight and already on my top ten for this year.


The other film that's way up there is "Booksmart", directed by Olivia Wilde.  The film came out earlier in the year and I think the problem was that the title really turned me off. It seemed like it would be an intellectual teen drama, so I never watched it when it was in theaters.  But I got the Academy screener DVD, and the minute this film began, I was laughing out loud, and that continuted throughout the entire film.  And that doesn't happen often, it must be very hard to do.  The humor was raw, in-your-face and outrageous, which makes sense with associate producers like Adam McCay and Will Ferrell.  Definitely check out "Booksmart" - Olivia Wilde is going to be a superstar director.


And finally, I just screened "I Lost My Body", directed by Jéremy Clapin, which won the Audience Award at the Annecy Festival and the Grand Prize at the Cannes Critics' Week.  It's a very clever story of a dismembered hand who is searching for his original body.  It's kind of a love story - there are some wonderful moments in the film and you can see why it won all those awards.  It's made for film festivals!

But for me, it's too serious and arty.  The style is 2-D rotoscope - it looks nice but I prefer more stylization and caricature in my films, and also definitely more humor.


The other event I want to talk about is my recent trip to Spain for the Bilbao International School Zinema Festival.  They screened "Revengeance" and I held two Master Classes there - they didn't draw huge audiences but I got very enthusiastic receptions.

I was able to go to the fancy Guggenheim Museum, the one designed by Frank Gehry - it's a beautiful building in a beautiful city, but the shows were so boring!  One entire floor of boring photo portraits.  Then on the bottom floor was a large room of Richard Sera's large rusty metal slabs - I see the same thing every day at NYC construction sites - why do I need to go to Bilbao to see that?


I'll be reviewing more animated features here in the future - there are still a lot more eligible films from 2018 that I need to see!  Now, please enjoy this week's gag cartoon!

--Bill


Monday, November 25, 2019

Recent Films


For me, one of the most anticipated new animated films is "Klaus" by Sergio Pablos.  (If you recall, I hung out with Sergio about a month ago in Vancouver at the Sparks Animation Festival - photo reposted here as a reminder.)  I've been seeing clips of this film for a while and I was knocked out by the beautiful 2-D animation - so I was excited to see this fantasy about the birth of the Santa Claus legend (perfect timing for Christmas, right?)

with Sergio Pablos in Vancouver at the Spark Animation Festival.
And sure enough, the animation throughout the film is extraordinary - the design, the movements, the personalities are all perfection.  Also, the story is very cool - little bits about where all the elements and details of the beginnings of the holiday story came from.  Plus there's a wonderful plot about a ne'er-do-well rich kid who finds meaning in life.

The only tiny problem I had - actually, there were two problems - I felt the script was a little second-rate, full of dialogue clichés and expressions that lacked wit and flair, and that extended to the voices.  There was no real personality in the voices, they were flat and unmemorable.  Yet, I still think "Klaus" ranks up there with "The Polar Express" as one of the great holiday films.  I rate it an "A-".


The other film I watched (a little late, though) was "Joker".  I'd heard all the gossip and reviews about what an outstanding film this was, and I must say I totally agree.  Even though I'm not a fan of overly gorey films, I have to say that "Joker" is a masterpiece!  Probably one of the best films I've seen in the last few years - the script is a knock-out, the camera work is visionary, the direction is experimentally wondrous and Joaquin Phoenix's acting is truly mesmerizing.  One of the most powerful images is when the lead character takes off his shirt and you can see his twisted and deformed back...I'm sure it's not CG because I remember in the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line" you could tell that Joaquin's back was a little strange.  But for his role in "Joker" it seemed so appropriate to reveal the Joker's deformed body in order to reveal his anger against the world.  Because of his searing acting and bodily revelations, in my humble opinion, he's now the front runner for the Oscar.

