Movies,TV Shows »The Wallace and Gromit Collection

WallaceGromitby Nick Park

It’s no secret that most stuff made for children is garbage. Real gems, like the Nick Park Wallace and Gromit shorts and films are the exception and I am so thrilled that Van is a huge fan. The contraptions and inventions of the hapless Wallace and his best pal pup Gromit are mesmerizing for a little boy obsessed with machines, pipes and wheels.

The first set of shorts include the noirs A Close Shave and The Wrong Trousers as well as the moon adventure A Grand Day Out. They were followed by the feature Curse of the Wererabbit. The hand sculpted characters are not only charming – what they are able to achieve with the painstaking technique is remarkable.

If the first movies represent the pinnacle art of stop motion claymation, the later short A Matter of Loaf and Death shows that old techniques don’t have to be abandoned for new, that computers, which were used can actually inhance the animation and make for quicker production. I’m hoping that eventually means more Wallace and Gromit some day even though most of the original claymation figures and sets were destroyed in a fire years ago (sob).

Beyond the meticulous designs and techniques, these films are well written and as entertaining for adults as they are for children without being crass or stuffed with pop culture references.

I know I am very lucky that my son has taken such an interest in such a great series. I’d gladly chat about what happens in Curse of the Wererabbit a thousand times than have to sit through one Barney. You can find them on Netflix instant with the exception of Curse of the Wererabbit, available for purchase on iTunes.


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Posted on June 7, 2013

Songs,Spend a Couple Minutes »Cyriak Videos

cyriakComputer Animations

Van found these videos by Cyriak on YouTube, starting with Kitty City. He continues to be mesmerized by them, and who can blame him with the clever animation and catchy songs?

A boy could do worse for a creative inspiration than Cyriak, who seems genuinely interesting and has been picked up by rock and rollers to make awesome videos.

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Posted on March 7, 2013

TV Shows »Bob’s Burgers

Bob-s-Burgers-bobs-burgers-18293111-1280-1024on Fox and Hulu

Well, what a surprise! I really like Bob’s Burgers (Though had I known it was from Dr. Katz creator Loren Bouchard, it would have been less surprising).

Did everyone know this show was good? I’ve been a bit preoccupied so I must have missed the hoopla.

It’s funny, sweet – without getting too schmaltzy – and boasts the best voice cast around: John Roberts! Kristen Schaal! Eugene Mirman! and every wry adult animation go-to, H. Jon Benjamin!

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Posted on January 18, 2013

TV Shows »Spongebob Squarepants

On Nick

Well. This was a surprise. Jim and I are a bit smitten with Spongebob Squarepants.

We’re far more into it than Van actually.

I had no idea it was so strangely charming.

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Posted on May 5, 2012

Movies »Perfect Blue

directed by by Satoshi Kon (1997)

The bizarre anime Perfect Blue just kind of explodes in front of you. It’s startling, disorienting and rapid. It never allows you to get too comfortable wrapping your head around it. Even the pop songs get truncated suddenly.

While the experience is jolting and one you just have to let take you with it, afterwards the effect is lasting and unsettling. I feel like I’m still not done thinking about it.

The story concerns a pop star turned actress who looses her innocence for stardom and perhaps attracts the murderous attentions of a distraught fan.

People around her start dying (and the movie takes on a Giallo sheen) But to say this is a serial killer movie about a pop star is like saying El Topo is a western.

After lots of twists, Things wrap up neater than expected, I had kind of hoped it would have retained its vagueness- still, this is a wild one and not for the kiddos!

A great companion to the similarly themed Black Swan.

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Posted on December 18, 2011

TV Shows »Shaun the Sheep

on Netflix Instant

I could blame Van for my new love of the show Shaun the Sheep, but the truth is, when I play an episode during lunch he doesn’t even watch it.

It’s me that finds it adorable and I wish more kids programming was as thoughtfully made and blissfully quiet.

