Have you ever thought to yourself: what would happen if I mixed one of the worst disasters in human history with an anthropomorphic rapping dog and shoddy animation? Well fret not because Titanic: The Legend Goes On… answers your question in every sense of the word!

The cockamamie project was conceived by Italian director Camillo Teti. Not much is known about him but his other well-known films (if you can call them that) include Bye Bye Vietnam and College Girl Goes on Vacation.  Don’t those titles just scream brilliance?

This movie is so unbelievable that many people even question its existence. But don’t worry, lucky for you it indeed exists.

To start let’s look at the tagline for this movie: “A full-length animated feature, based on the legend of the Titanic.” Ah yes, the LEGEND of the Titanic. All those deaths, that giant sinking ship, all a made-up story. A good start. I don’t want to start off this review giving you a biased opinion and all but it’s kind of difficult not to.

So the movie begins with our female protagonist, Angelica, rowing in a lifeboat, behind her the sinking RMS Titanic. Yes, from the start we all already know how the movie will end. That is some stellar storytelling. We are then led into Angelica’s flashback, where the real film begins (rendering the opening sequence kind of useless).

Next, we are  met with Angelica (in the real opening scene?) with her stepmother and two evil stepsisters…Sound familiar? This movie is just a heaping pile of recycled Disney stories. In fact, every character in this movie seems to be a rip-off of another Disney character: Cinderella, the mice from An American Tail, Cruella DeVille.

It’s as if this director thought: How about I take a bunch of Disney cartoon characters and put them on the Titanic. Genius. There is also a musical troupe of racially insensitive Mexican mice. A necessary addition to any film about a tragic human disaster.

Anyways, the movie has something to do with Angelica’s locket being stolen and her trying to find it, I guess. As the film moves forward we are met with her creepy American Psycho-esque love interest, William, who, after their first encounter, finds it okay to aggressively rub Angelica’s hand. And from that moment on, they are in love…like ten minutes into the film.

There are so many different subplots going on at once it’s hard to keep track of who the characters are and what the movie is actually about. Sometimes there are stories that start to develop in one scene and then nothing follows from it or we never see the characters again.

The pinnacle awful movie moment in the film however is most probably the scene with the aforementioned rapping dog (shown below for your viewing pleasure). Why is there a rapping dog on the Titanic? Who the hell knows. Maybe there weren’t enough talking animals. Unfortunately though, this pooch only makes one appearance in the film so clap along with those poorly animated spaghetti fingers for as long as you can.

I mean, this movie is so bad that there is actually  a thread on IMDB for the film called: “Say something positive about this movie.” Some of the positive things include: “This movie has united people in how horrible it is” and “Camilo Teti hasn’t made anything since 2007, that’s positive.”

BUT WAIT! Don’t be sad if you haven’t gotten your fill of animated Titanic movies. There are two other ones directed by another Italian director. Yes that’s right, not just one but TWO. Both include, a giant octopus who tries to put the Titanic back together again. Why Italy? Why?

An actual scene from one of the other animated Titanic films.

You won’t actually get the full experience of this film until you see it, but I assure you it’ll make you wish the Titanic would hit the iceberg sooner.

Feature image courtesy of  Camilo Teti

Don Hertzfeldt is mostly known for his animated short comedy Rejected, a collection of surrealist cartoons aimed at critiquing our consumer society but also to get a good laugh. The short was nominated for an Oscar in 2000. I first discovered Hertzfeldt in the seventh grade randomly coming upon one of his shorts on YouTube:  Ah, L’Amour, a hilariously cynical look at love.

He has not really widely been known for having a serious side because of the fame that he received from this short. Yet he boasts several insightful films like The Meaning of Life and Lily and Jim.  None however in my opinion have been as insightful as It’s Such a Beautiful Day (though I still have yet to see his most recent film World of Tomorrow).

It’s Such a Beautiful Day was actually released separately, first as two short films that came about two years after each other (Everything Will Be OK and I am So Proud of You); the last part, the titular It’s Such a Beautiful Day was added in for the full hour-long film. Despite the separate releases, all three parts seem to flow seamlessly together as though this was always the way it had been.

The film follows stick figure Bill as he struggles with several strange experiences as the omniscient narrator guides us through Bill’s usually mundane existence.