with Todd Phillips after the "Joker" screening
After the screening I attended, Michael Moore was interviewing the director, Todd Phillips (of "The Hangover" fame).  It was a fascinating talk about how the Joker reflects the political state of our country right now. After the Q&A we all got to hang out with Todd and Michael - and Todd revealed the fact that this film with a "tiny" budget of $60 million has now grossed over a billion.  Surely one of the most profitable films since "Deep Throat".

with Michael Moore after the "Joker" screening
I'm off this week to Bilbao, Spain, for another master class and screening - I'll tell you all about it next time - but have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

--Bill P.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Casablanca

I've visited Morocco a number of times - in 2007 and again in 2013 I appeared at an animation festival in Meknes, and while there I was able to visit the historic city of Fez.  Since I've had a lovely time on my travels there, when I was recently invited to Casablanca to present a Master Class, I immediately said yes.

The event was held in a cultural organization called Uzine, where they have concerts gallery shows and films. My class had a nice crowd, not large but incredibly enthusiastic, they wouldn't stop applauding.

The Uzine had an interesting gift shop, where one could purchase graphic novels and art books by young Moroccan artists.  So I could see there's a lot of young creative cartoonists there, just looking for a way to make it in the creative world, and I encouraged them to try animation.

While there, I was able to do some sightseeing.  First I wanted to visit the historic Rick's Café, mentioned in the film "Casablanca".  To be honest, it's not the original café from the film, that was a set in Hollywood.  But someone put together a recreation of the famous fictional watering hole for tourists and fans of the film.  Unfortunately, we arrived at 3 pm and it was closed.  Too bad.

Is this where Humphrey Bogart served drinks? 
Then I went to the Atlantic Ocean - took a dip but the waves were too wild to go swimming at any depth.  Then our next stop was the giant mosque - a beautiful religious temple on the edge of the ocean.  We couldn't enter because we weren't of the Muslim faith - but what a lovely sight!


And finally we toured the famous Casbah, where I got to walk through the market and purchase some delicious pistachio sweets and oranges.  And I got my photo taken with a camel!


I'm including my latest gag cartoon - I hope you like it.  Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

--Bill P.



Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Home From France + Frozen II

I was invited to go to Lille, France, to take part in an event called "video mapping".  Now, I'd never heard of this term before, however, getting invited to a beautiful French town for an artist's residency to create a "video mapping" sounded good to me.  Upon my arrival, they took me to an old opera building from the 19th century - the plan was for me to check out the building, take photos and then they told me my art would be projected on the front of the building.  Oh, that sounds interesting!

(I do remember a few years ago, I watched films of endangered animals being projected on the Empire State Building to the amazement of Manhattanites - Oh, that's called video mapping!)

The next day, all the invited artists gathered at an artists' studio that had been converted from an old coal mine.  Included in this batch of international artists was Frank Dion, who is one of the greatest illustrators and animators around.  Then there was the great Marc Caro, director of "The City of Lost Children" and the wonderful "Delicatessen".

Working in a (former) coal mine!
It was interesting because all of the other artists were digital creators, working on their laptops.  So there I was, using pencil and paper, storyboards and a lightbox.  All the other artists would gather around me to check out the retro style of my animation.  But even with my old-school ways, I was able to finish my job in the prescribed week, while everyone else was just getting started.

with some of the artists-in-residency
At the closing night party, I was able to sit down with Marc Caro, and he told me a cool story about making and marketing "Delicatessen".  After a successful screening, Marc and Jean-Pierre Jeunet were approached by Harvey Weinstein, who badly wanted to distribute the film - except he stated that he had a list of just a few edits that he would demand.  Marc said that Harvey wanted to cut all of the directors' favorite shots, then Marc told Harvey that if he did that, he could add another shot to the edit list, and that was their names in the credits....

with Marc Caro
All of the video-mapping films will be premiered the night of April 3 in Lille.  So if you're in Lille on that date next year, definitely check it out.  It should be a fun night.

