Fiction books

Bookstore plunder

I had a bit of time over the weekend to browse a used bookstore. Not as much time as I would’ve liked (I can browse a used bookstore for many hours if allowed), but I did find some interesting stuff.

rhapsody

Didn’t have time to browse the film soundtracks, but I did snatch up some symphonic metal from the Italian band Rhapsody of Fire. Their album The Frozen Tears of Angels features narration from the late great Christopher Lee; his deep cinematic British voice compliments the fantastical metal very well. It’s a concept album that’s part of a larger saga of albums, none of which I have… yet.

lesmiserables

Also music related is the blu-ray of the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables. I think it came on PBS or something once, but I missed it. But now I can watch it over and over!

hugo

Picked up a movie companion to one of my favorite films. Looking through it, it looked awfully familiar, but I double-checked my bookshelves and I don’t have it. I could swear I’ve browsed a copy of it somewhere else before though. Maybe there’s another copy somewhere else in the house? I have no idea…

elantris

I haven’t read Brandon Sanderson in a while, but I picked up Elantris for someday.

straub

I’ve been reading Peter Straub’s Shadowland recently and have been enjoying it very much, so I picked up pretty much all the Peter Straub I could find, which amounted to nine books. They’ll take me forever to read, but they all look interesting… I’ll probably dive into one after I finish Shadowland

mozart

Picked up some books on Mozart and classical music because I’m such a classy guy.

pdqbach

Finally, I happened upon a biography of one of the great classical composers who most music scholars, in their snooty snobbery, ignore completely.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Movies

Movies I watched in March 2012

Here are all the movies I watched in the month of March.  Well, some are actually from February, but I didn’t do a post for the films of February, so they’ll just have to be included here.  I don’t actually watch a movie every single day.  I wish.  (A star (*) denotes movies I re-watched.)

breathless

Breathless

This 1960 French film is often touted as a very influential film.  I’ll agree that it was ahead of its time, because it was like a bad YouTube video.  It tells the tale of a young man who kills a cop, and the rest is pretty much filler.  I just didn’t get it.  And the jarring cuts are annoying, as even in these YouTube days, they draw way too much attention to themselves.  Maybe with the lack of an interesting story, that’s OK?

badbeautiful

The Bad and the Beautiful

This 1952 film starring Kirk Douglas tells the tale of a film producer who alienates his best friends in the pursuit of his craft.  While it may not be entirely accurate in its depiction of Hollywood’s inside (not that I would know), it makes some interesting points on the creative philosophy of the business.  Fun movie.  (I don’t know why the poster makes it look like a romance.)

arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty

This came out in Japan in 2010, I think, but it just came to US theaters last month (though I prefer subs to dubs).  It’s based on those “Borrower” books that American audiences should already be familiar with from other adaptations.  This was a wonderful film, full of a simple honesty and reflectiveness that is lacking in so many of today’s fast-paced bing-bang-boom-zip let’s-be-funny-with-randomness animation.  Great movie.

beauty

Beauty and the Beast 3D

The first film I ever remember seeing in theaters was either Disney’s Beauty and the Beast or An American Tail: Fievel Goes West when I was five or six years old.  They both came out in November 1991, so which one I saw first, I don’t know.  Theaters were so big back then.  Anyway, I didn’t want to miss the chance to see the film again in 3D.  The result?  Meh.  The backgrounds looked awesome in 3D.  The characters themselves looked a bit wonky.  But I guess I was prepared for that after seeing The Lion King 3D.  Still fun to see it in theaters once again.

emperor

The Last Emperor

This 1987 film tells the tale of . . . that guy.  I forget his name now.  You know, that last emperor of China.  Except he never really had much power; he was a figure constantly being used by other forces as a symbol.  Not a very fun life.  An interesting movie; educational, at least, if one can be forgiven for not remembering Chinese names very well.

illusion

The Grand Illusion

This 1937 French film from director Jean Renoir tells the story of a prisoner escaping from prison during World War I.  It was quite a good movie, even if its depictions of war probably now seem dated after the horrors of World War II.  Great camera work as well.

children

The Children Are Watching Us

Here’s another great tragic tale from Italian director Vittorio de Sica.  Along with Shoeshine and Bicycle Theives, I think de Sica has a little trilogy of tragic masterpieces.  This 1947 film tells the story of a couple’s marriage falling apart from the point of view of their child, who perhaps doesn’t quite understand everything, but can piece together enough to understand the tragedy of the situation.  Tragic but great film.