At the beginning, Bill’s life is fairly normal and the film progresses quite normally as well. As the film goes on, however, it begins to become more and more distorted in sync with how Bill views the world. We begin to see bizarre visions, characters with hooks for hands, distorted or deformed faces, etc. The dialogue from the narrator also starts to become more difficult to understand as we begin to see what is actually happening to Bill.

Everything about this movie is unique. From its pacing to its visuals, to its music, it stands out.  In 62 minutes, Hertzfeldt explores themes that some movies try to dissect in three hours. It speaks of things we have all maybe thought of in passing before but have not often explored, such as mortality and the passing of time.

In one of my favorite scenes Bill explains how one of his co-workers sees time based off a physics textbook he once read:

“The passing of time is just an illusion because all of eternity is all happening at once. The past never vanishes away and the future has already happened. All of history is fixed and laid out like an infinite landscape of simultaneous events that we simply happen to travel through in one direction.”

It is these sorts of absurdisms that make the film what it is. It may for some be hard to sit through but do sit through it, it is very worth it.

In It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Hetzfeldt is able to make us feel more for a simplistic stick figure than most films can makes us feel for or relate to actual human beings. The film is more than just a film. It’s an exploration of the nature of human existence and it doesn’t only make us feel but leaves us vulnerable with a lot to think about, about how we live our lives and why we live our lives.

The film can be found on Vimeo, or in parts on YouTube but I recommend watching the full version.

Feature photo courtesy of Don Hertzfeldt

Montreal summer is a great time for film festivals. Fantasia, FIFA, FNC, WFF – there’s something for everyone to go to, no matter where your interests in film are. A festival I look forward to covering for the first time is starting today: the Montreal International Animation Film Festival, or MIAFF.

As much as MIAFF is a film festival, it’s also an event. This year’s fest will feature panel discussions on stop-motion animation and the development process that takes an idea from your head to animated reality, as well as master classes with animation legends Co Hoedman and Heavy Metal director Gerald Potterton.

But what of the films, you ask? MIAFF’s lineup this year is a startlingly diverse smorgasbord of animated films from all over the world, ranging from the deadly serious to the fun and light hearted.

From Germany is The Land of the Magic Flute, a gorgeous looking motion comic billed as a re-imagining of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. The Land of the Magic Flute will be part of MIAFF’s opening night, and feature live music by Philip Lambert.

108 demon kings poster108 Demon Kings is a co-production between France, Belgium, Luxembourg and China, a sprawling CGI adventure set in 11th century China.

For those looking for something to bring the family to, Yellowbird promises a more mainstream family adventure, the story of a small bird leading his flock on the yearly migration. The film is originally from France and Belgiu, but the English dub starring Seth Green and Commnity’s Jim Rash and Yvette Nicole Brown will be playing.

From Argentina, Anima Buenos Aires looks to be a beautiful tableau of styles and rhythms, an animated portrait of the country’s capital featuring sequences by some of the most talented local animators.

Finally, from China, Joe Chang’s Magic Train looks to be a lyrical, poetic experience that will in all likelihood make you cry like a small child.

And that’s not even getting into the countless shorts that will air in special blocks throughout the festival.

While I won’t be there every day, I’ll be attending the first and last days of the festival, with a special FFR early next week recounting my experiences at the fest.

Also, congratulations to Velislav Kazakov who correctly identified our contest still as The Secret of Kells. He wins a pair of tickets to opening night!

These days, the idea of the Auteurist Studio, the group whose very name is a stamp of quality, vision, and depth, is probably closer to becoming mainstream than ever before. It probably started around Pixar’s mighty ascension to the throne of North American animation studios, a position it has held ever since. (By the way guys, wanna hurry up with The Good Dinosaur? People are getting worried.) And Marvel Studios, a group barely old enough to drink out of a big boy mug and watch Toonami, is trouncing major studios with such regularity, that those studios are visibly starting to panic. Laika, an animation studio famed for being the only mad bastards mad enough to still do stop-motion feature films, has been gathering a lot of attention and seem to be the next in line for the coveted Auteurist Studio badge.