That’s right, no obnoxious screeching voices here, just cute sheepy shenanigans and music.

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Posted on November 18, 2011

Movies »Ninja Scroll

directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (1993)

The words “Ninja Scroll” echoed in the halls of my freshman dorm. Nerds coming from all corners of the country and globe were getting introduced to anime with this bloody action packed oddity, all thanks, if I remember correctly, to one Hal Lee who passed a well worn VHS around Nickerson Hall. With explicit sex scenes, demon monsters, and arm ripping/blood soaked fights, well, needless to say the dudes were INTO it. I  however, never saw it til last night (thank you Netflix + AppleTV).

Like most things Japanese, Ninja Scroll is somewhat inscrutable, but that hardly matters. Whether you follow the story about a secret gold mine, an old man spy, and a bisexual who plays a deadly game of telephone or not, there’s just so much good stuff to look at. From rape minded rock monsters to ninja birds, from vagina snakes to magic bee swarms, the movie hits the ground running and never stops.

In short, though, Jubei is a ninja for hire who talks with the insensitive staccato of a teenage boy that just learned the word ‘shit” as in “Shit! A cast off skin!!”. He meets up with a girl ninja Kagero who is poison to any man that sleeps with her. Together they reluctantly (since they are fiercely independent, of course) join forces with a sneaky old man to defeat a team of demons with strange abilities who want nothing more than world domination through destruction and a pirate ship full of gold.

In a huge sea of anime, which is daunting to traverse, this one stands out with it’s inventive monsters drawn from folklore, stunningly beautiful artwork and a plot that speaks to my D&D heart.

The movie spawned a sequel series and word has it that Leonardo DiCaprio owns the rights to a planned live action movie coming next year.

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Posted on December 19, 2010

Movies »Alice

directed by Jan Svankmajer (1988)

With all the excitement surrounding Tim Burton’s new take on the Lewis Carroll classic, I was itching for a journey to the other side of the looking glass myself since I may not manage to get to a 3-D IMAX in the very near future. Netflix on demand was there for me with Jan Svankmajer‘s 1980’s stop motion dream/nightmare, Alice. His vision is distinct, stunning and not just a little bit frightening. All about the visuals and the technique, the movie is predominantly eerily silent which can make it slower viewing – so don’t watch it when you’re tired (especially if you want to enjoy a night of peaceful dreams).

If Svankmajer’s name is unfamiliar, perhaps you’re not up on the Eastern European legacy of experimental animation because in that world, his decaying surrealism is godlike. Alice is a wonderful introduction to the man who has inspired so many. I feel that Carroll would have been thrilled.

Click here for the rest of Alice

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Posted on March 14, 2010

Movies »Fantastic Mr. Fox

fantastic_foxdirected by Wes Anderson (2009)

Wes Anderson’s movies have a particular hipster artistry that sometimes yields poignant and aesthetically pleasing magic (Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore), other times it results in slightly annoying, self satisfied quirkiness (Steve Zissou, and, so I’ve heard, Darjeeling Limited). Fantastic Mr. Fox falls squarely on the magical side, not only in terms of the plot and the story (by Roald Dahl, which Anderson and screenwriter Noah Baumbach greatly expanded on for the film), but the stop motion animation is simply amazing.

The set, character, and costume design (I love Mr Fox’s cord suit and his son’s home made super hero get ups) is unerringly charming and whimsical and I hope it inspires more delicately thoughtful stop motion features in this era of crass computer animation (Pixar excluded, of course). Drastically unlike those churned out kid’s flicks, Fantastic Mr. Fox is far more stylized and perhaps  even more delightful for stylish parents than their children (wacky sing-a-longs with Jarvis Cocker, anyone?), and the tone is decidedly more subtle, sophisticated, and bittersweet than usual talking animal fare. I went with my office after an exhausting season of late nights and we all walked out like a bunch of kids with big smiles on our faces.

