‘Cars 2’: Just git r done, please

Of all the things the missing from the first “Cars,” — and the were many — more screen time for Larry The Cable Guy was not one of them.

Yet, in “Cars 2,” he takes center stage for the majority of the film’s run time. Sure, he’s represented by a rusty tow truck on the screen, but it’s pure The Cable Guy, with stupidity emblazoned on him like a Trans-Am hood bird, making this marginal Pixar entry as fun as a rainy-day weekend trip along Route 1 in the summertime. (This last one is a local beach reference for those reading this outside my publishing area).

It pains me to speak ill of Pixar, a studio that has consistently provided me (and my family) with hours of indelible cinematic memories year after year. The original “Cars” is the only film from their library that is not in regular rotation in our DVD player (even the animated shorts compilation gets more love). Continue reading

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‘Panda’: All gut, and glory

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Despite a darker tone, Po’s fists of furry fury are just as engaging in “Kung Fu Panda 2,” a solid product from DreamWorks Animation, which has been milking its cash cow… or ogre, rather, churning out increasingly inferior “Shrek” sequels.

DreamWorks nailed it last year with one of the year’s best animated films, “How to Teain Your Dragon.” But in the sequel department, its subsequent “Shrek” and “Madagascar” films dropped precipitously in quality. Continue reading

I’ve got another Woody; is that wrong?

Damn you, Pixar!

How am I supposed to uphold my tough-guy image when you reduce me to such a mess with virtually every release.

Field of Dreams‘ used to be the benchmark in getting choked up for a film, then came Toy Story in 1995. After that, an endless parade of heart-in-the pictures followed that have literally left me with pumpkin-sized protrusions in the throat.

‘Toy Story 3’ is just the latest example of their ability to wring emotions in essentially every frame. Continue reading

‘TRON’ with Cindy Morgan

Title:
TRON (1982)
Rated:PG
Written by:
Steve Lisberger and
Bonnie MacBird
Directed by:
Steve Lisberger Starring:
Jeff Bridges as Flynn/Clu
Bruce Boxleitner as Alan/Tron
Cindy Morgan as Lora/Yori
David Warner as Dillinger/Sark
Barnard Hughes as Gibbs/Dumont

 

 

By Count Vardulon

Pre-screening memories: It’s hard to tell a story about a play, like it’s hard to perform a play about a book, like it’s hard to write a book about a movie, like it’s hard to make a movie about a video game. I was too young to understand the subtleties of that idea as a child, but I think I grasped the general concept. An avid fan of video games, I would watch or read anything even vaguely video-game related, and even then I found myself underwhelmed by what Hollywood had to say on the subject. By their very nature video games demand to be played, rather than watched, and movies that featured them could never seem to conceive of a way to engage their audience as viscerally as handing them a controller could.

And then there was Tron. While I may have missed the film in theatres, I was absolutely aware of Tron, and enthralled by what little I knew of it. The film’s creators hit on two important ideas. The first was to look deeper than just the surface of the games – to instead ask just what a videogame was, giving people an imaginary look inside a world that they didn’t understand. The second idea, which is both more mundane and eye-catching, was to make sure that the games themselves look far better than anything available when the movie was made. Watching people play video games that I have access to? Dull as dirt. Watching people play videogames so far advanced that I can’t imagine them – now that’s a compelling experience for a 5-year-old.

Which is most of why I watched that movie 50 times once I managed to tape it off television. It was such a ubiquitous presence in my viewing schedule that there wasn’t a moment of the film that I couldn’t recall immediately, or re-enact if necessary. Which I often found it to be, if I’m being perfectly honest. So when I went to watch it for this podcast I assumed that my ability to quote the film verbatim would mean there would be no surprises when I went back to it. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I hadn’t seen something in the neighborhood of half of it.

I’m speaking, of course, about seeing the film widescreen for the first time. Growing up with standard televisions and before the takeover of letterboxing, it was only when I sat down to watch my new DVD that I realized that for my entire childhood I’d been watching just a fraction of the film I loved. The story was exactly as I’d remembered it, a classic adventure in the “Connecticut Yankee” mold, but the visuals blew me away to a degree that I’d never expected.

I’d always known that the movie was visually arresting, but seeing it widescreen was an entirely new experience. Only now do I really understand just how brilliantly composed every frame of Tron was. And beyond the improved look of the film, I was missing jokes by watching it pan-and-scan – a hidden Pac-Man, one of the first references to cubicle farms in fiction, and the true size of that door.

Maybe it’s a little strange, but the only new feeling I took away from this most recent viewing of Tron is that I didn’t get a chance to see it on the big screen when I had the chance. Now I just hope that the upcoming release of Tron: Legacy will give me another one.

Download Natsukashi’s ‘Tron’ podcast here

or interact with our on site audio circuitry device

Our featured guest: Cindy Morgan 

Cindy makes her return visit to our podcast, this time to discuss her other iconic role, that as Yori, the shapliest computer program of its time.