Boxtrolls posterWhile Laika’s first full-length film, Coraline, was generally well-recieved, I think a lot of people really sat up and took notice, myself included, with their last film, Paranorman. Now let’s get this clear: I fucking LOVED Paranorman. Not just because they made it bloody impossible for me not to identify with the main character, but also because of how refreshing I found its emotional honesty, rounded and interesting characters, and well-delivered message. So, when I went in to their new film, The Boxtrolls, it was with hopes so high, you could see the curvature of the earth by standing on top of them. Of course, this means that when I left The Boxtrolls somewhat disappointed, it’s hard to tell if it was because of Laika, or me.

The film takes place in the mythical town of Cheesebridge, the streets of which are haunted nightly by a group of creatures called boxtrolls: small troll creatures that wear boxes and collect old junk. When a human child is abducted by the boxtrolls, the villainous Archibald Snatcher uses it as a pretence to begin rounding up the boxtrolls in a bid for a place among the town’s governing elite. Years later, the child, now named Eggs, meets Winnie, the daughter of the town leader, and embarks on an epic quest to discover his humanity, rescue his kidnapped boxtroll dad, and put a stop to Snatcher’s… Well, snatchings.

Now, while I’ll admit up front (in the middle of the review) that I did like The Boxtrolls, pretty much everything it does well, Paranorman did better. While Paranorman’s hero had personality and charm, Eggs feels like a non-character in a film that really should be about him. Similarly, Winnie has almost no personality to her name besides a love of all things gross and gory, which feels so pasted on, that you can practically see the glue sticking out the sides. Sure, it’s nice that she has something that makes her unique, but it never really feels like a fully-realized part of her character, or something with an origin and a purpose in the actual story. We’re really meant to be paying attention to Snatcher, who comes off like a sneering Snidely Whiplash ripoff. Sure, his goals could be seen as a criticism of the pursuit of social status and prestige, but whenever you ask the film if it wants to explore that, by maybe giving Snatcher an interesting backstory or deeper motivation, it cheerfully replies, “No, but there’s this great bit about how he’s allergic to cheese, but still really likes eating it! Does that count as depth?” Everyone around the periphery feels similarly bland, even Snatcher’s cronies, voiced by Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost and Tracey Morgan, who routinely wonder if they’re actually the bad guys, almost as though some last-minute redemptive side-change is coming.

Everyone and everything just feels shallower than I would have liked, devoid of the interesting personalities and ideas that made Paranorman so great. Maybe I am making Paranorman into something more than it actually was, in my head, but that doesn’t change the fact that none of the characters or situations in The Boxtrolls really held my attention all that well.

Boxtrolls insert

Where it does stand out, at least, is the animation, which contains some of Laika’s best work yet, some of the best and most elaborate stop-motion ever put to screen. The animation is so good, in fact, that the film’s early trailers and one scene during the credits directly references how impossibly hard the animators worked to get everything looking the way it does. Everything is richly detailed and the movements are fluid and lifelike, to the point that it’s almost too good at times. Some scenes might as well have been CGI, for how smooth and precise it all is. I actually found myself wishing it had more imperfections and flaws at times to emphasize further the hand-crafted nature of the animation.

The Boxtrolls is a really solid family film; one I’d happily recommend to anyone looking for something to plop in front of their tykes to stop their screaming for a second, and that doesn’t make the parents want to start screaming themselves. But while Paranorman felt complex and interesting and emotionally honest, The Boxtrolls feels hollower by comparison. Not one of the characters is going to stick with me, most of the gags incited little more than a chuckle, and it feels more like it’s coloring inside the lines than its predecessor. It delivers more of what we’d expect, with fewer “Oh my God they did that!” surprises to anger uptight parents. It relies too much on cliches and stock characters, and comes across as more of a manufactured product than I had hoped. It wasn’t the movie I wanted it to be, and while that is a very personal criticism, I’ll remind you that when I talk about a movie, I talk about my own impressions of it, rather than feigning objectivity. I’m sure a lot of people enjoyed Boxtrolls and will continue to, but my enjoyment, for one, was tainted by the thoughts of what could have been.


Thinking back on my storied career as film writer, it occurs to me that I haven’t devoted much time to anime, outside of Fantasia, that is. Normally I’d scour the internet for some new and relevant anime film to pick apart but this is me, so let’s look at Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror, a 2009 movie nobody probably cares about. Less chance of inciting a lynch mob that way.

