Saturday, June 09, 2007

My God! It's full of

No, I don't know what that means, either.

Well, I've been on a bit of a break from work. Doing almost (but not quite) nothing.
It's Saturday though, and some things must be done.
But before I do something "productive", this update.

Hideaway Update:
Hitches in the finance department.
Evidently, the sort of loan I have is looked at askance by conventional lenders.
This, I am assured, is a "hitch" and not a killer - we'll see.
Delays, delays.

Waist Management:
My vacation has also meant a vacation from most of my newly aquired good eating habits.
Not a total departure, mind you. Just a brief hiatus.
Monday brings a return to the training table.

The Review: Wizards
Back in "the day", actually considerably before "the day", CGI was non-existant.
The nearest thing to mass animation was
I am not going to make ridicuoous, Ludditic comments implying that there is no Art in modern
animation. This is patently untrue. I also believe that the love of Animation is alive and well.
But, today's offereings are undoubtedly different.

Wizards is the brainchild of
Ralph Bakshi, a Palestine immigrant, and one of the unsung heros of Animation. A veteran of the Terrytoons and Famous Studios animation houses, he is one of the individuals responsible for Tom Terrific - the first cartoon created for broadcast TV. But that was just the beginning of a long and, you should pardon the expression, illustrious animation career.

Bakshi created the then infamous
Fritz the Cat - the first (and possibly only) normally distibuted animated film to receive an "X" rating. This was followed by Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, also considered extremely controversial for thier very adult (and in some ways realistic) themes.

Then came Wizards.
A Post-Apocalyptic "high" Fantasy that centers around two brother wizards, twins in fact, in a world where "Technology" is not only virtually unknown, it is outlawed.

The differences between the twins is obvious from birth: Avatar, the good wizard, is cherubic and smiling. The other brother, Blackwolf, is wasted looking and repellant. And so it goes throughout thier young lives, with Avatar (predictably) growing into a kindly and wise young man, while Blackwolf becomes ever more cruel. Upon the death of thier mother (the Queen), they fight for the throne. Blackwolf is defeated and driven off to rule the mutant population in the still-radioactive land of Scorch. Needless to say, Blackwolf has the mother of all chips on his shoulder. And who could blame him? Cursed from birth by deformity and an evil name, shunned by all the "good" creatures it is not surprising perhaps that he grew into a bitter, evil adult. One with powerful magical powers to boot. But I digress.

Over the next (many thousands) of years, Blackwolf launches a series of attacks on Montagar (where the good guys live), but his armies are always repulsed. Why? Because they have no "heart". No will to fight. The population of Montagar, on the other hand, have not only virtue on thier side, but are fighting to protect thier homeland. Naturally, they win every time.

But Blackwolf is nothing if not patient - and smart.
Turning to "Technology" to find something to give his armies an edge, he comes across Nazi propaganda materials and employs them and thier methods.
Once he fills the mutant army's heads with talk of thier "destiny" and thier status as the new "Master Race", his army is suddenly filled with enthusiasm and resolve. Blackwolf has found his Cause.
Inflamed with purpose, they are once again launched against Montagar. The "good lands", having been softened up by a series of strategic assassinations, begin to fall.

In classic style, a Quest is launched. Avatar (now old and allegedly retired) leads a small group consisting of Eleanor, the Fairy Daughter of the (now deceased) President of Montagar, Weehawk an Elven warrior and Peace - the robot responsible for the death of the President. (Peace was previously known by the admittedly more threatening (but way cooler) name "Necron 99". Avatar has broken his programming by offering an escape from Blackwolf's domination and the personal suffering this causes the robot.)

As one might expect, the whole thing comes out in a successful, if bittersweet, fashion that I will not elaborate on. In fact, the resolution is one of the most satisfying - and unpredictable - parts of the story, so I won't spoil it.

The story as I have described it makes this movie seem like a typical, Good v. Evil, Quest Story where the Good Guys win and Evil is vanquished for ever. And it is.
But to leave it at that is like calling a gift typical because it was wrapped in bright paper and ribbons. In this case, the wrapping is fairly exceptional, and quite entertaining - but the real goodies are inside.

Having tried your patience this long with my description of the surface of the film, I won't abuse you further by any sort of deep examination of the underlying symbolism in Wizards.
Some of it can be a little heavy-handed, even for the late 70's, but VietNam was still fresh in the mind of the world. And Bakshi himself was from Haifa - a former Palestineian city conquered by Isreal. So it is not surprising that an obvious anti-war sentiment would come through.
But along with the obvious is the subtle. Comments about politics and politicians, religion and society at large are sprinkled all through the piece. And, while much of the art is "cartoonish", many of the frames are so dense and intricate they amaze.

