Is everyone having a great holiday season? Let’s make sure!
Today is Boxing Day and what better way to observe it than with this hilarious reconsideration of Rocky Balboa’s triumphant Christmas Day victory over Ivan Drago, a boxing match for which the Italian Stallion gave up his championship in order to defeat the man who killed Apollo Creed. Who could have expected that this unsanctioned bout would become a landmark victory for democracy and a turning point in the Cold War. MMC!’s admiration for the ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is no secret and this CollegeHumor parody is a pitch perfect pastiche of that sports program’s house style. All the high points are here – the James Brown performance, the robot, the whiffing swings, the lack of defence, and the inexplicable reversal of allegiances – and Max Kellerman’s appearance here is inspired, placing him right in his pugilistic wheelhouse. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV (1985) got a new cut back in November as Rocky IV: Rocky x Drago that adjusted the aspect ratio, excised the exploding gloves intro, Paulie’s birthday, and the robot, recontextualized the events of Rocky III, diminished the role of Brigitte Nielsen and Hugo Boss, and made sundry other edits. I guess Rocky was right: Everyone (including Rocky IV itself) can change.
What’s scarier than the exploitation of capitalist culture, our societal collapse into a dystopian nightmare, and our inexorable march into cosmic obliteration? Answer: Nothing. And so MMC! celebrates this All Hallow’s Eve with a trio of animated mind-melters from Canadian animator Nick Cross. First up is The Pig Farmer (2010) – “a simple tale of a wayward soul, awash in an ocean of tragedy and regret.” Well, that and various pork-related gags. Don’t be fooled by the fairy tale-vibe and cutesy look; this short ain’t for the kids!
Next up is Perihelion (2013), “a sort of animated tone poem” inspired by German Expressionist and Surrealist painters of the early 20th Century like Otto Dix, Richard Oelze, Ingrid Griebel-Zietlow, Rudolf Schlichter, and Max Ernst, as well as Francisco Goya. The short operates as something of a Möbius strip tracking a cycle of human downfalls. The effect is amazing in execution and awful in vision. You’re welcome!
Lastly, we wrap up this dispiriting tribute to Nick Cross with The Clockwork Elves (2020). Cross’s summary of the short is questionable: “The Clockwork Elves could be a pyschotropic exploration of spirituality and death – or it could be a tale of a little goofball hopped up on goofballs. Either way — it’s a cartoon.” Made single-handedly over seven years, the short takes the animator’s critiques of late capitalism deeper into the psychedelic nightmare than ever before, creating a vision quest montage that is amazingly spectacular, shockingly vibrant, and exceptionally apocalyptic. This is the squished and squashed, cutesy-pie version of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” video and it’s just as bracing.
If all of this is a bit too nightmarishly heavy for you, then MMC! recommends revisiting Over the Garden Wall (2014), a modern Halloween classic that perfectly celebrates American colonial folklore, historical commercial art, and East Coast animation. Cross worked as the series’ art director and it should be required viewing for any Halloween fanatic.
Watching the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival’s packed selection of short films was a major priority for MMC! and nearly 150 short films got screened over the Festival’s 21 day run. And while there were some really fun, creative, and moving short films programmed at this year’s FIFF, only ten could make this list of MMC!’s absolute favourites!
And here they are! Right now!
Vanille (Guillaume Lorin, 2020)
Conceived as a half-hour TV special, Guillaume Lorin’s animated adventure concerns Vanille, a nine-year-old Parisian girl with hair issues sent to visit her aunt in Guadaloupe. There, she embarks on a magical adventure involving a hair-stealing spirit, a half-boy/half-shrub companion, and a mysterious flower. Lorin’s film is nimble and playful throughout, full of movement and expression, and it is wonderfully specific in how it draws on the director’s childhood in Guadeloupe, celebrating its natural beauty and Creole heritage. While strongly representing the art style of European bande dessinées, Vanille brings real Studio Ghibli vibes by capturing the movement and wonder of Hayao Miyazaki and the quirk and caricature of Isao Takahata. The incorporation of photographic backgrounds into animated work often feels conspicuously dissonant, but Lorin makes it feel eminently natural here, deepening the short’s connection to its tropical setting. Someone bring me a Vanille series now!
I met Dave at a get-together hosted by a mutual friend eight years ago. Attended by professional, semi-professional, and amateur pop culture nerds, we were invited to share lists of our favourite films and Dave’s list expressed his love of music as well as his love of cinema at its biggest and most minute.
In the years that followed, we would watch movies together when we ran into each other at a screening, we would text about programming ideas and other movie stuff, and we would share festival discoveries. I would give him rides home when he needed them, he would hook my son up with Godzilla stuff, and my wife would restrain her urge to make him a sandwich. When I discovered he was in the hospital, I sent him a message wishing him well and asking him to reach out once he recovered, hoping he would find the message once he was discharged. Sadly that won’t happen, but I’m very grateful for the time I got to spend with Dave and I wish him the best on whatever new project he’s now moved on to.
In celebration of Dave, MMC! offers this brief tribute to the man on screen and there’s no better place to start than Dave’s 2014 short film Will the Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up?, a hilarious account of Dave being awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.
Before The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), Sylvain Chomet made the award-winning The Old Lady and the Pigeons (La Vieille Dame et les pigeons, 1997). The animated short features an impoverished and starving gendarme who dresses up like a giant pigeon in order to be fed by an old woman (and that barely scratches the surface of how hilariously bizarre the short gets). Chomet was inspired to make a film of his own after seeing Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and set upon his production after pitching the concept to Didier Brunner of the French animation studio Les Armateurs. Backgrounds were designed by Chomet’s comic book collaborator Nicolas de Crécy, although the two would later fall out over Crécy’s view that Chomet improperly copped his style for the designs of The Triplets of Belleville. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is silently comic and strangely surreal and establishes many of Chomet’s characteristic styles and themes, making it an easy access point to Chomet’s limited filmography. It is also a quick 24-minute scratch for those of us still itching to see his next film, The ThousandMiles, a Fellini-inspired story about the world’s most beautiful road race, Italy’s Mille Miglia.
Spring is here, Easter is this weekend, MMC!’s next imagined release is taking typically longer than expected, and it’s been some time since a post have gone up, so now seems like the perfect opportunity to offer something cute, furry, and vaguely off-centre. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to appreciate Fyodor Khitruk’s trilogy of short films adapting A. A. Milne’s beloved tales of Winnie-the-Pooh for Soviet audiences!
Khitruk’s trio of Vinni-Pukh films — Winnie-the-Pooh (1969), Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit (1971), and Winnie-the-Pooh and a Busy Day (1972) — were made out of Soyuzmultfilm studios and without the director having seen Disney’s theatrical short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1966). Khitruk’s initial interest in the character came from English editions of Milne’s stories and he was only exposed to Boris Zakhoder’s Russian translations later. Zakhoder served as screenwriter to the Trilogy and he frequently clashed with Khitruk as Zakhoder promoted an approach faithful to the original stories while Khitruk sought to transform the material. The films reflect Khitruk’s vision, doing away with the authority-figure of Christopher Robin and presenting Milne’s characters living forest creatures, not stuffed toys brought to life. Pooh remains rather dim, but he is far more assertive and boisterous than Disney’s bear. The animation is wonderful, merging the primitiveness of children’s drawings with the clean abstraction of mid-century modernism and the earth-toned colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The films adapt three stories from Milne’s original 1926 book, avoiding stories from Milne’s 1928 sequel, The House at Pooh Corner, which introduced the Tigger character. If these adaptations are new to you, congrats! You are now free from the adorable hegemony of the Disney films!