angrymen

12 Angry Men

This popular 1957 film was boring.  I just don’t get why it’s so popular.  A bunch of people sit around a table and talk for a while.  I guess what they say should be deemed philosophically important and we can pat ourselves on the back for understanding how wrong prejudice is, but storytelling-wise it makes for a boring film.  They could’ve portrayed the same themes much more dynamically.

empty

Running on Empty

Another film from director Sidney Lumet, this 1988 film starring River Pheonix tells the story of a prodigious piano player who’s family is on the fun from the law.  When River’s character falls in love, it creates quite a difficult situation.  I thought the story and acting were great, but something about the way it was shot and edited makes it look like an old cheesy made-for-TV film.

sunday

Sunday in the Park with George

This really isn’t a film, it’s a recording of the 1985 musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, of whom I became a fan after discovering Sweeney Todd back in 2007.  I knew a lot of the songs from the musical from the album, but I didn’t know how they all fit together until I saw this recording.  Great show.  The songs Finishing the Hat and Move On awesomely describe some of the struggles of the creative process.  All artists should check out the musical.

logansrun

Logan’s Run

This 1976 sci-fi film is quite cheesy by today’s standards, but there’s something rather charming about that.  If it weren’t for pointless use of nudity.  Anyway, great score by Jerry Goldsmith.

hugo

Hugo*

I had to rewatch this Martin Scorsese film for a third time when it came out on blu-ray.  It does not get boring; to me, it really inspires creativity.  I especially love getting to see some old Melies work in 1080p.  The movie’s not as good in 2D though.  Oh well.  Still a great movie to have on blu-ray.

rulesofthegame

The Rules of the Game

Another film from Jean Renoir, this one from 1939.  I can’t say it really has much of an effect from my cultural view.  Interesting use of rabbit-killing though.

lorax

The Lorax

A guy cuts down trees (which I don’t think would be capable of photosynthesis anyway), and runs out of trees because he’s not thinking long-term.  Problems ensue.  This 2012 animated film was interesting, I guess.

boys

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story

It seemed like a good time to watch this 2009 documentary after Richard Sherman passed away.  (Yes, I did know who they were before he died.)  Great and insightful documentary.

primrose

Evening Primrose

A made-for-TV musical from 1966 with songs and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  The music was great.  The story was rather bizarre.

thx

THX 1138

I’ve been wanting to see this film from 1971 for a while since it was George Lucas’s first feature.  It tells the story of THX 1138, who decides to escape from the world of his mundane controlled dystopian life.  I must say, unlike Logan’s Run, it does not show it’s age quite so much.  Of course, part of that is because it’s been touched up; Lucas likes to touch up, you know.  But even so, the story and the way it’s told feels much more real than the other sci-fi features from that time (not that I’ve seen very many).  And I’ll resist the strong urge to make a Jar-Jar Binks joke at this time.

pathsofglory

Paths of Glory

From 1957, this Stanley Kubrick film tells the story insane stupid war-leaders making insane stupid war decisions, and then punishing the soldiers when they don’t obey.  It does raise the age-old soldier-philosophy question: when is it right and wrong to disobey orders?  But instead of exploring that question, the film just shoots you in the face because war is bad.  Thanks a lot.  I used to think war was good, but now I understand the truth!

aurevoir

Au Revoir les Enfants

Warning: there be spoilers ahead.  This French 1987 film tells the story of a young student, Julien, at a Catholic boarding school in occupied France.  The school brings in a few Jewish students to hide them from the Nazis, one of them named Jean.  Julien and Jean slowly form a friendship.  And here’s the spoiler, if you’re still reading: at the end of the film, the Gestapo raids the school and captures Jean, several other Jews, and the head of the school who hid them there.  You never get to see what happens to Jean, but as the Gestapo lead him away out the gates of the school, the narrator says something like: “That was the last time I saw Jean.  He died in Auschwitz.  I never forgot that day.”  As an audience member, I didn’t need to be reminded of the horrors of Auschwitz for that to be perhaps the most tragic and depressing ending of a World War II film I’ve ever seen.  The entire film forms such a strong and realistic friendship between the characters that just seeing one of them being led away, and you know they he doesn’t realized he’s being sent to his death, and then being told he died in Auschwitz . . .

xmen

X-men: First Class

From 2011.  I was curious.  I’m not curious anymore.

dreamhouse

Dream House

A man moves into a house with his wife and daughters and then learns it might not be real.  Is he just imagining things?  Are his wife and kids really dead?  Did he murder them?  A fun psychological thriller from 2011.

bridge

The Bridge on the River Kwai*

I bought this 1957 film on blu-ray a few months ago when it was on sale at Best Buy.  I had already seen it a few years before on DVD.  A great film, and looks great blu-ray.

umberto

Umberto D.

