Category Archives: Highly Recommended

Recorded Live (1975, S.S. Wilson)

Recorded Live is a student film. So director, writer, and animator Wilson’s flat composition gets some wide latitude. He’s got this silly slapstick score on a sound picture, with John Goodwin getting hired to work at an already strange-sounding TV studio only to arrive there and discover a sack of clothes instead of a boss. At that point, Live stops being–potentially–a slapstick about a weird TV studio and all of a sudden something else. Because it’s not that the boss (named W.H. O’Brien, which should’ve forecasted the stop motion) is a nudist, it’s because two reels of videotape has eaten him. But not his clothes.

The short starts getting pretty good at three minutes and then just gets better and better. It runs eight. Once the special effects start, while Goodwin is running around trying to save himself, Wilson’s plotting starts getting smarter and smarter. The reels of tape combine on the floor into a giant mess–Wilson’s definitely making this short for his seventies film school classmates, humor-wise–and it’s not until they have to start problem solving (in addition to listening and talking) they become dangerous. They’re a funny kind of dangerous before because it’s still a comedy, but then they get actually dangerous.

All because of how well Wilson plots the reveals and executes them through action with the stop motion animation. The short is this wonderful synthesis of inventive writing and special effects. Even after it gets really good, Wilson is able to up it even more.

Goodwin’s fine in the lead. His main line is “Hello,” as he explores the empty building. He handles the danger better than the comedy, which is quite a thing since he’s got so many effects shots to work in.

Recorded Live starts like a slight student film. A modern slapstick perhaps. Then all of a sudden it becomes this awesome horror thing. Wilson’s got his specific audience–people who think videotape is messy and hate erasing it when a magnet gets too close–but the phenomenal special effects make it transcend a target audience. The characterization of the videotape monsters or whatever, done through Wilson’s effects and the great sound (from Ben Burtt, so no shock great), is truly exceptional work.

Recorded Live is great.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed, and animated by S.S. Wilson; music by George Winston; released by Pyramid Films.

Starring John Goodwin (Mr. Aaines).


RELATED

Advertisements

The Window (2000, Jono Oliver)

The Window opens with a crowd on the street, looking up. There’s a title card, so it’s a good bet they’re all looking at a window. Pretty soon the cops show up–it’s set in Flatbush, Brooklyn–and ask what’s going on. Some people see Jesus up in the window, some people don’t. But it’s a big crowd; the people who see it are inspired (like senior Sarallen), other people are just hanging out. Responding cops Rosalyn Coleman and Marcuis Harris are divided too. Coleman doesn’t see anything, Harris kind of sees it. But they decide they need to do something, so they head up to the apartment (meeting Sarallen’s grandson, Chad Christopher Tucker, on the way–he doesn’t see it).

In the apartment there’s a similar divide. Husband Eric R. Moreland is just trying to enjoy his weekend, eat some lunch, watch a game. Wife Cheryl Monroe got home as the crowd was starting to gather and saw the Jesus too. So she’s calling up people from the church to come over–pastor Craig T. Williams is hilarious–while Moreland suffers losing his day.

Eventually Coleman decides the window’s coming out. Harris isn’t in complete agreement, but he’s fine with it. Meanwhile, a news crew has shown up and the window is on TV. And there are more cops, including Romi Dias who wants Coleman to hold off on taking out the window until her grandmother comes down to see it.

Writer and director Oliver keeps a relatively light tone and nimbly moves through the discussions of faith and, well, grime. Whenever the action isn’t on the street, where the film listens in on the crowd’s reactions (or just shows them), usually with a humorous bent (though everyone knows how much it means to Sarallen), Coleman’s the lead. And she’s a great lead. For most of The Window she operates with a quiet exasperation as she’s not only got to keep the variety of regular people in check, she’s also got partner Harris mildly aggravating the situation, not to mention Dias loudly aggravating it.

Besides Coleman, also exasperated husband Moreland gets the most to do. The film often plays Coleman and Moreland off one another, something the actors and Oliver handle beautifully. Oliver has this single shot in the bathroom–Jesus is in the bathroom window–with the camera pointing away from the window and it’s full of people. Seven at one point. And the emphasis has to bounce all around.

Outside Coleman and Harris’s initial discussion, Oliver’s script doesn’t spend any time on the questions the window (and what people see in it) raise. It’s present throughout, but the action is too busy with the practicality. The cops want to break up the crowd, Coleman’s going the fastest route.

Everything’s good throughout–Michael Pearlman’s photography is phenomenal, great music from David Abir (who eventually takes the whole thing on his shoulders)–but it gets even better once Coleman (and Oliver) really start dealing with things. Without any exposition, just reaction. It’s all about Coleman’s performance. And Oliver’s direction.