Not that the movie doesn’t have something interesting going for it, being one of the exceedingly rare all-CGI anime films. CGI does seem to be something of a forbidden fruit in the glorious cell animation Garden of Eden that is Japan, and there’s always a chance that when an anime decides to go all CGI it’ll be like that scene in the coming-of-age movie where the nerdy straight-laced kid tries drugs and becomes the life of the party, running around with no pants leading a rousing number of Whole Lotta Rosie, because after all that’s totally how drugs work right?

oblivion-island-posterBut sadly, after sampling the forbidden drug of CGI, Oblivion Island just curled up into a ball and wept, and when I found it the next morning on my kitchen floor it was half naked, covered in baking flour, manically texting its ex with one hand and humping an old throw pillow.

Or to put it simply, it wasn’t very good.

The story follows Haruka, a latch-key kid tomboy-ish girl whose mother died of script-itis and who finds herself in the world of totally not the Borrowers, magical creatures who take forgotten objects to build a fantastic city, all under the rule of a nefarious baron. Along with Not-Borrower Teo and Haruka’s magically animated stuffed lamb Cotton, Haruka must retrieve the hand mirror her mother gave her from her death bed, which (surprise, surprise) figures heavily into the Baron’s evil plans.

You may notice right away that we aren’t dealing with the most original stuff, here. The whole thing feels like something a less talented Miyazaki would write in his sleep, driven by contrivance. Characters appear or disappear as needed, swooping in to save the day and vanishing from sight to add tension as is needed. The villains seemingly have the ability to manifest a giant ostrich/puppet creature or what I swear to God is the Big Wheel from Spider-Man comics at will, and rarely to any kind of interesting effect.

The rules of the universe are about as well-defined and coherent as a shoggoth, with macguffins and deus ex machinas out the ass. Now granted, the vaunted Miyazaki’s movies weren’t above this kind of holly-go-lightly script laziness from time to time (looking at you, Howl’s Moving Castle) but at least he tried to explain why shit did shit. Tell me, Oblivion Island, why exactly do mirror shards animate stuffed animals? And why, oh why, can a giant room full of mirrors strung up from the ceiling power an army of robots? An army, I might add, that has a hard time menacing a Japanese schoolgirl, let alone take over the fucking world. Johnny 5 was more intimidating than these things!

And why is Haruka’s mirror the key to the whole thing? Is it….more mirror-y than the others? There’s some plot point about mirrors containing memories, but surely the mirror of some whiney teenager isn’t the most memory-charged mirror out there, especially if it’s been shut up in a box for several years. It all smells unpleasantly of “because we say so” logic, to which I usually reply with a firm “Well, fuck you. Because I said so.”

The animation isn’t exactly ground-breaking either. The characters often seem to glide around weightlessly, a problem most Western animators cotton-on-horsegot under control around the time of the neolithic age, and while the stylized, cartoony visual aesthetic can excuse the usually flat, bland textures, I still can’t help but wonder if it would have held up if the animators had been called upon to texture something more complex than a balloon.

Where things really get wonky is the backgrounds. I’m not sure if the decision to actually use flat, painted background was a cost cutting measure (in which case, caught you, ya sly, cheap buggers!) or some kind of stylistic decision (in which case, what the fuck were you thinking…..ya sly, cheap buggers!) but either way, more often than not it looks like ass. Very flat ass, but rather well painted, like a Carnival parade at a junior high school, and yes I do realize that is the worst analogy I’ve ever made. Often it looks like the characters are moving in front of, marveling at or running away from very large paintings, and while the thought of a fifty foot tall landscape painting coming at me with a thirst for blood is pretty terrifying, it makes for a visually dull movie.

Now is all this to say Oblivion Island is a monstrous, unintelligible, cliched heap of bantha fodder, on the level of Legend of the Millennium Dragon or Tales From Earthsea? Well, no. What it is just kind of half-hearted and sub-par. There are some fun scenes, like when the admittedly adorable talking lamb plush rides to the rescue like the Lone Freaking Ranger on a tiny plush stallion, and it will probably amuse any young children you plop in front of it to get them to shut their cake holes for an hour and a half. But for the discerning anime fan, Oblivion Island will probably just make you yearn to re-watch Nausicaa for the millionth time. Or maybe Ghost in the Shell if you’re more in the mood for violence, boobs and musings on trans-humanist philosophy.