Another film from Vittorio de Sica, this one from 1952.  An old poor man does stuff.  I didn’t really get it.

youth

Youth Without Youth

This is a Francis Ford Coppola film from 2007 starring Tim Roth.  A man gets struck by lightning, becomes young again, and gets the sorts of special powers I think we all wish we had.  The movie gives you a lot to philosophically think about, even while the story itself was too bizarre for me to really understand.  I mean, I understood what was happening, I just didn’t always understand the why.  But an interesting film.

abduction

Abduction

From 2011.  A young man discovers his parents are not his parents after a life of not realizing they don’t even look alike.  He must then go on the run as bad people with guns chase him to try to abduct him because his real father is out there and would not want him to be abducted and oh what a complicated mess!  The rest of my family was watching it so I stuck around and watched it.  And now I have watched it.

trespass

Trespass

This was also from 2011, starring Nicolas Cage.  Some bad guys with guns trespass into a guy’s house, hoping to steal his jewels.  But does he even have jewels?!  Watch and find out!

cuttingedge

The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing

This documentary from 2004 discusses the art of film editing.  A good documentary for those interested in the subject.  The Walter Murch excerpts are particularly informative.

bonnieandclyde

Bonnie and Clyde

The 1967 classic looks great on blu-ray.  The violence is nothing by today’s standards, but I think the overall story still stands, and the editing and acting are wonderful.

spiritedaway

Spirited Away

Been wanting to see this 2001 film for a while, and I like that the DVD had the original Japanese audio as I hate listening to dubs.  A girl gets trapped in a mysterious spirit world.  Another genius film from Studio Ghibli.  Gotta love it.  Wonderful food for the imagination.

m

M

A 1931 German film with Peter Lorre directed by Fritz Lang.  A child predator is on the loose, and the police aren’t the only ones who want to catch him.  Really amazing camera work for a 1931 film, and it looks fantastic on blu-ray.

So, 30 films.  Good stuff.  The explorations in cinema shall continue, I hope.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Year's best

My 2011 favorites

As I said last year, I hate to compare things I love.  But for the sake of a more interesting blog post, I’m going to anyway.  In real life, I don’t really like playing favorites, because different books and movies and stuff all have their own spirit, and are ultimately incomparable.  But let’s disregard that for a few moments.

For books, the nominees are books I finished reading for the first time this year, regardless of their release date.  Movies, TV shows, and film scores must be from 2011.  (Books I only read a few chapters from are not qualified.  Also, I actually only finished reading five books this year, and only one was fiction.)

Here we go… and Happy New Year!

Year’s best live-action film:

hugo

Year’s best animated film:

kungfupanda2

Year’s best TV show:

House

Year’s best film score:

rio

Year’s best non-fiction book:

cartoons

Year’s best fiction book:

lostgate2

Best whatever else:

Best game soundtrack:

skyrim

Best podcast:

we

By S P Hannifin, ago
Movies

Hugo 3D

hugo3

I saw Hugo in 3D tonight.  I am now going to praise it a bit:

The film’s use of 3D was the best I’ve ever seen.  Yes, it is the best 3D film yet made.  All those people who complain: “eh, it doesn’t really add anything.”  In this case, it does.  But even with one eye, the cinematography, use of color, composition, etc. is just beautiful.  The movie posters and trailers don’t at all capture the spirit of the film itself.  The adaptation from the book is wonderful.  It’s not the same as the book—there are additions, deletions, and changes—but that should be expected from any adaptation.  And in this case, I think they all worked superbly.  The movie’s use of history’s earliest films makes the story seem like it is much better suited as a movie in the first place.  I really loved the story’s celebration of the human imagination, from books to magic tricks to mechanics to movies.  And the theme about how the world is like a clock.

So, if you get the chance to see it, I highly recommend it.  And in 3D.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Animation

Got a Wacom tablet… and other random things I’d like to say at this point in time thank you very much and how long can I make this title anyway? I guess this is too long already so I’ll just stop

Animation studies

Whew, busy month! It’s week 3 of class 4 of Animation Mentor. Last week I got through blocking out another practice shot, which I’m continuing to add breakdowns to and I hope to start splining soon; next week will consist of polishing. I’ll upload a video eventually… maybe.