The Window’s kind of gently spectacular. Or more, first it’s gentle and good, then it’s quietly spectacular.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, and directed by Jono Oliver; director of photography, Michael Pearlman; edited by Daniel Carey; music by David Abir; production designer, Eric Oliver.

Starring Rosalyn Coleman (Officer Briggs), Marcuis Harris (Officer Turner), Eric R. Moreland (Lester), Cheryl Monroe (Lucy), Craig T. Williams (Brother Herbert), Virginia McKinzie (Sister Mary), Chad Christopher Tucker (Terrence), Robert Hatcher (Reverend Sinclair), Romi Dias (Officer Newman), Brian Cahill (Officer Doyle), and Sarallen (Mrs. Davis).


RELATED

The Critic (1963, Ernest Pintoff)

At just about three minutes of “action,” The Critic is the perfect length. It opens with some abstract animation–black shapes dancing around variously colored backgrounds, as active (versus tranquil) classical music plays. The designs get more complex, but for the first thirty seconds (so fifteen percent of the action), Critic plays it straight. It’s some abstract animation short. Not too complicated, but lively.

And then Mel Brooks asks, “What the hell is this?”

And The Critic starts on its path to sublimity.

For a while, it’s just Brooks talking about the action on screen. Dot moving over here, dot moving over there. Some shapes getting jiggy.

Brooks’s character is a cranky, impatient old Russian guy and we’re hearing his thoughts. It’s perfectly fine. Brooks is funny, it’s not going to go on very long, it’s all good.

Only we’re not hearing his thoughts. Or, more, we are hearing his thoughts. But so are all the other people watching the short film with him.

He’s in a theater, talking out loud. That detail gives The Critic the extra oomph it needs and pushes it up and over. It’s awesome.

Brooks ad-libbed the whole thing too. Apparently, the filmmakers didn’t even show him the short before he recorded.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Ernest Pintoff; written by Mel Brooks; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Mel Brooks.


RELATED

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983, Bill Melendez)

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is exceedingly intense. It doesn’t start intense, though it does start a little different. There’s this gradual shot–with Judy Munsen’s lovely score accompanying–moving through all the toys in Charlie Brown’s house before it gets to his bookshelf. The books with visible spines are heady classic novels; but Charlie Brown (Brad Kesten) is getting down his picture album. He’s got to put in some snapshots from his trip to France–Learned is direct sequel, time-wise not tone-wise, to the theatrical Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown–and Sally comes over to ask what he’s doing. So he tells her about the events of his trip after the movie.

His recounting starts as comedy. It’s Charlie Brown, Linus (Jeremy Schoenberg), Peppermint Patty (Victoria Vargas), Marcie (Michael Dockery), and Snoopy and Woodstock. Snoopy is driving because when it’s a bunch of eight year-olds without adult supervision, it’s best to let the beagle drive. Even if he does get into multiple accidents throughout the special. After Snoopy wrecks the car and gets into a fight with a flock of ducks, the kids have to rent another one. Good thing Marcie speaks French (she’s the only one who does).

Up to this point, Learned is well-produced–great animation, excellent direction from Melendez, that Munsen music, and a strong script from Charles M. Schulz–but nothing particularly special. Then the kids camp out for the night and Linus realizes they’re on the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach. He goes down to the beach and, through rotoscoping, “sees” the D-Day invasion. The rotoscoping colorizes the black and white footage with bold, bright colors, creating a wonderful tonal contrast between the Peanuts kids’ adventure and the history they’re encountering.

Once the other kids wake up, Linus tells them where they are and all about D-Day. They explore the area, culminating in a walk through the American cemetery, with an Eisenhower speech accompanying them. Learned got intense starting with Linus’s beach visions. The cemetery tour, which is visually magnificent, just ratchets it up even further.

There’s some more humor–really good physical gags–to calm things down. Then they get to Ypres, a World War I site, and Linus tells the other kids about it. The WWI sequence is much shorter–no rotoscoped footage–and initially seems like it won’t be as affecting as the D-Day sequences. Then Linus starts reciting John McCrae’s poem, *In Flanders Field*, with accompanying visuals, and it devastates. Munsen’s music plays a big part, effectiveness-wise.

Schulz wraps it up–before a gently comedic bookend–with some succinct profundity. It’s all very intense.

Great script, animation, direction, and music. Schoenberg is excellent with the lengthy expository monologues. The rest of the cast is good, they just don’t have the heavy lifting Schoenberg gets.

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is spectacular.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Judy Munsen; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Jeremy Schoenberg (Linus van Pelt), Brad Kesten (Charlie Brown), Victoria Vargas (Peppermint Patty), Michael Dockery (Marcie), and Stacy Heather Tolkin (Sally Brown).


RELATED