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Posted on December 20, 2009

Movies »The Lord of the Rings

Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the RingsDirected by Ralph Bakshi (1978)

Believe it or not (I’m hoping my facetiousness is apparent), I was a huge Tolkien fan when I was a kid. I’m sure I can’t remember what year it was, but the night my dad brought home our first family VCR we rushed out to the (sadly now defunct) Video World and grabbed the two tapes my brother and I would watch again and again over the next several years: the Rankin/Bass Hobbit and John Boorman’s the Emerald Forest (for years that was his favorite movie, go figure… BTW: Boorman nearly adapted LotR himself, he reused the sets he built for Excalibur).

I actually had two maps of Middle Earth hung on my bedroom wall (one was next to an image of the members of Public Enemy hanging out in a maximum security prison; pretty sophisticated juxtaposition of the kind of things boys in their pre-teens are drawn too – thanks for offering the tools needed to create such a dynamic collage, Prints Plus!).

I hoarded copies of the author’s books, which wasn’t all that easy considering that until the advent of the Book Barn years later, there really was no local spot that dealt in used books, though occasionally the Booksmith in New London would have an unusual looking pressing of Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham.

And in an gesture I’m still in awe of, the first time I met my father-in-law he presented me with a hardcover copy of the edition of the Hobbit he himself illustrated (awesomely).

But of all things Tolkienian, the Bakshi movie has made the deepest impact.

I’m not going to list to list its many inaccuracies (Tolkien enthusiasts have already complied lists taking care of that), and I’m not going to compare it to Peter Jackson’s films (plenty of articles are out there for the reading); while there’s no way to deny that this movie has its flaws, it’s an amazing work of art and it’s the imagery I’m really, really into.

I’ve collected a number of stills below/after the jump giving special attention to what I think is the film’s finest sequence: Frodo’s encounter with the Black Riders just outside Rivendell; it’s here that Bakshi’s impressionistic vision is most successful. As the wounded Hobbit breaks away from his party, the background dramatically fades to an expressionistic, nightmarish landscape, partly rendered in slow motion. It’s an absolutely amazing series of shots that truly captures the terror of the Ring Wraiths and Frodo’s almost submarine decent into their world of shadow.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Movies »Up

up-posterdirected by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson (2009)

I completely expected to love Up, and I did – but I was not quite as prepared to shed buckets of tears for the entire first and last half hour. It’s a doozy for the emotional, a truly touching film that, don’t get me wrong, is also enchanting, charming and hilarious. The small touches, as well as the big picture inventive story line, are what makes every Pixar film so exceptional. And this may just be their best.

I really don’t want to give too much of the plot away, as it was refreshing for it to unfold as a surprise to me. But I will say that the cast of characters includes a “small mailman” (chubby kid Russell), his bird friend Kevin and a team of talking dogs that could not be more endearing. Visually, as well (especially on Blu Ray), Up is amazing. It makes all the imitation (non Pixar) 3D kids movies look like lazy muck.

Be sure to watch the additional features, and no worries, because “Partly Cloudy” is not a trailer for Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but in fact is an adorable short about storks that I hope gives way to a feature length film.

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Posted on November 29, 2009

Hunks »Nathan Explosion

nathan explosionIs it just weird to be naming a high school drop out cartoon character as a hunk? Well, it's not like I haven't been here before (hello Tygra), and Nathan Explosion has a flowing head of raven hair like a fallen angel and a voice like a piles of rocks.

While creator Brendon Small says George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer was the inspiration, I see more of a physical resemblance to the romance novel biceps of Type O Negative front man Peter Steele, who once graced the cover of Playgirl.

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Posted on July 6, 2009

TV Shows »Metalocalypse

While I immediately took to the Metalocalypse intro music, it took a bit longer to fall in love with the humor. Am I really recommending a cartoon where a man that pukes all over himself discovers free balling? Strangely, Yes, and further more I rather love the thing almost obsessively.