Last night I was invited to watch an early screening of "Frozen II".  Now, quite frankly, I didn't get the great appeal of "Frozen", probably because I'm not a 6-year-old girl.  But I thought that I should check out the sequel and maybe by now it will make more sense.... NOPE!! I still don't get it!


Although there were some beautiful scenes - especially the close-ups - I felt that the story was weak, the characters were clueless and the songs were the same Broadway show-tune crap.  I have two more problems - one, these two films are creating an entire generation of wanna-be princesses.  God help the guys who have to date these brainwashed girls when they hit 16.  Number two, their eyes are so big that I wondered if their eyes were the usual spherical shape.  How do those eyes fit in their little girl skulls?  I mean, what keeps them from popping out?  If you have an answer, please let me know.

Anyway, I give the film a "C".

--Bill P.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Lots of films and Spark Animation 2019 in Vancouver

Well, it's Oscar season again and I'm getting a lot of new Oscar-qualified films to see.  Some good, some bad, but way too many for me to watch.  So here are some quickie reviews of the ones I've managed to see.

Last week I rushed out to see "Parasite", Bong Joon Ho's new film, because everyone's been talking about it (that's the best kind of advertising there is...).  First of all, I'm a big fan of his earlier stuff, like "Okja" (which I loved), "Snowpiercer" and "The Host".  "The Parasite is about a scheming poverty-stricken family that gloms on to a wealthy Korean family.  And like a parasite, they bring a whole lot of damage to their host family.  It's quite twisted and graphic, but it could have used more humor - plus it's way too long.


Another film I liked was "Ford v Ferrari", directed by James Mangold.  I really wanted to see this film because in college I became really interested in sports cars (I wanted to buy an Alfa Romeo) and racing.  Then the Caroll Shelby AC Cobra came out and I was in love.  Even though I never rode in one, it became my obsession - and this film's story comes from exactly that era.  So I guess I liked it for nostalgia reasons, but it's also a really well-made film - great drama, characters, humor and racing!  I totally recommend "Ford v Ferrari".


Then last week, I took a 4-day visit to Vancouver, BC, Canada for the up and coming Spark Animation Festival.  I visited Vancouver 20 years ago to visit my animation heroes, Danny Antonucci (of "Lupo the Butcher" fame) and Marv Newland ("Bambi Meets Godzilla") - so it was wonderful to reunite with them and also Oscar winners David Fine and Alison Snowden.  We also competed for the Oscar way back in 1987 - but another Canuck won, Frederic Back for "The Man Who Planted Trees".
With Sylvia and Danny Antonucci
with David Fine and Alison Snowden
After the screening of the "Animation Outlaws" documentary
But the real buzz of the festival was for Sergio Pablos of Disney fame.  He was showing clips of his soon-to-be-released Christmas comedy "Klaus".  And the clips were friggin' amazing.  What talent!! And his storytelling was superb.  I haven't seen the whole film yet by it's definitely #1 on my watch-list.

with Sergio Pablos, director of "Klaus"
I also got to hang out with the great Bonnie Arnold, producer of "Toy Story" and the "How to Train Your Dragon" series, plus I had a long chat with Glen Keane, animator extraordinaire and Oscar-winner for "Dear Basketball", on the need for better draftsmanship and life-drawing among today's young animators.

And finally, on the last day, I watched Robert Valley talk about his short film for "Love, Death & Robots" called "Zima Blue".  Speaking of draftsmanship - his drawings of women blow every other artist out of the water.  Whew!  What a talent!

with Robert Valley

Fortunately,  I also had a few hours to walk around Vancouver and explore the beautiful city - what a joy!  Keep an eye on the Spark Animation Festival.  It's got everything, great artists, great films, great audiences, plus it's in a great city and it has a super director, Keith Blackmore.


See ya,

Bill P.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Updates - October 2019

After a relatively easy summer, fall is the time to start kicking some ass.  I've booked a lot of appearances around the world to both make some money and also spread the word about my animation.