What comes shining through everythng else is the fact that Ralph Bakshi loves Animation.
This is even more obvious when listening to the commentary track, where he tells not only of the start of his career, but how he had to use his life's savings to finish the film.
Not only does he love his work, his most beloved friends were/are animators. In fact, he comments that, after the passing away of some of these friends, his has strong feelings of ambivalence about even deserving to continue to make animated films. That he did (and does)
is a matter of record, but that a person should even have such thoughts speaks volumes.

Warts and all, this film is the best of it's sort to come from Bakshi.
And in many ways, there is no other film like it.
The only other feature that comes close is
Fire and Ice - my enjoyment of which has more to do with the involvement of Frank Frazzetta than anything else.
And, IMHO, the less said about
The Lord of the Rings, the better.

The Bottom Line:

Worth the Price of Admission? : It was worth full price in '77, and it still is today.
Would I watch it Again? : Good lord yes!
Worth Owning? : I own it. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Once more, into the breach!

A brand new look, a fresh start.
Let's see where this one goes, shall we?

So...where shall we start?
A photo of my beautiful grandaughter is always a good:

Isn't she just adorable? The answer is "Yes!"
For those who where wondering, Hunter is growing like a weed.
A charming, handsome, loving weed - that plays T-ball.
(Remind me to tell you an amazing story about him.)

Hideaway Update:
I have (I am assured) secured financing to make some improvements on the house.
Including (but not limited to):
- Double paned windows.
- A second driveway.
- Central heat/air.
- Exterior painting.
- A pretty, pretty pony.

Attempts to Lop Off My Finger Update:
I have some semi-dramatic scars and a tale of idiocy to go along with them.
All in all, things are on the mend.
Edie has confiscated my pocket knife.

Waist Management:
I can now wear a 36'' waist comfortably - but just barely.
I have been following a program of diet and exercise, based on the principals outlined by
Dr. Mehmet Oz. Based on real science, the principals espoused were intellectually appealing.
The attitude: "Remember, you are dieting without freaking out."
The principals revolve around using your physiology to best advantage, and some sensible non-extremist dietary guidelines.
It is amazing how much sense certain dietary principals are when they are based on the way your body actually works!
The proof is in the pudding - and by pudding I mean my belly.
Early indicators are quite favorable: I am wearing a new pair of 36'' shorts. A feat virtually impossible 3 weeks ago. We'll see!

The Review: Pan's Labrynth (El Labertino del fauno)
Amazing. Beautiful. Rich. Poignant.
And heavy heavy stuff, emotionally.
This was one of the most viscerally affecting horror film I have ever seen.
Set in 1944 (Madrid falls to Franco in 1939), it follows the story of Ofelia, a 12 year old girl whose widowed mother has "attached" herself to the sadistic Capitan Vidal. A man her mother insists on refering to as her "Padre". Naturally, Ofelia has no understanding of such relationships of convenience. She is merely made miserable by this attempt to supplant her recently deceased father. The situation is further complicated by the fact that her mother is carrying the Capitan's child.
One night, Ofelia is visited by a faun. An attenuated, eloquent and utterly alien faun, who informs her that she is a princess who has been estranged from her kingdom.
The faun goes on to tell her that she must complete three tasks before the full moon in order to claim her heritage.
It is never clear whether Ofelia's adventures in the Other World are real or a result of her intense desire to escape her unhappy sitution.

In fact, aside from one encounter with a monster in the Other World, all of the movie's horror is produced by the "real world" and the humans in it.
The rebellion against the Fascist regime provides the largest part of the movie's context - and
indeed, the lion's share of the horror.
The brutality displayed by various characters is utterly believable, and very graphic.
Real horror is sympathetic; it derives from things that can actually happen.
The acts of brutality depicted are, thier insane nature not withstanding, fully within the capabilities of the average human.
No magical powers or implements, no possesion by demonic forces.
Just pure, simple, human level brutality, realistically depicted.
The fact that such things could (and in all probability did) happen simply drives the horror home.
True horror derives from what we know ourselves to be capable of.

The dimly lit, less than beautiful good guys (and even more repellent bad guys), juxtaposed with the gorgeous Spanish countryside and pathos by the boatload all combine to create a world and situations that is easy to see oneself in.
This is the real magic of the film. Guillermo del Toro is a genius.

The Bottom Line:
Worth the Price of Admission? : Full price, even the second time.
Would I Watch It Again? : Absolutely - but I would need to be in a strong emotional place.
Worth Owning? : Absolutely

For next time: Wizards