The show takes place in a future/alternate world where a heavy metal group called Deathklok rules!! – literally, they truly rule the world – like a teenage Iron Maiden fan's day dream come to life. They employ an army of hooded soldiers, reside in a metal dragon lair, are endorsed by a million products and bring fear to a Illuminati type coalition of military, religious and mysterious leaders.

The show plots center often around mundane realities like grocery shopping and buying the perfect birthday gift, but it mostly trudges through strange, really extremely violent territory where things surreal things like conjured giant Nordic trolls and a flock of ravens kill and maim thousands in gory, graphic ways. If you think you might not like watching lots of artistic interpretations of decapitations, face slicing, blood splattering, and bone crunching, you probably should watch something else.

To quote the band, this is brutal stuff, but just like the covers of our most favorite metal albums (Eddie!!), its really fun and great to look at too. And I promise you will not find anything else like it on TV.

If you're still not convinced, Kirk Hammett voices The Queen of Denmark.

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Posted on July 6, 2009

Movies »Wall-E

wall e? Once again Pixar has surprised and amazed me. While I have to admit that my first reaction to advertisements for Wall-E wasn't one of wonder (I actually thought it might be a bit too precious and contrived), in a way I'm glad that the animation powerhouse keeps proving me to be too cranky and cynical because let me tell you, this thing is fantastic and it nearly brought myself and Jim (who never cries) to tears.

Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter and team managed to make magic from the simplest ingredients: a desolate landscape that is an environmentalist's worst nightmare is rendered so exquisitely that you're left marveling at dust and trash; a cockroach, universally rather despised, becomes an adorable and loyal companion.

The warnings of impending environmental collapse (including morbid obesity, laziness and human gluttony destroying the earth) are harsh and direct, I'm hard pressed to think of another recent mainstream movie so clear in its message, especially a children's film. It's quite an achievement in this testy time to be so political without alienating audiences and coming off preachy.

I think the film manages this feat by instilling so much humanity in its nonhuman stars. Wall-E and Eve, just scraps of metal and computer chips, can make you laugh, cry and want to be a better person – pretty powerful stuff for a cartoon.

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Posted on April 20, 2009

TV Shows »King of the Hill

King of the Hill As anyone in my office can tell you, we've had precious little home time as of late. Long hours, working weekends, it can make you appreciate the little pleasures and comforts of home all the more. To my surprise, I've recently found the oft rerun King of the Hill to be one of those small comforts.

Maybe it's Hank's soothing qualities of suburban domesticity. He's the kind of weird American man that certainly never appears in my world that much – a man's man who knows how to use power tools and could save you if you got a flat tire on the highway.

Or maybe it's the leisure time outdoor beer drinking that neighbors and friends regularly indulge in, a practice that in this blustery and sad season seems like a dream miles away. Or perhaps it's the comfortable familiarity of the sitcom format. Conflict arises, the characters' worlds are all mixed up but within twenty two minutes, all is well and back to normal… sigh.

Really though, it's Bobby that gets me through the nights. I adore that chubby, kind hearted kid who loves troll dolls, fruit pies and wants to become a prop comic when he grows up. When I catch a Bobby-centric episode, I know I'm in luck.

It's well written show by any standards, cartoon or not, but it never seems to get the same respect that the Simpsons or other animated shows on Fox command. In fact, it was cancelled earlier this year to make room for a Family Guy spin off. Boo! I'll take Mike Judge over Seth McFarlane any day and, with King of the Hill repeats airing nightly, I can do just that.

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Posted on April 13, 2009

Movies »Fire and Ice

fire and ice ralph bakshi If this picture doesn't make you want to see this movie
And this amazing trailer doesn't make you want to see this movie, then how do I even know you?
This was my absolute favorite movie as a kid. And it's still amazing.

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Posted on November 21, 2005

Laughs »The animatics special feature on Alone in the Dark

alone in the dark tara reid The movie is even worse than you think.
But the animatics are unbelievable.

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Posted on November 7, 2005