First, I'm going to the SPARK Animation Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia, October 24-28, where I hope to "spark" a lot of young folks into getting excited about indie animation.

Then I'm off to Lille, France, November 2-10, where I'm involved in doing some animation on a famous building, it's called "video mapping".  I've been to Lille before, it's a lovely town full of great animation fans, so I'm really looking forward to that trip.

November 14-17, I'll be in Casablanca to do a show of my film "Cheatin'" at L'Uzine and give a master class about indie animation - considering that Morocco is a Muslim country, I hope I don't get kicked out.  If you want to hang out with me, I'll be at "Rick's Cafe Americain" with Humphrey and Lauren...

On November 25, I'll arrive in Bilbao, Spain for a few days, again, lecturing and demonstrating animation at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao.  I'll conduct a Master Class for teenagers on November 27 and then a screening and presentation for the general public on November 28.

I love traveling and talking about animation, but sometimes it gets to be too much.  For one thing, I have a wonderful wife and son that I love to be with, but they can't come along with me on every trip.  Plus I have FOUR big projects that I need to deliver on, so I have to be very wise with my time, and I have to juggle my animation schedule around all of these trips.

The biggest project I'm working on is "Slide", my long-developing animated musical/Western feature.  So far, I'm about 1/4 of the way through the animation, and it's looking terrific.

Then, you may have also heard me mention that I'm working on an animated version of the life story of the great and wonderful Whoopi Goldberg.  Right now, we're only at the pencil-test stage, but so far, it's been a really fun project.

Another project in the works is a very ambitious short that I'm making for a giant Chinese game company.  I can't say much about it because I haven't been giving the go-ahead yet, but I just delivered a storyboard that I'm very excited about.  I'll update you on this when I can.

And, finally, early next year I'll start working on an animated 1950's rock-and-roll sci-fi feature that has tremendous potential.

Actually, I can't believe I have time for all these events and projects - how the hell do I even have time to write this blog?  I must be crazy.  I think it's because I'm so devoted to you folks, my dear readers.  I hope you don't let me down.

Also, I have a new gag cartoon to show you - what do you think?

--Bill P.



Monday, October 7, 2019

Report from New York Comic Con 2019

So I survived the crowds at the New York Comic Con and I'm here to report on the goings-on there.  Because we moved down to Artist Alley, we found that our business had DOUBLED (over 2017's sales from a booth on the main show floor) mostly because of the quality of people who visit Artist Alley, they come there looking for great artists, and to buy from them, not just browse.  And that's what interests me - showing those people my new projects and spreading the word, in addition to just selling books and DVDs.

We had two new items, a "Twisted" sketchbook with designs from my upcoming film "Slide" - that was very popular - and a cool print from my Simpsons couch gag called "Homer's Face".

We had a wonderful group of visitors, like Larry Hama (G.I. Joe), Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Comics), Wendy and Richard Pini (Elfquest), Paul Rachman (Slamdance Festival), Bill Sienkiewicz (New Mutants), Matthew Modine (Revengeance, Full Metal Jacket, Private School, etc.) and of course, Bob Camp, who luckily was sitting at the next table, so I got to chat with him all day long and hear a lot of crazy John K. stories.

It was such a big success that I'm already planning to return to Artist Alley next year!  NY Comic Con and the MoCCA Fest (in April) are now my two favorite comic events.  I hope to see you all at next year's show!

Here are the best photos from fans and celebs who visited my booth, plus a few of the costumed people that my office manager, John H., took photos of.  Enjoy!

--Bill P.





with fans from Madrid, Spain who bought a lot of art!






with Ann Nocenti
with my Friday booth crew, Adam Rackoff and John Holderried

with Matthew Modine, after his "Stranger Things" signing in the Topps booth
with Mike Richardson of Dark Horse Comics
with Bill Sienkiewicz of "New Mutants" fame
with Peter DeSeve
with Wendy and Richard Pini, creators of Elfquest
with Bob Camp and a couple of fans, Emily and Anthony