Drawing

In other news revolving around the self, I bought a Wacom Intuos4 Medium Pen Tablet! I can’t draw very well at all, but this device should at least make it much more fun and convenient to practice, if I can ever find the time. (I am still quite interested in learning the craft.) But it’s also great for animating in Maya; it’s just easier to move around the screen than a mouse. There’s so much more precision you can get in your cursor movements, and it’s much more comfortable for the arm, hand, and wrist when you’re animating for hours on end (though my back posture is still awful since I have no way to get a monitor at eye level or higher). I really should’ve bought one earlier.

I also bought Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics, which I’ve been scanning through. It seems to give a great beginner’s overview of the comic-drawing process, but I wish it went into more depth; it sort of just touches the surface of a bunch of topics. It’s still nice as an intro, but I’m going to want more eventually… If anyone out there knows of any good drawing books, let me know! Especially if they’re oriented to the more cartoony side. Or good drawing videos on YouTube… I found a few, though I haven’t spent any time with any of them.

My eventual amibition (perhaps years or decades down the road, if I actually put in the practice hours), aside from trying some simple 2D animations, would be to write and draw a graphic novel. Maybe even turn the novel I’m writing now into a graphic novel; it’s very visual, especially since it takes place in non-Earth worlds. It could be so much fun to come up with a look and feel for different worlds, yes?

I don’t have any fancy drawing software like Photoshop yet, but since I’ll just be practicing, I can probably just make do with some simple free programs.

Google plus

Thanks to Luke for Google plus invite! A while back, somewhere, I blogged about how Facebook needed to allow you to “follow” strangers and celebrities as you can on Twitter, instead of having to mutually friend everyone. Google plus allows just that, along with privately organizing friends into “circles.” For example, you could group some friends into “old annoying high school classmates.” Then you can easily hide their boring annoying updates and shared links, hide your own updates from them if you want, and they’ll have no idea that they’re in such a group. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook soon steals this concept.

So I like the overall concept of Google plus; it’s just the kind of social network I want. But they still need plenty of more features (something like Facebook’s “fan” feature, “tag” feature, verified celebrity accounts, integration with more stuff so it’s easier to share links, etc.) and more users, and if it doesn’t get them soon enough, people will lose interest and it’ll quickly become archaic. I’ll be interested to see where it goes.

Hugo trailer

The trailer for Hugo (based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret) came out recently. Aside from some awful cheesy dialog here and there and some awful cheesy feel-good pop music accompaniment which does not at all go with the magical mysterious spirit of the book, the trailer looked interesting. Visually, it was quite good; I think they really captured the look and feel of the world, and the casting seems good. I hope Howard Shore’s score suits the film better than the trailer music. Shore is responsible for the brilliant Lord of the Rings scores, but most of his other scores have been more standard; I hope his work for Hugo is more melodic and fantastical. I look forward to hearing what he’s come up with. And I do hope to see this film in 3D.

Cars 2

I saw Cars 2 the other day. Despite hearing many bad reviews, I thought it was good! It just doesn’t try to make you cry like many other Pixar films do, which is fine with me, because those sentimental moments tend to seem forced and cheesy to me anyway. (Finding Nemo and Ratatouille are the ones that really work for me; the beginning of Finding Nemo just gives me shivers, as does Ego’s flashback.) But the story was fun and the humor, though sometimes corny, had me laughing out loud like a big dork. (“That’s right Mater, you are the bomb!”) Overall, the movie reminded me of being a kid playing with toy cars. You don’t imagine them going through some Doc Hollywood story about a small town in troubled times; you imagine them racing and shooting and crashing and falling off cliffs and flying, and that’s what Cars 2 delivers; it’s what the first Cars should’ve been. Pixar is still standing strong in my books.

(Although that Toy Story short that preceded the film was as awful as watching the Disney Channel.)

The Lion King 3D

Preceding Cars 2 was a trailer for The Lion King 3D rerelease. I have mixed feelings about it. Some scenes looked really awesome in 3D, when they were really able to separate the different layers. Other scenes just look funky, especially facial close-ups. It looks like they just “bubbled” the characters, stretching them out in one direction for one eye, and the opposite direction for the other eye. The overall effect is: “Uh… hmmm… huh? Eh…” My overall judgment: Disney, you either have to put more effort and money into 3D-izing something like this, or forget it. But I’m a hypocrite, because I’ll probably still go see it.

By S P Hannifin, ago