With Tron: Legacy in the works, there is a movement afoot to get her into the picture, and you can do your part by signing the Facebook petition here. In this edition, Cindy shares with us the experience of working with some of the screen’s earliest CGI, the video games they played on the set, the film’s fervent following, and her own inner nerd.

We also hear of a few hidden elements in the film that only the keenest eye would observe.

We are grateful to Cindy for hopping on her time-traveling Light cycle and remembering her time spent behind the scenes of Tron.

‘The Dark Crystal’ with puppeteer Dave Barclay

darkcrystalposter

Film: The Dark Crystal (1982)
Directed by: Frank Oz and Jim Henson
Written by: Jim Henson (story) and David Odell (screenplay)
Puppeteers: Jim Henson as Jen
                          Kathryn Mullen as Kira
                          Frank Oz as Aughra and Chamberlain
                          Dave Goelz as Fizzgig

By: Bo from Last Blog on the Left

gelflingsFormer memories: One of the benefits of being involved with Natsukashi is the rediscovery of a film that lingered in memory as a child very distinctly, but becomes something else entirely when seen through the eyes of an adult.  The Dark Crystalwas such an experience, a movie that was best recalled as a source of fear when I was a child (those creepy Skeksis still give me the wiggins). 

skeksisAs a young boy, I was terrified of the beaked Skeksis, the Garthim, creatures existing somewhere on the evolutionary ladder between a beetle and a crab, and the horrible fates of the Podlings as their life essence is drained for the use of the warped Skeksis civilization.  These are the perceptions of a child, one who has grown accustomed to fears, now, but was rattled by these images when first exposed to them. 

aughraNew memories: As a grown-up, what I found upon a return to the world of The Dark Crystal was something I not only didn’t remember clearly, but was amazed by: the beauty of this film.  In a world dominated by CG imagery, The Dark Crystal is a deep and satisfyingly real movie experience, and I was reminded of how a movie could create such an authentic experience while wrapping itself in imagery that is decidedly authentic while remaining imaginative and unique. 

Within the film, there are hints of Eastern philosophy, mythology that is worthy of dissection by the Joseph Campbell crowd and a hero that is as naive as he is brave.  Speaking with one of the creators of this film has been one of several highlights of recent years, and getting a glimpse of David Barclay’s work not only gave me an appreciation for the film’s tricks, it made it all the more magical for the twinkle in the artist’s eye that can still be heard clearly.

Download Natsukashi’s ‘Dark Crystal’ podcast

or transport yourself below to our on-site player

Our featured guest: Puppeteer Dave Barclay

davedarkcrystalDave has had the kind of career that most sci-fi/fantasy geeks dream would sever an appendage for. Learning a craft of on-screen puppetry under the caring eye of  Jim Henson, starting your career by bringing Yoda to life. Working with Roger Rabbit, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, as well as the much-anticipated Spike Jonze adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, Dave’s work reads like a laundry list of movie lovers’ desert island features.

dave yodaDave is living the dream, quite literally, as it was his desire as a young child to pull the strings as a puppeteer. The Dark Crystal was one of his earliest gigs (after assisting in a couple of small films called The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and, as the first Brit to do so, he perfected his craft in the house that Muppets built, the Jim Henson Company.

Today, he continues to stretch the limits of his craft, working with both the digital technology as well as the time-honored art he grew up with.

We were quite honored to have Dave join us and we know that a lot of Natsukashi listeners will enjoy his recollections of time spent on such influential films.

‘The Last Unicorn’

The Last Unicorn (1982)
Rated: G
Written by Peter S. Beagle
Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass
Starring: Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Angela Lansbury, Jeff Bridges, Tammy Grimes, Robert Klien
Tagline: There’s Magic in Believing!

By: Shelley Stillo

I was never really a unicorn kind of girl when I was a kid. I was more into Star Wars and doing unspeakable things to my small collection of Barbie dolls. But I must’ve seen the movie The Last Unicorn several hundred times before I was a teenager, starting at five or six years old. Part of this repeat viewing habit came from the fact that my parents, like many others, took full advantage of the VHS as babysitter trend that emerged with the advent affordable home viewing equipment. But it was more than circumstance that drew me to this movie.

The Last Unicorn was one of a handful of animated movies, like The Secret of NIMH, The Hobbit, and Dot and the Bunny, distributed when I was a child that was not released by a major studio. These films provided an alternative to the princesses and talking animals that were the provenance of Disney, but also to the pandering animated dreck, like An American Tail and Land Before Time, that came from the Speilbergian horror, Amblin Entertainment. The material in these non-studio animations tended to be different in terms of content—much of what I remember from The Last Unicorn and similar films seemed designed more for the Dungeons and Dragons crowd than the Mickey Mouse crowd—but also in tone. Something about these films felt less safe, and, to my mind now, more adult than the animation that was more readily available. Need I remind anyone of the childhood trauma that was Watership Down? With the Natsukashi crowd, I think not.

