Thanksgiving Movie: The Last Waltz

Robbie Robertson – Guitar: [Last lines] The road was our school. At the end it was our sense of survival. It taught us all we know. There’s not much left that we can really take from the road. We’ve had our share of, or, maybe it’s just superstitious.

Martin Scorsese – Interviewer: Superstitious in what way?

Robbie Robertson – Guitar: No. You can press your luck. The road has taken a lot of great ones. Hank Williams. Buddy Holly. Otis Redding. Janis. Jimi Hendrix. Elvis. Its a goddamn impossible way of life.

Martin Scorsese – Interviewer: It is, isn’t it.

Robbie Robertson – Guitar: No question about it.

The Last Waltz

Probably can be said of any way of life. It’ll teach you everything you know, and it will kill you, if you let it. My preferred Thanksgiving movie, although Planes, Trains & Automobiles is also a worthy choice.

Phil Tippett’s Mad God

“One of Hollywood’s leading visual effects designers since the 1970s, Tippett has just spent three decades directing his first feature film: Mad God, a gruesome animated fable wherein a mysterious spy must infiltrate the lower depths on a dangerous mission. It starts with one of the shirtier quotes from Leviticus, the Bible’s angriest book, before plummeting to the depths of a gory, dripping underworld. Think Dante via Ren and Stimpy, or Pasolini with stop motion animation…

…“When I was a young film-maker, Miloš Forman gave me the best advice I ever got, which was: ‘If you want to take a good shit, you’re going to have to eat well.’”

-John Bleasdale, “‘I wouldn’t take my kids to this’: Star Wars’ Phil Tippett on his hellish animation Mad God.TheGuardian.com. August 20, 2021.

Backfilling…

“Instead, you watch this film to luxuriate in the exquisite grotesqueness Tippett dreams up and executes through a barrage of old-school filmmaking techniques: mixed media, stop-motion animation, modeling, silhouettes, and puppets—you name it. The sound design includes squishy noises as a sinister surgeon digs into intestines, and the cries of a genuine infant give voice to an alien baby in distress. Each subtle creak of our adventurer’s leather gloves and every measured breath through their gas mask sticks with you—the sound design equivalent of an earworm, I suppose. And sitting through this film on your couch (or in your theater seat for some lucky few) is like being guided through a gallery of lavish kinetic art pieces. The zoomed-out environments themselves are wallpaper-worthy whether Tippet has created a war-torn landscape midstorm, a speeding-by universe, or a room full of giants strapped to electric chairs being zapped to the point of soiling themselves incessantly. That last sequence is truly gross if you stop and think about it, but the sound design and visuals are stunning in the moment.”

-Nathan Matisse, “Mad God: What happens when the best practical VFX artist, ever, writes a film?Ars Technica. September 4 2021.

Film Review: Cruella

tl;dr: Derivative, thin plot but with inspired acting, visuals and costume design. Not recommended, but there are worse ways to spend 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Generally speaking, I think it is best to offer reviews for things that are excellent or in exceptional circumstances, advice to avoid something terrible. Cruella is neither of these things. It has some really brilliantly executed shots. But, it’s mostly a pastiche, a mishmash of moments that don’t work to tell a fundamentally interesting story. If I had to list the problems with the film, it might look like this:

  • Cruella is another example of Disney recycling old content and preaching “family” values
  • Cruella is a comic book villain, someone who wants to make coats from Dalmatian puppies (in the original)
  • In this version, Dalmatians are like Dobermans or German Shepherds, except for the inconvenient fact that American Animal Hospital Association writes about a study that puts them in the bottom five breeds for bite risk
  • Cruella’s superpower is fashion in the service of narcissism, which is sympathetic because we are comparing her to someone worse and it is more relatable in an era of self-absorbed “influencers”
  • The relationship dynamics in this story are ridiculous, e.g., the Butler.
  • There’s also an underlying theme that genetics are fate and that somehow the real choices she is making aren’t defining who she is more than her parental lineage

And I could go on. Ordinarily, I’d give a film like this one a pass on all of these defects because it is a “popcorn” movie. The whole point of watching it is to enjoy the action sequences. But, man, something about that greasy Disney touch, with the moralizing while constructing a story that makes horrible behavior look sympathetic revokes that free pass.

You might also argue, and you’d have a point, that the fact that it gave rise to this kind of reaction might suggest that it has artistic merit on those grounds alone, a kind of provocateur. Maybe. But, it’s still a pretty mediocre movie.