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


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.