Even though I saw The Last Unicorn more times than I can count as a child, my memory of it has become very clouded since my last viewing, which has to have been at least 15-20 years ago. What has stuck with me from the film has stuck with me quite vividly, though. What I remember:

  • an intense scene about a harpy. I’m not entirely sure what happened in this scene, but I remember it being scary, and I remember that as a child I found it something like profound.
  • I remember something about a clock and another scary image, the Red Bull. When I think of these images, I feel like the film had a fairly complicated mythology for an animated endeavor.
  • I can’t forget, can’t imagine anyone who has ever encountered this film at any time for any length of time could forget, the soundtrack, which featured America. The theme song is particularly striking. It’s the kind of song that will be stuck in your head for hours at the mere mention of the film’s title. At the time, I found it emotionally engaging, though thinking about it now, it starts to smell a bit of cheese. “I’m aliiiiiivvveeee”

New memories: Though the story is simpler than I remember, the incomparable vocal (it seems that all roads in my life lead to Christopher Lee!) and animation talents ensure that The Last Unicorn ages much more gracefully than a 1982 cartoon scored by America should. Though I found Mia Farrow’s voice grating, the acting is so good that I even teared up a little during the emotional scene where an aging Molly Grue lashes out at the unicorn for visiting her now, rather than “twenty years ago? Ten years ago? …when I was new?” And Angela Lansbury ensures that the harpy scene is just as scary now as it was when I was the young girl Molly Grue longs to be.

The animation may be even more beautiful in this day and age, when computer generated graphics ensure that most animated experiences are big, loud, and in your face, than it was at the time. The animation here is subtle, full of cool blues and frightening reds, seemingly inspired alternately by Maxfield Parrish and medieval unicorn tapestries. At times, the film effectively and charmingly recalls these tapestries intentionally, and these are some of the film’s most beautiful sequences. It is no surprise to learn that Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, the producers of the film, often worked with the animation firm Topcraft on their pictures, the firm that help launch Hayao Miyazaki’s career.

The biggest surprise is America’s soundtrack.  “The Last Unicorn” and “Walking Man’s Road” somehow manage to fight off growing any of the musical moldand remain emotionally resonant. They also help the soundtrack stand out as fairly original, as they work more as rock themes than the Broadway-esque musical numbers you find in the Disney and Amblin counterparts. Beware, though, they’re just as mind-numbingly addictive as they were when you were a kid. You’ll be breaking out the hairbrush microphone and the power-ballad facial expressions as you belt out “I’m allliiiiiiiiveeee” for your stuffed animal collection.

Will Shelley still believe in unicorns? Check out the podcast below or download it here.

‘Fire and Ice’

Fire and Ice (1983)

Rated: R
Director:          Ralph Bakshi
Screenplay:      Roy Thomas

                        Gerry Conway
Characters:      Frank Fazetta

                        Ralph Bakshi
Tagline: “Heroic Fantasy Adventure!”

 

By Gurn Blanston

 

Pre-screening memories: The animated fantasy epic Fire and Ice was released in 1983 at a time when I had just finished my fifth or so read through of “The Lord of The Rings” and was starting to move on to other sword and sorcery type books.  Eventually this would become a life-long love of sci-fi and fantasy literature. Sure, I had seen all the Star Wars movies, and was a diehard fan of Star Trek, but I was not an avid reader until after I graduated high school. God bless the public school system.

 

Along with reading fantasy and science fiction, I had truly begun to appreciate the art that was paired directly with it through book covers and magazines. Of the artists involved in this genre, Frank Frazetta certainly stood out, from his painting on the first Molly Hatchet album cover, to his ability to portray the pure physicality of your average over muscled barbarian. His true talent, in my hormone-clouded estimation, was his lusciously curved, scantily clad damsels and Amazon warriors.  Mmmmmmm….Art!

 

I did not see this movie in theaters, but at home on our state-of-the-art “Home Box Office” system. State-of-the-art meant a foot-long brown plastic box connected to the TV by 20 feet of cord with 14 buttons on it to select channels. If you switched the selector switch down you were able to view another 14 channels (mostly static).  I remember thinking: “What’s next, playing ping pong on my own TV?! Far out.”

 

As an aspiring artist with severely limited talent, I was blown away by the animation in this movie, which used the process of rotoscoping, in which scenes were shot in live-action and then traced onto animation cells.  I had seen this previously in “The Lord of The Rings” animated movies and thought that it was a great idea to help capture natural human movements realistically.

 

The action was a bit sparse, but I liked the basic, easy-to-follow, good-and-evil plot. I watched it several times, one of the advantages of having the space-age Home Box technology at my sweaty fingertips, (I watched “Last Tango in Paris” 47 times; I still can’t look at a stick of butter with out getting the shakes.) and then promptly forgot about it completely for 20 years.

 

Will a recent viewing of the film leave Gurn hot or cold?

 

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